Chipping Wood, Finding the Machine in Myself, and a New Plan

Today is Sunday, day 9. Up at about 3:30 today and since there is no group meditation, I skip my own practice. We go right to sweeping and I feel a bit sleepy and just plain off. I probably slept 8 or 9 hours last night, which is significantly more than I’ve gotten any other night. It’s strange that I feel more tired after all that sleep than I did after all the other nights with much less sleep. They did tell us that we will find we need less sleep, so maybe this is the aftermath of oversleeping. One of the Monks tells me that the alms round has changed people and I should check the schedule. I see Bing, the quieter Chinese guy, and tell him he should check his alms round schedule because it’s changed. I check and find out that the lay guests names haven’t changed, but the monks have changed around. I’m still on the route called Bung Wai and Bing is on a different one called Non Suan. I tell him the name of his and that I think we didn’t get switched around, just the monks. That’s important because normally we pick a certain monk to follow to our route. I tell him and he’s a bit confused so I explain again that it was changed, but we are still on the same route. He didn’t even know the name of his route somehow and told me that he just went. He tells me he understands and thanks me for checking his route for him.

On my alms round I see one of the packows waiting across the street and when we pass him I ask if I made a mistake and should go back. He says that he is there to get phone credit, instead of going on my alms round. Then, at the part where they wait and then officially start the round I see Bing. I walk up to him and ask him what he’s doing here on the Bung Wai route. He says in astonishment “ooh, this is Bung Wai?” I tell him just to take the route and turn around to go back to the monastery. I don’t care that he took my route, but I’m concerned for the route that he should have been on. Now those monks won’t have anyone to support them because this guy didn’t check the board and couldn’t admit to me he still didn’t understand. One of the biggest things that has driven me crazy about the different cultures I’ve lived in with Ghana and now Laos, is that people will say they understand when they still don’t. I love that about the American culture, at least the part I grew up with, that if the listener says they understand, but actually don’t, then it’s their fault for not speaking up and making sure they understand. It seems like more of a sign of embarrassment if people here and in Ghana have to ask for clarification. I don’t know how they get anything done if things like this happen throughout the work world. I can see their side of putting more importance on the speaker making sure they’re clear, but I don’t understand people saying they understand when they still don’t. I’ve also noticed this at my job at PoP, but I’ve had more time to get to know them and can tell by their body language if they really understand or not. One part of American culture I miss badly. With that said, it’s also a good lesson for me to change my language around with the way that I ask for clarification.

Back sorting food, I still feel a bit off from the morning and the alms mix up certainly didn’t help. I also feel quite hungry after eating so little yesterday. I feel a bit weak, but I think the disruption of normal sleep also is affecting me quite a bit. For the first time yet, I leave the food prep early and head to the sala where a few of the monks and some lay people are meditating. We sit and meditate and I continue when they’re chanting to really try and focus and continue to meditate. After, on our way to the food room, I notice that I’m feeling a little bit better. Back in the room where the lay guests wait for the monks to get their food, I meditate again. Then, the monks are done and we all get up with our bowls to get the food. I feel 95% better now and barely hungry, like normal. I guess one of my biggest problems was not doing my own practice in the morning, especially with all the other disruptions to add. I’ve notice other direct benefits from meditation like this with another example I forgot to mention was that I like to walk around the monastery with bare feet. My feet have always been like a baby’s butt, so when I step on the littlest thing I really feel it. Well, the alms round has certainly been helping with that. Also, throughout the day I walk specifically over some small sharp rocks in one area and slightly bigger rocks that will press into my feet and give a whole different kind of pain. Okay, here’s the actual example now, the other day I was walking on the bigger rocks and would really concentrate on relaxing my whole body. I had nothing else to do, so I spent a lot of time messing with it. Finally, I was able to relax my body in the middle of walking and instantly I could feel the pain much less then I could when I was tense and not concentrating. I’m not sure if that’s paying more homage to relaxation or to meditation, but I think they go hand-in-hand anyway. It’s really wonderful to see the effects of meditation right there first hand. I’ve never felt such a dramatic turn around directly from mediation before. This really sets in my head how important this practice is and how much I want to continue to get better to improve my own health and maybe someday teach it to others to be able to help improve their own.

