I needed a break from the routine of my daily life and had a strong longing for spirituality, internationality, teamwork and sea. All this and much more I found at the Kalikalos Holistic Education Center in Greece.
This was in May this year. It was the first time that I lived in a community and I liked it so much that I returned in July for a month as a staff member.
At this time a Vipassana “light” seminar was offered here, and I joined it. I already had been on a Vipassana intensive in Thailand and at several Zen-retreats in France which I appreciated very much.
Even so, this Vipassana experience in Greece proved to be a unique experience. “Light” means meditation, silence, walking, daily personal interviews—all beginning with the sun rising over the sea at 6 in the morning and ending at 1:30 at lunch time when we were allowed to speak again.
Most of us spent the afternoons at the very beautiful Aegean beaches, enjoying the company of others or just lying alone in the shade embraced by the rhythmic sound of the waves.
During the day we practiced Karma Yoga, being part of the community, helping for a couple of hours with the daily work of administration, cooking, gardening and cleaning up.
This sharing allowed us to work with and apply what we learned or experienced in the morning sitting, walking and exploration of our minds.
Once I found myself as a helper in a situation which normally would have made me explode. However, I found that, thanks to the morning sitting, I had developed enough awareness not to react in my usual way, acting out my anger. In other words, I was able to observe how I had been conditioned to respond to stress and I was able to step out of this. Instead of suppressing a strong feeling I was able to witness the subtle transformation which took place in my body/mind. A feeling of thankfulness arose in me watching the effectiveness of our practice.
This sounds quite simple and could be understood as “doing” in a different way. But it is much more than that, it is witnessing a state which can be discribed as beeing liberated to react in a predetermind way. It is a very deep and touching experience – as if I had been a slave for a long time and now a wide space opened up. In this space I felt the freedom to choose how to act. What suprised me the most was the gentleness of this perception.
Each day we finished with a Dhamma talk after dinner.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the Dutch Vipassana teacher Henk Barendregt. I discovered, after I booked the retreat, that he is a professor in mathematics at the University of Nejmegen.
His mathematical background came across clearly in his precise, well structured instructions and teachings which he gradually built up over the course of the retreat. Although at the beginning I thought to myself: “Quite simple instructions, who knows if this is for me?”
I soon experienced the effectiveness of the method, coming from Buddha via many teachers to Mahasi Sayadaw (who emphasized walking meditation), to Phra Mettavihari (Henk’s teacher who emphasized bowing and using modern language), to Henk (who emphasized an intuitive scientific language). I never would have believed at the beginning how profound and deep this could be.
Henk’s language is free of religious connotation. It goes beyond religion and this is how I understand spirituality. His plain language transports Buddhas teaching which has a philosophical base. The praxis is concentrated on the observation of the mind and the getting aware of our conditioning. The breathing is a key element in the mind developement. Henk pointed out that we were working on our “operation system”. And so it was. I slightly touched it.
The bowing and the walking meditation are pure movement and talk for themselves.There is no need to add anything to them. I call them embodied richness.
I have met quite a few spiritual teachers in my life, but I never met a person who had so little personality as this teacher. By personality I mean Ego. His gentle and humorous being gave much allowance to me to be. This was the greatest gift I received. He didn’t talk much about love and compassion, but created the conditions for us to be able to experience these qualities one-to-one.
Every day each one of us had a personal interview with Henk. I felt touched by the patience and dedication he offered us, and for me this created a deep security and confidence in my on-going inner process.
It was a period of deep insight, of exploring mind-objects and it was a period of learning to cope with problems in a different way from my usual conditioning; a period full of joy in marvelous nature. I received tools which I will be able to use for the rest of my life.
My heartfelt graditude to you, Henk. Thank you, Kalikalos and Jock, for all those opportunities which are offered at this inspiring centre.
Friederike Ernst, born in Hartberg/Austria, actually living in Italy, north of Milano.