23 December 2010

My final retreat

Over these past few days I've been dealing with the great loss of my love by writing about what has happened, about the retreat experience, about the love of my life, and about our time together.
He left his laptop on at my place so I've been sitting at the table, just as he used to do for hours on end, remembering and writing.
I don't want to lose the details or the memories.

And I don't want his essence to fade away.

As I packed the final items into my bag, he came in and sat on my bed.
"Would you leave me if I didn't do the retreat?"
Of course I wouldn't leave him but that wasn't my answer. I thought about what to say in that moment. He'd seemed genuinely committed to doing the retreat, knowing it would be traumatic, and I felt encouraged by his decision. We were about to leave.
"I'd be disappointed if you changed your mind now."

We left home just before 5pm on Wednesday evening. The drive is one and a half hours south of Adelaide.
Immersed in our private thoughts about what we were about to embark on the mood in the car was sombre. As I remembered things I thought would inform or help him to settle in more quickly, I mentioned them.
"They will ask you to give up your phone, keys and wallet tonight for the duration of the course" I said.
He blew up instantly and launched into an angry diatribe about Nazi concentration camps. It had set fire to the uneasy ember smouldering under the surface.
"Stop the car!"
I pulled over. He stormed off down the road, lighting a cigarette on the way.
When he returned 10 minutes later, I tried to soothe his worries but I could tell he'd become quite agitated.
His capacity to cope disintegrated slowly from there.

We reached the site and registered, but he insisted on staying by the car, chain smoking. I wish I could have read these danger signs more accurately. Half an hour later I watched as the male manager gave the 15 or so men a tour of the men’s area, showing them the dormitories, toilets, meditation hall and the boundaries of their section. Mark wasn't with them. I searched and found him lost and wandering, so I pointed him to the tour. He'd missed most of it. 15 minutes later we were sitting together overlooking the sea waiting for the gong to signal the first mediation session. He was in the women's section illegally but I felt it best not to leave him yet. On these retreats, after the introductory meditation session from 8-9pm, noble silence is enforced. No speaking, no eye contact. Also enforced is the absolute separation of men and women for the duration of the 10 day retreat. But it was only 7.45pm, the sun was setting and a soft breeze momentarily caressed our separation anxieties.
He looked longingly and lovingly into my eyes and said "You look 17 years old".
Looking into his eyes, he too looked 17 years old. The love we'd experienced so intensely for 3 months had given us radiant countenances, we loved each other deeply, unconditionally, passionately, and our hearts were wide open, vulnerable and alive to each other.
Love filled us with the innocence of youth.
Finding my place in the hall in the front row of female meditators, I sat and enveloped my body in my blanket. Mark had entered from the side men’s door and found his designated place in the back row of the men’s section.
Goenka's introductory talk and chanting must have unhinged him. About 15 minutes into the silent meditation, I heard someone leave by the women's door. He'd walked out. The manager followed.
I found out later that he'd been allowed to retire to bed, but what ensued that night will be etched into my memory forever.
I was woken from a deep sleep by someone desperately calling my name. He'd come into the women's dormitory, I don’t know what time, and was searching for me in the dark. I sprang out of bed. He was panicky.
"I've got to get out of here, give me your keys"
I couldn't. I'd handed them up, and they were locked away.
He was swearing, out of control, sleep deprived and ranting something about the men turning on the light.
It didn't take long for the female manager to arrive and remove him from the women's dormitory.
I wish I'd known that this was the last moment I'd have with my one and only true love in this lifetime.
Oh how I'd give anything to have that night back again, to change the course of destiny that has separated us now.
5 days later he would be dead.

