Vipassana

(A selection of photos from the past year is available here)

One year on the road! 

One year since Anna finished her job in Brussels and we pushed our shiny new bikes from her parents’ driveway to pedal to London.  One year ago we were fighting the Flemish wind and winter rains and a storm across the English channel – a far cry from the sunny South African skies that surround us now. 

It has been so much more than a year for us in terms of all we’ve experienced and learned.  It’s hard not to feel like we’ve been on the road for decades, or even for our whole lives – maybe we will start celebrating November 17th as a birthday of sorts…

We ended our first year on a bit of a different note – not cycling (we haven’t touched the bikes since the last update in fact) but instead on a ten-day silent meditation retreat. 

This may seem like something of a nonsequitor of course (weren’t we supposed to be biking back to Kenya?), but actually it is just as connected to the biking as anything else we’ve done.  We’ve been interested in learning meditation for some time now, but it was only once we started cycling that we realized just how important it could be for us.  Not that we’re not happy people – we are, we’re the happiest people we know in fact (except for Charlie, who we met in Namibia and who’s been cycling for nine years…) – but something which has surprised us maybe over the past year has been the extent to which external circumstances can only partially bring you happiness. 

You can bike and travel and learn about the world and meet all kinds of extraordinary people, but in the end: wherever you go, there you are.  And if you’re not at peace with yourself, you’ll never be at peace with your surroundings. 

This is something we really learned in the desert – day after day with no distractions your mind just goes on a loop, reviewing every bit of insecurity or stupidity that has ever passed through your life.  You start to feel like you’re biking around the inside of your own head rather than the world. 

And then add to that the fact that we may be happy biking, but that we won’t be biking forever, that someday this will all end – and then what will we do?  What will have been the point of it all if we’re miserable the moment the wheels stop turning?

After reading some about Buddhism (merci Matthieu Richard), we both felt like the time was right to learn some meditation.  Friends in Brussels had told us about Vipassana, and when we e-mailed asking for more information they responded with a link – www.dhamma.org – and the news that there is a center near Cape Town and a class at the end of October. 

Sure, why not?

I don’t think we knew what we were getting into.  I would love to say that we researched various schools of meditation and thought through our choice and evaluated the options… But no, it was just what our friends told us to do.  But that’s okay, it was the right choice for us: Vipassana is non-sectarian and non-religious, it doesn’t cost seven million dollars a day (it’s free), there’s no chanting to any deities, no rituals or rites, just observing reality as experienced by the body at the present moment.  

It sounds so simple… 

And yet, not simple at all.  Two breaths, and up, I’m off wondering whether I left the oven on, but no, I don’t have an oven, though it would be nice to have an oven, I could make quiches and casseroles, and baked ziti – when was the last time I had baked ziti, when was the last time I even heard the word ziti.  Which is a funny word for sure: ziti ziti ziti ziti… and ten minutes have gone by without paying attention to any breaths at all. 

And so on, for eleven hours a day, for ten days straight…

All in silence.  There is no talking allowed, no eye-contact, no smiles or hand signals.  This is a bit of a pain when your wife is sitting across the room from you and you’re sure she might know whether you left the oven on or not, and I’ll admit that we did make eye-contact some after the eighth day, but otherwise there was nothing… 

Though for the rest, the silence wasn’t too difficult for us actually – the cycling helped.  If you have biked across Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, you’ve experienced silence.  Even in a couple, on the road with no villages we still just roll along with no one to talk to.  And then add to that years spent working as a writer – spending my days with no colleagues but the voices in my head – and yeah, silence wasn’t too much of a shock.  Though silence for ten days and not being able to write, that was a bit harder than expected.

And so little by little the exercises got more complicated, though always based on the same idea – observing reality as experienced by the body at the present moment.  After ten days, we were allowed to talk again, and though the week had been full of doubts and frustrations and boredom, suddenly we were all overwhelmed by the feeling that we need to do it again! 

Certainly for our part, we feel like we have taken the first baby steps down a new path.  Vipassana is a valuable tool, but it is deep and complex, and I don’t think we can say after a ten day course that we really grasp where this will lead us.  There is a heap of philosophical reasoning behind all of these exercises, and I haven’t touched on it here but feel free to find books or to visit www.dhamma.org if you would like to learn more. 

I do think we feel more at peace though, if only a little, and so we are trying to continue with our daily meditations to keep that feeling alive.  And who knows, maybe if we have a good enough base in the technique our post-cycling days will be every bit as happy and satisfying as our cycling days.

We have time though – one year down, three (four?  five?  six?) to go!

