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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

One month Vipassana temple stay in Chiang Mai

My trip of self-discovery has been keeping me in Chiang Mai. I came here for a six-week yoga training and ended up staying over four months; given the luxury to travel as long as I like, I decided to learn more about other body/mind disciplines such as Thai massage and Vipassana. And yes, I am now a certified massage therapist!

But here I’ll talk more about my Vipassana experience.

After having trained my body for six weeks I felt like it was the perfect timing to also train my mind and get more compassion, loving-kindness and destruction of ego after building lots of muscles and self-complacency. Therefore I dedicated myself to the beautiful practice of Vipassana (Insight meditation which is the foundation of Mindfulness) at one of the local temples, Wat Ram Poeng (WRP).






The daily routine was quite demanding, even though it did not look like such. I woke up with nuns and monks at 4:00 and, except two daily meals at 6:30 and 10:30, all I had to do was meditate. It was recommended to start with 6-7 hours of meditation daily and increase to 11- 12. Temple residents were not allowed to take any solid food after 12:00 am. Also, we were not allowed to talk, write, read, use phone etc. Once a day foreign meditators met with the Meditation master, the Abbot of WRP, to discuss meditation progress. That was it: sleep, eat and meditate. Sounds like nothing, right?

In my case, I ate only one meal a day since my feeling of hunger diminished but also food made me drowsy whenever I consumed more than necessary. Besides food blocked movements of my diaphragm. I am mentioning this fact because during meditation inhales and exhales are longer than regular breaths. Despite practicing meditation for the last four year, I never meditated for so long! To my big surprise, most days I meditated 12 hours. Sometimes more, sometimes a bit less. Consequently, increasing meditation time decreased sleeping hours, but also this was demanded by the Abbot, to the point that during my last week at the temple I slept from 22:00 to 2:00 and felt surprisingly fresh and awake! The last 72 hours at the temple I was not allowed to sleep at all, but I’ll talk about it a bit later.

Interesting fact: I learnt how to sleep during sitting meditation. My meditation master told me that Buddhist monks don’t have beds: they either sleep on the floor or sitting, or don’t sleep at all! It turns out that sleeping during sitting meditation provides more awareness, which I can now confirm. A short 10-15 minutes snooze made me more awake and alert than eight hours of sleep on some days!


Meditation in the temple consisted of two parts: walking and sitting, which everybody had to practice equal amounts of time. Usually meditators were instructed to start with 15 minutes and increase to one hour, depending on individual capacity and progress. With time, both walking and sitting increased in difficulty too. The Abbot taught us the following walking and sitting techniques only when he was satisfied with our individual progress. Besides these little explanations about walking and sitting, there were not much teachings and that was what some people found quite frustrating.

One of the points of Insight meditation is that you find your own way without help: that’s why it’s not recommended to talk. Result may happen sooner or later depending on your own skill and “luggage” and there’s no reasons not rush it. Comparing progress and emotions can make people feel even more defeated after meditating half day, particularly in our day and age when everybody has to get the best out of everything and be the best and use “the next day delivery”option. When people compare, they think that they are not doing enough or doing it completely wrong. In Vipassana it does not work this way: you have to experience it yourself and it may take time!

To finish, let me tell you about sleep deprivation called “determination”. Coming from Burma, this Buddhist practice has found its home in temples of Northern Thailand. Not only was I sleep deprived, but I had to remain in the same clothes without showering. Food was brought to my room daily and I could take liquids after noon as per general temple rule. These three days without sleep marked the end of my introductory 26-day meditation course. One of the motives behind “determination” is to assure the continuity of meditation practice, enhance the experience. Accomplished meditators tend to often experience states of dreamless sleep. Without forgetting that “Monks don’t sleep”. The state of dreamless sleep has a special meaning in yoga too but I’ll spare you from explanations (suspense!). There is also this debatable information that Buddha spend 72 hours meditating without sleep before he reached enlightenment. For me, it solidified the whole idea of the transitional state of things, their non-permanence and let me look deeper inside myself.




I feel like it turned out to be an awfully long post, but let me conclude. Exactly two weeks after my meditation retreat I definitely do feel change. Even though I now sleep longer and cannot wake up even at 5:00, my feelings have become more refined and my mind sharper. I do feel that a part of my ego has been destructed and more awareness has been born. I do feel that I have stepped on a path which leads me to something even greater than I experienced in the temple. And I really think that if everybody meditated just a little bit our world would be a much better place.

Also on Friday I return to the temple for more insights. Maybe 10 more days.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Transformative Chiang Mai


Hi everyone!

Last 1.5 month have been very busy and emotionally charged: I took an intensive yoga teacher training in Chiang Mai and during this time most of my energy and attention were turned inwards, although I occasionally shared some pictures on Instagram. Now I am ready to tell more.

I became certified yoga teacher in 2015 and has been teaching since. Teaching helped me cope with my then stressful office job and gave me another purpose than just reaching revenue targets. More than that, seeing my students evolve in their practice was the best reward! And so the more I taught, the more I felt in my element, and consequently I decided to step away from the corporate world and to become a full time yoga teacher. And as soon as I found this advanced training for yoga teachers on the Internet, I knew that I would quit my job before the training begins. That’s how it all started and brought me to Chiang Mai!

Ganesha - my favourite!

View from our shala

Ashram

Me being silly

Me being upside down
Me being a ladder

Ayurvedic cooking

All the amazing spices

And voila, the meal!
First of all, the training was more than I wished for! My teachers, Jonas Westring (anatomy and asana), Carlos Pomeda (philosophy) and Balaram Chandra (Ayurveda) not only shared their knowledge, but enamoured me with each discipline in the way that made me want to start my teaching practice immediately and share my love for yoga with others. Having this said, I feel that I know so little, that I have to study more and more!

