Meditation with a View

Another meditation and potluck at J & N’s yesterday, just outside of Ubud, under slightly cloudy skies. The others sat for the first portion, 40-minute sitting meditation while I lay back onto a pile of puffy cushions – grateful as always, to have the space to spread out, and unconcerned that I would fall asleep.

The computer-generated gong sounded, a silent indication that we could now shift into walking meditation. Which, next to the horizontalizing, is my favorite. In typical fashion, a few of us quietly stepped outside the room, each person staking their space in the living room or area outside. I opted to climb the stairs to the partly-shaded terrace upstairs, where I paced myself ever so slowly, not lifting my gaze from the ground.

At some point, I suddenly stopped in my tracks – my wet footprints on the wooden planks drying up almost immediately under the brilliant midday sun. As I looked up and in front of me, I was met with a landscape of many rice fields. In the middle of one flooded field, not too far off in the distance, stood a farmer hunched over, straw hat askew. Dressed in long sleeves and long shorts, his legs were burnished and caked with mud up to his knees.

Wet rice-field planting season. In one hand he held a saucer-like disc, from which he yanked off one handful after another of rice shoots. Then, starting from one side of the field, he would bend from the waist, dunk one shoot after another into the mud, creating almost precisely drawn lines of green the entire length and width of the field.

With a slight nudge to the larger disc – laying in wait slightly behind or beside him, with shoots laying in wait – the farmer would send it gliding along the water, so that it was still within reach of his arms but not an obstacle to his work.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the farmer: There was a distinct rhythm and bounce to his movements, almost graceful and balletic in quality. You could tell that he may have been a dancer in his younger days. He swayed from one side to another of the field, barely lifting his torso until all the shoots in hand had been planted.When one row was done, he would raise his body only slightly, re-plant his feet, grab more shoots and set about pushing clumps into the mud.

It was a meditative exercise for me, par excellence: I had completely cleared my mind and thought of nothing else than closely following the farmer’s movements, as predictable and monotonous as they may have appeared. What a blissful few moments…

He was nearing the end of the field, but not quite done, when his stock of shoots ran out. He glanced about, cleaned off his feet and started to walk back along a path when he looked up and saw me. Pausing for just a moment, I wondered if he would wave – or if I should. But instead I let the moment pass.

Then the gong sounded from below, announcing the end of walking and a return to sitting (a.k.a., for me, lying down). I was still looking out at the fields when the farmer slowed his pace, looked up again, amused perhaps at the sound of a gong echoing through the air – and originating not from a temple, rather from a villa – and went on his way.

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