From a 3-day retreat…to Thailand!

My first Vipassana Meditation retreat was a short 3-day one in Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico. All I knew is that we were all going to be in silence and will sit in meditation. Back then I could not sit on the floor, so I spent the whole time sitting on a chair. We all walked, sat, and ate in silence. At night we listened to a Dharma talk.  Even though the ‘walking meditation’ was absolutely a no-no for my legs, I still tried a little bit. I loved the retreat and the talks. It seemed so short though. I searched for a longer one.

The second retreat was a 7-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in San Francisco, CA. I met wonderful people and made some good friends. I was able to attend because it was ‘handicap’ friendly. They even provided me with a scooter to move from building to building. I ate an apple, and I mean really ate an apple for the first time ever: aware only of the smell, the taste, the crunch…gosh it was good. But once again…it seemed sooo short. So I searched for a longer one.

Spirit Rock Meditation Center

The third retreat was a 6-week long in Barre, MA, at IMS (Insight Meditation Society). It was a 3-month retreat, and I wanted to sit for the 3-months but it was full and they only had room for the second half, there the 6-weeks. It felt incredibly good to be able to travel by myself all the way there……..and even though I was in bed for a whole day after I got there…it was all worth it. Many stories to tell….later.

The schedule and logistic of every meditation retreat was pretty much the same. Something like:

  • 5:30am wake up call
  • 6:00am sitting meditation
  • 7:00am breakfast
  • 7:45am working meditation {chores}
  • 9:00am – 12:00pm alternating 45-min sitting meditation and 30-min walking meditation
  • 12:00 Lunch/Free time
  • 1:30pm to 5pm alternating 45-min sitting meditation and 30-min walking meditation
  • 5:00pm light dinner
  • 5:45pm sitting meditation
  • 6:15pm walking meditation
  • 7:00pm Dharma Talk
  • 8:00pm walking meditation
  • 8:30-10:00 chanting and sitting meditation

This time around I was able to incorporate some sitting-on-the-mat time, but still spent most of the time on the chair. It doesn’t matter where we sit, or practice…but the mat just felt right….I could do it before chemo and I guess I longed to do it again.

I loved and cherished every single day of those retreats. I learned so much about myself, about Buddhism, about life. Yet, there was something missing. I have no idea what it was. I even considered the possibility of staying at the Forest Refuge which is a meditation center for longer periods, but the budget was not going that far and I had to get back home.

One day….I saw myself saying: “I am going to be a volunteer in Thailand”….that is a collection of stories altogether, so I will stay on track. Once I got here I kept trying to attend a meditation retreat. I learned that one of the monks in the temple was a Meditation Teacher in the west who spoke English!!!!!!…but he was hardly ever around or I hardly ever saw him. We finally met. His name: Phra Poom. He said there was a meditation course and that I might be able to attend…..Yes!!!!!!……did not happen…no translators available. So, I waited.

Another meditation course was going to be held right here in Doi Saket….yes!!!…perfect…..didn’t happen…..in the end only monks or males were allowed and well….I didn’t meet the requirements……… I went to visit as often as I could, to see what was going on. Curious monkey mind at its best. Phra Ake, my thai brother saw me and we walked all the way to the door only, no women allowed….what I heard bewildered me….and what I was able to ‘see’ bewildered me even more!! I had to participate in one of those retreats.

In one of my ’rounds’ I met Ann, a  young meditation instructor. We got talking, lucky for me she spoke English. I told her I wanted to attend one of the meditation courses and right there and then, she called someone and BOOM! I was enrolled for the next one…..in about 30 days…..yes, it did happen. Wow!! My very first meditation retreat in Thailand.

My fourth mediation retreat was 8 days-7 nights  in Ban Hai, Doi Saket district, Chiang Mai, Thailand. All in Thai but with lovely translators. The sitting meditation time was not as long as the ones in the previous retreat….and to my surprise I was able to sit most of the time on the mat!!!!!!! When I finished I felt that it was one of the reasons I had come to Thailand!

Ban Hai House

How was this one different from the others….?? In structure and logistic pretty much the same. BUT…the main point of the retreat is the ‘walking meditation‘ and the ‘eating meditation’ not the ‘sitting meditation’;  moving is what we do all the time, everyday, so in moving is that we practiced the most. We are urged and carefully instructed to do everything slowly, not only moving slowly but naming everything that happens. Believe it or not this made a HUGE difference in my practice. One things is to be aware of what is going on and another very different one is to ‘speak’ what is happening. Telling our mind what is happening. We gradually go from general movements to specific ones.

My fifth retreat was in Ba Ma (a meditation center, not sure of the name), Bangkok, Thailand. Phra Me (formerly Phra Poom) insists in ‘practice, practice, practice’ not expecting anything from it, just training the mind so that we can be mindful in our everyday life.

Every activity in the retreat goes from less to more…I most tell you that chewing becomes a very interesting one.

In the walking meditation there are up to 6 set of steps. Step one is ‘right, move, pause…then…left, move, pause’ and systematically move to more detailed actions: ‘raise-pause, lift-pause, move-pause, down-pause, touch-pause’. We walk around 6 steps forward and then turn around. The turning around involves: standing-pause, want to turn-pause, turn-pause (in three steps), standing-pause, want to walk-pause….and walking according to the step at that moment.   This activity is guided by a meditation instructor. By the end of the retreat we are guided only for a little bit at a time and we do our walking by ourselves. We are ‘allowed’ to only sit for 30 min intervals.

Preparing for sitting meditation.

Walking Meditation

One night I could not sleep, so I kept walking towards the drinking area to have a hot chocolate, or else. When Phra Me saw me he told me that I should be in my bed (Thai style) practicing, being aware of the brain activity, ‘sleeping meditation’…and he said that if I had no intention to do precisely this maybe I shouldn’t be there….yikes! I thought it was harsh…but it helped my practice a lot. Since I didn’t understand the Dharma talks, he would send me to a different room to practice walking and sitting by myself. This was a very different activity for me and I enjoyed it much more than I expected. I am now planning a solo retreat before I go back home. It will be my sixth one!

As I write this, I can see how much I have improved in regards to my CIPN and it brings a smile to my face. I have gone from spending all of the sitting meditation on a chair to sitting with my legs crossed on the mat. I can now cross both legs…not on top of each other, but nonetheless….cross them! I have gone from walking with 2 canes to my mat, to practicing walking meditation for one hour periods!! These meditation courses have not only help train my mind and watch my thoughts, but physically improve my condition.

I am very grateful for all these opportunities and for all the help and encouragement I have received from so many people. May all of them be free from pain and suffering. May all of them be happy.

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