At the retreat, Phra Mana and his fellow Thai "forest monks" - fine and remarkable men who built the pagoda at left starting with no skills, no stone and no schekels - had me meditate for many hours to train and clear the mind and, then, see things for what they are.
Let me say this: it's a mind that needs clearing in the way an old cat lady's house does. The gear it regularly slips into is some combination of dishevelment, short-termism and a reasonable amount of optimism.
It reminds me of the Bowery bums of my youth who used to smear stuff on your windscreen to get you to give them a buck to clean it off - and somehow managed to still mostly be endearing. Sometimes.
Today, we took my Lebowski-like noggin and Miss Suzi to vegetable dumplings and (accidently ordered) steamed BBQ pork buns at a Shanghainese restaurant in Eastwood. It's there that I really learned the monks' lesson about attachment, and all the angst it causes us, and, with clear mind and vision, letting go, and all the calm it gives us.
Or, to quote that British Buddhist master, Mick Jagger, "you can't always get what you want."
I really wanted these dumplings. I'd thought about having a serving at retreat. I specifically looked stuff up on Al Gore's Internet. I invested in a fantasy about some luscious morsels that would somehow make my day and my existence on this planet all the better.
I had many expectations and, as I've heard from a friend, "expectations are pre-meditated resentments."
Indeed, what we got were dumplings - not some new lease on life or even a discount on my car insurance policy. A workmanlike serve of veggie ones with a finely-chopped blend of buk choy, baby bean sprouts, fungus, a touch of carrot and something else we couldn't figure out. Nicely constructed parcel of two chambers within the one overall piece.
Bottom line: in the pantheon of great Chinese dumplings available in Sydney, they were good not great.
And, my monkey-like mind - in full chimpanzee mode - went straight to all that really helpful monologue: why'd I waste my time and money; we coulda gone across the road to that other joint with the Korean mandu; what the hell do I write about now...
Then, I got lucky. I somehow managed to hit the pause button. I listened to myself breathe. I had another bite. I realised something.
It's aniseed, that thing we couldn't figure out. Wow, that's pretty cool.
Then, I saw the Chinese couple at the table next to us using their oblong spoons to capture the soup from their xia long bao, Shanghainese soup dumplings. Wow, that's pretty cool.
Then, I heard love in my wife's comment: "Do you want to order something else for art's sake?"
By that time, I actually didn't want for much.
Or as Monk Mick continued to say: "But if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need."