10 days retreat in silence in a monastery in Thailand (part 1/3)
To isolate yourself for a moment, just once in your life. To put oneself in silence, listening to hear what is happening inside of you. Taken in the movement of life, I was at the point where I was missing this quiet space to hear what is happening inside. My nights of rest were not enough anymore. I needed whole days to get inside myself. To hear me, to understand me. To know me. To watch my truth, to look where I am. You know, I am so talkative, so inclined to discuss everything with everyone, but I needed, for the first time in my life to shut up. I dreamed not to speak, not to exchange, to be in the most total calm: to not hear this outside so demanding … to finally hear me.
That’s how I came to Suan Mokkh, this monastery in Thailand. A monastery that has been offering 10 silence days retreat every month, with meditation and teachings. Several friends of mine had already had the opportunity to do it and the good they had told me had made me curious. So, this month of May 2018, I made my decision and I made this retreat … Here I am 12 days later writing you this article; I think this retreat will inspire me for a while… Now I tell you more about this experience. Curious?
Let’s start from the beginning: Suan Mokkh International Dharma Hermitage was created by the very revered Ajahn Buddhadasa in 1989. For most of us, this name is totally unknown, but he was one of the most important people in Buddhism. It is said that this man had found the key to life, that he was illuminated alive in pure happiness, free from anykind of suffering. His goal was to create a place where everyone from around the world was welcome to receive help in his quest for happiness through Buddha’s teachings. Anyway, since no less than 25,000 people have been to this place from all around the world, from different paths of life, between 17 and 70 years.
Program of a day during the retreat
A day in Suan Mokk, is very quiet … yes but it is also very busy and very challenging especially for Europeans like us who are far from the way of living of these monks! And this is a little summary of my 10 days to give you an idea how looks like my daily life during this time:
04.00 Wake up
04.30 Morning Reading
04.45 Sitting meditation
05.15 Yoga / Exercise – Mindfulness in motion
07.00Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
08.00 Breakfast & Chores
10.00 Dhamma talk
11.00 Walking or standing meditation
11.45 Sitting meditation
12.30Lunch & chores
14.30 Meditation instruction & Sitting meditation
15.30 Walking or standing meditation
16.15 Sitting meditation
17.00 Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
18.00 Tea & hot springs
19.30 Sitting meditation
20.00 Group walking meditation
20.30 Sitting meditation
21.30 Lights out
So what are we really talking about, or rather what are we listening for 10 days?
Meditation by the breath: one of the keys taught and transmitted in this monastery. My hours of meditation, I spent them to focus on my breathing, to become aware of it, to follow it, to feel it, to understand it, whether it is short or long, to be totally immerge in this cycle. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. To know its path, its length, to focus on the point of entry and exit, without letting myself be absorb by something else. With power you will be teach that breathing is life. Without breathing, there is no life. If we understand the breath, we understand life because these two are linked. So, that’s what we do, we understand that it is the implication of our breathing in our life. How each thought influences our breathing and it is at this moment of total immersion in the breath that the mindfulness arrives: to be totally dedicated to this moment of observation of one’s breath, without past, without present. The breath becomes longer and longer, deeper and deeper and more and more relaxing. Breathing becomes this tool that can be used to calm an emotion that rises suddenly and cannot be controlled. A breath with awareness can calm an emotional shock. This breathing can soothe a physical pain that seems far too strong, an acceptable pain that moves and ends.
Meditation is also a mental discipline: always return to the point of focus when thoughts are flying somewhere else but also discipline and physical intelligence by holding your back straight. It may sound simple said like that but I can guarantee you that the pain of having to stand upright for hours made more than one person runway after just two days of retreat.
In Suan Mokkh you are also taught to walk with conscience, which means that when you walk, you walk and you think of nothing else besides focusing on each of your body’s actions. I admit that during these walks, I often had revelations about myself. These walks in slowness and in consciousness are much more powerful than they seem. And … there is the group walking meditation each evening, it was around this magnificent lake under the stars and guided by candles; magical moments of communion with nature that I will keep in my heart.
Suan Mokkh is a beautiful place to discover Buddhism in a profound way but all the teachings stay simple and accessible. You can be from any religion, the teachings given there are universal. You don’t have to be agreed, you just need to be opened to another way of seeing things to help you to understand better what is happening in you. Moreover, Buddhism presents itself more as a science that takes as a basis suffering: What is suffering? Where does it come from? And how to get ourselves out of it? Or said in a more fun way: how to find happiness and peace inside of you. Buddhism is not a religion that asks you to follow a god. Besides, Buddha apparently never wanted disciples. His teachings are available to help everyone to find happiness regardless of their religion, gender, or country: the principle is to achieve religion from your own heart.
During this retreat, there are many speeches every day that are offered and you can meditate on it. If during the first days I didn’t understand anything, because of English and Buddhist terms after three days, everything starts to be clear. Indeed, every day, there are many repetitions and at one point things are setting up naturally; the goal is not to understand all Buddhism but only a few keys that we can take at home with us.
There are also interviews during the retreat where everyone is free to write a question about the teachings to have a better understanding. In addition, incredible thing, they offer you at the end of the retreat, free books on the Buddhist teachings that you have the choice to take or not. During the retreat, documents in your native language are also available to help you understand the heart of the Buddhism. To summarize, everything is done to leave with tools.
Chanting are also proposed, chanting that repeat the teachings of Buddha, the sacred chanting of the monks. It is also very nice to be able to sing or listen to these teachings this way.
End of the first part; see you next week for the part 2. 🙂
All my love,