American Pilgrimage #12

Day 9

At 5.30 this morning the kitchen manager gave Diego a stern talking to about metta and volition and how the students should come first after he attempted to make hash browns for the servers. I found him sitting with his head in his hands in our dark dining hall. I let me him sit for a while, before turning on the lights so we could get ready for breakfast.

Later that day, Diego spoke of the cultural clash between himself and the Thai women. ‘I was brought up in America,’ he said. ‘I didn’t’ respect my parents.’ I smiled. Over the last few days I have lost my fear of our kitchen manager. I have noticed the softness beneath her stern exterior; her humour; the kindness she emits.

Yesterday, while I was soaking prunes in water, I started telling Thomas that I didn’t know how to respond when Americans said, ‘What’s up?’ or ‘What’s going on?’

‘I always say, ‘I’m just standing here,’ said Thomas.

At once, the kitchen manager turned around and yelled: ‘WHY YOU JUST STANDING HERE! GO DO SOME WORK!’ Thomas and I were left convulsed with laughter, and he moved towards her as if to hug her. ‘THIS IS DHAMMA CENTRE!’ she yelled. ‘NO TOUCHING!’

Diego thought she was serious, but I was not sure. I could see her eyes twinkling. Very serious, stern people often have a fragility and beauty beneath. I am beginning to see hers, beginning to love and understand it.

Tomorrow, the students will be allowed to speak again. We are all tired and Thomas says that he is getting sick of the regimen, the gongs, the prescribed group sits. I find that my attempts at Noble Speech (not lying, gossiping, avoiding frivolous talk, harsh language) are slipping. I feel less focused, and much of the change is due to my idea for a novel.

I realise that a large proportion of my ego is tied up in my writing. Perhaps writers always have big egos? I can’t think of many with an interest in spirituality and meditation though. Does that make me seem grandiose? I hope not. I also hope that vipassana will benefit my writing; I think it will, but I also realise that writing is a craving for me, a strong attachment. I wonder what will happen if that attachment comes loose.

 Day 10


Noble Silence is over.

The students have been surprisingly calm; usually they are chattering hysterically by this time.

We all did metta together in the hall at 9 a.m. For me it was bitter-sweet. I was conscious that there was still much anger and ill will in my heart. But it was only when we exited that I realised that anger and ill will are not problems; they are simply phenomena that pass through our minds. Instead of worrying about them, I should simply let them be there and be happy anyway.

In the afternoon, I have a nice talk with the kitchen manager. As I suspected, she is a sweet, kind person, and very shy. I feel her stern exterior is a way of compensating for her shyness, and this only makes her more loveable. I am full of metta now, for her and for everyone else. This always happens on Day 10. The good will builds up. It  is a collective, not an individual thing; otherwise it wouldn’t work.


All the kitchen servers

I meet the women I travelled down to the centre with. They are different people now, smiling, glowing and happy. They were more taciturn before, more troubled. It is very good to see the changes in them. Some of the students thank us for our service. I see so much joy and gratitude in their faces. Goenkaji says the test of progress is measured by gratitude and selfless service. I feel grateful to the students for giving us the opportunity to serve them. I hope this means I am progressing.

That night, after everyone else has gone to bed, Thomas, Diego, Yuval and I have our last conference beneath the stars. I put my foot  down with Diego, telling him it is in his interest to do the meditation, that without it he will not progress; that so long as he is here, he might as well trust the teacher for a few days and surrender his ego. The others echo my sentiments, and we each tell stories about our lives, about how each of us has changed since beginning meditation.


Yuval, Diego, Thomas, and me

The  atmosphere is charged with gratitude now, and gratitude, I realise, is just another word for  joy. The three of talk of how our lives would be so much unhappier without vipassana. I hear my own words, and realise I am a happy person. When did this happen? I never even knew it was possible to feel like this. It has happened so fast, this change, but here are the results, and all I can think is that I wish that everyone could feel like this. The journey, of course, is not over. I have miles to go and trouble and misery will certainly return, but I am glad to be where I am now, in this place, with these friends.

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