to escape or not
For our readers on four continents, happy lunar new year – next Sunday, February 10, 2013. The year of the snake.
Now, to our essay . . . . no photos, you must use your mind’s eye to create the scene.
. . . . somewhere in southeast Asia . . . .
The constantly shifting and distorting reflection of the stone temple and surrounding trees in the pool of water was mesmerizing. The reflected view of the branches and leaves of the trees and the top of the temple changed as the small ripples or wavelets in the pool moved to and fro. The waters of this reflecting pool slowly vibrated or lazily pulsed, rhythmically, in the mid afternoon tropical sun.
Now and then a leaf would float by on the surface of the water. A dragon fly would pause over the surface and then fly away.
The pool, I was sitting on the edge of, had a hypnotic effect on me. I gazed or stared into the water for a long time. My mind a total blank. Only very slowly did the darkening sky intrude in to my awareness. It was dusk.
A passing monk asked, in English, if I needed to stay the night at the monastery. As it was late and dark, I said “yes”. He led me to the monastery behind the Buddhist temple.
A simple supper of steamed rice and vegetables with hot tea was given to me.
After the monks’ evening prayers at the hall, or large gathering space of the monastery, were rhythmically chanted, it was lights (candles) out.
The sounds of nature came in to my humble cell. Crickets, frogs, a soft breeze rustling the leaves of the hardwood trees, the scampering feet of the lizards running across the stone floor, an occasional night bird’s call.
There were no human sounds in this dark, moonless night. The clear sky was “pitch” black.
Mosquitoes pestered me despite the netting over me as I tried to sleep on a simple mat on the stone floor. Should I close the shutters over the “window” opening – really just a square hole cut into the stone wall of the cell? Pythons, as thick (or thicker) as a bodybuilder’s upper arms, were native to this part of the country. No, leave them as they are.
Sleep, blissful, sweet sleep eventually came to me.
The monks did not wake me as they arose and prayed at 4:00 a.m.
With the dawn, morning birds sang and greeted the orangish ascending sun. Waking up, the air was cool from the night, although still humid. It was like a summer morning in the deep south of the US before the heat of the day comes on. The heavy smell of the lush, tropical vegetation assailed my nostrils.
As the monks left the animals alone, the wild creatures roamed freely throughout the grounds of the monastery. This included rodents, cats, monkeys, small deer like animals, and of course the snakes and lizards and frogs. Representing the insect family, there were a number of species of beetle, and not a few spiders and some very colorful butterflies. Thick, green, tropical plant growth was everywhere.
An older monk, with shaved head and saffron robe and serene, peaceful eyes, came to my cell and invited me to breakfast. Another meal of steamed rice, and various fruits and vegetables served with steaming hot tea.
After I had finished eating, the same kind monk asked politely “How long do you plan on staying?”
The peace of this remote retreat that I had consciously sought out made me blurt out that I wanted to stay forever. He smiled a patient and understanding smile. By his facial expression, he was in effect saying to me “that is not a decision to rush or take lightly”.
I was left alone the rest of the morning. This gave me time to think. Here, I could escape. All the worries and nagging problems left behind in the states could be put behind me permanently. No one even knew where I was. I had not faked my own death, but even my closest friends thought I was on a business trip in New York, not half a world away in a monastery deep in the jungle.
But, was escape the right thing to do? What about my “responsibility” to others and even to myself?
There was Sherry and the 2 children. Our relationship had been a rocky one. But, despite all the friction and all the fights, it did seem that she really cared for me and wanted our relationship to work. She could have walked out on several occasions long ago. 2 children that needed a father, their father. That could not be ignored. As well, could I adopt a celibate life? Thinking back on all the wild, passionate, yet tender lovemaking with Sherry, it seemed a very difficult proposition. A woman whose femininity and sexuality so perfectly complemented and fulfilled my masculinity and sexuality.
There was all the stress at work. In order to make the big money, one had to put up with a lot of bullshit. Trying to please everyone – bosses, co-workers, clients – was nearly impossible on a day-to-day basis. There are times when one longs for a simpler life without all the stress, and constant competition, and conflict, and frustration. Without all the daily demands upon one’s energy and attention. Without having to live up to everyone’s expectations, unrealistic expectations, damn demanding expectations.
After lunch, or the midday meal, I was again left on my own. It is as though the monks were telepathic and knew what I was wrestling with within my mind. I sat on the pavement, really stone walkway, on the east side of the monastery in the shade. The tropical heat and humidity made me want to sleep, but I endeavored to stay alert and keep pondering my future.
Many thoughts passed through my mind. I did not want to take too long to make a decision, yet, rushing to make quick decisions was what I found so distasteful in my life back in the states.
As the lazy tropical sun neared the horizon in the west, it came to me, that is an honest conclusion that I knew that I had to accept and live with.
If I had been without responsibilities, I could have opted to stay in the Buddhist monastery and become an acolyte. If there were none dependent upon me, I could freely have chosen this new life. But, I was not free to take this choice. There were many people dependent upon my input, my interaction, my contribution, in their lives. There was no denying this. There was really no way of avoiding it.
If I had been younger, without all the attachments, I could have chosen the simpler, more peaceful path. But, that time, that opportune time, was years past for me. I had people depending upon me. Their lives would be very negatively affected if I chose only for myself. Could I live with myself long-term if I abandoned these others?!
This simpler and more peaceful life was, is, not for everyone. Not only would my spirit long for the love and companionship of Sherry, my body would ache for hers. There was no deluding myself to the contrary on this. And, the children, my children and hers, our children, needed both of us in the home.
After supper, I spoke with the kind and understanding older monk and told him that I would be leaving in the morning. He smiled a tranquil and knowing smile for me and gave me his best wishes for finding peace and contentment.
Since that retreat to the monastery many years ago, I really have never looked back on what might have been if I had decided otherwise. The stress of my daily life continues, but I take satisfaction in knowing that the people who are depending on me are being helped by my daily efforts, not perfectly so, but as well as can be. As well, the strength I receive from the sweet love of my wife is not to be underestimated.
Post Script: Dear readers, I cannot say if this experience recounted above really happened to me some years ago, or if it is a vivid, long held and remembered delusion. But, if there is a lesson here, it is independent of the experience’s reality. Thank you for your kind understanding.
A single image offered.