Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What I'm learning

It's a rainy morning here in Austin, perfect for sitting inside and working at the computer -- which is what I was doing until I decided to take a short break and communicate here. By work, I mean doing some proofreading for one of the monks. Pleasant work. Made more pleasant because I am able to pick up the computer and take it to a more comfortable location, without being tied to the endless wires that exist at home. Actually, this is what inspired me to communicate.

For the first time, I'm using this computer for a fraction of what it's designed to be able to do. No added keyboard, mouse or other peripherals. What is standing out for me is the wonderful lighted keyboard -- even in the darkness of the room, I can easily see every key and what it is, because it's lighted from below and through the characters on the keys. Pretty cool. The room doesn't have to be dark -- I could turn on a light -- but on a sunny day the six windows in this room provide plenty of light. Today, that light is adequate for everything but reading.

So, enough computer-speak, other than to say it's a nice toy that gets nicer every time I use a new feature. I'm grateful to have it, and grateful to Woot! for offering it at a price even I could afford.

I've been here not quite 2 days now, and I'm beginning to 'settle in' and figure out the ways of the place, get to know the people, be comfortable in a monastic setting that's different (Burmese culture as opposed to Sri Lankan culture) than I've known in the past. And to learn what (very little) is actually expected of me while I'm here. Yesterday, in an effort to help earn my room and board, I swept lots of walkways and decks -- very satisfying, outdoor work. I'm meditating 4 times per day with the American monk, which is good. He and I talked for about 3 hours yesterday afternoon about his writing, how I might help him, what I'm looking for, and such. I enjoyed that, except that I foolishly had not eaten enough food at either breakfast or lunch, and was therefore suffering blood sugar issues so that my brain was rather lightheaded and dull.  I don't think I'll make that mistake again! I chose to be here under the Eight Precepts, which means I live under the same precepts the monks live under, which means no eating after noon. There is a liquid 'snack' after evening chanting -- fruit juice or smoothie normally, but after having both Monday night and seeing how all that fruit sugar affected my body and ability to sleep, I requested -- and got -- a glass of milk instead.  This morning, I ate and ate and ate at breakfast and could have kept on eating, but stopped because I knew I'd really had enough. Breakfast was some warm cereal that I'd guess had a rice base, plus a noodle/sauce dish that had pork in it and was very tasty, plus a rice noodle/vegetable dish that was also delicious. All Burmese food, all prepared elsewhere and brought here daily by various supporters.

Yesterday I met the contractor who has spent the last 2.5 years building this place. He was taking a break in the dining room after lunch and I walked through the room so he introduced himself and chatted for awhile. The pagoda, I've learned from both the monk and the contractor, is the largest in this country. I had quite a different perspective from the contractor on the building of it than I might get elsewhere! All very positive, but from a different viewpoint. He talked about how it was an exact "and I mean exact" scale model of the one in Burma. Apparently, he had to undo and redo things more than once when he wasn't exact. He said (presumably told this by the Burmese architect who lived onsite for around 9 months and supervised construction) that if it wasn't precisely exact, the spirits would be unhappy with the pagoda. He also said they had 8000 'pieces' to put on the outside, all created onsite by the group of skilled Burmese craftsmen who also created the many Buddha statues inside. If you look closely at the pagoda, you can appreciate what he means, even though everything is covered in a gold metallic paint. I'll eventually post photos -- I promise! I just don't know when I'm going to download them from the camera.

One thing I do not like about this computer (the operating system, not the hardware) is that my old photo editing software doesn't synch properly with Windows 7, so working with photos isn't as comfortable as with WindowsXP. I should be (and am) happy that it works at all, since I really can't afford to buy new software. It does keep me from working with it so readily, however.

Right now, the contractors are installing a ground sprinkler system that was suddenly required by the fire inspector. A deep, serpentine ditch has been dug and continues to be dug all around and through the property to prepare for this. The contractor said that there was a big fire last year not far from here (I drove through the burned area on the road from Houston) that got everybody a little jumpy, which is why the afterthought of this sprinkler system. The fire area was indeed huge -- on both sides of the highway extending as far as I could see. All these oaks and cedars do burn, and they're really like a short forest, in that the trees are so close together and cover basically everything in sight other than where man has cleared them away.

Everyone here is extraordinarily nice and friendly. I have some difficulty understanding the two Burmese monks, but with closer attention and growing familiarity with their accented English, that's improving. I always have problems with accents of any kind -- sometimes including deep southern accents! Even British English can be difficult for me, but with time I can and will adapt.

One thing I think I've decided (since you never know with me) is that I am just too old for these long road trips. I don't know why they take so much out of me, but the fact is that they do so. It takes days to recover -- I'm still not there. I need to find a place and stay there. Soon. But first, I  have to return to Georgia, then make the round trip to Bhavana, which is closer to home.

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