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2010 Travel Diary #29: Daewonsa – the 9 o’clock meditation

Thursday 6 May. I’m not sure if the monks do their 108 bows every day. If they do, we did not see it because we did our bows in a separate chapel. And if they do, I’m sure they don’t listen to that CD when they’re doing it.

But I was expecting the 9 o’clock bell and meditation to be a communal experience. As it turned out, it was an activity designed solely for their temple stay guests, of whom there were just the three of us.

We gathered in the courtyard as instructed. Neunghae Sunim had brought crash-mats, blankets and tea for us, for this was to be a deluxe meditation. I had brought my iPhone with me so that I could record the temple bell. But under Neunghae’s watchful eye I didn’t feel able to get it out of my pocket. I had to be doing this meditation thing properly.


First, we have to sit on the mats cross-legged, keeping our backs as straight as possible, and look back in on ourselves. And we wait for the temple bell to sound. The mellow rings possess us, but this time, the bell is only struck three times and the experience was over before we had time to savour it to the full.

After a while, Neunghae instructs us to lie down, and she covers us in the blankets. Very cosy. I feel myself drifting off, lulled by the sound of the river below and the rustling leaves above.

Suddenly, something drops onto the mat beside me from the tree. I wonder what sort of bug it is. What sort of bugs live up in the mountains and drop on you from trees? Probably big scary ones with thick shells. Something else drops. I want to turn to investigate what they are, but I’m meant to be meditating. I want to smash them with my fist (or more realistically, my shoe), but during the course of the 108 bows I have just repented of all the creatures I have needlessly killed in my life, and I don’t want to have to repent all over again so soon. I wait for the bugs to start crawling on my face, and a sequence from a Korean movie flashes before my mind’s eye, where in a brutal training session the North Korean agents have to stay motionless as a scorpion crawls over them. Was it the opening title sequence of Shiri, or was it a brief scene-setter in that exotic but rather dreadful early Lee Young-ae film, Inshallah? Of one thing I’m sure: conducting your own personal Korean Film trivia quiz is not what you’re supposed to be doing when you’re meant to be meditating.

But the bugs, or whatever they are, don’t crawl on my face, and my thoughts drift off somewhere peaceful again. All too soon, Neunghae is back, pouring us some refreshing tea from a thermos flask. It was a pleasant, dreamlike experience, and now it’s time to retire for bed.

I’m sharing my rather palatial guest room with Yoseph, while Morgan has one to herself. After figuring out which bits of bedding are meant for lying on and which are meant as coverings, Yoseph elects for some mutual privacy and occupies the kitchen area. We perform a touching little grooming ritual, removing Mrs Mayor’s acupuncture pins from each other’s skulls, before we turn in for the night. Yoseph, perhaps missing elements of the real world down in the valley and back in Seoul, watches an episode of his favourite TV drama on his media player, while I try to sort out some notes. But soon sleep calls. We turn out the lights and relish the luxurious warmth of the underfloor heating.

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