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Inner Silence

Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery, Northern Thailand


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Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right. I pick my feet up and carefully place them down between two ginormous leaves. The earth beneath me is cracked and dry. I try my best to avoid the foliage, walking as silently as my shadow. A bead of sweat prickles on my forehead, threatening to cascade down and impair my vision. It literally takes every inch of my self control not to brush it away. I am supposed to ignore the torments. Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right. I echo this over and over in my head desperately hoping that the more I say it the less hot my body will feel. The flies return.

These tiny winged insects seem to revel in the moisture and heat radiating from the left side of my face. They buzz at such an unbelievably, irritating pitch, practically roaring in my eardrums. Each time they try to land on my face they make unwelcome contact with my ear, my cheek or my glasses. Clasping my hands tight in front of me I bring my mind back to: Left, Right, Left, Right, Left Right. My foot makes abrupt contact with something unnatural and I realise I have stepped on the back of a flip flop. The Japanese girl in front of me retains her poise and continues forward, elegant in her movement. That is now the third time I stand on her. She is surly internally loathing the fact that I am the one behind her today. What can you expect? They are all walking so painfully slow! It takes all my strength just to walk at this pace let alone the fact that I am supposed to be meditating at the same time. We have been told to keep our vision at a 45 degree angle, towards the ground ahead of us. “Block out everything going on around you. Concentrate on the movement of the legs. For those who are new, repeat only: 'Left, Right, Left, Right' ” . It is not that I am not trying but somehow the ability to shut out the surrounding world comes to me as naturally as it would a five year old child. Every now and then I break the instruction and steal a look around. I doubt anyone is paying attention. The ones who can already do walking mediation are in their own world and the newbies, like me, are all dealing with their own problems: flies, leaves, rocks, tree-roots, sweat and whatever other distractions that have managed to monopolise their untrained minds.

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We are walking through the most beautiful forest. The path is flanked on one side with a wall of rock. Trees somehow manage to flourish in the terrain; growing between, below, on top and sometimes right through the middle of the massive boulders. On the other side is a steep drop coated in a mass of green. Enormous clumps of wild bamboo grow in irregular clusters. They resemble the chives that grew in my garden as a little girl and suddenly I am Charlotte in Wonderland, dwarfed by their impossible size. Dappled light from the sun seeps its way down through the canopy above, leaving streams of gold in its wake. We follow the path as it twists and turns, taking us over giant tree roots and in-between massive rocks. We have passed at least three sizeable crevices fitted with mosquito-nets and bamboo mats. One of these caves is literally ten metres above us, accessed only by a tall, handmade bamboo ladder. Clearly some favourite spots for the monks to hang when they are not spending their time teaching us. It is around this time that I notice how long it has been since I was in control of my mind. Back I go to: Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right. Wow, it is super hot. Everyone else looks so calm and peaceful! The only view ahead of me is the Japanese girl. I really like her scarf. Such a beautiful pale yellow and she has matched it perfectly with her skin tone. Oops… Mind is thinking, Mind is thinking. Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right.

Up ahead there appears to be some sort of silent commotion. I am humoured as one girl, just a few people in front, starts pointing vigorously at a nearby tree trunk while still trying to maintain her tranquil composure. We all struggle to remain with our own peaceful exteriors intact, while half straining our eyes upwards to see what on earth could be so important. Within seconds I am no longer straining my eyes but craning my neck. A snake! I slow down to an even more unimaginable slow walk to insure maximum viewing of this bright green creature. So far I have seen huge spiders and scorpions but this is my first wild snake sighting in Thailand. We have seen many empty, dry skins and a few dead ones by the roadside but nothing living. So, as you can imagine, I am not about to miss this one, not even for meditation. The snake is maybe around a meter long, slender and slithering skywards at one hell of a speed. It stops abruptly, turns its head and peers down at us. For a split second I swear I see confusion and fear flash in its eyes before it turns back, racing up the tree. I can not imagine what we must look like from up there. Not too welcoming, that is for sure! Forty people all dressed head to toe in white, slowly pacing along in a straight line headed by three monks. If I were to have accidentally stumbled upon this parade myself, I would assume that these were the grounds of a mental hospital or some strange cult. This entire event takes place in a matter of seconds and it is not long before my own flip-flops are getting stepped on by the person behind me. Time to plod on. Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right.

