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30 centimetres long, 10 centimetres high, 10 centimetres deep, a U-shaped drop on the long side. Wooden. That will be my pillow for the next seven nights. Further a straw mat and a mosquito net. This is my bed. Precept number 8 is thereby met: I will not sleep in a luxurious bed.

Further rules include not to eat after noon (perception 6), not to take what is not given (perception 2), not to wear jewellery (perception 7), and not to consume intoxicating drinks and drugs (perception 5) like alcohol, cigarettes or coffee.

Besides the eight Buddhist perceptions there are further rules which I will have to follow. No mobile phone, no books, no diary. No music. And, because it is a silent retreat: no speaking. One week long. With nobody.

To summon it up: no distraction. No distraction from myself. Instead: five hours of meditation everyday. The waking bell chimes at 4.30 am. At 5 am the first meditation starts, the last one finishes at 9 pm.

The goal: to be just with yourself for seven days, without influences from society, to let your mind calm down and switch off your ego. And for me: Create some space, to get a clearer view on things, to be able to make some decisions.

My 8 Insights

1) You are your own refuge

Attā Hi Attanō Nāthō

You are your own refuge.

For me this was the most important insight. But I could imagine that it also is the most arguable one. In the way I read the sentence it does not mean that you are not allowed to ask other people for help when you need it. But it means that you should not cling to things, people, places, emotions and so on. Related are insight number 3 „Nothing is permanent“ as well as insight number 4 „Letting go is the key“.

I find it deeply reassuring that I can be my one refuge. Not that I am there yet. But that the possibility exists is like a revelation to me. To get there is hard work. But work that is paying off.

And because this is a travel blog after all I want to mention that for a traveller it is especially important to be able to be one’s own refuge. A little like a snail who always has her shell with her and is able to retreat into it if need arises.

2) Live in the moment

ATĪTAṀ NᾹNVᾹGAMEYYA

NAPPATI KAṀKHE ANᾹGATAṀ

YADATĪTAMPAHĪNANTAṀ

APPATTAÑCA ANᾹGATAṀ

One ought not to long for what has passed away,

nor be anxious over things that are yet to come.

The past has left us, the future has not arrived.

Meditation is a way to live in the moment. Or to learn to live in the moment by practicing mindfulness out of the meditation itself. You can thereby also let daily tasks become your meditation: walking through the hallway, washing lettuce, steadily swimming in water.

I got the proof for the fact that mindfulness pays off rather quickly. It is 153 steps to the temple of the truth or differently phrased: from the women’s building to the meditation hall. Twice I have seen a scorpion on the way. One time on the platform following step 44 and the other time in the middle of step 70. If I would not have climbed the stairs in such a mindful way, I would have stepped right on it. Wearing flip-flops.

Interview with Benjawan Wongshookaew

 

3) Nothing is permanent OR Say no to unwanted guests

“Nothing is permanent” is definitely among the sentences we got to hear most often during our 1-week retreat. It was presented as a universal rule which can be applied to anything. It is also one of the reasons why you should not be attached to anything.

This also helped me to focus more on my meditation and get rid of all those thoughts popping up all the time. Every time it would happen again I would tell myself: It is not sure. This pretty much kills all arising “What if…” questions instantly. I told myself it is not sure if scenario A or scenario B would happen, so I do not need to worry about it right now.

And what about things that are sure? Well, no need to worry about them either. It has already happened anyway, hasn’t it?! That way I was able to clean out my inner house from a lot of unwanted guests. They would come back anyway as soon as the meditation would be finished. But their appearance got less and less during the week of meditation.

4) Letting go is the key – cut down on your attachments

To learn to let go and not to be attached is another one of the more arguable Buddhist teachings. Which might be one of the reasons why I find it so interesting from a philosophical point of view. However, as most of you probably know from your own experience: It is a damn hard job. Learning to let got is work.

It helps me to remind myself that it is not mine. Nothing is yours, really. Not your husband or wife, nor your best friend or your parents. In Buddhism this also applies to material things: your house, your car, your boat – it is all not yours. At least they do not belong to you forever, but only for a limited time span.

When I came back from the monastery into the “real“ world, I felt dizzy at first. Like having low blood sugar. Tired, exhausted, unable to cope. Maybe that was the reason why I paid the taxi driver in the wrong currency. Which meant I had paid him ten times as much as the already well overpriced short ride would have cost.

Luckily the driver in the next shared taxi was more honest, otherwise I would not have loused only one but two daily budgets. When I realised my mistake I had to laugh about myself while being angry at the same time. Some money had changed its owner a little different than planned.

Probably the taxi driver could make better use of it than me anyway. The money was gone and spending a few days in a hostel instead of a private room would even out my travel budget. Compared to the shock I had felt in the morning when my passport and mobile phone had disappeared it was much easier to let go that money.

Once you understand yourself

then the burden of life is gone.

You’ll be at peace with the world.

When we see beyond self, we no longer

cling to happiness and we can truly

be happy. Learn to let go without

struggle, simply let go, to be just as

you are – no holding on, no attachment

Free.

