Bornean Buddha: a mindful horror story

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in ANASTASIA ASHMAN,culture,history,identity,society

Bornean Buddha by A.Ashman

By ANASTASIA ASHMAN

According to the Tibetans, May 27 is Buddha’s birthday. A prince with everything in the world, he set off on a quest to discover the truth of life. I’m remembering a mindfulness adventure I had, fifteen years ago on that day.

In Borneo, I felt bored and restless at a luxe, manicured Shangri-La resort favored by fugitive rogue traders. Wandering past the watersports shack I asked to go to an outlying island in the South China Sea. No notice to the people I was traveling with, no drinking water, food or cellphone.

The white-uniformed sailor dropped me at the random spot I’d picked from his laminated map. A decrepit picnic bench sagged in the shade of a steep cliff carpeted in greenery, where faceless monkeys screeched. No facilities, no stand selling lunch, no people. Just plastic flotsam and slithery tracks lacing the sand. The hotel boat fishtailed away.

Did they write down where they left me? Lawsuit waiting to happen. Already thirsty. Wait, six-inch wide tracks. From what scaly beasts?

No way I’d approach the trees where those squiggly trails led. I was frying in the tropical sun. Unnerved to cool off in the translucent green water. What if I suddenly ‘had trouble’ swimming, or a shark came? Maybe I could flag down a passing boat to take me back. But these were pirate-infested waters.

Silly overreaching hotel guest, I was going to die on this wild island.

I picked up a 5-liter water jug and started filling it with cones and olive shells glinting among seaweed and garbage. Good stuff. My best vacations were spent shell-collecting in the Gulf of Mexico…Sanibel Island in Florida.

Heavenly new finds here. A true Shangri-La paradise. Zebra-striped scallops. Glossy limpets. Spiky orange coral.

That day as I ringed the tiny island — is that a chickpea cowrie? – I turned the corner on my own nature’s bitter edge.

On this birthday week of Buddha can you name a mindfulness experience you’ve had?
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Anastasia Ashman is a California-born writer/producer of neoculture entertainment based in Istanbul. This series covers what’s crossing the mind and desk of expat+HAREM’s founder.
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  • http://www.plasticblinds.net Plastic Blinds

    I’ll back again for sure, thanks for great article :D

  • http://avagabonde.blogspot.com/ Vagabonde

    Here is the mindfulness experience I had – in the ‘90s I was in Bangkok for a few days. I had been a Buddhist of sort since the ‘60s in San Francisco so I enjoyed going to the various temples. One of the temples was very tall with a way to climb to the top. I climbed then saw a rope ladder to go even higher. I climbed that too and when I arrived there were two monks up there. I talked to them and they left. I was all alone at the top of this temple contemplating a panorama of Bangkok but then when I looked down and realized I would have to get down the rope ladder I was petrified. I thought someone might come up and help me. I waited at least 2 hours, it was getting dark and I was still up there. So I meditated on the descent. I went down, my eyes closed – luckily I did not miss a step. When I was back on the ground I felt so wonderful. A few days later on the Singapore flight from Singapore to Paris there was a fire in the cargo. The captain said we would make an emergency landing – we were between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Everyone was screaming in the smoke as we thought the plane was going to explode – which it could have. But I thought that since I had gone down the temple, the force of the Buddha was with me and I was not scared at all, even of dying. We landed in the snow in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and stayed there 24 hours. Everyone stayed in the hotel and made phone calls – but I walked in town, alone, still under the spell of my temple experience.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      How exquisite, Vagabonde! Thanks for sharing.

      I was meaning to reply right away, but visiting your blog first I got lost in your recent Mother’s Day post with vintage photos of your fashionable mother and her family in France. Suffragettes and flappers, sheepskins and hydrangeas! It seems your mindful joie de vivre is hereditary….

  • http://avagabonde.blogspot.com/ Vagabonde

    Here is the mindfulness experience I had – in the ‘90s I was in Bangkok for a few days. I had been a Buddhist of sort since the ‘60s in San Francisco so I enjoyed going to the various temples. One of the temples was very tall with a way to climb to the top. I climbed then saw a rope ladder to go even higher. I climbed that too and when I arrived there were two monks up there. I talked to them and they left. I was all alone at the top of this temple contemplating a panorama of Bangkok but then when I looked down and realized I would have to get down the rope ladder I was petrified. I thought someone might come up and help me. I waited at least 2 hours, it was getting dark and I was still up there. So I meditated on the descent. I went down, my eyes closed – luckily I did not miss a step. When I was back on the ground I felt so wonderful. A few days later on the Singapore flight from Singapore to Paris there was a fire in the cargo. The captain said we would make an emergency landing – we were between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Everyone was screaming in the smoke as we thought the plane was going to explode – which it could have. But I thought that since I had gone down the temple, the force of the Buddha was with me and I was not scared at all, even of dying. We landed in the snow in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and stayed there 24 hours. Everyone stayed in the hotel and made phone calls – but I walked in town, alone, still under the spell of my temple experience.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      How exquisite, Vagabonde! Thanks for sharing.

