You see fire, I see smoke sauna

The dangers of miss-perception ironically echoed in a Vipashyana retreat.

I was delighted to be here in Männiku Metsatalu in Estonia with a mixture of budding self-developers, from Columbia to Germany each sitting in their own unique poise and confronting their own distinctive experience. Ten days of silence, meditation and teachings in order to develop clarity as well as enquiring into the nature of being and the nature of reality surrounding us was on the menu; a smoke sauna and jump into the icy lake was the dessert.

I’ve been to many saunas in my time, in fact I see myself as a bit of a sauna connoisseur, so throughout the retreat I noticed my mind particularly grasping onto the delights of the smoke sauna. This is where the retreat turned into an event I will never forget. You see, the smoke sauna was situated behind the main meditation lodge and only from a certain vantage point could you gaze towards the billowing smoke leaving the saunas entrances. I was in a position to be able to see this quite clearly.

In the midst of a highly effective meditation, I looked up at the Vipashyna crowd with their heads slightly tilted in peace. Taking a moment to scan the room, the exquisite wooden surroundings of the Estonian lodge perfectly mirrored the tranquil ambiance encapsulated within the abode. A warm smile appeared as I gazed through the windows at the dew on the blades of grass, the steam from the gardens and mist from the forest. It all seemed to merge in complete harmony with my own breath adding to the romanticism.

As I assumed the meditators were deep in perseverance with non-conceptual duality, I do notice one English man break from his meditation. He refreshes his eyes, tends to his cricked neck and stretches gently his flaccid muscles. From awareness of his own awareness he is now fully conceptually involved in his surroundings. I observe now with intrigue as he re-establishes his own identity by peering towards the windows, the lake and inevitably, the smoke sauna.

Complementing this experience was the curiosity of innocence that enveloped this unfolding performance. The man, unbeknown to the smoke saunas correct identity, observes with horror the smoke billowing from the chimney. He looks startled and confused and swiftly leaves the meditation hall. I try to establish eye contact as he passes about ten meditating heads away. It’s as if, he is running on water and the heads resemble buoys at sea.

Ironically he is the only other English participant in the hall, and both of us at this moment had their eyes open. But his determination was succinct and I do not enter his stream of consciousness and I see him gently weave in and around the meditators as if he is an Olympic skier, with the grace of a ballerina desperate not to disturb his comrades, but with the determination of an army General on a secret mission. He leaves the hall and he is now completely left with his own delusion, believing the smoke sauna is actually a building on fire and also believing he should be the only person to put it out. At this time I begin to silently laugh with anticipation.

I next see him outside the window in barefoot destroying the dew on the blades of grass and hurtling at a speed of knots towards the sauna! He charges full pelt at the entrance, disregarding his own safety, the hero enters the smoke and he is gone. I assume at this point he will figure it out and return quietly and rather sheepish. However, I now see him return from depths of the sauna holding not a forlorn baby in his arms but a bucket of water. Who would have thought there would have been a bucket of water conveniently situated in a building on fire!

He then runs to the smoke and precedes to pour the water down the smoke infused entrance. This happens frantically three to four more times before I finally see he has lost hope. The irony of a man throwing water down the chimney of a smoke sauna that inevitably creates only more smoke was truly a treasure to watch.

He throws the bucket down, runs back towards the meditation hall in a state of panic. He charges in and apologetically disturbs the meditation. “Can someone please help me put that fire out” he proclaims. Sweating like a smoked ham, he has the aura of a man on the edge, the smell of a well cured pack of bacon and the look of a desperate child. “That is not a fire, that is a smoke sauna” the facilitator replied.

And that was that. His conceptual mind blown, the paradox of perception was demonstrated in its fullest and most innocent of experiences. The power of perception gives rise to meaning and identity that formulates the lens in which we see the world through. I am not sure if I will ever get a glimpse of non-conceptual duality during meditation, but the event was enough of a teaching to show how each of us construct our own realities created by the labelling nature of our own minds. You see fire, I see smoke sauna.

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