|Alright Jim! I got this interesting email from my brother who spent time in Thailand at a Monastery and thought it might be of interest to some here (he's the intelligent sibling...graduated U of Minn...teacher for 30 yrs) and thought some might find it a good read possibly: Vipassana at Doi Suthep: the first 24 hours*|
*I don't usually view my days in blocks of 24 hours, but after you read this, you'll understand. Vipassana is a form of meditation and the name means "to see clearly."
Carol and I have been traveling together in Thailand and Myanmar for more than a month, but we are about to temporarily go our separate ways--she back home to
enjoy friends and family (and endure some good old Minnesota January weather)while I journey up to the top of the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. My destination is Doi Suthep, a famous Buddhist
temple and monastery, where I will spend three weeks either enjoying or enduring a modified version of monastic life while learning a type of meditation called Vipassana (pronounced wee pah sah nah). I'm requested to arrive at 10AM
and I've allowed 70 minutes to get there from the hotel, but it turns out to be a slower trip than I expected. I have to negotiate a fare with a Tuk Tuk (sort of a motorcycle turned trishaw) to take me to a location where I can pick up a
red taxi (a mini pickup truck with the bed turned into covered seating). After about 10-15 minutes at the stop, a taxi pulls up and several of us who have been waiting board. Some local people help me with my luggage and stow it at the front for me. The taxi waits until there is a full load, about 20 minutes, and then we head up the mountain. It is a steep and very curvy road and the local folks who helped me with my luggage continue to do so by holding it in place through all the curves. I'm the only westerner aboard, but when I smile at a cute baby, it breaks the ice and I get a lot of smiles from his family. I speak no Thai, they speak essentially no English, but the atmosphere is friendly. Perhaps they have intuited my mission and approve (Vipassana is highly revered here). Once at the top, I have a choice: to lug my suitcase up 306 steps or pay 20 baht (65 cents) to ride what is a cross between an elevator and a funicular. I opt for the ride, but it means waiting in a long queue. At last, I arrive at the meditation center about 45 minutes late, but all I'm thinking about is that I am finally fulfilling a pledge I made to myself in this very place over a year ago.
I remove my sandals and enter the office, telling someone my purpose. I'm directed to speak to a nun in a small office at the back. Fortunately, she's a UK expat, so English is not a problem, but there is a problem--she can't find my
reservation. It turns out that they had a computer virus that destroyed some files and I am one of the lucky ones with a destroyed file. The bigger problem is that they are fully booked. I'm told to wait in the library while they try to sort something out. After what is for me a rather tense 25 minutes (what am I going to do? I'm locked into this schedule!) I'm thinking, yes, I wanted a little adventure, but this is most certainly not the kind of adventure I had in mind. Then I get the good news that they have been able to re-arrange the housing for some novice monks to fit me in. I breathe a big sigh of relief...I'm back to the adventure I had bargained on...but I still don't really know what it is.
I get my first hint in a few minutes as the nun leads me to my quarters in a dorm behind the temple. My home for the next three weeks is a 20X20 foot room with tile floor, bare white walls and ceiling. The only thing that breaks up
the plain white surface is a flourescent light bulb attached to the ceiling. Mysteriously, there is no light switch. Later, I discover the switch (silly me, I looked by the door where I enter the room but the switch is on the opposite wall where someone must have thought it belonged).
Perhaps you are wondering why I didn't mention a bed breaking up all that plain surface. It is because there is no bed. I have been issued a thin (about 1/2
inch thick) foam pad as a "mattress") and a blanket and quilt. The quilt looks very much like the pro d uct of one of those Lutheran church world relief projects. I look for the made in Lake Wobegon label, but it is nowhere to be found. Hello Minnesota anyway! I have sometimes in the past used the term spartan to describe a hotel room that I thought was pretty basic. I now can see that they were not even close to spartan, they were luxurious. THIS is spartan.
It's time for lunch, which consists of brown rice and three different vegetable
dishes, which prove delicious. All the food served here is vegetarian and I'm
wondering if I'll soon be facing deep seated carniverous cravings.