If my mind were maybe 30% concentrated before, it has now gone completely haywire. Controlling it at this second is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. The monks call this fidgety state of mind Monkey Mind as the mind swings erratically from one thought to another. The mind is thinking. The mind is thinking. Thinking about the snake. Thinking about all the other possible creatures I may stand on by accident. Thinking about that awesome shaped tree in front of me and how I would have liked to climb it as a child. Maybe even now. Except trees in this country are full of lizards, ants, spiders and everything in between. I am thinking about how much life there is around me in this forest, right this second. An entire ecosystem which our strange, zombie conga-line seems to currently be a part of. The noise of the insects is almost deafening and I start contemplating the different ways in which I will use to later describe them in my letters. It is not easy! Apart from the usual hiss of cicadas, this particular forest includes an entire host of curious acoustics. Some sound like the noise a balloon makes when you blow it up and stretch the mouth piece, slowly and very squeakily releasing the trapped air inside. Others can only be described as chattering teeth. Not real teeth but those wind up toys with the lips and little feet. That, once wound, hop and chatter rapidly at the same time. Imagine one thousand balloons and one thousand pairs of teeth. So loud! It is no surprise I cannot hold my mind still. We eventually make it back to the outdoor meditation area where we sit down feeling “calm” after our jaunt in the forest. I find my indigo cushion and prepare myself for (you have probably guessed) some more meditation.

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You may be asking why I would subject myself to such torture. To be honest at that point I was probably asking myself the very same thing. Scheduled meditation over three times a day. Chanting in the ancient and incomprehensible language of Pali before bed each night. Bed being a yoga mat in a large shared dorm. Separate dorms for men and women; so far from the comfort of D most of the time. No eating past 12pm. No excessive talking, no singing, no dancing, no public displays of affection, no beatification of the body, no playing cards… Why am I here? People all over the world enrol in mediation retreats each day, I assume all for entirely different reasons. Most of us are searching for something, I guess. Answers? Inner Peace? Outer Peace? For me it seems like a must do when spending so long in South East Asia.

Made up of predominantly Buddhist countries, I really want to understand the people around me. Why they do the things they do, are the way they are. There is only so much you can get by visiting places as a tourist and even living with locals is only scratching the surface. What I personally find fascinating is discovering each person’s, or peoples’, own distinct philosophy. How does the way they think differ from my own? What is the meaning of life for them? What do they believe will happen after death? What can I take away from all of this? I must make it clear that I am absolutely not here to convert to Buddhism! I just want to get a deeper feel for the place and its people. Lucky for me Buddhism is extremely open spiritually. Whatever race or religion you may be, you will not be turned away if you desire to take some quiet time out of your busy life to reconnect with what Buddhist call, the True Self.

Thailand offers a host of these retreats all over the country. We hear of 10 day intense, silent retreats which seem to work very well for 50% of people but not at all for others. One girl I meet recounts being locked in her room, almost forced to meditate at certain times; which made her internally rebel against the whole system. With so many different ways to learn and be taught, thoroughly researching what you think will work best for you is a must. In the end we choose Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery in the north which comes highly recommended to us by a friend we have previously met whilst teaching. This particular friend has been on many spiritual journeys throughout the country, stopping off only at monasteries so we figure she has a pretty good idea of where is a good place to begin for a complete novice.

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After our time at the Happy Healing Home I will admit, walking along the long path to the monastery, I am far more nervous than I usually would be. Since our first exposure to the world of mindful-living-backed-by-rules did not go so well it seems almost silly to be heading straight into another bubble whose main focus is mindfulness surrounded by more rules. I hate that I will not get to sleep next to D. At least at the HHH we had the comfort and familiarity in each other at the end of each day. We share soap and toothpaste, how on earth will we share in separate dorms?! We also have not had time to buy the white clothes we are expected to wear during our time in the monastery and I panic we will be the only ones. I am sure you will recognise these comments for what the are: trivial angst felt by a compulsive worrier. D’s main concern is the lack of food past 12pm. These problems dissolve into nothing once we are eagerly greeted by Sue. Ah Sue! A petite frame topped with a radiant smile, beaming up at us like a full moon. For me Sue is the heart and soul of Wat Tam Wua. From what I can gather at first, she is the monastery’s receptionist. After a few days, however, we get the impression that she does a lot of the general organising too. Were Sue to leave, I am pretty sure the monastery would have a hard time running quite as smoothly as it currently does.

