Breakfast at the market where I bravely try durian*, a pungent fruit native to this region. A delicacy to some, a raw-foodies dream (due to the high fat content and rich texture), to me it smells most similarly to stinky feet (which is interesting for barefoot is the norm indoors…there are piles of shoes outside every doorway, temple, hotel, etc…super spiffy clean hoofs is honored….Buddhist monks ritualistically wash their feet.)
Wikipedia describes durian to have the fragrance of “rotten onions, turpentine and gym socks. The odor has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in South East Asia.” The portions of fruit look like pieces of intestine. As I purchase a slice of the gargantuan fruit, a French man is also aptly describing durian to another inquisitive soul, sharing his agreeable experience as one where he relishes in an aged creamy cheese. Wow. I love the French but cannot commit to the entire slab. I thank the fruit with love and give it back to the earth.
There is nonetheless a most delicious local fruit called a sapodilla, nearly the size of a kiwi but less hairy, it tastes somewhere between a caramelized mango and a fresh fig with a few watermelon black seeds in the center. This is heavenly.
I am continually allowing for all to happen naturally, seamlessly, following the path of least resistance. My crummy day-pack (a fake North Face purchased in Bangkok) is grouchy and with temperamental zippers and alas, corner to the market, a store with (used) but quality backpacks appears. I switch bags and head off to Wat Suthrep, a magnificent temple of Chaing Mai and home to the International Buddhist center where one can stay with the monks and learn Vipassana meditation. And naturally, organically, with no effort at all, I pass a tuk-tuk (taxi) stand where another woman is heading with the same intention. We share sapodillas and stories about travels, raw food, life, love. She has the same birthday as two of my closest sisters, no accident either it seems. Yay Aquarians! (Squeeze yourself sisters, you know who you are.)
We change tuk-tuks at the zoo station, acquiring a truck load more friends to head up the mountain to the temple. A cute couple of shiny faced Bavarian girls jump in, eager to chat about India, South America, NYC but with a deep sense of fear about traveling to such places. Their innocence is so endearing and bright.
I head first to the registration office and am asked to come back later to see if a cancellation has occurred for they are seemingly full until the end of February, a worthy lesson to acquire for one who often resists making prearranged plans. Go monks for being so popular!
The temple is as stunning as the thousands of the rest are…gold, red, green, blue, glittery, Buddha sanctuary, peaceful energy, bald monks in saffron robes. A garden with Ganesha, Buddha, a turtle, and gnomes speaks lucidly to my soul, representing my spirit guides with astounding accuracy. Belly smiles. Heart smiles.
I cross the German chicas again outside the structure with an elaborate altar where a monk is offering a water blessing to all who desire. They watch judiciously as I sit with fellow enthusiasts on our knees before the monk, bowing our heads to receive the prayer. A white string is tied around our wrist. We examine Thai Buddhism together a bit, gently, about how it is a path of life, a path of compassion, how it does not conflict as a practice with one’s religion and then the ladies too sit to receive the blessing. We are one.
The young monk at registration reveals the outwardly unpleasant news that I cannot stay for the program. I change my thoughts quickly, dropping into my heart with gratitude for all that I have yet experienced for the day. I have met three amazing goddesses (actually four….also a Brazilian woman from Rio who is also walking a similar path…lost her job months ago, called to expand, share, love, ya know it all), received a blessing from a monk, explored the grand temple, ate countless sapodillas, and now, have an opportunity to explore another temple where meditation is possible. Hello life. Thank you. I hug my new friends goodbye, walk down the grand staircase at the entrance of the temple and head off in a tuk-tuk on a novel journey. The driver of the shared taxi drops me off at the side of the road and instructs me to head in a particular direction towards the temple, which ultimately, melodiously, is found after more than an hour, after drinking ginger tea and chatting with many street food vendors. I arrive in impeccable time for monk chat, a Monday afternoon special where monks practice their English with curious foreigners. Two Burmese young monks and I discuss a bit about the basics of Buddhism and my inquisitive mind probes queries regarding intuition, dreams, having a “calling” to the monastic path, female monk-hood. A portly British expat who organized such program, permits his own responses to be shared shadowing my new friends. Many are led to the ascetic path it seems due to poverty and the desire for education. Everything is taken care of….food, water, shelter, education…an interesting and surprising answer to me, who was faintly hoping that one had a vision of a sparkly giant Buddha in his dreams as a child or something like that…a clear misunderstanding of what Buddha represents, as a teacher, an equal, an enlightened one to be inspired by but not to idolize. We are all a Buddha within. Not an easy path I mull over…no sex, no food after noon, arising at 5 am, constant meditation, silence, bald heads.
Women as Buddhist monks in Thailand? Not so much/only a few in the hills.
They question my experience with meditation and I share that I often practice in my yogi style as taught by Dharma Mittra (kudos, I love you!!!), which is quite similar to their practice, and my previous five weeks sitting in meditation at the Casa of John of God, a closed eyed, open palm routine in a current of energy. The Brit deems my Casa experience as useless and I manipulate my thoughts and send love and light in return to his judgment. It is all perfect as we are all learning, constantly, teaching one another to have more respect and more understanding.
I sign up for the next day two-day retreat and head back to the old city to find a place to crash for the evening, first sitting for hours in an outdoor breezy and modern café run by a half Jewish, half Thai mate whose self-deprecation, humor, and stature could be mistaken for an authentic NYer. He is more than amazing and makes me pee with laughter. I research some potential travel plans for after the retreat as I listen to live guitar, a Thai man with hippy hair singing nostalgic American tunes. I am covered in bugs bites and in bliss. Bed.