This was my roommate and his name is Eric, from Paris. I met Eric on the 14th of November around evening time, but I met all of his belongings a few hours before.
It was a bit like the first day of college dormitory assignment day, where he had gotten there earlier and had claimed his bed and drawer space, before the latecomer roommate (Me). I had no problem with this, as I was just so happy that we didn’t have to share a bathroom with anyone else. Before he claimed that he is a bit all over the place with his belongings and clothing, I had sensed that upon arrival. Early disclaimer, none of this bothered me. In fact, the first conversation topic before we went silent was Eric assuring me that “I’m a bit messy, so please tell me when it bothers you.” I told him that this it was ok so far and that I would let him know. Already, I was so grateful that I was sharing this space with someone considerate who was not afraid of open and upfront communication.
Our beds were literally a two meters apart from each other, separated by a tiny desk and a nightstand (and this was the deluxe room). I told Eric that I’m completely new to Buddhism and that I came here for the “silent meditation” component. He, amongst many other practitioners of Buddhism were surprised that myself and others in the minority such as myself had dedicated to a month long Buddhist retreat. I told him how I practiced yoga and really wanted the silence and to improve my meditation sitting practice. So we silently somehow agreed that there would be none or limited conversation between us. This is how it proceeded, with very minimal dialogues and a few written communications, which involved him asking me how I was or offering each other a cookie, chocolate or tea. Honestly, we roomed together in peace with almost no verbal communication.
To be quite honest, this was one of the most successful and unique living situations I’ve experienced. The moment I felt the place was getting to be untidy, I saw Eric sweeping the dust out of our room. The toilet paper was running out, one of us provided it before the other one had a chance. He was allergic to peach, so I drank his peach flavored tea and bought us strawberry instead. The toilet seat was always washed and cleaned, the hot water switch was always turned on before our shower times, and we even knew when to care for each other silently when we had the flu. One day I was having a horrible day of wanting to leave and I came home to a note asking how I was and Eric offering me his share of chocolate, since he’s lactose intolerant and likely thought I could use it that day. On another day, I saw Eric’s discomfort in class, so I offered my tiger balm and some yoga stretches.
Eric even took my white scarf to offer and get blessed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche upon his arrival, when I was not feeling well and fell asleep before the ceremony.
Our living situation was nothing short of harmonious. Even though we both saw each other breaking silence with other participants (he was not actively silent for most of the retreat, while I wore my yellow ribbon more often signifying that I was maintaining it), we respected each other’s needs and wants. But, there was something that I wanted that I didn’t get until the last day.
On day 1, I saw Eric had brought a ziploc full of Yogi Tea, with lovely messages (in French) that he left behind on the kitchen counter every morning. One of the vows we took at the monastery was not to steal (or take what is not offered).I realized that he had brought enough to last him the retreat. So, I just tried reading the messages in French and translating it with my knowledge of Spanish. Most I understood and also took te benefit of these positive affirmations.
On the last day, as I was packing up to leave and Eric was there helping me take my baggage to the front. All of a sudden he offered me two Yogi Teabags for the road. I didn’t tell him the story about how I was covering his tea for the first few days and thought it would be better told in writing. Today, I enjoy the Ginger Lemon tea.
Acknowledge that the other is you
That we did, I believe and I couldn’t have gotten a better message to solidify and summarize our living situation. In Buddhist teachings as well, we were asked many times to think of ourselves as the “other” rather than the “I”. Upon doing that we are able to acknowledge that every person out there should receive the compassion and kindness that we offer ourselves.
Thank You Eric for acknowledging me as you, even if it was in utter silence.