A radical life changing story of how a woman walks away from her 'norm' seeking ancient knowledge first from the Aboriginal Australians and then finding her path being steered towards Tibetan Buddhism.
My intention was to stay for 6 months, but it looks like it will stop at 2 weeks.
Staying at a Buddhist Monastery is an eye opening experience. Without having much knowledge of a Monastery and its workings it has been quite a huge experience to step into one.
I could honestly say – DON’T DO IT!
I’m not saying this because of the strict routine of a 5am morning (starting with your own meditation if you like – or a 6.30am wake-up), only two meals a day (large meals of at least 5 different dishes to choose from such as vegetarian Thai curry, potato bake, stir fried rice, Sri Lanka food (donated by the community) and so much more so that you’re so full you don’t even think about food at dinner, a 2 1/2 hour/day work routine (yah, work is only from 8 – 10.30am), and chocolate, cheese and sweeties for dinner (yes, for some reason they are allowed to eat chocolate, cheese and sweeties at dinner time – no other food though). The daily routine here much suited my fancy.
Don’t stay at a Monastery unless you’re ready to face your demons.
Due to my recent experience I’m thinking that all Monastery/Nunnery living has evolved into a space for high spiritual advancement – delivering your shit to your front door.
What did I learn staying at a Buddhist Monastery? Some interesting things.
The least important but most annoying lesson I learned was that living in a monastery (this one at least) is like HIGH SCHOOL politics for adults. The same mind games play out. The same “us” and “them” strategies are in place. I guess it didn’t help that when I arrived the senior nun was away and a rather Hitler acting fellow (a lay person – not a monk) was in charge. I had no idea Hitler lived at a Buddhist monastery where peace and loving kindness are preached and, supposedly, practiced. So, yah, a huge eye opener for me. It was all self-righteous ego crap I was witnessing and experiencing the projection of – towards myself and others.
He made the statement very clear, “You do not belong here.” And I was like WHAT? “You’re not good enough.” “Your practice isn’t good enough.” Now, one fact is that my practice is very similar to Mahayana Buddhism with a mix of Theravada. I practice every day – without fail – it’s in my routine now. Furthermore, this Monastery is – as the head nun told me – meant for women lay people who want to deepen their practice. Yah, that’s me. But, for HE told me I don’t belong.
Others at the monastery disagreed and thought I would be very good here. I’m a whiz in the kitchen you see and with high efficiency created some amazing 5 dish meals, once within 30 minutes notice of Nuns from another place arriving for a visit.
So, as I observed this little game play out – and no, it was not just in my mind, a few others observed – and experienced – this little Hitler game. In fact, I heard stories of a young Nun crying he way out the door due to the bullying.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
I chose to take on board this blessing of a whopper lesson and look inside myself.
Just a few days before I was speaking with my Uncle (my late Father’s brother) and he explained to me family dynamics that I did not know about. When he was 16 years old they followed my Grandfather Bud and found him cheating on my Grandmother with another woman. Yes, nasty raskel. But the real clincher here is that when she left him, and I quote my Uncle, “He blamed her for everything. He always bitched about her. Made up all these stories – and they weren’t true. Said it was all her fault.”
My Uncle used the same sort of phrases that I’ve heard from men all my life. It was weird to hear – but also confirmed that these repeated patterns throughout my life and my usual response of “Why Me, Pity Me” would have been the same response of my Grandmother (assumption). Supposedly he was a nicer guy when he wasn’t drinking.
How does this affect me?
Well, I was born the same year this was all going on. I remember my Dad saying it was very upsetting for him because bottles were being thrown and alot of yelling was going on. Dad and Mom were married then and I was cooking in her womb.
The same things my Grandfather said about my Grandmother were very similar to what some men has said to/about me.
The week before I left for the Monastery my dear close friend had the same patterns towards me – full on – for the first time. I was like OH SHIT. Why on earth am I seeing this in him too?
AND THEN, in my dreams, I hear/see/experience all these Grandfathers.
So, I arrive at the monastery hoping for some solace and then cop the same pattern. “You’re not good enough.” “You’re not worthy.”
Not the peace, quiet and serenity I was hoping for a meditation retreat.
HOW DID I RESPOND?
Well, I wasn’t all that Lucid in the dream itself, but I awoke to it. And then went into meditation.
In the meditation I created this image of a large black wolf – warped with red angry eyes – nasty fellow. And there he sat in front of me. I called him BUD. (of course). When I opened me eyes (sitting in the dark) I became fearful because I could feel this Grandfather OLD PATTERN in front of me. In BUD I imagined all the things men have said to me, all my responses, all my naughty patterns – everything that I felt related to my Grandfather’s patterns.
