Gassy epidemic sounds off in Myanmar monastery
There was something in the air or maybe it was the shared diet. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
THE first night, under a single blanket that I find in the cupboard, I toss and turn, first waking up at 9:30pm and then every couple hours afterward, afraid I'll miss the morning call to meditation.
At 3:30am the deep sound of a hallow tree being hammered with a mallet is followed by the lighter “tok, tok” of a narrower wooden sounding block being hit.
“Thung, tok, tok. Thung, tok, tok,” the blocks sound in a call-and-response song that reverberates down from the meditation hall into the valley below.
The sounding block calls monks and other meditators up to the hall for a morning session at 4am. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Once the droning chanting, as inspiring as the members of a Catholic church reading Latin together, comes to an end, the meditation session starts.
The Las Vegas style LED lights, the aura behind the Buddha statue's head, go dark. Then, comes the sound of heavy light switches being flipped, sounding like a janitor turning off the lights after a big basketball game at a high school's gymnasium.
Click, click, click; the darkness sinks through the eyelids, pressing in, comforting the mind – there are no distraction to be seen even with eyes wide open.
The still silence of the room cracks as someone breaks wind. A wet, rumbling fart bursts like landmine in a rice paddy somewhere in the darkness. Not much later another fart sounds, and the then another.
The Venerable O'Flagellant one, wrapped in his translucent white net two people in front of me, lets out another resounding bought of gas.
The only thing stopping this from being a Monty Python skit is the lack of quiet, British “excuse me” after each blast. Instead, there is just stillness.
Volunteer moderators' feet fall with deafness on the wooden floor. Occasionally, their presence, as they pace among us can be felt. Other times, your eyelids light up as a flash light hits your mosquito netting.
A monk standing nearby adjusts his robe in the darkness. The fabric catches the air, flapping with the sound of a giant bat's wing, and then the silence returns.
Here in the silence of the hall, it's possible to feel the air come swirling in through a single nostril. Later, it shifts, coming in long full pulls, starting at the base of my nostrils.
Breathing out, there is nothing. There is supposed to be the feeling of the air coming back out, perhaps playing against the skin above your upper lip. But for me, there is nothing.
The silence that eventually consumes the hall, once every one is settled, is then only broken by the noises of the body. A couple days in, my silent, innocuous farts take on a more robust voice, as I join the gaseous gang; simply the results of our shared diet.