After lunch, I meet with the nun to get my introduction to the program. Most
importantly, she gives me my initial "walking meditation step" and sitting
meditation focus. I put walking in quotes because we used specialized steps and
move more slowly than the usual pace of walking. I am to "walk" for 15 minutes
and then do sitting meditation for 15 minutes. While I'm walking, I am to be at
all times "mindful," that is, I am to focus on the physical movements of my feet
while looking, but not really looking, about six feet in front of me. Each time
I lift my right foot, I am to say to myself, "the right foot is thus" and
likewise fo r my left foot. If I come to a barrier, I'm to bring my feet
together and acknowl edge that I am standing. The I say to myself "turning"
while I do a 180 in two 90 degree increments. I'm told that I can repeat these
thirty minute practices as often as I like during time free for practice.
Tomorrow, I'll meet with my teacher, a monk, who will give me
I head back to my room to try out the bed and discover that the foam is very low
density and I might as well have nothing. Why didn't I bring my camping foam
pad from home? Maybe they wouldn't let me use it anyway because it might be too
luxurious and we are prohibited from using luxurious beds and chairs. Time to practice. I set my kitchen timer for 15 minutes and start my mindful
walking. But it isn't very mindful. The truth is that the step is pretty
simple, in fact, too simple to keep my interest, but I try very hard to
concentrate. Beep, beep--my 15 minutes is up. Time to sit in lotus position
and focus on the rising and falling of my abdomen as I breathe. There is a
minor problem with this as well. I don't really breathe with my stomach since
I'm a chest breather. There isn't much abdominal rising and falling going on to be
mindful of and I find myself starting to nod off. This is not going to be easy, but a lot of people have been doing this for thousands of years, so it must
work. The timer sounds my release and I decide I need to walk (the old fashioned way) to wake up before I try another round of practice. After a couple more rounds of practice punctuated by fast walking, I hang it up. As evening approaches, I feel an expectation welling up--my body is well trained and it's getting ready for dinner, except that there won't be any. Part of the regimen involves foregoing solid food after 12 noon. I make some herbal tea
(hibiscus) and try to fool my body into thinking it's been fed, but my bo dy is
not that gullible. I begin to sense a different kind of hunger as well--there are about a dozen other meditators, but no one says "hello" or for that matter, gives
friendly eye contact and a smile. I'm hungry for a little socializing, but another facet of our regimen is "noble silence." We are not to speak to each other unless it is necessary. I begin to see this as a philosophical question. How do we define "necessary"? Right now, conversation feels like a need to me. I'm starting to feel lonely and wondering what I've gotten myself into. I seek refuge in more practice. Later, I wonder if this is all a clever design to get us all seeking refuge in practice without them having to crack the whip to k eep us on task.
It's getting close to bedtime, so I head to my room and get ready for bed. The last thing I do is a bit painful, I set my alarm for 4AM., the official wake up hour.
I manage to get to sleep, but not to stay that way. There is no way to avoid awaking to pain in the various bones in what feels like virtual contact with the tile floor. And if the pain doesn't wake me, the dogs will. Or the phone that sounds like it is ringing just outside my window. Oh the joys of the light sleeper. We are not supposed to sleep more than 6 hours per night, but I if go to bed at 10PM and get up at 4AM, there is no way I'll get 6 hours sleep under these conditions.
