Challenge: Dipabhavan Meditation Retreat

Oh, hi. It’s Megan. You may remember me from a blawg I like to call “Bangkok Reality Smackdown” because…that…is its name. (If you get the reference in that last bit, you win Megan’s Gold Star.)

I have recently returned from Opposite World, where I did the following things:

  1. Woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day for a week.
  2. Did not eat between noon and 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
  3. Remained silent for 6 days.
  4. Bathed out of a bucket.
  5. Slept on a board.

Opposite World has another name, as well: Dipabhavan Meditation Center. It’s located on a mountain, in the jungle, on Samui Island, in the south of Thailand (and it was Colonel Mustard in the study!), and I voluntarily went there so I could spend a week living like a hippie, boring myself to death and sweating a lot. I mean, I originally went there intending to learn more about meditation, which I did, but really I ended up mainly boring myself and sweating a lot.

I was not here until *later*.

The schedule of the day went like this:

4:30 – Wake up to the bells in the pitch black, blearily brush teeth and sometimes wash face, then stumble up the path of about 150 stairs to meditation hall.

5:00 – Listen to morning reading, usually about Buddhism or meditation practice.

5:15-5:45 – Seated meditation. This turned out to be my favorite time to meditate—and that was a huge shock to me. The world is so still at this time of day (if you’re not in Bangkok, in which case this is the time of day when all the bar girls are going home). It’s cool and quiet, and the candles flickering in the meditation hall lent this mysterious, magical quality to the morning.  Yes, sometimes I fell asleep during this time, too, but that’s normal! Shut up!

5:45-6:45 – Yoga. Gentle, gentle yoga. The leader of the group, a layperson German-speaker, has this hilarious monotone voice and at the end of every yoga practice, when we were doing the relaxation part, he would say, “ REEEE-LAAAAAAAX. REEEEEEEEE-LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAX.” And, yes, I fell asleep every single morning during the relaxation. You would, too!

7:00-7:30 – Seated meditation. Yes, I often fell asleep during this, too. Don’t judge me!

7:30-9:30 – Breakfast, chores, break. I would usually take about 30 minutes for my breakfast, do my chores (cleaning shower area), and then read until it was time to walk up the stairs to the meditation hall again.

Oh yeah, there were 9 showers and 4 sinks. Cleaned ALL of it!

9:30-10:30 – Dhamma talk. This is when we would hear more about Buddhist ideas about suffering or the elimination of suffering, basically. Suffering is a big deal in Buddhism. You both want to suffer, but want to avoid suffering. I don’t really get it yet. My friend Jess sent me this quote, which I think is a good representation of the confusion:

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. – from Woody Allen’s “Love and Death”

10:30-11 – Walking meditation. Walk anywhere on the grounds or in the hall, slowly and mindfully. You could also do a swinging-arms meditation, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—you stand up, swing your arms, and meditate.

11-11:30 – Seated meditation. Right before lunch…getting hungry…actually, I’ve already been starving for about two hours at this point.

11:30-2 – Lunch/break. Because I ate mindfully, I would take 30-45 minutes for lunch, then head back to the dorm, sweat, and read.

My home for a week.

2-3 – Seated meditation and talk by Ajarn Poh, the abbot of Suan Mokh, which is one of the most famous monasteries in Thailand. They have 10-day retreats there, which are apparently great. Ajarn Poh had a lot of great things to say, but he also has a very heavy Thai accent and I know that a good number of the non-native speakers had no idea what he was saying. The only reason I had a clue is because I’ve been here long enough to realize that with a heavy Thai accent, “people” is “peepun”, for example. And, I’m not going to lie here, peepun, I fell asleep during every single talk, and every afternoon, this is when I would start to lose it. This is the hottest time of day, and I was bloody miserable.

3-3:30 – Walking meditation. More miserable. Seriously hating everything and everybody.

3:30-4 – Seated meditation. ARE YOU KIDDING? Almost every afternoon, I hated this so much I was practically in tears. The sun is beating down on the roof, the breeze has disappeared—every afternoon this happened!—and I can’t even feel the fans. Awful. Not, like, being waterboarded-awful, but awful in its own way.

4-4:30 – Walking meditation. At this point, it feels like the afternoon is never going to end, like I’m going to be meditating for the rest of my life in a hellish cycle of sweat, hunger, tears, boredom, self-hatred, anxiety, depression, and more sweat. And more self-hatred. Mostly self-hatred, if I’m being honest.

4:30-5 – Chanting. It’s starting to cool down, and the chanting is my favorite part of the day. It’s like Buddhist karaoke! We chanted in Pali, Buddha’s original language, and English, my original language. I loved it.  It woke me up and made me glad to be alive again. If you want to hear what chanting sounds like, go here. We did not sound quite so professional.

5-5:30—Loving Kindness meditation. This is one of the hippiest things about meditating, I think, but also one of the nicest: You send out positive vibes to people you know and don’t know. Yes, I sent them out to you, whoever you are, since I sent them out to the entire universe. No, I am not joking. You’re welcome!

The meditation hall. GET ME OUT OF HERE, STAT.

5:30-7:30—Tea time and break. I usually scarfed (mindfully!) a couple of Thai mini bananas and a cup of hot chocolate, then bathed and read.

7:30-8—Seated meditation. Pitch black in the meditation hall, cool and quiet with candlelight flickering like in the morning. Lovely.

8-8:30 – Group walking meditation in the garden. We just walked around the garden veeeerrrryyy sloooooooowly as a group. Standing out beneath the stars, looking up at that vast sky while surrounded by silence was surreal. Until somebody got stung by a scorpion, that is.

