How to lose your mind in 10 days...Part 2
Trip Start Apr 04, 2012
10Trip End Jul 23, 2012
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Where I stayed
After breakfast we read through the terms and conditions and signed up for the next 10 days. The terms and conditions were something like this:
§ No talking at any time.
§ Do not bring food on site.
§ Only eat the provided two meals a day, 8 am breakfast and 12:30 lunch.
§ Do not go in to the other genders dormitory or stand around directly outside of it.
§ Attend all meditation and yoga sessions.
§ Do not lie down except when you are in your bedroom and do not face the soles of your feet in front of you, especially when there is a monk present. The Thais see the sole of your foot being the lowest part of your body and therefore it is extremely rude to point this at others.
§ Keep your knees and shoulders covered.
§ Women must bathe in a sarong and men in shorts.
The rules continued and were placed on notice boards all around the retreat and already before the first day had even started it felt like I was back at school. I started to feel a bit apprehensive about the whole thing but kept telling myself it would be worth it in the end. I was most worried about only having two meals a day with there being a gap of 19 hours between lunch and breakfast. I was also slightly dreading being woken at 4am every morning for a 17 hour day. I didn't anticipate having any problems with being silent and to tell the truth hadn’t even really thought about the fact that I’d be sitting in an upright position for about 10 hours every day. This is something I realise I should have thought about before going ahead with it, but I think my mind was too focused on the lack of food and the varieties of animals that could come in to my room.
We were pre-warned at registration that snakes had been spotted every now and then, but they shouldn’t go in to the rooms. A cobra was a rare sight but to keep your eyes out at night. Also scorpions were not so rare and had been spotted in the bedrooms. If these were found we were to remove them with a pot and piece of card, whilst not talking and also not killing them because that was another breach of the rules. Once again mosquito nets with holes in them were provided, as were wooden pillows and straw mats, and holes in the walls. As I was placing plasters over all the holes in my mosquito net I started to wonder if they were just doing this to test us. They made it very easy for all these animals to get in to our rooms and the monks that worked here lived in concrete bungalows that looked like the Hilton in comparison to our cells. Or had the paranoia kicked in already?
Day 1’s schedule was identical to every other day at the retreat. It went like this:
4:00 am – Big bell wakes you up.
4:30 am – Sitting meditation.
5:30 am – Yoga
7:15 am – Sitting meditation
8:00 am – Breakfast and Chores
8:30 – 10:00 am – Free time
10:00 am – Dhamma Talk
11:00 am – Walking meditation
11:45 am – Sitting meditation
12:30 pm – Lunch and chores
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm – Free time
2:30 pm – English monk talk
3:30 pm – Walking meditation
4:15 pm – Sitting meditation
5:00 pm – Chanting and love and kindness meditation
6:00 pm – 7: 30 pm - Hot chocolate and hot springs
7:30 pm – Sitting meditation
8:15 pm – Group-walking meditation
9:00 pm – Bedtime
9:30 pm – Lights out
Day 1 was fine for me. Our silence had started just before bedtime the previous night, so it was a day of getting used to all the changes. Every session was something new and different and even though nobody could talk you could feel the excitement in the meditation hall from all the newcomers.
We used one hall for all the sitting meditation, where men were sat to the left and women to the right. There was a straw sack laid out on the floor, covered with an empty pillowcase. Then most people would sit with one or two big pillows under their bottom and one smaller pillow in front to rest their legs on which in most cases were crossed.
For me Day 1 was over in a flash and then it was on to day 2.
On day 2 a few people left the retreat for reasons that were unknown to the rest of us. The only way you could really tell was by the empty cushions in the meditation hall. It was almost like Big Brother, where they were never heard of again.
We were told that today or tomorrow will be the day we would hit our rock bottom but that we should try to get through it and make the full 10 days. We were being told a lot of stuff at the different talks that was difficult to grasp. We were told that we wont be able meditate at the end of 10 days here, and it will take years to accomplish and still many do not succeed. That to be a good Buddhist we have to do what we are being told and give up our own thinking. To think many thoughts means that you have a busy mind and we need a quiet mind to get through this crazy world. We must not think, we must not have desires; we must not have goals for our life. We will not be able to meditate if we want to meditate, we must not desire to do so otherwise it will never happen. I couldn’t grasp this at all, it was like I was trying to trick my mind into not wanting to meditate but if I didn’t want to I wouldn’t be here in the first place.
