Wat a mess

May 23rd 2010
Published: May 23rd 2010
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May 12, Wat Ram Poeng, Chiang Mai

White clothes, sweaty, itchy, hair scraped back and sniffing - I am repellent. Though I can finally sit though a meditation without wanting to scream, which is good. I am up to 10 hours of 35-minute sessions now. It took me an hour to report yesterday because non-meditators kept turning up with gifts and barging in first. Aaaagh. Still not zen enough.

Lots of chatting at soup time. Ellie talked for about an hour about how she could go back to Pai and live there for a month on a five pounds a day and save lots of money. Then she discusses her travel plans with Ian: there is much cogitation over when and where and she should go to Vietnam.

The next day memories of my mother's petty nastiness float up and I am unreasonably or possibly reasonably angry again. I was badgered to get into this exclusive school and then sent off to this ruthless arena without even the most rudimentary tools to prepare me to negotiate it, and then blamed for not fitting in ... I still hate her. We are taught here that all is impermance, but I'm not sure.

I tell Diana I have no family.

'No husband?' she says. 'No children?' She says she feels sorry for me, which is a bit disconcerting. I don't want pity, just a little awareness from those who take their family-centric supported lives for granted that not everyone has that.

Because Buddha's birthday is coming up, on May 13 there is a special ceremony at night and we all walk around the stupa with candles and lotus flowers and incense. I enjoy that very much - the monks look spectacular in their orange robes.

On May 14 I complain to Claude, a French former journalist, about how itchy I am and he says this is good, as it is a sign that I am concentrating. I can 'go into' the itch, or dismiss it. I start dismissing my itches and this works fairly well. This also means I am developing some power over my mind. During a long discussion, Claude tells me 70% of pain is in the mind.

Over the next couple of days my concentration improves though I am still itchy. One night I feel like I am pulsing with energy - this is good. Doesn't last long, but nice change from dealing with phlegm.

May 16 is our last day. We are gathering for our leaving ceremony when there is a HUGE storm of hurricane proportions with wild wind, booming thunder and lightning that splits the sky. It also splits a few trees. One comes down on the telephone cables at the front gate. Mangos are smashed on the ground. We are ushered inside as it's a bit dangerous. Then the electricity is cut off and we have our leaving ceremony by candlelight. We mumble the Thai words after the teacher and occasionally say 'prostrate, prostrate' rather than perform the prostration. We do our best.

We are given a bracelet as a memento and are then free to go the next morning. But first we help to clear up the mess from the storm. 'You are really part of the monastery now,' says a nun as we grab brooms. The sweeping is almost fun after all that meditation, and there's a kind of party atmosphere as nuns distribute drinks, the chainsaws start and monks hang off the sides of a mini pick-up vechicle they use to gather the debris. And there's loads of it. The teamwork is impressive.

As I come to leave, I don't think I've attained enlightenment, but I've learned some things - and part of my gum that has been bleeding for some six years now seems finally to be healing.


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