My experience in a two-day meditation retreat Thailand

This week I decided to take part in a 2-day meditation retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was always interested in joining a 10-day programme of silent meditation and have heard only good things about it. However, I never ‘found the time’. Better wording for this would probably be I never made it my priority and/or just simply didn’t take it serious enough. meditation retreat thailand

Thanks to Facebook’s awesome stalking features (yes, I believe Facebook records our conversations), I have been targeted by the Monk Chat’s advertisement about a 2-day silent meditation retreat. Yes! That sounds like something I could manage to do. So, I signed up.   

Our lives are so busy. Especially as a busy entrepreneur, we can get caught up so quickly in our minds and it can sometimes feel like our racing thoughts are non-stoppable. To-Do lists here, meetings there, customer service, payment rolls, growth, ops, this and that.

But hey, as we know all our daily operations, thinking, and our entire behaviour, all are run by our subconscious mind and it’s so interesting to get to know more about ourselves. One of the best practices to start to learn how to quieten your mind is through a silent meditation retreat.     

 

 

What is Vipassana? 

Vipassana Thailand

In general, there are two main parts of meditation. The first part is more concentration based whereas the second part focuses more on awareness and insights.  meditation retreat thailand

With concentration based meditation practices, you train your mind to focus on one thing only (yes I know this sounds bizarre!) with the exclusion of everything else. The awareness and insight based meditation practice is the part which belongs to the ‘Vipassana’ meditation. vipassana thailand

 

With this practice, you are not training your brain to do anything. You are just observing the nature of reality as is. This is what Vipassana literally means ‘to see things as they really are’.  So, what is this reality and how does it help?

One form of Vipassana is observing your breath. You just observe your breath and find out ‘oh, okay, this is a long breath,’ or ‘oh, this is a short breath’.

So that’s the nature of breath. A breath arises and then a breath disappears. The point here is to make you understand that your thoughts have a similar pattern. They come and then they go. 

Why is there so much anger, frustration, and worries in people’s lives? Because we follow every thought which comes to our mind to its full conclusion.

So, for example, something goes wrong at work and you think about this and start rumouring about what could happen, what you could say to your boss about it, what he could possibly answer and what could be the end result of this incident what just happened.

You make up the entire story in your mind even though it didn’t happen. As a result, you create anxiety and worry.  In Vipassana, you learn that it’s just the nature of your mind to create thoughts. That your thoughts are like the waves in the sea. A wave will come, and a wave will go. And then another one will come.

The more you start to realize this, you will understand the impermanence of this whole thought construct and you don’t get attached which then should ideally lead to more peace and silent in your life because you became an observer of your thoughts rather than judging and reaction to your thoughts. 

That’s all. You just observe the thought, except that it is there and let it go again. If you do it over a long period of time in your life, apparently you will become a lot calmer and conscious about everything in your life. It’s not permanent, it’s impermanent.  A very famous saying in Buddhism goes: ‘The nature of desire is desire itself,’ or ‘The nature of thought is the thought itself’.

It’s just the nature of the mind to keep generating thoughts and it will keep repeating itself. What you have to do is to learn not to engage in them but just to observe them. So that’s Vipassana explained in a nutshell, just observing the nature of reality as is.

Monk KK was holding a 1.5 hours presentation. It was a basic introduction to Buddhism and meditation. Everyone in the room introduced themselves and talked a little bit about their experience with meditation and their level of knowledge about Buddhism. 

Most people had little experience with meditation. Not a single person in the room practices meditation on a regular basis. Monk KK didn’t explain much about the structure of the upcoming day, neither did he mention it will be a silent retreat… At this point, I wasn’t sure IF this actually will be a silent retreat or not. 
 
After the discussion, we get into a Songtaew (red taxis in Thailand). We are about 33 people or so. The meditation retreat takes place outside of Chiang Mai town and the drive takes about 40 minutes to get there. 
 
Once we arrive on the site, the monks tell us to share a room with one participant of the same gender. Oh, my days. What did I sign up for. ‘If I knew this beforehand, I wouldn’t have come’ I am thinking. My days of sharing a bedroom with someone else are over. Arg. 
 
 
So, we are told to find a partner to share the room with. I am quietly standing on the side, waiting for everyone to find a partner and deep inside I am hoping we will be an odd number so I can have a room by myself. Nope, not happening haha.
 
 
There she is. The one girl who is left without a roommate comes up to the other last girl left without a roommate, moi. Maria from Italy. Maria approaches me in a super excited, happy state and with a huge smile on her face.
 
 
She asks me if I wanted to share a room. Well… wanting? Ah never mind. I’m thinking… ‘Get over your shit and deal with it’. I am switching my state of mind and it’s all good. 
 
Couples were also separate by the way in order to practice detachment. 
 
 
After checking in to our rooms, we are asked to take a shower and get into our white meditation clothes. Showering before any meditation is the rule, so Monk KK. 
 