There he sat. This NASTY BEAST. And I was like – ok, now what?
I called in my guides and angels and asked them to remove it. With a mirror version of BUD on all 4 sides of me I watched as the heaviness of it disappeared, but the shadow outline of it remained.
OH BUGGER. I felt into it – why did it remain? – Leftovers for me to work through, act on, practice with.
So, in the day I focused on the good things at the monastery.
FIRSTLY, There’s a BEAUTIFUL young nun Venerable Virapana. Watching her step into her full power was so beautiful and precious. When she chants it’s like a Ray of Sunshine. When she speaks she’s mimicking what I practice. I’ve had a few conversations with her now. She tells me that the Theravada Buddhism is more about focusing on self, whereas the Mahayana Buddhism is about spreading peace, kindndess and love to everyone. She was in Mahayana and now switched to Theravada. Both styles of Buddhism sound similar to my daily practice.
SECONDLY, A few people here mentioned to me the Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm, in Perth. I read his book last night: Opening the Door of Your Heart: And other Buddhist tales of Happiness. I giggled for an hour or so listening to his uplifting funny stories and then fell asleep giggling – yes, I giggled out loud as I fell asleep – when I thought of the story about ROMANCE. So funny! When sharing a story about romance his great teacher Ajahn Chah gave advice to a young monk to help him stop thinking about his girlfriend. “Don’t worry. We can fix that. Next time you write to her, ask her to send you something personal, something intimately connected to her, which you can bring out whenever you miss her, to remind you of her.”
“Is that allowable for a monk?”
After a few minutes of laughter the translating monk finally repeated, ” Ajahn Chah says you should ask her to send you a bottle of her shit. Then whenever you miss her, you can bring out the bottle and open it!’
BOTTLE OF SHIT.
But I digress….
Back to Bud my Grandfather.
Here I am trying to hide from a family pattern in a monastery and it haunts me again. My usual reaction is to cry in a state of “Poor me. Why me” or to run like crazy and get out of there.
Arjahm Braham tells a story about A Truck-Load of Dung: (put here especially for my future reference)
“Unpleasant things, like coming bottom of our class, happens in life. They happen to everyone. They only difference between a happy person and one who gets despressed is how they respond to disasters. Imagine you have just had a wonderful afternoon at the beach with a friend. When you return home, you find a huge truck-load of dung (shit) has been dumped right in front of your door. There are three things to know about this truck-load of dung:
1. You did not order it. It’s not your fault.
2. You’re stuck with it. No one saw who dumped it, so you cannot call anyone to take it away.
3. It is filthy and offensive, and its stench fills your whole house. it is almost impossible to endure.
In this metaphor, the truck-load of dung in front of the house stands for the traumatic expereinces that are dumped on us in life. As with the truck-load of dung, there are three things to know about tragedy in our life:
1. We did not order it. We say, “Why me?” (pausing here to accentuate my life pattern)
2. We’re stuck with it. No one, not even our best friends can take it away – though they may try. (My notes again: very true. Stuck. And friends help.)
3. It is so awful, such a destroyer of our happiness, and its pain fills our whole life. It is almost impossible to endure. (Agreed. It’s horrible).
There are two ways of responding to being stuck with a truck-load of dung. The first way is to carry the dung around with us. We put some in our pockets, some in our bags, and some up our shirts. We even put some down our pants. We find when we carry dung around, we lose a lot of friends! Even best friends don’t seem to be around so often. ‘Carrying around the dung’ is a metaphore for sinking into depression, negativity or anger. It is a natural and understable response to adversity. But we lose alot of friends, because it is also natural and understable that our friends don’t like being around us when we’re so negative. Moreover, the pile of dung gets no less, but the smell gets worse as it ripens. Fortunately, there’s a second way. When we are dumped with a truck-load of dung, we heve a sigh, and then get down to work. Out come the wheelbarrow, the fork and the spade. We fork the dung into the barrow, wheel it around the back of the house and dig it into the garden. This is tiring and difficult work, but we know there’s no other option. Someteimes, all we can manage is half a barrow a day. We’re doing something about the problem, rather than complaining our way into depression. “Digging in the dung” is a metaphor for welcoming the tragedies as fertiler for life. it is work that we have to do alone: no one can help us here. But by diggin in into the garden of the our heart, day by day, the pile of pain gets less. itmay take us several years, but the morning does come when we see no more pain in our life, in our heart, a miracle has happened. Flowers and fruit are bursting all over the place. Perhaps the moral of this story is that if you want to be of service to the world, if you wish to follow the path of compassion, then the next time a tragedy occurs in your life you may say, “Whooppee! More fertiliser for my garden!”
END OF COPY
Back to my story.
