Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai

// December 5th, 2010 // Thailand

One of the things that makes for an excellent travel buddy is shared interests and the ability to compromise- which is why my friend Lauren and I had a great itinerary in southeast Asia. Lauren wanted to try a yoga or meditation course. While I am no fan of either- I have a hard time with the relaxation part- I was open to them both for the cultural experience. When we found an overnight meditation retreat in Chiang Mai, offered through Monk Chat, we were both keen.

The cost was only 500 Baht and that included transportation, food, accommodation, and meditation. We also were required to wear all white, so we bought our outfits at the Monk Chat center. We took a tuk-tuk from our guesthouse to the Buddhist temple Wat Suandok where the Monk Chat office is located. After dropping our bags down and signing in we took a survey of the crowd. A Canadian girl who wouldn’t stop talking, an Australian business guy who quit his job to travel for a year, an American-British couple, and some other odds and ends. We were herded in to the classroom where we were greeted by two men: the monk that would lead the meditation part of our retreat and another guy who was the organizer/chaperon. After an overview of the basics of meditation and its goals, we piled into the back of a covered pickup truck and headed to the meditation center.

Once there, we were given the ‘rules’. No talking. Yeah, right, you shouldn’t talk when you meditate. Wait, no talking, period? That’s right, it’s a silent retreat, so we are not allowed to talk until lunch the following day. Luckily, Lauren and I were roommates. Since we’re friends and had spent a couple of months together it was fine, but I can imagine it would be awkward to share a room with someone you didn’t know and have to determine when to turn the lights off, etc. Plus, you’d be inclined to have a get-to-know-you chat but couldn’t. We got changed, and donning our all-white fashionable getup, we headed to lunch. Here, we had an introduction to chanting. We chanted in foreign words, but roughly translated, it said that we eat only for sustenance and not to enjoy it. Then, we chanted in English “Spreading Loving Kindness to All Living Beings.”

Spreading Loving Kindness to All Living Beings before every meal

After lunch we started meditation. During the course of two days we did sitting, walking, and lying down meditation. I didn’t find sitting terribly uncomfortable but found it extremely difficult to stop thinking. The walking was the worst because the monk would chant “Left. Right. Left Right,” but the guy in front of me couldn’t follow these basic instructions so it was terribly distracting. Lying down was relaxing but I fell asleep both times I tried. One of the techniques I did find  useful was how to push past pain. If we started to get uncomfortable, rather than moving to get rid of the pain, we were to chant “Pain, pain pain…” as a way to acknowledge the pain and move beyond it. I used the technique to fight the urge to itch several mosquito bites after the retreat. Overall, I found that focusing and turning off my thoughts was much more difficult than I thought it would be.

On the second day, after morning meditation and breakfast, we had a discussion session where we were finally allowed to talk. Our monk had been a monk for 9 years. That’s commitment! As a monk, he’s not allowed to eat after 12pm. I can’t believe he’s been able to do that for 9 years. Everyone asked lots of questions. I asked two: 1.) How long did he plan to be a monk for? and 2.) Why aren’t more Buddhists vegetarian if they don’t believe in killing any living thing? It was an interesting discussion. As for Lauren and I, we had differing views on the retreat but both enjoyed it. I didn’t mind not talking, yet Lauren found it really difficult. However, I found it difficult to meditate and focus my thoughts, while I believe she found it pretty easy. She liked the meditation part, and I just felt it wasn’t for me. While I do think I should focus my thoughts and let my mind rest more, essentially thinking about nothing was hard. She didn’t feel like the Buddhist aspect was for her, while that was right up my alley. I took a religious studies class a few years back in Hawaii and really came to identify with many Buddhist teachings.

Meditation center entry

All in all, we both found it to be a great experience and were glad we tried it (and glad that we only had to stay silent overnight as opposed to longer had we signed up for a week-long course). Meditation is a part of Thai and southeast Asian culture, and I think we would have been missing out if we had passed up on this great learning opportunity.

To view pictures from our Monk Chat Meditation Retreat click here. Lauren and I are on both ends of the second row. Monk Chat also offers free weekly discussions with monks to learn more about Buddhism.

