Bigger Bread: the online home of Andrew Chaikin
LETTERS FROM ASIA: #1
 
January 12, 2003
 
Greetings from Thailand, dear friends! I flew out on Christmas Day and got here on the 26th. I spent a few days in smoggy, teeming Bangkok, and then headed down south to Chaiya, where, on New Year's Day -- at 4am -- I began a 10-day silent meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery in the forest called Wat Suan Mokkh. No talking, no reading or writing or emailing, no dinner (just evening tea), no sleeping on anything except a concrete platform -- just lots and lots of meditating. The retreat ended yesterday morning.
 
Wow.
 
Is. Pretty. Much. All. I. Can. Say.
 
Talking seems weird. Using this computer seems weird. Everything pretty much seems weird, including eating after noon and waking up anytime after 4am. (I never did get used to the dump-a-few-bowls-of-heartstoppingly-cold-water-over-your-head shower method, though.)
 
The retreat was amazing. Difficult at times -- a lot of physical pain in the back and legs from so much sitting (and from the sleeping accommodations), my mind always wandering away from the present, always fidgety, struggling with my discipline and concentration.
 
But wonderful as well. Lots of intense insights. Learned so much about my body, my mind, my ego, and so on. Started to really grasp No Self (one of the only absolute truths in Buddhism, along with Everything's Impermanent and Everything's Suffering) for the first time. I opened my eyes and I saw the Connectedness of Everything. (I'm not kidding.) It was like the end of The Matrix, when lunkheaded ol' Keanu finally becomes the One and sees everything as the Matrix for the first time. That's what it was like. (My apologies, by the way, for illustrating this profound insight with a reference to a violence-drenched piece of pop culture.) Everything -- me, the other people, the clouds, the sky, the ponds, the birds, the trees -- was all Clumps of Nature, these beautiful bunches of Stuff.
 
And the next day, after watching a bunch of ants pretty intensely for about an hour, I got the Oneness of Everything. For the briefest camera-flash of a moment, I saw as clear as day that everything, from the tiniest atom to the largest galaxy -- and ants and cars and humans in between -- works in exactly the same way, subject to the same laws of Nature, and that all these bunches of Stuff were just bubbles of the One Big Bunch of Stuff that is the Universe.
 
I'm not kidding.
 
I may just have to write a book about it. If I do, I'll call it:
 
  STUFF
  A Handy Guide to Everything in the Universe,
  Including You
 
What else? Oh, so much. Every leaf on every tree becomes a lesson, and a blessing. How much more you can taste when you carefully note what's on your spoon, put it in your mouth, put the spoon down, close your eyes and actually chew. How I actively seek evidence to judge others with. How, after 10 days of lots of breathing and not talking and slowing down the mind and never looking into a mirror, you can sort of loosen the grip on the Self -- or its grip on you. How quickly, upon being asked to talk publicly, the Self tightened its grip again. How the big stalks of lettuce contained these ever-smaller Russian-doll copies of itself. How peas in sugar-water actually make a nice cooling dessert. How you can breathe your way through intense physical pain by just watching it go through your body. When you heard a weird sound, it was more often produced by something in nature rather than a cell-phone or a car alarm. How my appetite decreased as the retreat went on, to the point where one small meal at 8am and a glass of tea at noon and 6 was totally okay. My fingernails are longer than they've ever been. The delicate beauty of the 6:15am sunrise in the meditation hall, the mist over the ponds, the stars at night. Every other person, every other being, an opportunity for inspiration or compassion, or both. Seeing impermanence everywhere, especially in my own roller-coaster emotions. Getting in touch with these insights so full that your body can't contain them, and then not being able to get there again the next day because your butt hurts, or because of something somebody completely silent didn't say, or because you're just cranky, or because, of course, Soul-Filling Insights don't just come along every day.
 
And the ants! The ants are incredible! They build these highways! They've got these teeth!
 
Anyway, I'm going to stick around for a day or two in relative seclusion (in the men's dormitory across the road) and write down as much as I can before I regain my sanity. Then, I'm off to chill with some folks on the beautiful island of Koh Chang.
 
I hope you are all well, dear friends. Do send news from home, no matter how trivial.
 
Happy 2546,
 
Andrew 
 


 
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