      I was meaning to reply right away, but visiting your blog first I got lost in your recent Mother’s Day post with vintage photos of your fashionable mother and her family in France. Suffragettes and flappers, sheepskins and hydrangeas! It seems your mindful joie de vivre is hereditary….

  • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

    Anastasia, Glad to see your personal blog (posts) now at home base, where notes from the founder’s desk belong!

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia M. Ashman

      Thanks Judith, I appreciate that!

      I started my cultural producer blog five months before launching expat+HAREM, writing on themes of women, culture, history and identity. It took a little while to determine whether those posts would fit thematically here or not — they already did in terms of style, since the expat+HAREM post format was refined at my blog.

      Happy to discover they do make sense here and have been growing in tandem with the material at expat+HAREM.

      Thanks for the warm welcome.

  • Anonymous

    Anastasia, Glad to see your personal blog (posts) now at home base, where notes from the founder’s desk belong!

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Thanks Judith, I appreciate that!

      I started my cultural producer blog five months before launching expat+HAREM, writing on themes of women, culture, history and identity. It took a little while to determine whether those posts would fit thematically here or not — they already did in terms of style, since the expat+HAREM post format was refined at my blog.

      Happy to discover they do make sense here and have been growing in tandem with the material at expat+HAREM.

      Thanks for the warm welcome.

  • http://www.giuliettathemuse.com/blog Giulietta

    Hi Anastasia,

    Love the illustration. So, clever. Great piece about the mind wandering into places far more treacherous than the actual place. I’m mindful when I get up to speak at a town meeting or selectman’s meeting in town. I need to be present so the words flow up, over and around the subject matter. Thanks! Giulietta
    .-= Giulietta’s latest blog ..The Rebel You Haven’t Met =-.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Thanks Giulietta! That’s nicely encapsulated: “the mind wandering places more treacherous”. It certainly was a big journey in a short space of time: I count boredom, adventurousness, worry, anger, fear, and wonder in this one experience.

      Good example of mindfulness as a grounding tool in public speaking. Connecting to the thoughts, and the audience. What is. Not drifting off into what may be, and what’s happened in the past. I will certainly remember this note when I am next in a situation for public speaking!

  • http://www.giuliettathemuse.com/blog Giulietta

    Hi Anastasia,

    Love the illustration. So, clever. Great piece about the mind wandering into places far more treacherous than the actual place. I’m mindful when I get up to speak at a town meeting or selectman’s meeting in town. I need to be present so the words flow up, over and around the subject matter. Thanks! Giulietta
    .-= Giulietta’s latest blog ..The Rebel You Haven’t Met =-.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Thanks Giulietta! That’s nicely encapsulated: “the mind wandering places more treacherous”. It certainly was a big journey in a short space of time: I count boredom, adventurousness, worry, anger, fear, and wonder in this one experience.

      Good example of mindfulness as a grounding tool in public speaking. Connecting to the thoughts, and the audience. What is. Not drifting off into what may be, and what’s happened in the past. I will certainly remember this note when I am next in a situation for public speaking!

  • http://mdbenoit.com M. D. Benoit

    Beautiful imagery, Anastasia. And I love the picture!

    My earliest moment of enlightenment (I’ve had a few) was when I moved away from home to live in Montreal. My own hometown was then 100% Catholic and French-speaking. I remember walking on St-Catherine street and being astonished and amazed at the different churches –and therefore, religions. Some I’d never heard about, others were, according to my parents, not the true religion therefore not religions at all.

    The churches were old, gorgeous, venerable. Inside was the same feeling of reverence and search for the divine that I could feel in my own. People going into them seemed as normal, as similar to me as any other Catholic.

    This was the beginning, for me, of the realization that the world is broad and fascinating, that the many faiths, the many languages, the many cultures, enrich us instead of marginalize us. That year I spent in Montreal changed me profoundly.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      :-) Thanks Dom. As the author of multiple books perhaps you are familiar with the phenomenon of subjects bubbling up when they are ready. Writing and images like this fit into the “Berkeley to Byzantium” travel memoir I planned to write six years ago — when they were overtaken by the ‘accidental’ need to do the Expat Harem anthology first. Guess that one wants to move to a front burner!

