Hello friends! This will most likely be my last blog before I head off to the States... and as my dad mentioned to me, I was actually wrong when I said that my flight comes in on Wednesday, it is coming in on THURSDAY. So mark your calenders accordingly!
Now, as I complained about before, while I was in Byron Bay, it rained. A lot. Every day. There were bucketfulls and bucketfulls of rain. While there was usually a short break between the rain actually coming down, it always looked like the sky threatened to open up again at any second. And to prove to you how much it really did rain... I actually bought an umbrella. I went through my entire Australia vacation without needing one... and on my last week here, I have to buy one or stay indoors all day. Funny, huh?
The place that I was staying at in Byron Bay, the Arts Factory Lodge, was actually a nice little funky place (besides being full of backpack thieves). It was a bit annoying at night because it was ALSO full of young 18-20 year olds hell-bent on getting drunker than they've ever been before!
I actually think that this place probably used to be more accommodating to people who were actually there for a nice little retreat AWAY from the party scene... they have yoga classes and digeridoo lessons and a spa out back... fire-twirling lessons and horseback riding through the beach... but at some point they decided to let people under 25 stay there... and now at night all hell breaks loose! I guess I don't blame them for partying right outside my window until 4 in the morning... I mean, it's not like there was anywhere for anyone to go with all the rain...
Anyway, I did like the place. They had cool off-beat paintings all over their walls, the bathrooms were FILTHY but I've seen worse... the pool was clean and had a jacuzzi right in the middle of it... but I think if I was here with someone I knew I would have enjoyed my time even more because then maybe for one of the days I would have been the loud person outside my room at 4 AM!
My favorite part about the Arts Factory was the fact that they had a group of Tibetan refugee monks there for 2 weeks starting the day that I came. Every day they had programs... they had meditation hours each day, talks with the monks where you could ask them questions about what it is like to be a monk... special ceremonies and speeches given by the monks themselves... and for the young at heart, each day also had an arts and crafts hour where you could make things like compassion flowers or prayer flags! I went to a few of the things (they were all free, although donations to help the monks were accepted).
The first thing I checked out was the 'happy hour talk' where you could ask the monk questions. I just wanted to observe, because I didn't think I knew enough about the monks and the Buddhist religion to ask intelligent questions... so I followed the 'better to be silent and have people suspect that you are a fool, than to speak and remove all doubts' rule.
The way that each program was set up was that there was a little room, one or more monks, a translator, and us. The monk would talk in his language (I think Tibetan? I don't remember the language that they speak in Tibet) and the translator would relay to us in English what he just said.
I did learn a lot during the hour... one of the more interesting things was that girls can indeed be monks! I had previously thought that they were all male because that was all I had heard of. Although the female monks don't live in monasteries, they do live in nunneries... and they do have to shave their head as well. They don't do the chanting that the male monks do, but they do things like yoga instead, which the men do NOT do. Besides those few differences, they generally do the same things as the male monks, trying to help people, always striving towards enlightenment...
I also learned that the middle children in families are generally the chosen ones... the ones that the parents send off to train to become monks. It is thought of as a great honor for the children, but I'm sure it must be hard for them because they don't get to do all the things that the other children do... they are too busy training to be a monk (or monkette? That actually reminds me of a joke that the translator made... he fancied himself a very funny guy - and he did make us all laugh so I guess he was - "What do you call a girl monk?" "A Chick-Monk!" hahahaha... ).
Ok, back to my story. The children that are chosen to be monks are not forced to remain in that position, and if they ever - at any point of their life - decide to not be a monk anymore, they are completely free to stop, and there is NO stigma against those who decide not to be a monk anymore... rather, they are MORE respected because they had tried something that a lot of people never do. A case in point, the translator let us know that at one time in his life, he too was a monk... but then he discovered girls, or rather, they discovered him. At that point he decided it was just not right for him anymore.