During the training a new feeling enveloped me: longing for a home. A place, where I would come back to and feel safe. When I left Ireland in early August, I had no idea how long my journey would last and which country would become my next home. Believe me or not, but during this training many things have crystallized inside me, including my next destination and approximate time of my return! And because I listened more to what Universe was “telling me”, a few other things manifested themselves to help me advance further on my path.



300-hour YTT group
Yoginis!

Originally, after my yoga teacher training I wanted to go to Australia and Oceania and travel there for a few months. But during last days of the training, I felt the urge to continue learning and expanding my knowledge of bodywork and spirituality, as the time and my physical and mental predispositions seemed right. Instead of spending money simply travelling, I would rather invest it into education. A couple days ago I started to learn Thai massage, after which I'll leave Thailand and make a short stop in Singapore. Next year, I'll continue learning Thai massage and will stay 26 days practicing Vipassana in one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai. Sounds exciting to me!


What about you? Did Universe tell you anything lately?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Oh, Ramallah!

When I was on the bus heading to Ramallah, I did not know what to expect upon my arrival. I refused to check images of the city on Google Image in advance, so I could discover everything by myself, without any spoilers. And I was very pleasantly surprised!


Ramallah is such a vibrant and animated city with very dynamic nightlife. Not the image influenced by articles about the West Bank in the media, focusing on poverty, misery, despair, suffering. I saw many new cars on the roads, many people eating out in nice restaurants and hanging out in bars, a lot of new building developments and roads, which stands for certain economical progres. I left Ramallah three days later, overpowered with the feeling of joy, happiness, hope and excitement about the city and its inhabitants. No, three days are not enough and being a tourist is not living the local life, but I did not detect this complete hopelessness as in some places in South-East Asia, for example. Hope! This is the word I would associate with Ramallah.










Two more things will be closely linked to this place: manakish and ice-cream. Available in many places of the Levant, manakish is flat bread topped with different goodness: za’atar, cheese, ground meat etc. It is sold either in special manakish shops or at street food stalls and is equally good on its own or accompanied with a meal.

Manakish with goat cheese and mushroom

Manakish with za'atar

Goes well with the local beer

Oh, and the local ice-cream! They make it from the resin of chewing gum, imported mainly from Greece, which contributes to its unique taste and elastic texture. Now I can tell for sure that the best ice-cream that I’ve ever had was not in Italy, but in Ramallah. If you have a chance, try pistachio!

Pistachio ice-cream. Yes, it's white!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

The Golan Heights adventures

Apologies for not being very active on my blog. If you are interested to follow my adventures, please check my Instagram, where I post daily. And here’s the latest update!


When I came to the Negev in August, the original plan was to stay there until the end of October, but two weeks ago I happened to relocate to the Golan Heights. It’s not that I did not enjoy my time in the desert or the work I was doing. On the contrary! I did a lot! But it was my curiosity about seeing more of Israel that pushed me to leave the farm. With this in mind, I sent out a few volunteering application and was recruited by the hostel Golan Garden in the heart of the Golan Heights, Katzrin.



My new experience differs in many ways from the previous one. First of all, instead of sand there’s lots of water around: the Galilean sea is only one-hour drive, multiple waterfalls, rivers and streams are walking distance. Secondly, I feel extremely grateful for the trees, casting lovely shades everywhere. In some places, the local landscape reminds me of savannah with gorgeous huge trees spreading their branches to host travelers and wild animals (here we have hyenas, jackals,  boars and hyraxes.)  Thirdly, I meet much more people on daily basis: three other volunteers plus up to 15 guests per night. Not to forget that the population of Katzrin by far eclipses the tiny community of my previous volunteering. And lastly, my work here is less physically demanding. It obviously gets busier when the hostel is full, but cannot even remotely be compared to what I used to do on the farm.







Currently, I work five days a week either the morning ( 8am - 3pm) or the evening ( 3pm - 23pm) shift. The morning chores include making pancakes for our guest, changing bedsheets, doing laundry and check-outs. In the evening we focus on indoors and outdoors basic maintenance, more laundry and hanging out with guests, but only if the guests are friendly. When we have fewer people at the hostel, we take them outside Katzrin to set campfire or to relax in hot springs, which this area is famous for. Not too shabby, right?

Golan Gardens Hostel








Israel annexed the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day war but it was not recognized internationally, which reminds me a bit of the Crimea situation. Having said that, for many people I am technically in Syria. In terms of the population, it’s a 50-50 ratio Israelis to Syrians, with predominant majority of Druze community on the side of the latter. (The Druze food is amazing, by the way!) The Golan Heights has a strategic importance to Israelis, who, due the perfect topography of the area, can monitor Syrian movements literally with the bare eye. Given the aggravation of the situation with ISIS, all the UN envoys and most peacekeepers have been relocated to Katzrin and it’s not uncommon to see a UN car drive past the hostel.

Although, nothing inside the city limits reminds about the past conflict, once you step outside, the signs of the Six-Day war can be found in many places. Suddenly during the hike you’ll notice ghost buildings with the bullet marks on the walls or mine fields enclosed by barbed wire.


Last week, I visited the highest point of the Golan, the mount Bental, which makes 1170 metres above sea level. From there you can see Syria so clearly! On some days tourist can even hear sounds of real fighting and then it feels completely surreal and strange. Thankfully, the UN military are monitoring the area day and night. And the café on the very top of the mont Bental carries this very symbolic name: Coffee Annan.









Oh, and have I mentioned that the Golan wine is one of the best wine I've ever tasted?