DARLinG No. 1
As part of our intercultural class here in Bhutan, we are using a structure, fondly called, "D.A.R.L.in.G" which stands for Describe, Analyze, Reflect, Learn(ing), in Gratitude as a means to explore our individual immersion and integration process. An invitation to connect the dots of life and learning. The tactility of sharing stories like this, I think, makes the experience very contemplative in nature and perhaps makes it a little more tangible and alive to an audience like you.
If you are a future traveler to Bhutan, I would note that, although I share these experiences, they are in no way universal to all travelers of Bhutan. They are simply my own insights. Sometimes you will see me wrestle with my own beliefs or expectations - my writing about them is in no way intended to forecast your own adventures and growth. As in any cultural immersion, uniqueness is inevitable. Exploration breeds expansion, inner and outer.
My only real advice: Remember to breathe!
It was Sunday morning. A day to sleep in. The morning light must have just been breeching the window pane when I open my eyes to the sight of smoke. It is a stick of incense, propped in a container for Cuppa Mania, an “add hot water” type of ramen. In the bokhe of the dancing smoke, I can see my roommate kneeling on the foot of her bed, she is chanting lightly. Before her is a swath of yellow fabric yielding elongated rectangular strips of paper enscripted with prayers. When she reaches the end of a page, she uses her thumb and middle finger of her left hand to move it from the bottom pile of sheets, to a parallel pile, which are turned face down. The sheets never leave the perimeter of the yellow fabric. They stay within the boundary; safe.
In her right hand, there is a string of latte colored beads; wrapped once around her wrist, the rest: resting. When her prayer stack is complete, she compiles the papers into one pile and places them center to the corners of the yellow fabric. Neatly, she folds the corners of the fabric like the shape of an envelope and overlaps them to contain the prayer pile. There is no ribbon to contain or restrain the composition. Just one flap wraps around more than 1.5 times to keep the lot contained. The bundle comes to rest in a precious ziplock bag, pierced to the lintel over the head of her bed. Other contents of the ziplock include: sacred white scarfs, one hair rubber band, a silver circle which I cannot identify - maybe a watch and petite empty vessels of vaseline.
When the bundle is secure over the head of the bed, in the bag of blue, freezer-burn free, she steps back to the foot of the bed and stands up. Taking the stand of beads into both hands, she begins a prayer, then starts to prostrate. Three prostrations in, she stops to layer her black and white mine-craft-esque flamingo sweater with a loose, masculine cut, yellow t-shirt. She returns to prostration. I turn my head away to give her privacy. 108 prostrations in total then an abrupt and fierce flattening of the bed sheet with her hand to the mattress. Pressing it flat of wrinkles. Then the sounds of her feet, lightly sticking, on the “carpet” (a DARLinG all it’s own, as it is a pressed foam plastic material, similar to a yoga mat… sort of). She mumbles to our roommate, who utters a sleepy reply. Then, she turns to me (even though I am facing away) and asks me if I want hot water. I turn to face her - the dawn light is particulate from the smoke as it lands on her dewy face. She is glowing and the rogue strands of hair that escaped during her rigor are preciously framing her face. “Yes” I reply. Then, she instructs me to go wash my face - so I do.
As I turn to leave, I see the back of her t-shirt says “Celebrating the Anniversary of our King.”
I can see the importance of this task. I see an effort to take this moment in a kind of tranquil solitude — and thus prioritized to be done when no one is yet awake to disturb. I can see each of the objects that are treated with the utmost care. Keeping them in clean and organized fashion so as to preserve their meaning and preciousness. The ritual is full of intricate steps. A kind of prescriptive and meaningful process. There is an intention — a mission — a purpose.
Something about this moment, about half way through the prostrations, I was triggered to a memory of a dream I had when I was about 10. The dream was of myself at about age 6 or 7. At the time, my family lived in a small house on Nissen court and on the side of the house, by the garage door, there was a bee hive which gave me curious concern. In the dream, it was summer and my family was coming back from church, a rare occurrence. My sister and I had indulged in King Sooper’s donuts with chocolate frosting and we were all rather dressed up, perhaps it was a holiday — which would explain the attire and the attendance all in one. My dress is a pale pink, almost white. It has puffy cap sleeves with lace trim and stupid bows at the breast bone and sleeve centers. I have on white patten-leather mary-jane shoes which I recall buckling before church in the dream.
