My steps disappear in sounds of surrounding forest and distant waves. There is only one person here, a middle aged man, busy with cutting wood he just brought from a storage. I’m standing at the entrance and I’m trying not to disturb his work. He looks at me for a brief second, smiles gently and goes back to his work.
‘Silence please’ says the sign on the gate. There is also a list of things a westerner, such as myself, needs to remember about, before they enter the retreat.
A whole week of partying in Thailand left me exhausted and lacking of something peaceful and meaningful. I want to escape from everyone, hide somewhere and stay there until I feel that I’m restored. Unfortunately, I have only an hour. My friends are waiting for me at the beach of Had Rin, 20 minutes drive from this shrine, which name I won’t tell you. Let it be my secret, my special place where I can visit with my thoughts any time I want.
I walk down a narrow path leading up the hill. Trees bend over it, covering it from the sun, gently touching my shoulder with their ancient branches. I can smell sweet aroma of their pink flowers.
I pass a statue of Buddha, dressed in orange robe, smiling at me with his eyes half closed. He smells with jasmine.
I reach small, rocky steps. The sign next to it asks me to take my shoes off. I follow the instruction and leave my flip flops at the bottom. I go up. I really don’t know where I’m going. I just know that every step takes me further from reality and closer to peace I so long for.
I reach the top.
Have you ever been so enchanted by something beautiful that you were almost crying? Have you ever thought that you could die this very moment because you have reached a moment in your life that seemed complete? That’s how I feel now. There is a flat surface in front of me, it sticks out from the hill like a balcony, but there are no barriers, no hand rails. At the bottom of it there is a forest, a jungle so deep you can only see the peaks of the palms. I can see the beach far away from here. It seems deserted.
I sit down, crossed legged and try to memorise this view. I want to take the beauty of it with me, keep it and hide it forever. I don’t know how much time has passed, it seems like it’s been an eternity. I think I hear someone coming. The steps are light, like someone is barely touching the ground. I don’t want to turn around. I just hope that whoever they are they won’t disturb me. A conversation is the last thing I want right now.
Suddenly, the movement stops and I can feel someone’s presence behind me. They stand there for a minute or two. I focus on the colour of the water, so blue that it seems unreal. I breathe slowly, taking in the peace surrounding this place, trying not to think about the person behind me who is now coming towards me. They stop and linger for a second and then slowly, with a great effort, but without a sound sit next to me. With a corner of my eye I detect an orange robe and a shaved head. I know now that it’s a monk.
We sit next to each other. Minutes pass. I can only hear the waves and his breathing, so gentle and rhythmic. Together, they sound like one melody. There is nothing else in this world. My friends have disappeared from my thoughts; there is no past and no future, no ‘must’, ‘need’ and ‘have to’. There is only now, this very moment, the monk and I.
I start breathing with him, inhaling and exhaling at the same time, in unison. It feels that the air is lighter and fresher than before. I have never felt so in peace with myself than now. I am nowhere, but here at the same time...
I wake up suddenly. I don’t know how much time has passed. I turn towards the monk. He is still there and he’s looking at me, straight into my eyes. He is smiling and in his face I see myself. It is still old, wrinkly face of a stranger, but it is also I, happier, more at peace I.
‘I must go’ I say. He nods like he understands. Is there a ‘must’ in a monk vocabulary?