Wednesday, December 14, 2011

journey in Asia takes a 10,000 kilometer shift

This is an old story, it happened about three months ago. I was indecisive for a long time if I should write it or not. Finally convinced myself that it’s better write it late than never…

End of September, I visited the forest monastery again – this time for 12 days only (You can read about the previous visit here, here and here). Most mornings, I was giving CranioSacral sessions to the monks and in the afternoons teaching group yoga classes. In the evenings, the most senior monk in the monastery was giving me private meditation sessions. The rest of the days were long walks in the forest, reading or fruit-picking. Days were busy and very productive. Monks were getting a lot of benefit from the CranioSacral and the yoga sessions so we were all very happy.

I had two free days in Bangkok between the monastery and Bali. So I wanted to visit the monk (let’s call him Phra) who arranged everything for me and thank him in person. Phra’s monastery is 1-hour south of Bangkok so I took the bus there. By the time I arrived, everyone was busy working with a senior monk who was visiting for the day (let’s call him Ajahn). I recognized him immediately because I saw few of his photos on the walls in other monsteries. As it’s the custom I was offered lunch and cold drinks as soon as I arrived. Seeing how busy Phra was, I wanted to keep my visit short. I thanked him for everything he’s done and organized for me.

As I was about to leave, Ajahn invited me closer to his desk and started asking questions. Ajahn didn't speak any English so Phra was translating for us. He asked how I liked the life in the monastery, what was I doing in Bali etc. Phra told him that I helped the monks via CranioSacral therapy and yoga. Ajahn closed his eyes for a moment,seemed to go really deep and then open his eyes to describe to me what CranioSacral therapy is. It was very interesting because not many people know it enough to describe it in their own words just by hearing it. It felt as if Ajahn was able to contact his inner wisdom and get all knowledge he needs from there. Then he asked me where I was from, I told him and again he closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he told me that Turkey was a crowded country, with very little Buddhist presence and spirituality. Another accurate insight! I was reading a lot about how experienced Buddhist monks were very wise and insightful, but that was the first time that I had a personal experience of it.

At that time, I was contemplating if I should spend a few months in Istanbul to practice CranioSacral. I told this to Ajahn and his response was very surprising. He told me that I should not spend just a few months in Istanbul. Instead I should move there permanently! He said it was easy to live in forest monasteries and beautiful islands like Bali and help people there. He said that in forests life can get so comfortable and relaxed, that I can even forget my name. He added that the real challenge is to live in a city with extremes and try to accept them as they are; without trying to change, even without trying to make them better. Everything he said was so true, but not what I wanted to hear... I told him that I liked living in Bali, that Turkey was too aggressive and didn't have the spirituality of Asia. Looking directly into my eyes, Ajahn said "You are born in Turkey and you are going to die in Turkey!" That was a shock to me and looking at the expression on his face, also to Phra. Softening his tone a little, Ajahn added that no one is born randomly into countries. He said I've been around different countries long enough to absorb their wisdom and get a perspective. Yet it was time for me to move back and share whatever I've learned, in order to help people in my own country. He said that I cannot achieve anything by running away; anything I needed to face, anything that would challenge me to be better was "back home". It felt like a bombardment of ideas that I didn't want to hear because at a deeper level I knew that they were true. I sat there trying to absorb everything that I heard, while Phra and Ajahn were looking at me with the most compassionate eyes.

It was too much and too shocking to hear all that, at a time and place that I least expected. In the last 2 years most of  what I did, were the things I was afraid of.  Only a few more things were more scary than moving back to Istanbul  - I tried living in this city twice before and failed miserably both times. Feeling the support and the clarity of the monks, it felt like the best time to give it a third and a final try. 

That day, Ajahn spent 3 hours with me. Not only did he tell me that I should live and die in Turkey, he added how I should work. He almost gave me a business plan; he told me whom to work with, where to be located etc. I took out a pen and a notebook and he made me write down a detailed list of things I should do. It felt surreal, sitting in a monastery in Thailand, taking down notes on how I should live the rest of my life based on the words of a monk that I only met 3 hours ago. Things could have been lost in translation, he may not have been as wise as I perceived him. It was (and still is) the biggest leap of faith in my life but I took it. That evening as soon as I arrived back to Bangkok, I made arrangements for return tickets to Turkey.

