Arhatic Yoga Episode 2: Return of the Lost

my second year in the Arhatic Yoga Retreat

I look at the headlights outside the bus window; here I am again, back in the big city. I have developed a hatred for it. The big city with all its buzz, hype, noise and dirt drains the vitality out of me. It’s ironic that I would be starting a three-day spiritual retreat in the heart Ortigas, Pasig, Metro Manila Philippines. I will start a retreat in the kind of place I hate to be in: the big city.

I enter a building in the middle of the night. Mom tells me to be gentle with my movements. Four people are sleeping in the room we enter, one of them is the wackiest priest I have come across with in my life. Father Bong wakes up and greets us, probably after hearing the door open. He is with four other people from Davao, it seems. I lie down on a wooden floor after exchanging emails with my boss from the US for a couple of minutes. We’ll be up and running in four more hours. That’s only four hours of sleep for me. I need to start sleeping.

Day 1 Dawns

I wake up at 4:30, 30 minutes before the wake-up call. A few others do, too. The smell of coffee now permeates the room. Coffee and pandesal, Pinoy breakfast at its most raw. I’m glad that even in the big city, I can get a glimpse of home. As usual I find my corner and stay there, listening to conversations, smiling. I often do that in places where a lot of people gather. Yes. I am not much of what many call a “people person”.

The wake-up call sounds and soon enough someone is yelling that the buses which will take us to our destination (where the retreat proper will take place) have arrived. I pick my bags up, help mom and my aunt with some of their luggage, and we take the elevator to a few floors down. Two Victory Liner buses are indeed lined up in front of the building, and we are assigned to bus number 2. I take my sit alongside an elderly participant from Baguio, whose name I again forgot. We exchange greetings and other pleasantries then proceed to minding ourselves and prepping up for two more hours of sleep.

Phinma Training Center, Tagaytay. I was here last year. Out of that same bus, and into the entrance of the main building. I was here last year, greeting everyone I come across with a good morning and an occasional “Atma Namaste”. That of course comes with me bowing. Too much anime has embedded in me the traditional Japanese gesture of respect, which is not what someone would notice immediately unless they’re not used to slightly zealous show of respect. I can vouch for myself that the bowing is out of sincerity though, because everyone here deserves my utmost respect.

We check in while having pep talk with the staff, who smiles and chats with us for a bit while we search for our assigned rooms. Mom, my aunt and I share a small room, three beds each side by side. I take the middle one, the smallest one, which seems to be the obvious choice since I am the kid. I’m 26, employed full time and living a comfortable life. I like it when I am “the kid”.

We set out for breakfast in another building. The Arhatic Yoga practice discourages the consumption of red meat, but most people here seems take it upon themselves to be vegetarians. I can live with three days of vegetarian food. It never is a major issue unless I see any dish crafted out of bitter melon (bitter gourd, ampalaya). I am in an eternal war with it since it first graced my tongue. Fortunately though, the said “horror” is not anywhere in sight. I enjoy a hearty breakfast.

The retreat hall is quite big. We have almost a hundred and fifty people here. Up front on the left is a portrait of Grandmaster Choa Kok Sui. Opposite it, on the right is a portrait of Jesus Christ. It has been a standard in pranic healing centers and events held in the Philippines have that portrait where Jesus is standing with his hand half raised and the other touching his heart. It aligns so well with the energy projection while touching the heart. It has also been the most common portrait of Jesus Christ among Catholics. Far back is Kuya Franny with a tripod and a video cam, often accompanied by Kristine, often touted as Master Faith’s and Master Hermie’s daughter.

Bright lights hover overhead as I remain neutral in my seat again listening to people around me. A sea of “kumusta ka na!” (how are you?) and “nice to meet you”-s greetings cover the entire hall. (Ate) Czarina is today’s host. I am waiting for a signal for the retreat to start. The host hushes us down. It starts. I am here in 2015’s Arhatic Yoga retreat.

Day 1 ends

Like last year, I am not sure why I am here again. My mom wants me to go, and I sometimes do things to make my mom happy. Day 1 ends with a solid answer to exactly why:

Come back. You’ve strayed.

