While Kylee has been brought up around Meditation her whole life, I have not. However, we decided to sign up for a ten day Vipassana meditation at Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, a monastery atop a mountain on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Regarding the meditation itself, Vipassana roughly translates to: ‘seeing things as they really are’, and it is stated as being the process of self-purification by self-observation. So essentially, awareness of ones true self.
The temple area itself is actually a fairly popular tourist spot, but this was a fantastic chance to go “behind the scenes” and get the full experience. After carrying our backpacks up the 306 steps to the Wat under the Thai sun, we soon walked our sweat-soaked bodies to the rear of the public complex – and the entrance to the monastery proper.
After introducing ourselves, we are given schedules of when everything happens for the next ten days, and are each shown to our respective quarters. The women stay on one side of the terrace and the men on the other. The rooms are no more than a concrete cell with a small window on one wall and a small sleeping pad similar to a yoga mat; the same space and accommodation as the monks themselves enjoy. Nothing more. While on the premises, no electronics or pen and paper are allowed as this is deemed distracting from the process. Our clothes consisted of nothing more than loose fitting beige cotton shirt and pants. There were also a set of five strict rules, partly to keep the atmosphere of the monastery as is, but also to help keep your mind at peace during the process; the rules are as follows:
Abstain from killing any being;
Abstain from stealing;
Abstain from all sexual activity;
Abstain from telling lies;
Abstain from all intoxicants.
We are given dinner and are expected to start the silence at that time for the next ten days. There is no caffeine on site, and all the food given to us is vegetarian. The journey begins.
This is the daily schedule.
4 am Wake-up
4:30 am Personal Meditation
6:30 am Breakfast
8:00 – 9:00 am Group Meditation
9:00 – 10:00 am Group Teaching (Meditation Techniques)
10:00 – 11:00 am Personal Meditation
11:00 – 12:00 pm Lunch (the final meal of the day)
12:00 – 1:00 pm Rest and One-on-One with Teacher (the only few minutes of each day where speaking is allowed)
1:00 – 2:30 pm Personal Meditation
2:30 – 5:00 pm Group Meditation
5:00 – 5:30 pm Personal Meditation in accordance to daily teaching
5:30 – 7:00 pm Rest and Tea Break
7:00 – 8:00 pm Group Teaching (Buddhist Philosophy)
8:00 – 9:30 pm Group meditation
9:30 pm Lights out
….As you can tell, there’s a lot of time spent inside your own head.
The overall experience was great, but ten days in silence is quite a lot. That being said, it was a fantastic learning experience. Not only learning a little about the fundamentals of Buddhism, but also what is learned from a personal point of view when spending time within yourself. What was probably the strangest part of the whole experience was when wandering around the public areas, the local Thai people would bow to us; as taking any involvement within this path is deemed highly respectable. It was both awkward and humbling at the same time.
Overall we had a great experience and would highly recommend this to anyone who is able. Just be prepared, ten days spent in near seclusion and silence can be a terrifying, albeit amazing experience.
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