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02/21/2003 - TRAVEL JOURNALS: PART 2 OF 5
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TRAVEL JOURNALS: PART 2 OF 5

Dear friends,

The travel journal continues, this time mentioning the most profound experience of my several-months-long trip: a meditation retreat in Thailand where, for the first time in my life, I actually managed to get the distractions of daily living out of my head. If I could pass on one piece of knowledge from all of my writing, working, and living, it would be this: meditate. It's not just some New-Age hooey. It's a way to calm the mind, forget about distractions, and be mindful of the way that the we create the impermanent illusions around us.

Oh crap, I've made it sound like New Age hooey. All right, then try this on for size: it helps you focus better, work longer, and think deeper. Get into it, and you'll find that you've just given your brain a supercharger. How's that?

To the entry, which was originally written november 14, 2002:

>>ELEPHANTS AND MONKEYS AND SPIDERS, OH MY . . .

My good friends,

The odyssey continues. As a fast typist, I could give pages and pages of it, but I'll spare you from the torture of my rambling. Well, I'll spare you from some of the torture.

The meditation retreat I spoke about in my first update was the most out-of-the-ordinary experience I've had during the past couple of weeks. For about $30, I spent a week at a Buddhist monastery, getting meditation instruction from quasi-English-speaking monks. Basic rules: no talking except to the monks, only two meals per day (by the Day Five yoga class -- at 5:15 a.m. -- I was referring to the meditation program as "gruel and unusual punishment" -- only to myself, of course, since there was no talking), no killing anything (which some people followed, though I was notorious among mosquito circles as a cruel and calculating serial killer . . . my rationale to the monks was that the mosquitoes would be reincarnated as something better), and perhaps eight hours of practical meditation every day.

The most notable thing, aside from the mouse-sized spiders, is that, although the retreat was ten days long, I only stayed for seven. Don't get me wrong: I had a terrific time, right up till the seventh day. But I had already pulled a few minor pranks, and I knew I was about to get considerably worse. I could explain the reasons why in detail, but I'll just leave it at this: Buddha was wrong. Right on lots of things, and had lots of amazingly practical hints on focusing and clearing the mind, but, in my humble, unenlightened (and probably wrong) opinion, the whole idea of denying emotions and sense experiences just strays too far from the actual human condition, which is something that interests me more than hanging out on mountaintops, removed from the world (although I did some of that today, too).

So anyway, I was feeling restless on Day 7, and I knew that, if I stayed for even one more evening, I'd persuade one of the other cultists to stage a fake fight with me at the evening Buddhism talk. And it would only get worse from there, for where better to streak but at a place where they actually discourage nudity during BATHING. (From what I could determine from the monks, I think this was a precaution against turning on's self on.)

Which actually leads me to my fact of the week. If any of you out there are distracted by sexual desire, one of the monks had a surefire fix-it. He said that the "problem" of sexual desire was common among young monks, and when it happens, they're simply encouraged to go look at dead bodies. So, if the thought of a bunch of horny monks isn't enough to put you off of sex for a while, the sight and smell of dead people is supposed to do the trick. He even helpfully suggested looking into attending an autopsy for this purpose. Friends, this is your brain. This is your brain on meditation. Please don't think too much. And for heaven's sake, if you're thinking about sex, just have it -- don't go looking for dead people.

Since I left the monastery, I've been speeding through Southern Thailand. I stopped at Ko Pi Pi, a picturesque island off the west coast, and furthered my scuba diving studies by becoming certified as an Advanced Open Water diver, which means that I had to dive a wreck, do some underwater photography, do a night dive (yes, descending into black water with a 20-watt flashlight, against all my instincts, was one of the more breathtaking moments of my underwater experience), and do some deep diving (to 30 meters). It's not that I'm newly obsessed with diving or anything -- it's just that I wanted to do enough of it that I became proficient and comfortable.

For those of you that have never dived before, the rule in the ocean is basically do not, under any circumstances, touch anything. It will either kill you itself with something pointy, or it has contacts to something very big that will kill you.

There are lots more specialty courses -- Rescue Diver, Divemaster, Underwater Videographer, etc., but I think I'm just about done with them for now. Well, actually, I was thinking that I'd rather make up my own curriculum and call it something like "Underwater Scourge." In this class, they'd hand you a repeating spear gun and a sledge hammer, and you'd just go underwater and cut a path of destruction through the local marine ecosystem. Maybe you'd even leak pesticides or something behind you for maximum effect. As a final exam, before you surfaced, you'd have to punch a hole in the bottom of your own boat.

You can see why I've thought it best not to dive for a few days. The only other fun thing on Ko Pi Pi was the badly pirated movies, which are basically made by guys who sit in the theater and film the screen. So you get people coughing, laughing, and, yes, getting up in front of the camera. If you're lucky, all of these things will happen at once. Plus, and this confuses me, they actually subtitle the films in English. Really Bad English. It makes particularly horrible films worth watching. (When Russian soldiers yelled out curse words in Russian, the subtitles thought they were English and basically came up with "Stalin's Buttocks!" as the curse phrase of choice. So that was my profanity of the day.)

Now, I'm in Phuket (an island off of Southern Thailand) now. Yesterday, I rode an elephant, fed a dead chicken to a crocodile, and saw monkeys playing basketball. Does life get any better? Then, I got really exotic and went bowling with some locals last night, then moved to a really touristy area called Patong Beach, which has lots of Germans. In fact, I'd be surprised if there are any Germans left in Germany, since most all of them must be here in Thailand. It's very suspicious.

Don't know where I'm going next, but I'll send another update in a couple of weeks. Love and good thoughts to everyone. Remember to keep me posted on the big news -- I'm not there to hear the gossip, so you've got to just come out and tell me when you're up to something bad!

Dimly enlightened,

Grady
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