The bell rings at 4 AM but I have set my alarm clock on 3.55. I really don’t want to miss my first morning prayer with the nuns. They get 20 minutes to wash, get dressed and pack up their bed before it is time to stand in line and wait for the procession to walk the path up to the pagoda.
Nothing that happens here is a coincidence. Everything is well thought out. Things and humans say in line, everything is in order, clothes are ironed, folded, no one and nothing has a personality. At least not when you look at it from the outside.
Everyone has two sets of clothes. Clean ones are put on int the morning. Panties, a white bra that flattens the breast, an orange-brown skirt, a pink long sleeved blouse, a pink one shoulder no sleeve dress, a pink rectangular peace sort of folded over one shoulder.
Despite having difficulties with my contact lens I was still 5 minutes early. I have come to enjoy watching these young women quietly gather for big events during the day. They come from everywhere. The property contains several building housing nurses and still they have outgrown it. Currently two new houses are being built. One designated for the first year nuns. They are now living in the part that used to surge as dining room. Sleeping on a thin mat on the floor. My bed is equally hard but that hasn’t bothered me. The mosquitoes have.
Now I stand and watch the nuns gather. The bell has rung to say it is time. They come and wait in line for the the procession to the pagoda for the morning prayer. Hands together, heads slightly bowed, four lines, in total approximately 120 nuns, quiet. The only thing we hear are dogs and roosters and the rest of the outside world. At a given signal I missed to see or hear they start moving. Two lines at the same time, heading to two places to take the flip flops off, and as everything else they are put in symmetric perfection, and continue up to the pagoda. In the pagoda they sit, again, in symmetric perfection. We bow three times in from of the Buddha and the chanting begins.
I don’t understand the words but it feels powerful. The melodies are almost hypnotic. Their voices sound in a very special way. Like the Mongolian singers, open throats but pitch vocals. This is the perfect moment to breathe, concentrate on the breath, let myself be carried with the tones. I close my eyes.
30 minutes. We are sitting still for 30 minutes. Then procession back. Time to clean up the place and prepare breakfast. They all have designated chores. Freshening up the flowers, sweeping here and there, helping out in the kitchen, setting the tables. Everything is done with utter precision.
I go back to the pagoda and meditate. In a distance I hear the nuns work, sweep, attend to the flowers. But that doesn’t disturb me. I am in the now.
Bell rings 5.13 and nuns gather and stand in line.
This time everyone carries their own plate, mug and fork and or spoon. We wait. And at that given signal I missed again we move forward. Flop flops of, placed symmetric and up to second floor, above the kitchen and old dining area, to the rectangular low tables placed in rows in the big room. 4 nuns at one table. I have my own table. Prayer, Grandma comes and says something and then we are free to start.
My request was to be treated like anyone else here, no favours. But they are kind and help me out with different things. At least today I am served exactly the same food. Rice, a plate with vegetables, two bowls with different dishes and tea. Nuns eat a lot. Really, they eat a lot. Those tiny bodies. I don’t get it. Sometimes I think I am treated a bit like the seniors. After the meal I get coffee and roasted sweet bread. Delicious but I am already full so one piece will do. Today I wasn’t aloud to do my dishes. They are sooo sweet and caring these young nuns.
Yesterday, my first day here, I had difficulties settling. The world outside is so different. Hectic, busy, stressful. Like when I got off the bus and there were 15 taxi drivers closing me in a ring bombarding me with questions like Taxi, Where are you going, Taxi … Like in this and many other cultures when things have to happen so fast, no patience, hurry hurry. Airports, driving a car, being at work, being on vacation and constantly being on the go. I have met travelers who are so exhausted after a couple of months traveling they just don’t want to leave the room. Yesterday I was high on all new experiences. I had to talk to myself, calm myself down. No, I don’t have to do anything. I can just sit there in a corner and observe. Inhale the sounds, the smells, the now.
Being mindful. Being now. Take the time with every meeting. See the person. Hear their story. Or give them mine. Communication.
Today is a calm day. Today is a good day.