‘You Only Lose What You Cling To’

Said Buddha

The “empty chair” representation in early (Theravada) Buddhism.

I was front row in the Shrine Room, eyeball to spectacle lens with the chief nun and her big spongy microphone.

The setting could scarcely have been better: a beautiful gold Buddha, scent of the Gods, a lovely warm room full of eager acolytes.

The chanting started, line by line from The Chanting Book.

A rich, heady, heavy atmosphere of something covered the room, sheet-like, a bit like being in a Starbuck’s Eggnog ad or how I would imagine Zooey Deschanel smells when placed in a tumble dryer.

I looked from the book to nun, nun to book, eagerly attempting to spot her head stubble while chanting somewhere other than a football ground for the first time in my life.

I had come on a ten-day silent retreat to clear my head of a great deal of noise that followed an operation I’d had a month earlier.

The healing journey of a sliced and medievally explored testicle was a new one for me, and seemed ideally suited to a period of inner contemplation and mild brainwashing.

The medication for that gave me insomnia, so a Buddhist bong at 5 AM didn’t seem like too much of a problem; I would be awake anyway, just not watching Tantrums and Tiaras in the all-male dormitory.

The lovely Dalai Llama lookie-likey, close enough for me to be a Chinese hit man with a poison dart in my Tamagotchi key ring, continued softly.

Breathe, feel the breathing, let your breath gain rhythm and relax.

Loaded with a special Diazepam genital trauma calming bonus, the hypnotic chants and Deschanel neck scent had added impact on me.

And considerable impact for the fat Asian woman next to me, who suddenly found my drowsy face in her cushioned crotch.

"Let’s try moving you a bit further back next time," suggested Patrice, a barefoot smiley helper. Different woman, same result.

Still smiling, they decided that having a novice chanter going down on the regulars was going to be an issue three times in a row.

So they suggested a chair.

Lovely, cushion, chair, rug, twenty minutes later all upturned on the floor with me emerging semi-conscious like a Spike Island picnicker.

I asked for a get-together with the boss, the chief nun; she was lovely, Scottish, and eager for me to get the most out of the retreat, but I needed to ‘stay upright.’

The answer to my plight was another chair next to my chair, full of cushions as ballast with a wooden kneeling stool as a brake.

No challenge for my pharma-karma as we all hit the deck together, loudly.

My fellow slit-lipped retreaters were incensed enough as it was.

Oxygen fled from the atmosphere, replaced by a Duty-Free Cosmetics & perfume shop levels of patchouli, sandalwood, and myrrh coiling from dozens of wooden tongue depressors.

The cosy Shrine Room choked, from jute-covered floor to 1970s vintage, flame receptive polystyrene tiles with propellants, creating a reasonable impression of industrial revolution in its heyday.

Despite the best work of the tongue depressors still, no-one said, ‘aaahhh’; the fumes were doing their joss stick magic.

But one thing I was learning about Buddhism, aside from the fact that gruel and prunes at 7 AM is quite nice, is that quitting is not in its bible, chant book, or whatever.

The entire complex was forensically turned upside down by orange-robed skinheads until they found the answer — a chair with arms.

It was a perfect ‘why didn’t we think of that before?' solution. Sadly, I lolled instead of falling, a final solution beckoned.

The raisin-eyed German cook perched on cushions behind me, gimlet finger poised to poke my lowest rib at the first sign of intoxication.

It worked.

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‘You Only Lose What You Cling To’
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