I have a couple of half-baked posts that I keep telling myself that I need to finish, and in the meantime I’m missing out on writing about all the adventures we’re having in the present moment! This is like a Dharma teaching or something! I’m sitting in our monastic office, in the midst of the Youth Retreat, and I just overheard a young woman accost Bao Tang: “When are you opening the bookshop. I need chocolate.” I love it here. There’s a lot going on, so instead of telling you about our trip to Zion Canyon, which was months ago, I’ll talk about my recent hermitage with two wise, Australian gurus. What strikes me most is their composure:
Tuy Niem I’ve introduced, and this guy on the right is his brother Evan. I called him Ethan for the first six weeks of our relationship. He never corrected me. We’ve had a good six weeks of retreats in the past two months, seeing something like six thousand visitors, so everyone is pretty ragged. Despite this, Tuy Niem and Evan kept a record of attendance to morning sitting meditation that was unchallenged. In my room, we were breaking records for hours slept and number of meals per day, so I packed a few remembrances into my pillowcase and hit the road. Forty-five seconds later I arrived at my new home: “Spring Breeze” Hut.
The hut has no official name, but I call it “Spring Breeze” Hut because we keep the doors and windows open all the time. There’s a reason that the doors and windows are always open, and for the quotation marks around spring breeze, but I’ll spare you the details. Except one: it’s Evan, it isn’t me.
We wake up an hour before sitting meditation and complain about how sleepy we are until someone goes to get hot water for tea. Tuy Niem is holding our team together on this one: he’s the only one that knows how to set his fancy alarm clock. If we have a lot of presence of mind, we try to recall our dreams. We’ve each got a running theme. Tuy Niem usually can’t remember, but if I had dreams as boring as his, I wouldn’t bother remembering either. He managed to snag one the other day: “I was sitting under the linden tree, talking to Phap Dan. Then I woke up.”
Evan seems to have a recurring dream where he’s going to a party and seeing a bunch of people he hasn’t seen since childhood. Every night it’s a at a different house, and there are different guests. Tuy Niem chuckles at the names of the random people from their shared past. The recounting of these dreams bores me stiff. As a result, I resent Evan. Just kidding Evan!
I’m dreaming a lot lately, but not very coherently. My dreams are long, sprawling affairs with little grounding in reality. There is the constant, nagging feeling that there’s something slightly odd about that French-speaking cat over there. Where did he learn such clear French? Why am I defusing this volcano-bomb? How come no matter how fast I ice-skate across these pastures, I can never get away from those flying saucers?
Our new theme for this week is complaining about our various injuries. We had a wrestle-mania the other day with Gioi Tang, a spectacle complicated by the fact that each of us is in a different weight class. We settled for free-for-all style matches, and some 2v1s. Evan shouldered Tuy Niem in the face and then Tuy Niem shattered my sternum. Maybe. We’re all covered with rug-burns, the nastiest of which belong to Evan who was straight up bleeding when we finished. When we woke up all stiff and achy the following morning, we went to Bergerac and got matching “No More Wrestling 4 Life” tattoos.
Gioi Tang, who was a surprisingly ferocious wrestler, didn’t suffer any major injuries. He’s 18 and weighs about 45lbs. If frustration ever arose in his opponent, he just got tossed out of the ring. He’s one of the bros that comes by the hut to hang out, and we’re enjoying it while it lasts. He’s heading back to Canada in a few days. Today he came in, grabbed a harmonica off of the shelf and started tooting away on it. About a minute later he was examining the mouthpiece and said, “Hey, how many people do you guys think have played this harmonica?”
He played on, repeating the same three notes for about twenty minutes, eyebrows furled in concentration. Every few minutes he’d pause and look out the window. “Man, what song is that? I swear I know it.” Then he’d continue. We never did figure out what song it was. Please note that there may be some dramatization in the following image.
The wind is coming up and the nights are starting to get cold. It rained a soft rain that stirred up the smell of earth and reminded me of spring, but I think it’s an autumn rain. Also the smell wasn’t as pleasant near the monk’s residence. I think the septic tank is overflowing. Anyway, it may be that fall is going to come early here. We usually have an Indian summer. The figs aren’t ripe yet and it’s usually blisteringly hot when we’re stuffing our faces with those. Everyone is covered with chiggers, and Evan thought he woke up to the sound of a wild boar rooting around in the brush, but realized pretty quick that it was just me, furiously scratching in the middle of the night. We’re consoling ourselves with croissants, knowing that we won’t be able to visit les boulangeries during the Winter Retreat.
That’s how things are going here. Hope they’re well with you. Check out the gallery to get an idea of the depth of scholarship and manly intimacy that we’re cultivating here.