It’s been far too long since I last posted. Part of it was from being far away from internet, nestled in a forest monastery – Wat Tam Wua – that lies in a narrow valley in northern Thailand.
The name translates into “temple cave emptiness” or “empty cave temple.”
It is a Vipassana meditation place of refuge, far away from big city and even little town life. Abbot Lungta says he’s been there for 36 years, and has made sure to open his doors to foreign travelers who are also seeking inner piece and nirvana. Room and board are free with no limit to how long you can stay (I had met a couple of people who had been there for 4 months). They ask for you to donate what you think it is worth, and as it’s a refuge to all, donations do not have to be monetary. No reservations are needed as they will always find a way to accommodate your stay and unless they are exceptionally full, you get your own kuti (bungalow). They only ask that you take it seriously and stick to the daily schedule which involves getting up at 5AM, not eating past noon and at least 6 hours of meditation which is guided by English speaking monks. Do not worry, if I can do it, you can. Depending on your purpose and desires, arrangements may be made with the Abbot to vary from their meditation schedule.
The hardest part of this posting is in debating what to share about my experience. Each experience is so personal, but Mine was an exceptionally unusual one, involving another traveler having a schizophrenic episode and lighting storms so violent that a kuti was crushed by a falling tree. These two events during such a time of reflection are definitely not normal, but taught me the largest lessons of my travels. I have a deeper understanding of how the mind works, different culture interactions and responses to crisis and spirituality, just to name a few.
To be honest, I went into this with almost no knowledge of meditation. I know you’re supposed to empty your head and focus on breath… but why? I mean, really why? I’ve discovered there seem to be three main reasons that people meditate. (please understand this is my observation, and nothing is ever absolute).
1. Cleaning up
To let your mind wander through it’s experiences, processing as it goes which means that it siphons out some of the “noise” that’s bouncing around your brain that you don’t even register. This allows you to be more aware and present in your daily life. Beginning Meditation retreats usually demand (literally) 10 days of your time because for at least the first half, you mind will be doing this. It was the last day before I even really “meditated” for the second reason.
2. Mental weight lift
The idea of focusing on your breath and clearing your mind is the same as doing bench press for your body. You’re training your mind to focus on one thing, and ignore everything else that pops into your head. I’ve found that the mind is chemically mushy, and neuron paths can forms ruts in its thought patterns. The same way you learn to speed read, or any type of technique (think of the book Blink), or even just your awareness in your daily actions and thoughts, you can also blaze a neuron-trail that allows you to focus. Like all new habits and paths, you must provide upkeep to keep the trail. Mental weight lift.
3. The “sublime”
Someone explained to me that drugs can be the elevator to increased awareness and appreciation (think “whoa, this tree is soooooo rad!” or “have you heard this song, when you’re high??”). The problem is, it’s a one-push button that gets you there. You don’t work out your legs, condition your heart or have to exert any effort at all besides pushing that button, unlike you would taking the stairs. The mind on it’s own can (as I was unnerved to find out how easily it can) provide the same chemicals that provide hallucinations, body highs and surreal well being. Meditation is the “stair way.” It seems to me like the most intense and dedicated meditaters use this practice to get high (natural highs; The same way running or adrenaline sports provide). Unlike the schizophrenic who’s brain gave her uncontrolled doses of mind chemicals that allowed her to hallucinate about demons, Buddha had to sit for hours and days before he got high enough to battle demons. The cool thing about Buddha, is that he could shut it off, keep the awareness, and build a belief system that led people to this enlightenment (which is actually more about the practice and daily life, than getting high – the road traveled, not the destination.)
I’m sure there are a million and one reasons that people meditate. Feel free to share your reasons and questions below.
|… and yes, that’s rain in the image directly above 🙂
Even with the extreme events that occurred during my time away, and the fact that I went in practically not knowing anything about meditation and left with only truly practicing towards the end, I highly recommend a retreat. It’s a chance to take a break and reset your body and mind. It gave me the chance to process life changing events that I previously just didn’t have time to focus on. It also gave me the chance to explore different views and takes on a variety of aspects in life; I feel stronger mentally, more healthy, and empowered in a way that I have not felt in ages. It reminds me of a mental boot camp.
If you’re in Thailand, almost every monastery can accommodate you if you have the courage to just talk to a monk (most will just approach you if you visit a temple). As for other places around the world, the practices vary with each culture, but there is a serious of standard retreats set across the United States and across the whole world. Here is one of the larger websites that can show you the closest one in your country: http://www.dhamma.org/en/
… any questions that you may have about my work or the Wat, please feel free to ask via comments below, facebookor email.