Saturday January 2, 2010: So this was our last night at the vacation rental in Luray. Some time that morning, as the wind howled outside, we lost our heat. That set our teeth chattering inside! Fortunately, Luray Caverns is nearby and the caves are a constant 54 degrees (which was better than we could say for the house!) So, we went to warm up there and to marvel at stalagmites, stalactites, flows and other cave wonders. There are a lot of really stunning formations to see in the caverns but one phenomenon that captured my attention for quite a while was the crystal pool. This pool appears to be an entire underwater world of stalagmites and stalactites but is really just a very shallow pool of water reflecting the formations on the ceiling. The water is so clear and still that you cannot tell that what you are seeing is merely a reflection until you sort of tell your mind that it’s only an illusion and refocus your eyes. It sounds simplistic but the optical illusion is really stunning and I couldn’t stop repeating the process of allowing myself to see the magical underwater world in all its magnificent brilliance and depth and then forcing myself to acknowledge the reality of the shallow pool. Yogis believe that the way we experience the entire world is a similar illusion and that meditation is one way to break through the illusion and see the “shallow pool” of our existence. Once we do, we can let go of the thoughts and actions that bind us to this limited existence and experience a world that is boundless in its depth and brilliance. We spent about an hour in the caves and, about halfway through, I began to feel my old nemesis, chronic back pain, radiating through my lower back and snaking into my hips. I didn’t want to cut the trip short so I really had to shut out the sensation of the pain in order to continue walking, pausing, and appreciating the cavern in all its detail. I’m glad I did but by the end I was a little drained. After the caves and trip to the grocery store, we returned to our still cold home. Hours later and a visit from the owner and his father (an HVAC man) we still didn’t really have working heat. So, we made the best of it with hats, gloves, blankets, and a fire in the fireplace. Naturally, I also made one last trip to the hot tub! A lot of the cloud cover was now gone and I got the best view of the stars that last night. But, with all this time spent appreciating natural beauty (and watching movies in front of the fire) I didn’t get to meditation until quite late. So, it felt more like a peaceful transition to sleep than a really productive meditation. I did sit for a good 20 minutes. To focus, I tried the ham sa/so ham mantra and I could feel a slight upward pulse. Earlier in the day, pain had radiated from my lower spine and now I felt easy and comfortable in my body. Mentally, my time in the cave was probably more of a meditation – requiring me to push aside physical discomfort in order to experience insight. Physically, that 20 minutes of seated meditation was more refreshing and afterwards I slept deeply and comfortably.