Today is Day 5, Wednesday, April 15th and I’m up at 2:40, on my schedule to be able to shower and get completely ready before the evening chanting and meditation. I don’t like to rush in the mornings, like I did through most of college, waking up 45 minutes before class, so even if I’m 15 or 20 minutes early I’m happier than if I rushed and got there right on time. Also, even with how early I’m up, I don’t feel any sleepiness after I get out of the shower, especially since I’m walking through the dark woods to get to the nearest bathroom. I’m not sure if I’m awake from the excitement of being here or the fear of the forest monsters getting me in the dark. Today is the last day of the New Year celebration and I can still hear music playing from those last few people who still haven’t given up partying from last night. I think it’s nice still being connected to that part of the world. I’m waking up before 3 to get up to mediate and learn more about myself, while some people are staying up until 3, still partying their heads off and yet, we’re still connected is some way, even if just through the distant bass thump.
After the morning stuff the guest monk asks me if I’d like to go on alms round and without hesitation I tell him I’m ready. I ask him about the monks going barefoot and he says not to worry because I’m assigned to the easy route. I get an orange colored shoulder bag with some plastic bags inside to help the monks of their route. Apparently when the monk’s bowls are full they will stop and then I will go up to the front of the line, starting with the senior monk, and collect their food into my plastic bag. I wait out on the path to the gate for the main Ajahn (meaning teacher in the local language) to come and then follow him roughly 10 steps behind. I walk with my hands clasped behind me in walking meditation form. In front or behind is fine, but looks better then just swinging at my side. Hey, this is serious, no swingy arms! Walk out down a paved road and cross a busy highway with cars going much faster than I’m used to in Laos. When we get to the other side there are 3 monks already waiting for us. One of them, assigned to assist the main Ajahn with everything he does, is carry his bowl and hands it to the Ajahn when we all get together. I didn’t realize it until we start to walk again, but we were practically jogging out to this point, we were walking so fast and now that we’re on the actual route, we’re walking much slower. I take one plastic bag already filled with stuff at the beginning and put it in my shoulder bag. Did I mention there was a bag? People wait on the side of the road, more or less, some are kind of more in the middle and when the monks approach they take of their shoes and the ones who are more dedicated will kneel down on their knees. Everyone takes off their shoes because it is thought that if the monks has taken off their shoes, the person giving alms shouldn’t leave theirs on and be on a higher level. Good thing I’m not giving alms, or I would have to hack my leg off to be at a lower level. Most people give a handful of sticky rice and some will add a piece of candy or sweet drink. Some of the more dedicated ones will give a plastic bag of some kind of mixed vegetable or a piece of fruit. My role on this whole thing is totally useless because some guy with a bucket jumps out of nowhere at the perfect time to collect the alms from the monks and load it in the back of his truck. I give him my plastic bag on his first surprise appearance and then walk back empty handed the rest of the way.
Before the meal I still don’t feel hungry, so I’m able to wait with not much problem. Again I take a little less food and I’m still more full then I think I should be to really hone my practice.
I go over to the drink in the afternoon and talk with one of the monks who was actually born in Luang Prabang. We get along instantly and he tells me about his previous life in Canada and how he used to be in a rock band touring all through North America. He told me about his wife and two kids and how he waited until they were 18 until he left them all behind to become a monk. I had a real sense of sadness for his situation and how he left his family behind somewhere. I guess it’s better that he waited instead of leaving when they were still small children, but still left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Then, he went on to tell me about how I’m so lucky that I’ve come here at such a young age. I agree with him. Then, he goes on to talk about how this is the only path and how all other paths are not correct. He rambles on about how perfect this practice is and how he’s glad he joined this life before it became too late. He sounds to me like one of those crazy evangelical Christians, the way he’s talking about how what he’s doing is the only correct path. That made the taste in my mouth really bitter now. I’ve always taken pride in explaining Buddhism and how it’s like an “add-on” religion because it can be paired with any religion harmoniously and has such an open view. I never got the impression and never will hold the view that one spiritual path, especially Buddhism, is correct and all others are wrong. That statement is dripping with arrogance, which, I think, really stems from fear and ignorance. This kind of thinking is exactly what causes all of the problems we have in this world with not thinking in a compassionate way about how other people are different and learn in different ways. I greatly respect the Dalai Lama for saying that we aught to have over 7 billion religions, one for every person on the planet. Everyone learns in different ways and different things resonate with different people. All religions are going toward the same general place of love and compassion and when someone gets caught up on their path to that place being the only correct way, it makes me run for the hills.