Later I've learned that Ajahn was a very well-known monk. People from all over Thailand would go to his monastery to seek his advice and he would be very selective to share it. I was told that some of the business tycoons and even the Thai Secret Service would come to seek his advice before strategic decisions. And I happened to be visiting Phra's monastery on the day he was also visiting. He chose to spend 3 hours with me, changing my life with every word... Sometimes, some things seem a little more than coincidence, don't they?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

men diet - part 2

1.  Do not touch the camera for a while and never date  photographers again:
From day one, I know it was not the wisest thing to attribute the whole thing to photography or to photographers. But if I hadn't blamed photography, I would have to start pointing the finger at myself. I was really not in the mood to analyze myself or my patterns only to suffer more after two breakups. 

+ it was great that I didn't have to drag my heavy camera bag everywhere I went and enjoyed just what my eyes captured in that moment. 

- apparently photography (like anything else) needs constant practice. Not practicing brought my photos to the level of a facebook snapshot from your average tourist.
- especially in humid climates like the tropics, being in a closed camera bag creates fungus on the lenses. Not all service centers can clear fungus and even if they can, it costs a fortune. One of my lenses was saved, however 2 are in critical condition and will probably be unusable in a year or two. I can say that the fungus on the lenses hurt a lot more than the two breakups. With time, emotional wounds heal, but fungus just keeps growing.  

2. Be in a men-diet for 11 months.
This was the wiser of my two decisions. Especially the first 4-5 months felt really good, like an extended summer break from boarding school. Around the 6th month, I started to regret my decision – 11 months felt ridiculously long. I'm sure this happened because I was in Istanbul around that time. And life in Istanbul is like in a Cosmo magazine – a lot of gossip and advice on men, relations, sex and not much more. So much obsession about men and relations had an impact on how I was feeling. During that time, I was almost sure that I would not be able to keep my promise and give up. Thankfully, it didn't happen. 

This was the time that I realized that temptation can take many different forms; chocolate, a good glass of wine, sleeping in someone's arms or desire for an earth-shattering orgasm. However different they appear to be, in reality they are reflections of the same craving. Craving for some different, heightened sensation than what I already have. And I noticed that if I can be aware of that craving but not act on it, it just melts away. With men, it invariably always took 3 days to melt. I see someone I like, I want to be witrh him like crazy and 3 days later I find myself completely alientated from that craving and from the guy...  Why 3 days I have no idea, but that was one of th most interesting discoveries of this whole process.    
Around 9th month, I realized that I got into the comfort zone too much and didn't really use the previous months for introspection or for changing my patterns.  I panicked a little, but I can't really force awareness, can I?

+ I felt very comfortable around men that I've just met or being introduced to. Subconsciously most of us tend to categorize members of the other sex as “potential dating material” or not as soon as we meet them. When that categorization if off the shelf, it's a whole different feeling.   
+ life became much easier and much simpler in so many ways. I was truly by myself in almost everything I did. No lengthy discussions, no undecisive moments where to have dinner, no misunderstandings, no fights, no jealousy, no long-term plans... Can you imagine that??? Instead a lot of spare time and energy to do things that I enjoy. This was probably the best aspect of the diet – so good that I cannot fully express it in words.  
+ I noticed that I don't really “need” a relationship. I am perfectly happy with myself and if I'm going to include someone in my life, he really needs to add a lot of value. That value is surely not money, not breakfast in bed or not someone to take care of me while I'm sick. It's something much deeper.  

- life became so much relaxed and simple that I'm not sure if I can get back to being with someone easily. The diet was supposed to last 11 months – it's been 17  months already and I now feel so much more comfortable in monasteries and around monks than anywhere else. More importantly, the monks feel very comfortable in my presence too. (A monk is never ever supposed to be alone with a woman, there has to be at least 2 more monks present and watching – but lately they've been trusting me so much, I work with monks one-to-one behind closed doors.
Feeling very easy in a monastery but cringing at the presence of a caring and interesting French man... This might be a good reference for a career as nun, but doesn't sound very promising for an average 37-year old, single woman.

