Monday, December 19, 2011

Only Once

After about a month of not writing, it is clear that my mastery of procrastinatory behavior is still at an all time high. Sorry for the lack of postings friends; I honestly don’t know where the time is going! Although I still have 5 months in Sri Lanka I am amazed that rather than the “9” button or “8” button on my keyboard, it is the “5” symbol that accurately represents the amount of time before I have to say goodbye to this beautiful country (at least temporarily). If any of you have some kind of unspoken deal with God or any of his friends, let me know, I’ll willingly pull a Sri Lankan and slip him a feel hundred rupees to slow down time just a bit. Just throwing it out there…

Despite the past month whizzing by, it has been fantastic. I suppose that is where the euphemism comes from after all. As far as actual events that have happened since the last time I wrote it is hard to even begin. Ranging from the usual Sinhala lessons, Jataka Tales classes, and Dānas, to the not-so-usual late night clubbing in Colombo with Afgan-Canadians and Marines, being invited for dinner at the Iraqi Ambassador’s house, meeting many beautifully minded monks, making a 1,000 year old Buddhist recipe recorded in the Pali Canon, and learning how (and by that I mean attempting) to slackline with a new friend— things have been going pretty darn swimmingly. Instead of glossing over them, however, I am going to be contended with enticing you with such a list and focus on one the most striking event that has happened this month (and simultaneously quite possibly the least action packed): a meditation retreat.

The center is about 2 hours away from Kandy, sandwiched between tiers of tea plantations and a pine forest on the side of a mountain. Despite its enticing location, to be honest, as I boarded the bus to go there I could not help but feel a bit skeptical. Even though I plan on my life’s work to be intimately involved with Buddhism and its respective philosophy, I consider myself-- and as of recently (blame Stephen Batchelor) quite avidly--a meditator, not quite ‘Buddhist.’ I am not sure if it is my own personal exposure with Buddhist practice, being involved with a particular approach that on a spectrum of religion is as far removed from dogma or religiosity as possible, or if it is my current experiences with Sri Lankan Therevada, although beautiful in its own accord, much more of a political infrastructure than a contemplative practice in my opinion, that made me feel this way. For whatever reason, going to this retreat center was a challenge for me. But, like many challenges, it turned out to be an incredibly fruitful experience. The teacher, Upal, is a lay meditator (meaning not an ordained part of the sangha, and therefore, a bit removed from its cultural activities). It turns out that 20 years ago (that tells you how long this guy has been at it) was selected as a participant for one of the first EEG experiments on Buddhist meditators. As a result, he was quite excited about my experiment and openly expressed interest in assisting the project. I had to assure him that my time there was for “inner research” but that I would come back to do the other kind. I plan on returning after the Christmas festivities die down, this time with a recorder in hand to document our conversations. The retreat itself was really good for me, allowed me to see some missing parts of my own practice…but I wont bore you with those details. The highlight of the retreat was a chance encounter with an astro-physicist from Malaysia. After the evening meditation we both decided to go out and look at the constellations. She showed me the 7 Sisters, Taurus, and divulged passionately facts about the universe that made my head spin (partially due to the fact that there are so many big rocks and scary space things spinning around one another our there!). But as it turns out, she had to quit her job teaching children about the night sky in Malasiya because of a cut in government funding and become a business analyst for a large company. It made me so sad. I thanked her for her passion and we both retreated to our rooms. Coming back from the bathroom, however, I looked up into the sky and it was a full lunar eclipse directly above where we were standing. I cannot express how eerie the feeling is to see something that that without the least bit of forewarning. Entirely unearthly (badumchick). I hurriedly knocked on her window and we both dragged out plastic chairs to the garden and meditated together for the hour and a half it took for the moon to come out of darkness (cough obvious symbolism cough). In Sri Lanka the full moon is an auspicious occasion, known as Poya Day, where all shops and business close down. To witness a full lunar eclipse at a meditation retreat, in Sri Lanka at just the right moment with just the right person did indeed feel auspicious. I could not help but think of Gary Snyder's poem "Once Only" (

I think this universe is great. End of story.

This week a bunch of friends and I are headed to Nuwara Eliya, a tea plantation area in the highlands, and then onwards to climb Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka’s holy mountain. It is tradition to climb the mountain during the night and to arrive at the summit at dawn. I am so excited to get out into some mountains and play….I think I have been missing Colorado this time of year a bit too much. Although Sri Lanka does not really boast the best snowshoeing, I’ve been promised we get to see Buddha’s left footprint along the way, which will also suffice.

When I get back I am really going to hunker down on research (fingers crossed!), am starting Pali lessons at the university, teaching English lessons for a Korean nun’s niece, and getting ready for my DAD and JUNE to visit in a few weeks! So much to be thankful for.

I miss you all and am wishing everyone wonderful holidays from afar.


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