Last year’s October was a good month. I went home from the retreat rearing to go, practicing everyday, keeping my life on track. In as little as two months I lost all that. Then came January. I lost my job due to stress and pressure and ultimately my lack of skill. I lost a lot of things. I was again in a rut. I picked myself back up last August. I went headstrong into October, and I was called back, so I don’t have to go through that again.

This day was more technical than I expected. If you listen well enough, master will insist on one thing: practice DILIGENTLY. The meditations, the self reflections, the tithing are there for a reason. The retreat is here to remind you of that reason.

Pranic Healing is a way of life. You will stray, but the way is always there. You need someone to tell you to come back. To tell you why you must come back.

I sleep with peace. The peace of knowing why I am back here. The peace of knowing that in the coming years, I will be back here. The peace of knowing that once again, I have a set direction. The teacher has called, the teacher has taught. Everything from here on out, is up to me.

Day 2 Dawns

There is no reason to wake up at 4 am when it was announced that they will ring the bells at around 6 am. Tagaytay may have a lot of scenes to offer but I am here on a fenced compound and I have no intention of going out. However, I put my earphones on and opened the doors to a chilly Tagaytay morning.

SNSD’s Lionheart and Charlie Puth’s Marvin Gaye are on for a lot of repeats on my playlist. I am not exactly a fan of either Korean or American pop songs but these two songs have a hold on my ears for quite a while now. With a couple of other songs, I trace the path around the Phinma compound at around 430 am. Taking snapshots of whatever the camera can put its viewfinder on.

Day 2 is intriguing in a couple of ways. Aside from Master Choa expressing his usual wit and humour, I find that most of the first-timers in the retreat have expressed a “restrained disagreement” with some of the teachings that are really hard to accept or understand. Some can’t shake that expression one has when he or she has already watched the video or listened to the same old lecture. I share those feelings, and I think most of us do. That is another reason why you have to always come back here:

“The lessons never change. The lessons will take time to comprehend. However, the lessons may be forgotten in the busy, modern world. You must remember, and I am here to remind you.”

Day 2 Ends

We end with the fires burning away the papers we held. The papers where every one of our weaknesses are written. Last year I argued that there isn’t much I can write in that paper. Not because I do not have weaknesses, but I have grown to love all of me. This year, I was able to write a couple of weaknesses I wanted to work on. Is that because I have decided to hate those things about me? No.

“I love myself. I love my very being. It is out of this love that I have to let go of a lot of things in my life. Love is learning what to leave behind and what to keep. What to let go and what to live with. And so, I set fire, to the rain.”

Day 3 Dawns

I almost forgot that we hold the Catholic Mass on most retreats. One of the participants call out to me (whose name I again forgot). I will be joining the choir along with the other participants. Being the only male in the choir has its own disadvantages. If I sing the bass, I will either stand out too much and not blend in at all or I wouldn’t be heard amidst the plethora of higher tones surrounding me. No big deal. The mass went on without a hitch.

Here is the difficult part of day three. I have come up with something that I think the participants needed to know, or at least something I think can help. However, I am not a good public speaker, my legs shake on stage, and I have not fully prepared what I need to say. I have a few minutes to compose this. I will fail. But a bit of the message will get through. I will endure the embarassment.

On Meditation, Trance and Finding the Silence

When we close our eyes, we start to pursue that. The silence, the focus, the serenity, the peace. That state of letting go, a half-conscious state characterized by an absence of response to external stimuli. A state close to an out-of-body experience.

We often meditate with a lot of things distracting us: minor pains, supposed appointments, external events, etc. Getting into that said state when all you can see is a pitch black darkness takes a lot of time, lots of practice. However, if you do get in that state, it is one of the most fulfilling experience one can have in his or her life. That’s why meditations is valued all across the world.

What intrigues me most about Day 3 is how the masters mentioned to have awareness while in that state, where external stimuli is supposed to be ignored. That takes a lot more time and a lot more practice.

Day 3 Ends

Day 3 went by and ended rather abruptly. People now say their goodbyes and exchange pleasantries and the heartwarming “see you next year!”. I again find my corner and listen. I smile. I may be detached to a certain degree, but I do like this place, I do like these people, with a sincere kindness and gentleness I only offer a few people in my life.

“Thank You. Atma Namaste. I will smile this big and crooked but sincere smile, when I see you again.”

See you next year!