So the diet brought awareness to my temptations, cravings and my fears. As boring as it sounds, it also made me more aware of “people”, rather than women, men, hot guys, handsome boys, dates etc. I feel much stronger because I can notice the temptations but I now know I have a choice of not acting on them. And when I don't act on them, I can see cravings for what they really are – just cravings that will pass away. 
Am I enlightened as to why I suffer in relationships? Not really. Still I can say that the “men diet” worked well; it brought answers to what I needed to know at this stage of my life, not to what I thought I have to know.    

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

men diet - part 1

Some recent events stirred up a lot in me and I started thinking about past relations.  I had been in a relationship for most of my adult life despite being very pro-single. Yet I very my much liked if my partner was at a distance, preferably as far as in another city of country. Too close and too predictable suffocated me. The idea of a husband was terrifying, because even the concepts like “always” or “forever” were too scary. I just couldn't imagine being with someone forever... Not because I'm polygamist or I cheat, but as soon as I know something or someone will be there forever, it loses its true meaning. In relationships, I always had my set of Fight Club rules and made them very clear. Rule number one: you do not propose to me, Rule number two: if you propose to me, you get dumped on the spot. A proposal, which brings tears of joy to the faces of many would suffocate me with fear and I'd run away like crazy.

Naturally being so rigid and so scared,  I broke many good boys and many bad boys broke me. Those who wanted a “normal” relationship with a caring and sharing person were hurt. Those who were even more terrified with the idea of a relationship than me, ended up hurting me.

In the recent years, I had two relationships that broke me a lot worse than the past ones . I was just getting familiar with the concept of commitment. Like a kid with a new science test kit, I was eager to play with it as soon as possible. Science kits, when played safely at home would probably teach a lot. I tried mine under unsafe conditions and it exploded in my face – twice. After the second breakup, I started to think where I went wrong; The guys were extremely different profiles, had completely different backgrounds and were even in different countries! Oh, the only thing common with them was both were photographers. I needed to find where I was going wrong in order to avoid repeating my mistakes. So to be on the very very safe side I took two decisions:
1. Do not touch the camera for a while and never date photographers again.
2. Start a “men-diet” for 11 months and use that time to figure out what goes wrong in my relationships. A men-diet meant no flirting, no dating, no physical intimacy in any way.

Why 11 months? No sensible reasons. There was a time in the past that I was single for 11 months (after a very long-term relation) and it seemed to clear the debris of the former relationship. So I thought if it worked in the past, it would work again.

All that was about than 18 months ago. Looking back, it was great in some ways and not so great in others.
to be continued...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

to relate or not to relate

About two months ago, I had a dream. I was in a public bus in Istanbul and a geeky-looking guy starts a conversation with me. He has his friends with him and we all get in a very lively chat. I get to learn that he owns an internet company (yes, even in dreams I attract geeks) and he's also very smart (an IQ score above 120 is the sexiest thing for me). I really like him. After maybe about half an hour, the bus reaches my stop and I get off. By the time I step out of the bus, I intuitively feel that he will be my boyfriend in the near future and suddenly that light and elevated feeling of meeting someone I really like, turns into a very heavy load in my chest. All sorts of worries start to fill my head and I wake up with that very heavy and dark feeling... Some degree of attraction is fine, yet when there's the slightest possibility that it would turn into a relationship I freak out – even in a dream.

About a week ago I was flying to Bali from Bangkok. It was a very early morning flight and by the time my bum touched the plane seat, I started to fall fast asleep. It was one of these uncomfortable flight-sleeps where my head kept rolling here and there. Unfortunately most of the time, it rolled towards the chest of the passenger sitting next to me. Each time I'd wake up in panic and mumble “sorry” to him and immediately fall back asleep, only to find my head hovering somewhere near his chest again in a few minutes.  A few times he said “don't worry” with a smile. Then I noticed him closing all window blinds so that when the sun rises up I won't be disturbed. Then he reclined my seat (why hadn't I thought of that???) with the slowest, smoothest movements possible and my head finally rested in the tiny groove created between the seat and the window. The rest was a very comfortable and uninterrupted sleep for more than 2 hours.

