At the end of 2019, I had the privilege to spend 10 days in a kuti, a small hut in the forest. Ten days of silence and solitude with plenty of time for reflection and meditation. An experience of great joy and insight. Some of them seem worth sharing.
Appreciation and Humility
In our daily life we take many things for granted: warm water, food from the fridge, the warmth of the radiator, electricity. Leaving these comforts behind, we realize how much effort it actually takes to sustain the body. Long stretches of my day were dedicated just to maintain physical well-being: cooking, collecting wood, heating the fire, tending to the cloths, etc. We need a lot to keep us going. Humility arose with the insight how much I depend on others and nature to keep the body fit and healthy.
Every day I received a delicious lunch in a tray, left for me outside the main house. Receiving such ongoing support sparked many reflections on the presence of gifts in my life. Gifts given by humans and nature alike. With the arising of gratitude, the wish to give back developed naturally. The mind pondered on ways to offer one’s own abilities and talents to the mix. Work periods then turn into a joyful act of reciprocity. Gratitude, well-wishing and humility arise when we take time to appreciate the many factors that add our well-being.
Immersion with nature
Nature to me is a regular source of renewal. I enjoy long walks and feel happy whenever I spot small creatures hidden in the thicket, or have time to listen to a bird. To live among those creatures deepened my bond to nature. In the beginning I was a clumsy intruder to the play of the squirrels and the busy affairs of the wood pigeons. While they fit in perfectly with the weather and the flow of day and night I stumbled ungracefully over roots at night, searching the way to the toilet. Having no fur, I shivered in the brisk air of dusk. I envied the cows for their equanimity stoically munching grass even during a downpour, while I haste back to my hut. Over the days, resilience grew. The biorhythm adapted to the raising and setting of the sun, one learns how to move with heightened care, and I caught the squirrels staring at me just as curiously as I stared at them. Unlike on my walks, I was no longer an observer. I merged with the environment; seeing the fellow beings not as attractions to my senses, but as companions. We can become a part of nature, one among the many beings living on that patch of land. A deep joy arises with such a sense of connectedness and belonging.
Gift of Equanimity
Living in silence, without the company of others or any distraction from the media there is plenty of time to meet the mind. Solitude brings the many ups and downs of our mood to the foreground. It shows just how easily we create identity around an experience: I am the one who ferociously cuts down blackberries, then I am the one who can not bring this mind to stillness, later I am the one who had a profound insight, and then again, I am the one who feels alone and shaky. We see the ego building up and deflating, experiencing the entire spectrum of emotions. The same situation once earns our praise and the next day we call it a drag.
When we follow the waves of heart and mind for some time, a most precious silence establishes itself in the heart: equanimity has found its way into the being. We are less impressed by feeling tones and moods, less shaken by a sudden wave of emotions. An increasing steadiness accompanies our actions. The occasional contraction gets questioned by a silent whisper from the depths of our mind: “This too shall pass”. A taste of freedom lingers on the lips.
I wish to thank the Barn Team for all the wonderful support I received over the course of the days. The Barn, a retreat center in the forests of Sharpham Estate, close to Totnes, UK, offers six-day retreats which cover the aspects of mindfulness, community life and work on the land. The kuti is part of The Barn and only available to experienced meditators. If you wish to get more information on the Barn, please get in contact with the staff (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org).
I was invited to give two teachings during my stay. You find the recordings on my podcast (Questions and Answers on Boxing Day 26.12.2019, and Dharma Talk on “Setting the intention to pay attention” on New Year’s Eve 31.12.2019).
Ulla Koenig is a mindfulness and insight meditation teacher from Germany. She teaches retreats and workshops, offers courses to prisoners, refugees, people with special needs and those who suffer from chronic pain and cancer. She works with social activists and people engaged in climate activism.
Ulla is interested in bringing ancient wisdom teachings into our day to day life to support us in a search for more freedom and happiness. Committed to an engaged way of teaching, her interests span from the personal to the global, addressing psychological healing as well as ecological and social issues.