A robe trailed in the wind behind an upright figure in motion, a monk was riding a scooter. A monk on a scooter has never wheeled through my imagination, it was adorable. A juxtaposition between a world of materialism, one of simplicity. Trying a new experience, I spent a weekend at a monastery, exchanging work for hospitality, among Buddhist nuns and monks.
I volunteered to help build a staircase Thich Nhat Hanh will walk upon. Entering the woods, a monk and I exchanged language tips and smiles. I shared bug spray, which he sprayed over his corn cone hat, making me giggle. A truck met our team providing tools and wood. We dug for hours, playing charades due to language barriers, and utilized tools that cut roots beneath the soil. In attempted Vietnamese, I counted; moe, height, bob, as we carried tarps filled with dirt. Something felt real there. Perhaps escaping reality, immersed in the moment, genuinely cherishing time with others. Stopping for a break, a monk opened a bag of Doritos. The red and orange marketing, a funny visual against natures background. Sunlight peeked through the pines as we enjoyed watermelon, and sipped brown rice tea. By dinner, dirt covered me head to toe, kind laughs echoed from underneath their hats.
My mindfulness practice leads me toward serenity. Seeing, listening, noticing things in a different light, as if for the first time. I read self-help books, over Self magazine, tossing old patterns like a yoga mat, extending, inviting new perspectives on this life. As I sat that weekend, thoughts internalized beyond noise of the universe, to my breath. Birds chirped with clarity, as sunshine warmed my face. My eyes focused upon purple leaves, splitting rays of sunlight, above my gaze. A meditation bell chimed in the distance. Lying upon my beach towel, care turned toward awareness of pink puffy clouds, against a blue sky at dusk. An exact reflection of colors on my towel.
The monks and nuns were inquisitive-like kids in adult frames, yet In monastery, so respected, so dignified. Every 15 minutes a clock chimed, reminding you to literally stop what you were doing, and breathe. Simple concepts laminated upon paper in my bathroom reminded me to send kindness toward my tired eyes, pale face, and normal grudge at such an hour. I breathed in. I breathed out. Taking care of myself, my cell remained stowed as “priorities may have shifted” during this experience.
Walking silently toward the meditation hall, a deer darted behind, hooves startled me. My jaw dropped entering the hall, one of the most serene and beautiful spaces I have been in. Sitting upon cushions on a gorgeous bamboo floor, I felt healing energy. Incense and light through large windows added to the awe. I wanted to take in every moment. Unfortunately, at this 5 a.m. hour, my eyelids had an alternative agenda.
The air felt different there. Nature displayed a sharpness I have never experienced. Vietnamese dinners with savory broths, eaten in mindful silence, allowed appreciation of flavors, and digestive ease. Following each meal, we washed dishes in silence. Under the moonlight, I relaxed, completely, in a hammock. The moon appeared brightly into sight, each time it swung right.
Entering the shop, an original print on rice paper, by Thich Nhat Hanh himself read; breathe my dear, stopping me in my tracks, bringing tears to my eyes. The nun behind the register said softly; “His energy is on that paper, isn’t it?”
It was just a weekend, but an experience I will never forget. It opened my heart, a little more, toward embracing life’s ups and downs, like a peaceful staircase in the woods….