Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wat you talkin' 'bout?

On the spur of the moment (okay, not really), I decided to go stay in a Buddhist temple in northern Thailand. It seemed spur of the moment because I thought, "I wonder if there are temples you can go stay in?" one day when I was with Nancy in Hue, and then a few days later I had confirmation from Phra Chuntawongso (aka Phra Greg) that I could pop round to Sri Boon Ruang and stay as long as I liked. I arbitrarily chose a month, and have been here since April 3.

So it wasn't really that crazy for several reasons. First, and I feel this cannot be overstated enough, I am a big hippie. Second, Nancy made me start meditating with her in Vietnam, and I felt like I wanted to learn how to do it properly. Third, I wanted to learn how to do it properly without going to a frightening meditation retreat like those listed on Travelfish: 21 days of navel-gazing accompanied by 4am rising, 10pm bedtime, loads of sitting still, and no singing, dancing, reading, writing, or yoga. When I told my mom about these, she asked if they had places where you could wall yourself up if you liked. Probably, is the answer.

Fourth, this is a way to be kind to myself. Having basically abruptly yanked myself from a life that I loved, a life I was really at HOME in, I find myself fragile and prone to incapacitating sadness. All through my travels in Vietnam, I'd occasionally be immobilized by thinking, "Well, I'll never see that yoga teacher again -- the one with the nice smile and dark hair at The Yoga Space on Hay." Or, and this one was a doozy, picturing with perfect clarity the inside of my house, and walking through it, mentally touching all the things I love and took with me and all the things I love and left behind.

The rainy season is supposed to be in July. This is, nonetheless, a common sight out my window. Thailand has broken the precept against lying!
So incapacitating sadness being what it is, I was hoping I could find a way to manage it. A Buddhist temple seemed like a good idea: peaceful, calm, all about meditating and inner peace and whatnot. (Watnot?)

It's been really, really interesting. I go on morning alms round with the monks, as the sun is rising; wrapped like big orange sausages in their robes, they walk quietly from house to house. When someone calls to them they stop, allow the people to place food in their alms bowl, and then chant a simple Pali verse blessing the person. Most of the laypeople kneel and pour water on the ground while the monks chant. After this, they move on. The air is cool and there's often birdsong -- and occasionally, inexplicable loud broadcasts of music and talking, like a radio station that starts neighbourhood-wide at 6am.

Monks are only allowed to drink orange things. Just kidding. They can also drink repulsive sugary energy drinks.
I meditate. This is interesting too, and simultaneously incredibly, massively boring. You really are just sitting. And noticing the present moment. You always have new present moments, so you think it would be entertaining, but actually what happens is your mind gets distracted incredibly easily and starts planning what you're going to do after you meditate, or a sensation that you have reminds you of a thing that happened when you were twelve blah blah blah. Several times, I've actually managed to achieve pure inner awareness and focus on the present moment, which is then immediately broken when I internally say, "Hey, I'm meditating!"

The meditating and Buddhism are actually helping me not be so sad. Turns out, when you're trying to be in the present moment, you don't let your mind bring up scenarios it loves to torture you with ("Remember your dog? Yeah, you'll never see him again."), because those are in the past. It puts the brakes on sadness pretty fast. I can't wrap my mind around how it seems to be a lot like forgetting, though -- I value the people and memories I have. In Buddhism, this attachment to things we like is fine, so long as you realize they are impermanent and you will eventually be without them, and that will cause you suffering. I have firsthand experience with this. But I still wouldn't want to give up loving, remembering, feeling, thinking, doing, being. I have so many people I have such great memories of -- and only living in the present moment denies me access to them.

On the princess' funeral day, they burned a symbolic tower of stuff. And people lit candles. It was pretty. They also had fireworks. And a bunch of guys in military uniforms with swords. A lot happened I didn't understand. This is a recurring theme in Thailand.

Still no decisions on whether or not Buddhism is for me. But I feel less sad.

Also, in very exciting news, I have learned how to say "No MSG" in Thai. That brings my total number of Thai phrases to about four, including "Hello", "Thank you," "No problem," and "No MSG." I've tried "I am a vegetarian" but either my accent is terrible or the concept is confusing, because nobody ever understands.

No comments: