Chapter Two “My spiritual journey” continued…
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one experiencing some dramatic effects from this “Star exercise”. A novice monk had come to join in the exercise a little late, and stood alone outside the circle. He collapsed, and lay there as if lifeless. I heard Zain muttering some kind of admonishment about it being dangerous to stand outside the circle, then he said loudly, “One has left the body, he has become lost, I must retrieve him”, and in a few moments the body of the collapsed novice twitched, and he returned to consciousness.
Afterwards, Zain sat in the side courtyard garden for a sort of “question/answer” session. I was still vibrating with energy, and seeing it everywhere. I wanted to tell him about my experience, but was simultaneously afraid to say anything to him, or bring attention to myself. But I did. And that is a story we’ll save for a chapter later in the book.
Anastasia then started walking me over to the monastery’s “residential area”. I didn’t know what to expect. I had studied other monasteries, and had even visited and spent time in some. In monasteries that teach or utilize constant “asceticism” as a primary spiritual growth tool, the monk’s quarters are often called “monk’s cells”, because that’s pretty much what they were – tiny “jail- like cells” like what you might find in a prison. Of course, to the monks who chose that kind of path, their cells were a voluntary part of their training, not a means of imprisonment and punishment by a government. But in any case, I didn’t even like the idea of dormitories let alone cells. I would later learn to drop such personal preferences, in favor of adapting and flowing, but I wasn’t there yet. On our way over, I asked Anastasia about the living situation, with nervous, introverted concern.
“So what do you have here, monk’s cells, or dormitories?”
“Except for temporary aspects of a monk’s training, learning self-discipline, and special transcension training (which I was about to come face to face with), our way of life is quite moderate, and even luxurious by many standards – especially by other monastic standards… at least as a general rule.”
“That’s nice to hear, but you didn’t exactly answer my question – I especially don’t like dormitories.”
“Well, they are, and they aren’t. You’ll see.”
When we finally arrived at the monks’ residential area, I was quite relieved by what I saw, although it was naturally, “odd”, like most everything else around here.
“These are the private sleeping, living, and meditation areas,” she said.
I expressed my relief to Anastasia. “I have to admit this is far nicer than what I was expecting. Yet it is rather bizarre.”
I was surprised to find an odd honeycomb of private rooms. And while the quarters Anastasia was showing me, were far smaller than the monks’ quarters of many other orders, oddly enough they were very cozy and comfortable – in fact, there was no comparison to the dark, dank, cold harshness of the traditional “monk cell”. They were beautifully decorated, had curtains, pillows and mats, sheets and quilts, little combination shelf/altar/storage areas, incense burners, candles, even lights! But they were tiny.
“They’re pretty tiny rooms Anastasia.”
“That’s true. But they’re tall enough to sit up, read, and meditate in, and long and wide enough to lay down in. They serve as both our personal quarters, and places for our solitary meditations.”
“Even for someone my size?”
“Sure, and actually they are quite comfortable and cozy. In fact, we call them ‘wombs’, instead of ‘rooms’, because they’re so cozy, they’re kind of like a womb.”
The wombs were an ingenious architectural design and concept. They were much like “honeycombs” – their efficient design would allow many of them to fit into what would be a normal sized bedroom for someone in the U.S. But more importantly, they were modularly designed – so if you had a mate or family, wombs could be instantly connected and expanded as needed. And as it turned out, they were extremely cozy, and comfortable, and I never found them lacking as either living quarters, or meditation chambers. But I was in for another surprise.
“So which one of these is mine?” I asked.
“Novices don’t get one right away.”
I later found out that was just to put novices through tests and changes that created personal growth.
“Then where do I sleep?” I said with a bit of surprise and stress.
“See that pile of mats over there? When you are through for the day, just go get one, and find any place you can, to lay it down.”
My stress just jumped up a notch. But, I immediately got a grip on myself. What the heck, after what I’d lived through, even that would be a luxury. What I didn’t know at the time, is there was a deliberate shortage of mats, and it was first come first serve. I made that surprise discovery that night, when I couldn’t find anymore mats. OK, now I was an unhappy camper. But in time, I learned it was all part of a series of tests and growth techniques that everyone like myself went through on this path, and the rewards were far greater than the sacrifices. (Note: I eventually got a 5 unit “womb with a view”).
After the wombs, she brought me to the library. I was astonished. It was vast – the largest building I had yet seen.
“This is our library.”
“Where do I get a card?” I asked. She looked at me quizzically.
“I don’t think we have any cards, but we have many, many other things to read.”
She wasn’t kidding. And she also wasn’t kidding about many other things to read. Texts, scrolls, tablets of of every description were in here. The “important” literature, philosophy, and religious teachings from cultures all over the world were at my fingertips, including various ancient and modern translations in most languages. There were even texts about cultures that had nowritten language. I felt I could spend the rest of my life just in here – no, I could spend lifetimes.
“Where did all this come from??”
“It was collected over time. We also have original texts from most religious teachings, including the biblical, in their original handwriting.” I was in heaven. She had to drag me out of there to continue our tour.
Anastasia eventually took me to a relatively small meditation room (compared to the hall I had seen earlier).
“This is where elder monks teach classes for novice monks.”
Elder monks were ones who had learned and grown a great deal, but still had not achieved total unselfishness or total “enlightenment”. But even so, they had a lot to offer, and were far nicer people than I had ever met. They were as good as “saints” from my perspective and consciousness at the time.
“What kind of courses do they give?”
“Elders teach courses in meditation techniques, basic spiritual principles and their application, history, and conduct some limited “personal growth” sessions.” I would be spending most of my time learning and getting “counselling” from elder monks, during my first few months at the monastery.
The entrance to this meditation room had a very short door, and I had to bend over in order to get in.
“Why is the door so short?” I asked. It obviously had been custom built, and the room itself was as big as a large living room.
“By building the door so it physically requires those who enter the room to bow, it is meant to symbolically remind both elders and novices to be humble, and have respect and compassion for all.”
A class was about to begin, so she advised me to stay there and begin my first course.
“Am I a monk now?” I asked.
“That’s up to you. This is a monastery, and only monks stay here. I assumed that is why you came. I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds with my assumption.”
“No. I do wish to stay, learn, and grow. I guess I’m just accustomed to people not being so sensitive, and having to sign up for everything – even getting your car lubed.”
“Well, I don’t know about you getting ‘lubed’, but you will need to ask the head monk if you can stay. However, we’ve already discussed you, and he also assumed you would be asking to stay considering…,” She briefly paused mid-sentence, as if she almost slipped up and told me something she wasn’t supposed to, but she immediately spoke on “and has already indicated your acceptance.”