We also learned that the monk we were speaking to had not seen his family since he fled Tibet to India... about 25 years ago. He learned that recently his mother had died, and he was sad because he was hoping he'd have been able to see her before she died, but it just didn't happen this way. We learned that he does not miss having a family of his own, (i.e. a wife and children) because he never knew what it would have been like in the first place, so he can't miss something that he has never known. He also mentioned that he thought that because this question was asked, he must assume that it is something that is wonderful and should be missed, but that because he doesn't know it, he doesn't miss it.
I also went to one of the meditation hours, to see what it was like. Unfortunately, I am not very good at keeping my mind blank or focusing on only one subject... my mind is constantly racing with thought after thought. The focus of this meditation hour was being happy. The first thing they had us do for 10 minutes was just repeat to ourselves in our head 'life is good' over and over again... they said that the way to train your mind to be happy is to just not let the bad thoughts overtake the good. If you are thinking 'life is good' and suddenly a thought comes in 'oh but my backpack was stolen and the rain is terrible and where is my flower headband anyway?' to just push those thoughts to the side and continue thinking 'life is good'. They said that if you start to think that all the bad things happen for a reason, (i.e. to teach you a lesson of some kind) you will stop feeling sorry for yourself or your situation and will just be happy to be alive, and happy for all the good things that you do have. Really beautiful philosophy, I think... kind of a 'stop feeling sorry for yourself' motto. And guess what I noticed after the meditation! I just so happened to be wearing my 'Life is Good' teeshirt! Maybe I should send a case of those tee's to the monks. But I guess they don't need them... they seem to only wear the normal monk garb, red and yellow robes.
The last thing that I went to regarding the monks was a cleansing ceremony... I am fascinated by religious ceremonies like the Aboriginal one that we did on my Heading Bush tour (although the woman that I was talking to at one of the meetings said that Buddhism is not really a religion, it's more of a way of life) and I really wanted to see a Buddhist one.
At the ceremony, the monks were all there (with the translator) and they started it out by telling us that for the ceremony to be effective, you have to believe that it will be effective. They said that even though the Buddhists believe that you should never just blindly have faith and you should only believe what you are proven, for this ceremony to work you have to actually think that it will work... to let your brain accept that it will work. I guess they really believe in the power of the mind to heal.
They then tell us to imagine that they are not old monks in robes, but they are actually the beautiful healing goddess... and that we were to picture them as the goddess as best as we could. They pointed out a bowl in the front of the room which had 2 figures in it, a man and a woman. They said that those figures represent everything that might be wrong with us, or any problems that we might be having. Then they passed around pieces of dough, one for each of us. They said that the dough pieces were to be rubbed all over ourselves, and we were to imagine that all of our problems were getting stuck into the dough... as we rubbed, the problems would be removed from us and put into the dough. Then, a monk came by with the bowl and we placed the dough into it. Next, another monk came by with a bit of water, which he poured into our hands. We were supposed to taste the water, then use it to rub all over ourselves. The water was representing the purifying of ourselves... so that now that our problems were removed, the water would purify our newly clean selves. Next, they came by again with a pitcher of water and the bowl, and they poured the water over our heads into the bowl and said that any remaining doubts or issues would be washed away into the bowl. The head monk then said that if we had any remaining doubts as to whether our problems would be gone, he would wave the peacock feather in his hand as he chanted some words, and that would blow the last of the problems away. After his chant, one of the monks removed the bowl from the room. They said that now that the bowl was gone, our problems had all gone with that bowl, and we would never see them again. When the monk returned, the bowl was empty of all our problems.
Finally, the head monk had each of us come up to him... more water was poured into our hands and we were to drink it (I think it was again a purifying drink) and he handed us a packet of little herb powder pills. He said that if you ever need a reminder of the things that were in this ceremony, you need just to dissolve the pill in water and drink it, and you can be back on track with knowing that the problems you might have are only skin deep. My guess is that the herbs have the same flavor as the water that we drank (which had a distinctively herbal taste) so when you drink it, it would help you remember the actual ceremony. That is just science! I know that when I smell something that I associate with a particular place or person, the memories always flood in!