I'm lying under the covers, awake, wondering what time it is when my alarm goes off to inform me it's official--I'm supposed to be awake. I crawl out from under the covers to very cold air. It's "winter" in Chiang Mai (which is kind of like summer in Minnesota) but I'm on top of a mountain where it gets cold. My room is unheated and the windows are the louvered type and they don't close completly, so it may not be a lot warmer inside than outdoors. I decide to keep my nightshirt on and don a shirt, then a wool sweater, and finally, my jacket in a multi-layered defense against the chill. I also grab a blanket to place on the chair, a decision that later pleases me, as the chairs are quite cold. The dining area has a hot water dispenser and I make some green tea. We are not to have any caffiene and I know there is some caffiene in green tea. Either they consider it too low an amount to count or they cannot get by with proscribing s uch an important beverage from this part of
Two cups of tea later, I head upstairs for the daily 4:30AM meeting. The meeting is led by the nun, who starts us off with 15 minutes of silence. I try to meditate, but I'm not far enough along to pull it off. Next, she asks us to identify any pains in our bodies. Where do I start? The left hip, the right hip, various parts of my back, all from lying on that tile floor with only a miserable excuse for a mattress to buffer me. Before I figure out where to start, she asks us to smile at the pain. I confess that smiling at pain is a novel concept for me and one that I'm not going to conjure up easily. I'm still not smiling at my pains and she has moved on to other maladies. I try to get with the program but it just is not working for me. For me, the meeting ends in frustration (and I am not smiling at my failure), but I have other things on my mind. Getting fed and getting warm. Breakfast is still 55 minutes away, so I return to my room and get under the covers. Yes, it i
s painful, but it is warm and soon I'm feeling cozy, well, sort of cozy.
I have not eaten for almost 19 hours, owing to the "no solid food after noon" rule, so I am really looking forward to breakfast, but when I get there, I have an unpleasant surprise. I see sandwiches. Sandwiches! This is Thailand. Thais don't eat bread. Desperately, I seek out the nun and tell her I am allergic to yeast, which means I cannot eat bread, which means I cannot break my fast. Not to worry. She'l get the cook to do something special for me. I sit down with some more tea and in almost no time, the cook, bless her heart, brings a special plate for me. It is a huge serving of noodles, freshly stir fried veggies and mushrooms, along with some soy based "meat." It smells wonderful and I'm not disappointed by the taste either. Score a huge brownie point for the cook! I have the sensation that there may be some envy arou nd me. There is no question that I would rather have my hot meal than thos e cold sandwiches. The cook has actually given me enough to feed two people, but I demolish it anyway. Then I discover that there is a dessert. Dessert? This is breakfast, but what the heck, it looks interesting. It is a kind of pumpkin soup but the broth is a sweet coconut milk enhanced with some terrific seasonings/spices. I do not need more food, but there is no way I am going to pass this up. Score another point for the cook. Score a point for the setting as well, since our breakfast is accompanied by a lovely sunrise. This may not be the most opportune time to bring up the placards that are placed before every diner, but there is a certain relevance. The message on the placard states that we are to eat mindfully and from the perspective that the food is basically fuel necessary for our functioning, not for pleasure, and we should not over-eat. So, how did I do? Well, I was not very mindful as I wolfed down breakfast and I certainly was not maintaining the proper attitude as my taste buds telegraphed their extreme pleasure at the wonderfu
l flavors of the food. Oh yeah, I over-ate as well. I guess that this morning I am batting 0 for 3, but I'm just a rookie, so they need to cut me some slack. But I SMILE AT MY FAILURE, though I don't think it's the kind of smile the nun was looking for at the morning meeting.
After breakfast, I see one of the meditators showing photos to the nun and I go to take a look. The nun invites me to join them. This must be a special occasion to exempt us from noble silence. It is. The meditator, Rosa, has pictures of herself with none other than the Dalai Lama. To a Buddhist, it does not get any better than that. I listen to Rosa's story, which is fascinating. She is from Honduras and was with their diplomatic corps, but has been traveling for 13 months. She spent a lot of time at various ashrams in India. I'm struck by the fact that if one of my colleagues has such an interesting story to tell, there are certainly others. I am probably in the midst of a unique assemblege of people. Who are they? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What opinions and experiences could they share? The possibilites for scintillating conversation are intriguing. But it is forbidden fruit. We are to maintain noble silence. No unnecessary talking,
let along conversation. My mind takes a philosophical side trip. What constitutes need? Right now, I can see the necessity of some conversation because this is an assemblege that will exist only once and it is probably a high powered and unusually interesting group. But my necessity is someone elses luxury--I could be alone in my view. How will I find out?
It's time to go to our 8AM meeting, the Dahmma talk, which turns out to be a series of stories that illustrate Buddha's teachings. I compare the purpose and method to the parables told by Jesus. Only the messages are different. I check my watch and it is 9AM. It was just over 24 hours ago that I got into the tuk tuk to come here, but it seems like two days ago.
