Warning: I don’t mean to scare you into not going to a Thailand Meditation Retreat but this is my personal experience with no sugar coating
These monks aren’t messing around.
It’s been 14 days and they finally, yet reluctantly, are releasing me.
I thought I knew what I was getting into since I sat a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation course before. I was so wrong.
Starting with day 1, I was screaming in the inside wanting to leave the very second it started.
The monk of foreign affairs sets the tone “You are at temple now. No talking, no missing your boyfriend, you miss your boyfriend you go home. You at temple. Open heart, accept, ACCEPT” he shouts. I think of Jonas riding away on his motorbike…come back…
The day progresses like this with the monk of foreign affairs running all over the place and trying to break us in. He takes us to the temple library where we begin our practice. He’s yelling so much I’m getting frustrated and stare at the wall. “You! Listen!”
He keeps us practicing until 10pm, setting us each up with our own timer and meditating for 15 minute intervals, beep-beeping into the night.
Day 2. Morning bell at 4am. I share a room with an Italian girl until a private room frees up. I’ve slept in until 5:30am and luckily she wakes me. The lot of us new meditators groggily practice in the library until the breakfast bell at 6:30 am. My tummy is grumbling and I can’t wait for breakfast. I get to the cafeteria and eagerly get in line. I’m served a hot bowl of rice in spicy broth with a spoonful of MSG. I’m starving and bow to Buddha 3 times then wait for the green light to gulp down the bowl. Then the chanting begins. 20 minutes and one cold bowl of rice later and we are allowed to eat. I struggle through the bowl and glance at the other new meditators. The 7 of us Westerners and the 3 Chinese sitting amongst the local Thai all have frowns on.
I can see this won’t be easy.
We continue meditating until lunch. I get a plate of food that I can’t name or decipher what is what. There’s these funny squishy white cashew shaped objects in a brown sauce. I sit down on the floor on my little mat and wait for the chanting to begin. We chant that we must contemplate the food before eating it, the food isn’t for beauty, not for taste, not for satisfaction, not for supporting the physical body but simply to continue our life. The other new meditators all have bags full of yoghourt that they bought at the temple shop (yes the temple has a shop full of dried snacks, yoghourts, even ice cream and coke). I tell myself I will make it without buying anything from the temple shop. I will eat the food that is served without craving of any taste or nutrition just like the chants insist.
So the course progresses like this meditating or struggling from 4am until 10 pm. Break for breakfast, break for lunch, and evening “tea”. The monk of foreign affairs told us we should drink the tea at 6pm when it’s cold and Thai people at 4:30pm when it’s hot. So I go ahead and listen to him and go for the cold tea at 6. I get to the the big pot outside and lift the lid to see what’s inside. It’s black and kind of soapy. The German girl and I peer in. She decides to pass. I grab a cup. So it’s not as bad as it looks. It’s the broth from some beans that were boiled and they added some sugar to it. Would be better hot.
I meditate in a frustrated haze for the first couple of days. My body is struggling with the food. To say the least, my poop is green. But I’m alive and I signed myself up for this. I have to remind myself this. I wanted to come here. I’ve been thinking about it for months, there’s a reason I’m here. I need this.
Every day we meet the abbot of the monastery, Pra Ajahn Suphan in the royal temple court as I like to call it. One by one we approach the Buddha statue and prostrate 3 times, then crawl over to the Pra and bow three times.
“Namaskan Pra Ajahn Suphan”
“Sawatdeeeee Alexandra. How are you? How is your staaate of mind? Miss America *chuckles*”
“I am falling asleep a lot today and have many crazy thoughts”
“Are you crazy? Okay, more practice! 12 hours is the standard. More aware, more awake.”
That’s that. Back to practice.
By day 6, my spirit is broken and I have finally opened my heart to the meditation. I had a complete breakdown crying out of the temple and a kind monk gave me his phone to call my boyfriend.
The wheel of Dhamma. They say practicing one day of meditation is better than living 100 years without.
Meditation is better and I am understanding the practice. It is similar to what I learned before but with a slightly different technique. The monks have great ancient knowledge and I feel honoured to get this opportunity to practice here and learn. I actively meditate for the next 4 days. Thoughts come in less and less and when they do, my mind doesn’t wander with them. I feel like I’m on the right path. I relax for a couple minutes after my meditation. The monk of foreign affairs happens to walk in and catches me “YOU! Meditate!!” Okay back to meditation.
During the rest of the 2 weeks, it is a complete roller coaster. I become more accepting and less resistant some days, other days the food is too much and I cave and buy an emergency yoghourt, sometimes my meditation is so intense I feel nauseous and want to vomit, and then there’s the few moments of peace and quiet – no thoughts in my head just quiet and I experience what the Buddhists call “not-self”.
All together, it is an experience I will never forget. It was a beautiful way to experience genuine Thai culture; I loved watching the Thai people bow to and feed the trees with mugs of water, moments like when the Abbot of the temple played with a huge dung beetle or when he offered me a yoghourt on a golden tray.
It was very difficult and requires a lot of discipline even for an old student. For people wanting to learn about meditation and practice Vipassana for the first time, I might recommend going to a Goenke Vipassana Meditation Center. There is more explanation and guidance to help you through. The Chiang Mai Thailand meditation retreat I saw really working for some who came with an open heart and were completely self-disciplined in their practice. If you are disciplined and strong, try the Thailand meditation retreat but just please, if you have a bad experience, don’t get turned off by meditation! I saw so many new students come and just leave completely confused, misguided and scared of meditation.
Most of all, be happy!
- Wat Ram Poeng, 13km from Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand
- Take the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
- Cost of course: Donation, plus 300 baht fee for opening ceremony flowers, incense and candles
- Bring 2-3 pairs of white covering clothes, plenty of plain white undergarments and scarf (for women) or rent for 400 baht