From Krabi, I headed to Surat Thani and then took a minibus up to Chaiya, to Wat Suan Mokkh. I was headed up there to take part in an 11 day silent meditation retreat! Sounds like quite the adventure, non? I arrived at the temple, and was given a dorm for the night. I arrived on Tuesday the 29th, even though the retreat itself didn’t officially begin until the 1st of the month. Registration begins on the last day of each month, and as retreats fill up some months, it was advised to show up on the day before registration in order to ensure a space. I arrived at about 5:30PM, and met a few others who has also shown up early. There was little to do once the sun set, and I headed to bed around 8PM. On Wednesday morning, we walked two km to the International Dhamma Hermitage. Although connected with Suan Mokkh, the Hermitage is used only for retreats, and is somewhat isolated for this purpose. I registered, paid my 2000 Baht (that equates to about $65, and was the sum total of what I had to pay for my time at the retreat), and handed over my passport, then headed to my dorm room. I set up my room… which isn’t saying much. Let me tell you about my living quarters. My room consisted of a concrete slab, covered with a thin bamboo mat, which was in turn topped with a wooden pillow. If you’re wondering about the wooden pillow… it’s just what it sounds like. It is a block of wood that has been sanded smooth so as not to cause splinters, and this is what you rest your head on every night. I set up my “bed” with my blanket and mosquito net, and then headed into Chaiya to get my last internet fix for at least the next 11 days. I ended up in a cafe for a few hours and spent far too long talking to my fella, reassured by the fact that when I was done with the retreat, there would be only nine days left separating us. Around 2PM, I headed back to the Hermitage, handed over my valuables to be put in their safe, and explored the grounds a bit. At 4PM we had an info session, and at 7PM, we officially went silent, and listened to some talks. 9PM meant bedtime, with lights out half an hour later.
I won’t go into the details of the next ten days, because the schedule was the same every day, but I’ll mention the worthwhile bits.
Everyday, our schedule went like this:
4:00AM Rise and shine
4:30AM Morning talk
4:45AM Sitting meditation
7:00AM Dhamma talk and sitting meditation
8:00AM Breakfast, followed by chores, then free time
10:00AM Dhamma talk
11:00AM Walking or standing meditation
11:45AM Sitting meditation
12:30PM Lunch, followed by freetime
2:30PM Meditation instruction/ Dhamma talk
3:30PM Walking or standing meditation
4:15PM Sitting meditation
5:00PM Chanting meditation and loving kindness meditation
6:00PM Teatime, followed by free time
7:30PM Sitting meditation
8:00PM Group walking meditation
8:30PM Sitting meditation
9:00PM Bed time
9:30PM Lights out
Getting up at 4AM is not a talent… what I would say is a talent though, is the fact that I was able to fall back asleep on my wooden pillow and bamboo mat after the bell rang for ten solid minutes in order to wake us up.
Throughout out time at the retreat, we were taught about Buddhism, and the teachings of Ajahn Buddhadasa, who founded Wat Suan Mokkh and the retreat center. We learnt about the dhamma, or dharma, as it is more commonly called in English. We were taught about mindful breathing, and how to use it to meditate.
We were silent every day, except before meals when we recited a passage together, and during chating meditation. By day four, it was obvious that the women were getting restless, and I started to hear whispers all over the place. I was far from perfect, and the occasional words escaped. They were typically apologies or swears.
By the end of the retreat, I didn’t successfully meditate. I did not delve deep into my mind, or even achieve total concentration. I now know, with more certainty than I did before, that I have a very restless mind. It’s difficult for me to turn it off, but by the end of the retreat, I had managed to subdue it significantly. I realized that even though I was still always thinking during the meditation sessions, when I was open my eyes, I felt like I was waking up; noises were louder and everything was brighter. So, no meditation, but my focus was improving.
On day 11, we packed our bags and many of us went for breakfast at Wat Suan Mokkh. It was wonderful to get to speak with everyone we’d been sitting alongside for the last ten days. By 9:30AM, I began my journey back to Surat Thani, with my ultimate destination being Kuala Lumpur… it was another one of those endless days of travel.
The experience was challenging, but I am so pleased that I decided to attend. I came away with some insights, and practices that I want to incorporate into my life. It was time well spent.
My bed, all set up with the mosquito net in place to keep out all sorts of creepy crawlies. (I had a scorpion in my room one day!)
The bamboo mat and wooden pillow. Looks comfy, right?
This magnificent tree is right next to the main meditation hall. We met multiple times a day.
At night, we would do a group walking meditation around the reflecting pools. This is the circular reflecting pool.
And this is the rectangular reflecting pool
My room 🙂
Is anyone is interested about attending the retreat or you would like more information, you can learn more here.