Monday, 26 August 2013

Shwe Lan Excerpt: Rainy Season

The Meditator Guidebook to Burma is in its final stages! As the guide gets closer to publication, we will begin to share excerpts of what yogis may expect... some sneak previews of what is to come. Here is an excerpt from our Weather section, and this describes what mediators can expect from Rainy Season:
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Hot and Wet (e.g. “Rainy”) Season (June-October)

“Every year from February to May the sun glared in the sky like an angry god, then suddenly the monsoon blew westward, first in sharp squalls, then in a heavy ceaseless downpour that drenched everything until neither one’s clothes, one’s bed nor even one’s food ever seemed to be dry.” George Orwell, Burmese Days

As the Burmese proverb goes, two things you can’t control are the rain and bulls (Nwa tho hnin, mo aso ma ya) and Myanmar has both in heavy supply. During rainy season, the dry heat recedes as the first monsoons hit land, and a heavy humidity makes its return to daily life. The open sky provides some relief and brings refreshing winds, but the heat is by no means evaporated. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi once wrote, “The word ‘monsoon’ has always sounded beautiful to me, possibly because we Burmese, who are rather inclined to indulge in nostalgia, think of the rainy season as most romantic.”

Again, what does this mean for the meditator? As one might expect, moving around during this season can be rather inconvenient, as afternoon drenchings are pretty much a sure thing, and can come with only a few minutes’ warning. If you’re planning to move around and see many sites, or are staying in a place where you need to walk under open air from one place to another, you’ll have to brave the rains. But if you are planning to stay in one place for an extended period, have a good roof overhead, and don’t mind the leeches and frogs that will make their appearance, then you’ll be in good stead for your own rains retreat. For those cave-dwellers, keep in mind that this is the worst season to spend significant portions of the day sleeping or sitting in caves, for the dampness that the moisture brings can be dangerous to your health.

There are some perks to planning a dhamma trip during the rains. This is considered the traditional time that monks spend in serious meditation, so it may provide some inspiration to be here during these days. Additionally, you’ll have less other visitors to contend with than during winter.

As for what one especially needs during this season, what would first come to mind are quick-drying garments and additional changes of clothes. A large umbrella and hooded rain jacket and rain pants also won’t hurt. If you’re sensitive to breezes, you may want some long-sleeves and a light windbreaker. Sandals more sturdy than flip-flops are recommended, for roads can become quite slippery and flowing water can sometimes come in force.

Traveler, yogi, and monk aside, how do the rains affect local life? This can be evinced from the rather unlikely Burmese proverb “the black face will weep and the dead shall come to life.” When unpacked, the phrase refers to the black monsoon clouds that pour out their contents on a parched land, allowing the dead vegetation and hibernating animals (such as frogs) to show their life once again and the country’s rivers to again flow with bountiful water. Burmese author Hpone Thant expands on this local scene: “The land will once more be green again. Vast acres of paddy fields to feed the people of Myanmar and to fill the granaries with food. Typical scenes at these times would be a solitary farmer behind a pair of oxen tilling his land under the lashing rains, his dear wife and children waiting under the shade of the big rain tree, waiting for him to finish his work and join them for lunch. A simple farmers’ lunch, nothing elaborate. Heaps of steaming rice, a lump of ngapi, a clear veggie soup made from the vegetables found on the land near their modest hut… Unless the young paddies are planted carefully they might not ripen into golden stalks heavy with rice grains. Their songs float on the air despite the heavy monsoon rains that pelt them mercilessly. The peals of thunder and streaks of lightning forming a perfect background to their singing. Those would be the typical scenes in all the farming communities in Myanmar. And nights would be filled with the sounds of the frogs, came back to life.” Children love it too, as the common ditty “we shall play in the rains” (Moe Ywa Yin Moe Yay Cho Mae) attests to.
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“The rain may be limited to certain seasons… and it may not rain for days on end, but when it does rain you really know about it. This rain is a primeval thing. The clouds gather, dark and ominous and then they open. They open wide. Being caught in this sort of rain is like someone upending buckets of water over your head—one after another. The water hurls itself towards the earth with a force that means that close to the ground there is as much water bouncing up as there is coming down. But after a short while, at least for routine downpours, the scene is transformed, the sun comes out, everything steams for a while and ten minutes later you would not know there had been any rain.” Patrick Forsyth, Beguiling Burma

“Sunsets on the river were spectacular, especially since we were not yet out of the monsoon season. There were enough clouds in the sky to provide a canvas for the sun’s palette of scarlet, gold, mauve, and vermillion. At one turn of the river on our first day out, the water was as smooth as a mirror, placid and silken, as it reflected the brilliant evening colors.” Ma Thanegi, Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy


A stormy day over the pagoda at The Phyu Taw Ya Monastery in Hmawbi