Thursday, 15 September 2011

Suan Mokkh: Five minutes that could have been

Hello Dhama Friends,

There are various reasons I decided to come to Suan Mokkh and try meditation but I guess you could say I just want to know my own mind. At times, it has felt like the only confusion I experience is from within, where there I often seem to have conflicting, overwhelming thoughts and feelings. I have been too anxious about life itself; confused at which direction I really want to take. There is no one event that has motivated to come here, I have suffered no great loss nor have I hit rock bottom. I do, however, feel the pressure of my situation and the weight of expectation. I cannot shake the feeling that I am supposed to have my future planned out, that I am supposed to know which path to take and how to take it. I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

I have tried to approach the retreat without any expectations which may have been easier as I have no prior experience with meditation or Buddhism. I am aware that meditation will not provide the answers to my questions but I hope that it will allow me to see which questions really matter. I hope that if I am able to let go of the anxieties and the distractions in my mind, the clarity of thought that will follow will enable me to move forward.

In terms of the retreat itself, I found that in the first three or four days my mind was surprisingly receptive to watching the breath. I did not feel I was constantly having to gently pull my mind back and found that my main issue was not being able to sit still long enough to go deeper into my breathing. This was not so much to do with pain but more to do with my own restless nature – it seems that if my mind is still, my body compensates. I also experienced something that really surprised me and showed the power of breathing in being able to relax the body. I had painful stomach cramps for around two days and was considering asking if I could just go to bed during evening meditation. I decided that I could at least attempt to stand at the back but when it came to it, I thought I may as well try and sit. This turned out to be one of my best sessions and the thirty minutes flew by in an instant. Once the bell rang to signal the end of meditation, I opened my eyes and was surprised that all the pain had gone.

The remaining days of the retreat had more of an erratic, roller-coaster quality about them . On one day It was as if someone had flicked the 'off' switch in my mind. I could not follow the breath or even day dream. It was on this day that I considered leaving and I think I may have exacerbated the situation further through anxiety and worry. A new day brings a fresh start and my meditation tended to be more variable from this point. I would feel as it meditation was going well one morning and by the afternoon feel as if I couldn't do it at all.

In the end though, however frustrating my meditation tended to be, I would simply rest for a few minutes then try again. This meant that sometimes my whole session was spent attempting to begin, failing, resting, then starting again. For me, this was the only option. I want my future to involve meditation and, if I had given up at this point, I would have essentially been giving up on that future. I imagine that most of the beginners here will have also struggled with the pain and I am no exception. On one particular day it felt as if everything involves in sitting or walking was on fire. The addition of one hour of yoga to the retreat was essential for me and I looked forward to it every morning.

During the past 10 days, when my mind has wondered, it has felt as if I experienced the full range of distractions; from food and drink through to replaying TV series in my mind. It really felt as if my mind was gradually increasing the intensity of these thoughts as I managed to regain composure after each wondering. By far the strangest 'monkey mind' episode occurred twice in the second half of the retreat. I would be seeing some fictional TV or movie scene (at least it felt like that) but from a first person perspective where the characters would be talking at me directly, often close to “my face”. This seemed to happen when I was on the edge between meditation and sleep so perhaps it was more of a dream than anything. I am sure I was never full asleep as I regained my mindfullness almost as soon as these started.

I enjoyed the Dhamma talks immensely and I think it is important to know some of the theory behind our meditation. I would also like to echo others sentiments in saying that the food here was excellent and, although I cannot claim to have liked every dish, I enjoyed being taken on a ten day Thai culinary journey through vegetarianism. Also, I found myself being quietly amused by how excited a group of fully grown men can become over hot chocolate. I would also like to thank all of the staff and teachers here who have made the experience so incredible as well as all of you for sharing the experience with me.

At the end of the 10 day retreat, on the 10th evening, each participant has the opportunity (5 minutes) to share their experiences and to provide general feedback on what they thought of their time spent at Suan Mokkh. Only 6 or 7 people were willing to stand up and speak to the rest of us and I was the last. It took me until the dying moments before I found the courage to take the lonely walk up to the microphone. The above is not what is said and probably only borrows one or two sentences from the original. In all honesty, after 10 days of minimal stimulation, having to step out of my comfort zone and speak in public was obviously too much for me to handle. Even immediately after stepping away from the microphone I could not have told you exactly what I had just said. All I know is that it would have been from the heart, very unpolished and punctuated with a multitude of 'errrs'. 

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