Have you ever wondered what it would be like to attend a meditation retreat?
Many clients of mine who are interested in learning meditation never really know where to begin.
I originally learned meditation from a book, but when I noticed the benefits, started to visit Buddhist centres in London. Eventually, I decided to move to Thailand where I could deepen my studies which began by attending 10 silent Vipassana retreats.
Now many people often ask me what a Meditation retreat is like, so today I would like to share my experience to give you a better idea.
Some of the retreats I have attended have been more challenging than others, but for first timers, I would recommend Wat Suan Mohk, a forest temple in near Surathani in Southern Thailand. From Bangkok, it is possible to get to Surathani by plane, train or bus, and then it is about a 1 hour taxi or bus ride to the temple.
It is an international meditation centre that provides instruction in English on the first 10 days of every month.
You cannot register on line, but you do so by turning up the day before the retreat begins. The retreats always start on the 1st of every month, so just make sure you arrive there in the morning or early afternoon the day before.
On day 1 of the retreat, you hand in your phones, books, laptops and anything else that may distract you and you are given the only book you are allowed to read for the duration of the retreat; the meditation handbook.
Accommodation is very simple. You will have a small room, with no electricity, a straw mat to sleep on, a mosquito net and a wooden pillow. (N.B. You may want to sneak in a small pillow of your own as the wooden block really isn’t comfortable).
There are communal toilets and showers and you are also assigned a daily duty to help with the running of the retreat. This is to be done using mindfulness and could consist of washing up, sweeping the communal area or helping to clean the living quarters etc.
4am Every You are woken by the temple bell
4.15am Morning meditation and lectures begin
6.30am 1 hour yoga class, or if like me, you don’t like yoga, you can go to another area and do your own exercise, providing it is something like stretching, Tai Chi or your own yoga practice.
No other form of exercise is permitted.
7.30am, Breakfast followed by some free time to relax a little or perform daily chores.
8.30am Lectures and meditation begin once more until about 11.30 when you stop for lunch.
Buddhist monks only eat before noon, and this also applies to you. There is no more food served after 12 o’clock. All the food is vegetarian….but absolutely delicious!
1pm Lectures and Meditation
4pm One hour of chanting, \
5pm Evening hot drink which is usually warm soya milk. This doesn’t sound very appetizing I know, but when you know it is all you will have for 17 hours, it tastes absolutely divine.
Just for the record though…I never felt hungry during the retreat.
6pm Meditation and lectures
9pm Meditation and lectures finish
As there is no electricity around the meditation and living quarters, bring a torch!
The main meditations that you will be taught are the mindfulness with breathing (which you can learn by following this link to my Beginner’s Meditation Course), standing and walking meditation.
Each 3 hour session takes the form of about 90 minutes of lectures on the principles of meditation and Buddhism and 90 minutes of standing and walking meditation.
What happens to your mind on a retreat?
A 10 day silent retreat can be tough the first time as you realize the mind is always chasing after desires of some sort and when there are no desires around or anything to fulfill them it, the mind can become very restless. It wants information, it wants to read, watch TV, check the phone, experience pleasure, fun and excitement. But when all that is taken away you, you have to learn to just “be”, face those uncomfortable desires that want fulfilling and deal with any emotions and feelings that arise relating to them.
At first these feelings can be powerful which is why about 30% of the people tend to leave in the first 5 days.
But these feelings and thoughts won’t last if you don’t chase them and do the meditation properly.
Observe the thoughts, let them go and bring the mind constantly back to the breath.
As you continually practice this, the uncomfortableness loses its power which leaves you in a natural state of peace, calm and relaxation.
This is hard for westerners at first to do as we spend our lives in the future, trying to achieve something, “doing” rather than “being”.
But stick with it, because you will also start to understand more about your mind and how it works. The result is that you will then be able to work with it more successfully in the future, rather than fight against it.
Another thing you notice is that once you get used to living without all of your creature comforts, you are reminded of how little you actually need to survive and be happy in this world. You really do start to appreciate the simple things in life, such as the beautiful forest, trees, birds, natural springs that you are allowed to bathe in and the beautiful sunrises and sunsets every day.
But that is just my experience. Whatever experience you have, I am sure it will be a very valuable one and there is something very rewarding in completing 10 day silent retreat. It is hard to describe because it can be hard and frustrating at times and then blissfully pleasant at others.
For more information on attending a retreat at Wat Suan Mohk, please follow the link below