Venturing back to Chiang Mai for my third visit within the year, I decided to mix it up a bit and give myself a new challenge. I very happily could have relaxed in town all week visiting different cafe's and restaurants, or re-visited Pai for another tattoo, but I ventured up the hill towards Doi Suthep instead. The purpose of my visit was not to join the hoards of tourists headed in that direction for photos of the famous temple, rather it was to the nearby Meditation center, my new home for a week.
I had originally booked a 5 day stay (they allow short visits of 3, 5 or 7 days) but after talking about it with one of my yoga students at Banteay Srey I chose to extend my stay. A full Vipassana meditation should be 10 days, but unfortunately my schedule didn't allow for that. I arrived at the center a bit early, giving me time to check into my room and relax before our schedule began. I really went into this blindly, not knowing what to expect from either the center or myself. I knew that my previous attempts at meditation have been pretty pathetic, but was hoping to discover some new skills during my stay. The first day started with an explanation of both walking and sitting techniques, the rules, and opening ceremony.
Pratimoksa is the word for the governing body of rules which Buddhist monks and nuns are expected to follow; a list of 227 for the monks and 311 for nuns. Thankfully we didn't have quite an extensive list, they limit it to only eight for the participants:
1. Abstain from killing living beings.
I knew about these rules before I signed up for my stay, they're posted online and common across meditation centers. I had no doubt I'd be able to follow these rules, although I wasn't looking forward to #6. I like to eat and am not a stranger to the feelings of hanger, but everyone says 'you adjust' so I figured I'd survive. In addition to these 8 rules however, we had an additional set of 'guidelines' some of which I wasn't really down with.
Meditators are not allowed to mix the practice with other meditation techniques or yoga, tai chi, aerobics, etc.
Although the first 8 rules were easy for me to accept a few of these I wasn't quite in agreement with, the first and last to be exact. As you may know, I've become a bit of a Yogi nut, practicing daily and feeling 'off' if I miss more than a few days. My home practice has become an hour of my day when I can clear my mind and focus on myself, my body and my breath. Really it's the closest I get to meditating on the day to day, so giving this up just didn't seem feasible. Yoga asana is a practice that prepares the body for meditation so I couldn't quite understand why we weren't supposed to take part, hence the reason I continued with my daily practice. Not to mention an afternoon hour of yoga helped kill some time and distract me from my growling stomach.
I understood the reading/writing rule as these activities would keep our minds active while we were supposed to be clearing and settling them, but I still wanted to journal about my experience. I decided to give myself 15 minutes each night to jot down notes for the day, but this actually turned into writing 5 summarizing thoughts for each day. So what better way to blog about it all than to share those quick snippets with you, with a bit more explanation.
Day 1 4/26
1. I can totally do this
2. I'm hungry...but not dying
3. My hips suck
4. How is there a cute boy here? So when I was preparing for this stay I read this blog and laughed at the part where she mentioned a cute boy being at her retreat. I thought that must have been a fluke, but then another girl said the same thing in the comments. Still doubtful I brushed these comments aside but on the first day I found myself sitting next to an extremely attractive boy, and then a second one arrived a few days later. Unfortunately I never spoke a word to either of them, don't even now their names or where they were from...shame.
5. Seven days / 6 (5) more, ehhh we'll see..
Day 2 4/27
1. I live for meal times seriously, highlight of my day
2. My right hip (leg) is the devil
3. Lots of cheaters here There were a few chatty women who completely ignored the 'No Talking' rule, and then there was cell phone girl. In the meditation hall, outside and in the lunchroom cell phone was often in hand.
4. Oh yeah, yoga ~ but it keeps me sane Okay so technically I cheated too but c'mon...one hour of yoga or constant cell phone use, I think my exception to the rule was a bit more acceptable.
5. I'm on the floor... Okay so my bed at this place was terrible, the frame was broken so I was basically sleeping in a bowl, not really helpful for my already aching 'old lady' hips. To solve this problem I decided to ditch the frame and just toss my mattress right on the floor, not comfortable but a slight improvement.
Day 3 4/28
1. My legs hurt
2. I'm tired and hungry
3. Cool meditation today. Colors and Intention I had my first 'successful' meditation session with myself that afternoon, I chose to set an intention to help clear my mind and focus and saw colors - which our monk later explained was totally normal and common.
4. Still can't stop my mind
5. I want another tattoo Clearly I was getting closer to enlightenment
Day 4 4/29
1. 90% of my thoughts are about food
2. The rest my aching legs
3. The monk has a weird cough Sounds weird but this was seriously distracting during our Dharma talks and chanting
4. Outside > Inside Well duh.
5. 5 o'clock yoga rocked my world After 4 days of forcing myself into cross-legged meditation position yoga was feeling amazing!
Day 5 4/30
1. Not talking doesn't bother me
2. Not eating does
3. Three words: Banana Chip Carpet so during my walking meditation I looked down at the carpet I was on and noticed that the pattern looked a little bit like rows upon rows of banana chips. This along with my thoughts of "I wonder if those are edible" to the berries I saw on various trees just proves that I was a little hungry.
4. What am I learning? No, this is a serious question.
5. New tattoo ideas! 4 to be exact
Day 6 5/1
1. I finally understand restorative yoga and it can be magical
2. I did 50 minutes of real meditation!
3. So many newbies today, glad I'm out Pretty sure about 8 new people came that day, and I was so happy to be on my way out and not have to observe them all find their ways.
4. Still thinking about food
5. and my broken body ~ need some chiro or eastern medicine treatments, or daily massages - I'll start tomorrow.
Day 7 5/2
1. I cheated a few times, is Sudoku cheating? I admit it, aside from my yoga I played sudoku on my phone a few times. I'm not positive but this probably didn't fall within the rules. My bad.
2. Starvation to heaping bowl of noodles = sick So by the time breakfast rolled around I was seriously hungry and generally we were served heaping bowls of noodles. It was easy for me to practice slow, mindful eating as my stomach was quickly upset with this thing called food, especially on the day the noodles appeared to be swimming in snot, nasty.
3. I love sunrises I need to continue waking up for these because they're quite easily my favorite part of the day.
4. Mountain forest > Beach = my home The location of this center reminded me of my grandmas old house in the woods of West Bend and sold me on the fact that this is where I want to, one day, live.
5. I'm done!
Well based on these 35 summarizing thoughts it's pretty clear that I learned a lot during my 7 day stay at Doi Suthep. Although these notes aren't very profound I will say that it was a good experience, I learned a bit about myself (even if the most significant was that I love food and have stiff legs) and appreciate that I went through with the full 7 days.
High on the tourist track for a reason, home of good food (mostly) happy people, rich history and culture. Thailand as many tourist soon learn is just easy. Easy to visit, easy to get around and even easier to stay.