      Your recollection about sensing the reverence in Montreal’s churches seems like a gentle but concrete way to grasp both the commonalities between religions and the different forms of worship they practice.

  • http://mdbenoit.com M. D. Benoit

    Beautiful imagery, Anastasia. And I love the picture!

    My earliest moment of enlightenment (I’ve had a few) was when I moved away from home to live in Montreal. My own hometown was then 100% Catholic and French-speaking. I remember walking on St-Catherine street and being astonished and amazed at the different churches –and therefore, religions. Some I’d never heard about, others were, according to my parents, not the true religion therefore not religions at all.

    The churches were old, gorgeous, venerable. Inside was the same feeling of reverence and search for the divine that I could feel in my own. People going into them seemed as normal, as similar to me as any other Catholic.

    This was the beginning, for me, of the realization that the world is broad and fascinating, that the many faiths, the many languages, the many cultures, enrich us instead of marginalize us. That year I spent in Montreal changed me profoundly.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      :-) Thanks Dom. As the author of multiple books perhaps you are familiar with the phenomenon of subjects bubbling up when they are ready. Writing and images like this fit into the “Berkeley to Byzantium” travel memoir I planned to write six years ago — when they were overtaken by the ‘accidental’ need to do the Expat Harem anthology first. Guess that one wants to move to a front burner!

      Your recollection about sensing the reverence in Montreal’s churches seems like a gentle but concrete way to grasp both the commonalities between religions and the different forms of worship they practice.

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    Talk about a cliffhanger! So what happened? Did the dude come back and get you? Did you have to swim to shore? Sharks? Smoke monsters? I’m on pins and needles! :-)

    I agree with Judith, this is beautifully written and so evocative. A word snapshot of a moment of your life. I’m looking forward to many more of these.

    As for me, re: mindfulness. After my friend Wendy’s death I went into a horrible downward spiral, especially after testifying against the murderers. When it finally came time to start on a healing path, a book about Buddhism made its way into my hands and I started meditating twice a day. At the time I was attending the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and if I hadn’t been meditating I don’t know how I would have dealt with all the human rights horrors and ghosts people brought in with them.

    I haven’t meditated in years, but the Buddhist idea of mindfulness has stuck with me in small daily actions. Like, being mindful not to rub my eyes or touch my mouth after being on a tram. Being mindful of the children I care for, being patient, being careful how I speak with them and to them if they are naughty. Being mindful of the people around me and spending time with people who make me a better person instead of those who drag me down. I’m not always successful being mindful, especially if I’m stressed out or travelling (oh man, how I detest travelling now!), but I still do my best.

    Thank you for sharing this gorgeous post, and Happy Wesak Day.

    oxox

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Hee hee, Sezin. No smoke monster. About four hours later another boat from the same hotel happened by and I hitched a ride to a neighboring populated island. No smoke monster there either, instead ice cream sellers, bathrooms, and tons of screaming kids. Life guards, too. So I took a swim. Soon my legs and arms were wrapped in plastic bags discarded in the water. A different kind of shock!

      Was that a Vipassana book you mention? Sounds like it came to you just when you needed it most. I know several people who have endured some unbearable situations with a more resilient frame of mind after studying this meditation method of the Buddha. If anyone’s interested, these 10-day courses are free and offered around the world. Non-dogmatic, anyone of any religion can do it. (I did one on the Black Sea Coast a few years ago. It was like joining a monastery. Incredible to see what your brain downloads when you try to focus exclusively on your breath for 10 hours a day. Seriously, it takes several full days to get control of your mind!)

      Thanks for your thoughts…and Happy Wesak Day to you too.

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    Talk about a cliffhanger! So what happened? Did the dude come back and get you? Did you have to swim to shore? Sharks? Smoke monsters? I’m on pins and needles! :-)

    I agree with Judith, this is beautifully written and so evocative. A word snapshot of a moment of your life. I’m looking forward to many more of these.

    As for me, re: mindfulness. After my friend Wendy’s death I went into a horrible downward spiral, especially after testifying against the murderers. When it finally came time to start on a healing path, a book about Buddhism made its way into my hands and I started meditating twice a day. At the time I was attending the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and if I hadn’t been meditating I don’t know how I would have dealt with all the human rights horrors and ghosts people brought in with them.

    I haven’t meditated in years, but the Buddhist idea of mindfulness has stuck with me in small daily actions. Like, being mindful not to rub my eyes or touch my mouth after being on a tram. Being mindful of the children I care for, being patient, being careful how I speak with them and to them if they are naughty. Being mindful of the people around me and spending time with people who make me a better person instead of those who drag me down. I’m not always successful being mindful, especially if I’m stressed out or travelling (oh man, how I detest travelling now!), but I still do my best.

