Being in Chiang Mai, Thailand and writing about some place on the other side of the world for 12 hours a day, for weeks on end, can do strange things to a travelerâ€™s mind. Luckily, this is a city with plenty of opportunities to look inside and slow things down. For instance, last Sunday, while Tay was participating in a womenâ€™s yoga weekend (to â€œcelebrate the goddessâ€) with one of four mermaids, I hopped in a tuk-tuk to the Wat Umong forest temple to join â€œan informal discussion, in English, on the Buddhaâ€™s teachings.â€
There, in the Chinese pagoda next to the catfish lake, a soft-spoken Australian monk described Woody Allenâ€™s bleak outlook on life as essentially Buddhist, and he defined the ultimate question as, â€œWhat, if anything, am I?â€ as opposed to the more presumptuous, “Who am I?”
I sat among a group of curious Western Sunday afternooners for two hours before hitchhiking back into town with a non-English speaking Thai family, driving in for the Sunday market. Later that day, I would receive a humorous email, a quote from David Bader’s â€œZen Judaism,â€ in which it all boils down to: â€œBe here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?!â€
After picking Tay up at the yoga studio, we wandered through the market, and, while she browsed hanging lamps and draw-string pants, I treated myself to a half-hour foot massage (for $1.50) before getting back to work.
So here I am now, researching private schools and visa applications in Nicaragua, but later, I am going to take another break, a 24-hour meditation retreat at Wat Suan Dok, home of the famous Monk Chat program. My emailed instructions are simple: â€œPlease show up at 2.30 pm Tuesday and just bring your personal belongings. We will provide you white cloth, food and room. See you then, Monk Chat.â€