Key to peace
Everyone was raving about it. Everyone but Lily. Her mother bought a new set of colourful pencils and crayons. Her little sister got jealous, because she too wanted new crayons. Her father prepared a large wooden desk with empty drawers where Lily would keep her books and notebooks. Her aunt baked a cranberry cake – Lily's favourite - on that very first day. Her grandmother came to visit and asked Lily: “So how do you feel now becoming a school girl?” But Lily felt nothing. The concept of school meant nothing to her. How could she tell how she feels when she did not know what it was all about. At times like these, Lily hated to be the eldest child. Had she got an older brother or sister, she would know from them what the school was, but Lily was the first to go and discover everything by herself
Our bus is steadily moving to Krabi. I am looking out the window and catching the glimpses of Thailand. I have no idea where this journey is taking me. I would lie if I said I applied for a Peace Revolution Fellowship to find the inner peace. Sure, at some point I did, but how can I know what the inner peace actually means and if what I experienced at home, was inner peace. “You can't find peace from Google, because peace is inside.” I read the print on the T-shirts, worn by some of the volunteers and mentors. They seem somewhat different from us – Peace Rebels. The way they walk around the Meditation Sanctuary, give us announcements and make sure things are organized; they feel like home, accustomed to the pure, refreshing and beautiful nature, the cosy dining hall and the map that looks confusing and complicated to me. Have they found peace? Will I find it too? I don't know. I am here because I am curious. There is nothing to lose anyway when I already feel a bit lost in my life roaming from one country to another, having no stable job, and not really knowing what I truly want from this life. At reception, I receive a torch and a key to my bungalow. That gives me a secure feeling. If nothing, at least I will have a roof above my head for good ten days. I am thinking to myself as I am sipping the welcome coconut.
Mom said to listen to the teacher carefully, and Lily is listening. But she can't help noticing teacher's looks: her hair is blond and short, not like Mom's - brown and long. Her voice is calm and kind though. The teacher says that every week two kids will be on duty. What is “on duty”? It means cleaning blackboard, preparing chalk and watering plants. The teacher demonstrates how to do it. Lily sits in the first row paired up with another girl, and they get to be “on duty” on that very first week. Lily starts feeling nervous.
Three sad smileys! In the closet, on the bed, and on the nightstand. I find them one day after lunch as I enter our bungalow. They indicate that my roommate and I have not kept our living space clean and organized. When volunteers from the Peace Revolution showed us how to clean toilets and the meditation room, how to bind mosquito net and fold the used milk packages for recycling, I was not willing to believe that it had to do with the meditation and inner peace. Gradually my mind changed. When cleaning a toilet, it was not only that tiny room that I cleaned. I was cleaning my mind: my ego, my thoughts, my greediness, my delusions, my anger. It is true that my mind feels good and relaxed when things around me are clean and organized; and it becomes unclear when I open my closet and see that my clothes are messily scattered around. Clean is bright. Clean is beautiful. Clean is Sabai. And though cleaning and organizing takes efforts, it brings clarity to the mind. In the next room check-up, my roommate and I get more positive than sad smileys. Yes! We have progressed.
Mind the snake
At school, Lily is studying letters. A, B, C, D. She does not know what letters mean, but the teacher says that without knowing letters, one would not learn how to read. Some kids already know how to read. Lily doesn't. She only rewrites each letter tens of times. Capital A, small a, capital B, small b. Why is this reading so important? No idea. But if she writes neatly, she will get a sticker from the teacher. Lily starts thinking about stickers. Bunnies, piggies, puppies, kittens...Ops, she wrote two capital Bs instead of one.
“If I wasn't mindful, I would have stepped on a snake, it would have bit me, and my leg would hurt,” says my roommate Martina from Slovakia after seeing a snake near our dining hall. Meanwhile, we have been learning about mindfulness, and I am not quite sure what it means. Finally Martina's statement puts everything in a place, and I remember those many times in my life when I was not mindful: how I ran up the wrong escalator to catch a metro, but fell down on the edge and injured my knee; how I accidentally (non-mindfully) spilled the juice, smashed glasses, slummed the door. Many of those incidents would not have happened if I had been mindful. Even here, attaining mindfulness does not come easy. A part of my nature refuses to accept it as my mind actually enjoys wandering and having images, dialogues, scenarios. But I am trying to be mindful when I walk, place my shoes in the shoe rack, brush my teeth, close the door behind me and most importantly – when I meditate. Because now I know that being mindful on my daily activities will help to centre my mind during the meditation.
