Planet Hiker

Meditation Center

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Sri Lanka Meditation Center near Kandy We were walking up a narrow dirt road, traversing a side of a beautiful hill. There were tea bushes on one side, various kinds of trees full of curious animals on the other. Mari and I were on our way to a "meditation center". The overall experience so far as been pretty good - it was a nice hike after all. But the idea of a specific "center" where one ought to sit down and do "meditation" kept fidgeting and would not settle down in the back of my mind. Not that I am a meditation expert by any means but it seemed to me that any corner of a room should suffice for the purpose. Nevertheless, Mari was excited to check it out and I went along, entertaining the idea of seeing herds of serious monks, busy meditating.

It was hot and humid. I kept taking my hat off whenever the path entered a shady section and I'd put it back on under the direct sun. The rationale was that in the shade, I am better off ventilating my head, while under the sun, the hat provided the benefit of shielding the rays. As we zigzagged up the hill, we came to a particularly beautiful view of the surrounding countryside. Plus there was a monkey sitting on top of a pole, apparently surprised by our presence and not knowing if sitting still is an effective strategy for hiding from us. Without further ado, I took out my camera and pointed at the monkey. The monkey was not pleased by that at all and made its way down the pole, disappointed that the "sitting still on a pole" strategy did not work as intended.

Antsy to get to the meditation center Mari hurried me up, stating that "maybe we should take the photos on the way down, since there may be a meditation class starting at any minute". "Yeah, sure" I agreed facetiously while continuing to take a few more shots and thinking to myself that "may be there will be another monkey on the pole while we are going down, may be..." In photography, I feel that the biggest mistake is not taking the shot when given the 1st chance. At the moment, the light was right, the sky was full of pretty clouds, there were tea bushes and monkeys all around - this was the time to be taking photos, and so I did, for 1 minute longer.

Sri Lanka Monkey Face Soon we were back at our pilgrimage to the top. A few more turns came and went and we finally came to a handwritten sign, that asked for silence, in front of a cluster of small houses in the midst of gardens. We made our way to what seemed like the "office" and ran into a proper monk - dark orange robe, shiny eyes, shaved head. We were very pleased.

As politely as possible, using as little sounds as possible, Mari tried to inquire about the meditation classes. At first it didn't quite work. Trying to maintain silence yet composing a murmur of a few gentle words turned out to be a tricky way to communicate. The monk was also not helping all that much. I had a feeling that he spoke English but chose to produce a lot more smiles and nods instead of words, since that's the thing to do when faced with American tourists, seeking instant enlightenment. But having walked 3 kilometers up the hill, we were not going to give up so easily. I pressured the guy a little further and he finally exhibited a calendar and indicated that the classes don't start for another month. A few more smiles a nods were exchanged.

At this point my mood was turning distinctly for the better. I thought that it'd be pretty funny to thank the monk and then just turn around and head back down the hill. But to my surprise, the monk announced that in about an hour there will be tea served and welcomed us to stick around for that. And so we asked for the permission to walk around the gardens and take some photos, which he granted full-heartedly.

With our cameras out, Mari and I went about the garden, snapping photos here and there. We then came to a small hut on a side of the hill with an amazing view. There was a hummingbird working the flowers of a fresh bush, bees buzzing around, and little homes barely visible amongst the heavy greenery, way down at the bottom of the hill, basking in the sun rays that were cutting through heavy clouds. There was also a bench on the side of the hut with some pillows on it. I took a seat and put away my camera. Mari also took a seat but couldn't quite settle down. Soon she was up and went off taking more photos.

I just sat still and watched what's happening in my surroundings. There were eagles circling in the updrafts, crows chasing one another across the hills, and chipmunks squeaking all around. It was very relaxing to just watch and not think about anything else. After some time, just to try it out, I closed my eyes and sank a little into my unconscious while envisioning my surroundings. I could still hear the little hummingbird purring nearby, there were birds singing a few trees down the hill, the little homes were also still there, way down at the bottom. I was a little tired from the walk, but didn't feel sleepy. In fact, it felt rather fresh and it was quite comfortable and relaxing to be sitting on that bench. I thought that it's pretty funny that here I am "meditating" at a "meditation center". Maybe there is actually something to it - tiring yourself out by walking up a hill then letting the beauty of the garden seduce you into a relaxed state of mind.

Sri Lanka Meditation Center view of the hill with plants Sometime later I heard the footsteps coming up to the hut. I opened my eyes and waited for Mari to come around the corner. "There are specifically designated areas where you are supposed to meditate" she said, "but this spot right here is by far the prettiest one". She sat next to me and we just observed how magnificent it was all around us. As the sun-rays continued to play hide and seek with the clouds, a deep roar of a thunder echoed between the sky and the earth. The air was already heavily weighted with humidity and all it took was a little shakeup to cause a cascade of droplets lose their footing and tumble down the sky. In a period of about 20 seconds the first few drops turned into a wave of water crashing down on the hut's clay roof tiles. The edge of the roof was extending just enough out to provide a bit of shielding for our bench, but not enough to actually keep us dry. We were getting damper little by little but it didn't matter all that much since it was a warm rain.

As unexpectedly as the first time, the monk appeared holding an umbrella and wearing two raincoats, one on top of the other. He motioned for Mari to take the umbrella and follow him, and signaled me to wait here. But of course - since there was only one umbrella, I'd have to wait my turn. This was just like in that problem of ferrying a goat, a wolf and some cabbage across a river in a canoe that only has enough space for one item. It was all pretty funny, really! I was going to suggest that a better solution is for the monk to use the umbrella and let Mari and I use the raincoats (even if there are holes in the raincoats since we were partially wet already anyway). But in a place where smiles and nods are to be used more frequently than words, taking the time to explain it with the rain pounding down on us would have defeated the point of the exercise. So I smiled and waited a minute for the monk to return, hand me the umbrella and lead me across the garden to another larger hut.

We entered a room that had benches along its walls and a large cement table in the middle of it. Along with Mari there was a woman and a man, sitting at one of the benches, a large thermos of tea placed on the table, accompanied with some crackers and a cat. As we sat around drinking tea and munching on crackers, the cat made its rounds, demanding some treats. It would periodically jump on and off the table as it pleased and even tried opening the jar of crackers. Since this was a "meditation center", no one dared to tell the cat to do otherwise. At some point another monk came by, stood by the table and politely motioned to the cat to come off the table. He respectfully pointed to the floor several times, but the cat couldn't care less.

By now, I was chuckling and barely abstaining from bursting out laughing. Everything around me was just so damn funny! The cat, the meditators, the monks, the garden, the rain - it was all making me smile and laugh on the inside. The monk that was trying to convince the cat that it's better to be on the floor than on the table noticed my expression and let out a laugh himself. Ha! The cat may not have been amused but I had a wide smile on my face and felt very relaxed and calm at the same time.

Little by little the rain calmed down, suggesting to us that it's time to head back. Mari and I went out to the garden to find the 1st monk and express our gratitude. "Typical tourists that we are" I thought to myself, "we storm in, not knowing what we are looking for, yet finding it somehow, and then jump out to catch the bus to a souvenir shop". Funny, really!

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