I am currently writing a novel.
I am writing it in Dutch.
Like many writers, I can’t say what it is about while I am writing it. This period of writing is lovely and great.
A glimpse of my experience at Dipabhāvan Meditation Retreat, Koh Samui, Thailand, 27/1 2019:
At the end of early morning meditation (5 till 6 o’clock) a guy sitting in the front row of the meditation hall shines his little flashlight at the front row where the abbot is sitting. Ajahn Poh, 84 years old and quite agile, is indeed asleep, half sloughed-over in meditation pose. We, the Western meditators, were told to wait till the monks had left the hall before we could get up and start an hour of yoga. A helper of the center shifts some furniture and Ajahn Poh awakes and gracefully walks out of the hall, leaning on his walking stick.
Sleeping is quite an experience. The male dormitories are located directly under the meditation hall, it has a wide door which is always open, and steel bars in the open windows. The bed consists of wooden planks without a mattras. The center is located in the middle of the Koh Samui jungle. There are snakes, scorpions, millipedes, centipedes (the latter ones can bite), loud frogs and carnivorous mosquitoes. The smell of anti-mosquito spray fills the meditation hall, which is completely open on all sides, as we the meditators, sitting motionlessly, make easy targets for the mosquitoes. Outside a sign says : “Beware of scorpions. Walk mindfully.” At night the symphony of crickets, frogs, an insect which sounds like a circle saw, and various animals devouring each other, reaches its crescendo with the frantic snoring of some of the guys.
Thus the days go on: sitting meditation, walking meditation (quite delightful in the evening with the sun setting), chanting Buddhist texts and a one hour yoga class. There are Dhama talks by Dhamavidu Biku, an Englishman who has been a Theravada Buddhist monk for decades; he is very knowledgeable about the history and workings of Buddhism, and very frank with his ideas about certain practices. He says that he thinks that it must be more easy to practice mindfulness outside the monastery, but then he contradicts himself and says that it is good to be a monk to have the time and solitude to meditate. He also shares stories about his daily life as a monk. There are great Thai vegetarian meals twice a day, at 9 o’clock and 12 o’clock.
In a Goenka Vipassana retreat, which I have done a few times, you are not looking at each other, and men and women are completely separated. Here it is more open, which made me wonder who are a couple, who are friends, or what somebody is like as a person. You can learn a lot from small movements and gestures. A friendly push in the line for the yoga mats is the only contact a couple has. But apart from this, it is all about going inside. Dhamavidu Bikhu, whom I presume tests our commitment of being silent by loudly saying ‘Good Afternoon!’ at the beginning of every talk, to which we as a group have to quench our natural reply. He talks about different desires, defilements, meta, society, and gives us a meditation technique which is called anapanasati or ‘the short cut method’. At one point he says: “Buddhism has many ideas for the future of mankind, but we are living in the now.”
It is a great week. On the fourth day I can really do anapanasati during sitting meditation, walking meditation and everything else that I do that day. Suddenly I realize that my mind is quiet. It is quiet! Wonderful! Later on for a few powerful minutes I get insights about my life and what I should do.
Many meditation masters say that it is not what happens during meditation that matters, but what happens after. How do you experience your inner and outer world when you have touched this inner peace, this connectedness, this silence? A great calm? Meeting interesting people? Things flow better? Quietness? What have I taken with me from this wonderful experience?
Things I learned for which I am very thankful:
– Mindfulness: walking, eating, washing – everything!
– anapanasati breathing technique, also called: The short cut method.
– Dipabhavan yoga routine. I try to do it every day now, as it worked really well for me and I liked it a lot. I thought: “If I can do this yoga routine every day for the rest of my life then I will always be flexible and well!”
– Meta (20 minutes): yourself, a close friend/family, a benefactor, someone you don’t know (who thus represents everybody else), your enemy.
– Dipabhavan Dhama talk:
Monkey mind — anapanasati breathing technique.
Doubt — long breath.
Anger — difficult because it lingers on so long, better to not let it happen.
Desires — food: think of puke, sexual desire for a person: think of them dissected, without skin.
Negativity — visualize one or two things which make you happy.