Sue beckons us to take a seat while we sign in with our names, passport numbers and so on. Meanwhile, she runs through the daily timetable and rules of the place. It is understood that the majority of the monastic community is not Thai nor do they come from a Buddhist background so some basic monastery dos and don’ts kick start the conversation: 1. When meditating the men sit first, nearest the monks and the women behind. 2. When addressing a monk be sure that you are at a lower level than him. 3. Make sure you respect the monks when talking to them; put your hands in prayer position. 4. A woman may never be alone with a monk and if she does have a question, make sure it is asked with other people around. 5. Never point the soles of your feet at the Buddha statue. (This one sounds odd to me at first… like when would you ever go around pointing your feet at the Buddha statue. However, after my first few attempts at sitting meditation my legs scream out to be stretched which, of course, would mean pointing the soles of my feet at the Buddha statue. I quickly learn to whip around and stretch my legs with my back facing Buddha). 6. Show respect to the textbook you are each given. It contains the word of Buddha so the book must not be discarded on the floor, nor may you step over it. Sue takes us through these rules with such a gentle nature that despite the lengthy list of restrictions we never feel overwhelmed.

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You can tell in seconds that this woman is unconditionally devoted to her job, the monastery, its monks and Buddha. Her eyes glow with excitement as she takes us through everything and I wonder how many times she has already gone over this exact same speech. I do not think repetition bothers her though. She is interested to know how we heard about the place as in recent years it has become increasingly popular with foreigners, mainly Germans and Americans. I can see pride in her eyes as we recount how we heard about the monastery through word of mouth. Her expression turns suddenly grave as the Korean girl beside me expresses that she only has time to stay for a few days. “This not good”, she mutters. “Not enough time. Maybe take three days for mind to calm down. You not notice many change in three days. Minimum five days is best. three weeks, three months! Long time is best”. She invites time for questions and we tentatively ask about the no eating rule. “Ah, so hard for foreigner!” A smile returning. She then goes on to explain that in Buddhism there are eight precepts; guidelines designed to help cultivate a pure mind. Of these eight, your average Thai Buddhist should follow the first five daily:

1. I will abstain from being harmful to living beings
2. I will abstain from stealing
3. I will not commit adultery
4. I will abstain from uttering lies
5. I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness

6. I will abstain from eating after noon time.
7. I will abstain from listening or playing music, songs, wearing flowers, jewellery and other ornaments
8. I will refrain from lying or seating on high and luxurious places

Monks and those laymen living within the monastery (like us) are advised to follow the full eight. This helps them to further train their mind, by indulging less in what is deemed useless and distracting in the quest for enlightenment. Sue explains to us that the monastery also understands that us foreigners do not necessarily come from a background where following just the first five is the norm. We are asked simply to try our best and of course Sue does highly encourage us not to eat past 12pm but she also tactfully points to a small shop just on the edge of the grounds where we can find snacks if our stomachs so desire them. “Just no eating in middle of monastery grounds please.” She then adds, “Here, no one force you do anything. I not gonna come in room and drag you to meditation. But you should! So good for the heart. I see many, many foreigner come here. Walk in first day look scared. Walk out after one week and smile. So happy inside. Mediation make happy like that”. Her energy is contagious. She points to a basket in front of us full of laminated badges with the words “Silent and Happy”. We are informed that at some other monasteries the silent rule will be forced upon you where as here it is each layman’s individual choice, but by wearing the badge others around you will see and respect your wishes. She giggles before adding, “this good for foreigner to wear badge. Foreigner always talk too much. You no talking you making better meditation”. Our heads packed with all this new information, we follow Sue outside to get kitted out with our white attire.