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11 Responses to Vipassana

  1. Tysa says:

    Don’t worry, tho I know you are not, Post cycling will be as good as cycling when you are as in sync with each other as you and Anna are…that ends upp being much more important than where you are. Yes I know you were together in Brussels, but actually , you guys are both different now, happier, dare I say optomistic about the future?? Ha ,Ha
    Love
    Terri

  2. Alex says:

    What???? You made eye-contact on the eighth day??!! I’m gonna report this to the course management ;-)

  3. Permacyclists says:

    But if you tell we won’t get into an ivy league college! On doit t’envoyer un e-mail – on espere que le rentree va bien!

  4. Lionel says:

    Waow, I am impressed !

  5. Luc Ch. says:

    I did a bit of meditation myself here in India (traveling 2 months) but we had to keep the lotus position and my back + legs hurt too bad to keep going. I quit the meditation sessions (but not the yoga course) after 3 days… I’m sure it’s very beneficial though. I hope you were sitting comfortably!

  6. nath says:

    Chers permacyclists,

    Annabel, j’ai eu l’occasion de te rencontrer dans le cadre de mon stage d’avocate, étant moi-même au Barreau un peu avant ton départ! Nous avions d’ailleurs discuté de ton départ et du projet que j’espérais, un jour, réaliser moi aussi!

    Il se fait que, peu avant votre départ, vous avez rencontré l’un de mes tout grand ami: Arnaud de H., qui m’a forwardé l’adresse de votre site il y a qques mois alors que mon mari et moi nous apprêtons nous aussi à prendre la route.

    Depuis lors, Gonzague et moi passons par ici régulièrement histoire de rêver à notre voyage.

    Aujourd’hui le départ est tout proche, je termine ma dernière semaine au cabinet et nous nous envolons pour Bangkok le 4 janvier.

    Je tenais à vous remercier et à vous féliciter pour ce magnifique projet et ce site qui fait rêver les futurs cyclistes que nous sommes.

    Nous continuerons à vous suivre et qui sait, peut-être se croisera-t’on en Asie (lieu de notre périple à nous!).

    Notre site: http://tourdesreligions.wordpress.com/

    Au plaisir de continuer à vous suivre, et rêver avec vous,

    Gonzague et Nath

  7. Permacyclists says:

    Chers Nath et Gonzague,

    Quel super projet vous avez! C’était un plaisir de naviguer sur votre site. Quelle belle idée de s’informer sur les religions à l’heure actuelle. Le projet est ambitieux mais il est en tout cas à la mesure de votre itinéraire! J’imagine que vous avez déjà checké le site de mundubicyclette.be pour une partie de ce trajet? Enfin, il y en a sûrement pas mal d’autres, c’est chouette de voir que la communauté des cyclotouristes s’agrandit de jour en jour! Chapeau pour le tandem! C’est vrai que c’est plus rapide et (un peu) moins fatigant) mais il faut s’aimer vraiment beaucoup, beaucoup ; ) (nous on s’aime beaucoup, beaucoup mais on ne pourrait pas passer un an sur un tandem!) Curieuse de voir comment vous allez le vivre. Aussi, je me souviens bien de notre discussion dans les couloirs de la Chambre du Conseil (dans une autre vie!) et je me demandais si vous êtiez déjà partis. Tu m’avais parlé de 6 mois à l’époque. Personnellement, je pense que vous avez raison de partir un an, cela me semble être le minimum (le seul inconvénient c’est que comme il se dit souvent dans la communauté “une fois parti un an, on ne revient plus!”). Nous suivrons votre périple avec beaucoup de plaisir et nous vous souhaitons une très belle route, de merveilleuses rencontres et que cette aventure vous change la vie! Bon courage pour l’ENORME stress avant-départ, c’est le pire de tout. N’écoutez pas ceux qui vous disent que vous allez mourir. L’écrasante majorité des gens sont gentils! En cas de doute, il faut juste jeter sa télé et son journal par la fenêtre, ils ne servent à rien pour essayer de comprendre notre magnifique monde! N’hésitez pas à m’envoyer un email pour des infos matos, etc. Bonne route!!! Anna & Dave.

  8. Annabelle en Dave
    wij wensen jullie een gelukkig 2011 en nog een mooie reis verder
    groetjes Paula

  9. Permacyclists says:

    Beste Paula,

    Alvast bedankt voor jouw lieve wensen.
    Dit komt een beetje laat maar we wensen jou en jouw familie een zeer mooi en gelukkig 2011.
    We wensen jullie het allerbeste,
    groeten,
    Anna and Dave.

  10. AM says:

    I loved your blog and the heads up it provides to someone who similarily jumped in after a recommendation without much reading. I hope I’ll be able to share my experience on the vipassana in my desert soon :)

  11. Dave says:

    Hi Anne Marie, we hope the update helped! You’ll do well we’re sure, from your site it seems like you’re ready for this. Take care, remain equanimous, and let us know when your blog is updated, we’d love to read how it went!

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