He also gave us a piece of red string, which also would serve to remind us of the ceremony... we would then bring the string over to another monk who would tie it around our wrist using a special 'monk knot' that will never come out! Hahahaha... just kidding, that was the translator talking. It was actually a regular knot.
Anyhow, I really enjoyed this ceremony, heaps more than I did the Aboriginal one. I always had the feeling from the Aboriginal one that the guy who was doing the ceremony didn't really want to do it... that he was doing it for the money that I'm sure he was getting paid. Also, I didn't say this before (I don't think) but the Aboriginal man seemed a little TOO fond of all the ladies... constantly talking about how beautiful they are and hugging them as much as he could... but the monks, they really seemed to take it seriously. It was lovely. Oh, and sorry that my description isn't as detailed as it was in the Aboriginal one, but I didn't take any notes for this one, and I didn't take any pictures (I thought it would be rude to have cameras flashing when the monks were talking... the aboriginal one was outdoors so there didn't need to be a flash).
I was kind of sorry that I wasn't going to be around longer now, so I could listen to a few more of the talks that the monks gave. But, at least I did get the chance to see anything! I was surprised that more people didn't show up to the talks... I mean, how often will you ever get to see actual refugee monks from Tibet, who see the Dali Lama on a regular basis?
While at the Arts Factory, I decided to get a massage at the spa because it was cheap, I didn't have to tip the masseuse, and because my shoulders had been killing me a lot lately. When I booked the massage, I also got a free day trip into Nimbin for Sunday, which was great because I really wanted to go back to that market... it had so many great products!
I had my massage (at times I swear the woman was purposefully TRYING to hurt me... but that is another story) and while the massage helped my shoulders a bit, she said that the muscles in my shoulders and upper back are terribly tight and knotted up... that I couldn't get them all out in just one session... and that when I get back to the states I should consider having regular massages. Hmph, I probably will think about it... if I can find a place that is reasonable!
The next day, I went to Nimbin. I was told when I signed up that the market would still go on even if it rained... but when we got there, we passed right by the town that the market was held in. We were told that the market was closed due to rain (!!!!) Instead, we went to see this really crazy guy who sincerely enjoyed talking about the chaos theory... and in his house he had dolls all over (art), and trash in his yard (he called it 'junk art') and he had a wall with all of the gods and religious characters known to man (besides Mohammed - he couldn't find an image).
It was entertaining I guess, but I was rather disappointed about the market. We ended up going for a walk through this guys woods, and because of all the rain we had been having we walked through partially submerged terrain. And then... when we got onto dry land... a lot of us were covered with leeches. YES! DISGUSTING, SLIMY, LEECHES! I had 3 on my ankles... and they were the tiny, little, thin leeches that you might easily mistake for a twig... so people were finding them for the next hour to come. Actually, I kept thinking I felt something on my feet, but I would try pulling at them and would find nothing... and later that night, I looked at my feet and saw that between my pinky toe and the next one was covered with blood. Seems that I missed one, but it had since fallen off (guess it got it's fill) so at least I didn't see the little beast. Dang leeches.
Now, when I got back into the hostel, I remembered that I had left my book in the laundry room just a few hours ago (since the Nimbin trip was only a few hours long). I went to get it... and it was gone. GONE! So not only is this place full of backpack thieves, it is also full of BOOK thieves. The book wasn't expensive... I got Jane Eyre and Emma for a dollar at a second hand book shop. They were both books that I had been meaning to read at some point of my life, and I was up to Jane Eyre. I was enjoying the book... and was REALLY looking forward to seeing what would happen to Jane next... and now I can't. Because it's gone. Gone into the hands of some punk that is probably just going to rip the pages out and use them as cigarette papers anyway. Sigh.
Anyhow, I am now back in Sydney... back into the noisy, dirty air! But, in a few hours, I will be in the air, and a few (30) short hours later I will be back in the states! Yay! I miss everyone so much! Mwah!