I noticed how kind he was only after we landed. The plane was only half-full, he could have changed seats. Not only did he stay next to me, but he also did everything possible to make sure I was comfortable. Who would do that to a complete stranger in a flight? I know I wouldn't. We barely spoke afterwards, but as soon as I arrived to Ubud, I told my friends about the unbelievable “guardian angel” of my sleep. All agreed that it was unusually kind and sweet.

Tonight I was having dinner with friends and my guardian angel appears in the street out of nowhere! What are the chances of coming face to face with your flight-neighbor in an island with 5 million people and hundreds of different tourist destinations? I have been feeling very thankful towards him, so I invite him for a cup of tea one of these days. He says he's free in fifteen minutes so we meet much sooner than I expected, so I didn't have time to put my usual guards up. He's French, traveling around, arrived to Ubud just hours ago. We talk about museums in Europe, the history of Egypt and the like... However the conversation turns to a direction that I don't like because I don't know how to handle it. I thank him many times for his kindness. He says he would remember my sweet face anywhere and would do the same thing again. And he wouldn't mind staying in Ubud longer if he knew he'd be seeing me again. Oops!

He's got just the right amount of French accent, the kindest eyes I've seen in a long time, is truly caring and is a traveler. He says he's divorced and didn't have a relationship since then. So very Eat, Pray Love-ishly attractive right?   Not for me... I tense up and drink my hot tea so fast that he has to tell me to slow down so that I don't burn myself. He doesn't know that a scalding tongue is a relief compared to how I'm feeling at that moment. Thanks to my friends who were waiting for me around the corner, I have a quick excuse to leave the table. He says he'll call me again tomorrow. So here I am wide-awake at midnight writing all this.

The dream of a relationship makes me wake up feeling very heavy. The real-life possibility of a relationship gives me a sleepless night... Something's definitely not right in this picture, is it?

I can give up all material possessions and live out of a luggage in a small room. I can leave my comfortable profession and move to an Indonesian village not knowing what to expect. I can turn my back to a 6-digit income and don't mind calculating cents for lunch money. I am scared of all that, yet I would do (and have already done) these things... However up until this moment, I've never realized how terrified I was of an actual relationship, that even the idea of it tenses me up to a point of complete paralysis.

All the things I've been scared of are happening to me one by one... They are like yearly final exams at university. Something tells me that “a man” would be my ultimate graduation thesis. And I don't feel ready to work on any kind of thesis now – or in the next three decades or so...

ps1: image copied from
ps2: After writing. I thought for two days whether I should post this or not. This subject seems to touch somewhere really deep. Hmm...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

the rock

Before meeting Lance in Bali around March, I've always thought of Buddhism as a very “dry” belief centered around suffering. You meditate, notice the suffering in the world and then meditate some more... (Meditation by itself is a horrible form of suffering for me, my knees hurt and my mind constantly searches for an escape plan from the cross-legged seating.) On the other hand, Hinduism is spicy; countless gods, stories, rituals  and everything else. Buddhism doesn't have a god, heaven, hell, warriors that can jump across the ocean, that's why I thought it was dry. Talking to Lance and having a first hand experience of his Buddhist spiritual guides surprised me a lot and made me wonder what else is there...

Coming to Thailand with this different view point, talking to devoted Buddhists, visiting 2 major temples and living in one of them for about 3 weeks plus being blessed by one of the most powerful monks have completely changed my ideas about Buddhism. It is highly spirited, it has a very clear and strong energy. What we call “supernatural” is often considered as very natural in Thailand. Senior monks often have powers to bless, offer protection, sometimes even see the future or read minds. During ceremonies, people receive blessings or protective amulets from monks and use them everywhere. I've already received enough protective bracelets, pendants, holy ropes to use with the pendants that would probably last me for the rest of my life. This all makes sense to me, I've experienced the difference that the energy of these pendants and photos create so I do believe in them without a doubt.
meditating on the rock
Today  5 monks and one of the residents of the monastery took me to a sight-seeing tour. The first stop was to another monastery nearby. It was small and rather shabby, just a few hundred meters away from the border of Burma. I was told that the abbot had a stone that would answer questions about your future.  Hmm... We paid our respects, monks talked among themselves for a while and I sat there with a shy smile plastered across my face, knowing that I was the center of attention. A foreign woman arriving to a small monastery in the Burma border with 5 monks in a pick-up truck does attract some curiosity and I can understand that.

