|The Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, Bangkok|
During the 10-day meditation retreat, the teachings expounded on the structure of
effort --> nature/law/way --> wisdom (Sangha --> Dhamma --> Buddha). Everything is Dhamma, all connected to the Supreme Dhamma. In other words, everything has its own nature, all connected to the supreme law of nature. A physics law of centrifugal force, the nature of how a tree grows, the way our bodies age – whether we understand them or not, they are there, following their own "Dhamma."
So one question I asked myself at the retreat was: how much effort do I put in to understanding my own body? Most of the time, I don't – like most people, I view my body as what lugs my mind around from place to place. So I decided to spend the week in Bangkok focusing on my health, to learn the "Dhamma of my body." Why Bangkok? Because it has cheap, high quality medical care. If there's anywhere in Southeast Asia you want to visit a clinic, it's Thailand.
Perhaps the Dhamma of my own body is not so interesting to other people, so I'll paraphrase my journey into the useful points I discovered:
Neck/ShouldersI carry stress in my shoulders, which causes a lot of tensing and neck pain (I'm sure if you're reading this hunched over an iPhone, you feel this, too). Swedish massages are very popular in the Occident for their relaxing nature. They're nice at the time, but as soon as I leave I feel my muscles tightening back up again.
Yoga and meditation have helped correct my posture, but I still had set-in muscle ache. Solution? A Thai massage. It's firm and painful and holy cannoli you feel blissed out by the end, like your body's made of jelly. At one point the masseuse asked me to turn over and I realized I couldn't! Her elbow under my shoulder blades had loosened such tight muscles that I couldn't get them to tense again just to move.
A well spent $24 USD for one hour.
TeethDo: visit a dentist in Bangkok.
Don't: walk into the first one off the street, without Googling their community reviews, and make an appointment on the spot (like I did).
The dentist pointed to every tooth with his metal cleaning pick and said it obviously had a cavity (even the teeth with fillings already) and he'd be happy to fill/re-fill them all in for me for –– wait, he had to get his calculator –– $264 USD. Um, no thanks. If I'm gonna spend serious money on my teeth, it's going to be a dental office where I can actually swallow the tap water.
As it was, I got my teeth cleaned and polished for $32 USD.
Henceforth I'll be adding more Vitamins A, D, and K2 to rebuild tooth enamel, and see if I can't prevent having to get any more fillings. [If you're interested, here's an article about how to rebuild tooth enamel.]
Foot ReflexologyPressure is not pain, pressure is not pain... I had to keep repeating this to myself as the Thai-Chinese reflexologist (the "Foot Master" and no, I'm not making that up) squeezed the muscles in my feet with his strong, precise grip.
Reflexologists believe that areas and points of the feet are connected to different organs, and that by putting pressure on these areas it has a beneficial effect on a person's health. I felt tingling in my organs, but was I imagining the connection? I wasn't sure.
At one point I did feel pain, under the pinky toe of my right foot. I winced and reflexively pulled my leg away. The reflexologist was surprised and kept the pressure there extra light. Later I looked up what part of the body it corresponds to: the shoulders/neck. Hmmm. It seems stress and improper posture alignment in one area have a larger effect on the rest of our body than I realized.
$22 USD later, and I floated out of the shop with "happy feet" and a new subject to research. [Here's an article I'm reading on how to improve posture.]
Check-UpI went to one of Bangkok's Westernized international hospitals for a cancer screening check-up. I have never had this type of check-up before, and I was very anxious. I'm young! I'm not sick! Why was I bothering to go in at all? I felt like I was imposing on the doctor's time while a lobby full of middle-aged patients waited for their turn. The nurses who took my vitals seemed surprised when I said I was only here for a check-up. I felt surprised too, thinking what am I doing here?
The answer came back just as strong: I don't want to be a "if only we'd caught it earlier, we could have saved your life" case. The check-up was uncomfortable, time-consuming, and expensive ($90 USD, all told). The results came in an email a few days later: all clear. Was it worth it?
Yes: I started a healthy yearly routine I must continue for the rest of my life. I'm 26 – there's no more delaying my responsibilities to my own body. My grandmother had (and survived) cancer; it runs in the family. I'm not "above" getting it just because I willfully don't want to. That's youth talking, not sense.
SleepZzzzz.... On the meditation retreat, we all slept by 21:30 and woke with the 4:00 morning bell. I thought this would be the hardest part of the experience, but I soon learned that the mind can be trained to wake, alert and aware, even without an alarm. Even after the retreat, I'll wake up at either 5 or 6 am, wide awake and ready for the day. This has truly been an immeasurable gift; it's these morning hours I use to write on my fantasy novel.
What I learned from this experience is our addiction to the snooze button is more psychological than physical. Of course, sleeping on a wooden pillow at a monastery does decrease the desire to go back to bed, but for us mere mortals, I think a few minutes after the snooze button isn't so bad, either.
I've found the benefits of waking up early far outweigh the extra hours of sleep... There's something really special about the soft darkness before dawn, the light of sunrise coming in through the window, hearing the birds start to sing. After I've written 1,500 words I can start the day with a feeling of satisfaction – I've already accomplished something important before breakfast. I feel happy everyday... and that in itself is a small miracle :)
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