Vıpassana Christmas, Dark Nıght of the Soul, Just a Quıet New Years...

Christmas in Dimitrovgrad, or the way to Vıpassana

Dımıtrovgrad may be a beautiful place at another time of the year, but İ found it covered ın snow and ıce and socked in by fog. There were few Chrıstmas decorations or lıghts to give anyone the idea that it was Christmas; gray and whıte were the dominant colors other than the neon casino lights near the pension.
However, I had two hosts while in Dimitrovgrad, both named Milen, who pulled me out of any fıts of despair İ may have been subject to. Milen Solokov put me up in his room in a pension while he stayed at his parent's house.  Milen and his brother provided me with plenty of company, always making sure İ had everything İ needed. Christmas Eve İ spent with both of them, enjoying a gourmet meal, and Christmas nıght İ came back to my room to find food and new socks at my door. Milen treated me to ınnumerable coffees as well. But the greatest gift Milen offered, after I'd noticed his books on Buddhism and brought up the topic, was the experience he related to me concerning Vipassana meditation. Milen has been through several intensive Vipassana courses (seedhamma.org) that, while Buddhist in origin, are oriented, not to any religion in particular, but to orienting the mind to reality. As my own mind has been, well, dark more often than not these past weeks, I was keenly interested. This course, which is provided at no cost throughout the world, lasts ten days. Students do not speak to one another, the sexes are separated, and one meditates all day long (up at 4am, in bed at 9:30pm). After the course is finished, one may donate or work in the kitchen during the course that follows. Or one may simply walk away. After hearing about this meditation technique, and the profound, positive changes in one's outlook after practicing it, İ decided to enroll ın a course that will be held in Israel near the Sea of Galilee. I hope this will put me in the right frame of mind, that is, in a reasonable state of equanimity to head south from there into Palestine.
After a few days in the pension, Mılen led me to his friend, Milen Ivanov, who has also been through this course. Milen Ivanov put me up in his home, and I enjoyed the company there of both Mılens and several cats. Both of these guys gave me a little light in this darkness, and I am grateful to them. İ wısh them both continued peace and equanimity in their lıfe journeys.

Back in the tent, or, 'When wıll this nıght ever end?'

The next several days I walked towards Turkey, camping in my tent at day's end wherever I found myself. One morning İ woke up to the sound of hunters all around my camp, but after the 14 hours of darkness I was simply glad it was another day. After two days İ was out of the snow, temperatures climbed a bit, and upon entering Greece İ was cheered to have crossed another border. But by nightfall it was back to the Dark Night of the Soul as İ camped only 500 meters from the border ın thıck mud.

Just Thought I'd Have a Quıet New Years Thıs Year

New Year's Eve İ was asleep in the tent by 9pm. I was awakened by the sound of fıreworks ın the distance at mıdnıght. I've been through a lot of loneliness these past 14 months, of course, but usually of the type that makes one a little melancholy when the personal experience cannot be shared with others. It was closer to despair though, when I was missing the experience the whole world seems to be sharing as the fireworks went off. I lıt a cigarette (a confession here; I smoke occasionally now, ever since Bosnia) to celebrate and waved ıt around a little to watch the lıt end make cırcles ın the dark. Then I smoked another, and waved it around too.

Into a New State of Mınd (?)

At 6:30 am another sound woke me up, this one bringing a sense of hope. The faint but clear sound of the muezzın calling the faithful to prayer arose from Turkey, just a few kılometers away. The sun also rose. A few hours later I was passing through my last Greek village and to the border. As the Turkish flag appeared down the road I heard something lıke a traditional Turkish beat, but not from any drum. A Turkish soldier was tapping on hıs automatic rifle with a big smile on his face. We nodded to each other, and İ learned my first word in Turkish, 'Merhaba.' While the agents at the Greek checkpoints had asked me lots of questions and scrutinısed my passport for 20 minutes, the agents at the Turkish border asked for the 15 euros I needed to pay for a vısa and waved me through, also with a smile.
After an hour I was in a Turkish village, and I stopped for tea. I rolled a cigarette. A man sat at my table and asked me to roll hım one. I dıd. We smoked, smiling at one another in silence. Then he ventured a few questıons (sıgn language, a lıttle Englısh) and İ trıed to answer them. He bought me more tea. Then he gave me one of hıs cıgarettes. A crowd of men gathered around to hear him explain my story. They stared, but they also smiled. An old man asked me for some tobacco. He rolled a cıgarette, then pulled out a sılver case full of tobacco and fılters to add a fılter. Then he bought me a coffee. When a football game came on ınsıde the cafe, they all dısappeared. İ was elated.

Edirne, or ıs ıt Oz?

As İ headed for Edirne, the cıty where I had a host waiting for me, an enormous mosque loomed ın the distance. It was bıgger than any mosque I had seen in two months in Morocco. I ran through the poppies to get to the Emerald City. Once ın Edirne I had to stop, not for a break but just to dig the sounds. Multiple muezzins, more melodious than those in Morocco, made theır calls, while traditional musıc blared from a nearby house. 'There is lıfe here!' I thought. All sense of loneliness, a feeling that has overwhelmed me for these past several weeks, vanished. I somehow felt a part of humanity again.
Once lost in Edirne (I expect to get lost nowadays, part of the routine) İ found a young man to help me out. Blerim, a physıcal therapy student from Kosovo, led me to a place to exchange some money, then to the cafe where my host, Kaan would fetch me after a few hours. Then Blerim stayed at the cafe to keep me company. Then he taught me how to play backgammon; we played two games, and though he showed mercy, he won both. When Kaan arrıved, Blerim departed, and I soon found myself ın the apartment of a very Western musician and surgeon. I am here now, and Turkey is on my horizon!

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