The point of the dream that was triggered was our return home from church. We were in my fathers car, a forest green Taurus (brand new at the time) and from the back seat, where I could just barely see over the crest of the window, we drove up to the house to find a bear. It was venturing into the honey of the bees nest. Balanced on it’s hind legs, reaching for the hive at the corner of the roof line.
The dream ends quite abruptly. There isn’t more to the encounter of the bear - just that he is there. I remember, distinctly, the view point of how I sat in the car as a child, having a hard time to see, and looking up at everything. No one says anything about the fact that there is a bear! And why this is possibly triggered by the sounds of prostrating on the dormitory bed… well all that is requiring a subjective interpretation.
Since arriving in Bhutan, it has been hard to “land” in the energy of this environment. Partly a byproduct of a rushed, urgent and exhilarating tour de force: that was our orientation tour. The experience is like I am a NASA Apollo mission and I went skipping off the atmosphere of what is here and how to absorb it’s meaningfulness. The first moment I had a chance to really sponge bathe in this reality was the day when we were at the nunnery outside of Taktse. After my own prostration, I sat and listened to the chanting of the nuns. The lowness of their voice tone was completely seductive. Not in a sensual way (although not altogether not sensual either). The gritty bass, the mixed melodic individual voices, the unpredictable inflection, the dropping of some voices to breathe or swallow or remember the words; the swishing of robes as doer-nuns rushed to manifest the alter into a refreshed and pious manifesto — this was a place where I landed. This was also a place where the group as a whole felt…settled. There was that moment, after Anne left the room with Tsering… I sensed —no one wanted to leave. The rhythm was soothing us all and the desire to depart was distant, if not non-existent. This, if I had to guess, was the real arrival for (the moiety of the group) to Bhutan and Buddhism. Prior to this point, we were going through the motions, wanting to get our hands in the right spot and eagerly counting to make sure that we got the correct number of prostrations to the seat of the teacher and then to the shrine, fumbling through rachu and cabnee management, trying not to flash anyone in gho or to step on the back inside pleat of the kira — what a preoccupied, uncontemplative mind looks like —- That!
All this to say, that I am very excited at the morning prayer opportunities here at ILCS. It really is an induction to deepening my meditation and I am excited for this to become part of my own ritual and practice.
Upon asking my roommate a little more about what she was doing and what it means to her, I have discovered a few things. She does 108 prostrations at a time, and has done roughly 27,000 as a commitment to reach 100,000 which she promised to her guru she would do on behalf of all sentient beings. She began this one year go, which, if I have the math right, means that she prostrated 250 of the last 365 days.
The prayers, in the yellow fabric envelope, were given to her by he llama, Guru Khyentse Ozer…who she met on wechat. She shows me a message from him, it says:
no matter what you do
no matter who you are
no matter where you are
no matter what others say or think
no matter what situation you are in, please embrace loving kindness.
Guru Khyentse has a wide following, from Bhutan and beyond. His biography boasts a wonderful life tale in which he was raised without a mother by his father and two sisters, he cried the first time he saw a monk and became a novice at a very young age. His sisters didn’t like how he was treated in the monastery and so they removed him and turned him into a cowboy (how they did so and what a cowboy would be defined as would be interesting follow-ups). He has a harry schooling history which it is noted to have end when he promised his own guru, on his death bed, that he would leave college to come and teach the dharma. He notes more than 100,000 followers which are mostly youth.
When I ask her about the yellow t-shirt, yellow, she explains is an auspicious color - the fact that it was noting the celebration of the kings birthday is “not important.”
I am grateful for the memories: of the dream from age ten, about the age of 6, of the time of landing in Bhutan (in the spiritual sense), of family rituals of my own and of the specifics of this new memory, which is imprinted in my mind as a special moment to have witness and tapped into.
I am also grateful for the possibility of chanting enhancing my practice. I really do find it moving and I am lucky to be at the campus that offers such a sweet excuse and mechanism for real life chanting during meditation.