FROM BURNOUT TO ZEN – MY STAY IN A BUDDHIST MEDITATION CENTER IN THAILAND

Saturday, September 20, 2014 0 No tags Permalink

Instead of elephant riding, try two weeks keeping silent in Thailand

 

How does in feel to stay in a Buddhist Monastery for two weeks?
Thailand, Buddhism and Meditation. Does it belong together?
What is a good address for a Buddhist Meditation Center?
I am not a Buddhist myself, is it ok to stay in a Buddhist Meditation Center?
Staying in a monastery while suffering from burnout, a good idea?
I am an active person, therefore a stay in a monastery is not for me … or?
Are newbies welcome?
Or what does a stay in a monastery have to do with discipline?
 Chom Tong Thailand

 

These questions and more I will answer.
Believe me, seldom I have experienced something more exiting: me.

 

The Situation

After an exhausting season, the situation I found myself in was typical for me. Completely overworked, always down, the famous Work/Life Balance ignored for months, disappointed by friends,  and simply lacking any motivation.

 

You might call it Burnout.

 

In case you recognize yourself from these symptoms, maybe it is also a good time for you to go to the monastery, who knows? For me I found it to be exactly the right time.

 

In the preceding months, I worked as a program director, leading hundreds of people, informed, motivated, pampered, and gave them safety. What was left of me personally? Not much. Is it possible to give too much? Not finding happiness in anything anymore afterwards?

 

At least I still remember what makes me happy. The sun.

 

So, a few days later, I`d booked my fkights. The destination? Thailand.

 

Thailand

 

Smile, elephants and meditation come to my mind, ok.

 

I still have two days to look into a Two-Days-Meditation Retreat. Seeing as I am in this part of the world, I guess I`ll have to try it.

 

I write to a few addresses, I found on the internet, unfortunately I keep getting the same answer: I should plan at least two weeks, not two days.

Ok, I might be a bit down, but two weeks is exagerated, isn´t it?

 

Success

 

One Meditation Center answers and accepts me for two days. Lets see what happens.

 

 

Pagode Inauguration

 

Arriving in the Meditation Center in Thailand

 

Everything turns out to be different…

 

While I am on my way to the Meditation Center, I feel nothing but infinite loneliness and exhaustion. The backpack is heavy and uncomfortable on my shoulders. i am overwhelmed by sadness.

 

But then, at the end of a sand way, a kindly gentleman steps out of nowhere and smiles calmly at me.

 

Silence, after such a long time.

 

What happens to me in this moment, I cannot explain, tears begin to run without stopping. Tears of disappointment, tears of tiredness, disillusionment and disorientation, tears of loneliness, but maybe also tears of joy. Somehow I feel, here everything will be going to be good again.

 

A nun takes me to my room, an empty, clean and airy room without any furniture or decoration. This might be called Zen.

 

I am told I should sleep on the wooden floor (since this is one of the rules of Buddha), but am allowed to put a blanket underneath me.

 

On the ground floor of my new accomodation I find a kitchen with table and chairs and a big empty room. A plastificated list informs me, which rules I have to follow. That piece of paper gives me focus in this strange surrounding, with nothing but much time and not much to do. The rules are not to read, not to write, no mobile, no mails and no talking, well well. At the end I am astonished, that it is so easy for me to adapt.

Normally I need a lot of action or maybe not?

 

Meditation in Thailand

 

The Basics

 

One of the first Golden Rules I learn, is to never evaluate a situation or person, a wisdom I try to apply each day until now with varying success.

But when it works, it feels good.

 

Furthermore, it explains how to eat correctly. I should be focused only on the food in contemplation, like the motto: „when I eat, I eat, when I walk, I walk,…“. this inflationary used sentence gets a completely new meaning, here it is getting real and is practised.

Not as stupid as I thought at first.

 

At 06:00 am I can take my breakfast with the nuns and other meditation colleagues, followed by lunch at 11:00 am. Afterwards, there is nothing more.

Only later do I understand that I am here to cleanse not only my soul, but my body too.

Everything belongs together.

 

Daily I wash my white clothes by hand. Parfum or jewelry is not accepted.

 

The idea behind the meditation is to bring body, mind and spirit together. To be in the Here and Now and the pathetic Finding myrself. But where should I start searching? No worries, you will be found.

 

Despite the fact I am only staying two days, I am told I can participate in the ceremony. The idea is to officially accept the rules of Buddha, no alcohol, no talking, sleeping on the ground, no sexual relations while you are in the meditation centre,… ok count on me, if I am here than complete.

At this point I do not know yet, that the two planned days will stretch into two weeks.

 

A monk is leads the small ceremony. Everything is so strange. What am I doing here? Unfamiliar sounds, strange smell, funny behaviour. Nonetheless, I am touched.

 

My First Day

 

The next morning brings my ‘official’ first day and I meet my female teacher. I do not like her.