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Despite appearing to be a super rigid environment at first glance, I find the rules easy enough to follow. Mainly because each one makes sense to me. Like Sue said, the silence is never imposed but idle chitchat is minimised and voices generally kept low. In the beginning I feel so awkward. In the West we have this unwritten rule that requires one to make instant verbal communication when meeting new people. My cultural background means I automatically feel the need to entertain those who I share company with but here, I do not have to. Any social anxiety I harbour upon entering disappears in a matter of days. In no time at all I am able to sit comfortably with the others in silence enjoying their presence, giving myself a chance to observe and feel the unspoken energy between us. After I lose my initial desire to seek comfort in mulling over my thoughts and issues on the techniques of meditation with the person next to me, I actually come to realise that, as a complete novice, these comparisons are more of a distraction than a benefit. Although the monks do serve as guides in teaching us the most efficient ways to manoeuvre our way through this peculiar new procedure, meditation is a journey that each individual has to take alone. It is completely within you. It just takes a lot of persistent practice! Which is actually not so daunting when, not only does your schedule call for this practice every few hours, but nature herself almost does too.

Wat Tam Wua is so far lost in the boondocks that it is easy to forget the ‘outside’ (as we call it) exists. Large bulbous rock formations encircle the monastery and although, to be classed as mountains would be an exaggeration, their extremely close proximity means they dominate the horizon from every possible angle. It is natural to feel untroubled, like birds, half hidden in a giant nest. The grounds themselves evoke calm. Enveloped in a green tranquility, softened even more by an abundance of yellow and pink blossom, finding a peaceful spot to just be is effortless. There is so much space to walk and breathe that regardless of our numbers I almost always find myself in a quiet spot, alone . Each bush, tree, pond and lawn is immaculately kept by the monks and a dedicated troop of Thai locals who come in each day to help with the general maintenance. We are also expected to put in an hour's work minimum per day. The idea being that doing good deeds for others not only helps you collect good Karma, but also produces a calm mind for meditation. The work can include helping in the kitchen, feeding the fish or raking fallen leaves. I usually rake but my skills are pitiful next to the Thai ladies who can clear a lawn in seconds. They seem undeterred by the wind that undoes their neat piles almost as instantly as they are formed. Between work, meditation and enjoying the peaceful surroundings I still seem to find time to relax in my dorm.

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The dorm and separation from D was one of my initial worries but, to be honest, I find the accommodation ideal. The separation from him makes it even easier to remain silent; which I am sure keeps me far less distracted. Precept number 8 states that we must ‘refrain from lying or seating on high and luxurious places’ so my bed is a mat on the floor with some blankets. I spent most of my summer holidays as a child being ferried around Western Europe in a tent. I have spent a night camping on a field laden with sharp flint so, for me, this is more than comfortable. In fact, I feel like a princess as I enjoy my first warm shower in three weeks! My down-time in the dorm is spent devouring book after book. The monastery has a library housing a whole host of literature regarding Buddhism and meditation. I am able to not only fully immerse myself practically each day but also mentally. By reading, I bring together everything I am learning and it also helps clarify things that I maybe do not understand 100% when it is explained by the monks. This is not to say that they are bad teachers or that their English is poor. In reality their level of English is impressive, which is probably why so many foreigners make their way to this particular monastery. Some things, however, do not translate exactly how I think they intend them to. This is not an issue particular to these monks but one faced by translators daily. Some words, when directly translated, just do not have the same meaning, strength or connotations in another language. Being able to read books written in English for English speakers at the end of the day really helps clear-up some of these misunderstandings. The most common being a word constantly used in Buddhism: suffering.

To suffer in English is a word with strong associations. It evokes with it feelings of extreme physical of psychological pain and hardship. The monks repeatedly refer to our constant suffering as humans and in the beginning I cannot relate in the slightest. I am on the adventure of a lifetime. Stress from my job does not hold a space in my head because I do not have one. I have no mortgage to worry about, no bills to pay, no terminal diseases, no children, my parents are both alive and healthy, I was given the chance to go to university, I have never gone hungry, I have always had a roof over my head, I have never even broken a bone in my body. I have seen so many beautiful places and been loved by so many wonderful people … I actually feel extremely fortunate. Far removed from the connotations the word 'suffering' brings to my mind. However, after researching a little I come to realise that although the ‘suffering’ Buddha is referring to does include all these things, it is also so much more than this. It would be better translated as ’dissatisfaction’, something I can admit to feeling. A lot.

