On Day 6 of Vipassana, deep in meditation I saw myself training with a wooden staff, leaping and twirling through the monastery’s echoing shadows and eyes closed in lotus silent-still on cold stone. I have never studied martial arts. I haven’t been in a fight since the muted triumph of chasing Eugene ____ the entire way around the elementary school to kick him in the balls after he punched me in the temple so hard I felt my brain slosh against my skull. While there is certainly violence inside of me, beyond that day it is not an avenue I have explored. So its appearance in my meditation, the vivid clarity of hot sweat and cold discipline, these alien conditions manifest in my flesh through my thoughts, seemed strange recalled later under the sun.
This morning, for the first time in 10 days, I woke to my body’s rhythm instead of the sound of a gong. At 5 am there is no light. I meditated alone on my bed instead of in the hall where the vibration of silence is so strong every cough, every whisper, crashed like a dropped pan. After I dressed quickly thinking to watch the sunrise over the lake, I find myself trapped by the locked gate in the cool foyer of the guest house. I wander up to the roof terrace, tiptoeing past the owner and manager sleeping side by side on the mattresses between the lounge’s low tables. There is no easy drop from the foyer’s roof to the road. As I climb back over the low wall onto the terrace I see Yutaka in the far corner, all sinewy muscle, the beautiful Buddha tattoo on his stomach dancing in the dark, as he fluidly performs a strange set of movements with what looks like the frame of a large steering wheel.
Back at the gate I call “Loolji” (“Sweet Boy” – no one calls Kaan by his name) softly until he starts from the couch where sleeps. “I’m sorry. I want to go out please.” He points me to the key and I slip out into the dark. The sky is just showing some blue over the eastern horizon when I begin my clockwise transit around the holy lake. Vishnu, a Brahmin priest and retired bus driver, father of five, grandfather of eight, shakes his head in disbelief at the waste when I tell him I’m not married and gives me his blessings for long healthy lives for me and my family, a good marriage and many children. The sky is blue-grey and the stars have faded when I decide to head for the market for chai. The golden glow over the mountains is stronger but the haze is hiding the best of the sunrise and I’m suddenly tired. I find the covered stairs that will take me past Baba Darshat’s usual spot and press 100 rupees dhana into his gently upturned palm, glad to finally have the right note to hand when we smile with hands to our hearts and bow our greeting to each other. In the market, my belly draws me to my favourite cart where the unwaveringly pleasant proprietor dishes out daahl pakwan from 6am until lunch time when the poha has all been sold. In the quiet of the just broken day for the first time I find myself unjostled in the press to be served and he has time and space to ask me with a smile “So how is your life?” My grin breaks against my teeth in a tiny explosion of joy. “My life is good! How is your life?” His smile wilts and he wags his head in that Indian way that conveys more than a word could contain and my concern and alarm is a flood of cool water. “Oh no! What is wrong in your life?” He is humble and reserved, not wanting to complain. Not wanting to pour self-pity on his pain. “Life is life, you know? Nothing wrong in the life just, is 22 years of working with no rest. I am working since I’m 8 years old. School, then come here. Now I am 30 and 22 years, 365 days, full power. Sometimes is hard.” I feel at the bottom of the sea, out of my depth and the shallows of comfort this life has known. I ask some stupid questions about his family, looking for an oasis of joy in the desert I’ve wandered into and he nods, speaks with affection, but the weight remains. “Life is life and truly God is great. I believe this [his hand comes to his heart and moves to the sky] but it’s a bit… like robot life.” He hands me my plate with a subdued smile. I thank him, tell him how much I enjoy his food and retreat humbled across the square to the chai shop to eat.
Six months ago I made an instant friend, a person who comes drifting into your life to instant recognition. There is no awkward period of coming-together, no reserve of not-knowing-well-enough, no protracted how-close-are-we. Friendship is immediate and complete. An Italian artist living in Spain, she makes porcelain jewels molded from casts she produces with 3-D printers fired in a ceramics studio on the outskirts of Madrid. Three months after meeting in Portugal we met for dinner on the northern coast of Spain and celebrated connections that cross national borders and the excitement of coming adventures. At the end of the meal she took off her necklace, a small white robot on a short rope chain and fastened it around my neck, “to keep you company on your travels.” When someone in India asked me why I always wore a little white lego man I said “he came from a friend to be my friend on my journey. So now I always have someone with me who believes in me.”
When I’ve finished my breakfast I go back to the cart to order another daahl pakwan to bring to Loolji as apology for waking him so early. While he prepares it I ask “May I give you a present?” He is a little embarrassed, a little flustered, curious and pleased. I unfasten the chain and lay my little friend in the palm of my hand. I explain who he is and where he came from. “And I wanted to give him to you, for good luck… with your robot life.”
His smile has grown apples in his cheeks and he says “Yes! Thank you! I will wear it now!” And I fasten the clasp behind his neck. He is smiling as he finishes my order (I insist on paying “that’s not how gifts work”) and we wish each other a warm goodbye. On the short walk home I find myself saddened by the lightness at my throat, the loss of my companion, but the thought of his new home makes me smile.
Back at the guest house I deliver Loolji his breakfast (“Thank you Mastaniji! You don’t need to…”), sit down for chai and look up to see Yutaka spinning a wooden staff in impossible configurations around his body. The Vipassana vision flashes before my eyes, a lightning bolt of connective possibilities. When he finishes he joins us in the café and I ask him “What is it you practice?” His English is basic but his eyes are warm. “This is Zen Meditation.” “Do you have a teacher you learned from?” He has spent enough time in India that the gesture is automatic but Japanese in the restraint that renders the movement of his head nearly imperceptible. Unlike his smile. “I learned from myself.”