We should not turn food into a desire, as it is a necessity. To love other people is a trick of the mind; a busy mind and we must escape this. Once we start to meditate properly, our world will be turned upside down. We will no longer want to listen to music, watch movies, and things like travel and beautiful sunsets will seem mundane to us, so much so that you will wonder why you ever found it interesting. You will need to completely reassess your life and the people within it.
I was starting to really dislike the way that they were teaching this meditation course. I felt like they were trying to convert us to Buddhism, which is something that was never outlined at registration day. I was here to learn how to meditate because I am a really big over thinker and sometimes it would be nice to control that. I wasn’t here because I hated my life or wanted to change it in some way. I wasn’t here to get over any issues or to run away. They made it clear every day that you will only be able to meditate if you have bad issues in your life that you need to overcome. I couldn’t fully identify with a lot of the things they were telling us which made trying to meditate under their supervision extremely difficult. In contrast to all this they were telling us, we were only given one tip on how to meditate. I’ll save you the forty quid and reveal this, which I’m sure you can find out in any meditation textbook anyway.
The meditation course was called mindfulness through breathing.
The tip was to identify with your breathing. To hear and feel the tip of your nose when you inhale and feel it go all the way down to your stomach and then all the way back up to your nose or mouth when exhaling. Apart from my asthma suffering from all the breathing I was trying desperately to do I could identify with the breathing and I meditated a couple of time for about 10 or 20 seconds at a time. I think this may have been beginners luck though because it never happened again.
We were told that our minds get bored easily and we would start to have a lot of thoughts going around in our heads around day 2 or day 3 but we should tell ourselves to stop thinking when we noticed we were and to go back to concentrating on our breathing. By day 3 everyone looked like zombies. Walking around aimlessly, slowly and with no passion. We couldn’t talk but everyone started to look really fed up, people would shuffle around in the meditation hall more than before and there were just a small handful of people that still seemed interested in being here. I wasn’t at rock bottom, I couldn’t see how this would make you hit rock bottom, but I wasn’t enjoying it. My back was in a lot of pain all the way down my spine, my hips were bruised from the concrete beds. I wasn’t as hungry as I imagined I would be except for the mornings, and getting up at 4 was surprisingly easy when you spend the whole night tossing and turning just trying to get comfortable. Today was a down day for me but I kept telling myself tomorrow would be better. They would probably teach us more than the one meditation tip on breathing.
I realised how important communication is. People would avoid eye contact; they wouldn’t even nod appreciatively if you held open a door or something like that. It started to feel very lonely and meal times were the worst. I would always look out for Danny and he would do the same for me, but it made it worse when we caught each others eyes because he looked miserable to me and we couldn’t even talk to see if each other were doing okay. I started to sit with my back to him and avoided places where I knew he would be; it was easier to get through it that way. At the end of day 4 he broke the silence and told me he was going to leave tomorrow. We had a chat and found out we had both been feeling the same. He hated it from day 2; I started to dislike it from day 3 but had been struggling from the beginning. It wasn’t what either of us had thought it would be nor what it was advertised as. I was very disappointed not in myself but in the way it had been run. Normally I would have seen something like this out to the end, to either prove a point to myself or to others but after our chat I didn’t see the point in being miserable to not get anything out of it. We still had only been told the one tip and had now been told there would be no more guided meditation. It pissed me off to say the least, and we decided together to leave.
When we tried to do so we were told that we are not allowed to leave until the next morning so that we don’t disrupt the others. It was so regimented that we couldn’t even leave when we wanted to even though no one else was around at this time. So we stuck it out for one more night and actually I was sad to leave and pack my things in the morning. I wished it had been different, but I honestly felt that if I stayed I would have come out a different person to when I entered the retreat. And I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to be converted and I didn’t want to change my way of thinking. I realised that I quite liked my way of thinking, it means I can fulfil my favourite hobby of writing, it means I can be left speechless at stunning scenery and it makes me the person I am today.
10 or so other people had already left by the morning of day 5 when we went to the office to collect our valuables. Obviously this kind of retreat isn’t for everyone. But some people do really enjoy it and come back year after year. It wasn’t for me and it wasn’t for Danny, but don’t let this blog put you off doing something similar. It hasn’t put us off of meditating; we’ll just be a lot pickier when signing up to another retreat.