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Meditating in New Zealand (Part 1 of 6)
Janet lived in Amaravati, a Buddhist monastery in Great Britain and a branch monastery in New Zealand, and that’s where I was headed; New Zealand, the perfect place to practice. I support Janet by training in the same monastic tradition as hers, except I would be safely half a world away!
Before I left for the southern hemisphere though, I needed a practice spot for a bit to get back on track, and I knew the perfect spot; At Bhante Gunaratana Monastery outside Washington DC. The Bhavana Society (Bhavana in Pali means spiritual development) is tucked away in the picturesque hills of West Virginia just outside of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Bhante Gunaratana is the founder of Bhavana, a Sri Lankan monk who has been in robes for nearly seventy years, and a globally recognized teacher of meditation.
Upon my arrival, Bhante G welcomed me to the monastery and retreat center in the same warm way that all serious seekers are welcomed into Theravada Buddhist organizations. He never charged fees and only asked the seeker to meditate seriously and help the community regardless. or he can.
My mind quickly calmed down in Bhavanna and time passed quickly. I kept busy felling trees and splitting firewood, working in the kitchen and later building and helping out with the new meditation hall, and I would have actually stayed with Bhante G and been ordained as one of his monks if I hadn’t wanted to do that. support Janet by becoming part of Amaravati.
It was peaceful, I woke up every morning at 5 to a big gong, then we meditated for an hour and a half before starting our day. I even had my own little cabin. . . wood stove! But before I knew it, one beautiful autumn day, when the autumn colors were proudly raising their red and orange wares, and as I was watering the fourth floor for the foundation of the new meditation hall, Bhante G came to me. . He stood above the ditch and looked at me for a long time, his presence always warm and loving, said a few words of encouragement and said goodbye too, although I didn’t know it then because just as he was leaving. Sister Sucinta ran out of the office waving an email in her hand. My travel and visa arrangements were complete. . . and soon after that I left for New Zealand!
New Zealand was amazing when I got there; The 26-hour flight seemed endless. After about eighteen hours we encountered a bank of cloud which continued all the way to Auckland, and only later did I discover that it was a more or less stationary phenomenon over the rain-soaked islands. Miraculously, the sun came out on my arrival and stayed for the entire 400km train journey from Auckland to the Wellington rain forests, which was just a wonderful series of picture postcards. Every bend in the trails from the mountains to the ocean to the pastures of grazing sheep was breathtaking.
Locals claim that if the giant straightened all the wrinkles in New Zealand, it would be the size of Australia! It’s a stretch for sure, but there’s very little flat land in the country. The South Island even has snow-capped mountains inspired by Colorado! Wellington’s homes and streets were surprisingly no different from a middle-class neighborhood in Des Moines, very American, but without street signs! When I inquired about this apparent oversight, I was told that I should know where I was going. . . . Ummm.
The grounds of the monastery had several large folds on the ground covered with rainforest-type foliage. The setting was gorgeous and I was lucky enough to hang my hat on a little cabin halfway up the mountain. The cabin was of a very high standard compared to the itches we were used to in Thailand and even had a sliding glass door! At night, the ever-present possums that blanket the South Island (someone forgot that pigs have no natural enemies in New Zealand when they thoughtlessly introduced them to the islands) love to sit on my porch and watch me curiously. in the evenings from the patio door meditating with my candle. I always seemed to be attracted to animals for some reason, no matter where I was.
It was difficult to find the cabin during the day, let alone at night when I had to climb the mountain in the dark to get to the pension. A few steps off the trail without a flashlight and you’re good to go, so I always kept spare batteries in my pocket just in case.
The weather in Wellington was worse than Washington State or the UK. The rain was hard, unrelenting, and usually came down sideways in sheets, making my nocturnal trek from the meditation hall up the mountainside to my cabin a daring exploration, to say the least. Then one miserable night it happened – halfway through my flashlight went out. I fumbled in my pocket for spare batteries, muttering, “Thank God, thank God,” but when I replaced them with the old ones. . . still no light. It was a light bulb and I couldn’t afford it.
I couldn’t figure it out in the rain and in the pitch-black forest. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face! So I was left with two options, well, three, but I didn’t want to scream my head off; it wouldn’t be cool or valuable, and no one would probably hear me anyway. So I really had two options, and both were bad – either stay where I was for the cold, wet night, or feel my way through the forest. . .
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