The story picks up where I left off in the first installment. It is now Monday morning.
After the Dahmma talk, I try some more practice, but it doesn't go well. I feel like I'm just going through the motions without the proper concentration. I decide that I need a break and I leave the compound and enter the public area of the temple. There are throngs of people (there are always throngs of people when it is open). I walk to an area where there is a spectacular view of Chiang Mai. It is a popular area for photography. There is a group of people next to me posing for a picture. I offer to let the photographer get into the picture too. He accepts and thanks me. After, I'm asked where I come from. I tell them and explain that I am living at the temple while I study Vipassana. I get a very respectful response appropriate to my newly elevated status. OK, I admit it. This is kind of fun. But I probably broke some rules.
It's almost 11AM, time to head back for lunch. The food is out, but we all wait for the bell to be tolled. After the cook rings the bell, we line up, get our plates and silver, and proceed to dish up healthy portions ( I'm not the only one with a good appetite) of three different main dishes plus rice. Despite my big breakfast, I'm hungry. After all it has been five hours since I've eaten. Lunch is wonderful. Where did they find a cook this good? How do they keep her? I try to eat mindfully. I slow down and try to really experience the eating. It works, but it is counter-productive to another goal, not eating for pleasure. I can't help it. Not to take pleasure in this food would be sacriligious to a food person like me.
After lunch practice is a re-run of this morning's unsuccessful attempt. I'm nodding off during my sitting meditation. I decide to take a walk outside the cloister and enter the real world for a bit of contraband human interaction as the friendly photographer. Of course, I'll also gladly accept any outpourings of respect that come my way. This is fun.
Re-energized, I head back to my special world. I have a meeting scheduled with my teacher, the monk. He seems youngish, but I cannot guess the ages of people here. He must be somewhat senior to have this position. At the meeting, he gives me a new walking step and an additional concentration point for sitting mediation. I'm also told that I will have my welcoming ceremony that evening at 7:30. I tell him I've been having trouble staying awake during mediation and he tells me I should go to bed earlier. I have special dispensation for more sleep! I go to practice my new moves and find a big improvement. The added complexity of the step forces me to concentrate more and the added variety of two things to focus on while sitting helps with that as well. I practice with renewed vigor.
That evening, three of us participate in the ceremony (myself and two people who arrived today). The ceremony is conducted entirely in Pali, an ancient language used by Buddha. I don't know about other Buddhists, but Thais use Pali for chanting and rituals because they consider it the purest form (much like Christians consider Greek the purest form of biblical writings, or Catholics usage of Latin for portions of there service). We are not expected to understand Pali, of course, so there is an English translation below each line, but we ARE expected to read it aloud. Some of the words are very long and difficult.
It is during this ceremony that I pledge to abstain from: killing any living being (they include mosquitoes in that category), stealing, sex, wrongful speech, drugs/alcohol, solid food after 12 noon, beautifcation, and luxurious beds or seating. I see no problems, except the prohibition against killing mosquitos. I am from Minnesota where killing mosquitos is the state sport and obligatory. The luxurious bed would be a temptation too, but there are none to tempt us here. I have an interesting thought: this place could be a boot camp for teenagers addicted to spending an hour a day grooming in front of a mirror. There are NO mirrors in this place. But I don't think the cold turkey cure would last onc e they got back home.
In addition to the rules, we have guidelines, a term which connotes a greater degree of flexibility. The guidelines suggest (my term) that we are not to employ other techniques of meditation, tai chi, or yoga while here. We are not to smoke, use caffeine, read, write, listen to music, use a telephone or email, or to speak with other meditators unless it is necessary. It is obvious that they want us to be clear minded and focused--really focused.
That night, I take advantage of my teacher's suggestion and go to be early, but that also means an extra hour and a half on that miserable excuse for a mattress. I feel like I need to turn every ten or fifteen minutes, but I probably got some extra sleep compared to the first night.