8:30-9 – Seated meditation. Usually my “best” meditation of the day, as I was cool and refreshed from the walking meditation, and had bored myself to tears with the rest of my inner drivel, so I could concentrate on my breath, as I was supposed to. Yes, 30 minutes of decent meditation was the absolute best I could hope for (and out of 30 minutes, let’s be honest, I probably actually only “really” meditated for, what, 10 minutes? IT’S NOT EASY, PEOPLE).

9-9:30 Get ready for bed and read.

9:30-4:30 Sleep. Or try to sleep. Or sleep a little, then wake up when I have to turn over because my bones grind into the board I’m sleeping on. Or don’t sleep at all, as there was somebody snoring in the bed across from mine. I literally did not know that women could snore that loudly; it was like somebody dragging a table across a tile floor ALL. NIGHT. LONG. As a matter of fact, I was shocked that she didn’t wake herself up. I tried to wake her up—I shook her bed and stuff, but to no effect. Eventually I moved to the other side of the dorm and slept great. Ish. Besides the bones-grinding-into-board thing, of course.

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto.

**Ok, this is Part 1 because I am very verbose (funny, isn’t it, considering I’m writing about a silent retreat). Part 2 will be on Monday, with answers to your questions (like, “What THE?!”).



Filed under Awesome, Special Challenge, Thailand

28 responses to “Challenge: Dipabhavan Meditation Retreat

  1. I think it’s such funny reading as you most likely lost your mind, i’m sure i would have.

    Was it a female only retreat? That would be fine for me but a male only retreat would be the end of me!

    Did you shave your head???

    • Men and women, though we were kept on opposite sides of the hall, so as not to distract each other.

      I did *not* shake my head…only for nuns!

  2. Jess

    How do I love this post? Let me count the ways. 1) Because I relate to every dang thing you’re saying about meditation. [SHUT UP, BRAIN!] 2) Because it (as your writing always does) makes me laugh, wish I were with you, and think. 3) Because you give me a sense of what the difference is between the idea of doing something as brave as this retreat (Eat, Pray, Love, *cough*) and the more nuanced reality of experiencing it.

  3. I don’t think I could do this! Whenever I’ve read about folks’ mediation retreats, I can’t fathom the long days, schedule, and NO talking :-) Good for you for taking on the challenge!!!!

  4. I’m dying to do this, but I don’t know if I have the courage to be THAT in my head. Awesome post!!!

  5. This is a great post! It’s great to read your account of the retreat because I’ve always thought I would feel the exact same way. I have thought about doing a mediation/yoga retreat before but I’ve always been nervous because, as you said, IT IS HARD to meditate for a long time! Did you feel like you made any progress in your mediation during the week? I only meditate sporadically, nothing too regular because I get bored. We’re you meditating regularly before the retreat? I can’t wait to read the next installment!

    • Yeah, I made a *little* progress (addressing that in Part 2!), and I did not meditate much before this, to be honest. Even now I’m trying for 15 minutes a day, because that’s about as long as I can concentrate right now. Slowly…

  6. Really, really interesting. Unlike most of the commenters, this isn’t anything I’ve ever wanted to do or even thought about, but I still found your account of the daily schedule really absorbing. It’s just such a different world!

    Oh, and, Mr. Fitzherbert would very much appreciate the opening reference. ;-)

  7. Jay

    Nuns ‘shake’ their head? Glad u made it back safe and sound. Was thinking about you during that week and would love to hear about it over a (mindful) coffee sometime. Looking forward to part 2. Jay

  8. Like Karen, this isn’t something that I had any idea even EXISTED, but I loved your account of it. You one funny lady!

    • Thanks! I didn’t really even know until a few months ago that these were a thing…or, rather, it never entered my mind that they were a thing for *me*.

  9. Fred

    Clean all the showers?

    Reminded me so much of hyperbole and a half…..
    Are you sisters?

  10. Were it not for the heat, humidity, hunger, boredom, and nighttime sound effects, that meditation retreat would have been relaxing & enjoyable. I hope it wasn’t too expensive [did you get a discount for cleaning-up, or was that part of the package/deal?].

    Being a sensitive nerd, I did detect some “loving & kindness” in THE FORCE last week…if that was you, thanks.

    So, did you sign up for the advanced student, month-long meditation retreat?

    • Lots of the meditation retreats in Thailand are free, since they’re supported by Buddhist donors, I guess. Yoga retreats, however, are CRAZY expensive.

      Yes, the loving kindness you felt last week was me. YOU ARE WELCOME!

      I’m down to about 15 minutes of meditation a day…so no month-long course for me!

  11. Lee

    You had to get up at 4:30 in the morning, after trying to sleep on a hard surface with loud snoring, you were hungry a lot of the time, you were miserably hot a lot of the time (it’s 100 degrees here in Texas every day so I’m trying to imagine how I would manage without a/c all day and night)? You are a lot tougher than me! I am also haunted by your previous cockroach tales. Please tell me your meditation retreat was giant cockroach free…. It does make me aware of all the things I take for granted. I will send you loving kindness during my wuss climate controlled meditation sessions. Can’t wait to hear part two! Sounds like an amazing experience.

    • No cockroaches, thank god. I was worried because we were really communing with nature up there…but no worries!

      It really was an amazing experience, for sure.

  12. Mia

    So funny, Megan! Feel like I’m reading EatPrayLove again. Haha I don’t think I’m cutout for this. Might end up Shouting by the end of day.

  13. Good for you Megan! You survived something I would never want to do!

  14. Dipabhavan for Russians:
    Дипапаван для русских на сайте:

  15. Great post!
    I never saw a woman shower in Dipabhavan meditation center, because we did not conduct the tour. But here, in male dormitory no showers!
    Dipabhavan for Russians:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s