Breaking Myanmar meditative routine
The afternoon meditation session was suddenly over. The monks left the hall and began to scrub the building clean. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
ONLY an hour and twenty minutes into our meditation in the afternoon there is the familiar sounds of bits of plastic tapping against the wooden floor as people start folding up their chrysalis. Opening my eyes, I watch as the lower floor starts to empty. Usually people leave their collapsed nets by their mats for walking meditation – an hour break from sitting during the four-hour session. Now, however, everything is being moved to the side as they clear the hall.
Lost, I sit there watching the commotion. The heads of several other westerners and a few foreign laymen also swivel back and forth trying to figure out what's going on.
The session is apparently finished.
On the marble floor outside the grand little building emerges a giant bag with scrub brushes as monks start to sweep cobwebs from the corners of the hall. After several minutes of wandering around, watching the monks with their robes hiked up high to prevent them dragging in the soapy water used to scrub each tile of the floor outside, I join the scrum.
Tucking my longi between my legs as I crouch down – trying my best not to expose my free dangling member – I get involved in the scrub fest. The metal-haired brush clears dark grime from the grouting between the tiles, the soapy water is then washed away by a monk with a bucket of fresh water.
Toward the back of the building, furious scrubbing turns light brown tiles an ivory white. It takes the kind of elbow grease that my mother puts at the top of her list of skills to be honed by a virtuous person. We are so close to the end of the section of walkway, several of the tiles glistening after an encounter with my brush. However, the younger monks scrubbing this section with me are satisfied with less than pearly white, so we wrap up what we're doing.
Another group of monks are being helped by a western yogi to move some large cement pillars and bricks. Aroon is still standing around like a lost water buffalo. I pace the area looking for where I can help, feeling much how Aroon looks. Eventually, I call it and wander back down to our room. Better to take a nap than uselessly stand among the few monks still hard at work.
The next day, I explain the meditation battle that I'm losing in the darkness of my own mind to my teacher, Venerable Kovida.
“You are focusing too hard,” he says.
The next session, my breathing slows, falling into a counting rhythm where the number only comes on the exhale, the part of the breath I can't feel.
“Crushed it,” I mentally exclaim, which doesn't seem like the most reasonable response to a good meditation session. However, with my red flip-flops back on, I'm giving a Tiger Wood's fistpump in my head and feeling pretty stoked about how the long session in day five has just wrapped up: I was at peace and it lasted.
It's a breakthrough for me. There was no light, no images. However, there were no distracting thoughts; it's a new frontier.
Then, in the fifth day, my mind goes explicit in its attempt to derail the meditation sessions. It digs up some very sensual and graphic memories. The sort of stuff that might make a number of ex-girlfriends blush or slap me. I had expected my mind to lead with such an obvious ploy, but in fact it was work and my to-do lists that were the first stage of distraction.
Aroon's friend, an Indian monk by the name of Girimananda, who living at the monastery, pops his head in to see if Aroon wants to join for their late afternoon walk. The sun sets on the far side of the plains between the forest and the ocean. When it's not raining, the sun's light, unobstructed as it snakes into the valley of the monastery, makes the trees glow a warm, golden hue.
Aroon isn't here, so Ven Girimananda invites me to join him for the walk.
Though I'm in Noble Silence, it seems like it would be a Dickish Silence to turn down an offer by the monk.
He's a chatty man, unperturbed by my minimal responses.
“Sometimes up, sometimes down. Not always up and up and up,” he says in his heavy accent, talking about progress in meditation. “It's the mind's nature. Sometimes working, sometimes planning, busy, busy, busy. Busy is the mind's nature.”
The conversation turns toward American politics and then Indians in the United States, such as the CEO of Google.
“His father, still not satisfied, as he didn't finish his PhD,” Ven Girimananda says with a smile and a bit of a laugh.
It's too much chatting for me; too much of a break from the silence that I enjoy, but he's a well-meaning, good-natured man. Nonetheless, I'll probably dodge any future invites for walks. I want to bask in what solitude I can maintain.