A Week in Rio
Dear Thay, Dear Sangha,
We returned yesterday from the mountain outside of Rio de Janeiro after a successful retreat with 40 members of the local sanghas. The landscape there is fascinating! Steep hills shaped like inverted parabolas support dense, lush green tropical forests. These are cut by dark cliffs and stream beds. I don't know the names for half of the plants here. And the birds are much more brightly colored than what we are used to in Deer Park--bright green parakeets, hummingbirds, and something like swallows with brilliant yellow chests. During the breaks between activities I enjoyed just sitting on my bed, opening the windows wide, and letting the lay of the land embrace me.
This week has been quite a learning experience. We met with a number of disadvantaged teenage boys who spend their mornings at a military sports training center. They were all very curious about these brown-robed monks who look like magical characters from a video game. We shared with them a number of games, like passing a blob around the circle, the human knot, and concentration-building games like remembering a movement that each person in the circle makes, and counting the number of times we invite the bell. Some of the boys had special skills, like capoeira training or hip-hop dancing expertise, that they demonstrated. We shared that developing a meditation practice can help them to hone these skills and much more. After the sharing together we practiced walking meditation around the beautiful grounds of the center, which is at the foot of the Sugarloaf Mountain. There was one former general we met along the way who was 103 years old, although he looked barely 70! His secret? "I wish happiness and health for everyone, no matter who they are." We also happened to pass by a gym were the recent gold-medalist Brazilian women's volleyball team was training. Before saying goodbye to the young boys we practice eating meditation with cake provided by Frieda, a local sangha member. They liked this, although it was difficult for them to practice mindful looking and smelling of the cake for a few seconds before putting it into their mouths. Goodbye after three hours together was surprisingly difficult. "When will we see you again?" one boy asked. I think we had individual pictures taken with almost half of the 30 boys there.
Later their English teacher told us, "These boys are surprisingly well-informed. Even though they are poor many have a computer, and most have a television. They even talk about Obama and how it would be good to have an African-American as the U.S. President."
The next day before the retreat we offered a public question-and-answer session at a small, quaint Presbyterian church downtown.
On Thursday afternoon a number of us mounted a rented bus headed to Teresopolis where the retreat would take place. As night fell the steep highway climb up into the mountains afforded us ominous views of the high, rounded peaks. It felt as if we were entering quite a distinct world from bustling Rio.
More on the retreat in the next post.