"Being the Only Meditator in the Monastery"
The following narrative continues the story of a Mexican meditator who has been in Burma for many years. This is the seventh entry, and the beginning post can be found here.
"I had a lot of misunderstandings with Burmese people because of culture differences. One example is how affection is expressed. In Mexico it is seen as wholesome to show our affection to people that we love by hugging and kissing. But in Burmese culture this is very strange behaviour. In Kalaw I had a Burmese language teacher that came to the monastery to support the yogis with food. Every time I was sick she would come and see me, and so I felt a lot of appreciation towards her. My way to express gratitude was to hug and kiss her. However, later on I was told that she felt very strange when I did that, and she did not know what was happening because she had never hugged anyone before. So it was a new experience for her and for me as well. Something that is so common for me, for her is an uncomfortable moment.
Eventually, the rest of the yogis left and I was the only yogi at the monastery in Kalaw. The lay people around were mainly workers and there was just one monk in the monastery. I continued to have interviews every day with him. However, I had some difficulties with one new worker who came to the monastery. He was a boy around 16 that was very curious about foreigners. Nothing extraordinary happened but I needed to ask the main monk to move this kid away from the dorm where I was staying. It was mainly childish games but they did make me feel very uncomfortable because I was the only yogi and single women living in the dorm.
After the monk moved the child from the dorm I needed to establish my practice again cause I was experiencing a lot of Dosa. For other women who come to Myanmar to meditate, I think it is important that they know that generally speaking, Burmese women are never alone. This was also new for me to have to learn, because most of the time I am used to be by myself. I want to share that there is not much to fear because the general population is very kind and mellow, but is important to keep in mind the customs of the country.
Also Myanmar people are in general very curious to meet foreigners because they see them so seldom. Most of the time this is done in a very gentle and naive way, however, is important to have some distance with men because they are not use to see women by themselves. Generally speaking, Myanmar is a very safe place compared to India or Latin America. But is important not to be alone with a Myanmar men because they are not use this interaction.
In my case, they actually put this Burmese boy in the dorm with me because they thought I will be more comfortable with someone in the dorm. This was not true: I was so happy to have free space at that time. I just needed to lock the doors before going to bed and I was fine. Most Burmese women believe that they cannot be by themselves because they are told that they should not so from a young age, so they never experience total solitude. Also, I find that many are afraid of ghosts and darkness. The situation I faced is not so uncommon, that is, where a Burmese man volunteers to stay close to the lady so she can feel protected. If the foreigner lady does not know very well this person, it is better not accept the offer.
After they took the boy out of the dorm the Western monk came again and he helped me to re-establish awareness and Samadhi because I was a little bit agitated. Then I could see that it was mainly a childish game because the boy did not bother me anymore. Thanks to this monk little by little I could understood the Shwe Oo Min method better.
Some others yogis came to the monastery and we were now three yogis with the Western monk there as well. The main Sayadaw of the monastery needed to leave so the the Western monk came to be appointed the head during this time. This monastery and especially this particular time with the other yogis was very significant for the practice for me. I felt comfortable and with good company and guidance. So I could experience how the practice was progressing little by little.
Because the monastery was very free, we could also play with the practice and figure out which was the most skillful way to develop the practice. This freedom was significant for the practice. It gave me confidence that it was working. Confidence in that the practice by itself will give results. The practice does work and is important to gave a good guidance but ultimately the one that is making the job is the yogi. So it is confidence in that the yogi have already all the necessary prerequisites to progress. The practice by itself will allow the yogi to grow.
The others yogis did not spend the Waso (Rains Retreat) in the monastery. They needed to go for different reasons. So I was the only yogi one more time. Because this time was more than one month been the only yogi, sometimes I struggled a little. At some point I needed some other yogi company. However, this did not stop me from meditating. I tried as much as I could but sometimes the progress was a little bit slow because of the conditions at that moment. I believe I was not fully prepared for the experience. The interviews with the Western monk were useful to balance the practice. And the freedom that the monastery gave to the yogis help me also to don't push to hard when the mind was not completely stable.
After a couple of months one of the yogis that left came back and I could have some company. By that time it was Kathina time. So the main monk of the monastery came back with a lot of yogis from Vietnam. At that point the monastery was full of people. Before Kathina started, the monastery needed to get ready but the workers were doing very little work. Close to the date of Kathina everyone in the monastery was running to finish all the work. It was my first time to be in a Kathina ceremony and I was invited to visit others Kathina events in town. I found it very interesting. The Kathina in our monastery was very small comparing to the Kathina in the big monasteries.
By that time Kalaw was very cold in the mornings and at night. At noontime it was ok, but generally speaking was much cooler than Yangon. Because of that reason I got a cold and I needed to stay there to recover."