The Baby Mango

“He’s opening with a Buddha quote…shit.”

His Former Siddharta said that karma and happiness is like growing a mango tree: if you plant an apple seed, you’re not going to grow a mango tree – if you wait 15 years, 20, whatever.  Just the same, if you plant a mango seed, you can wait 20 years and you may or may not grow a mango tree.  Of course, once you do grow that mango tree, after you’ve watered it, assuming it’s in the proper soil with the right climate and so on, the fruit is only that much sweeter because you planted it, not an apple, because say an apple seed is sadness, but you want to grow happiness, and a mango tree is happiness and you want to grow happiness, so what you put in is what you get and though other properties play in, if you invest in goodness, you’ll get goodness back and anyway, mangoes grow better than apples.  And also, anger, worry and sadness is like a fire, and when you find your center – it’s like going home, in your belly, when the outside world is a heavy rain –  it’s like you can turn inside where everything starts and put out the small fire before it spreads to the forest outside.

This was my retreat, abridged.  Allora, so after 6 months being official in Thailand, I decided to see myself off the good way by shutting out the world for six days (I shaved off a day so I could see my friends in Laos). 

Living in a monastery behind Wat Doisuthep, the second most-popular temple (and arguably the most beautiful) in Thailand, I scraped the tops of trees on bare feet, lip-synched to the chirping of birds (as use of the voicebox was strictly forbidden), counted the number of chews it takes to puncture a soybean, and slept lightly – daring not to kill a single living thing during my stay (assuming my wits to be previously thriving).  Following 8 Precepts, I managed to break only one rule – I took two 20 minute naps, and did read once (though it was only the back of my toothpaste tube) in the whole of a week.  I didn’t write or reflect, I didn’t share pleasantries with the fifteen-odd guests that came and went, and I did accidentally crush an ant with my tea mug, though I felt really bad about it.

Some days I wanted to cry, and I was counting the days.  When I was meditating, once I improved, I felt great.  Often I dreamt of Australia, and often I thought that this practice was robotic and stupid, but some moments were sheer beauty. 

Every night I would walk up the hill to the main golden stupa, where “they” say a Buddha bone is buried…right…to listen to the monks chant the day into night.  I’d sit on the polished marble in a crumbled origami pose, drink in the mesquite blue incense smoke, doing my best to look official in prostrating when prostration was interprestedly due, et al.  Naturally, in all of this seriousness, a cat thought it appropriate to mosey into the (what do you call it?) chapel, and start meowing through the whole performance!  Oh, the hilarity…can you imagine?  Well, we had quite the laugh.  The punchline I considered at the time was, “I guess that’s what nature thinks of the collective fruits of organized religion and her so-called disciples!”  That’s just to clue you in on how lively my week was.

There was another cat that was stuck on the roof, crying with a cut paw, and in a Bono moment of lucidity, I tried to help it.  I reached my hand through the balustrade, and the cat, after about 20 minutes, mustered the courage to venture in my direction.  As it got close, and lowered onto its haunches, preparing to pounce, I pulled my hand back and jumped to my feet — just in time to see it smash against the rusty wall, falling backward onto its head, then slinking away in shame.  That was pretty funny.  No, I actually tried to save it, and though that did happen, I got a monk to try to help me and he didn’t care.  If a monk doesn’t care, I don’t have to care – I think that’s written in their Torah.  I fancied myself a good person a number of times, but in the end the only good I actually did there, I think, was scrape some green gunk that was caked onto the bottom of The Christmas Mug.  No one else dared to touch The Christmas Mug at a Buddhist monastery, but for one brave Jew.  And yes, mom and dad, I am still Jewish. 

The experience was amazing, and I am so happy I did it.  With my spare time?  I sang songs in my head: Thursday it was Jon Brion’s cover of ‘But Beautiful’, Friday was ‘Tane Mahuta’ by The Ruby Suns, and earlier there was ‘The Kind of Feeling the Happens on Sunny Beaches’ by Lawrence Arabia, a dark time that brought me a song that will remain nameless, ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’, as well as a few others.  Strangely, I had mostly one song per day, instead of many different songs all day long.  I enjoyed announcing the 2009 Dodgers’ lineup to myself in my head (well, not exactly ENJOYED…it looks pretty grim), scratching at blemishes on the back of my right hand, stroking the comic beginnings of my moustache, and always avoiding the temptation to look in a mirror.  Sometimes I did sit-ups and sometimes I dreamt about my travels, though I did my best not to.  I thought a lot about the striking number of people I like and miss, and the remarkable amount of girls to whom I ALMOST got emotionally close enough to to be considered close, and I considered as many of my deficiencies as I could (there were many), how I might go about repairing them, and ultimately arrived at a few hypotheses.  The Head Monk helped me realize that I care too much about the perception the others have of me, that I am too concerned with upsetting you or being an inconvenience, and that there are millions of ways to approach the world – I shouldn’t be ashamed of how I meditate, because everyone meditates differently.  These are simple things, of course, but they carry more weight when uttered by a monk.  He told me that, observing me over the course of the week, he thinks I have a very good nature, and that obviously had me smiling through my meditation.  His English was weak, though, so he might have been referring to the garden outside, which I took to immediately.