    Thank you for sharing this gorgeous post, and Happy Wesak Day.

    oxox

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Hee hee, Sezin. No smoke monster. About four hours later another boat from the same hotel happened by and I hitched a ride to a neighboring populated island. No smoke monster there either, instead ice cream sellers, bathrooms, and tons of screaming kids. Life guards, too. So I took a swim. Soon my legs and arms were wrapped in plastic bags discarded in the water. A different kind of shock!

      Was that a Vipassana book you mention? Sounds like it came to you just when you needed it most. I know several people who have endured some unbearable situations with a more resilient frame of mind after studying this meditation method of the Buddha. If anyone’s interested, these 10-day courses are free and offered around the world. Non-dogmatic, anyone of any religion can do it. (I did one on the Black Sea Coast a few years ago. It was like joining a monastery. Incredible to see what your brain downloads when you try to focus exclusively on your breath for 10 hours a day. Seriously, it takes several full days to get control of your mind!)

      Thanks for your thoughts…and Happy Wesak Day to you too.

  • http://isaokato.com Isao

    This year I had joined a full-day event reading sutras with a group of volunteers – we practice qi-gong, meditation, and study Tibetan Buddhism together. It was the first time since elementary school that I blindly read texts aloud for hours. How boring can it be? But that was immensely satisfying.

    Because it was a volunteering activity (I even took a day off from my work), I poured my heart and (hopefully) my soul into the mundane reading, and there I realized again that the real power of experience exists in what we bring to it, not what is given to us… No I didn’t have any enlightening moment, but it was nice to have that insight (and muscle ache and sore throat).

    • Anastasia M. Ashman

      Thanks for sharing Isao. I’d say that moment of insight counts as enlightenment!

      Chanting (or reading sutras) generates an energy field/vibration of its own, both in you and your environment….never thought I’d like it until I tried it.

  • http://isaokato.com Isao

    This year I had joined a full-day event reading sutras with a group of volunteers – we practice qi-gong, meditation, and study Tibetan Buddhism together. It was the first time since elementary school that I blindly read texts aloud for hours. How boring can it be? But that was immensely satisfying.

    Because it was a volunteering activity (I even took a day off from my work), I poured my heart and (hopefully) my soul into the mundane reading, and there I realized again that the real power of experience exists in what we bring to it, not what is given to us… No I didn’t have any enlightening moment, but it was nice to have that insight (and muscle ache and sore throat).

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Thanks for sharing Isao. I’d say that moment of insight counts as enlightenment!

      Chanting (or reading sutras) generates an energy field/vibration of its own, both in you and your environment….never thought I’d like it until I tried it.

  • Anastasia M. Ashman

    Thanks Judith, first time I’m showing this illustration I created back in Asia…on Thursday I suddenly had a story to go with it!

    The underlying face is a terracotta garden sculpture from Thailand (see more here) and an antique map of the region I handcolored.

    I wasn’t aware of the Vietnamese-American artist you mention, thanks for pointing him out.

    You’re probably right, my time in Asia was very trying but also great material and conditioning for the future.

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    Thanks Judith, first time I’m showing this illustration I created back in Asia…on Thursday I suddenly had a story to go with it!

    The underlying face is a terracotta garden sculpture from Thailand (see more here) and an antique map of the region I handcolored.

    I wasn’t aware of the Vietnamese-American artist you mention, thanks for pointing him out.

    You’re probably right, my time in Asia was very trying but also great material and conditioning for the future.

  • http://hopefilledjars.blogspot.com/2010/03/gremchelich-matzoballs-and-easter-eggs.html Judith van Praag

    Anastasia,
    What a wonderful memory to have, the beginning of a Hemingway-like story, gorgeous moments in time. It speaks of boredom, the need for adventure, to be lost and found. I’ve thought before that your time in Asia, although at the time not inspirational to you, is and will be a source of great riches. It’s not always the time in the limelight that give us the greatest material to ponder and elaborate on.
    Love the artwork you posted as well, beautiful that superimposed mask on the map. Are you familiar with the work of Vietnamese American artist Din Q Lê?

  • Anonymous

    Anastasia,
    What a wonderful memory to have, the beginning of a Hemingway-like story, gorgeous moments in time. It speaks of boredom, the need for adventure, to be lost and found. I’ve thought before that your time in Asia, although at the time not inspirational to you, is and will be a source of great riches. It’s not always the time in the limelight that give us the greatest material to ponder and elaborate on.
    Love the artwork you posted as well, beautiful that superimposed mask on the map. Are you familiar with the work of Vietnamese American artist Din Q Lê?

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