Then the abbot brought the stone from a locked room. I was told that he would never take it out for public; it was only for monks and for special occasions, which made me feel a little privileged. The abbot prayed and gave us a quick demo.  I would hold the stone in my hands, meditate on my question and choose a direction for the stone to move, then put the stone on the floor and my hands on it. If the answer is yes, the stone would turn in the direction I chose. If it's no, there would be no movement. 2 monks tried it. It didn't work for one of them, and there was a slight twist for the other.
and the rock starts to turn
notice the surprise in the faces of the monks?

It was my turn and I was a little scared; The question I had in my mind was a centrally important one for me and a negative answer would make me feel quite devastated. Yet I was curious. I took the stone and asked my question. I was told that I would need to meditate for a few minutes before the stone moves, but for me it started moving almost immediately towards left, which was the direction I chose along with my question. I was ecstatic for a positive answer but at the same time stunned by the movement I was feeling under my hands. The stone kept turning and the abbot told me to keep moving with it. Somewhere near 270 degrees, he told me to mentally aim for a right-turn as a confirmation to my question. I closed my eyes and did exactly as told and then the stone started to turn towards right! I followed it's movement for about another 180 degrees and then everyone was convinced
that my wish would come true. As I passed the stone to the next person who wanted to try, my hands were trembling in a high frequency. I was feeling the energy of the stone all the way up to my elbows. I sat in amazement and with gratitude for a while.

The stone started moving almost immediately for the next person too. But this time its movement was much faster and sharp. Later the abbot explained that the harder you press on the stone or the more weight you put on it the bigger the movement would be. In the past there were people who didn't believe in the power of the stone and instead of putting on their hands, they laid on the stone. The stone moved their whole bodies in fast circles! 

Having a first-hand experience is very different that hearing the story of something that happened to someone else. I believe in the powers of the senior monks and their protective abilities. I believe that one can purify his/her mind  through meditation to a level to see the future. I believe that chanting can change the energy of a place. I believe in all of that because I have experienced them.

Today was just another day in Thailand, just a little closer to Burma... And with a little more faith in my own future.

Friday, September 16, 2011


There's a big spider in front of my room, the biggest I've seen in my life. His web is also big, wider than a meter in diameter. First days, I was scared that he would attack me so I kept my distance.

One morning as I was practicing my morning yoga, I noticed that he was also doing his own version of asanas, moving every leg towards his head and touching it with one of the front arms. He was surely more flexible than me. Taking a closer look, I noticed that he was missing a leg. In nature, that should mean a disadvantage, but apparently this spider survived and even got really big. Later he became my breakfast buddy. I would observe him while I eat. I came to learn how he does his yoga asanas, how he repairs his web, how he catches butterflies. More importantly, how he sits in complete stillness for hours when there's no prey or no work to be done on his web. He would come to the very center of his web, hang upside down and wait.

This morning I noticed that his web was completely gone. It had been steadily widening every day since I came, but this morning there was nothing. Maybe a big bird attacked, maybe he had a fight, I have no idea how cobwebs are destroyed but when I saw it, he was hanging on just 2 threads. By the time I finished my morning practice, he had the outline of his new web completed. In the next few hours, he continuously worked and created a new web, it is yet half the size of the old one but he instinctively knew what was enough. Then again, he positioned himself right in the center and waited in complete stillness. Within a few hours he caught his first butterfly and now he's eating it. First catch of the new web, I raise my tea cup for him.

Despite his disadvantage of a missing leg, this spider survived. He's actually catching more food than any other spiders around my room. He instinctively knows when it's time to expand, when it's time to repair and more importantly when it's time to wait in complete stillness. He doesn't get anxious if he'll ever catch a new butterfly again, and paces nervously. He stays still. More importantly, when his whole house hence his source of food  is destroyed, he didn't spend time mourning over his loss. Instead he started right from the beginning to build a web. Then again, patiently waited...