Sleep was impossible, I worried about Mark and my car all night. Did he get home safely in that state?
He'd now have my car for 10 days, and I know he'd be drinking, I had a very bad feeling about it.
The female manager was sympathetic the next morning and arranged for me to see the teacher. I wanted to get a lift back to the city to get my car then return to the retreat.
The meeting with the teacher was arranged, I entered, sat politely on the cushion at his feet, and spoke of my concerns. He said a lift back to the city was not available today, no-one was driving back. After a few more words I decided to stay at the retreat, let go of all worries about Mark and my car, and deal with any consequences in 10 days time. It was then the teacher notified me that Mark had been calling the retreat emergency phone number all night wanting to speak to me. Despair and frustration had set in, he'd become abusive over the phone.
The teacher asked me again if I wanted to stay or leave. I had decided to stay. I thought Mark would settle down and anyway we'd be reunited after the retreat. Oh how beautiful and emotional that reunion would be.
On the teacher's request I rang Mark from the retreat phone in the dining hall. The teacher stayed nearby, perhaps wanting to judge the tone of the conversation. The call had to be short. My love, my love, my love, my darling Mark desperately wanted to pick me up. He said I could do a retreat anytime but he needed me now. I tried to stay calm and reassure him that 10 days would go quickly. The call had to be cut short. I said I had to go.
"I love you." he said
"I love you too."
They would be the last words spoken between us in this lifetime.

From that point on I tried to focus on the meditation. It wasn't easy. My passionate love and concern for Mark flooded every mind moment.

Here I must reveal that I'd brought two contraband items to the retreat that I'd kept in my bag and not handed up to the management: my mobile phone and a small pad and pencil.
The Phone
From experience I knew how disruptive to the fragile ecological mind state a phone can be on retreat. A conversation or message while immersed in a meditative mind state immediately rips you out of the one pointed focus required for effective mental training. My strategy was to leave the phone turned off but to check for any messages late at night. The only person who knew this was my daughter Ebony who would only contact me in an emergency. As planned, I checked for messages each night. What wasn't planned was sending Mark a daily text message - this act of subversion distracted me from meditation; I spent entire 2 hour sessions planning what I'd say in the next message or trying to remember what I'd said the day before. I knew it was inhibiting my ability to stay with the technical instructions and progressively deepen into meditation. But I sensed it was critical - he needed my lifeline.
The Pad and Pencil
Again a pad and pencil is a distraction on retreat. To formulate words for the purpose of writing about experiences, one must step outside of that experience, assume the role of the observer and recorder. I tried to keep the daily notes brief, just a sentence or two scribbled once a day, so they really don't give much of an insight into the processes of my mind over those ten days.
But they did leave me with a valuable record of when particular experiences happened over the course of those 10 long days.
For the purpose of covering the next 9 days on retreat, all I can do is record the daily text messages I sent to Mark and the meditation notes from my pad.

DAY 1 (Thursday 9 Dec)
NOTES - Had to overcome toxic shock from last night, almost no focus.

DAY 2 (Friday 10 Dec)
NOTES - Occasional glimpses of sustaining focus on breath. Wandering mind.
MESSAGE 1 - Thinking of you, all is well, take care of your self, my home and my car while I'm away. Can't talk, but will check msg when safe. Love you. xS
MESSAGE 2 - PS...no need to reply if u got no credit : ) just know that i love you. xS

DAY 3 (Saturday 11 Dec)
NOTES - Better - more sustained focus. thinking a lot about Mark.
MESSAGE - Day 3 - Holding you tenderly in my heart, and still loving you. xS

DAY 4 (Sunday 12 Dec)
NOTES - More focus, delighted when I find the intimacy with the breath. Lay down at night and feel the breath.
MESSAGE - Day 4 - Hearts on Fire is playing over and over in my head, it must be our song : ) love to you mark abbott...xS

