A Month-Long Retreat In India20 September 2016
This wasn’t a retreat in a monastery or ashram, but in my little two bedroom house in Leh, Ladakh amongst the Himalayas. I’d done solitary retreats like this before, but no longer than a week, in fact the longest retreat I’d done of any kind before was two weeks. So I was a little daunted at the prospect. Now, in hindsight, I can certainly say it had its challenges, but it was definitely manageable and I’d love to do it again, though not in the same place (more on that later).
I don’t actually have much to report from the retreat. I suspect that might be because so much of my thoughts were going into the first draft of my book, which I’d just finished a first draft of before the retreat. It’s an excruciatingly honest text, summing up ideas I’ve wanted to express for 10 years or more. Also I’d got some useful feedback, so had a lot to think about in terms of restructuring. One of the biggest things I realised during the silence was the subtitle, so the full title is now; Mind The Bollocks. Pornography as allegory for enlightenment: an autobiographical journey. Titles can be clever and a little obscure, but subtitles need to be descriptive, unambiguous and terse. So forcing myself to admit what it actually was I was writing about was a surprisingly hard task. But it really helped clear up so many parts of the draft and inspire the required restructuring. All this happened in my head by the way!
I’m fairly certain this is the longest absence I’ve ever had from the Internet since before my mum got dial-up in the 90s. Not only that but I decided to try doing everything without any timepiece! I knew the time on only one occasion during the entire month, when I went to pick up vegetables from my landlady - 9:30am. Though it’s actually quite easy to get a rough idea of time from the sun and certain events outside the house like the Muslim calls to prayer. I’m sure sometimes I didn’t sit long enough, but what’s ‘long enough’ anyway? Other times I sat longer. As became clear, the intention was what gave the retreat its structure.
As I mentioned, I don’t want to do a month-long retreat here again. Partly because it was bloody hard work and I’m now itching to get on with book writing and computer projects. But also because annoyingly a house started to be built next door to me during the first week! What made it worse is that I discovered the foreman to be my landlady’s brother. How could she neglect to mention this detail when I was enquiring about the house? They were preparing the foundations, so breaking rocks with sledgehammers and building large, cement retaining walls (by the way, retreating aside, it’s amazing, they break rocks the size of cars with just iron wedges and double-armed whacks). I had some quite enraged fantasies about the workers. For some reason the previous tenants here had left a little can of pepper spray. When the banging was really bad and I could hear it clearly through my earplugs, I’d imagine spraying a few workmen! HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES!? Yeah, I was pretty upset. But I persevered. There were plenty of times when my ear protection was ample.
Although I wondered whether my landlady had purposefully neglected to tell me about the building work, I doubt that’s what happened. I just put it down to, ‘that’s India’. Besides, she and her son went above and beyond at the end of the retreat. 2 days before the end I got a horrible bug, with fever symptoms and vomiting. So I went to the guesthouse that my landlady runs, it’s only a 5 minute walk away. I was put to rest and kept company till the small hours of the morning, changing my sick bucket and making sure I was hydrated. I will forever be indebted to her son who, when the power cut, stood by the bathroom door with a torch whilst I made a glorious cacophony of diarrhea and vomiting. It was disappointing not being able to meditate for those potent final days, but I really had no choice in the matter. I feel better now, but still not eating as much as usual.
So the main plan now is to work on the book, perhaps till the end of October. I also want to get up into the mountains. There’s a 6000m peak nearby called Stok Kangri, that’s easy to climb, so I want to try that when there’s some clear weather. Apparently you can see K2 and Mount Kailash from the top. Then perhaps in November I can return to Delhi to get my laptop screen fixed. Then I’m thinking of visiting Nepal and South India. Ultimately I want to eke out my savings working on a personal project that I’ve neglected for 2 years (Peas), it has the potential of making me some money (and changing the face of the Internet!). I could do that either back in India on another 6 month visa or in Thailand amongst the digital nomad communities there. Basically I want to put off getting another job as long as possible. But I’ll need proper money again at some point to continue my way Eastward towards Australasia, the Americas and home.