After visiting dozens of Wat (Buddhist temple) during the last few days, I decided that it was now time to learn about this way of life (it's not actually a religion in the official sense as it doesn't have a deity that is revered). There are several Wat that offer meditation retreats with English instructions for farang, but the ones I wrote to were all full (the disadvantage of travelling during the peak tourist season), so instead of doing a 4 or 5 day retreat as intend I ended up mediating for only two days.
On Tuesday, I made my way to Wat Suan Dok, about half an hour's walk from Chiang Mai's walled old city. The temple itself is worth a visit, but I went straight to the Monk Chat Office on the Wat grounds. Here, they offer visitors the opportunity to talk to monks and learn more about Buddhism, Thai culture and whatever they might want to know. In return, the monks get the chance to practice their English.
The same people also organise a weekly meditation retreat (a reservation is needed, but I only wrote to them two days in advance and that was no problem). While most other retreats are free or on a donation only basis, this one charges 500 Baht to cover the costs of food, accommodation and transport - those 500 Baht were a very worthy investment.
To take part, I first needed to change into loose, non-transparent white clothes (available for 300 Baht). Then, there was a short introductory lecture on Buddhism before we were taken to the meditation centre about 40 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. It's set close to a peaceful forest far away from the sounds of traffic and civilization; the perfect place to relax.
At first, our thight schedule did not seem all that relaxing, but I soon found out that I rarely needed any breaks in between mediating, chanting and more mediating. During the retreat, we learned four different meditation postures: walking, sitting, standing and lying meditation. In the Vipassana tradition, while mediating one focuses on the present moment, e.g. By concentrating on one's breath or other bodily sensations. Having practiced mindfulness and other relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), I did not find mediating for half an hour or so as difficult as some others. I was very surprised how much easier I found concentrating on nothing but one's breath at half past five in the morning.
Day 1: Tuesday
01.00 p.m. Meet at Monk Chat Office, Wat Suandok
01.30 p.m. Introduction to Buddhism
and Meditation Practice
03.00 p.m. Departure for the Meditation Training
04.00 p.m. Meditation Practice
06.00 p.m. Dinner
06.45 p.m. Evening chanting
and meditation practice
09.30 p.m. Bedtime
Day 2: Wednesday
05.00 a.m. Morning gong
05.30 a.m. Morning chanting,
exercise and meditation practice
07.00 a.m. Alms offering and breakfast
08.30 a.m. Discussion
10.00 a.m. Break and meditation practice
11.30 a.m. Lunch time
01.00 p.m. Meditation practice
03.00 p.m. Break and meditation practice
With each practice, the meditation got a little easier.
There were about 25 of us at the retreat, with most European countries represented. Always two people were sharing one of the spacious and extremely clean rooms at the meditation centre. Vegetarian meals were included in the price.