My first meditation retreat in Thailand

At the Meditation Center of Monk Chat

Yes, I say my first because it’s surely not my last meditation retreat! I moved to Thailand two weeks ago. My work, that I usually do from Lisbon, can be done from any place in the world, so, to meet my desire to explore a bit more of the world on my own, I decided to move to Thailand for a few months.

The reasons why I choose Thailand are several. Firstly, I had never been to Asia and then the factors of good internet access, safety for a woman on her own, nature, climate, cost of living and the people made me choose for Chiang Mai. I’ve wrote some lines about my first impressions living here as a location independent worker and expressed my will to join a meditation retreat. I choose to travel on my own because I was looking for a cultural experience but maybe a more spiritual one too. As such, I searched a bit and found that Chiang Mai has a lot to offer in terms of yoga and meditation retreats. I do have a bit of experience with meditation in my yoga classes or with the app Head Space, but never something like this.

Most meditation retreats in Chiang Mai are 10 or 21 days long. That’s a bit too long given that I’m working and also, being all that time in silence and practicing a lot of hours of meditation may be a bit too much for me. Fortunately, I found the two-day meditation retreat by Monk Chat. The name Monk Chat literally refers to chatting with buddhist monks. The Buddhist University, Chiang Mai Campus, welcomes everybody to informally talk with the monks. Like that you can get to know about monk’s life, Thai culture and tradition and Buddhism and the monk will practive his English. The Monk Chat sessions take place Monday to Friday from 17h to 19h at the Monk Chat office in Wat Suan Dok. Besides, Monk Chat provides a two-day meditation retreat that takes place every week, on Tuesday to Wednesday.

There are several techniques of meditation. The one used in this retreat is Concentration Meditation and Vipassana Meditation based on mindfulness. Training your mindfulness can be applied in your day to day life and the meditation techniques too. The schedule of the course is as follows:

Day 1: Tuesday

• 01.00 p.m. Meet at Monk Chat Office, Wat Suan Dok

• 01.30 p.m. Introduction to Buddhism and Meditation

• 03.00 p.m. Departure for the Meditation Training Center

• 04.45 p.m. Meditation practice

• 06.00 p.m. Dinner

• 07.00 p.m. Evening chanting and meditation practice

• 09.30 p.m. Bedtime

Day 2: Wednesday

• 05.00 a.m. Morning gong

• 05.30 a.m. Chanting, exercise and meditation practice

• 07.00 a.m. Alms offering and breakfast

• 08.30 a.m. Discussion

• 10.00 a.m. Meditation practice

• 11.30 a.m. Lunch

• 01.00 p.m. Meditation practice

  • 03.00 p.m. Group Photo/Return to Wat Suan Dok (Monk Chat Office)
Dressed in white surounded by stunning gardens and Buddhas everywhere

Personally, I really enjoyed the theoretical introduction to Buddhism and Meditation by Phra (Monk) Sinlapachai Santkaro. This monk was our “master” throughout the two day course. He’s been a monk since he was 10 and is now a happy monk for 25 years! He started the lecture by saying that:

Buddhists will not try to convert us to Buddhism, what they will try to do is to help us to become happier and better people by sharing Buddha’s teachings.

And that

Buddhism is a way of life: to be happy in the present moment.

Beautiful. I thought: yes, I’m at the right place :)

We learned about the different trends within Buddhism — Theravada and Mahayana — and how Buddhism relates to animism and Hinduism. There are three main teachings — Dharma — of Buddha, which are very simple and straightforward:

  1. To do good;
  2. Not do bad;
  3. To purify the mind.

These principles will allow us to be more mindful which in turn related to Vipasana Meditation — based on mindfulness. This is a practical method from deliberating oneself from mental suffering. As the monk said, our mind is very weak because it just follows our emotion. We should train our mind, just like we train our body, when we workout. Only by training both — body and mind — we’ll become more balanced and peaceful people.

Another thing I found very beautiful is the teaching of GIVE, FORGIVE, LET GO and FORGET.

  • We should give if we want to get. If we want to be loved, we should love. The same applies for friendship, peace, etc.
  • We should learn to forgive ourselves and others.
  • We should learn to let go.
  • We should learn to forget.

If we learn to do this, we’ll find a better balance within oneself, between oneself and others and between oneself and nature. About the meditation itself, we learned several techniques and several postures to meditate in and which we were going to put into practice during the retreat. Basically, if we want to become happier and better people, we should follow four simple rules, which we applied in the two day retreat and which can and should be applied in our day to day lives:

  1. Don’t eat too much: we had three meals a day, all vegetarian and were encouraged to eat mindful, realizing how you move your body while eating and savouring the taste of the food. Before the meals we sang beautiful prayers about our gratitude for the meal, that the only purpose for eating should be to feed the body and not because it’s tasty or because we’re greedy.
  2. Don’t talk too much: this retreat, like most of them, encourages its practitioners to be in silence during the whole course. In fact, we only spoke to sing to Buddha, to thank for the food and to discuss how we were doing during the time allocated to that.
  3. Don’t sleep too much: we went to bed at 21h30 and woke up at 5h00. In other retreats, you may have to wake up earlier. According to our master, sleeping 5h a day would be enough.
  4. Practice: practice the teachings of Buddha and meditation every day, in everything we do.

I really appreciated following these rules during the retreat but will not apply them so strictly in my day to day life. I like to sleep and to eat nice things :) but here, for only two days, it did me very good. The mindful eating and in silence was one of the experiences I enjoyed most. Also, in the morning, before sunrise, we practiced Chi Kung with a great teacher. I loved to feel my body exercising while my mind was following every movement. This is comparable to what I feel when practicing yoga and am able to do it mindful. It’s a unique feeling of balance between mind and body. In general, for me both the guided meditation and the “free-time” meditation went very well. I felt I was getting better and better in it and was in in pain or suffering like some of the other practitioners were.

This meditation necklace had 108 beads. Counting them will help you concentrate while meditating.

To participate in this meditation retreat, you can simply send an email to the organization to enrol and then all you need is a photocopy of passport visa; loose, modest, non-transparent white clothes for two days; towel, toiletry, etc. The costs are: 500 Baht for food and transportation (~13€) and 300 baht for a set of new white clothes (optional — by request) (~8€). The accommodations and course service by donation (I gave 200 Baht, but this is totally up to you) (~5€).

This post was meant to be a brief summary of the course and how I felt about it. I got enthusiastic and wrote a bit too much, maybe. Hope I inspired you. In fact, I believe we can all learn a bit with Buddha’s teachings and I recommend this course to anybody, really anybody. It’s life-changing and a true wakeup call for how not-mindful we’re living. I believe the world would be a better place if we’d all try to follow these principles and teachings, even if it’s just a little bit :) My next retreat is this weekend, for three days at Wat Umong Meditation Center. This is a stricter course — waking up at 4h30 and only two meals, one at 7h30 and 11h00 and besides the lectures and practices, we’ll have to help in the cleaning of the temple. Will see if you feel like sharing how it was too…