AJAHN CHAH

Visual Impressions of the Meditation Retreat

 

5) Love yourself, then you can love the world

One of the major teachings of Buddhism is that the self always comes first. Now this seems to be quite contrary to the Western value of altruism which is often preached and not quite as often lived wholeheartedly. Anyway, if I get it right the idea behind it is that you can only truly love other people, communicate with them, train them, when you know who you are and are at peace with yourself.

This is exactly how the so-called metta-meditations are structured. Metta can be translated into loving kindness. When doing a metta-meditation you send out good wishes for yourself before you wish the same for other people.

METTA BHAVANA

May I be happy and well

May I be safe and warm

May I be far away from troubles and dangers

May I not be parted from the good fortune, I have attained

May my mind be free from hatred

May my heart be filled with love

May no difficulty come to me

May I live happily in peace

May I be successful in practicing (meditation)

Metta is one of the objects on which you can focus your meditation. Of course you can adapt the text to your needs. For example, if you have bodily or mental sufferings, you might want to add the sentence “May I be without pain.”

6) It’s not so difficult and not so easy

On the website of the meditation retreat it says: „The schedule is not easy for most people, but it is not too difficult either.” Our guide used this expression from time to time. When we were allowed to speak again it became an often used quote. Not too easy. But not too difficult either.

This applies to many things we had to deal with during this week: meditation, living in the moment, the rules which we had to stick to. The sitting still, the sleeping on a straw mat, the early wake up, the fasting after noon.

After one week I can say: You are getting used to all that and rather quickly that is. Your body and mind are more capable than you might think.

Obviously it does not come without any work. One has to make an effort and not just passively wait for things to happen. That said, one has to let go, try not to force it, simply wait. People with a calm mind have often dedicated years to exactly this game of the right balance between the proper effort and patient waiting.

And „if anything happens“ – a panick attack, overwhelming emotions, whatever – we were supplied with a nice and almost universally applicable rule. Breath in. Breath out. And start again. Not to difficult, right?

7) You are the heir of your actions

Kammassakomhi kammadāyādo kammayoni kammabandhū kammapatisarano yam kammam karissāmi kalyānam vā pāpakam vā tassa dāyādo bhavissāmī.

I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my refuge. Whatever I do – for good or for evil – to that will I fall heir.

It is the idea of Kamma – in the Western world better known as Karma – that you are responsible for your actions. Kamma is the way how you can influence your life. But at the same time your live is influenced by the past, because your former actions resonate in the present.

Kamma is also about improving the present. So if something has already happened or you are in a middle of a conflict: Think about how you can improve the situation. Improve yourself, because you cannot change others.

8) You are getting to know the other participants – without talking to each other

One could assume that you do not get to know each other when you do not talk to each other and are not supposed communicate through body language either. I cannot confirm that.

After a week I knew quite a bit about my companions: who is wearing which shoes and who always goes barefoot; who likes cucumbers but not tomatoes; who is wildly mixing all different dishes in his bowl; who is not afraid to show emotions; who meditates cross-legged and who prefers to kneel; who showers in the mornings, who at noon, who in the evenings; who is willingly taking on an extra job; who secretly or less secretly writes in her diary.

And we shared quite some moments without talking. For example, when one night there was a wondrous sheet lightning happening. The sun had already set and above the sea thick clouds had piled up behind which bright lightning made the whole cloudscape glow every minute. In silence we stood next to each other in the meditation hall and watched that wonder of nature without moving.

What I learn from that: You do not have to speak to each other constantly. Especially with people you have just met. Often it is only small talk one exchanges anyway. Instead there are other ways of communication to be explored. If you are open for it.

And the silence made it even more wonderful and touching when after a week of collective quietness everyone talked about their experiences during the retreat. I have gotten to know and like every single one of the other participants in a very own way.

Final Thoughts: Timing is crucial

Many of the teachings resonated with thoughts I have had already. I could get something out of every lecture I listened to. Which does not mean that I agreed with everything. That’s fine. Even though you cannot question the things said by the teacher during the course because of the noble silence, you are not expected to agree with everything. When things got to far of the track for me I just sat through those phases listening and considering it a sociological study.

Feeling intrigued? In case you are hooked: go for it. I believe that once the right time has come you will know.

When we shared the experiences we have had during the week of the retreat on the last evening I started my little speech with the words: “If someone would have told me a year ago that I would be doing a meditation retreat right now, I wouldn’t have believed it. It simply wasn’t my thing.” And that’s how it was. But nothing is permanent. I have changed, the situation has changed and the time felt right.

If you do not feel any need to deal with yourself for a whole week, then rather don’t do it. However, if you feel some resistance or if there are some aspects of the retreat your fear in particular (not to speak, not to eat after noon) I would consider a retreat. You might find out what lies behind your fears. Or even that they are unfounded.

Just have trust that all you need will come to you, when you are ready.

Supplement: Back in society I was looking forward to having my own bungalow and a sleep in. And what happened? I let dinner slip, got up at 4.30 the next morning, meditated, practised Yoga and then went to the deserted beach, where I had to wait on a wet deck chair for 15 minutes before the sun started rising…

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