A few months have passed since Lily began school in September. Everyone in the class is reading except for Lily. She knows the letters, but she does not know how to read. In the evening, Lily's mother usually says: “Let's go upstairs to read.” Lily does not like these reading sessions. Yet she follows her Mom and Dad upstairs. “So, what do we get when we join three letters: S, U, and N?” Mom asks and writes the letters in Lily's notebook. Lily does not know what to say. She does not know how to join the letters in words and sentences. Lily is silent. Mom asks again. Lily is confused. “Sun,” her little sister whispers, but Lily does not hear that. Mom hushes her and turns to Lily again. “So, what do we get - S, U, N?”. Lily has to say something. Everyone is waiting. Her Dad is getting anxious. Lily suddenly thinks of “sunburn” and says it out loud. That makes her Dad angry. “Sunburn? How can you get sunburn from three letters? ” he shouts. “What a stupid child! These are the basics. If you can't learn to read, how will you study? How will you finish the highschool and enter university? How will you ever achieve something in your life? You are doomed to become a cleaner, a servant!” he shouts in rage. Then he leaves the room slamming the door behind him. Lily starts weeping, and her tears wet the letters. The session is over. Lily goes to bed and remembers Dad's words. Dad is smart. Dad is right. An image of a sweeper appears in Lily's mind.
Where is that centre of the body? Why don't I feel it? Why can't I place my mind there? Why can't I stay for two hours and meditate, and why does my back always hurt? A few days have passed doing meditation, and I suddenly feel, there is something wrong. I am not benefiting. Other fellows have such beautiful experiences, but I don't get anything. Our teaching monks keep saying that the centre is the natural state of mind, the home of the mind, that we all are born with our mind being in the centre. So, if it is something natural, why am I not succeeding? I run to my bungalow, close the door behind me and start weeping. I call myself stupid, unable to focus and sit still. Then I take my pen and start filling the mission log. I will write down everything honestly. I am determined. I will stop lying to myself. As I am writing, tears roll down my cheeks, and I try to be careful not to make my letters weep.
On Christmas, Santa Claus brings a lot of presents. Santa is kind and good to every child, and he speaks in a voice similar to Dad's. He gives presents even to Lily who still doesn't not know how to read. After Christmas holidays when it is time to go back to school, Lily notices a huge poster with a beautiful tree, stuck on the wall outside the classroom. “What's that tree?” she asks to her Mom. “It's a reading tree,” Mom says. “Every child has a leaf, and it is placed according to how many words per minute you can read,” she explains. “Your leaf is right there,” Mom points at a red leaf placed at the very bottom of the poster. Not even on a tree, but in the green grass, lonely and desolate, while other leaves are reaching to the sky, or at least touching the brunches or the trunk of the tree. As Lily contemplates the entire picture, something happens to her. She suddenly visualizes her lonely leaf on the top of the tree, surrounded by other leaves, jolly birds and colourful butterflies, blue clouds and bright, yellow sun shining on her. She likes the idea whereas on the grass, there is nothing. So is this where reading can take her?
As we surround the Avatar tree for the last morning meditation session, LP Niti, one of the young monks who has come to lead the session, asks about our meditation experiences. They have been different from one to another, so then he says something that sounds so simple, yet it captures my mind just like the beauty of the Avatar tree. “At first, you should be happy that you meditate,” he says. And then, after much of pondering and wondering, conversing with my friends and comparing, I suddenly realize that maybe this is all what meditation is about. So I close my eyes, and merge with the nature. I breath in and out and suddenly feel love for everyone who is alive including myself. I forget about the centre or a crystal ball or seven bases of the mind. I just want to be happy. I want to stay still and enjoy the nature. I even want to forget that I am meditating. I am simply living the moment and feeling the peace within me. What more do I need?
Boarding for life
Spring arrives with green plants and blooming flowers, and the long awaited Easter break. Lily and her sister are helping her mother to colour the eggs. Next morning though, the Easter Bunny has visited them and hidden all the eggs in the yard, so they have to go and look for them. Lily is excited about it, and among others, she finds several chocolate eggs too. When the Easter is over, Lily starts feeling bored. School has not began yet, so she asks her Mom if they can go upstairs to read. “To read?” Mom looks surprised. “Yes,” Lily says, and they go upstairs. Lily opens a book and starts reading. Her parents cannot believe the Easter miracle. Lily is reading just like she had known reading for all this time. By the end of the school year, she reaches the top of the reading tree and becomes the fastest reader in her class. She borrows books from the library and reads fairy tales, stories, novels, poems, everything! It is a new world that she has discovered, and that keeps her happy from day to day.