**So, I tried to make this short, but…you may have to take some time to read it!
I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know more about my meditation retreat, so I have answered some of your (imagined) questions. Calm down, people, here you go.
Q. Um, what was this?
A. Dipabhavan Meditation Center offers silent meditation retreats from the 20th to the 27th of every month. It’s all free, but you can make a donation at the end if you want.
Q. Oh, right. So, the real question here is: Have you lost your mind?
A. Not that I am aware of, although at times during the week it did, in fact, feel like I was slowly going crazy. I wanted a shorter retreat, but they’re hard to find in Thailand, for some reason. Most are 10 days, and I thought I was signing up for a 10-day retreat until a few weeks ago when I woke up in the middle of the night and realized—wait, the 20th to the 27th is not 10 days. Funny how time works.
Q. But silence? For one week? Why? As your mother said, “That’s weird.”
A. I thought so, too, at first. I thought it was going to be horrible. I was terrified—not speaking for a week seemed like a superhuman feat, and a really stupid superhuman, at that. (When I told my friend Jonathan I was doing this, he said, “I could never do that. I’m like a shark—I talk or I die.” Ha!) But before 7:30 on the first morning, I knew why we weren’t talking. All I had to say was boring, thoughtless drivel or gossip: “It’s hot. Did you see how much she fidgets? She’s not following the rules like I am. Ugh, why is she so perky in the morning? I’m tired. This is hard. My legs hurt. Has it been 30 minutes yet? I hate you all. I’m hungry.”
Not speaking allowed me to focus on what was actually important enough to say, and allowed me to turn inside and focus on my meditation more. It also meant that groups weren’t formed and nobody felt excluded or judged (even if we were actually judging everybody, silently and harshly, in our heads—or at least I was).
Turned out that not speaking was my favorite part of the whole retreat. Seriously. I loved it, and it really wasn’t at all difficult not to speak, despite what I’d thought. I said a few things to the staff when I needed something, and that was fine, but now I think we should all keep our mouths shut more often. *cue self-righteous look*
Q. What about waking up at 4:30? That’s, like, really early. That’s, like, before the sun comes up.
A. Yeah, I was also really, really worried about this. I love to sleep. It is one of my favorite hobbies, along with eating and sitting around doing nothing. In the end, it was my other favorite aspect of the retreat. Go figure, right? The two things I was most scared of turned out to be my favorite parts. I’m not saying I was happy to get up at 4:30 or that I’m going to do it on a regular basis (OR AT ALL, EVER), but I really loved being awake that early in the morning. Plus, when you’re sleeping on a board, waking up at 4:30 isn’t that hard.
Q. WTF do you mean, sleeping on a board?
A. I slept on a board. Here is a picture:
It was a board. I am, for once, not exaggerating, although Thai beds are almost as hard as boards, anyway (no joke, what is UP with Thai beds?!). We had a “straw” (plastic) mat and a blanket, which I folded in fourths, then put my other blanket and even my towel down to try to get more comfortable. For a pillow, I stuffed some clothes in a cloth bag and that approximated most Thai pillows I’ve used, anyway. (Thailand, let me introduce you to these things called pillow-top mattresses and non-lumpy pillows. They’ll change your life.)
By the end of the week, I almost didn’t mind it. And I figured out why we were sleeping on boards: One of the chants talked about not sleeping or sitting on luxurious things. No worries there.
Q. What was the hardest part?
A. Not speaking was fine, waking up at 4:30 was fine…so that’s it, right? The rest was easy!
Yeah…not really. For me, being physically uncomfortable was the most straining. I never felt clean, I was sweaty and smelly all the time (no a/c, of course, and not even fans in the dorms), I was hungry all the time, and I didn’t even have a mirror to see what I looked like (which I’m sure was terrible). This was not me.
At the same time, I realize all of that probably taught me the most valuable lesson I learned there. I don’t like to be physically uncomfortable. I do not go camping because I prize indoor plumbing and decent bedding above most other things in life. But…but…I began to appreciate the fact that I could do things that make me uncomfortable and actually be happy about it. I could be a different me and still feel like me.
I might even try camping at some point.
Also: No Internet about drove me to the point of insanity. I didn’t miss my cell phone at all, but no Google? SOMETIMES I HAVE QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE GOOGLED. SOMETIMES I NEED TO KNOW THOMAS EDISON’S BIRTHDAY, LIKE, NOW. I also missed my laptop beyond the point of reason, which made me feel kind of pathetic.
Q. Ok, but you went to do meditation. How was the meditation?
A. I was lucky that I found a meditation posture that worked for me on Day 2, so my knees didn’t hurt at all and back pain was kept to a minimum, but otherwise, it was rough! We were practicing concentration meditation, which is where you are supposed to focus on your in-breath and out-breath and let all other thoughts go. Try doing that for several hours a day. Try doing it for 10 minutes, even. You’ll find that your mind doesn’t want to let all other thoughts go, that it clings to those other thoughts like you will never have another one in your life, like you’re falling off a cliff and must hold tight to that thought about your childhood best friend who you haven’t thought about in 10 years or you will literally die.