I grab a little extra food to make up for yesterday and because I heard we have a hard job of chipping wood for dying robes for the soon to be ordained packows. Also, normally the sweet fruit is enough for me, but this time I give in a little and go for some of the piles of desserts they bring.

After eating, I take care of my daily chores and then run over to the dying shed on the outskirts of the monastery to help with the chipping. They use the wood from a jackfruit tree, which is blasphemous to me because that fruit is so delicious. I guess that wood is what gives the robes their orangish/brownish color. The guest monk tells me that it’s also good for washing the robes because it has a natural detergent in it that cleans really deep into the fabric of clothes. Damnit, alright that’s a pretty good reason to use these trees. I just hope they eat the fruit that’s growing on the tree before chopping it down. The chipping is quite simple. I basically just held a log of wood and chopped down on it at an angle to get off small pieces or chips on the ground. I keep chopping until the last few people are still there hanging around. The Machine is hilarious when he chops the wood. He has a much bigger axe and with the piece of wood stuck to the end he brings it up all the way over his head and smashes it with a huge noise on the ground. He kept doing this the whole time. I’m glad we’re training to meditate together and not how to box Muay Thai. After he leaves, it’s just me one other lay guest and the guest monk. The guest monk is in his late sixties and he’s still pretty strong. I watch his technique on how to chop the wood. It’s basically the opposite of that Russin guy. He take small, almost effortless swings at the perfect angle and almost every wack chips off more and more. I try my best to copy him and realize that even my technique was using way too much energy. I’m also copying him because my hand is starting to hurt from the constant vibration and a little effort is about all I have left. I go back to my Kuti to rest a bit before the afternoon tea time.

At the tea the Russian guy tells me he’s leaving right after we finish. We start to talk some more and I find out that he was in the Russian military for a long time and now is an actor/model in Bangkok. Apparently he has been to this monastery before and like to go here to get away from the big city. We share our passions for finding work that has a lot of meaning to it. He tells me that next he will be moving to California to live with a friend and find some work. He gives me some tips on living in Thailand because I tell him that I might want to live there and use it as a hub to then travel around to different places to explore other spiritual trainings. I think that’s more what I’m leaning toward now that I’ve pretty much decided that I won’t stay at this monastery for a longer period of time. Maybe I can stay in Bangkok and then travel to monasteries around the countries surrounding Thailand. After all the flights will be quite cheap since Bangkok has so many flights going in and out every day. I have to say I’ll be missing The Machine to push me to do things, but I think this is a good lesson to find the machine part of my heart that will inspire me to push my self, with wisdom of course, past my limits to really see what I can accomplish. I think at some point I will have to build that kind of resilience if I want to keep going on the path I’m on now.

After tea time I go to the kitchen and talk with one of the lay guest women, who’s been here almost the whole time I have. She tells me she’s been traveling like this, from meditation center to meditation center, for a few years now. She tells me that there’s one in particular in Vientiane that she stayed at for 8 months. She said they have an interesting way of teaching meditation with making circular motions with the upper body, above the waist, while sitting and concentrating on the feeling of that motion. That’s another lead that I will have to check out at some point. Especially now that I’ve decided to not stay here, my new mission is to talk with as many people as possible about their experiences in other places to get some leads to other types of practice. My goal is now to get a much wider breadth of spiritual experience, so that I can someday bring that back to the U.S. and help those, including myself, who don’t want to follow the daunting spiritual prescription of a monk.

I finish the night with some meditation and then head back to my Kuti to get sleep, but not too much!, for tomorrow.

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