By the last day, I was able to meditate for nearly 8 hours, and on average I was somewhere between 6-7/day.. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but it was tough!  Shit, man, it took some discipline.  Meditating is EXHAUSTING, I found, especially combining the initial prostration ceremony (which follows the very quick prostration when in the presence of a Buddha image).  They taught VIPANASSA (sp?), which centers on the present moment (constantly noting every action, i.e., “hearing, hearing, hearing.  Lifting heel.  Angry, angry, angry,” etc), and after a very slow deliberate prostration, you moved onto twenty minutes of walking meditation (I got to the fourth stage, each stage breaking down the movement of your feet and legs…as boring as it sounds?  More so).  After walking meditation is sitting meditation, which is even more tedious, by design…you concentrate on your belly rising, then dropping with each breath (for whatever reason, my mind helped itself by imagining that I was drawing the air in from the soles of my feet, through my legs and knees and thighs and intestines, then into my lungs…I don’t know where that came from, but it did work).  Sitting meditation, as you know, is bloody PAINFUL (sitting Lotus Style is as difficult as is on your knees!), and I guess it’s all about focusing on that pain, centering on your body, and wiping your mind clear of everything else.  I think that’s a really beautiful concept, though – hear the annoying dog’s incessant barking?  There’s nothing you can do about it, so acknowledge it and move on.  Worried about where you’re going to be staying tomorrow?  You can’t help it so, so fuck it.  I thought (afterwards, of course) of so many problems I’ve had, trying to control everything, and it is simple and perfect…perhaps not realistic, but I suspect a life purely in the now would be rather interesting.  Obviously there’s more to it than that, but…but what?  I have no ending to this sentence.  This PRISON sentence!  Woe, but wherefore shall I roam?  Ah, yes: last night.

After the Feline Chanting Ceremony, I strolled around the grounds (until you feel at home koo koo ka choo Mrs. Robinson heaven holds a place for those who I’m retarded) and, since the temple is normally supremely hot and densely crowded but, at this hour, was silently neither/nor, I stopped by the jasmine tree, took my sandals off, and hell – I meditated.  I could hear the monks walking back to their quarters, but mostly the clap-clap of our feet on the marble, and it was a truly strange, etheral feeling.  Mosquitoes were stuck to my face, leaves fell down the back of my neck, but I didn’t really notice.  I think when I was REALLY into it, like, deep into a trance, it was like someone else was walking for me – and of course this was about 5% of the time, but even after a good meditation session, I would walk up to the surface, where all the tourists were milling about, and I didn’t even notice them much of the time – it felt stupid. 

Anyway, after the jasmine sessions, I drooled down the stairs and back into the meditation grounds (which I would liken to being in an insane asylum, with all of us assholes walking around, hands clasped behind our backs, wrapped in white robes, eyes open half-mast and glazed over), I went to the little deck and took a speck of tea to wake me up for one more bedtime meditation (which I lost energy for about halfway through), for of course the tea they served here is PROPER tea, whole dried and unseasoned leaves and twigs, with a full and earthy flavor (and I know I am sounding more and more like a new age fop as I go along, but bear with me).  I walked down the whitewashed stairs and into the garden, flipping my shoes back on and finding a seat on a bench under a great pine-ish tree, and as my tea bloomed and steamed, I could see the thousands of beetle-ants in their sausage-thick trail up the bark, their exoskeletons reflecting the moonage, and I closed my eyes.  I guess you don’t often listen to silence, and so I guess you never realize – holy hell – how loud that silence can be!  An cacophony of cicadas and frogs, thousands of delicate little violins chirping with the sloppy slurping of those wet green fart-trumpets, thousands of needles scraping on thousands of windows as a family of millipedes trudges through a swamp of Nickelodeon Slime in size 14 caterpillar boots.  After a few moments, someone comes walking from the soup of the darkness and sits quietly in the bench adjacent.  Was it the orderly Asian girl with the round face and the thick black glasses that loved cleaning the bathroom every morning and once motioned, upon my first arrival, that I shouldn’t start eating until after our communal chanting?  Was it the gauntly beautiful girl with the Juliette Binoche nose and the frightening green eyes that was always the only other person laughing with me in the awkwardly, absurdly serious moments?  Perhaps it was the doe-eyes, hairy and talkative American man with the downward smile that looked vaguely like Jake Gyllenhaal’s golden retriever (that was unfair)?  It didn’t matter who it was, because the sky was purple and infected with mist, cold and welcome in my lungs, the moonlight ours, the moment perhaps the second-most intimate of my life.  That’s all.

I’m off to Laos this evening to meet a group of friends (Kelly, Christine, Eben, Colin, etc?) in Vang Vieng for the necessary half-week of libating in inner tubes down the circuitry of the Mekong River (or whatever it’s called), apexing in my birthday sellhybrashun.  After there I’ll sniff around a few places Laotian, then shove off on a flight to Hanoi and kick the Northern Vietnamese Dice for a week.5, before flying back into Bangkok to meet my pan-Asian buddy, Jonathan, to being our epic tour of Malaysia and…bum bum bum, our camper tour through Eastern Australia with Brian Scott Millman!  Everything is falling into place, good friends!  With that, and with the presumed knowledge that 0.05% of you have read this far without skipping (thank you for your devotion, super fans!), I will leave you to the elements.  Cheers, chok dee, happy trails, and listen to Antipodean music.

There’s a Buddha inside us all,



~ by nearhelsinki on March 2, 2009.

4 Responses to “The Baby Mango”

  1. by some miracle i joined the 0.05%. phenom entry mr. millman.

  2. Eric, your blog just blew me away. I sat for days thinking about your experiences. We all thought you were crazy to go so far for so long but I know feel you were the smart one. Enjoy australia. We miss you.

  3. Brilliant writting by a brilliant young man. Your words make me envision your surrounds just like I am there with you. I wish I was! Love you and miss you lots! D

  4. I am also part of that .05%, I am pleased to say.
    Eric – what an experience! The way you described it sounds so inviting, actually. It was very cool to hear how you evolved in the meditation process. Silence – without music, chatter and noise – without too many distractions – just being.

    I look forward to hearing more when you get back – IF you get back at some point! I will keep this short.

    I hope your adventures with Brian and FUN, memorable and all you both want them to be!

    Lots and lots of LOVE from Mill Valley, CA.

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