On the first Jan full moon of 2021, I checked into a monastery, For 5 days, I slept on the floor, had no phone, no meals after 12pm, no talking, no going out, no entertainment, no room service. If you think it sounds like torture, this is a rave review. I LOVED it, and I am here to share why everyone should experience it too.
At 4:30am daily, the bell rang. Dressed in all white, we made our beds and reported to the prayer hall. The hall soon filled with our chanting - foreign words that used to sound monotonous when I was a kid - actually sounded like music to me now. There's a syncopated rhythm to the Pali language. Though I was out of sync many times, the English translation in the prayer book helped me connect to what Buddha preached to his disciples 2600 years ago.
The abbot of the temple was chatty and wise (a challenge for us not to engage with him on this silent retreat). He emphasised living simply and mindfully to find peace and joy. That much of our suffering comes from our mind and is unnecessary.
My meditation teacher was Dhammakamo (DK) - a former millenial monk influenced by Theravada, Zen and Tibetan teachings. What I loved is that he was able to share meditation and Buddha's teachings in a practical manner that can be applied in today's modern world.
I am thankful to my meditation teacher DK who was chilled and supportive, and to the Abbott who graciously allowed us to stay in the temple. Mostly, my heart is full with my fellow practitioners who we connected by completely BE, without conversations, just a friendly smile as we sat together daily for our meals.
1. Please excuse your mind
Do you know experts estimate we have at least 2100 thoughts per hour? And even when we sleep, we dream. Our mind is always working. While we shower our bodies at least once a day, when was the last time you "cleaned" your mind? Surely the mind deserves some rest? And the ONLY way is through meditation, to practise slowing down, and calming your mind.
Through my meditation sessions, I had a better understanding of my thoughts which came and went. I tried catching and naming my thoughts when they popped up. I gathered enough data myself to realise how useless and baseless most of my thoughts were!
The ridiculous amount of delusion, fabricated stories, fairy tale imagination, and wild fantasies. 99% of them were fiction, whereas a handful were real, actual memories. How appalling!
With this realisation, I realised there is less need to worry.
How many of us worry about the future - work that has not been done, meetings that are coming up, or how others may judge you? However, why do we want to spend our mental energy on something that has not happened, may not happen, instead of spending our focus on the here and now? Where focus goes, the energy flows.
2. There can be a different response to pain
As I went longer into the meditations, there were discomfort in the body. The practise was to watch the sensation, but not react to it. What happened next was fascinating when I did not adjust my leg. The pain went to the background - dull sensation that was zoned out - it was there but the mind no longer bothered me.
This experience was profound because when faced with suffering in the real world, I learned that we always have a choice, to choose a different response.
3. Make time to be bored
As we had so much time and space to do nothing, mundane things started to come alive! The flowers and fruits that bloomed around the yard, the birds that sang and flew by, the clouds that shifted, the rain that poured heavily down the roof and fell to the temple grounds, the wind chimes that swayed and tinkled in the wind. The food was simple yet SIMPLY delicious.
Every morning, we did Karma yoga - sweeping and cleaning our rooms. For someone who hates doing housework, I was most surprised I found joy in cleaning a dusty vase in a corner.
For our walking meditation - I lifted one leg, placed the heel on the ground, before feeling the whole foot in contact with the carpet floor, and repeated the same action for the next foot. Every step walked, I imagined leaving a trail of love and peace for the person who was walking behind me. Who knew after living decades on earth, we could learn how to walk again?
Image 1: The prayer hall where I did my chanting and walking meditation. Image 2: The meditation hall where we meditated and had sharing circles.
The world glorifies entertainment, excitement, achievement and expensive possessions. That's why so many of us chase happiness without success.
Happiness is simple. Just be here and now.
Smell the flowers. Watch the clouds. Take a walk. Listen to the wind. Taste your food and give gratitude to the rain that nourished the fields, which grew the food and went through many hands before it was lovingly made and reached to your bowl.
How rare an opportunity it was, to make time and space to be feeling bored!
So when is the last time you had a staycation for your mind? If you are thinking of starting meditation, reach out to Dhammakamo now!