Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Little Everest

This post was written in December 2009, when I was spending a month staying at a Buddhist monastery near Sydney, Australia.

Monday 7th December

Yesterday I had a long chat with one of the monks who live at this monastery, and it turned out to be very helpful.  Because I’m usually housebound or bedbound with my illness I can’t get out to meditation classes, so I’m pretty much on my own as far as meditation instruction goes. Being able to come to Santi Forest Monastery for a few weeks, and have people I can talk to about meditation is so valuable.

I first got in contact with this monastery through telephone.  I rang, talked to the Abbott, and then rang him every few weeks to ask meditation questions.  I was very embarrassed when I met him to find out what an esteemed and extremely busy Abbott he is – to think I was bothering him with my oh-so-basic meditation questions still makes me cringe a bit.  After the second or third phone call, he said that I could come and stay at Santi if I wanted to. He said I didn’t have to attend breakfast, morning meetings, or do any work – I could just come as I was and do whatever I was able to do.

This was a big challenge for me – firstly to summon the energy to get to the monastery, secondly, to deal with the shame I felt at not being able to get up early,work, and meditate like everyone else, and, thirdly, to overcome the fear at spending 6 weeks with no distractions – just me and my illness. I had spent the past 10 years doing everything I could to avoid feeling my pain, and now it was just going to be the two of us for 6 whole weeks!  How romantic – me and my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in a little hut in the woods.

It turned out to be even tougher than I thought it would be.  I got very sick after I arrived and struggled even to get to the main midday meal and have a shower.  All I seemed to do was lie in my bed in my little hut and cry.  I felt like I was in prison. Looking at the people around me all I could think was, ‘What are you doing here?  Why do you seem so happy...this is hell!’ Whenever I talked to the Abbott I’d cry, and I kept thinking that he must be thinking, ‘Why did I ask this crazy woman to come here?!’

I vividly remember talking to him just before I left. I apologised for spending the whole 6 weeks in tears. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘Every monastery needs someone who just sits in the their kuti [hut] and cries.’ I smiled with relief, and we both laughed.

‘You’ve done a good job, ‘he said.  Somehow I knew that he was being completely sincere - although, if anyone else had said this to me I wouldn’t have believed them. I felt that he really did think what I’d done was difficult, and I’d done well in persisting with it.  I have to say I agreed with him – I certainly didn’t feel any better physically, but I knew that in facing my illness head-on I’d climbed my own little Everest.

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