(These are my unedited thoughts while inside Wat Tam Wua Forest Meditation Center in Thailand. It was my first “formal” experience at a meditation center. I’ve learned so much now and still learning…)
This is probably cheating but I’ve decided to write about my meditation experience here at the forest monastery in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. We are given a”free” time that we are supposed to use to practice meditation on our own but as I’ve seen some people use this time to write on their journal or take pictures of the monastery, I too, will be writing my thoughts and reflections on my phone’s notepad about my stay here so far. I thought they would take it away but they didn’t and in fact, a lot of people have their phone with them taking pictures. I’ve uninstalled facebook or any social media though and only using my phone to write my thoughts on the notepad to publish on my blog later. I’ve promised myself not to be online other than publishing my reflections. Let’s see how long I keep that up.
I arrived at the monastery 4 days ago feeling a little sick. The 6-hour minivan ride from Chiang Mai was awfully long and tiring. The winding road along the mountainside was beautiful and scenic but proved to be too much for most passengers so that each rest stop, everyone came out of the van with a bag of their own vomit. Almost everyone in the van got car sick. I felt really dizzy but wasn’t nauseated enough to use the little plastic vomit bags readily available in front of our seats. Thank god. Or Buddha?
There were 3 other people who walked the 1.5 km way towards to monastery with me. We checked in, were told about the rules of the monastery, got assigned our dorms -men separate from women- and I got my white shirt and pants that I am supposed to wear during my entire stay.
I only had 30 minutes to get settled before the evening chanting began. Everyone went in the main hall in their white garments. It “looked like what probably heaven would look like”, as one of my roommates would later describe to me. I was a bit uncomfortable of it all to be honest. To me, the white uniform seemed a bit cult-sy. During the entire chanting, I felt restless and confused. We were sitted in the lotus position, our legs crisscrossed, right leg on top of the left. I’m supposed to be not thinking about anything, my mind is supposed to be blank but it is filled with random thoughts and images. The events of the past days still vivid in my mind. The monk guided us to a meditative state that seemed to work for most people, just not for me.
The evening finished without much meaning to me. I’ve just arrived so I don’t expect myself to be a meditation master. Tomorrow, it will be better, I said to myself.
I woke up at 5 am with a sore neck. It was easy to wake up as I didnt sleep well last night. During the night, I felt like there were insects crawling all over my body and even biting me. It woke me up a few times. I don’t even know if everything was a dream. Was it just my imagination? But it felt real. I did check my body for some bites and there weren’t any. Time to do some meditation at the main hall.
It feels weird being in such a serious place. I just noticed that no one smiles and for some reason, everyone looks so sad and depressed, maybe even angry? I’ve realized that being silent is an option here and in fact, it is what makes this center different from the rest as it allows people to talk if they want to. If you want to be silent, you are given a badge that says: Silent but happy. But then no one looks happy! Maybe they are happy inside? But shouldn’t it show from the outside?
There were 4 of us in the dorm. I’ve never talked to anyone yet except to an American guy named Hayden who is leaving today after spending 10 days here. I felt like he was the most relaxed of the group. He said that he didn’t talk much to the people in the dorm either as everyone seems to be in their own. He said they were all from Europe. Great coz Europeans are known to be so friendly and approachable. Ugh.
It’s funny coz the monk even said during the evening talk that the foreigners that come here “look so sad”:
“Foreigners come here, look so sad,” he said with a smile on his face. “I ask them, where are you from? I don’t know. What is your name? I don’t know. What are you doing here? I came to practice vipassana meditation. But why you look so sad? Vipassana should make you happy!”
I better just focus on myself. Actually it’s a good thing that no one talks so I can just concentrate on my own meditation. The less you talk, the more you gain. It feels a bit awkward though when most of the people here do not have the silent but happy badge but they don’t even smile or acknowledge you when you see them. It’s like looking at zombies, they are staring nowhere.
There are Thai people who are meditating here too and they have no problem smiling. They don’t look like zombies dressed in white.
Had a nice lunch today. Apparently more food than usual because it was Buddha’s birthday. The food was abundant and delicious. They had a lot of local desserts which I was excited to try. It was the last meal of the day and I was hungry. During my entire time here, lunch, served at 11 am is the last meal of the day. There is no dinner. I guess it helps in meditation?
I’m still having a hard time meditating. For some reason I am expecting something to happen while sitting in the lotus position. I expect my mind to be blank but I am thinkibg too much. I see faces and events. I’m supposed to just concentrate on my breathing and nothing else. I can concentrate on my breathing but I also have other thoughts in my head which I am not supposed to.
Everything is still very new and foreign. I have this idea of meditation before coming here and now, I don’t know what happened to that idea. Let’s see what will happen next.