10 Days of Silence, Meditation and Monastic life

Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
Trip End Jan 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Wat Suan Mok

Flag of Thailand  , Surat Thani,
Sunday, April 11, 2010

In Western Culture we deal with emotion very reactively. When we are angry we count to ten, punch a pillow or seek Anger Management to learn how to control our anger. When we are sad or depressed we seek the shoulder of a friend or struggle to hide the emotion with medication at the cost of our health. When we are stressed we take drugs for anxiety or drink to get our minds off of things. Really, in Western society, we are victims of our emotion.
I urge everyone who reads this to seek a class or two in the practice of meditation. It doesn't matter if you are faithful to a certain religion, meditation is non-denominational, if anything it will help you grow closer to your beliefs. Meditation and mindfullness is such an important skill to have. With just a basic understanding of the practice, I am able to be proactive when a negative emotion enters my mind, and allow it to pass before it takes hold and I become a victim of it.

Meditation is simply training the mind. That's basically the root of the teachings of Buddha, to train the mind and reduce suffering. Of course there are philosophies attached, related to varying forms of Dualism, and then religious material often added by different sects of Buddhism, but none of that is really important. For the everyday person, learning how to meditate and train the mind is an invaluable skill. Afterall, we go to the gym to condition our body, we eat nutritious food to condition our health, we get an education to condition our intellect, it only makes sense that we meditate to condition our most valuable commodity, our mind.

The last 10 days have not been easy to say the least. While Buddhist monks have honed their meditation practice and trained their mind so well, for a beginner like myself, monastic life is not easy. The main principle of the 10 days is to train and quiet the mind. Like monks, they required us to have no mental stimulus, as dependency on such things can lead to suffering, (they really do, I suffered quite a bit without any stimulation such as music, sports, books because I am so used to it). It was like bootcamp for the mind. It was interesting how when I tried to meditate, my mind would seem to rush a million miles an hour coming up with the most random cravings, stringent memories or intense feelings of boredom. The more I tried to focus the more unruly my mind became. It was like training a puppy.

I enjoyed the lectures quite a bit. The first thing they told us was to not blindly believe anything they say, to try and experience it for ourselves and build our own belief system. I was immediately attracted to a religion that supports their belief system with empiricism rather than faith. Half of the lectures were done by the Thai Buddhist nuns who of course had all of the religious dogma of a Thai Theravada Buddhist such as ghosts, karma, reincarnation and an afterlife. The other half and my favorite half was done by a British, Athiest, Buddhist monk, an interesting combination to say the least. He had a way of teaching with such comical cynicism that it made the whole chamber laugh. His teachings of Buddhism were very down to earth, philisophical and really got to the nuts and bolts of what the Buddha actually taught, without the religious dogma that generally comes with this particular spiritual practice.

The day started at 4am. I had no book, guitar or any method to pass the time in between meditation sessions. What I can tell you is that there are 496 holes in my room, 984 rows of wood on the ceiling of the meditation hall, we spent 60 hours sleeping on a wood mattress with a wooden pillow, 40 hours listening to lectures from the monks, 20 hours practicing yoga, 30 hours eating and enjoying personal time, and we spent 90 hours in either sitting or walking meditation. Buddhist monks are only allowed to eat one meal after dawn and before noon. Luckily, with the exception of Day 9, we got both breakfast and lunch. Several of my friends expressed their concern with me losing weight or catabolizing from lack of nourishment, but not to worry, the food they served was some of the best homemade, fresh, Thai food that I've ever had, and it was all buffet style. Anyone who knows me knows that I am notoriously bad with buffets and I never know when to stop. Additionally with the fact that I was told that I would not be able to eat until the next day, let's just say that I was never hungry. In fact I'm suprised I didn't grow a camel hump on my back. The Monastery grounds were beautiful, filled with coconut groves and banana trees, Ponds and Hot springs. There were tons of places to meditate. The Toilets were all Thai style, and the showers were in the form of Bath houses. Now that I understand Thai toilets and bathhouses, it doesn't really make sense the way we do things in the West considering we are trying to "Go Green." I apologize for the quality of the photos. We were not allowed to take pictures during the retreat, but I snuck my camera in on the last day to photograph the area.

Anyway, it has been a long 10 days (11 actually). Today I am beginning the trek to Chiang Mai, supposedly the Thai culture and art captial and home to various rural hill tribes. It is over 800 miles away and I have no idea how to get there, because of the Thai New Year all of the busses and trains are completely booked, but where there is a will there is a way and there is certainly adventure to be had! It is in Chiang Mai that I will study the art of Thai Massage and cooking, assuming of course that I can scrape together the funds. After a few weeks of city life, its back to the jungle for the duration of my visa in a town north of Chiang Mai called Pai, a jungle rasta town similiar to Tonsai but on a mountainous riverside rather than a beach. After Pai, the country of Laos awaits!
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Ronda Coallier on

Bravo my sweet friend Bravo! What a wonderful adventure you are on. Thank you for your fantastic job of writing about your experience......I feel like a part of me has experienced it to. 10 days - silent - meditation - connecting ----- you must be bliss-ed out of your mind! I look forward to meditating with you when you get home. And a dinner of home cooked Thai food too! Big hugs! Bravo!

Michael Blum on

I've enjoyed your journaling and photos. Reminds me of my own year long "Quest" circumnavigating the globe at 25. Soak up every moment! As you noted, these are life defining experiences! Sa Wat Dee Kap my friend...

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