This past month, I took part in a 4-day vipassana meditation course on the Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ve lived to tell you my experience! Read on, insightful travelers!
Meditate on this: What is Vipassana meditation?
Vipassana, or “insight,” is one of two forms of Buddhist meditation where the main goal is to see clearly by deepening the connection of the mind and body. By being more mindful and observing your thoughts and feelings, you can learn to experience life in the moment. I mean.. if you’re into that.
How do you do it? First, to clear your mind, you simply breathe — in out — in out. The mind can either focus on the feeling of the breath as it flows in and out or on the rising and falling of the chest and stomach. Easy. The end.
The mind is not that easily tamed. Or at least mine. Mind gone wild, amirite? The key is to not get discouraged and to redirect your focus back on the breath. And again. And again. Etc..
The end goal here in Buddhist vipassana is enlightenment. A person who is “awakened” and figures out the fundamental truth of life becomes a Buddha. NBD. Believe it or not, Siddhartha Gautama is one of many buddhas, or people who have become awakened. There are 27 named Buddhas that have preceded Siddhartha, but he is the most recent. If you’re all about catching that lofty email signature title, it could be a solid goal for 2018.
The Girly Travels
The Girly Travels, mother flipping Buddha
About the Retreat:
Vipassana meditation courses occur on an international-level. You can find centers near you, enroll in a free course, and receive complimentary (though modest) room and board during your stay. However, a donation is encouraged upon the completion of your course. There is not a lot of guidance or one-on-one during the course, but still can be done by a novice (ahem, moi) assuming you take into consideration and practice what the monk (teacher) asks of you. It is set up as a course, with each new day bringing a 5-minute consultation with the teacher, during which he discusses the next step for you to add into your growing practice.
Sounds like a party, yeah?
It gets better.
The retreat is in complete silence. All white is worn (suuuper flattering) and there is to be no reading, listening of music, exercise (besides mindful walking), alcohol/tobacco/drugs, or eating past noon.
Below is a full-day schedule at the Doisuthep Meditation Center:
- 5:30AM: Dhamma Talk
- 7:00AM: Breakfast
- 8:00AM: Morning Individual Meditation
- 11:00AM: Lunch
- 12:30PM: Afternoon Individual Meditation
- 14:00PM: Meditation Report to Teacher
- 18:00PM: Evening Chanting
- 21:00PM: Day Ends
The beauty of this individual meditation schedule is that you can meditate as little or as much as you desire. The schedule is provided as a guide but the monk is not regulating or enforcing when and for how long you meditate in each session. Albeit, should you decide to slack on the meditation or mindfulness part, what else can ya really do.. Pull lint out of your belly button? I spoke with a guy afterwards who did a vipassana retreat in Canada and strict enforcement of meditation was adhered to, with all participants being sought out and forced to meditate for about 11 hours each day. Personally, that would not have been my ideal first experience. So, there is a bit of variability from center to center. I really enjoyed my time at DoiSuthep and would highly recommend to anyone, regardless of his or her meditation level. A little mindfulness never hurt anyone, dig?
I did take the 4 days seriously and feel that I have gotten a lot out of this short period of time in terms of gaining more control of my mind and thoughts. This is certainly not a hit-it-and-quit-it activity, and going to this retreat was just the first step in getting the benefits from meditation.
So, who are the people that attend this kind of retreat? In my experience, the meditators seemed to fit all across the board. Without talking to them, I couldn’t really get much besides appearance and mannerisms. Young, old, male, female, fit, not.. you get the picture.
People You May Meet in Meditation Camp:
Confused Cathy: the woman always wandering around looking perplexed. Don’t be so proud, Cathy, just ask us for help. Ha, oh wait..
Mr. Clean: the Thai man always doing laundry and seeking new places to hang them around the center. The sole reason I never got a stab at the single washing machine. My one set of clothes was rocking the 50-shades of off-white by the end of the course.
The Gawker: the girl who stares way too long during meals. Are you meditating or is there bok choy on my forehead?
The Loud Breather: the man who practically snores during meditation. Ugh.
The Two-Some: the couple that makes faces at each other when the monk says something ridiculous and/or questionable (like, a lot).
The Chill Dude: the guy constantly wrapped up in a blanket. What’s under the covers, mister?
The Cheaters: the two Chinese women who were definitely talking to each other during free time. Do I tell on them? What Would Buddha Do?
The Recluses: the two men that I never saw. They apparently had all meals delivered to their dorms and, for all I know, may have never left their rooms. I bet they’re super friendly.
The Mindful Dish Washer: Guess how long it takes a mindful person to wash a plate…….
Things worth observing?
When you aren’t allowed to do anything besides meditate or be mindful, life slows down a bit. Jkjk, life passes at snail pace. Not a bad thing. I spent hours watching individual leaves fall from trees, listening to the wind, watching dogs get randy (pass me the popcorn), and observing various other natural events with what now seems to be way too much fascination.
Or just enough?
I can now say, for the first time in my life, that I spent 96 hours talking to either myself or wild dogs with no names. What have YOU been doing with your life?
Maybe I convinced you to look more into this and/or related mindfulness courses. Awesome! Maybe you have finally written me off as a hopeless case in reaching Nirvana. Not awesome. Either way, below is the link to the Doisuthep Vipassana Meditation Center that I described above. They have course options ranging from 4 to 21 days. I recommend booking your stay a couple months in advance, if possible, especially during the busier winter months. Cheers!
International Buddhism Center
Wat Phradhat Doi Suthep Rw.
T.Suthep, A.Muang, Chiang Mai, 50200 Thailand