Sunday, January 20, 2013

Khop Khun Ka (Thank you)

I've learned so much from this trip. Returning to America, I've realized a few things:
1) American portion sizes (and prices) are ridiculous.
2) Hamburgers are not as good as I remember them being.
3) I MISS THAILAND and all of the Thai people I met too. :)

They say "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened," but before we left I told Matt that I think I'll still cry that this trip is over.

In an earlier post I promised the possibility of a post about my talk with the monk on our meditation retreat, and I think it would fit in well here as a closing post. It summarizes some of the most valuable lessons I learned while in Thailand; things that I can already see impacting my life positively in the few days I've been home.

When I first approached the first monk (I cannot remember his name) on Tuesday night, all I knew was that he the person Phra Kawi called his best friend. He was a very quiet man, and I was hesitant to ask him my questions as it was rather late at night. However, Andrew was determined to ask him some questions, so once Andrew was through, I asked my questions as well. My first question was about desire. "Desire Leads to Suffering" was one of our lessons for that day. Let me first say that Tuesday meditation had not been a productive day for me. For some reason, I became more agitated with each practice. I was fidgety, and the quiet sitting just made me think about all of the stress and all of the bad things in my life that I had been trying to avoid thinking about during this trip. So, approaching the monk, this question about desire was not the only (or the biggest) question on my mind. However, his answer was a good one that has led me to do a lot of thinking.
I asked him: "If desire leads to suffering, wouldn't it be better to go without romantic relationships? Because how can you have a romantic relationship (like a marriage) without desire?" He answered: "If your desire is to make the other person's life as happy as possible, then it is a good desire and it will not lead to suffering."
This has made me start reassessing...do I flirt with guys or hang out with friends purely because it benefits me? Or do I want to make their lives as happy as possible? I want to have the proper kind of relationships (romantic or not) in my life.
Next I asked him one of the questions that was really on my mind. I asked him if he believed we have a purpose in life. He responded that Buddhists believe the purpose in life is karma, and he believes that we were both there at the same place at the same time because of karma--a good karma. I can't quite remember exactly what I said next because during my sentence he turned to me and looked me in the eyes, and I could swear he looked straight into my soul. He didn't even need my words to understand my question. He asked me what was troubling me, and I told him I need help with forgiveness. Then I remember him asking me if I have a lot of anger. I nodded, my eyes already tearing up. He told me he needed to know the cause of my suffering. He told me until then, I could not completely rid myself of this suffering. But he went on to tell me that it is not good to clasp on to the painful things, but instead I needed to learn to let things go. What is in the past cannot be changed; it happened. And now it's time to let myself be free from it.
I thanked him and returned to my room. He hadn't said anything extremely profound, but the understanding and the compassion he showed me stayed with me. I thought about what he said as I cried myself to sleep, not in pain, but as a way of releasing the intense emotions I was experiencing.
The next morning, I woke up feeling extremely sick for the first time during our Thailand trip. I finally felt better by the time we had "discussion" time with our group of 23 and Phra Kawi. Phra Kawi had us share our experiences the previous day with meditation. When he finally asked for questions, the same uneasy feeling from the previous night came over me, and I asked him a question that became rather jumbled. In essence, I wanted to express the fact that I felt as though I had some kind of "demon" in me, telling me all kinds of bad things. And I tried during meditation to push those thoughts away, but I was worried about those thoughts returning after meditation. I felt attacked.

Although I didn't tell him this, when I was meditating I had my eyes closed, and I could see a beast trying to attack me. My defenses were down; I was miserable from the negative thoughts in my head and sad that we were leaving Thailand so soon. I was not ready to leave and return to the misery I remembered as my life in Minnesota. So as I pushed those thoughts away, I tried to imagine putting each bad thought in its own bubble above my head. I imagined those bubbles trying to come back, but I was using all of my mental energy to keep them as far from me as possible. But I could still see what was inside of the bubbles. And while I was looking up at those bubbles, focusing on pushing them away, I could see a monster trying to attack me from the front. It looked like a mixture of a dragon and one of those Chinese lion statues. But it was attacking me and pushing that away made it harder to keep the bubbles above my head.