Situations can be quite unfavorable to our expectations. Often we have no idea what the future holds for us. Sometimes we lose everything. More than the actual situation, it is those emotions we attach to situations that blind us. If we can clear ourselves from the emotional drama and simply wait with complete stillness of the mind sooner or later we see what we need to do.
This is the nature...
10th August 2011, Kanchanaburi 

Monday, September 12, 2011

forest tradition

the view from the 3rd floor of the chanting hall
Within Buddhism, there are some different schools and traditions. The monastery I stayed in Thailand follows the Thai Forest tradition. Monks following this tradition spend a lot of alone time in nature, especially in the rain forests in the northern parts of Thailand. They believe that clear, big spaces (unlike cities) creates a clear mind too. Also observing the nature and living in complete harmony with it is important. Monks who follow this tradition are generally experts of insight meditation and they are believed to have some “supernatural” powers. I met a few who can see beyond what eyes can see, but I doubt if that should be called supernatural. Anyway...

I have no idea how I ended up in this monastery. Despite currently living in Ubud, I'm still very much a city girl. Nature is good to observe from the windows of an A/C car and organic food is healthy, that's pretty much my relationship with the nature. So coming here, people ask me if I like to swim in the water fall or take hikes in the jungle. I would feel trapped on one floor if shopping mall escalators are being serviced, and they are talking about hikes in jungle?

The first days were pretty hard. Constant rain, limited electricity, no hot water, walking to the chanting hall in darkness with a thousand creatures around is not my cup of tea. My teacher kept saying “open space, open mind”. Yet I felt very much trapped and scared. This didn't feel like an open and clear mind to me.

constant fog in the mountains
Then slowly, but very slowly things began to improve. I was no longer scared to death when I walk to the chanting hall at 4am. I was confident to take 45 minute walks in the forest (the distance I can go is less that a kilometer but sometimes slow is good) . During one of these walks, I saw a big snake catch and eat a lizard and I stood at a distance to watch it. I almost enjoyed the space that my teacher was talking about. I can't say that my mind was clear, however within that new space I was able to see my fears. Sometimes I felt too old to face them, other times I felt that if I wasn't meant to overcome them, I wouldn't be there...

I'll be back in the monastery in about two weeks. Maybe it would be time for me to try the forest walk under the rain. Maybe I'll understand the forest tradition monks, maybe I'll find the clarity.

At least I hope to get some of these supernatural powers. Courage shouldn't go unrewarded, should it?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

life in a Buddhist monastery - part 3

Coming back to the forest monastery felt good. Despite the constant rain and the lack of sunshine I was happy to be back. From the smiles in their faces, I could tell that the monks were happy to see me too. 

the waterfall view from the guesthouse veranda
Life in the monastery starts with a 4am gong. Around 4:30, while it's still completely dark we gather in the main hall for 45 minutes of chanting followed by another 45 minutes of meditation. Around 6, some monks walk into the village barefoot to collect the almsfood. While the monks are in the village, the residents of the monastery are in the kitchen cooking. That part of Thailand is mostly populated by Burmese refugees and it's very poor. The villagers do not have enough food to regularly share with the monks so the monastery has a kitchen to prepare a wider variety of food.  Around 7:30, the monks come back with a lot of rice (and occasionally with some other food). Then gong rings once again and  everyone gathers in the kitchen. The residents of the monastery take a bowl of rice and offer a spoon to each monk first. It's a small offering ceremony that takes place every morning. Then the monks take their food get back to the main hall first to pray for the food and then eat. Whatever is left is shared by the residents. The food was always very delicious and had a lot of variety.

8:30 onwards, monks do whatever they need to do. Some work in building houses for each other, some go out to the forest to pick up fruits, some study Buddhist scripts. Some mornings, I would give CranioSacral sessions, other days I would take forest hikes or read. Around 11, another bell is rung. This is the time for the monks to take some snacks – nothing that requires preparation or cooking but some fruits, milk, crackers etc. This is their final meal until the next morning, as Buddhist monks do not consume food after mid-day. I am amazed how fit, strong and healthy the monks are on just a single meal.

