Meditation Retreat, Full Moon Party, Pai [10]

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 

It’s been about 6 weeks since I last updated my blog, and I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed!

So what have I been up to- well firstly there was the meditation course which I attended which I will try my best to describe. So basically I decided to live and meditate at a temple in Chiang Mai. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s pretty simple- meditation clears my mind and helps keep me happy, and who wouldn’t want that? Sure I could just meditate anywhere, but being stuck in a temple which you are not allowed to leave, surrounded by other people and monks who are also doing the same thing really helps keep you motivated (and self motivation has never really been my strongest suit).

The Man Himself, Big B
The following is a description of my time living and meditating there. It may not be that interesting to you, so I put it in italics so you can skip through it if you find it a little boring.

All of the time that we were there we were expected to meditate, so if we were not eating, or sleeping, that’s what I was doing. We were not allowed to talk to anyone, make eye contact, or
The daily routine went like this:


4.00 am- Wakeup

The library where I spent most of my meditation

A loud bell is rung for about 5 minutes at this time, along with a noisy choir of howling dogs (all the temples are full of stray dogs in Thailand probably because they get fed and everyone is nice to them). At first I had a sincere motivation to get up at this time, but after a few freezing dark mornings I decided to submit to the fact that I would never be an early riser and would usually get up at about 5.30 or 6, which I think is actually a pretty good achievement for me considering my past record.

 
6.30 am- Breakfast
I really wasn’t used to eating breakfast this early but it was good to have something warm in the freezing morning (the temple is actually near the mountains so its a little cold). It was a simple meal of rice soup with some kind of mushrooms or vegetables.

10.30 am- ‘Lunch’
Monks meditating on Buddha Day

Unfortunately this ‘lunch’ was the last meal of the day and you could only then drink liquid or eat yogurt. You were allowed to have seconds though so I would load up on brown rice to get me through the day. We were expected to eat really slowly, which sucked for me because I am the fastest eater in the world but I got used to it. Also I would buy loads of baked goods from the temple shop and just try to survive till the next morning.

 
4.00 pm- Reporting
We would then go to speak to the head abbot monk individually about our days meditation. He was everything you would expect from a spiritual guy- wise, quiet and  with an edge of humor and empathy. I asked many questions that confirmed my understanding that Buddhism and Meditation is both a path to happiness, but at the same time not necessarily the ‘only path’. 
 
Ajarn Supan, the Head Abbot Monk

For example Buddhists live in temples to remove themselves from worldly indulgences so that they do not become attached to any ‘sense pleasures’ but I asked “can people not enjoy sense pleasures in a mindful way?” to which he answered that “anything arising from craving will not satisfy you completely” which is true, but I think that if you are already sustained by the inner well of peace that comes from living in the moment (not to sound cliche but its true) then what does it matter what we do? Can everything not be a form of yoga or meditation? I think only we can answer that ourselves. Buddhism is good in the way that it is not dogmatic. Even Buddha himself (if he did exist) said “do not agree with anything, even something that I say myself, if it does not agree with your inner logic and reason”. 

 
The Meditation Tree

I also asked about people affected by war and violence, and he pointed out that this was a result of not being mindful (which I agree with) but also I think that no matter how much you sit around on your ass meditating in a temple, you are not going to save the people right NOW that are being affected by these things. Sure you can not fight fire with fire, but I believe there can also be some sort of moderation and happy medium, perhaps somewhere along the lines of what the UN aims to do in relation to conflict resolution. I brought this up to the Abbot Monk and he simply said “Acknowledge your wandering mind” which seemed like a little bit of a cop-out to me.


6.00 pm- ‘Snack’

The accommodation where I stayed

We then got a tasty and really filling ‘snack’ which was just a big vat of soy milk that got put out. I stopped drinking soy after a while when I discovered it raises your estrogen levels about 8 times more than normal in a guy :/

10.00 pm- Bedtime

And then you repeat!

A lot of people have asked me ‘what did you learn, how did you like it, did it change your perspective?’. Well i’m exactly the same person, just a little happier and with (hopefully) a little less attachment to things that cause unhappiness in life. That’s all really- no enlightenment, no going to India to live in a cave for the rest of my life, and no pledging allegiance to the life of a homeless ascetic wanderer.

In a nutshell, meditation helps keep you happy- disregarding all the religious bullshit as there seems to be in most religions, which seems to divide people more than anything else however Buddhism has quite a lot less than most others.

