Walking with monks

Well, it hasn’t taken me long to adjust to the slow, relaxing pace of life here. It’s amazing how the days pass so quickly and happily even though I’m not doing much at all (well, apart from five hours of yoga/meditation a day, a daily massage and a helluva lot of eating). My initial concerns that I would feel trapped and that I didn’t fit in have proved completely unfounded and I’ve gradually been befriending the other guests here and finding out, as I knew would be inevitable, that they are an interesting bunch; humans, in their huge diversity, can’t be anything other than fascinating as soon as you take time to delve deep enough.

I’m actually feeling quite sad that tomorrow is my last full day here, as I’m just getting into the swing of things and am really starting to feel the benefits of my time here. Oh well, even in just a short week I feel I’ve learnt a lot about myself and will take away lots of food for thought to chew on during the rest of my (fast waning) travels.

Just a few observations to share with you today. For the last two days I’ve gone out at sunrise for a walk along the beach. On both occasions the only other people out and about have been local monks on their alms round (monks here rely on ‘lay people’ for all food and income, and the alms round, whereby they walk round the local area collecting their daily food offerings, is a fundamental part of daily temple life). The vivid orange robes against the otherwise muted morning colours is a wonderful sight, although I have to be subtle with my gawping as it is not allowed for women to distract monks in any way, e.g. by talking to them, bumping into them or even sitting next to them, for fear that the encounter would kick-start a chain of thoughts causing the monk to ultimately break one of his ten requisite precepts (i.e. no sexual misconduct – they’re not even allowed to, you know, sort themselves out, ahem…).

A surreptitiously taken photo so as not to distract (yes, I am actually hiding behind a tree). Note the traditional alms bowl hanging from the monk’s neck.

Footsteps in the sand…

There’s a lot of reading matter relating to Buddhism here, and I am demolishing it (partly because I need a break from Anna Karenina  but also because I find it really interesting). I find I really relate to the fundamental principles of the Buddhist approach (essentially the dhamma). I could never follow it fully, partly because it is not in my nature to commit to one single belief system (I prefer to navigate my own moral path through life) and partly because the whole reincarnation thing floors me and I couldn’t make the leap of faith necessary to accept it as fact (although karma, which I guess is another side of the same coin, is somehow much more palatable to me). Nevertheless, there are some really helpful themes in there – I am definitely feeling inspired from my readings.

Second observation is that, whenever I go for a walk down the road here I feel like I’m being escorted by a tag team of local dogs. At every stage of the journey, a dog takes me to the edge of its territory and then the next one takes over, always following a bit of a canine stand-off at the boundary line. I still haven’t worked out if it’s companionship or whether I’m being politely escorted off the premises, but either way they’re always very good-natured about it. There is also a litter of puppies on the beach that descends on me in a slobbering, noisy mass of yelps and wags whenever I pass. Needless to say, I pass as often as I can as they are very cute.

One of my canine road companions, at least for a short while.

My final observation is that this place needs some testosterone. All the guests are female, and you know things are desperate when the nearest thing to a bloke on the premises is the incredibly camp guy who runs the shop and a few buddha statues. I don’t mean this in a shallow, eye-candy sense – I just mean we need some hormonal balance; there’s too much oestrogen, and that’s coming from a girl with three sisters (yes, my poor dad). What has prompted this thought is that, as tends to happen when it’s just girls, judgemental cliques can form. One group of women in particular have formed an exclusive knot, with lots of sniggering and whispering. My suspicions on this were confirmed when I was invited into the knot today and became party to a heavy bitching session about the two American girls I mentioned yesterday (who are actually Canadian, oops). I am always really saddened by bitchiness and marvel that a minority of even fully grown women sometimes seem unable to leave behind such playground antics. I am very much a girl’s girl in many ways, but I do also have a big tomboy streak, and I think it’s partly to do with the bitchiness thing, which I just can’t fathom, in the same way that blokes don’t get it either, bless them. Anyway, rant over. (And before I sound too sanctimonious, I would like distinguish bitchiness from gossiping, the latter of which I confess I am as guilty as the next girl and, come to think of it, boy.)

Right, I’m off to bed with a herbal tea, at the shocking hour of half nine – it’s a rock and roll lifestyle here.

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