I’d forgotten my iPhone in the front seat of the truck, which meant my husband had to turn around and drop it off to me at the train station. As he passed me the phone, he said “You’re going to work on your mindfulness this weekend, right?”. Yeah.
The VIN Mindfulness Group, founded by Dr. Michele Gaspar, had been meeting regularly for the last few years through on-line sessions. Participants could chose from three times during the week and sign-in to the virtual forum for a vipassana-based mediation. Vets from all over the USA and Canada have participated. It was from this pool of cyber-meditating DVMs that Michele organized the 2nd Annual VIN Mindfulness Retreat in Chicago, at the beautiful Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center.
I took the Amtrak train from downtown Detroit to downtown Chicago. I was able get up and move around, have a wider seat, see the landscape streak past my window and visit the food service car for a snack. Not to mention it was half the cost of a flight. I arrived 50 minutes late due to delays from other locomotives coming down the track. Better than running into an on-coming train.
Michele’s husband drove me through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic, without us ever coming to a grinding halt. We arrived at Techny Towers just in time to join the group for a hot dinner. A great way to start the retreat. Familiar and new faces. Counting Michele, we were an even dozen veterinarians hailing from New Jersey, Arkansas, Tenessee, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma and Canada (Ontario and Saskatchewan). I loved hanging out with other veterinarians. Such good souls. It’s a rare group that can laugh and cry and tell stories about vomiting or diarrhea during a meal. How good is that?
After dinner and brief introductions, we settled in for our first sitting session. Thirty minutes and mostly silent, save for the intermittent beeping of the building security system. Meditation styles varied. Some sat in chairs or on a couch and could even put their feet up on an ottoman. Others sat on the floor, using a cushion or blanket, while lying down was also an option. A few sat on meditation benches. All that mattered was we remain aware, stay awake, follow the breath and observe the thoughts. We built up to a 45 minute sit by Saturday.
A few days before the retreat, Michele asked me to lead a 30 minute yoga class on Saturday and Sunday. I agreed! I’d been wanting to do this for a long time…bring the benefits of yoga to the veterinary profession. Something to soothe our frazzled parasympathetic system rather than rev up our already stressed sympathetic system. (By the time I retire, I think my adrenal glands will be shrivelled up like walnuts!) I chose to teach a gentle, alignment-based sequence with some standing poses. There would be very little equipment and likely no mats. I’m not a power yoga teacher anyhow. Most vets are pretty able-bodied but I didn’t want to offer a full-out class without knowing about possible body concerns anyone might have. Taking inspiration from Cyndi Lee and Bernie Clark, the class seemed well received. It was an honour to offer yoga to them.
Saturday was a glorious Fall day. We took a silent, walking meditation through the sprawling grounds of the Techny Towers. Sunny and breezy. Tree leaves wearing fall colours. Sounds of airplanes overhead and cars along the road. Children’s voices during a soccer game. Canada geese (avoid stepping on their poop!). Ponds and statues. Onsite veggie garden and small hobby farm.
On Sunday, we chatted about all the inspiring books that we wanted to read and sat in silence for 20 minutes. Then I had to leave early, so my ride could get me past the perennial construction of Chicago roads, and catch my train for home. Lots of hugs and quick good-byes. The weekend was over.
I remembered staying up on Saturday night, wishing I didn’t have to go to sleep and that the weekend didn’t have to end. In the past 24 hours, time seemed suspended for some parts and moved more quickly during others. I was grasping and trying to hold onto all these pleasant feelings. Then I reminded myself of aparigraha, the yama that means non-possessivenes or non-grasping. Our time together had come to a close. It was sad to accept that. But I am comforted in knowing these wonderful veterinarians are out there. Meditating. Trying to figure out where each of us fits and how best to do it. I’ll see them all again in virtual reality (or maybe at the next retreat?), as we join together and sit in silence.