I am insecure, since I am a total newbie where meditation is concerned.

 

I get a run-down on how to bow, how to show respect, and so forth. Because I am uncomfortable with my teacher, it makes things hrd for me, nd I end up feeling ridiculous.

 

The next day goes better. I meet someone I can relate to, and who I feel I can open up to, completely, Cathryn Chindaporn.

 

Cathryn Chindaporn Thailand

 

 

At last, I finally start to feel comfortable and begin meditating.

Little do I realise that this tentative beginning will grow into a two week voyage of discovery.

I begin to enjoy things. Bowing. Showing respect. Not to think of myself so highly. To become ‘smaller’ and be at one with people and nature. The insight I gain, the respect I learn is something beautiful that makes me happy.

 

Maybe life is not that difficult after all?

 

Each day I get a task. How to meditate (walking or sitting) and for how long, for example:

 

I start with a sequence of bows, then the real meditation begins, i.e. first walking meditation, a sequence of moving the foot for 20 minutes, in my thoughts I describe each movement, which I am doing: lifting, stepping,…Then 20 minutes break, then sitting meditation again 20 minutes.

 

Each day the task is extended five minutes more.

 

Once per day I have 20 minutes period to speak with my teacher, so I can tell her what happened to me during meditation and to get a new task for the next day.

What do I do in between the meditation?

 

I walk by the lake, taking one slow step after the other. I cream my hurting knees, wash my white clothes or stroll to the temple.

Sometimes I change my meditation place, as the monastery as so many available halls.

Some are used by the monks, others, only by the international students. If the mood takes me, I also like to stay on my balcony.

 

And now it is time for the question what has the life in the monastery to do with discipline?

 

The day only  has 24 hours, so just imagine meditating for 18 of them (with breaks but still). After the first hours it is quite easy to ask yourself, if it would not have been a better idea to do elephant riding. I miss normal social communication, like: „hello, I am Mirja, I come from Germany, what are you doing here…“.

 

But in these moments I tell myself: so many people can’t be wrong. Do what you are told to do, and see what comes. It resembles military discipline to some extent.

 

What follows during the next two weeks is a daily routine of meditation, and a twenty minute period to express your experiences to your teacher.

 

Of course, we all search the opportunity to chat with other students once or twice a day, but when we do, it’s only brief.

 

Meditation takes place on the inside, not on the outside.

 

By the third day , I do not want to talk anymore. I am excited enough by the things around me, and even by the steps I take. All of a sudden, even the simple pleasures are filled with much more depth and feeling.

 

By the end of the two weeks, the meditation lasts up to one hour, and the breaks in between get shorter during the last two days, I meditate nearly non stop and only take a break to sleep.

 

Then it’s all over. I have to go, or to be precise, I want to go. They did offer to let me stay for longer, with the opportunity of food, accomodation and meditation in return for some office work, but is this the life that I want? I decide, no, not for now, not until I’ve tasted more of what life has to give. So, sadly, I left.

 

It is hard to return to the loud and superficial world of ‘civilisation’, that I felt had so little to offer before my stay.

 

My tears from the beginning have long run dry. They have been replaced by a feeling of self confidence, and an ability to deal with encounters in a different way than before. I listen to my body now, and can recognise the good from the bad much more easily.

 

I feel good. The world belongs to me again.

 

What exactly you will experience during such an intense meditation?
I have not written anything about it and it will stay like this.

Chom Tong Tempel in Thailand

 

 

The experiences which you will gain are very personal and very valuable.  Just make them by yourself, let them come, and you will definitely get to know yourself better.

 

I wish you stamina, it is worth it.
And a little tip: be patient with yourself,
from Civilization to Zen, that takes time.

 

WHAT MIGHT DISTURB YOU:

Knee pain.

It is recommendable for beginners to do a combination of sitting and walking meditation, since we are not used to sitting constantly.

Remember you are in the middle of the mountains, at night it can get pretty cold.

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT LIKE:

Sleeping on the hard ground is surprisingly good,

WHAT YOU SHOULD REMEMBER:

To pack sufficient white cotton clothes

Something for knee-and back pain

A stopwatch for the meditation times

Cash and envelopes. You pay as much as you think your stay was worth: to the monastery kitchen, your personal teacher and for the accomodation (which is often sponsored from previous pupils)

 

WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT MISS:

If you have an opportunity to participate in the ceremony of a Pagode, or the ceremony of the monks, you should definitely do it, as these are experiences you will treasure forever.

ATTENTION: People with depression should check, if meditation is recommendable for them

 

AFFORDABLE FOR EVERYONE:

Your stay in this Temple Area/ Meditation Center is based on voluntary donation.

That means that at the end of your stay, you will leave three envelopes with an amount you think is fair. One for your teacher, one for the nuns who cooked the food, and one for the accomodation.

 

Dear readers, have you been in a monastery or meditation center? Or do you have any Insider Information about it? Please be so kind, to share it with us here.

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