Now here’s something off the beaten track: while backpacking around Thailand, I spent three days in meditation in Bangkok – at a Buddhist temple, with monks!
Why am I doing this? Because it would be useful to learn to meditate, because it would be a great story, because I’m crazy.
Don’t I know that the ‘proper’ place to learn is in Chang-Mai? Yeah, but that’s the touristy place – they’ve got stunning views and waterfalls and shit, and I don’t want all that distracting me. Learning in Bangkok is not only the real experience (you’re with Thai people doing the same), but it’s also free!
No, I’m not one of those monks.
This will be a fairly text-heavy post: taking photos while on a meditation course seems to defeat the point.
If you’re in need of any spiritual help while in Bangkok, you can supposedly go to any of the Buddhist temples, and ‘join.’ For however long you want, you can eat, sleep, and meditate at the temple, but you’ve got to follow a pretty strict set of rules. Unfortunately, only one of the temples has any English instruction – Wat Mahathat, where I studied.
When staying at the temple, you have to take the 8 precepts, abstaining from:
3) Sexual activity (not even touching the opposite sex)
5) Taking any alcohol or drugs
6) Eating anything after noon
7) Dancing, singing, listening to music, using cosmetics, or otherwise entertaining yourself
8) Sleeping luxuriously
In addition, you’re pretty limited in what you can do while staying at the temple – you can’t leave the grounds under any circumstances, you have to meditate 8 hours per day, and you’re not supposed to even talk with fellow students. This is not an easy life.
So anyways, I check in, get issued a set of white clothes, get put a dorm with three Thai guys who don’t speak a word of English, and I’m off to start meditating! As it turns out, meditation is (not unexpectedly) the pinnacle of boredom. Vipassana Meditation, which I studied, is not about clearing your mind, but is instead all about recognizing all thoughts that approach your mind, but letting them pass by without impacting your mind.
Practically speaking, this means that you spend half your time sitting down on a mat, feeling the expansion and contraction of your stomach as you breath, furtively trying to prevent your mind from wandering, and desperately trying not to fall asleep. Unsurprisingly, I failed pretty hard at not falling asleep.
And the other half of your time is spent slowly walking back and forth along a line maybe 5 feet long, focusing on the movement of your feet and the sensation of standing, while once again furtively trying to prevent your mind from wandering.
If that doesn’t sound so bad, remember that you have to meditate this way for 8 hours a day, while slowly feel your willpower slipping away. The first day is at the same time both oddly novel and boring.
By the second day, the novelty has worn off, and sense of oh-god-why-did-I-agree-to-this sets in.
The third day goes by a lot faster – the end is in sight, and you can’t wait to get out of this place! You’re really glad that you only agreed to stay for 3 days instead of 10 days, and you’re absolutely ecstatic that you didn’t stay for 10 days at a meditation school that take your passport and refuse to give it back until those 10 days are completed.
It’s mildly interesting, how when you leave the temple, you ‘give back’ the 8 precepts and take the 5 precepts, which is like the Ten Commandments Lite, instructing you to avoid:
– Drugs and alcohol
Works for me!