The Snooze Button
As any of my long-suffering bedfellows will tell you, I’m really not a morning person. It’s a Herculean labour simply to wake up and peel off the cocoon of sleep, and it takes even more time to sift through the cryptic dreams that have infected my sluggish brain. You want to talk to me before I’ve had my first coffee? Fine, but I hope you’ve prepared an amusing monologue.
So about ten years ago when the opportunity came up to live at a remote Buddhist monastery I wasn’t too concerned about the monks’ fanciful views on reincarnation or the fact that I wouldn’t be having sex for twelve months. What I was more worried about was their strict 5 a.m. wake-up call and whether or not I would last a whole year without murdering the little man who clanged the bronze bell as if a forest fire was breaking out each morning.
The monastery itself was hidden deep inside the Dharug national park, isolated from the nearest Hawkesbury town by miles of sandstone escarpment and a treacherous clifftop road. I felt carsick as I was driven along the track for the first time, and my queasiness was only made worse by the unnerving cries of dozens of black cockatoos.
“Do you know people have died taking a wrong turn up here?”
This was reported with unbridled glee by one of the resident monks who was in the back seat with me. To be fair he also pointed out the fern-clad valleys and towering eucalypts, but I was too busy gripping my stomach to care much about the astonishing view.
It was late when we arrived and dusk was settling over the motley collection of wooden sheds and rammed-earth huts. Grey-brown wombats were just starting to appear from their burrows while orange-robed monks were shutting themselves in for the night. “You’ll see the temple in the morning,” I was told, but at that point I didn’t really care one way or the other. I simply wanted to lay my head on a cool pillow and wipe the vomit from the side of my mouth.
The next morning I heard the vigorous clang of the bell for the first time and immediately wondered what the emergency was. I sat up in bed like a startled cat and jumped half naked out the door only to realise that this would be happening every morning for the next twelve months and that I’d better get used to it. The fact that I’d arrived in winter only made it worse, and a bleary-eyed dread would often creep over me as I fumbled in the cold blackness for my torch.
After a few weeks I found the only solution was to roll out of bed when I heard that monstrous, metallic sound and force myself outside to the rain tank where I would splash my face and chest with freezing water until I was shocked into wakefulness.It seemed to work, and gradually I stopped resenting the little man who clanged the bronze bell.
His name was Sujato and he was from a village in northern Thailand, and to my surprise we soon began walking to the temple together. I’m not sure how it first happened but one morning we must have found ourselves approaching the narrow dirt track at the same time and instead of politely allowing the other to forge ahead we chose to match each other’s stride and walk close together. There was never any chitchat as we walked, no ‘good morning’ or ‘how did you sleep’.
It was a walk of pure silence interrupted only by the crunch of our boots on some banksia twigs or the sound of Sujato sighing as he shone his torch on a spider web covered with dew.
In the weeks and months that followed it became a habit for him to wait for me each morning at the same point on the track so that we could amble to the temple together, and it’s the memory of his dawn silhouette that has stayed with me more than anything else, more than the endless days of meditation and chanting, more than the constant rounds of chopping wood and cooking and cleaning and composting.
I can now say with confidence that this was the only time in my life that I became a morning person, but now that I’m back in the city the magic has clearly worn off.
Bitch, where’s my goddamn coffee?