Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mediation Madness: My Experience Attempting a 10 Day Retreat

Today I returned to the heart of Chiang Mai after attending a meditation retreat at Phrathat Doi Suthep. It's funny writing this in a bustling cafe after descending from Doi Suthep ("doi" in Northern Thai dialect means mountain) considering that one of the major rules at the meditation centre is no talking. Other rules include no eating after 12:01 pm, no reading, no writing, no listening to music, and no using your phone or the internet - meaning you are completely unplugged as well as have nothing but your thoughts for the majority of your entertainment (I did end up breaking a lot of the rules - oops). 

The main temple -
We were part of a Buddha Day ritual in which we circled
the stupa (golden structure) holding incense and a lotus flower 

I had signed up for ten days and stayed for eight. The major reason I left? I was thinking too much about coming home (it will be nearly 5 months of being away when I return this week) and the people I have dearly missed. I would be attempting to meditate, and images of friends and family would flit into my mind. For those back home reading this, I have missed you so very much and I'm over the moon to see you when I return ❤ 

Not going to lie, I was also thinking of all the types of food I was going to eat once getting back to the city centre and back home (burmese salads, chocolate chip pancakes, french toast, pizza, and burritos to name a few). At the meditation centre we received breakfast at 7:00 am after a 5:30 am Dhamma talk in which the head monk would explain Buddhist teachings relating to meditation, and then lunch was at 11:00 am and was served buffet style (about three dishes and white rice). There was also a small shop that had a few snacks and I would indulge in a sweet treat like a small Snickers after lunch. For the rest of the day it was just water. Of the eight days I was there, I followed the no eating after 12:00 rule for 7 of the days (I broke on the last day when I had the other half of the KitKat I gotten at lunchtime). 

Sleeping Quarters 
Cute mama cat and her kittens that lived at the centre and would brighten my day

Some people during the retreat didn't really experience hunger - I was the opposite. I was hungry the majority of the day. Now I'm not a person who handles hunger the in the most eloquent manner (meaning I can easily get hangry - angry when hungry (or in my case emotional too). My friends joked about the looks I would shoot fellow meditators when I was in this state, and it was this side of me that I was trying to get under control, along with trying to gain more mindfulness. It was the reason I stuck to the no eating rule for as long as possible. 

I was also having really these realistic and vibrant dreams and at the end feeling really antsy. 

So those are the reasons I left. But what about the reasons I stuck it out for eight days?

While it was difficult to do four to five hours a day of combined walking and sitting meditation per day, through the guidance of the lead monk, his words of wisdom, and my determination, I have learned the key to my happiness. Me. Which may sound self-centered, but hear me out. This world is ever changing and there is so much out of my control. But the one thing I can control is myself, through mindfulness. 

Attempting sitting mediation in the centre (our uniform was to wear all white)

If you can find happiness within your mind, you have happiness for life. As the monk would tell us, "Believe in the power of you." I truly do feel that my time mediating has provided me with a greater ability to recognise negative thinking and move on (repeat feelings or their causes three times ex. "Anger, anger, anger," or "Hunger, hunger, hunger" in my case, then "Let it go"). 

Other lessons we were taught include "do good, not bad" (basis of karma), intention is what is most important, and caring for the health of the mind is super important. As part of Buddhist belief, the self as 5 parts - physical, feeling, recognition, mental formations, and consciousness. According to that way of perceiving the self, that means 80% of our being is dependent on the mind. I have become even more of a supporter of mental health after my stay. And I do truly believe that meditation is a great tool for relaxation, taking "me time," and caring for yourself. 

So, in summary that was my experience. Would I do it again in the future? I feel like my time spent there was enough (I want to integrate meditation into my daily routine). If I had a chance to do it over? 100%. It was an incredible experience to study Buddhism as a course for a semester and then be able to practice an aspect of the religion, putting the teachings I believe into action. I also feel like I've gained so much from the retreat, mainly self-empowerment, and will be forever grateful for my time spent at Phrathat Doi Suthep. 

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