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19 Responses to “Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai”

  1. ayngelina says:

    Looks amazing. I think I should try something like that but even in savasana I can’t keep my thoughts still always thinking about what I’m going to eat after class!
    ayngelina´s last [type] ..The three best hostels in Ecuador

  2. islandmomma says:

    Love this, must go on my list! I’m dying to know the monk’s reply to your question about vegetarianism, or not. I remember reading, years ago, a reply to a similar question which went something like we are all part of one another anyway (including animals and plantlife) so when we eat meat it is already a part of us, but we must eat it with gratitude?
    islandmomma´s last [type] ..Be Like a Boy Scout – Prepared!

    • Laura says:

      As for the monk himself, all of his food he receives through alms and what people give him. He eats vegetarian by choice but finds it more disrespectful to refuse the meat, so he eats it out of gratitude. As for others, it’s more of a gray area. I think there are many suggestions but at the end of the day it’s not mandated to be vegetarians. After the monk answered me, I still continued “But….” He responded again but I can’t recall the specifics. So it’s not all that clear to me but I have to say I was in awe of how kind people were in many places to stray dogs. A woman in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand would bring a grocery bag full of rice to the market every day and feed all of the stray dogs. Anyhow, that’s a bit off topic but here’s some further reading for you: http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma3/vegi.html

  3. Ah silence :) This looks intriguing and I would love to do it when I make it to Chiang Mai in the a couple of months! Glad you got through it and enjoyed!

    • Laura says:

      You should Shannon! As much as I say it’s not for me, I’d still do it again. It was really educational and you should also attend one of the weekly monk chats- I wanted to and just didn’t have time.

  4. Liezel says:

    I’m always fascinated with people who meditate, hope to learn this soon as i am very stressed.

    • Laura says:

      Liezel, Great idea, but I do think it’s an acquired skill for it to be successful in relieving stress. You should definitely give it a whirl though!

  5. Christine says:

    I’ve considered a yoga retreat but never a meditation retreat–just like you, I have a hard time focusing my thoughts! I definitely think it would be worth it to try. Thanks for sharing!

    • Laura says:

      Christine, I also think everyone should try it at least once. Maybe twice. I was rrrrreally tired when we went on the retreat which didn’t help. Maybe someday I’ll try it again.

  6. Kyle says:

    Hmm, that does sound really interesting. Though to be honest, I think I am similar to you in that mediation and yoga and all that are not my think. I would do it though, just for the experience. Sounds like you are not regretful that you signed up, so that’s encouraging!

    • Laura says:

      Kyle,
      The worst that will happen is you’ll be bored to tears from no communication and slightly uncomfortable from trying to hold a sitting pose. Not too high risk so might as well try it ;)

  7. Earl says:

    I actually ended up at Wat Suandok yesterday for a small ceremony and just found out about their Monk Chat sessions. The monks there were so welcoming and before we knew it, we had been chatting to them for a couple of hours. Glad you were able to participate in the meditation as well!
    Earl´s last [type] ..Optimism In Kurdistan

  8. PNR Status says:

    Really nice post. I also think everyone should try it at least once. Maybe twice. I was rrrrreally tired when we went on the retreat which didn’t help.

  9. Federico says:

    I know it would be difficult for me to meditate, but I did have a long conversation with monks in Luang Prabang, Laos. I learned a lot from them, perhaps being their discipline what amazed me mos, despite knowing about it already!
    Federico´s last [type] ..Photo of the Week- Wax Palms in Valle del Cocora- Colombia

  10. Mica says:

    I am not sure I could be silent for that long, I can’t even imagine a week. It looks like an amazing experience. I might try it in the future though, thanks for the info!
    Mica´s last [type] ..Wildlife safari through Los Llanos- Venezuela’s vast grassland

  11. Abby says:

    Wow that’s so cool that you did that. I used to looove yoga retreats but always about died during the meditation parts. Probably why I should’ve done more of it…
    Abby´s last [type] ..Meet- Plan- Go — How long-term travel helped my career

  12. Margo says:

    sounds amazing. I can’t say I love meditating, but I do swear by it.. what a great opportunity!
    Margo´s last [type] ..3 Favorite Restaurants in London

  13. Wow. I don’t know if I could do that, but reading about it makes me want to go and try when I am in Thailand this september.
    DTravelsRound´s last [type] ..Escape of the Week- Spanish Spring

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