It’s been a while since I’ve had sturdy enough internet access to post. Free wifi is harder to come by here than it is in the states. January was a peaceful and contemplative month spent in near isolation at the Mahamudra Centre for Universal Equity in a tiny town called Colville, population 23. It’s the last stop for provisions and gas before heading further north on the Coromandel Peninsula.
The road to Mahamudra was a winding one, indeed. I couldn’t fully appreciate the incredible mountain and ocean views because I was too busy focusing on keeping the contents of my stomach where they were as we snaked our way over mountain passes and through deep valleys. That, coupled with the fact that the last thing I did before boarding the bus was kill a spider with a book of Rumi poems (probably not good karma), had me worried that things were off to a bit of a rocky start.
But Mahamudra is so beautiful that all my worries quickly faded as I was shown around the grounds and introduced to the staff, visitors, and the kind and eccentric group of guests, some of who spend their free time shouting mantras at cows on the roadside. Mahamudra is a Tibetan Buddhist centre that hosts workshops, retreats, and simple visits. Prayer flags hang from nearly every surface. It’s the kind of place you go and forget the rest of the world exists, even though it’s a transitory place with travellers coming and going frequently. There was one woman at Mahamudra on a 16-month silent retreat. Yikes! So needless to say, it is very quiet. Isabella, the Swiss cook, took me under her wing a bit and brought a bit of spunk to an otherwise relatively straight laced place. She makes the best hummus in the world.
Unfortunately, I probably did generate a bit more bad merit the first night. One rule at Mahamudra is that you refrain from killing even the tiniest of insects, and my room was, of course, home to what seemed like all the loudest, hungriest Mosquitos on the face of the earth. I built a fortress for protection but eventually caved and went on a bit of a killing spree. Bad Buddhist.
As a WWOOFer, I worked roughly five hours a day mostly cleaning and occasionally gardening or cooking (and once cleaning cockroach poop off a nun’s wall), in exchange for dorm-style accommodation and three delicious vegetarian meals. I got one day off per week and generally had afternoons free to explore. The “town” of Colville consists of a general store, a tennis court, a post office, and the Green Snapper Cafe. They have good coffee, free wifi, and “the best hot chips on the peninsula” according to Mahamudra’s resident head nun, so that quickly became my go-to spot.
Every morning I did yoga and then at 8:30, gulped down my remaining tea and went to the Gompa for 30 minutes of guided meditation. Eventually I got to participate in a workshop called “how to meditate,” which was very informative and very painful. Who knew sitting was so hard? I felt like I had the knees of a 90-year-old who just tried running a marathon. But by the time I left, the sitting felt easy. The only hard part now is the whole “quieting your mind” ordeal. Not surprisingly, I remain unenlightened.
The rest of my time at Mahamudra was spent drinking many a cuppa tea, watching Buddhist Dharma movies, trying to win the affections of Yama the cat, and attempting to live and work with a more mindful and grateful heart. I went on a two-hour horse trek atop a white horse named Ambrose and spent a few afternoons hiking the nearby hills. I saw glowworms in a cave and 360-degree ocean views from a summit. The landscape in Colville is stunning. If you turn 90 degrees, you’re looking at something completely different. I turn one way and think I could be in Hawaii, then look to my left and I could be back in Vermont. New Zealand has everything.
At the end of the month, I was ready to leave. I thought if I heard the term “loving-kindness” one more time I might explode. My goal in going to Mahamudra was to learn the basics of meditation, and I’m really thankful that I got to do that. I also ended up learning about the struggle of the Tibetan people. Before Mahamudra, I didn’t realize the extent of their problem. So the Centre was a really valuable place to be able to live, work, and learn. It opened my eyes to the fact that Buddhism is much more than simply trying to live in the present moment.