Cheap Vacation Packages In Pennsylvania With A 2 Year Old Meditating in New Zealand (Part 1 of 6)

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Meditating in New Zealand (Part 1 of 6)

Janet lived at Amaravati, a Buddhist monastery in Great Britain with a branch monastery in New Zealand, and I was directed there; New Zealand, a perfect place to train. I would 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, however, I needed a place to practice for a while, to get back on track, and I knew the perfect place; in the monastery of Bhante Gunaratana outside of Washington. The Bhavana Society (bhavana in the Pali language translates as mental development) is tucked away in the scenic hills of West Virginia just down the road from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Bhante Gunaratana is the founder of Bhavana, a Sri Lankan monk who has been in robes for almost seventy years, and a world recognized meditation teacher.

When I arrived, Bhante G welcomed me to the monastery and retreat in the same warm way that all serious seekers are welcomed in Theravada Buddhist organizations, never paying fees and only asking that the seeker meditate seriously and help in the community however he . or she can.

My mind quickly settled at Bhavana and time passed quickly. I was busy felling trees and splitting firewood, working in the kitchen, and then pitching and helping with the construction of the new meditation hall, and I would actually stay with Bhante G and be ordained as one of his monks if I didn’t want to. support Janet by becoming a part of Amaravati.

It was peaceful, waking up every morning at 5am to the big gong, then meditating for an hour and a half before starting our day. I even had my own little cabin. . . with a wood stove! Before I knew it, however, on a beautiful little fall day, where the fall colors were proudly strutting their red and orange stuff, and as I was laying the fourth tier of blocks for the foundation of the new meditation hall, Bhante G came. . He stood over the ditch and watched me for a long time, his presence always warm and loving, saying a few words of encouragement, and also saying goodbye, though I didn’t know it at the time, because that’s when he left. , Sister Sucinta came running from the office waving an email in her hand. My travel and visa arrangements were all arranged. . . and not long after that, I left for New Zealand!

New Zealand was amazing when I got there; the twenty-six-hour flight seemed endless. About eighteen hours out, we hit a cloud bank that 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 the day I arrived and stayed for my entire 400 kilometer train journey from Auckland to the rainforests of Wellington, which was nothing short of a picture postcard spectacular. Every bend in the tracks, from mountains, to ocean, to pastoral pastures of grazing sheep, was amazing.

The locals insist that if a giant straightened all the wrinkles in New Zealand, it would be the size of Australia! That’s certainly tight, but the country really has few plains. The South Island even has Colorado inspired snow capped mountains! The homes and streets in Wellington were surprisingly no different from a middle class neighborhood in Des Moines, very Americanized, but without street signs! When I asked about this apparent oversight, I was told that I should know where I’m going. . . . Hmm.

The monastery grounds were nestled between a series of large folds in the earth covered in rainforest-type foliage. The setting was gorgeous, and I was lucky enough to hang my hat in a little cabin halfway up the mountain. The hut was very advanced compared to the kutis I was used to in Thailand and it even had a sliding glass patio door! At night, the ever-present opossums that populate the south island like a blanket (someone forgot that opossums have no natural enemies in New Zealand when they mindlessly introduced them to the islands) loved to sit on my porch and watch me curiously into the evenings through the patio door as I meditated with my candle. I always seemed to be drawn to animals for some reason, no matter where I found myself.

The cabin was hard to find during the day, let alone at night, when I had to climb the mountain in the dark to retreat. A few steps off the trail without a flashlight and you’d be done for, so I always kept spare batteries in my pocket, just in case.

The Wellington weather was worse than Washington State or Great Britain. The rain was intense, relentless, and usually came down sideways in sheets, making my overnight journey from the meditation hall up the mountainside to my cabin brave to say the least. Then one miserable night happened – halfway through my flashlight went out. I fumbled in my pocket for the spare batteries muttering, “Thank God, thank God,” but when I replaced them with the old ones. . . still no light. It was the bulb, and I didn’t have a spare.

I couldn’t make out a thing in the heavy rain and the inky forest. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face! So I was left with two choices, well, three, but I didn’t want to shout away; that wouldn’t be cool or dignified, and probably no one would hear me anyway. So I had two choices, really, and both were bad – either hunker down where I was for a cold, wet night, or grope through the woods. . .

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