Summer camp bed-wetting at Myanmar meditation
Clearly, if pissing standing up is an issue, soaking your mattress with urine like a scared kid in summer camp is also not such a good idea. 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.
BECAUSE Pa-Auk Forest Monastery is such a multinational complex, everything is posted in Burmese, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and English. In fact, English is the common language among the monks, as well as the laymen – though not all can speak English of course.
The signs, usually just 8x4 pieces of printer paper, explain and direct the flow of life.
“Receive your juice in a venerable manner, drink your juice in a venerable manner. Restrain your speech and attend to your meditation...” one laminated sign reads.
Not far from it is a giant whiteboard with the name of the person who has donated juice for the evening and the type of juice (in Burmese and English). Most often the donor is Vietnamese, the same goes with the daily donation of electricity to the complex, which posted on a whiteboard near where we collect our alms for breakfast and lunch.
Though clearly posted, I'm blind to most of the signs at first. Several times I walk into the bathroom across the hallway from our room, slid the bolt across the lock on the stall of the toilet, hoisted up my man skirt and stood there doing my business. Days later, I notice a piece of paper on the door to the toilet, as well as the toilet stall and inside the stall that clearly states: Please sit down to pass urine Please do not pass urine standing up.
It goes on to point out that “Pissing [sic] urine standing causes splashes of urine outside the toilet bowl and bad smelly [sic]. If you are a member of Sangha, doing so is also vinaya offense.
Though not a member of Sangha and the regulatory framework that governs it, I am a guest at the monastery. Though it does seem strange that the Vinaya Pitaka text dealt with something such as sitting down to pee, it's clearly disrespectful to have been urinating standing up in a place that has welcomed me without hesitation.
I did not want to think about what sort of vinaya offense urinating in the shower might be; a habit I picked up while on the swim team in high school, so I put a stop to that as well.
Here is a very graphic and educational poster put up in the Myanmar monastery to ensure everyone used the toilets properly. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Just when you think the pee part of the story is done, urine for more.
The first session of the eighth day is wasted on me, I know it. I'm fidgeting and tired. Bed bugs, which had done a little nibbling on my arm had gone after my ankle last night, which was harder for me to ignore.
Frantically scratching my ankle and various other parts deep into the night I was on about three hours of sleep when I woke in the morning to the sound of the wooden sounding block. As usual, Aroon was fast asleep.
I had been pushing myself further and further, not wanting to let myself down, but the fact was that the Full Moon celebration and the taking up of the vanassa the next day was already a strange break in the routine.
If anyone notices that I'm not there for the second morning session, surely won't care. I fear that it will be wasted anyway. Better to sleep.
Back from breakfast, I flop down on the mattress for a longer-than-normal nap. I can feel Aroon hesitate as he's leaving the room, considering waking me in case I don't want to miss the session. However, he silently leaves, and I drift off into a deep, warm sleep.
I slowly come out of the slumber to an empty room.
Was I just dreaming about wetting the bed. Motionless, I didn't feel anything, maybe it was a dream.
A large section of my longi is soaked through. Me, a thirty-year-old man, just peed himself. Not a little squirt I couldn't hold in. No, this is more like the work of an eight year old at summer camp emptying his bladder in such a way that leads to the kind of nick names that haunt him well into adulthood.
Perhaps this is a once in a decade sort of experience, as in my early twenties I shit my pants in Timbuktu.
Jackie, my fiancee at the time, and I were walking from our empty no frills room on the outskirts of the dusty town when it happened. Some kids were in the sandy street of the once great trading town on the southern side of the Sahara. What seemed to be a fart in fact was some very wet shit. Carefully, I hobbled back to the room, trying not to take the kind of long strides that would make a further mess.
Now, ten years or so later, I'm pissing myself in a Buddhist forest monastery in Myanmar. Three more decades of awkward bodily releases and then I can play the old-man card and wear a diaper if I so desire.
I check the damage. The piss has soaked deep into the mattress.
Thank god it doesn't smell.
There isn't that sharp sulfuric smell of piss. Instead, it smells of nothingness. Unable to strip off my longi due to the giant open windows to the main road, I grab some spare pants, left by the Vietnamese guy who stayed here before me, and change in the bathroom.
I wash out the longi, the only piece of clothing I have for meditation, and return to the room to scrub the mattress clean with it, locking the door behind me.
For the first time I'm thankful that Aroon is compulsive about locking the door, even locking it when he's inside and awake – probably a habit picked up from living in Atlanta for the last five years.
Once the mattress is scrubbed clean, as clean as I can get it, I now have a piss filled longi and a giant wet spot about were my crotch would be if I was laying down on the mattress.
In the shower, I wash the longi, then hang it up to dry.
I fiddle with putting a blanket over the mattress, but that won't help it dry.
Instead, I take my meditation cushion, place it on the bed with an empty bottle of water, which of course now looks like it got accidentally knocked over. After several minutes of trying to meditate, I flip the cushion up on its side, the wet side toward the wall but still able to dry in the air, and return to meditating on the hard wooden boards of the bed.
I manage to avoid thinking how serious of an Vinasa offense this might be. Instead, I'm able to slip into my breath and book a good meditation session.
Thankfully, Aroon always locked the door, so it was reasonable for me to lock it while I started to clean. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Aroon arrives. He situates himself on the edge of his bed and also meditates, the two of us sitting in silence.
With about five minutes left in the interview session, I decided to pop out and see of Ven Kovida is there. With all the activity this week, it's felt like he's one of those famous professors who is rarely able to make office hours.
“What's the goal of meditation,” I ask.
If I was asked anytime in the last 20 years what the goal of meditation was, I could have spouted off some answer about calmness of mind and so on and so forth. However, eight days into the retreat it seems a pertinent to secure an answer.
Why was I doing this?
Okay, I am doing it because the dice dictated that I must. However, that doesn't get to the heart of the matter, that's simply the mechanics.
Ven Kovida looks at me over his glasses with a big smile.
“Ah...” he says, launching into an entire world of words that I'm lost in: Theravadas, Pabbaja precepts, pffha-sila, nava-sill and so on. “For you, calmness of mind. And then, maybe you will advance to seeing the light and images.”
The light and images are the first steps in the four stages of ecstasy.
Though bit befuddled, my heart relaxes. I'm walking the right path, it's just a long journey.
So maybe I am doing this right. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli