If the mind is full to the top with "I" and "mine," truth-discerning awareness cannot enter; if there is truth-discerning awareness, the "I" and "mine" disappears...
So, after an excellent month and a half noodling around parts of the desert southwest with compadre Cass, I hopped a train to San Francisco, briefly reconnected with some of the SF bunch, dropped off El Gordo, and then caught a flight to Thailand barely a week later for the final chapter in a journey starting nearly two years ago. The first few days in Bangkok I immersed myself in the mash-up of its heat soaked urban intensity and its quieter Buddhist presence. The chaos of Bangkok's china town provided a refuge of invisibility relative to the tranquillity found throughout the various Wats dotting the historic center. After three days, it was time to head a bit further south and get after the main purpose of my sudden arrival in Southeast Asia - El Silencio - a ten day silent meditation retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh International Dharma Hermitage just outside of Surat Thani, Thailand.
Developing an on-again / off-again meditation practice during this entire trip with the help of Headspace, I felt a deep dive into a silent meditation retreat would be a fitting way of celebrating and honoring the final transition from Out For A While's wanderings towards a life a bit less on the road.
In Colombia, I mentioned wanting to do a retreat to Barb and as she related her experience at Suan Mokkh the hook was set - 4am wake up, two vegetarian meals a day, a wooden pillow and a 8'x6' concrete dorm room, no electronics, no reading, no journaling - just the right amount of asceticism.
Typical Daily Schedule:
04.00 *** Wake up *** = Monastery bell
04.30 Morning Reading
04.45 Sitting meditation
05.15 Yoga / Exercise - Mindfulness in motion
07.00 *** Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
08.00 Breakfast & Chores
10.00 *** Dhamma talk
11.00 Walking or standing meditation
11.45 *** Sitting meditation
12.30 Lunch & chores
14.30 *** Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
15.30 Walking or standing meditation
16.15 *** Sitting meditation
17.00 *** Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
18.00 Tea & hot springs
19.30 *** Sitting meditation
20.00 Group walking meditation
20.30 *** Sitting meditation
21.00 *** Bedtime
21.30 *** LIGHTS OUT
I slipped out of my monastic cell shortly after the first few gongs cut through the early morning darkness, walked the tree lined path towards the main hall and set my intention for the next ten days to simply appreciate the positive moments, the negative moments, and as many moments within the moments as I could. Not too tight. Not too loose.
Interestingly, the first three days were the easiest because the stiffness and soreness from sitting gave my mind something on which to focus. Once that eased up, my restless mind was free to ping-pong around: What am I doing with my life - thinking - I don't like that tai chi shirt one bit - thinking - I like that bird call - thinking - relax mr. sentient being -thinking - I feel fat - thinking - good to see that double handed wave - thinking - I need to do more push-ups - thinking - and on and on and on at breakneck speed....
Day nine was by far the toughest because the schedule removed all the Dhamma talks and replaced them with more meditation - replicating a day in the life of a Thai monk. I was a bit aggressive and sat for two hours straight in the morning, so by the end of the day my ability to concentrate and calm the Monkey Mind was zero.
Overall, each day brought some amazing meditation sessions and some where I could barely concentrate on my breath for more than a few seconds. And it was quite memorable to spend two weeks with a group of people from all walks of life silently sharing the same space and positive energy.
Intellectually it's easy to comprehend the law of impermanence and know everything changes, nothing lasts, or stays the same. But when a monk gets you to spend multiple days mindfully considering it not as a passing thought but as a way of living it takes on a profoundly more significant character.
Don't let the mind create attachments to the good stuff. Don't let it get attached to the bad stuff. Walk it straight down the middle one moment at a time. Breath in now. Breath out impermanence.
Or, in the words of the mind blower himself, Alan Watts, it is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity.
And we spent days mentally noodling around with "I" and "mine." While I don't think I'll be able to eradicate the ego during the handful of laps around the sun I may have left, replacing "I" with "us" and "mine" with "ours" is one gigantic step and perspectival shift in the right direction.
I especially liked one of the monk's stories he told during chanting meditation: "The fish don't see the water, the birds don't see the air, people don't see... people don't see the world and humanity."
My least favorite part of the retreat - the morning of day eleven when everyone got their cell phone back and could talk.
On an afternoon ferry ride out to Ko Samui after we finished, I drew a life line of intention in my mind - After Wat Suan Mokkh | Before Wat Suan Mokkh. And that night in my hotel room, there was a copy of Without and Within – Questions and Answers on the Teachings of Theravada Buddhism with the following quote:
It is intention that propels us into relationships with things and determines the nature of those relationships. Whether we take anything from situations, how we react to them, how we impose ourselves upon them lies within the power of intention. Whether we act upon unskillful mental states or skillful ones depends upon intention.
Phra Brahmagunabhorn (P.A. Payutto)
It's time to take it slow and shut 'er down. Yup, sadly, this is the final Out For A While blog post. El Gordo's not seen his last stand but I'm going to step away from the blogosphere. I'll keep the site active, as the blogs I followed leading up to and during my trip were incredibly inspirational and extremely informative. I hope the pictures, thoughts, and info spread throughout all of the various posts will help someone down the line get after their own journey.
Hold on tightly. Let go lightly!