DAY 5 (Monday 13 Dec)
NOTES - 5.30am morning session nearly passed out.*
Battling resistance to the hard work of putting awareness in body. Need willpower, motivation, its there but must strengthen it. Must resolve to work, to cut through the lazy mind, discipline it. Day 5 evening session had a physical anxiety attack, fast breath, heart palpitation, terrified of passing out.
* This was a terrifying experience. first came uncontrollable yawning, then I was overcome by a wave of nausea, wanting to run to the toilet and vomit out of both ends as if I had to expel a writhing mass of expanding demons from my body. Then came the deathly ice-cold sweat, my body went completely limp and a pressure wave of terror filled me up, exploded in my head then overflowed. I exhaled involuntarily, it could have been my last breath in this life. Falling forward, I narrowly avoided passing out.
I wonder now if this was the moment that Mark passed from life to death. Perhaps he tried to take me with him.
MESSAGE - Day 5 - and the meditation is now intense hard work. At night you and i lay together in our Dreaming. xS

DAY 6 (Tuesday 14 Dec)
NOTES - Slept in, no morning meditation. A better day, more stable. One girl passed out in the late morning session, I felt less scared about this happening to me after that. Focus still hazy, awareness moving easily through body but not receiving sensation s so its not precise and engaged enough. Need precision for this mind surgery.
Experienced all over body sparkles this morning.
Trying to penetrate to the reality of sensations is like trying to comb through blutak.
Main challenge is to get awareness out of the visualisation of sensations and into the reality of them.
MESSAGE - Day 6 - focus and determination better 2day, deeper meditation. Hoping this separation will strengthen, not weaken our bond. Wish i knew how u r going. Love U, xS

DAY 7 (Wednesday 15 Dec)
NOTES - Breakthrough in the 4.30am session, not an 'ah ha' insight but a genuine shift from ignorance and fog to a perfect clarity. Mind was really in and moving through each part of my body. Deep subtle shift, realignment, no longer obsessed with Mark.
Afternoon session mind suddenly quiet.
I am first to the dining hall and last to finish eating. Tipping out half my cup of tea, no longer need it. All activities, walking, showering, dressing, moving, are easy, smooth, continuous.
The meditation process is now exciting. I'm curious, receptive, not resistant. The technique is not always coming, still lots of blind, blank areas in my body that need penetrating.
MESSAGE - Day 7 - deep subtle shifts today, but a little flame is still burning for you Mark. xxxS

DAY 8 (Thursday 16 Dec)
NOTES - Morning unfocussed, afternoon much better, worked hard at it.
Experienced an angelic event, the space above my head opened up to reveal another dimension and I was given enormous white feathery but solid wings and made an angel in some sort of etheric ceremony. Beatitude. I am now officially an angel.
MESSAGE - feels like time is running out fast now. Are u using our time apart wisely? 3 sleeps to go...love u...see u soon. xS

DAY 9 (Friday 17 Dec)
NOTES - Ring of Fire. Experienced the downward movement of a ring of consciousness over my body, purifying my body as it travelled down. Like metal purification where a heated ring passes over impure metal to magnetise out every impure molecule.
Overall dedicated work at the technique for a change, committed this time. No resistance. No laziness, but often mind got tired of working and got stubborn then turned off. This was different to my 'ego' or 'self' resisting the process. The will just needed more juice to motivate the mind into action. The WILL was the voice telling the MIND what to do, where to focus and where to go.
Need 20 days to work more on this.
MESSAGE - disciplined mind training needed to stay with inner work 2day, love the challenge. Will be hard 2 return to life on the surface. Are you still with me? Can u pik me up 9-9.30am sunday? Will ph you late 2moro 2 confirn. xxxS

DAY 10 (Saturday 18 Dec)
NOTES - None written today
MESSAGE - None sent today.
At 4.30am on the final day I checked my mobile phone for any messages. I hadn't received any while I'd been away but this morning there was one:
Hi Sally, can u pls ring Mount Barker police re message 1079 or attend the Victor Harbour police station asap. Sergeant Aussie, Mt Barker.

I went into an immediate spinout. My mind exploded. I imagined Mark had been in an accident. My car was either damaged or completely written off. Was Mark OK? Funny how the very worst scenario never even entered my mind.
I couldn't ring the Mt Barker police at 4.30am, and besides, there was no phone number with the sergeant's message. I went to the 4.30am meditation session and somehow managed to sit for 2 hours with my head burning in panic.
What to do? How to proceed? I didn't want management to know I'd received a message on my phone. I wasn't supposed to have a phone. I wasn't thinking straight.