We are constantly dissatisfied. Whether it be about our past choices or our present situations. What’s next? Am I doing the right thing? We desire so many things, and living in such a consumerist society only highlights this even more. We want a better car, better clothes, a better job, a better phone, better opportunities. We wish we were taller, thinner, prettier, smarter. We worry about what others think of us and we constantly compare our lives to theirs. We rightfully worry when we discover an unidentified lump under our skin but it gets even more trivial than this. There are also the tiny, niggly thoughts that become such a constant presence in our minds that we barely even notice them at all: I’m too hot. I’m too cold. My back hurts. I’m hungry. I feel bloated. My arm is itchy. I have a headache. We are always suffering. For Buddhists its even worse, because they believe in re-birth. So not only does this suffering follow you in this life but it will in the next, and the next, and the next. For all eternity. The only way out of the cycle (samsara) is to become enlightened and the only way to do that is to meditate.

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Before arriving here I had dabbled in meditation but I always assumed it was ‘thinking about nothing’. It is pretty much impossible to think about nothing. The mind is designed to think so trying to shut it out is like programming a car to dance the tango before taking off for a whirl in outer space. After everything I have learnt this week I would now define meditation, not as emptying the mind, but rather as 'taking a back seat and watching what goes on'. Getting to know how the mind works and just spending some time paying attention to it. We spend so much time lost in conjured thoughts and ideas but most of us are not really aware of where they come from, nor does it ever occur to us to look. This is explained to us using the image of the cinema. At the cinema everyone sits and stares, absorbed by the story unfolding on the screen. Very few of us bother to turn round at look at the projector, the actual object creating the moving pictures. The monks often use simple images like this to convey their ideas in digestible pieces.

One monk uses the universal mobile phone to transmit the message of attachment. When your happiness derives from attaching yourself to impermanent things, the pleasure you feel will be short lived and will inevitably bring with it the opposite too: suffering. This is impossible to avoid. He whips out his phone and has us imagine it is an iPhone 7. As the funniest monk he is probably my favourite. I am sure he is in his early twenties but his energy is that of a wise, old soul. “This is the new iPhone 7. Day you buy it, take it home. You feeling so happy. You show your friends and they all say “Wow, new iPhone 7!" You spend many time admiring your phone but then one day your friend come to house and show you his… new iPhone 8!” The phone that once brought you so much happiness will bring you sadness because now you wish you had the upgrade. Of course this is a small example but the theory works on almost anything because everything is impermanent. This is just the nature of our world. People you love will die. Objects you obsess over will break or go out of fashion. Your youthful body will wrinkle and sag. People you trusted will break your heart. All the things that can bring you momentary pleasure will ultimately bring you disappointment and suffering. Being two ends of the same feeling it is impossible to have one without the other. The monk clarifies with yet another example. “You meet a man. You really like him and you think one day I marry this man. I have my children with him. This make me happy”, and there is no denying that children will make you happy. But you will spend a huge proportion of your adult life worrying about these children. Ask any mother. I doubt that you will find many who do not spend hours physically aching over the love they feel for their little ones. But by unknowingly defining ourselves by our ownership of almost everything; from our body, to our kids, to our thoughts, the inevitable suffering that follows becomes ‘mine’ too.

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All of this sounds quite depressing but Buddhist will tell you that in actual fact Buddhism is far more realistic than pessimistic. The idea is not to become a recluse; blocking out the pleasure to in turn block out the suffering. It is not about never allowing yourself to love thus never experiencing the hurt. It is more about accepting the true nature of how the world and your mind works. Being able to enjoy what you have, when you have it, without gripping on possessively to something you can never hope to control. If you are able to let go of the attachment you can in turn let go of the suffering.

