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:
- Woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day for a week.
- Did not eat between noon and 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
- Remained silent for 6 days.
- Bathed out of a bucket.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
**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?!”).