At the 4:30 meeting, we again start with silence, but the routine is different. We lie on the floor and are told to be aware of all parts of our bodies touching the floor. We are to relax these parts of our bodies and allow them to "sink into the floor." Now this is practical. If I can get this to work, I don't need a mattress. Unfortunately, my body doesn't cooperate. I try to smile at my frustration but that doesn't work either. We go through a series of body parts (hands, feet, arms, etc.), and with each, focus on what they do for us and smile our appreciation to each of them.
After the meeting concludes, I head back to my room for a warm up, then to sunrise breakfast, and practice before the Dahmma talk. My daily routine is pretty established already. After the Dahmma talk, I speak with the nun about the mattress situation and she tells me I can have a second one. I've been a little chilly too, so I also can have an extra blanket.
It's Tuesday morning and I am starting to see my days in a more normal way, not 24 hours cobbled together anymore. As a result, this installment will just be the third and I won't confine myself to a 24 hour block of time.
I still have trouble with my mind wandering during meditation. This time I'm thinking that the list of things I was told to bring was incomplete. They didn't include long johns on the list and I would really appreciate some thermal underwear in the early mornings before sunrise. I must say though, that once the sun is up, is warms up nicely to where I can comfortably wear a short sleeve shirt.
Maybe you're wondering what we do for entertainment here without TV, radio, music players, even newspapers. Well, we have cats and dogs. Yup, that is THE source of entertainment. Actually, they are pretty entertaining. One female has a litter of 8 puppies and they are really cute and playful. One of the full grown males plays with them and I watch as he allows 2 or 3 of these little tykes "scare" him off. They seem quite proud of themselves for chasing away the big guy. But of course he comes back and lets them do it again. I didn't know animals did stuff like that. But the chief entertainer here is a toy poodle (ungroomed, of course). He obviously sees himself as the honcho of this place (though the cats would take issue). Our dining area is on a platform and it has a rail supported by ceramic pillars to keep someone from going over the edge. These pillars provide a favorite perch for the pooch as he projects his head between two of them and surveys his kingdom. It lo
oks like someone custom designed the pillars to fit his body. If another dog 5 times his size comes into the kingdom, our poodle is off in a flash, barking and chasing away the culprit. The crazy thing is that the larger dogs leave. Our animals have the run of the place. During one of our meetings, they are playing cat and mouse, except that the poodle is the cat and the cats are the mice. They move adroitly and amazingly quickly, dog in pursuit of cat. If the dog catches a cat, it rolls over and plays dead until the dog loses interest. Then the cat takes off and the chase in on again. Crazy.
Back to meditation. For the first time, I get a physical sensation during seated meditation. It's a kind of tingling sensation in my upper torso. But now
I'm looking forward to the highlight of my day, which is of course lunch. When I get to lunch, I get a surprise, but this time it is a good surprise. I close my eyes as I mindfully eat and what happens is incredible! I get my first "wow" meditation experience. I don't think I can adequately describe this, but it is like my consciousness takes physical form inside my mouth and observes in astounding detail as my teeth chew the food. I am totally aware of the changes in the texture of the food as I work it with my teeth and tongue. I am also totally aware of the release of flavors. This is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life and a huge smile erupts on my face. Anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy my food, but never before have I enjoyed food as much as this. Maybe this meditation is going to be worth all the deprivations I am enduring in order to get it.
Now technically, I got my first meditation breakthrough while seated in lotus position, but it was pretty minor compared to what happened at lunch. I see my true initiation as having occurred at the dining table, very appropriate for a foodie like me.
I have not mentioned that everyone else gets Ovaltine (to which they add creamer) in the evening. I don't get it because I'm allergic to chocolate. It seems to me that there is more food value in their drink than the herbal tea I am getting. I have an idea. In my walks around the temple, I've seen the shops selling soy milk. Yes, it is food, but it is not solid food. I ask the nun about it and she says I can drink soy milk in the evening. I go and buy a supply of Lactasoy. It is soy milk fortified with dried milk from cows and it comes in 300 ml. boxes that don't require refrigeration. No more night hunger.
