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Published: September 11th 2006
. . . or 10 days, but that just doesn't sound as impressive. I had a most enlightening experience at Wat Suan Mokkh. Although I don't have a lot of stories to tell, I can give you a brief sketch of what I did. And, as so frequently promised, photos will follow in a future update.
I arrived on 31 August 2006 at about 11am, completed registration, and had lunch. then I basically hung around, met a couple of people, and prepared myself for the next few days.
I slept that night on the straw mat that they had provided to place over the concrete slab that was my bed. also available to me was a wooden pillow. actually, if the pillow were just about an inch slimmer top to bottom, it would have been pretty comfortable. as it was, however, i didn't really ever get used to it. no matter, sleep was not my biggest concern. when you wake up at 4am, 9pm is a perfect time to go to bed anyway.
each day we would have a half hour to get ready in the morning, then off to the meditation hall where we would hear a reflective reading, then do meditation for about a half hour. this would be followed by an hour and a half of yoga training, and then a talk given by the abbott Ajahn Poh, who apparently is relatively well known since I saw his face on a few billboards once I left the retreat.
After the morning session, at 8am we would have breakfast, which was always rice soup flavored with just a few sprinkles of green onions, barley, squash of some sort, and a few kidney beans. then off to the hotsprings before showering and getting ready for the late morning meditation.
we would reconvene in the med hall at 10am for a lesson in the dhamma, the buddhist philosophy of how to live in the "right way." actually, for you sociology profs who are reading this, it might help to take a look at how the 2500 year old Buddhist philosophy corresponds so closely to modern academic sociology in its view of the self and society. I wonder where the discipline would be if it had started with these texts instead of Marx and Durkheim. Probably way ahead of where it is now!
Following this lesson, we would do walking meditation, which I usually did near the reflecting pond. Then a bit more sitting meditation and then lunch at 12:30. After lunch I would do my chore of sweeping the dining hall, and then do laundry or sweep my room, and finally lie down to try and relieve some of the tension in my back from the morning.
At 2:30, we would go back for another lesson, this time about meditation practice, and then do more walking and sitting meditation. At 5pm, we would do chanting meditation for about 45 minutes, and then peace and lovingkindness meditation, where we attempted to radiate to the world our thoughts of mindful wisdom and peace for about 10-15 minutes.
At 6pm we would break for tea, which was usually actually hot chocolate, but once was warm soy milk and another time was about the worst tea I've ever tasted. I think whoever made it mistook salt for sugar. Actually, that happened with the deserts a couple of times too, perhaps they don't have good labels on the ingredients in the kitchen. But actually, the food was quite good. While I expected rice soup, I didn't expect the full meals of curries and other Thai dishes. It was a pleasant surprise, and even nicer to think that most of the food that we ate was grown organically on the grounds of the retreat center and the monastary. It was all vegetarian, though not all vegan - we had two dishes with egg in them, and I think the hot chocolate was dairy.
After tea I would jump back in the hotspring, and then at 7:30 would return to the med hall for more sitting meditation, then group walking meditation, and one final meditation session before 9pm bedtime.
Overall, I think the experience was absolutely worth it. At times I wasn't sure why I was doing it, since I didn't feel like I had anything bogging me down that I wanted to escape. But then I realized that made it much easier to concentrate. And I learned a few things about myself in the process:
1) I've never thought of myself as a selfish person, always as pretty generous. But after only one full day of meditation I realized that there is so much room for improvement here. I felt bad about how much of a brat I was as a kid, and hope to rectify the situation a little.
2) I realized that I was harboring some residual anger and resentment about things I thought I had long forgotten about. I think I have effectively dealt with these things in my own mind now.
3) I thought about a few people who I've done particularly nasty things to, and, again, I will take steps to obtain those people's forgiveness. Nevertheless, I don't think that the guilt will ever go away entirely.
4) I thought also about good things! I remembered many happy memories from my childhood. In fact, on day 7 I had a flood of memories come back to me, perhaps the earliest ones I can remember and many more since then.
5) I have always been good at becoming intensely focused. It's why I usually do well on tests, it's why I can completely zone out the world around me while I read a good book or watch TV. But meditation is much more challenging, because the focus is on what is internal, not on the outside world. I had trouble staying focused on my breathing for even twenty minutes at a time, let alone 45 minutes.
6) I really didn't miss talking or reading or writing all that much over the 11 days, but perhaps that is because I knew it was only temporary. But I've never been a big talker anyway.
So as I came out of the retreat on this September 11, many of my countrymen will spend the day in remembrance of the events of 5 years ago. I will not mourn - not because it is not upsetting, of course it is. But because life will always be a continuum, and because nothing is permanent. Not even, as Than Dahammavidu (the British monk who gave many of our lessons) pointed out, Mt Everest. The world is all nature, and nature is an ever evolving process. Life happens, and we should not view it as good or bad, but as a process to be lived in.
I've always hated when people said I should do certain things to prepare myself for the real world, because my life has always been real. I have always known that - my life is NOW, and I'm living in it. Sure, I'm doing things that will prepare me for tomorrow or ten years from now, but only because right now they are the things I want to be doing. I vow to always live in the present momoent - not ignoring the future and past, but realizing that the present is the only thing really important. Tomorrow might not happen, so why not make the most of today. One of the lines in one of our chants translated as "Effort is the duty of today. Even tomorrow death may come." So I say, as I've always tried to live my life, put everything in what you are doing, or else do something else. There is no reason to waste your own or anyone else's time with less than full enthusiasm for the tas at hand, however trivial or dull that task may be.
Finally, though I don't really feel like I connected with the Buddhist teachings and philosophy, I did enjoy the methods. I will almost certainly continue meditation and, if I can find a good instructor, yoga as well. I realized that there is a spiritual part of my life that I have not paid enough attention to, and I would like to become better acquainted with my own religion.
On a completely unrelated note, I arrived in Singapore a few hours ago. I'm spending the night at the airport because I didn't really take care of my accomodations for the night ahead of time since I thought I could sleep in the airport transit hotel. But that would only have worked out if I'd come in through a different terminal, so that plan didn't work out. No big deal, I have time and free internet access, so no complaints. Actually, I'm not even tired, really. Tomorrow I will meet up with my friend Ashley, and will stay in Singapore until the 15th, when I fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Love and peace to you all,
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