A Beautiful World:
Eat.co is a vegan brasserie anno 2019, located just outside the harbor where steam boats and speed boats pour out endless streams of bronzed tattooed youngsters. They are mostly mischievous, full of desires, landing on this tropical island of Koh Phangan for the full moon party, or to its cleverly concocted half-moon party. There are also calm tantra-yoga-meditation-massage-kundalini-breathing young women and guys. The first group packs in songthaews, a taxi pick-up truck, with their huge back-packs on the roof, off till God knows where, laughing and screaming. The latter groups veers to Eat.co like a magnetic attraction. So do I.
Mind you, this is Thailand, with excellent pad thai (rice noodles with beansprouts, scallion, peanuts and sauce), dragon fruit shakes, fried rice with sea food, tom yam kung and spicy papaya salad. In this brasserie there are crafted wooden tables, plastic vines hang from the ceiling, and there is an assortment of Yogi teas. The waitress, with Mediterranean looks, long black hair, braless, occasionally zonks off into some distance space – I wonder if it is a depth of calm which can be uncomfortable when meeting someone like that in the middle of the hectic world, but which is of course a good thing. She hands me the menu which includes everything ranging from sourdough bread with turmeric humus to ‘three gluten free pancakes with coconut yoghurt and berries’. Jummy!
Looking around at the amount of youngsters and people I get reminded that there are twice as many people living on this planet then when I got born. And that it has never been so easy and affordable to travel, something the people of Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam can tell you more about. And I am of course doing my part. Sadly it doesn’t feel very much like the Thailand I like and love. Surely such a mass tourism does change a place. Luckily a few days later I do find genuinely friendly Thai people, living a little away from all tourism.
I do like the focus on veganism and health on this island and in many parts of the world. I find it a positive development: more awareness of your life (‘you can choose how to live your life’), of your body (yoga, raw food, veganism), your spirit and feeling of connectedness (meditation, religion), and community (social gatherings, courses, dance, tantra). And all that automatically results in more awareness and care of the environment.
A skinny girl sitting at the table beside me highlights some sentences with a huge yellow marker on the last pages of Eckart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’ which she is reading. “Over 3 million copies sold” it says on the front. Quite impressive.
Goa Trance/Ibiza/Koh Phangan beats, or whatever it is called nowadays, comes out of the speaker. It is one continuously pumping low beat which is easy to dance to, and a bit worse to write to, which is what I am doing. My feet keep tapping nervously to the beat.
A girl sits with an Apple laptop with a world map case around it, and someone else is swiping on a gold colored Iphone. Another girl wears white earplugs, maybe she doesn’t like the music, is Skyping or does not like the chattering about veganism, detox or orgasms without touching.
The child of a family makes a tantrum about the food, even if it is plate of waffles with slices of dragon fruit.
A guy is eating mindfully with his eyes closed.
These vegetarian, vegan, tantra, yoga, kundalini breathing people are beautiful. Their skin. The luster in their eyes. The friendly warm smiles.
It starts to rain a little – in January it rains sometimes in the South of Thailand. An elderly woman asks an Israeli girl with white nail polish on her hands and feet, who is eating and simultaneously chatting on Facebook if she likes her dish. The girl looks up utterly disturbed. Oh, smart-phone world.
While they are making a ‘dirty chai’ at the espresso machine, two girls and three guys sit at two small tables. The guys haven’t ordered anything to eat. It is clear that one of the guys, good looking, strong and well trained, with a huge tattoo of deep water diving in a grotto on his arm, is together with one of the girls. The other two guys are nervously looking around. They are meat eaters. One of the guys is interested in the other girl, who is larger and who has embarked on a long explanation of a special breathing technique. I can only imagine that if they end up going out then she will feel a strong desire to turn him over to the world of no leather, no eggs and nothing that talks, walks or crawls.
On the book shelf lay The Esoteric World of Madame Blavinsky, Osho’s A Cup of Tea, Atlas Shrugged by Amy Rand, Lucid Dreaming, The Power of Positive Thinking, Voyager Tarot, and the Healing Code.
My food comes, it is delicious. Two guys and one of the girls leave. The meat eater immediately starts chatting up the girl. “I heard you talking about this breathing technique,” he says. She smiles broadly. Pamphlets about ecstatic dancing and an upcoming tantra retreat lay on their table. I am getting a feeling of everybody standing in a circle holding hands, loving each other.
What a beautiful world I have come to!