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The other day, I gave a talk at the Barnstable Senior Center about my meditation retreat in Burma. I showed slides of children in Mandalay and the ornate roofs of Kyaswa Monastery. I talked about our 3:30 a.m. wakeup bell, the pinked-robed nuns who chanted for us each evening, and the sunrise and moonrise over the Irawaddy River as seen from the porch of my kuti (hut).

But I know from talking about this retreat with friends that what people really wanted to know was, “Was it life-changing?”

Fair question! But a hard one to answer.

When one of the attendees asked if the trip changed me, I said it had, though I declined to say how. (I don’t even know if it’s true, except in the way we all change constantly in reaction to conditions.)

But if he had asked me what I learned…Well, THEN I could have bent his ear for hours!

I might have talked about how frequently I saw my thoughts being tainted with the  feeling, “I should be different.”

And about how the words, “Of course!” had the power to cut through a lot of this self-judgment.  Feeling restless, sleepy, inadequate? Oh sweetie…of course!  Of course you feel that way!

I’d talk about how things I expected to be difficult turned out to be easy, and how things I expected to be easy were difficult.

But, as is the nature of all retreats, many of the things I learned were quite small and mundane. Because once our mind starts to quiet down, the small things start to shine.

I learned about the pleasure of sleeping under a mosquito net bathed in moonlight. I learned about the natural social behavior of dogs from watching the pack that lived on the monastery grounds. (Turns out dogs don’t actually do it doggie style once they get hooked up.)  I learned about the taste and scent of clementines.

Last year, at the end of a retreat at the Providence Zen Center there was a sharing circle. One young guy who had been on retreat for three straight months  shared what he had learned: that oatmeal is really awesome with peanut butter mixed in.

Did the teacher think he was being  a smart ass? I don’t think so. He told the kid to try oatmeal with peanut butter and kimchee.  He said it was life-changing.

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10,000 mind-moments:
sleepiness
trying too hard
worrying
comparing
breath-holding
fussing
planning

10,000 mind-moments:
cool breeze, warm sun
roosters crowing
the smell of wood smoke
slow boats on the river
my feet touching cool brick
monastery bells tolling
deep contentment
relief

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My complete Burma photo album:

Burma, 2014

I wrote this post last month, just before leaving for Burma.

It’s been a month driven by lists. There has been so much to do before my trip.

This weekend I started one final list that I titled The Last List, with just a few items on it. I’ve checked them all off, so surely I must be ready, right?

Now, with nothing more to do, I’m left with just me – with my jittery excitement and a touch of melancholy, because I’m making this journey alone, and I’d rather not be.

So here’s one more list. I’ll call it The Last Last List.

1. Remember that being alone is just an idea. Look around you. You’re surrounded by people, plants and animals – in fact, the whole world.

2. Remember that (in most cases) you can always rely on the kindness of strangers.

3. Remember that you can also rely on yourself.

4. Remember to bring kindness and curiosity.

4. Remember to bring the inner child along, but let the adult drive the bus.

5. Remember that you don’t know what’s going to happen next, but of course, that is always the case.

I’m going to wear my Solmate Socks, in part to keep my feet warm, but also because they make me smile, and might attract good juju as I traverse the globe. Here we go:

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