With my second mattress and extra blanket, I have solved one problem, I no longer get chilly at night. But I cannot really detect any improvement from the second mattress. I tell the nun and she says I should speak with Chai. He takes me to the store room and shows me a pad that is about 1 1/4 inches thick and it is not foam, it is something dense. I take it, even though it doesn't smell very good. I build my new bed by first putting down the pad, the placing the 2 foam mattress on top of it, followed the blanket. I try it out. It still qualifies as non-luxurious, but it is clearly an improvement.
I practice some more. I'm now walking 20 minutes followed by 20 minutes sitting. I've given up the lotus position, though. My knees were complaining, so I have switched to sitting on a chair and it works fine. I am now regularly feeling waves (my teacher says they are energy flows) pass over and through my body. It is a very, very pleasant sensation. (In fact, I'm having one at this very moment as I am typing--sometimes they happen even when I'm not meditating).
After my last evening practice, I'm ready to try out the new bed. It still activates all the usual sore spots, but I feel the improvement as I nod off to sleep.
Yes, a better night's rest, finally. You already know how I'm spending my days, so I won't cover the routine, but I get something new today from my teacher: touching points. I am to visualize two preselected points on my back and say to myself "touching" as I do so. Sounds pretty innoccuous, but let me tell you, I'm blown away by the ensuing energy flows when I incorporate it into my sitting meditation. I'm feeling really good about how this is working for me.
I have left a few issues just hanging out there somewhere and it's time to pick them up again. You might recall that I was wondering if anyone else saw conversation as necessity. My initial attempts with two men were rebuffed (one of them later apologized-he was actually a nice guy, but he was in his challenge phase. In the last 3 days, meditators go around the clock, doing meditation non-stop, except for meals, which are delivered to their room so they avoid contact with others. Imagine 72 hours without sleep in an intense meditation that requires total concentration). But it turns out that Rosa is a talker and we have feequent conversations. We also get some new arrivals who do not come specifically for a total escape from human contact. One of them is a German named Thomas, who introduces hi mself and makes clear he has not taken the vow of silence. We hit it off and over the course of a few days become good friends. He is a very interesting man with a fascinating background. He used his chef skills as a ticket to travel much of the world and he has a lot of stories to tell (I wish I had the time to hear them all). I'll share an abbreviated version of one story: he was in Qatar, where alcohol is forbidden, but he was able to concoct some home made wine using baker's yeast and fruit. He then sold his bootleg booze for profits that exceeded his salary. Another new arrival is a couple, Gustavo and Mirjam. As his name suggests, Gustavo is from Spain while Mirjam is from the Netherlands. I practice some Spa n ish with Gustavo and then we switch to English. Both Gustavo and Mirjam are disappointed by the unfriendliness of this place. I explain that some people feel they cannot get what they came for unless they are silent. OK, they say, but can't they at least smile? Ah, I know of what they speak, since I have had the s ame reaction. I spend quite a lot of time with them and I can see that Gustavo is not well matched for this place, given his very negative views of institutions in general and organized religions in particular. He likes Buddha's ideas, but he is turned off by the temples, statues, etc. He also hates rules and we do have a few of them here. Gustavo lasts one day, but Mirjam decides to stay. We become friends as well and she later tells me that I was instrumental in her decision to stay. So I end up with three friends and conversation pa rtners. It is enough, because I am beginning to discover that if I spend too much time talking, the meditation suffers, and the meditation is becoming more compelling.
You might recall that I started with 15 minutes of walking and 15 minutes of sitting meditation. My teacher than moved me to 20 minutes, and now 25 minutes, so each set is 50 minutes. The longer sets get me a stronger response and when I do two 50 minute sets back to back, the second is always better than the first. It is this fact that is making the meditation more compelling.
But all work and no play...we need some comic relief and the poodle comes to the rescue. It's evening and we are all in the dining area, gathered for an evening meeting. Suddenly, there is laughter. I turn to see our poodle mounted on a cat and he is going at it frantically. One of the women says she is going to be sick, so I go over to the dog and shoo him off. He obliges, but I no more than turn my back and he returns to his previous position, going just as frantically. I go back, and this time, after he is off the cat I chastise him, saying "You are a dog, that is a cat, that is a no-no." It worked, he didn't re-mount the cat. I later find out from the nun that he always mounts a particular MALE cat, so she doesn't worry about it, but I'm wondering what an animal psychologist would say about the cross-gender, cross-species libido of this poodle. Hmm. I think that is the end of the story, but the next day, at lunch, I get the feeling that someone is looking at me. I look up from my plate and see two eyes glued on me. Only the eyes and a little bit curly poodle hair from the top of his head show above the table. I don't know what he is perched on to so perfectly conceal himself, but when I make eye contact, he ducks. Now I am wondering what on earth was going through the head of that dog as he was staring at me. Was it something I said last night when I broke up his little tryst?
