May 21, 2017
My first 10-Day 'silent meditation' retreat not only kicked my soul in the gut-balls.
It made me face a dear friend's ugly, cancerous curtain call...
And it made me Remember.
They say there is no suffering at the heart of all things.
That, in truth, there is no pain, or doubt, or loss.
That all of space is Here. And all of time is Now.
That if you seek it, it will be shown to You.
The truth of what Love is.
And you only need to see it once
to know that it’s real…
It seemed like a grand idea at the time. Self-discovery! Personal improvement! Spiritual progression! Ten days at a remote Buddhist retreat in southeast Thailand. Eighteen hours each day to focus on ‘mindfulness’, in whatever task was assigned. The wake-up bell at 4AM. Using candlelight to wash and dress oneself. Bare feet on cold, wet grass. Orion’s jewelled belt pointing the way through the jungle from a sky made of black velvet.
They tell you that the struggles will come in sequence, based on what is taken away. First you’ll want to talk again. Then you’ll want a nice bed, and more sleep. Then better food, vegetarianism be damned. And then sex with others, or yourself. They say the real shit doesn’t kick in til Day 5. The deep dive.
The sexes sit on opposite sides of the sand-floored sala. This divide persists for the duration. Separate dorms. Dining areas. Walking paths. Eye contact is discouraged. A deeper, deafening silence.
We are told what our days will consist of.
Rice soup and (fly-covered) fruit.
Monastic chores. (sweeping for me)
More rice. Vegetables. A cooked rice ‘dessert’. More flies.
Thermal springs (oh yes)
A rush for the communal toilets. The sound of 40 men, dressed in coloured sarongs, ladling water over their heads and shoulders in unison. Slapping and scratching at hundreds of insect bites. Grunting and flatulating behind thin wooden doors. Gasping in frustration and disgust at having to ‘tidy one’s business the Indian way’.
That's right, folks — wiping asses with hands.
Candles again to navigate a 2x3m cell with concrete bed, barred window, mosquito netting, bamboo mat, and…wait for it…a wooden pillow. If you’re lucky, then your room affords a slight breezy balm to humid 30C+ nights. If you’re not – if you’re cursed with Karma like mine – then you’re right next to the latrine, the air is deathly still, and there’s a spider the size and furriness of a kitten guarding a pulsing egg-sack a few feet above your face.
Somehow I drift. Somehow peace finds me on the slab. Somehow, sleep swallows me whole. I saw you in my dreams that night.
We raised a glass
and dined in silence
in the belly of
a dead whale…