Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Going on "retreat" from the retreat . . .

Dharamsala, India -- While on my trip I have been writing to my son John's 4th grade class, whom i went and spoke to about India earlier this year . . . as I understand it, John is the class "reporter" who gets to read my dispatches . . . Shannon Hamilton, the teacher, wrote that they are having a blast with this, and sent some class photos for me to share with my Tibetan "english conversation" class here . . . sent to the class this evening, the following pretty much sums up what I'm up to over the coming days, so I include it here . . . thanks for following along, is not such a "solo" trip being able to write to (and get email from) you . . . happy days, Mark


greetings to ms. shannon's incredibly wonderful and scholarly 4th grade class in longwood, florida.

it is now wednesday night here and today was an interesting day . . . it started off hot and sunny, but at around 2pm, the sky grew very very dark and a huge lightning and hail storm came from over the high mountains and pelted us with hail stones the size of oranges and huge drops of freezing cold rain.

it lasted for about 2 hours and when it was over the temperature had dropped by about 25 degrees. that is what it is like when you are so close to the high snowy mountains, the weather can change in a matter of minutes and the change can be very extreme.

this is the last email you will get from me for almost two weeks.

tomorrow i am going up into the pine forest above dharamsala to a tibetan buddhist meditation camp where for 10 days i will be "on retreat."

what does that mean?

it means i will be waking up each day at 6:00am, and learning about meditation, and the history, practice and wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism. there will be monks and nuns and maybe lamas (wise teacher-monks) there to instruct and teach us. i think there will be about 50(?) other people there, and i believe they will be from many different countries.

there will be no talking allowed, except during the times we are being taught. we will eat only vegetarian food (fruits, vegetables and grains). i believe men will sleep in one big room and the women in another.

everyone on retreat will be assigined a "job" that must be done on a daily basis, between the hours of noon and 1:30pm. doing one's work, and doing it well, is all part of the practice of the retreat.

because there are monks in training who live there, everyone will need to be respectful of the atmosphere, which is calm and peaceful. that means no Ipods or recorded music, and no reading materials that are not of the "dharma" -- Buddhist lifestyle.

i have been told that there is a tribe of people who live high in the mountains; they are called the Gaddi and legend has it that at night you can hear the spirits of the ancient Gaddi sheepherders calling for their lost sheep. the retreat camp i am going to is in one of the forests where the Gaddi people live.

the idea of a retreat is to be able to go to a place that is beautiful and serene, and have some quiet time. i have been told that sometimes very wonderful things can result from doing this, i will let you know when it is over on may 20.

i hope you have been enjoying the tales of my travels, it has been fun sharing my time in india with you. we talk about you all the time in my english class -- based on what they know of you, my tibetan students think american kids have a very fortunate life.

the world is very big and very mysterious, and there is much much more to see and learn than your tv sets or books can tell you about. i hope one day when you grow you will travel to the places your heart tells you to visit.

i will write to you when my retreat is completed, until then, tashi delek!!

(and remember to give your moms hugs and kisses on mother's day!!)

mark winwood
(john's dad)