So I asked Phra Kawi if Buddhists believed that people could have "demons" or "devils" inside of them telling them to do bad things. He did not answer my question, but instead asked me, "Are you afraid during meditation?" I nodded, already starting to cry. "Why did you not tell me?" I choked back some tears enough to say, "I told your friend." He responded, "He tells me you have a lot of anger." This time I couldn't respond, so I just nodded. He told me the same, that he needed to know the source or else he could not help me. He told me that if I am afraid during meditation, I need just open my eyes. He recommended that I look at a flower or something that is beautiful from nature, and focus on that beauty. He asked if we could speak privately, and I nodded. Angus and Reed rubbed my back as I tried to stop crying for the remainder of the "discussion" time.
His recommendation that I "open my eyes" when I am afraid really resonated with me. It reminded me of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) I went through. My therapist had recommended I focus on one thing very hard in moments of anxiety. I began to buy magazines and trace the outline of beautiful jewelry or clothes I found in them. And surprisingly, it helped more than anything else had.

When I met with Phra Kawi a little later, he told me he did not want me to suffer for the rest of my life. He asked me for my story, and I told him about the abuse I've experience, and the pain and self-questioning that resulted. He looked me in the eyes and gave me some advice. Though he didn't say anything I hadn't heard before, it gave me a lot of peace. I've decided to no longer drink alcohol at least until my 21st birthday. I was drinking for the wrong reasons. First, to kill the pain. Later, to better socialize with my peers. But why did I need that? I am so far not struggling at all (staying in is a lot more productive too anyway!). I could be at 21st birthday parties right now, but the idea of alcohol is not appealing to me, and I am really proud of myself for staying in. After my talk with Phra Kawi, I was a lot happier and more at peace. I knew that I have overcome a lot, and I can find my peace now that I have handled the outside factors. He gave me advice on how to better pick friends and therefore how to better trust other people. He also explained to me how to practice "Loving Kindness," which is now my favorite phrase. Loving kindness means we should love everyone and everything. It doesn't mean we have to spend time with everyone, but we can love them and still avoid them to protect ourselves. I love that idea. I had to repeat it to myself a few times today when moving into my new room on campus became frustrating. And it really helped. I am so much more at peace with myself and with others. All I can think is I want other people to experience this kind of peace. Especially when I saw so many of my sorority sisters upset over little problems today. I hope they find their peace and loving kindness.
Before we left, Phra Kawi gave me the book I described in my previous post. It's maybe my favorite thing I've brought with me back from Thailand. It means a lot to me that he took the time to talk to me and to care.

Tonight I had a "mini-reunion" with three of the other travelers from this trip. We all miss Thailand a lot. I can't wait until the next opportunity arises (I told Phra Jay that I wanted to return, and he told me he'd teach me Thai if I would teach him English so we'll see if I can return to teach English one of these days!).

I am so grateful for this experience, and I am excited for the next group that is able to take this class. Thank you to Angus for organizing everything and for your patience with us, to Nina for helping us plan and teaching us so much about Thailand, to our guest speakers, to the monks who welcomed us in and taught us, to Suhtep for being the first person in Thailand to help us become more comfortable and adapt to the Thai tourist lifestyle, to my fellow travelers for making it one of the happiest experiences of my life, and to everyone else involved who helped make this trip possible. And lastly, a special thank you to my parents for helping me prepare, helping to finance my trip, for loving me unconditionally, and for dealing with my jet-lagged self the past couple of days.

So here is my last post. A little long, and not as light-hearted as some of my previous posts, but I think they all balance out.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. Hopefully I will be able to return to Thailand soon and perhaps add more posts. But until then, Sa-wat-dee <3

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