We begin by changing the way we address ourselves during our meditation practice. Dropping the use of the terms 'I' and 'my'. When I sit with sweat dripping down my back instead of thinking “I am hot”, I say: “the body is hot”. If suddenly a breeze picks up, delicately cooling and caressing my skin, I do not allow myself to revel in the sensation but think instead: “The body feels cool”. If I were to get lost in that pleasure it would immediately be replaced by desire as, once the breeze is gone, I would yearn for its swift return. I begin to become aware of the beauty of impermanence. Pleasure is not permanent but then, neither is suffering. Yes, ‘the back’ may be sore from sitting in the same position for 40 minutes but the feeling will not stay forever. Everything will arise and fall, emotions and sensations included. We are taught specific techniques to use to calm our minds. If the nose is itchy I must resist the urge to itch straight away, without thinking, as I usually would. This would not be mindful. I should be completely aware of everything going on inside and out. Having spent the past 27 years jumping around, carelessly from one thought to another, it feels almost impossible to catch and still my concentration. I have never asked it to do this before so naturally it resits. The monks compare our minds to toddlers, urging us to be gentle and patient with them. Thankfully, just like with a small child, I have mental games (objects), to use as a distraction.

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The first and most common object is breathing. I concentrate on the feeling my breath makes between my top lip and nose, each time I exhale. Or on the rise and fall of my abdomen. When I notice my mind begin to wander I start counting my breathes. One to ten and then back to one. Of course, in the beginning I get as for as three before I am thinking about lunch but then I bring my mind back and start counting from one again. We are told never to get frustrated with our minds for straying like this as the mind is behaving the way a mind should. “Don’t get annoyed and push thoughts away, catch the mind. say ‘mind is thinking’ and mindful come back. Next time mindful come back faster”. He is right. The first few times I think constantly and it takes me ages to even realise my mind is thinking. This does not last long. Very quickly I begin to notice the mind thinking faster than before. It is not that I have less thoughts but now, maybe within just a few seconds, I can catch the thought before it takes over and bring my mind back to concentration. However, it is not long before I start to encounter a problem with my counting game. The mind is bored. I need more games. I count, I breathe deeply, I breathe normally, I spend time feeling each tiny sensation all over the body, I label my thoughts (anger, past, ego, impatience), I internally chant “Bud doh” like the monks, I say “in, out, in, out”. When I feel my mind begin to wander I quickly swap for a different game and succeed in holding it still that bit longer. 30 minutes sitting meditation starts to seem like five minutes and within three days I manage to sit for 50 minutes without moving a muscle.

Meditation is possible in any position. One could technically meditate 24/7. We are taught to meditate standing, sitting, walking and lying down. Lying down makes is almost impossible not to fall asleep, Standing I enjoy, but for only for a short while. Walking, as you read at the beginning, is far too distracting. Each position calls for different techniques and objects. Sitting quickly becomes my favourite. I am amazed by how fast my mind catches on to this new training. Just like a toddler, the mind is a sponge. I have bad sittings and great ones. Sometimes the toddler sleeps other times it throws its toys in my face. Sometimes I want to throw the toys in the corner, get up and leave. But the trick is to just calmly start over, again, and again. Soon I get to know the mind a little better. I am able to find what techniques work best for me, what position is most comfortable for the body and which toys pacify the mind the most.

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Once the mind has calmed a little I switch to my object of choice, ‘the five senses’. I watch the light dance through my eyelids forming shapes and colours behind my eyes. I listen to the insects and birds, I feel the wind, I smell the sweet pollen. Even the sweat rolling down my stomach hardly bothers me anymore. Instead, I use it as an object to distract the mind from wandering. By observing both the mind and the body in this way, you become aware of them as separate entities; both desiring and suffering simultaneously. Then you weirdly become aware of a third entity, the observer. I jump from the body to the mind checking up on them both. I observe the silence in the middle, and just when I can feel the mind unable to keep quiet a second more, I praise it with a game of counting. I can no longer feel my legs and I begin to notice that the more time I sit perfectly still, the less I can actually feel the body. It genuinely does not feel like it belongs to me at all. I know that my right hand is on top of my left but it is as if they have fused together. Everything but the mind has gone numb. I sit in a serene bliss, observing this peculiar sensation. I have never felt this before and then, with no warning at all, my stomach somersaults. The same way it does when you miss a step on the stairs. I regain myself quickly, not allowing this interruption to throw my concentration. I just watch. Then it happens again. It is at this point that the monk calls the end of the meditation and I reluctantly peel open my eyes. He ushers us round for questions and I find myself hearing him describe the exact ‘falling’ sensation I have just experienced. He states that this is the mind moving into a deeper state of concentration but, having never done it before, it panics. Hence the lunge in my stomach. This is probably my biggest breakthrough in my seven days here! Afterwards I keep trying to claw my way back to that feeling, but now that I know what I am looking for, it actually becomes even more difficult. It is like a blind spot in my mind, just when I am close enough to touch it, it disappears.