Yes, this personal pattern I’ve been experiencing all my life is one that is a family pattern. For some reason when I was born chaos was happening and that same pattern in me seems to magnetise a mirror image of my Grandfather’s negativity towards my Grandmother.
IN FACT, in the past couple of months I’ve been practising meditation in Tibetan Dream Yoga and calling for help from my guides to raise my vibrations. And you know what they gave me? MORE OF THIS PATTERN!! And then finally words from my Uncle turned this lightbulb moment on… and yes, then Ajahn Brahm’s words makes me realise that YES – this is my shit to sort out. It’s up to me to respond with compassion and kindness WHENEVER someone gives me a portion of this pattern.
Hence, I took this shit and decided to use it as fertiliser and grow my garden. I did a specific LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION and imagined the few people here at this Buddhist Monastery enveloped in light pink love. (That’s my preferred colour for LOVE). From my Conscious Being to theirs. From my heart centre to theirs and then enveloping them entirely. The meditation went for quite some time until I could feel this uplifting energy in my entire being and found myself enveloped in the pure divine essence of LOVE.
There’s another story in Brahm’s book about how an abused woman gave her abusive husband kind words, kindness and unconditional love over 7 years and transformed him into a kind loving man. WOW.
So, now I have this arsenal of LOVE AND KINDNESS to dish out whenever this pattern – that has stalked me all my life – appears again. 🙂
To sum up my learnings from this experience:
1. People in a Monastery are regular human beings with their own troubles. They are there to mirror back to you what you deeply need to learn and change in your personal patterns. THE HARD GAME hits you in the face.
2. There are people in a Monastery who have light, upliting energies and can share great knowledge and insights (although this monastery is limited in that with only 1 young nun in residence – yah, says something about the energies of this place huh).
OH! And I met this awesome guy who connected me with a woman who talks the same way I do – uh, you know, that expansive way of being. I hope to meet her next week.
3. I can cook an awesome meal of more than 3 different dishes for 10 people! AND, people loved my cooking style.
4. That I’ve been practising Theravada Buddhism for most of my life – looking at my personal matrix, beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and shifting and transforming them. I’ve been calling it PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT. I also practise Mahayana Buddhism daily as I do the Loving Kindness Meditation, but also do my best to offer kindness to people. It seems that Buddhism has spread throughout mainstream society in practices such as Life Coaching and Personal Development. People who choose to use these techniques often have no idea they might originate in Buddhism. (Probably other backgrounds too).
Perfect timing to run across Ajahn Brahm’s teachings when I felt stuck shifting a life pattern though. Very grateful. I can more easily see those grumbling thoughts about this HIGH SCHOOL game in a monastery. Seriously people? I laugh at my grumbling thoughts now and repeat to myself CHICKEN SHIT (another of his funny stories). Haahaa!
As much as I wanted to sit in a Thai Forest Monastery for 6 months and move more deeply into the tradition and a meditation practice – you see, I’m working towards enlightenment (of course, right).
OH! And just quickly – the daily routine.
6.45am breakfast (I cooked this a few days which requires a 6am start in the kitchen)
6.45am the 2 visiting monks and nun are offered their food which they collect in these shiny silver bowls
7am lay people (Buddhists – volunteers) get their food
Then all lay people help wash up, sweep, etc.
8am-10.30 is work around the house from anything to polishing the floor, washing windows, cleaning the bathroom, and so on.
11am is lunch (same routine as breakffast with monks and nuns being offered food – they are not to take the food without being offered first because they are meant to be beggars. Mind you – speaking with a Sri Lankan visitor – the Thai Forest Buddhist Monks there just take rice and return to the forest – not receive many times of food)
After lunch we all clean up and rest or meditate.
6pm is hot drinks, chocolate and cheese. No dinner.
MONASTIC THINGS I LEARNED:
Buddha is amazed as how an entire religion was formed of copy-cats who did exactly what he did. Because he walked away from everything he owned he threw a sheet over him for modesty – and to collect his food someone left a bowl at his tree – it was easier for them you see. So, an old sheet and an old bowl has turned into a practice of fancy robes, fancy bowls and a feast of food specially prepared for the monks to devour. Much more than just rice and a boiled frog.
Overall, it was an amazing experience that I’ll be forever grateful for.
I follow the breadcrumbs that have been offered to me and see where my journey takes me next.
When I first arrived there were two visiting monks with their Sri Lanka travellers/supporters. The process is to have breakfast at 6.45am – the senior monk is offered food first and then the other monk, then the nun… nuns are always last – before lay people (regular people). Monastics are beggars so they may not eat food unless they are first offered it. Monks carry with them a silver bowl which they put their food in.