Barefoot Ben on his journey
It was a silent journey for me
Just a couple of weeks ago Ben and I returned from two very different but also strangely similar trips. His, a 330 mile barefoot walk along the South West coast path to raise money for refugees and mine a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat followed by a few days of volunteering at the centre. So where exactly are the parallels I hear you ask! One involves activity, physical hardship, contact with people and exposure to the elements whereas the other involves shelter, introversion, silence and – in relative terms – material comforts. (The former is Ben and the latter is me just in case you didn’t guess…) To the untrained eye (this is absolutely not the right term but a better one eludes me right now!) these two pursuits are opposite in nature – and quite honestly it wasn’t until Ben and I started talking that the similarities became apparent to us too.
Ben’s biggest challenges were very physical in nature; paths littered with sharp stones, having to endure extreme winds and torrential rain, disturbed sleeps while wild camping and dealing with thorns in the soles of his feet. It doesn’t take much to imagine the mental stamina it must have taken to overcome these crude and uncomfortable realities! On the other hand my challenges were subtler in nature but sitting in a meditation cell, silent and still, for over 10 hours a day comes with a unique set of difficulties. Alongside the physical aches and pains of sitting cross-legged for extended periods of time, you have nowhere to hide when difficult feelings, thoughts and emotions surface. In this situation, your only choice is to make intimate friends with these darker aspects of yourself, accepting them with the same kind of compassion a mother might have for her child. Meditation teaches us the meaning and value of living here, now even if ‘now’ is not a place we want to be.
So if I were to attempt a summary, both retreats involved a healthy dose of endurance, persistence and patience. Weathering storms, both internal and external, Ben and I spent our time cultivating mental strength to overcome the immediate challenges we were faced with. Although in different environments, our journeys forced us towards a deeper level of acceptance of ‘what is’ and provided opportunities for us to develop equanimity (balance) and the wisdom of ‘anicca’ (impermanence) in every situation.
The Buddha referred to his teaching as the ‘path’ and this path, it seems, can be both real and metaphorical!
(Still, I think I will continue my journey with my shoes on :) )
The finish line