After breakfast the teacher summoned me to the hall. Perhaps he was going to break the news to me first. I went nervously and sat before him. He said Mark had been calling the retreat phone number for three days after he left, he was drunk and abusive. The teacher didn't want him to pick me up tomorrow. He didn't want Mark anywhere near the retreat. He had arranged for one of the helpers to take me home tomorrow and asked me to call Mark from the retreat phone to let him know this.
He obviously had no idea about any car accidents or tragedy so I didn't mention the police message.
Excited at the prospect of finally speaking with my love, I rang Mark, but there was no answer.
A few minutes later, I messaged Ebony to send me the police phone number. Hiding in one of the toilets I rang the police. The sergeant who had to speak to me wouldn't be there until 3pm. I had to wait all day not knowing what had happened, and even then when I finally spoke to him, he would give me no information.
"I'll send out an officer from the Victor Harbour station within the next half hour to speak with you."

I knew then that it was serious, but still couldn't face the ultimate scenario.
The police were due to arrive at the retreat very soon so I notified the teacher of what had been happening.
I met the police in the carpark.
The news that Mark had passed away came as a white cold shock.
James had found his body in his bed on Friday but he'd been dead for possibly four days. James had been the last person to see him in the early hours of Monday morning when he'd rescued him blind drunk from somewhere. James had put him to bed and left him to recover. He never did.

I immediately rang my friend to pick me up, then notified the teacher of the outcome.
In those first moments I took it well, but half an hour later I was sobbing uncontrollably.
The teacher summoned me to the meditation hall and for the last time I sat politely at his feet, emotion and tears rising in waves. He asked to meditate together and spoke of observing all the sensations. To be honest I wanted to throttle him for such insensitivity but remained respectfully silent amidst the millions of confused thoughts and feelings howling through me. I'd just been informed that the love of my life had been found dead and he wants me to observe sensations? I was in shock - it was not the time to be observing sensations.
The teacher honestly thought it was the most appropriate action to take for a Vipassana meditator. But I'm not one of them. I may do retreats but it's not my path or my practice.
After 10 minutes he released me from the hall and I packed up my belongings and waited in the carpark, a deep, deep sadness engulfing me.
All the 'what ifs' started flooding in...what if Mark hadn't come?...what if I'd left the retreat and gone home to him when he needed me? what if I'd taken heed of the warning signs earlier, changed my mind and stayed home with my love instead of insisting on going to the retreat?
He'd still be alive now and we'd be continuing to explore the profound love that we'd stumbled across with each other.

I will never do a Vipassana retreat again. That I know for sure.
And the tragedy of this retreat will stay with me forever.

In the following days I couldn't sleep, or eat. Mark was still around me, I felt him.
I didn't go back to work as planned and spent the immediate days stumbling about in a sad sad dreamstate, crying, and alternating between the feeling of profound loss and the feeling of profound love.
The brief meeting of our two souls will remain as a real life legend of mythical proportions.


Kristi said...

Can't imagine how hard this must be for you... much love being sent your way...

kristi aka yogamum

Kaivalya said...

I've been reading these posts with a combination of shock ('How could something like this happen?') and sadness. I can't even begin to comprehend your grief. Sending you love and light.

greenfrog said...


blessings, friend

Laura said...

i somehow accidently stumbled on to your blog while researching ujjiya breath. i liked what you had written and opened up the more recent blog posts, for Dec 2010. i am profoundly sorry for your loss and am sending you healing thoughts of love and peace through the airwaves. i too suddenly lost the love of my life, some 16 years ago, under very trying circumstances...please understand that whatever the circumstances of your lover's death, it is truely not your fault.

Namaste. Laura

Olympia B said...

I felt a chill the whole time I read the post and I got watery eyes at the last paragraphs. I am so sorry for your loss and for the way it happened.