It’s good times.
Here is a physical representation of my thoughts during meditation time:
You can see that I devoted approximately 2% of my time to meditation and breathing and that I devoted approximately 35% of my time to what I’m just generally calling Lustful Thoughts. I also ruminated obsessively about two people for very different reasons, until I was so bored with them that I didn’t want to think about them ever again.
That took almost five full days.
Right. Five full days of thinking the same things over and over and over. And over. Oh–and over.
By the evening of Day 5, I had burned out on most things I’d been thinking about, so I could focus on actually meditating. The evening of Day 5 and most of Day 6 were great days, meditation-wise. Hooray!
Q. What was it like in your brain?
A. Like this:
Me: Dooodooo…clearing my mind…breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…
Mind: Hey, remember that time you were really mean to your sister when you were 7? You’re a terrible person.
Me: Um. What.
Mind: Ooooohhh, never mind…I want to have an elaborate fantasy involving that one person.
Me: Oh, okay!
Mind: Wait, remember that time you were really awful to your ex-boyfriend? You’re such a bitch. And you’re really gross and smelly right now. No wonder you’re single.
Me: Wow. Where did that come from? That’s not very ni—
Mind: Do you think it’s been 30 minutes?
Me: Yes. Over 30 minutes. It’s been, like, an hour. They must have forgotten to ring the bell.
Mind: It’s totally been over 30 minutes. Why haven’t they rung the bell? You should peek at the clock.
Me: Bad idea. But it’s definitely been more than 30 minutes. I bet they’ll ring the bell right now…
Mind: No bell. It’s been about an hour and a half now. Peek!
Me: Fine. 15 MINUTES? ARE YOU SERIOUS? Crap. BREATHE IN, DAMN IT. BREATHE OUT.
Mind: Now I’m going to sing the chorus of that one song on repeat. Just the chorus, because that’s all I can remember. It’s my favorite!
Me: I hate you.
Conclusion: You do not want to be in my brain.
Q. Did you have any big revelations or epiphanies?
A. My biggest, most disturbing revelation came on Day 4. From my notes, word for word:
WTF WHY DO I SWALLOW SO LOUDLY? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
I am pleased to announce that I believe my swallowing has returned to normal volume, but at one point I was convinced that my deglutition (I looked that up!) was going to be abnormal for the rest of my life, and I would never get a date, ever again (or I could just stay in Asia forever—oh, snap!), and nobody would ever want to have dinner or drinks with me because I was a MONSTER. Every time I swallowed, it would actually disturb my meditation and I would be all annoyed, like, ‘WTF, BODY?!’ And then I’d feel bad because I was sure the people around me hated me and my ridiculously loud swallowing.
The mind does weird things, what can I say?
Q. Did you break any rules?
A. Yeah, I read every time we had a break, and rarely anything about Buddhism or meditation. I wasn’t the only one…Not that that matters, but it was my choice to take the silence pretty seriously and have some give on reading.
Q. What day was the hardest? Easiest?
A. Easiest was Day 1, by far. It was so easy that I had a false sense of security. Day 2 was awful. In the afternoon, I was actually in tears while walking around the garden. At one point I thought, “Maybe I’ll get stung by a bee! I have terrible reactions and I bet I couldn’t meditate after that. Or maybe a scorpion will sting me! They’d have to send me home!” Then I laughed at myself for being ridiculous and felt a smidgen better.
Also, somebody got stung by a scorpion and she got shot up with morphine at the hospital and was back the next morning, so my plan wouldn’t have worked, anyway. Curses!
Q. Are you different now?
A. No, I’m not different. I’m not enlightened. I have lots of opinions and always will. I still prefer creamy peanut butter to chunky, and I will tell you that if you ask (and, clearly, even if you don’t ask). I have strong beliefs about cheese (stinky), pizza (chewy crust, good cheese), sparkling wine (dry dry dry), public transportation etiquette (let people get OFF THE TRAIN FIRST before you try to get on!), and pretty much everything else (just ask!).
However, I do think I’ve been able to roll with the punches more since I started meditating a few months back, and I’ve felt more flexible and willing to take things as they come. I’ve been able to go through stressful situations and come out calm, and I’m not even panicked about what I’m going to be doing in the future. All of that is pretty unlike me.
Still, for the most part, over here it’s all Megan, all the time.
I don’t want to be somebody else. I like me. I’m good company.
Even with the incessant droning in my head.
Megan: 1 Herself: 1
Can’t really get away from yourself, no matter how much you want to…