Alternate title: The Time I Impressed a Buddhist Monk (Read Part 1 here.)
Six years ago on this very day one of my favorite Thailand experiences occurred. I don't think I could ever forget this day, which is probably why my journal entry doesn't fully capture all the details so I'm pretty much going to rewrite it. It'll make much more sense this way.
Monday July 19, 2004:
Shea (other volunteer) and I joined the deaf classroom and even got to learn some Thai sign language. There was an actual lesson plan (not every class did) and structured activities. It was amazing! The teacher was really nice and let me be very involved with the kids. I even got to do a little teaching- signing the numbers 1-20, which I'd just learned.
This afternoon Phanuthat (CCS program director) arranged for us to go to a Buddhist temple. While I was excited to go to the temple for purely artistic reasons, I was worried about the spiritual component and had prayed over the weekend that God would protect me and that the other volunteers would not be swayed toward Buddhism. Most of the volunteers did not have any religious background but some were interested in pursuing Buddhism.
The temple and grounds were beautiful, backed by a mountain made of marble. There were golden statues and various paintings throughout the temple. It was a huge honor to be at this particular temple. You don't just wander there off the streets; you need to be invited. Similarly, it was a huge honor to be addressed by a monk. Especially if you're a girl. Women should avoid any physical contact with the monk. And no one should make eye contact with the monk. Monks are highly respected in Thailand; they have to follow a litany of rules themselves. By doing my part, I could ensure that I wouldn't add to a monk's penance. Phanu happened to know this monk from childhood and he was pretty cool. He addressed the respectfulness rules and allowed us to make eye contact and to even take a picture of him this visit. Because he addressed it, it became OK.
After a tour of the temple grounds, we were led back inside to be taught how to meditate. We sat down in two rows facing each other (feet facing away from Buddha, naturally), with the monk at the head. Interestingly, the meditation was very similar to mindfulness, which I had learned in my DBT class in grad school. We focused on breathing and counting. The goal is to clear your mind of any thoughts. When a thought intrudes, you re-center on your breathing or counting. Meditation, of course, is not solely an Eastern philosophy. Christianity often utilizes meditation to become centered in God; instead of emptying, we are filling. Which is why, during mindfulness training in school and this Thai meditation lesson, I prayed.
After the first part of this lesson, the monk poured two glasses of water to the brim. He then directed two volunteers at a time to sit cross-legged in front of him, pick up the glass, and hold it about waist high. We were to hold it for one minute and keep it as still as possible by meditating. The logic being if your mind was emptied and focused on the cup, the water would be still.
This first few sets of volunteers did horribly. Water was spilling all over the place. I didn't see how I would do any better. It sounds like such an easy task but I would dare you to try it! Finally it was my turn. I picked up my glass and began to pray. The whole time I thought about the wonder of God and how his mercy and grace overflows in my life. Thinking about overflowing seems counterintuitive when you're supposed to keep something still but I was truly appreciative in that moment of all that God had done for me, especially during this trip.
I didn't think my hand was that steady. The water seemed to ripple as I looked at the glass. But I didn't care. I just kept praying and reflecting. The visualization of God's mercy and grace streaming into my life was beautiful. When the time was up, the monk was amazed and told me how still my cup was! He said he'd never seen a first-timer do it so well. From what Phanu and the other volunteers said, the water in my glass had stayed completely still. I was shocked! Now I couldn't exactly tell the monk the reason for the water's stillness but it did open up some conversation with the other volunteers. I don't know why God chose to show up in that moment or if He used it in those volunteers' lives. I still marvel over it though and maybe that's enough.
And thus concludes the time I impressed a Buddhist monk. Anyone interested in hearing about the possessed people at a Thai dance? That didn't happen until 7/29/04 so stay tuned...