Until the 5pm gong, the monks again do whatever they need to do. At 5:30, we gather in the main hall once more for for 45 minutes of chanting followed by 45 minutes of meditation. Afterwards, some monks stay in the main hall to talk, to study with more senior monks or occasionally to play games on the computer.

There are no strict rules or musts in a monastery. Nobody has to wake up at 4 or join group chantings. Everything is completely up to your free will and this works well. Within this freedom, everybody seems to take full responsibility, offer their best, therefore everything runs very smoothly. I was especially told that I do not need to wake up at 4am and join, yet I wanted to. Except for 2 very cold and rainy mornings, I was always there.

Within this emptiness, I felt quite satisfied. Very little is set and the rest is fully up to you to fill it or not. I thought my life in Bali was slow, however it took me a few days to get used to this new level of slowness. And once I started flowing with that pace, it felt good. Once in a while, it is good to surrender  the content and the pace of the day to a few gongs.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

life in a Buddhist monastery - part 2

The temple ceremony in West Thailand was for a very senior and well-known monk, Luang Por Chamnian. It was a lot of time and effort to get there and back from the forest monastery, but at the end it was worth it. There were about 200 monks from all over Thailand and at least twice of that his followers. Among that crowd, I was the only foreigner. I observed that Thai people are quite curious why a foreigner would bother to come all the way for a ceremony, especially considering that I don't understand a single word of it. At the same time, they highly respect and appreciate the interest of a foreigner towards their customs, country and especially beliefs.

Luang Por Chamnian
At noon, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes alone with Luang Por Chamnian, during which he blessed me and offered protective amulets. That blessing was the first time that I felt the strong presence and the radiating energy of a monk. He is nowhere near a usual monk by Buddhism standards anyway. He lives with 30-kilos of weight dangling around his chest and belly. This weight consists of small gifts, amulets, key chains so when he is walking around, he looks very colorful. I was told that it used to be 60 kilos, but he reduced it by half at the age of 65. He constantly keeps them on, and especially when he's sleeping those 30 kilos put a lot of pressure to his lungs and pointed edges of metal objects hurt his skin. All the pain aside, monks are not supposed to own anything, so I was puzzled. I later found out that it is his way of walking the talk. He teaches that when one practices pure Buddhism the space and the clarity of his/her mind will persist regardless of how much physical discomfort s/he may be experiencing. At his current age of 75, with 30 kilos around his belly Luang Por Chamnian is a strong man who radiates his positive energy and lives an exemplary life to those who support him.

During my 5 minutes with him, I was told I could ask anything. Yet I had no idea what one can ask to a monk. Do I ask about my future, do I ask for protection or just throw out some technical questions about Buddhism? Seeing me sitting there tongue-tied, he smiled and just blessed me in his own way. It did have an impact – I am definitely feeling more grounded and my meditations got much deeper since then. I am constantly wearing the amulet he gave me and feel its protective powers.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

life in a Buddhist monastery - part 1

“So what exactly I'm supposed to do when I'm in the monastery?” I asked Lance for the third time. Like the previous two times, he smiled and said “Nothing, you're not supposed to do anything. Just go and relax, things will flow naturally”. That answer was far from satisfactory. I needed exact schedules, an extensive list of what's appropriate to do around monks, what to avoid, what to take with me, … but I also knew I wouldn't get anything more from him. I decided to try my best of “going with the flow”, as I didn't have any other options.
This was about a month ago in Bali, after Lance told me that everything was arranged for me to stay in one of the most beautiful monasteries in Thailand.

For the last few months in Bali, I was having some interesting Buddhist experiences. Having had those experiences already for over a decade, Lance suggested that cleaning kitchens in meditation centers was a waste of time for me, as I was already at a higher level. According to him, the best thing was to dive right into it, in the presence of the monks in a real monastery. So he contacted some senior monks and the whole trip was organized within a few weeks. I had very limited information about Buddhism.  For me, monks were isolated and strict people dressed in all shades of orange and brown. I started reading as much as I could gather from the internet, but quickly figured out this is one of those things that theoretical knowledge doesn't bring much preparation to the real thing.

