I’d always hoped to find a yoga and meditation retreat this trip, so it was disappointing when the place I’d chosen in the UK said they were full. Google maps has been really useful, delivering mostly accurate directions to my phone in some pretty remote locations, and in this case, finding Yala Heights Meditation and Relaxation Centre eight minutes from the beach where I’ was’d been staying. Committing to anything on the road isn’t straightforward: what looks good can easily turn out otherwise, but with Yala Google struck gold and rewarded pressing on through disappointment.
There were nine others at the centre including the couple who look after the place, their two lovely girls and two buddhist nuns. As the first non Sri Lankan visitor, I was mindful of making a good impression, a task made easier by the company who were endearing and very kind. When we spoke of food and I mentioned missing potatoes and liking curd, potato curry, curd and honey appeared at dinner the following day. That was kind and typical of the Sri Lankan hospitality I’ve found.
The first evening I was asked why I was there, so I tried to explain how the pandemic had sent me more more online, like many others, and how that had effected my concentration and filled my head with stuff that swirls around without settling. One of the nuns suggested calming things down by slowly walking the meditation paths whilst paying attention to the sensation of the sand on my feet. So I’ve practiced that these past three days.
She also shared the simile of the six animals an analogy of how mindfulness directed at the body is a way of managing conflicting and competing desires.
I feel this is a simple but invaluable lesson. Though we went on to discuss the illusory nature of reality and self, relativism, the differences between relationships, connections and attachments, karma and kindness, just mindfully putting one foot before the other is surprisingly hard.
Recent years have delivered more than their fair share of grief and hardship around the world, and it is tempting to feel that things must shortly start to pickup. But a final pearl of wisdom from Yala was the Taoist parable of “Good, bad it is all the same” – the futility of striving for what one wants, and lamenting what one gets, when there’s no hope of understanding the implications of either. Though it’s hard to have faith in things working out, we’re perhaps better off attending to what’s on the ground rather than what’s out of reach.
So dear readers, tomorrow sees a 6 hour 250km ride across country to Negombo, Covid test, and bike drop off, before Monday evening’s flight to Gatwick. I hope this trip has helped to brighten your winter and you too look forward to the coming year and likely more wonderful disappointments –
now where are those thermals.