Breath in, Breath out. My foot got numb. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Why is this man making those loud breathing noises? Focus on your Breath. Again. Breath in, Breath out. The air con is so loud…
This is me trying to meditate during my first session. I am here in a monk meditation retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Trying to calm my mind and not to talk, since this is a silent retreat, which is actually not that easy.
Buddhism and meditation were always two things I was interested in. I read about Buddha and the Dalai Lama and I tried a few meditation sessions in Europe, but I never figured really how to quite my mind.
My “check-in” began a few hours before the first meditation session, in a temple in Chiang Mai. I paid 500 Bhat for two days / one night which also includes food, water and every meditation session and an other 300 Bhat for white cotton cloth (which you can keep at the end). After the administration part was done, me and the rest of the group, about 30 other calm-seeking people, drove with taxis to the meditations center up in the hills of Chiang Mai, where we changed in to our new uniform and met at the meditation room.
When I first stepped in the room I kind of felt weird because every one was wearing the same cloth and the atmphosephere was filled with insecurity. No one really knew, what was going to happen and how this day would end.
The room was equipped with 30 meditation pillows – all in one row, facing a little table with two meditations pillows on the top. In the back of the room there was a huge golden Buddha and a lot of flowers. Finally two monks dressed in their traditional red/orange robe walked or more glided gracefully in the room and crawled on the little table. On monk took a microphone and welcomed us in a very warm and friendly voice. This made me feel a lot more comftable. While he started to talk about Buddhism and the different meditation forms I even got a little exited – I wanted to jump in to practice. But before we got to meditate we had to chant together and bow down three times to the Buddha. Not because we were praying to him, but to honor the teacher.
This is one of the things I like about Buddhism, you don’t pray to a God or ask Buddha to give you this or that. “ You only honor the teacher,” explained the monk. The chanting is by the way the only part where we are allowed to say something.
And then we finally started. I tried to focus on my breath like the monk told me.
Breath in, Breath out. My foot got numb. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Why is this man making those loud breathing noises? Focus on your Breath. Again. Breath in, Breath out. The air con is so loud. I wonder when the time is up. Do we get dinner afterwards? I hope so. I am hungry.
*Pip Pip*(Timer) “Mindfully open your eyes”, sais the monk. Uff those were only 10 minutes? It felt like the longest 10 minutes ever to me. But the monk sais this is normal and that we usually have a so-called dirty mind. “Like a monkey jumping around, our thoughts jump around and won’t stop”. Yep, I definitely agree on that one. He calls it a monkey mind. In my mind there must have been a monkey family because I couldn’t focus at all.
If you can’t concentrate you count while you breath in “one” and when you breath out “one” and then “two” and so on until five and then back again. But before I can try this we learn the walking meditation. Which turns out to be exactly my thing.
You try to walk and talk (only three words) or more whisper at the same time. It sound easy but needs actually a lot of concentration. You have to lift your right foot while you say “right goes thus”. Don’t lift the foot before you talk and don’t talk when the foot is already on the floor. The first thing means you are already in the future and the second that you’re still in the past. It sounds simple but it makes a lot of sense. This is one of many ways to learn how to stay in the exact moment. Live in the present. Don’t worry about the past, because it’s already gone, don’t worry about the future because it’s not here yet. I’ve heard this a million times before, but hearing it from a monk and training it this way I finally got it. I am always wondering about the future, trying to make plans and I worry about the past and tend to overthink a problem, which is already gone.
After the walking meditations we practice again sitting meditations. This time I use the counting trick and sometimes it even works. Well, only for a few seconds or maybe a minute – but hey, that’s a progress right? My neighbors breathing noises still distract me though.
After those two sessions it’s time for dinner. The dinner is served in a huge dinning hall and before we get to eat we are again chanting together. To honor the food and to be grateful. This again is the only part where you’re allowed to say something. For dinner we get Pad Thai noodles, not to spicy and very delicious and after one hour the practice goes on.
For two more our hours we practice walking and sitting meditations. But why should we even meditate you may think? Well according to the monk the answer is simple: To be the master of your own mind! If you can reach that level, you are not controlled by your thoughts or feelings. You are aware of the present moment not the past, which you can’t no longer change and not the future, which is not here yet. People, especially men with strong bodies, have often the weakest mind (couldn’t agree more). We are in an imbalance if we only train our physical body. We feed it with good food and we train it to keep our body strong, healthy and alive. Why we don’t do the same thing with our mind? To keep balance we also have to train our mind. So that we are aware of our thoughts ratter than be controlled by them. If we train our mind, anger or other negative feelings have no longer the power of a situation. Instead we can choose happiness and compassion.
After the practice I feel so sleepy it really is like a workout – just for your mind. “Everyone can go to bed now”, sais the monk, “and at 9.30 you turned out the lights and wake up at 5 am with the gong”. Well not actually my usual getting up time since I usually have insomnia. But not this night, I sleep like a baby and wake up at 5 am. Well it’s not that I jumped out of my bed, but I feel quite awake.
Again the morning is packed with meditation practice. And from 6 to 7 am even a qi gong teacher arrives. She shows us the basics of qi gong and I like it a lot. Its also called moving meditation and it feels good doing it. Well except from the fact that it is freezing and we are training outside. But I’ve already learned to train my mind so I am accepting the fact, that it’s cold and let it go again. At 9 am we can eat our breakfast – a rice soup. I never had a rice soup for breakfast but it’s very delicious and I am ready for the next session. This time we can practice on our own in the garden. So I am looking for a nice place under a tree in the shade (it got warmer with the sun) and while I am strolling around the garden I am looking at quite an interesting picture. Everywhere white dressed people lying, sitting or walking in the grass. But the vibe is amazing and I feel very good and I am ready to practice on my own. And time flies fast. It felt like 10 minutes and then one hour is already gone. Already time for a last meal.
After lunch I had to leave to catch my flight, so I couldn’t be part of the group picture. But that’s ok I have the learning, that’s what counts.
Do I feel different after this retreat? Well I am not enlightened or something like that but I do feel a difference. While I am in the taxi I feel happy and lighter. Of courses I have to keep going on with the practice, this was only the “kick-off”. I definitely learned that if we meditate we learn to let go. Let go of our thoughts. Accepting that thoughts and feelings are coming up and then letting them go again. That’s also how I learned that everything on this world is impermanent. Bad situations, sadness but also happiness. Everything is impermanent. We embrace it or accept it, knowing this too shall pass. I also learned that we don’t own our body. We just get to keep it for a while and then we have to leave it in the end. That’s the circle of life.
So for me those two days helped me more than words can describe. It helped me to calm myself and my monkey mind.
If you ever want to try it, which I highly recommend, go to monkchat.net and you will find all the information needed.