(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…)
It’s been raining a lot here at the monastery. Almost everyday it rains. Today, it rained from when I woke up at 5 am till just about now and it is already 6 pm. The grey clouds and the rain definitely doesn’t help in lifting people’s mood. It makes everything here so much more gloomy. You just want to stay in your room and do nothing. But it’s business as usual here and we have to go out and meditate as scheduled in the main hall. It is kind of nice though because when you close your eyes to meditate, you can clearly hear the beautiful sound of the rain and the forest animals and creatures are even louder after the rain. That is pretty special.
I have been washing my white clothes everyday and it sucks because with the rain, it doesn’t dry very fast. When the sun comes out though, it comes out really strong and the clothes dry within an hour.
I am still writing these reflections on my free time here at the monastery. It’s been really very interesting staying here.
Let me share my daily routine here at the monastery.
I usually wake up at 5:30 am. I am supposed to wake up at 5 am and practice meditation on my own in my room but I’m too lazy to do that so I wake up, do some stretches for a few minutes and then I take my shower. It’s perfect that I am mostly the only one in the room that showers in the morning as there are only 2 showers and only 1 has hot water which is the one I use. The rest here shower during the day, I guess ,or not shower at all?
At around 6:30 am, we go to the main hall to do a rice offering to the monks. We sit in a line around the main hall and the monks go around with their alms bowl that we fill with rice – a tablespoonful for each monk. There are about 9 of them. When everyone has offered rice to the monks, the abbot speaks and greets everyone good morning in different languages. He is always smiling and even if you didn’t sleep well the night before or woke up in a bad mood for some reason, you cannot help but smile and feel happy because of his positive personality. It’s usually the only time of the day when I see people smile.
We have our breakfast shortly after the morning greetings. It’s a heavy meal of rice and something with tofu. I don’t like eating heavy meals in the morning but since we don’t have dinner here, I a heavy breakfast is always welcomed. The food is pretty simple but delicious and it is vegan.
There’s a “relax” time in between activities. We start our morning chanting at 8 am and then we do a walking meditation followed by a sitting meditation. My favorite is the walking one when we walk around the monastery’s gardens in silence, making sure that we are mindful of each step that we take. We are supposed to be chanting BUD for a step and DHO with the other until our mind does nothing else but be focused on the steps. Sometimes I do it, most of the times, I really just enjoy the surroundings and the experience. I try to walk barefoot each time because I like the feeling of my feet touching the ground.
I do not like the sitting meditation so much. We have to be in a lotus position for 40 minutes, meditating in silence, trying to focus on our breathing and keeping our minds blank. I can do it for 15 minutes and then I start to feel uncomfortable and restless in the position. If I sit on a chair though, I can meditate longer. I had been trying to meditate sitting on a chair but I’m also trying to train myself to be in a lotus position.
We have a break before lunch time at 11 am which is the last meal of the day. Usually people socialize during lunch and those who don’t want to talk eat somewhere far so no one could disturb them. Or they wear a badge that says Silent but happy.
We begin our afternoon meditations at 1 pm. All sessions always start with a dhamma talk which means a monk talks about the Buddha teachings in English and Thai and then we do a walking meditation, followed by a 40 minute sitting meditation. In the afternoon,we sometimes do lying meditation which apparently a lot of people like because they can just lay down and fall asleep.
Evenings are mostly chanting starting at 6 pm and a 40 minute sitting meditation. Yes we do a lot of meditation here! This is what people come here for! We end the night at 8 pm when people are expected to silently meditate on their rooms for 1 hour before sleeping. I have never done that. I usually just have something to drink and go to bed.
The routine starts again the next day.
Mindfulness is very elusive to say the least. The monks have been telling us to keep our minds focused on our breathing and nothing else. I’ve been doing that. But for 40 minutes? Our meditation sessions are usually 40 minutes long. For 40 minutes, you are supposed to observe your body, your mind, your surroundings, your feelings, isolate each and everything that you feel and think. You can’t react to anything, you just observe. You are advised not to react to your feelings. Just observe it. Observe everything.
But then, what is the purpose for all this “observing”? I can observe my body and my mind, thoughts and feelings but not for 40 minutes. My minds starts to wander after 15 minutes. I start to plan my trip, think about random people or have internal debate about different topics and issues. After 20 to 30 minutes, I start to feel uncomfortable with my position. I start to itch and feel restless. That’s when meditation is finished for me.
In this monastery, we just learn the basic vipassana meditation which is concentrated on the breathing. Each breath is done mindfully. Breathing in, we say BUD, breathing out we say DHO until our mind cannot separate itself from the breathing. It becomes one. That’s when you have calmness and focus.
Anyway, I can’t describe everything except how I feel. I feel frustrated, I feel like I am doing things the wrong way. I feel like this is all so useless to me.
There are a lot of questions that are running through my mind right now. Questions about life, relationships, the pursuit of happiness. It is interesting how so many people are doing all these things in the pursuit of this eternal happiness – a life of nirvana, a life free from sufferings and pain. Does that life even exist? We are humans, suffering and pain and the 1000 emotions and feelings make us alive. In many ways it makes life colorful and fun. Why would you just want to feel happy? Sometimes in sadness and melancholy, I am able to write more or create art. My fears enable me to challenge myself and put myself in exciting situations to challenge myself and expand my limits. These many emotions that we feel is what makes us human.
Happiness is sometimes so overrated. Of course, everyone wants to be happy but we go through too much effort to find it. What is kind of ironic I find is that we are so obsessed with finding happiness so that in our quest for happiness, we fail to be happy. You don’t search for happiness. Happiness is inside you. It is now. It’s not tomorrow or yesterday. It is now. Maybe it was yesterday or maybe it will be tomorrow. But happiness is now. Happiness is being alive. Happiness is the food you eat, the people you meet, the wind that touches your skin, the rain that makes the pavement wet that you feel beneath you when you walk barefoot. Happiness is the sun that gives life to everyone and everything. Happiness is the sound of the forest. Happiness is everywhere and everything.
I haven’t been writing my thoughts and feelings during my free time. I’ve kind of stopped asking too many questions about life and the quest of happiness. I’ve been relaxed about doubting all the rituals and chanting that we do in the monastery. I’m just letting things go and letting things be, accepting them for what they are. Going with the flow, I supposed. The first few days here in the monastery was so full of questions and doubt and frustrations even. I couldn’t meditate long enough, everyone looked so serious, I couldn’t stand the chanting in foreign language and rituals that I don’t understand. The first few days was really challenging and difficult.
But I’ve let all that go. I’m now focusing on the beauty of this place. I’m surrounded by huge limestone formations in the middle of the forest, somewhere in Thailand. You can hear the sounds of nature so loudly and clearly here. That is a gift and it is special. I am lucky to be here and I am just taking it easy and enjoying the experience.