Mixing the Dye, Power Sprayer, and Discovering a New Approach

Today is, almost, Tuesday, day 11. I wake up at 11:45 after a few hours of sleep and make my way over to the dying shed. For some reason I’m really not afraid of the dark, being in the middle of the woods and all. I make my way over, but almost get lost a few times on the way. I guess it’s pretty hard to get lost here, but I do almost walk into someone else’s kuti a few times. I find out that I have the guest monk with me on my shift. We go through some of the dying process, but I’m not really interested in learning about how to dye materials. All I know is that we’re putting the wood chips in a big pot of boiling water and taking chips out every 2 hours. The most surprising part to me is how good the dye smells. I could stand over the smell the whole shift and just keep taking in the steam. The guest monk asks a bit about where I’m from and all that, which again is in a basic precept to avoid talking about unnecessary things, specifically listing topics that cover all of his questions. I’m fine with talking about that, but then again I’m not the one who made that rule. I steer him toward talking about mediation, different types of Buddhism, and reading Buddhist scripture. I ask him why they all use Pali names, which are impossible to remember by the way. Their names are like pasadeko and passumado and rukaleeko. After the first one I’m already mixing up the different sounds. I have an idea what the answer is and I think he can tell because he starts to get a bit uncomfortable, but I push further. He first says because of tradition. Then I ask if Chah is Ajahn Chah’s Pali name and he says that it’s his regular Thai name. Then he says it’s because the Thai people don’t want to appear to formal and therefore some don’t even know their Pali name, which apparently is given to every monk upon their ordination, dating back to the Buddha. Then, I say “oh, so you guys just do it for tradition then?” At this point I’m thinking I probably should just have been more forward with where I’m trying to go, but I also don’t want to be disrespectful. Then, he answers and gives me what I’ve been digging for. He says they also take the new names to help them take on a new identity. Wow… that is by far the least attractive thing about this practice I’ve heard so far. That’s the last thing I’m trying to do with my spiritual practice. I don’t ever want to try to erase who I am or where I’ve been. That to me looks like running away from something, which is something I never plan on doing. I would rather face my problems directly and then maybe look weaker at first, but be confident in my own ability to be able to deal with problems myself. I want to use my past to build upon and become the best, same, person I can be in the future.

Dying time ends and the next shift comes. I go to meditate at the sala, but this morning I’m more tired than usual, for good reason. I also realize I try to start my chores an hour ahead of schedule, so I take a quick nap in my kuti before going out to sweep. I go out on alms round with a new team of monks. Almost no people are out giving alms today and those who are mostly give a small pinch of sticky rice. It’s interesting to see the ebs and flows of the local people and their support for the monastery.

For the food I talk with some of the people coming in and find out there is mashed potates, homemade brownies, eventually find out there is a jack fruit smoothy, and bars of nice chocolate. While I’m eating my head is repeating the chant we do before the meal about not over eating. I fail at not trying all the amazing food, but succeed at not overeating.

The work monk asks me to use a special power sprayer to clean the bathrooms. In the middle of using the sprayer I really think about the situation. I’m not sure why I’m using tons of electricity, water, and expensive equipment to clean what could be done with a little elbow grease. If the monastic community, meaning the monks, novices, packows, and lay guests staying at the monastery don’t’ have enough time to clean the bathroom to this extent, then I’m sure someone from the community would be willing to do it for them for merit or a small fee. Monks can’t pay them, but the people who paid for this fancy power sprayer sure can. Also it would be supporting the local community monetarily and a spiritual way. After my silent rant in my head, or actually quite loud rant to hear myself think over the water gushing out, I finish my job and head back to my kuti to sweep around my area.

After I sweep around my kuti, I continue to go from sitting to walking meditation. I really get into the walking meditation, like I never had before. I keep going until I have a huge break through, but not so much in my levels of depth in the meditation, more in the understanding of how to go about the process. First, I’ll talk about how I used to approached the practice before realizing what I just did. Every book I’ve read talks about following a meditation object and when your mind wanders, keep pulling it back and just to keep going and eventually the persistence will make the progress for you. The part they never talked about is exactly how to pull my mind back to my meditation object. I know how what I just did feels, but I’m not sure I can really explain the feeling that I just had, but here it goes. I think I’m also beginning to understand for myself how little words can describe experiences like this. When my mind would wander, it would act like a wall and just knock everything down and then I would pick it all back up again and continue to meditate, concentrated on my object. Then, this time I changed and my mind felt more like liquid. When the thought would come, I would watch it go right by me. The attitude I had was everything that allowed me to do that. First it started with physical relaxation, then I was in a good mood, almost to the point of laughing. I think the best way to describe my attitude toward my wandering mind is a simile I’ve read in the past. Ajahn Chah talked about a situation where you’re just walking down the street and someone starts to yell at you and insult you. At first, you might get disturbed or offended and take what they’re saying personally. Then, if someone comes up to you and says not to mind the person because they’re crazy, you might have the reaction of letting the tension go and thinking “oh, that doesn’t bother me anymore because I know that  person has lost their mind”. That’s how I felt about my mind wandering off. I just saw it happen and laughed about it and it became a playful game. I wasn’t trying, just observing it happen and being totally open to the fact that a crazy person (really myself) was controlling my mind and trying to make it think of ridiculous and unimportant things. I didn’t reach any deeper level of meditation, but this experience solely made this trip worth it because I really got to feel, beyond words, how it is to just let things flow by like I’m made of water. That was definitely the most profound spiritual understanding I’ve ever experienced and it went right to my heart. I’m trying to explain it, but somehow it doesn’t feel like I’m able to capture how I felt. I think it’s just one of those things that I can try to explain, but until it’s really felt, it’s not fully understood. I’ve read about all that stuff separately, but never as a specific step to put all together. I think it would be nice to write up something after all this and put it into more detail and use more examples to prime people’s minds in the way that I never though of doing to my own.

After I’m done I go to the sala to continue to meditate there. I continue to switch between sitting and walking meditation, but I’m too excited from my breakthrough to keep my mind still. I keep thinking about finally understanding how to deal with distractions in meditation and how it’s never been described in a way that could explain what I just experienced and possibly writing a book about the process as I go through this step and further ones. I’m clearly off in another world and not concentrated on my meditation right now. Eventually I stop and appreciate the progress I’ve made so far.

At tea time, no one signed up for the 12-3 shift again, so I bite the bullet and sign my name up again. I head back early again to try and get a few hours of sleep before heading back to the shift.

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