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Finally the day arrives. It is our turn to leave Wat Tam Wua and I am excited to see the outside world! It is as though eons have passed since our arrival. My last meditation goes really well despite my anxiety after having been stung by a bee, mid-meditation, the day before. The monk’s final talk is about our thoughts, and not allowing them to determine who we are. How we should learn to not feed our negative emotions, for example: laziness. He uses him own life as a model. Recounting that, as a student, he was unable to rise at 4am to practise chanting. “If you allow lazy to enter mind day one, it even stronger next day. You make it harder for yourself”. Seven days in this monastery has left me feeling strong and powerful and I vow that I will not allow lazy to enter my mind, I will keep practising everything I have learnt each day… or try, at least.

Leaving our last class, I am suddenly saddened by the fact that I will not see these monks anymore. We have come to grow so fond of them all and their individual quirks. The young one, the question-time one, the elderly one who never speaks, the serious one who never smiles, the jolly one who always smiles. I feel so privileged to have been able to learn in this warm and open environment, directly from these dedicated people. As tourists, we see monks all the time, but I would never have an opportunity to gain this much without visiting a monastery; and in English too! I walk back to my dorm for the last time in my white clothes. I feel simultaneously heavy and light. Happy and sad. It is as though I have been given a boost of serotonin causing me to feel, not overly ecstatic, but cozy and content. Balanced in the moment. I do not even feel like talking to D. My mind is buzzing with energy, but even the idea of striking up a conversation takes up too much of my strength. Besides, what would I say that could possibly sum up everything coursing through my body this second? Not wishing to break the spell, we walk down the path, side by side. Neither of us uttering a word.

I am so impressed with how much I have achieved in only one week. Can you believe, one German girl has been here eight months and counting? I think I would miss dinner too much to stay that long. For me, one week has been prefect. Not only have I been able to unearth all the random information regarding the monks I was curious to know; why they are bald? Why their robes are the colour they are? Do they have to be vegetarian? The difference between a Forest Monk and a City Monk. etc. I have learnt the importance of understanding the difference between pleasure and happiness. I have also discovered a lot about ‘myself’. Myself. Charlotte. This abstract concept that encompasses so much more than the never ending prattle going on in my head. I no longer define the voice inside my head as the voice of reason. This is but a tiny piece of the puzzle. I am the body; which will, completely unattended (and quite magically), grow, breathe and heal. I am the mind; imagining endless possibilities and impossible dreams. I am also pulsing energy. Energy that is constantly in interaction with the elements of the world around me. I am the noise. I am the silence.

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Posted by chb00001 09:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand monk meditation retreat wat_tam_wua forest_monastery maehongson

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Read your account with great interest.
Always been interested in what meditation is about specially among buddhists monks.
I loved your account of mindful walking, constantly resisting distractions and redirecting your mind to mindfullness, a process that seemed to have worked for you, judging by what you achieved at the end of the week.
I understand it was hard, struggling with hunger, becoming stoic with discomforts and even pain. Well done , Charlotte!

I love your approach, not just tourism but actually understand what different people are about by sharing, living their experience of life.

You are a gifted writer, honest, precise, introspected,
taking us , readers to places we will never go yet you
satisfy our curiosity.
In the future, I can see a good book coming out of your travel experiences.

Good luck! Enjoy! Love!
Michele

by Michele

Phenomenal use of the written word to identify feelings that many would struggle to come to terms with, let alone comprehend. I hope you continue using the writing as something to help in your own understanding as well as your readers.

inspiring, thank you Char

Stu

by Stu

Oh wow. Thank you so much guys! I'm touched by your comments. It was indeed a struggle at times and more than once I snuck out to the shop to eat after 12pm... :) Of course, rewarding too (the most difficult struggles usually are). I am glad I was able to take you all with me!

Big love, xx

by chb00001

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