Monk Chat

26 May

No, I’m not about to commit mass suicide or declare my undying love to a charismatic cult leader. I’m at a meditation retreat outside of Chiang Mai. It’s run as part of the “Monk Chat” program, a very clever initiative by one Phra Saneh Dhammavaro, who thought westerners should have some forum to ask all their stupid questions (why orange robes do you get to eat/drink alcohol/have sex are you bored to do think westerners are stupid etc etc). One of the questions he was often asked apparently, was “why don’t you let us study meditation?” and voila, an introductory retreat for tourists was created (also thanks to a 10 million baht donation for the retreat centre itself).
So for two days, I imagined myself in blissful silence, punctuated only by meaningful discussions on the dharma, and regular insights born from my meditation practice. What I didn’t count on was a college group from Nebraska, USA. These girls were in Thailand for 3 weeks, studying “y’know, like, the culture, and the religion, and like the prostitution and stuff, cause, like, that’s really interesting to us…” They’d spent their time so far clubbing, shopping, getting massages and chatting up tuktuk drivers. Very cultural, but they were off to Koh Samui next, so at least they’d get to see some sex tourism. These girls didn’t really get the polite, subtle lessons in “Thai Culture” presented, such as not touching a monk, not pointing your feet at an image of the Buddha, or keeping quiet around temples and places of meditation. But their presence through an interesting light on the whole experience, including their distain for the brand new, clean-as-a-whistle compound that was the meditation centre – possibly the cleanest accomadation I’ve experienced in Thailand.
The mediation itself was great, with decent periods of led sitting and walking mindfulness meditation or vipassana, where concentration of the mind on the physical or “true” present allows the practitioner to release themselves from the running commentary and jumping “monkey mind” of thought and distracted emotion. Instead, you simply focus on the rising and falling of your breathing, or the movement of each foot as you walk.
Concentrating very hard on the exact feeling of breathe entering and leaving my nostrils allowed me some success when sitting (and hearing, and thinking, and feeling pain, and getting distracted a lot), but in typical Ros fashion of making things harder for myself, I found I had to add extra steps into the “lifting-moving-placing” rhythm of the walking. Was this cheating, I asked one of the Prhas? No, was the answer, in fact the Monks used the same six step breakdown I’d constructed to keep the thoughts out of my head – they’d just assumed it would be too tricky for us Farang to grasp. Ha! I need all the help I can get crowding out the voices inside this head.

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