Introduction To The Meditation Retreat meditation chiang mai

 

We all meet in the meditation centre where Monk KK explains more about the upcoming hours and the next day. Finally, he announces that this IS a silent meditation retreat. Thank god. No more speaking from this point onwards. Happy days.  silent meditation outfit

Monk KK explains there are three key points we will practice:

1. Detach from looking around – close your eyes

2. Detach from speaking – remove distraction detach from your voice 

3. Detach from listening – only focus on the mind

So, this two-day mini meditation retreat is only an introduction to the 10 days silent retreat others do. There they don’t have an introduction about any of this. That’s why Monk KK calls us Babi meditators. 

The property we are at consists of 9 hectares of land and was gifted by a Thai couple to the monastery in order to allow foreigners to come and meditate for free. How generous. meditation chiang mai

 

Our first two meditation practices: 

 

1. 21 minutes of sitting meditation

Well, as you probably know, when you meditate you should sit in a lotus position. Which in my opinion is comfortable for the first 3 minutes. Everything else after that is just painful. 

After a few minutes, I started to feel pain in my back and in my knees. But as we know, now I recognized this thought ‘Oh, I am in pain’, now I need to acknowledge it and LET IT GO. Hah! Nothing easier than that to try and ignore physical pain for the next 20 minutes or so… Just keep on concentrating on your breath…

Pro Tip 1: Do not do any crazy exercise the day before you head over to a meditation retreat. I did a crazy session of Crossfit the day before and on top of the ‘normal’ meditation pain, I also suffered from sore muscles across my entire body. 

 

2. 23 minutes of walking meditation

‘What a relief’, I am thinking. I get to MOVE my painful body parts now. I LOVE THIS! 

We lined up in 5 raws and started slowly walking. BUT, before we start walking, we actually pay attention to all sort of steps we do before that (with our eyes closed):

  • Place your left hand on your abdominal
  • Place your right hand on top of your left hand
  • Start changing (it’s not called praying since Buddha is not a god) 

OK, so here we go, chanting all together veeeery slowly: 

‘lift left arm, move left arm, place left arm’ (and follow the steps like that)

‘lift right arm, move right arm, place right arm’ (follow)

 

Breathe, set an intention to walk, sing it 3x 

  • ‘Intending to walk’
  • ‘Intending to walk’
  • ‘Intending to walk’

Then open your eyes, walk and chant at the same time: 

‘Right foot goes there’ (lift right foot, move the right foot, place right foot) 

‘Left foot goes there’ (lift left foot, move the left foot, place left foot) 

All this happens in slow motion, keep repeating this until you face the wall. 

The last move (whatever foot ‘s turn it is right now, let’s say the left foot), before you stop in front of the wall you chant:

‘Left foot goes stop’ (lift left foot, move the left foot, place left foot in line with the right foot,) 

Breathe. 

Close your eyes. 

Move your hands from your abdominal. But don’t just move them. Say it while you do it in slow motion.

‘lift right hand’

‘move right hand’

‘lower right hand’

‘lift left hand’

‘move left hand’

‘lower left hand’

 

Breathe. 

Recognize you are standing and acknowledge it. Sing it 3x. 

‘Standing’

‘Standing’

‘Standing’

Set intention to turn. (Let’s say you would like to turn to the right).

Open your eyes. 

Start chanting and moving at the same time (with open eyes).

‘right turn right foot’

‘right turn left foot’

‘right turn foot’,

‘left turn foot’

We did all these three times across the hall until we reached 23 minutes. 

I found that was a lot easier than the sitting meditation because it still gives you ‘something to do’…

 

Dinner time, yay!

What’s for dinner darling?

Pat Thai, vegan and vegetarian options available, and mandarines for dessert.

Having dinner also has its own structure, which I LOVED A LOT.  We were not allowed to face anyone. Nobody could sit opposite to us. So, we all sat in a row and faced one direction. 

We also didn’t ‘just eat’. After everyone got to their place, we chanted this:

food chanting

Sorry for the super bad image quality here, but I probably wasn’t allowed to take a photograph of this…

Pro Tip 2: I kept thinking ‘how the hell am I gonna implement all of this in my busy daily schedule. Here my main takeaway was that you could just meditate while eating. So basically you could meditate three times per day (or as many times you eat per day). How efficient!

‘Lift the fork’

‘Take food’

‘Put food in your mouth’

‘Chew’ 

And all of this in slow motion of course. We didn’t have to do this, this was optional. After we ate, we were allowed to hang out in our room by ourselves (or with Maria) and meditate there. 

After 20 minutes or so, the monks rang the bell (which was places RIGHT IN FRONT of our room). When the monk rings the big bell, we are all gathering at the meditation centre on our mini seats on the floor. 

The next thing we did was thanking and bowing in front of the Buddha statues. There were 3 Buddhas lined up right in front of each other. Mini Buddha, Middle Budda, and Giant Buddha. They call it the triple gem. We chanted and bowed maybe for 15 minutes or so, I have no idea. Everyone showed up to meditate. 

The chanting and the bowing session was followed by another 30+ minutes sitting meditation session. You always have to increase the minutes you will meditate. You can not do the same amount of minutes like you did before, because that means you don’t improve and are standing still. You must improve and practice your mind. 