I think with this interaction, what the Vietnamese monk said to me about ordaining somewhere else, and the blatant contractions I’ve seen so far, I’m not feeling like I want to come back here in September. I think my path is going to be learning from all these places something different and then coming to my own conclusion to better myself. After all, I’m the only one who can really make that change, no one can do it for me.
In the evening I try sitting meditation for a while and get to calm down a bit, but still have really intense pain, deep in my leg. I get up and go into the corner of the hall and try some standing meditation. They don’t teach that here at all, but Ajahn Chah talked about being able to do mediation in every posture, sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. I’m so relaxed from the sitting meditation and now that my leg isn’t bothering me I’m able to go deeper into my relaxation. I also have my eyes open, which I don’t do during sitting meditation. This doesn’t even sound real to me as I’m writing it, but I know it happened and it was quite confusing to me at the time. As I got further relaxed my vision started to shake a bit. I know this happens when the eyes are relaxed. Then I started to hallucinate. I wasn’t seeing anything that wasn’t there, but the things that were there started to change slightly and move around. Some things started to grow and shrink and others were getting wavy. I thought it was quite strange and frankly that’s not what I’m looking for and I’m not sure why it’s happening, so I go to sit back down. I’ve had a similar experience before where one time before yoga with my mom I was sitting and just softly gazing at the floor in front of me, waiting for the class to start. Then, my vision started to black out around the edges and move toward the middle of my vision. I stayed calm and snapped out of it a few times and was able to get back into it every time. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought they would have called me crazy, so I just kept it to myself and it never really happened again. This was probably the closest things that’s happened to that since.
I go back to sitting meditation and my leg pain comes back pretty quickly. I start to look at the pain and soften things around my body. I realize, quite obviously, that there’s no way I’ll be able to rest my legs if my face isn’t relaxed as well. Especially since I don’t believe my legs can relax in this position. I focus on relaxing my whole body down to the point around my legs. I get everything very relaxed and narrow it down right the area around my legs. To my surprise, my leg pain drastically dulls as my legs start to give in a bit to the relaxation. I’m almost totally relaxed now, when I feel a slight tightness in my chest, exactly at my heart. I can feel it through my back as well. I get worried because of all the heart problems males have in my family, especially my dad. Then, I remember that the hear attacks in my family are caused by stress and I look back inward and can literally feel my heart holding onto something, what exactly I’m not sure. I have mixed feelings about attaining this level of relaxation and being able to tap into my own deeply held stress. I feel a great sense of appreciation that I’m able to practice like this and identify a problem with myself before I perpetuate it and land my self in the hospital with an early heart attack, like my dad and uncle.
The bell rings for the meditation to end and I get up feeling much looser. I also feel a light sense of sureness. I’m not sure I would even call it confidence because I think that might leave room for the potential for arrogance. The best word to describe it is just being sure that I’m here right now at this place and this is where I’m supposed to be. I walk back to my kuti, through the woods without my flashlight. Again, I just feel sure that I don’t need it and I can see everything well. Even though we just came from a brightly lit building, I can see the path and enough of the details around me to walk back with ease. After I get to the Kuti I try to sit and meditate for a bit, but end up going to sleep with the great feeling still with me. That was by far the biggest break through coming from my own practice. I’ve had other breakthroughs similar, but it feels good because this time I know exactly where it came from and a slight idea of how to get it back again.