I had no desire to visit Thailand and ended up staying over a month. The country’s grand reputation for tourism was a turn off and I felt I had enough to explore in the surrounding areas, but then I slipped through the cracks. The months leading to my stay at a Buddhist monastery in Southern Thailand, I encountered multiple people expressing their thoughts about attending a Vipassana meditation retreat. The recent repetition of Vipassana entering my life was a sign to investigate further and it was well worth it.
Wat Suan Mokkh, Chaiya, Thailand
Vipassana practices mindfulness with breathing and in order to accomplish this, the retreat requires ten days of no talking. Without speech true focus develops. The silence began the evening of orientation with ten whole days following and then on the eleventh morning speech resumed. Suan Mokkh’s website thoroughly explains all the details necessary. Here is a copy of the schedule to offer some clarification.
(With some modifications on Day 9 and Day 10)
||Wake up *** = Monastery bell
||Yoga / Exercise – Mindfulness in motion
||Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
||Breakfast & Chores
||Walking or standing meditation
||Lunch & chores
||Meditation instruction & Sitting meditation
||Walking or standing meditation
||Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
||Tea & hot springs
||Group walking meditation
(the gates will be closed at 21.15)
This retreat was difficult. The silence was not the challenge, but what accompanied it. No reading, no writing, no fun (literally) of any kind. Lying down was not allowed anywhere on the property to avoid napping, except one’s dorm. Computers, phones, books, any sort of entertainment, and writing materials were not allowed to avoid any distractions and strengthen the intention of being fully present.
Food was restricted to two vegetarian meals daily with an evening cocoa or tea. Portion control was appreciated to accommodate for the many mouths to feed as well. Plenty of warnings express that participants should be in full health and understand that basic living conditions apply. Moments of irritability and sickness may occur, as well as depression if not addressed.
My cement bed
The chanting was optional and seemed to offer an escape from the mind. I did not speak, but enjoyed basking in the group’s energy. The main attraction was listening to the monk leading. Easygoing and charismatic, the monk’s humor was odd and many of his stories made no sense; yet, an audience of smiles awaited his show every day. Usually misinterpretation from dry and confusing humor was what made it so entertaining, for me at least.
Hand washing laundry and chores became almost as appealing as a dip in the natural hot springs. I would slowly creep into the water, letting my body acclimate before going under. The temperature was scolding, but just tolerable, like a painfully pleasurable hot shower. I would float about staring at the branches directly above, flooding my ears to bring an absolute silence. I found it to be the most silent place on the property. A saving grace. Once the overwhelming heat snapped me back into consciousness, it was time to leave.
Meditation Hall 5
I will not lie. I was going crazy on the second day and it was because I tried to adhere to every rule and guideline suggested. Sometimes I was distracted with the false, embellished origins of my fellow colleagues, such as, Oliver “McFatts” Alabastar and Soufflé. Other times I would just daydream. Pizza cravings, dirty thoughts, and maybe a hundred dead mosquitoes and ants later; I concluded I am no Buddhist. To understand what I am not was the first step to recognizing what I am.
Observing the habits of veteran participants allowed me to loosen up as I witnessed different people do what was necessary to be comfortable. Outside of meditation and moments of true concentration, the inner voice was now a loudspeaker broadcasting news from every sense. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch; each incredibly enhanced. Heightened awareness, along with a solid yoga practice, brought peace and growth from day four on.
The Fortress of Solitude
Not speaking to anyone or being distracted for ten whole days really allows one to sift through the files and files of stored memory revealing limitless past, present and future thoughts, perceptions, and ideas. Good and bad arose, buried and forgotten under layers of accumulated bullshit from previous years. I hit a rocky spot on day seven, struggling to chisel through attachment. I was given a better shovel and resumed digging, overcoming the obstacle. I learned to cope with a past trauma and recognize the present. The past is done. Nothing can change that. One may dwell or move on.
Ease came the final days as a flow developed, but challenges still remained. Day nine was a self guided practice with only one substantial meal to fast as the monks do. When I was not wandering every step of the six acre property that I could, I claimed the bell tower as my Fortress of Solitude.
A certain respect strengthened each day as everyone stay committed. Over twenty five percent of participants dropped out by day ten and I understand why. It was not easy and while on the topic, try moving a gigantic pile of stones without talking to the fifty other guys shuffling about to assist. It was an organized chaos that stirred dirt and brewed sweat, offering our labor to the land for its generosity. Overall; complete satisfaction.
Koh Chang Island, Thailand
The silence ceased. Words were allowed, but I did not want to speak. Slowly, speech set in as bits slipped out here and there. “Hello.” “Good morning.” “Excuse me.”And then a discussion came about the delicious coconut sticky rice just served. And then questions, “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from? A discussion and debate about what we all just experienced broke out that only temporarily intrigued me. And like that it was as if we had never shut up. It was time to move on, hitchhiking my way to the coast for a few relaxing days on Koh Chang Island. Ah what a wonderful idea Linda and Loic. Thank you.
Loic playing in the sand.
In conclusion, I have discovered so much can be said without ever speaking a single word; all we need to do is just listen.