The pain is kicking in. Pain in the back and in the knees. My mind is racing. I don’t give a * about breathing. 

Break! Yay!

Tea, coffee and cookie break for Babi meditators. (This won’t happen in the 10-day meditation retreat. There you won’t even have dins dins.). 

After our tea, coffee and cookie break, we did another 30+ minutes session of walking meditation followed by a love and kindness meditation. 

Love and kindness meditation happens in a sitting position as well. The monks started chanting something nice and we repeated. This was all in Thai…and went on for about 5 or 10 minutes or so.   

One thing I noticed, even though my body was in pain and all that, overall the time during meditation went extremely fast. So everytime when the monk called us to open our eyes, and he said that this session was now 20 or 30 minutes or so, it really didn’t feel like that. 

It’s bedtime. 21.40 pm. 

We will wake up at 5.15 am tomorrow morning, the monks will hit that the bell hard outside (and they did!). Be ready for 5.30 am in the hall.

My night was- meh. I usually go to bed later than 9 pm or 10 pm, so it was really hard for me to fall asleep without Youtube, Instagram or other unuseful stuff I feed my brain with before I go to sleep (hint here!). We had all our belongings with us, so technically I could have used the internet, but I didn’t. I did read a little bit after 2 hours of trying to fall asleep though, I think I managed to sleep at around 1 am. 

5.15 am – on the dot – the monk hits the bell hard. 

5.25 am I get up, shower, and we go over to the hall. We start chanting (on the knees) for 15 mins. It was beautiful and painful. 

The morning chanting was followed by 30+ minutes walking meditation and 30+ minutes sitting meditation. And all of this before the sun had a chance to rise. 

We then started something new: An outside walking meditation session around the property, without shoes (optional).  

We just casually walked around the property, silently, with concentrating on only one thought and repeating it in our minds ‘I am walking’, ‘I am walking’, ‘I am walking’. 

Here you should keep your eyes focused on the ground, a maximum of 1 – 1.5 meters in front of you. 

We walked without shoes because without shoes your body is able to take in the energy of the earth, especially in the morning, so Monk KK. Walking without shoes also stimulates your blood circulations and equals a good food massage he said. 

After our walk around the property, we picked up mini bowls filled with rice to practice the alms offering.

 

What is Alms Giving? 

 

Almsgiving is a form of offering in Buddhism. It means offering food to the monk. In the mornings (4.30 am) the monks go around the villages (every day), to receive food from the people. This means they don’t know what they will get to eat on this day. 

For the people who give the food, this means that they set their good intentions for the day. In Buddhism and in the Thai culture, sharing is one of the core values. If you share love, kindness and compassion in the early morning, your day will be filled with love, kindness and compassion.  

‘Even if Thai people don’t have a lot of food they still will share it with you’, so Monk KK. 

We shared our rice with two monks this morning. So that means our day will be infused with a double dose of love, kindness, and compassion, right? 

 

alms giving

 

It’s breakfast time. What’s for breakfast darling?

Vegetable soup with rice and toast. Same procedure as for dinner. Line up in a queue, take your food, don’t speak, sit in a line, chant, and eat slowly. 

Tea and coffee were available outside. I went back for a quick nap.

The bell rings, we meet again. It’s time for individual meditation. We could choose to start with sitting or walking meditation. When the bell rings next time, we will switch. 

So we did.

After an hour or so of meditation, we gather in the centre and all take a nap on the floor. Everyone is tired, meditation is exhausting for your body. So we will need to rest, so Monk KK.  

If you would have seen us walking around the property, all covered in white clothes and blankets you would have thought we escaped an insane asylum; walking slowly, starring at the floor… not paying any attention to what’s happening around us…  

After our nap, we took a short break from the nap. (Yes!) 

Then again one more time: sitting and walking and sleeping on the floor for 30 mins.

It’s lunch time. What’s for lunch darling? 

Massaman curry, vegetables, and rice soup and mandarines for dessert. Don’t forget to chant before you eat your food…

We then had a 50-minute break.

We meet the last time for a mini group meditation session, followed by a group discussion afterwards. 

Pro Tip 3: Use two of those cushions to sit on while you practice sitting meditation. This allows your sweet butt to sit a little higher and for some reason, it’s much more comfortable and takes away some pressure off the knees. 

meditation retreat thailand_2

 

What to bring for this meditation retreat Thailand

Documents:

  • a photocopy of your passport and visa (they didn’t ask me for this in the end though)

 

Personal belongings for overnight stay:

  • Loose, modest, non-transparent white clothes (you can buy this at the monk chat office as well)
  • Towel, toiletry, etc.

 

Cost:

  • 500 baht for food and transportation
  • 300 baht for a set of new white clothes (optional – by request)
  • Accommodation and course service (by donation)

So, how do you incorporate Vipassana in your daily life?

 

Try to do 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. Find a place to sit comfortably and close your eyes. You just sit and observe your breath. You see that it’s arising in your abdomen and it’s going away once again…Me

ditation retreat Thailand

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