Monday, 27 February 2012

Being a Monk

Said my goodbyes to Laura and had a big fat burger with bacon and cheese along with a chocolate, banana and peanut milkshake. The meal cost me about a fiver (that's a lot for thai standards) but as it was the last time I was going to eat meat and chocolate for at least 5 days it was worth every penny (and every calorie). I grabbed the local bus to the temple armed with a piece of paper that had details of the temple to which I handed to the bus driver (to which I handed? how gay did that sound!) he kicked my black ass out at the temple (that's more like my standard of writing!) and I walked in wondering what to expect from the place. I had visions of 40 odd monks and being the only westerner there and having to keep to a strict daily routine. Wrong. Well, there was a daily routine, but it wasn't enforced by the 4 monks that where there. Yeah, 4 monks, and like 30 westerners, the opposite ratio than I expected! I checked my stuff into the 'dorm' and met my only other room mate, a German guy who was a bit of a robot. I mean he was a nice guy, but he didn't have an ounce of fat on him, didn't really have a particularly warm personality and was the kind of guy that would take any form of competition really seriously. Which was kind of perfect really as I wasn't there to meet people, I was there to unplug, immerse myself in something radically different and make me appreciate the social aspect of traveling again. I put on my white outfit that was to be my only uniform allowed for the duration of my stay and met had a cup of tea with a couple of the fellow inmates. I was surprised that they had unlimited access to tea, coffee and hot chocolate as surely caffeine would make your brain go into overdrive, not relax it for meditation? anyway, I wasn't complaining, I was nailing free mochas! As I'd arrived in the afternoon there was only the evening meditation left to do. So I'll give you an overview of the daily schedule:

5:30 Wake up and give rice to the monks - a sort of ceremonial act that was quite a nice gesture.
6:00 Breakfast - rice, noodles, veg, all vegan food and the only protein coming from nuts and tofu.
7:00 Morning meditation - 1 hour walking, 1 hour sitting, 1 hour laying down (I'll detail each after)
11:00 Lunch - same as breakfast basically with a food offering to the monks as before
2:00 Afternoon meditation - same as morning
5:00 "cleaning while meditating (or 'being mindful') - fuck that I was reading my book or watching films on my ipod!
6:00 evening meditation - chanting followed by 1 hour of sitting meditation then a bit more chanting then bed.

Ok, so for those of you who haven't dabbled with meditation before, the basic premise is to concentrate the mind on a mundane activity so that the majority of your brain can relax. When you're day dreaming or asleep your mind is processing all sorts of thoughts and is constantly active, so by meditating it allows your mind to be at peace which leads to less stress and a happier life. Now I'm not one for spirituality or supernatural activities but I do see the scientific logic behind meditation and I think that it does work. Having said that, it's bloody difficult to do the first few times! In 5 days of immersion with at the temple I only successfully meditated once and that was on the final session. During the walking, sitting and laying meditation you are told to breath in whilst saying to yourself "bho" then breath out whilst saying to yourself "do". The theory goes that as you concentrate on such a simple task as meditating you can then allow your mind to relax. The problem is that you innately start thinking about all the things that are "on your mind" be it travel plans, girls, people you've met, films you like, song lyrics etc etc and if you allow your mind to get lost into those trains of thought then it defeats the object of meditation as your mind is being active. So at first my mind was full of stuff that I was constantly fighting back to not think about and I couldn't keep my mind clear for more than a few seconds. Eventually, on my last day of meditation I decided that for the morning and afternoon sessions I would allow myself to process all the stuff that I wanted to think about, what I wanted to do after traveling, people I'd met, some excess baggage with Hayley etc and that way when it came to the evening class I would have noting left on my mind and could focus really hard and nail it. When It came to the evening class that day I decided to try adding a visual element to the meditation to try and appease my ADD mind so I imagined the silote of a bird and every time I breathed in and said to myself "bho" the wings of the bird would raise and on the breathes out whilst saying to myself "do" the wings would flap down and so on. about 10 minutes into doing this, without thinking of anything else, I slowly started to feel the stress literately dissipate out of the front of my brain and my whole body became numb. It was really nice, and lasted for about 20 minutes. Afterwards I felt so calm and happy and on the walk from the hall back to my room I stopped to sit on the bench and look out to the canyon and stared up at a perfectly clear night sky and saw so many stars I can't even find the superlatives to convey! It was such a great moment, absolutely perfect. 

The next day I had the shits bad. I figured the combination of toxic-ally spicy food and salad that was probably washed with the tap water had played havoc with my digestive system. I was also fed up of sleeping on a cold hard floor so chilled for the day and the next day I decided to make my way to Mehong Song. I managed to hitch hike my way to the outskirts of the town with some of the construction workers from temple and then hitch hiked the rest of the way into town. I offered both drivers some money but they refused so I said thank you and good luck in Thai (cop on cup, chuck dee) and signed into the first hotel I saw as it had hot water and AC :-). I spent a couple of days in Mehong Song but didn't really do much except update my blog and skype the folks back home, which was the first time I'd spoken to Lillerz and Rob since I'd left. That made me really happy and a wee bit homesick at the same time. They where both on great form and cracking me up! Really gutted to be missing Rob's stag do and wedding though.

Then it was time to head back to civilization, back to Chang Mai, my favorite place in the world. And I was ready to meet people again and get back into the traveling groove. 

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