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.