Two crackers and Jam: My ten days off struggle and discovery on a Sri Lankan monostary.

Patrick Westöö
20 min readOct 6, 2021

It was almost 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I had been looking forward to this moment the whole day. There were few “joys” in this monastery but this was one of them. It was the last meal of the day. Meal is to say a lot since it was nearly a bite. Enough to give you something but not enough to fill you up. The standard was three water biscuits and jam. It was an absolute treat and I loved these water biscuits way more than I should have. My unknown dining mate normally saved his for breakfast. I would always look at him carefully putting his crackers away in a napkin for safe keeping. I sat with him three times a day, knew his eating habits but nothing else about this stranger.

As I walked into the dining hall this day something was off, I was smelling curry. I hated curry. Panic was spreading in my body as I took off my flip flops at the entrance and made it into the dingy dining hall. As I pick up my metal plate and cup and head towards the end of the hall my suspicions are confirmed, rice and curry our standard meal, is on the menu today. My face drops and I’m about to cry. I am thinking what cruel joke they are playing on us. One of the tenets of this retreat is not to get too attached as attachment leads to fear of loss and misery. Right on, I was thinking, but taking away my crackers that’s just cruel. I’m probably on day 4 or so of the retreat and it’s really tough, and I need my water biscuits. This was not going to be a good day.

My journey to this retreat started long before in a bus towards the Mountain View complex, the sprawling Google campus that sits 2 hours by commute from San Francisco. I was on my way back during a business trip and listening to a Sam Harris podcast about meditation. The author of a book called “Why Buddhism is true” was on. He was telling Sam that he heard all about this meditation stuff and decided to give it a go. Everyone said there was something there so he had to try. He said it blew his mind. Right then and there I made up my mind that I should try this as well.

2 years later as I was on my way in the taxi towards the monestary I am starting to think this was a stupid idea. As we are slowly moving towards the centre along the winding roads of the Sri Lankan central highlands I am…