What image is conjured up in your mind when I say "mountain top Buddhist monastery?" For me, it was be a quiet place of contemplation, a bit remote, away from the busy world of everyday life. Well, Doi Suthep is not really any of that. There are 98 bells at the temple, and many Buddhists think they will garner some good luck if they ring them all. And the ringing carries all the way to our meditation hall. Of course, after a while, you can sort of tune it out. But then along comes someone who really wants that bell to ring and gives it all he's got and the change in volume breaks right in to your meditation. But the bells are not the only violation of peace and quiet. The temple runs kids programs (probably a great idea), but the kids are housed overnight in our area. The room next to mine has about 15 teenage boys in sleeping bags for two nights. And they don't bring portapotties, so sinks and toilets are at a premium . I am releived when they leave, but dismayed when
another group arrives the next day--this time teenage girls. It definitely messes up my routine. Then its th elementary school kids' turn. Busy place.
Do you know the joke about the Norwegian who loved his wife so much that he almost told her? Well, I'm enjoying the food so much that I'd like to tell the cook. But she speaks no English and my Thai is limited to hello and thank you. It will need to be non-verbal. After another terrific lunch, I get her attention. I point to a dish, rub my stomach, and give her a big smile while saying thank you. I think she gets the message because the next day, she sneaks me a special sticky rice desert that no one else gets and it is sufficiently delicious to assuage my guilt.
My teacher is thrilled with my progress. He calls it wonderful. I'm pretty pleased as well, as I am now up to 40+40 minutes. I do two of these 80 minutes blocks back to back without difficulty and I do three of these 160 minute sets in a day. I feel like I'm on a roll. The next morning, I'm into my first set of sitting when I get a horrible pain in my foot. I've been stung twice by a huge insect (hornet, wasp ?) The pain is incredible. Noble silence is out the window as I let out a yelp. I hobble downstairs, still yelping and half crazy with the pain. Thomas, Mirjam and Rosa all come running to find out what is the matter. By now, the front half of my left foot is quite swollen in an allergic reaction to the sting. Thomas goes to get his med. bag and I go to get my bee sting kit, Claritin, and allergy cream. My friends set up two chairs so I can elevate my foot and Thomas goes for ice, which he fashions into an ice pack wrapped around my foot. I don't need to use the
bee sting kit, but I take some ibuprofen. The ice helps, but the pain is still severe. After two hours I decide to go into town and see a doctor. He cleaned and dressed the larger wound, which was on the underside of my foot and confirmed that I had done the right things and should continue doing them.
I was unable to meditate that day and the next day, I could get no response from my left leg. My progress comes to a crashing halt as the left side of my body fails to respond like the right side. For the next two days, I am frustrated by the aftermath of the sting, but I am getting better. I expect to be fully recovered by tomorrow. But I awake to a new illness at 1:30AM. I'm feverish, I have pain all over my body, I feel nauseous. I eat nothing the next day. And something else makes an unwelcome appearance. My allergy to mold, which has been amazingly dormant, suddenly awakens. I feel that I am battling too much at once in an environment that is not conducive to rest and recovery. I think about it for some hours. I was doing so well. I really wanted to finish this program. But something inside me says that I will take too long to get well if I stay and I won't be able to finish the program if I am unwell. I decide to leave and try to console myself with the knowledg
e that I did learn a lot despite leaving early. I paack my luggage, give a sweater and towel to the cook (who gives me a big smile and thanks in return), and say my goodbyes to my friends. The steps that I always bound up are now a challenge to climb slowly and I realize how weak I really am. I made that right choice, but I look back with regret as I leave.