The family of a monk volunteered to drive me to the monastery from Bangkok. They didn't want me to  struggle with buses and get lost. Considering that it was a 6-hour drive one-way, that was a very generous help. On the way, I bombarded them with questions and got some answers. When we arrived, I was a little surprised. I pictured, “beautiful” as colorful flowers, manicured gardens, cute cottages. Yet I saw a wild forest and some worn-down buildings and not much else. For a moment I panicked, seriously what was I supposed to do here for 5 days? Returning to Bangkok crossed my mind but trusting Lance's judgment, I decided to give it a try.

I went into the guesthouse to settle. Judging by the amount of dust and cobwebs gathered, it obviously had been empty for quite a while. We laid down 5 layers of blankets on the floor to be my bed. Then Phra Mo gave m a quick tour of the monastery. Phra Mo is a senior monk, who's actually been living in the US for the last 11 years. He was visiting Thailand for a few months. His presence  was just another synchronicity. What are the odds of going to a monastery in northwest Thailand, in a wild rainforest and meeting a monk who speaks English and is very willing to teach?

On the third day, I started giving CranioSacral sessions to monks! Women are not allowed to touch monks – it's a huge offense. Yet during a CranioSacral session I need to place my hands very gently on the person to get in tune, to listen to their tides. I've seen my teacher give sessions without touching so I know it's possible. I'm nowhere near that advanced, but seeing the monks' enthusiasm for healing sessions I wanted to give it a try. It turned out to be harder than I thought, still most of the sessions worked. At the end of the day, I explained to Phra Mo that I am used to feeling the tide by my hands so trying to “see” without a sense of touch  was quite tiring for me. As if stating the most obvious thing in the world Phra Mo said “If you can sense by touching, you can surely see it too. Just need to clear yourself and empty your mind a little more”. Then he offered to give me private meditation sessions in the evenings to increase my sensitivity and clarity. I was ecstatic and we started that evening. Some days it was long talks filled with information and short meditations, some other days it was a deep meditation... Every day I felt luckier and more thankful to the chain of events that brought me here.

the guesthouse, from outside
inside the guesthouse
The plan was to stay in this monastery for 5 days. Then I would attend a big temple ceremony in west Thailand to take photos followed by about 10 days in a famous meditation center near Chiang Mai. Yet within 5 days my first impressions of the monastery changed dramatically. I got used to walking in the dark, hiking alone in the jungle, eating only one meal a day and simply listening to myself. More importantly, the CranioSacral sessions and the private meditation sessions were going so well. I strongly felt that I needed to stay a little longer here. I asked the abbot permission to return and he warmly agreed.
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Monday, January 03, 2011

be your own shiva

There are a thousand ways to describe the Hindu deity Shiva and his qualities. I like the simplest version where Shiva is the God of change, both in terms of destruction and death. When I first heard it it sounded weird; why would there be a god for destruction and who would worship him?

There's probably no change without destroying the old habit, form, thought, relationship, belief, method, … All that has a beginning must also have an end. The death of one thing creates the birth of another.

We all like happy beginnings, surprises. Hardly ever we take the endings well. We fail to realize that the more we hang on to the old, the less the chance to create something new, fresh and inspiring.

Every new year, we make big resolutions for changing things in our lives. We wish to lose weight, find the prince charming, become richer, and whatnot... We want all that to come without getting rid of the old. It doesn't happen...

A snake doesn't hang onto his skin, worrying whether a new skin will come, or if it would be as beautiful as the old one. The snake just helps this process of change by slithering on rough surfaces so that the skin will come off faster. The new skin always comes, and it's always stronger and more protective than the old one. Had the old skin stayed on, the snake wouldn't have space to grow...

Sometimes it's good to get rid of the old to create room for the new. Sometimes one needs to take bold step to kill the useless or the dysfunctional so that the new, exciting, valuable and useful has room to be in our lives. Once in a while, try being your own Shiva; take a bold decision, take ownership of your own life, bring the death to whatever is no longer needed, take it off and watch the beauty to come to life and shine with a light you've never seen before.