I am back in the real world. After 10 days of Meditation, no Dinner, no real bed, no coffee, no music, no speaking, no reading, no chocolate, no shower, no Internet. Just me and my thoughts and 100 of other people crazy enough to do a 10 day meditation retreat in the middle of nature somewhere in southern Thailand.
It all started with a serious interview with a buddhist nun, who had to make sure that I knew what I was getting myself into and who had to judge whether I was mentally stable enough to endure 10 days of living her life without going completely nuts. I handed my iPod in and paid the 2000 baht (50€) which was the contribution for 10 days of accomodation, food, meditation classes and teachings in buddhism.
After I was admitted I headed off to my 'room' which was rather a cell with a cement bed, no matrace and a wooden pillow! We got instructions on how to behave in a monastery with monks and nuns around and what was expexted from us in the next 10 days and than the silence began. That was our timetable for the next days:
04.00 *** Wake up *** = Monastery bell
04.30 Morning Reading
04.45 Sitting meditation
07.00 *** Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
08.00 breakfast & Chores
10.00 *** Dhamma talk
11.00 Walking or standing meditation
11.45 *** Sitting meditation
12.30 Lunch & 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
21.00 *** Bedtime
(the gates will be closed at 21.15)
21.30 *** LIGHTS OUT
First I thought, the silence is going to be the hardest thing, than I saw the waking up time and thought, that is going to be the hardest thing but that was before seeing my cell and the 'bed' and than I saw the breakfast and thought, this is going to be really hard (and it actually was bad, after day 3 I couldn't eat the rice porridge in the morning anymore, even the smell of it made me nearlly puke) but the hardest thing was actually the sitting and not moving for hours. We just can't do that anymore. Try it, after at least 30 seconds something itches or hurts or aches and you have to change your posture... But anyway, here is what happened with me:
Although we got first instructions in the meditation technique of 'Anapanasati' there was no much meditation possible. First of all the participants had to be watched carefully and judged badly within my head :): 'oh what is she wearing', 'I can't believe that person over there wants to meditate', 'of course he is late, he must be italian or spanish' and so on I was b****ing around silently.
Day 2: the easy breathing technique they teached us was really working, I had my first good Meditation results but in the second the bell rang, I was happily strolling around like a walking Jukebox, singing and making myself one Ohrwurm after the other. It is really strange how Body and mind are connected. When I sat down after a couple of minutes my legs started to fall asleep and my back hurt really Bad. But when you start to get into the meditative state of mind, all the pain is suddennly gone and everything feels really good. They say, when the mind settles, the Body also settles. That really Works!
Day 3: it got harder to focus on the breathing which we were supposed to do all day long and so my mind got bored and drifted to nice places in the past or made plans for the future. That is exactly what you are not supposed to do, the idea is to get rid of the thinking and be aware of the moment. That worked but only for a certain time and certainly not during walking meditation.
Day 4: the silence started to get hard and so I catched myself having imaginative conversations in my head! Seriously, I was talking to all of you guys when I couldn't concentrate anymore. But the results of meditating got better and I could also hold that empty mind for longer and also during walking. After you come out of meditation your senses are really sharp because your mind is not that busy and can actually concentrate on watching, touching or seeing. That was a strange feeling, I tell you, you feel kind of drugged but really awake. So it is really true what they say: you have to loose your mind, to come to your senses. But not in the meaning of going crazy to be able to be normal. More in the sense of getting rid of all your thoughts, emptying your mind, in order to be able to really feel again. That is how a newborn baby must experience the World.
Day 5-7: I started to have really good meditation results everytime I would sit down and even during the walking Meditation. Those were actually my best days of the retreat.
Day 8: I just couldn't motivate myself anymore. I was bored and thought I have learnt everything I wanted to, I am not going to go any further or deeper into meditation and I don't want to become the next Buddha either. I was sick of the food, of getting up ridicilously early, of my 'bed' and really everything. I was hungry and grumpy all day. At that stage I thought it would have been a perfect retreat if it would have been only 7 days. It seems that other people had the same problem as people started to communicate with notes and whispering to each other and every day more people would have left the retreat.
Day 9: my motivation was even worse than the day before considered that they skipped the talks of the monks in the afternoon to give us more time to meditate and we only got breakfast as the only meal of the day. We were supposed to experience one typical day in the daily life of a buddhist monk or nun. But the thought of having made it almost, kept me going.
No way I could think of meditating that day, I made plans on where to go after the retreat and wondered where and how I could get a big coffee and a croissants as quick as possible and where I could check my Emails and so on... I craved everything: chocolate, bread, Coffee, a pillow and a real bed, a normal toilet a shower, everything I was supposed to not need anymore.
In the end I was glad I made it but I was also happy to get back to my backpacker life and some lazy days just drinking coffee and not do anything at all. But I am proud of myself to have done it and I learned so much and have to say, that buddhism is a really interesting life philosophy. They are really selfless and humble and so tolerant towards everything and everybody that it almost hurts. They don't want to convert you in a Buddhist, they accept everybody As they are. That is really astonishing. And they have some pretty interesting thoughts in how to improve your Life. Especially the talks of one english monk were really good. He was so sarcastic and funny and really down to earth and forward. He explained us his problems with meditating in the beginning and that he had a phase where he would start to think about Sex, in the minute he would sit down to meditate. Try to meditate with that on your mind...impossible. And he was so open about it...really cool for a 65 year old monk I think.
Anyway, I am really happy to have done it, it was really a life influencing experience. Not only you overthink some of your ideas but also I have a tool with which I can calm myself down whenever I feel nervous and busy-minded as I usually am.