Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Believing in Blessings.
I'm not religious. But I will say that I am a constant seeker of spirituality. Spirituality to me meaning, being present in life, living free of nagging "self-talk" and judgement of oneself and others. Spirituality to me is finding tools to achieve that, because turning off that mind-static is a difficult task.
My husband and I promised each other from the beginning to remain present. So when we decided to get married (quite spur of the moment-like), we thought of our upcoming trip to Thailand as the host, because of the country's perceived spiritual atmosphere. We like the idea of a place made peaceful with jungle wats (temples) ripe with very-present Buddhist monks seeking Nirvana. We found out that these monks sometimes will perform a marriage ceremony, under certain conditions:
*If it's before noon...after that, I think they are committed to study and prayer.
*The woman is modest...I sweated my way through town to find a scarf to cover my shoulders.
*And if you come bearing donation, typically food (younger monks will sell pre-made buckets in front of the more frequented wats).
This is not a legal marriage, which is why Chris and I decided to get abruptly married in the States (by my mom, in our living room) beforehand.
And true to Chris and my relationship, we didn't have a plan going into our Thailand trip as to when, where, or how to get the Buddhist blessing performed. Hell, we didn't really even plan the trip besides our first few nights (and even those plans had to be swiftly changed because I was a day off on my planning, and accidentally made all the reservations - flights/hotel - for a day earlier...wow, BLONDE.)
One of our first destinations on the trip was the island of Koh Pha-Ngan, accessible by plane, then bus, then boat (literally far out, man). Yes, beautiful island with the beaches and the palm trees and local peddlers selling fresh coconuts (which I fast became obsessed with...you know me and my coconut water addiction!). But, it was also overrun with 20-something Brits and Aussies who pillaged the beaches for its parties by night and walked zombified through the trashed towns by day. So, it was not the respite we had imagined.
We somehow chartered a boat back to mainland for the next day, but when we woke up the next morning, realized we had time before we had to take a tuk-tuk to the pier. So we quite literally looked at one another and I said, "Should we get married?" "Yeah. Let's do it," Chris said. Flash forward 10 minutes to me in my wedding dress (what turned out to be a miserable piece of polyester that would only add to my mosquito-bite misery) and my wedding hair (a loose braid inspired by Pinterest), and Chris in his linen shirt (which scratched his sunburn) and travel pants.
We hailed a tuk-tuk to the part of the island we heard housed a wat. We didn't know if we'd find it, or if there would be a monk inside willing to do the ceremony. But, after some charades and word repetition, our driver acknowledged the particular wat, and took us there.
We had to get the scarf first, so we backtracked through the dirty town to a vendor (oh, the scarf is beautitul! It's my real wedding dress, I say). And, we ran into a market, which had the smell of unsavory rot, and bought the freshest fruit we could find to offer to the monk.
The wat sat on a big stretch of lot that lacked the lushness of the island backcountry. It was hot. There were bugs everywhere. On the eyes, it wasn't much. In fact, there was no one around except two men working on what looked like a small welding project. Oh, and dogs...of course. But the prayer hall was empty. Chris was starting to doubt our plan coming to fruition. But I knew there had to be that welcome tent with the young monks selling those buckets. So I walked towards another building, passing the men and walking right into the pack of dogs that, until afterward, i didn't notice were growling at us. As Chris started to follow me, the two men shouted at him. They assured us we were going in the right direction. A few steps later, I ran into a street-clothed man sitting on a bench outside a room. He nodded at us, and gestured us to come inside the room. We took off our shoes and backpacks and stepped toward the room, only to intrude on a woman collapsed, forehead down on the floor, with a monk uttering prayers over her. We felt embarrassed and backed away, but almost instantly the monk wrapped up the blessing and the woman left.
The monk looked at us like, "Well, what do you want?" We said, "Marriage blessing?" Pointing to our rings, and hoping he'd understand. The monk, whom I come to find out is named Phra Somchai Kemasarano, nodded and motioned for us to follow him around the room in a couple circles, bow, kneel...until he took us out of the room, into another lone building and up some stairs. It was a sweltering concrete-floored room with a mattress on the ground, and a smattering of food buckets and donation bags around a television set. There was a shrine in the corner. He told us to kneel there, and give him the rings. Like obedient dogs, Chris and I kneeled and bowed, and surrendered all of our thoughts of confusion or fear to mess up...and committed silently to be present in the experience.
We were blessed as a couple. We were blessed individually. Our lives were blessed. Our rings were blessed. The rope bracelets given to us by the monk were blessed. Our family and ancestors were blessed. Our unborn baby(s) were blessed. He put holy dots of mud or wax on our foreheads. Tears flowed like the cascading sweat over our faces. The monk - opposite of what we had read - had us kiss. It was amazing. I felt open, and grateful, and worthy.
After the experience...after the monk showed us his piles of photo albums full of "my many friends"...and insisted we get photos together with my phone...Chris and I left, and reflected. Just like our relationship, it wasn't what we had planned, but it was more amazing than we could have ever imagined.
And it was spiritual. God was likely mentioned a bunch of times. But it was not God-fearingly spiritual. It was that present-moment spiritual. It felt to me like love. I could feel the love resonating in the monk's words; in his smile. I could see the love in Chris' eyes the few times we looked at each other in the ceremony. The drops of water the monk sprinkled on us felt like a baptism; like water washing away the stressed of life to reveal a bond of pure gold. LOVE.
That feeling is why I'm choosing to believe the monk's words. His blessings. His years of meditation made manifest in every syllable.
I'm so happy I got to experience an event like this, because even though it was religious, I rejected any judgements I have and surrendered to the spirituality. And now I have another tool - that memory of how I felt - to keep myself present. Oh, yes, and a lifetime of blessings. :)