Thursday, September 22, 2005

Meditation thoughts from Cambodia.....

finally i am getting around to posting on my meditation retreat in taiwan...i am currently in phonm penh, cambodia and realized today that it has only been a week since i left the meditation retreat....and this week i am in the killing fields and tuol sleng (s-21)...one week....amazing where you can be in a week....such opposite ends of the spectrum....more on cambodia later :)

vipassana meditation....well, i have to say it has been a processing kind of week from my ten day experience as being a buddhist nun....vipassana is a meditation method, one of many....but the gentleman in charge of teaching this style is named a.s.r. goenka....he is not the original teacher....as this meditation method has been described as the style used and practiced by buddha....does this mean i am becoming a buddhist nun...i don't think so...although i really understood this meditation method well....as it stresses a link between science and meditation....he was talking about atoms and particles and vibrations....it just seemed so correct for me.....but it is a strenuous methodology....which is why you are secluded from the outside world for ten days....twelve hours of meditation practice a day...let me tell you that is a lot for the legs....my back and butt and legs were all quite sore for the first few days...but over time you learn to control your pain and realize it is not a forever thing...it comes and goes....this is the basis of the meditation...that nothing is permanent and everything changes moment to moment....like as you watch a river flow by...you won't see the same portion of the river moment to moment to moment.....

this meditation retreat asks you to become a monk or a nun for ten days to fully understand what you can accomplish....notice i keep using the word you....and that is because this is a path that only a person can take for themselves...someone can show you the path...but you have to experience it to truly understand your path....and this part i truly believe....each person will react differently and has to deal with their own hopes and dreams and pain....

anyway...about where i was....i was in a small village outside of taichung, taiwan...and man was it hot...the humidity was oppressive and there was no AC...fans, but i was sharing with three taiwanese women...and they got cold at night so they didn't want me to leave the fan on or the windows open too wide....i was dying...and remember you can't talk....i was the only foreigner at the retreat center...out of the participants and the teachers and the volunteers....it was crazy....but this made it easier not to speak with anyone...i have realized that most taiwanese understand english...but do not speak it and will act as if they don't understand except they laugh at some of the corniness and such....my teacher is a buddhist nun and has been one for 25 years...she practiced and was taught by goenka himself...and she lived in the states for around 16 years...so her english was excellent...and she was very helpful....the retreat bases many of its aspects on volunteers...and in order to volunteer you have to have taken at least one ten day course....it is a form of giving back to the meditation method...and so that first time students do not have to pay anything to learn this method and take a ten day course....which is very appealing...try and see if you like it....

as for the retreat itself...well...the bathroom was the first hurdle...after the lack of speaking chinese on my part....that's what folks in taiwan speak...the bathroom was a "squatter"...meaning the toilet is on the floor....chinese/taiwanese women are very quiet with what they do...including use the bathroom...so you could always tell when it was me....i was the loudest "pee-er"....plus, you have to hold your pants up and take the squat position and miss your shoes and the floor...let me tell you..it was eyeopening...and then include the humidity....what a trial...but i survived and it prepared me for the squatters i have now encountered in taiwan and cambodia...so it was helpful afterall...i also had to adjust to sleeping on a totami mat...not so comfortable and eating food i had no idea what it was...it was all veggie...but i couldn't ask for help in any way shape or form....most of it was awesome...some of it was scary...i have found i am not a huge fan of pink dragon fruit, or of rice and seaweed for breakfast....i was definitely immersed in the culture...one of the funniest moments was when i got to ask questions after 9.5 of silence..the first i asked was about a truck that drove past the retreat center every night playing mozart's fur elise....i was wondering what they were selling....the women started laughing and laughing...and needless to say i didn't get the joke....but they explained...this song is known all over taiwan and is used to tell people to bring out their garbage...its the garbage truck song...hahahaha, gotta love learning about a new culture :)

our day began with a gong waking us up (the guy that rang this was given the nickname the "mallet man" by me...he took his job very seriously! as everything was announced by the gong) at 4am...yes, you read that right...4am...me...you just gotta believe.....we were meditating then from 4:30 - 6:30am...breakfast was 6:30am...and then my time in the shower was on...each woman got twenty minutes to get it together...shower and such....it was like a dorm...so the time slot was the only way to make it work....as there were forty women and 10 nuns sharing the same space...then meditation again from 8-9am ...after the fourth day we were to hold our same position during this hour for the entire time...no uncrossing legs or hands or opening eyes...the first few days killed me...but you get used to it and are able to focus your mind quite well after you do this a few times....then more meditation from 9-11:30am....11:30 was lunch...and then rest til 1pm....from 1-2:30pm we meditated again...and then from 2:30 - 3:30pm we had to hold the position we chose....from 3:30 - 5pm we meditated more...and then it was "tea time" the chinese and taiwanese are really big on tea time....we had this powdery stuff that we added hot water to for tea....it was very interesting and i found out later it was rice powder...not much taste to that...but definitely something new....then we rested til 6pm...had a meditation hour of no movement from 6-7pm...7pm was a discourse...where i was in my own room with a video of goenka...who was explaining the learning and path and such...this was probably my favorite time of the day...as i was by myself..and goenka is a funny guy...so i kept laughing out loud...it was funny also that he kept saying things that were in my head and answering questions i had....he said the second and sixth days you would want to quit...and for me this was true...he said in the beginning that it would be hard to calm the mind to start paying attention to the sensations that happen continuously throughout your body...it was wild...and this is where it made the days worth it...he's a great teacher of this sytle of meditation and reached this level by crossing many hurdles...it was just really cool to listen to his teachings and learn more about this style....we would meditate again for about 40 minutes and then call it a night....

it was a long and hard ten days...no talking...no partying...no smoking...no alcohol...no contact with outside world folks...all veggie....and lots of meditation...at times i didn't think i would make it...but then the discourse would bring me back....again...this is a path someone can direct you to...but you have decide to walk it yourself....i am glad i have....and i am hoping to concentrate a bit more on continuing the practice...although with traveling it is hard....the main thing i am taking away from this retreat is that there is a lot of unhappiness in the world and my life and the lives of others...hopefully i can make it less so for me and for others...although each person is their own and needs to work on their own
path....if you want more specifics, just ask...i don't want to bore people with the steps and can point those who are interested to some more info on line....and if you have a specific question...please feel free to ask...i will answer anything....

if i had to do it again...i am not sure i would pick taiwan...or a country where i didn't speak at least some of the language....it gave me such insight to that part of the world on one level, that i am sure i would have never experienced...yet at the same time...the meditation itself is a challenge and being there for it made it even more challenging...but i would do it again...and may take another ten day course or donate my time...we'll see....

okay...i have babbled enough....if you want to know more...just ask...i think this meditation will help me along my path...to wherever it leads....and i hope your paths are happy....by the way...i am having trouble posting pictures...but i will keep trying throughout the trip...as i have some pretty spectacular ones...wish me luck :) hope all is well, peace out and be happy :)

1 comment:

Jennifer Kemper said...

Hey Dani,

Your site in great. I can't wait to get out of here and start traveling. I have two weeks from today!!! I can't wait to see you in Egypt or Tunisia. Keep in touch when you get there.

Cheers, Jennifer