So that was an interesting 3 weeks, and then it was ironically time to head down south to meet my friends from Australia at the full moon party in Koh Pangan! I headed down to the islands  to meet up with them, and it was a MASSIVE trek to get there. First I got a lift from my uncle down to the bus stop from his house, then I stayed for a night at a hostel next to the bus stop. Then I got a bus down to Bangkok, a taxi from the north Bangkok bus stop to the south one, a bus down to Surat Thani, a taxi to a hostel where I stayed for a night, a taxi to Donsat harbour, a ferry to Koh Pangan and finally a taxi to the hostel where they were staying. But at least I got to see some scenery along the way I guess!

A sick club at Koh Samui

The full moon party was interesting and it was pretty much what I expected, loads of drunk tourists everywhere but it was really good to see all my friends from Australia and get wasted and party which is not so bad every once in a while. We also traveled to Koh Samui and Koh Tao where I was able to do some snorkeling. Overall it was good fun but also expensive, tacky and touristy and i’m glad we spent only about 2 weeks there. The best thing was just being able to see my friends again! So i’m pretty lucky in that regard.

The town of Pai

Now I am in an amazing place called Pai, which is north of Chiang Mai. Its basically a little town reminiscent of Byron Bay, Nimbin, Glastonbury, Grenwhich Village, Berlin, San Francisco and all the other hippie collectives. Its still quite a small town, with a collection of meditation places, dreadlocks, yoga centers, little scenic rivers, weird spiritual people, stoners, washed up wanderers, lost souls and most commonly- nice and interesting people. There is a lot of nature to see here too, which sure beats living amongst the traffic and busyness of a city!

On the road to Pai

At the moment I am working to help a 67 year old yoga teacher (who looks 40 and acts 30) to build a hindu ashram in exchange for free accommodation, food and yoga lessons at her school. Also, the majority of Yoga practitioners are girls, she has 2 dogs and a cat, and there is even a nice view!

Basically my days here in Pai consist of 2 hours of Yoga in the morning (10am-12) followed by some food which is usually black rice and vegetables which is what they eat at the yoga school when they are not fasting.

The Hindu Ashram under construction
Then the Thai builders take an hour break for lunch and then I join them at 1pm and usually work for about 2 hours or so. Today I helped with the bamboo-roof rafters and and cut some lengths of wire that hold them together. All I can say is I hope that these buildings don’t have to withstand anything stronger than a minor gust! The Thai builders are really friendly and seem happy enough to have someone helping out, even if I am a foreigner. They don’t speak any English but they can just point at things and I can get the general idea. It is actually really satisfying putting in some hard work in the hot Thailand sun, building something which is centered around a beneficial concept like yoga, and doing it for free in exchange for some accommodation! Money is not involved at all, and actually most of the materials it is going to be built out of are just (relatively) sustainable bamboo and wood!
Viewpoint at Pai [Click to Enlarge]

Then I basically have the rest of the day free, so I can just look around Pai, get some reading done (which I have discovered I don’t do enough) and some meditation too. I have discovered that yoga and meditation go hand in hand. Previously I was somewhat neglecting my body by not really paying attention to it, so I have discovered that yoga is sort of the other half of that spectrum. I think just as a practice, half an hour of yoga, and 40 min of meditation each morning is very doable, and really not that much time to fit into your schedule if you really think about it.

I have also been looking around some of the more scenic areas of Pai and have been taking some photos too. It’s not hard to take a good photo when everything up here is so beautiful. There is an amazing viewpoint that looks over the town (above), and some amazing natural canyons (below). I really enjoy taking photos but sometimes I wonder whether I should be trying to capture the moment at all. Then again if other people enjoy the photos then that is reason enough!

Pai Canyons

Well lastly, I will need to plan out what to do in the future of my journey.

My two main ideas were either:
-Go to India, volunteer somewhere
-Go to Europe, travel, backpack and work

Well that’s pretty much all the news for now! If I was to summarize my mindset right now I would say that I can defiantly see a marked improvement (albeit a slow one) in my happiness since I left over 4 months ago, so what else can I ask for really?

🙂

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Categories: Travel Blog | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Meditation Retreat, Full Moon Party, Pai [10]

  1. Which meditation retreat did you visit? I am interested in doing the same type of soul searching and “living with the people” activities on my trip to Thailand next month. Happy travels!

    • It was in a temple in Chiang Mai called Wat Roempoeng (pronounced Wat Lam Pung). I reccomend volunteer work if you really want to live with people and experience their culture! Good luck, let me know how you go 🙂

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