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Upaya Day 2: still in heaven

Woke at dawn to a spectacular sunrise that went on, shifting through every shade of red on the spectrum, for about twenty-five minutes. I can lie in bed, covered in a fluffy white comforter, and watch a great stretch of sky. After the sunrise I drifted out to the kitchen to find my “buddy” Rose (who tells me she is 64) peeling potatoes alone. I joined her till time for meditation. After meditation, temple cleaning (I got to dust mop and then damp mop the floor of the meditation room). Humaya worked along with me, silent and powerful, her Nepalese cheek bones shining in the morning light. Then breakfast. Rose’s Swiss treat: shredded potatoes rolled with a little buckwheat flour and oven-baked on big cookie sheets and then topped with fried eggs, and then the most glorious concoction: oat flakes, walnuts, strawberries, blueberries, white grapes, and fresh cream, all rolled together. We’re cooking for 45, because there’s also a retreat going on (non-residents rent the space).

All meals are taken in silence, so apart from the crunching of jaws and the clanking of spoons or forks, the sounds of breakfast are hummingbirds (they make a tiny chuck-chuck sound in addition to their hum), and then a cacophony of birds, hundreds of varieties of them, flashing quick flits of green, red, bright blue, yellow. I breathed IN wonder and breathed OUT gratitude. What a way to start the day. This is the life.

My first work assignment was cleaning the bathrooms and the dorms, and even THAT was a sensual treat. They use some kind of citrus liquid as an all-purpose cleaner, and it smells wonderful. That’s for the sinks, showers, toilets, and floors. Then simple vinegar and water cleans the windows and mirrors. Whenever someone would come through where I was working, they’d say, “Thank you,” and it sounded genuine. I hummed my way through the early morning, and voila! It was time to fix lunch, and I was on the lunch crew. Actually the young man in charge of the kitchen had it all under way. I just followed instructions. Again, Humaya was right there working beside me, eloquent in her silence. We cut some watermelon into triangles, steamed some kale, simple stuff. Then washed the pans. Lunch was a delicious lentil and acorn squash stew cooked with kombu seed (seaweed), freshly ground coriander, and other spices; then eggplant with pumpkin seeds mixed with quinoa; steamed kale; watermelon.

What gets me even more than the scenery, the scents, the food, and the clean, simple way of life–is the people. I get bits of people’s stories as we work together. The young man who is the kitchen maven is about thirty, and last week he cut the tip of his thumb off. I asked how he and the community responded to that crisis, and I was touched by his calm, his sense of humor, and his gratitude for the community. He was surrounded by caring, calm people who knew what to do and gave him sympathy and warmth in addition to medical care. “If I’d done that in the kitchen of an apartment where I lived alone,” he mused, “I don’t know what would have happened.” M’e Mpho would like to hear that. Humaya and Dawa know all about it.

Dawa was wonderful after lunch time. He and Humaya were cuddling (they’ve been married 25 years, and they still cuddle–and she must be forty and pregnant with their sixth child) and he saw me sitting, sipping water, looking out at the hills. He beckoned, “Come, Mama. Come and sit with us. We are talking about you. You were dizzy this morning.” I hadn’t said a word about that. But I had been dizzy, yes. “You are tall, Mama. So if you fall, it’s not good. If you feel like you are going to fall, please to sit down right away. Don’t try to get to a different place. Just sit, please Mama.” I bowed my thanks and promised I would.

The outdoor work leader is a good-looking Mexican man about 35. I hadn’t been scheduled to do lunch. He asked me to take his kitchen shift at lunch time because he had to attend an emergency meeting of the committee to deal with flooding, if it comes again. In the afternoon he asked me if I felt well, if it was too much for me, the lunch shift. I said no, thanked him, said it was a pleasure. Which it was. Then he asked me what brings me here. I told him, and he said, “I hope you will pick us. We need a person like you here.” I beamed, and I felt hot prickles around my eyes. It didn’t feel like it was a conversation about a lunch shift. It was a conversation about ways of being in the world. I’m so happy, I keep checking to be sure I’m awake. It’s a kind of happiness without sugary sweetness–just an ease of well-being. When we all meet in the meditation room and sit together, there is an intimacy of shared intention that settles over us all, like the fragrance of incense.

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