Doi Suthep, Thailand
18° 48' N 98° 55' E
Dec 26, 2007 02:17
Distance 10km

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Text written in: English

Meditating with Monks

I decided to throw myself into Thai culture in a different way and signed myself up for a meditation course at a temple in Chiang Mai. The minimum course length you could do was 3 days.. and seeing as i'm on a tight schedule as it is.. I went for the 3day slot. I had met a guy in Bangkok who'd done the 10 day course and said it was a must.

I arrived knackered on Boxing Day after blethering on the phone to my family till the small hours on Christmas day. I hiked my way up the 300 steps to the Doi Suthep temple and made my way to the main office. A small, friendly chap signed me in and showed me to my room (they were fully booked in the woman's section so I had to stay in the men's area.. not that it really mattered as I had my own room anyway). I arrived at the same time as an American girl called Maura who was also doing the 3day course. She was in the Peace Corps.. made me feel very humble when I said I was simply.. traveling. My room was very basic with a mattress only an inch or two think on the floor and a pillow. I managed to maneuver it under the window so I could hang up my mozzie net (there's not getting away from them).

I then went for my induction with the monks at 3pm. Maura and I had the same induction.. it was nice being there with someone else who had no idea what to do (a lot of the people there had practiced meditation for years). We kneeled in front of the monk and went through a series of chants. We then offered him flowers and lit candles and incense. After the ceremony the monk told us what we'd be leaning over the next few days. We were then taken to another room where we were taken through the basic meditation steps for walking and sitting. The walking meditation is a very slow process.. taking up to 10 seconds for each step.

When I booked the course, I had visions of the meditation being a very relaxing experience, but I found it very hard and quite tiring. You have to try and concentrate your mind on one thing for 15 minutes at a time and should practice this for hours. Thoughts kept floating in and out of my head and it was almost impossible to stop them. This was apparently normal, but I found it very frustrating.

You weren't aloud to bring anything with you that may be a distraction to your meditation.. i.e. books, music, phones etc. In a bid to do it 'properly' I packed the bare essentials.. leaving everything else back at my hostel. Although it was the right thing to do, I didn't half regret it! The first evening I literally lay there staring at the walls.. I was so bored that I went to bed at 6:30.. yes that's right.. 6:30! It's no great surprise that I was up bright and breezy for the 4am morning meditation session. Breakfast was served at 6:30.. which was a traditional Thai dish of noodles, mushrooms, spinach and lots of other things with copious amounts of onion and garlic (I tried.. I really did but I just seems so wrong to be eating something like that at 6:30 in the morning). The sunrise was beautiful though and we sat facing the garden as we ate. Socialising isn't encouraged so individual tables were set up for each person to eat at. We were them free to meditate again for another hour or so before the morning chat with the monk. This is where the monk would explain to everyone the benefits of meditation and tell us stories of people who had done it in the past and what it had done for them.

After the morning talk we would again be free to go and meditate for 2 hours before lunch at 11am. Lunch, I have to say was delish.. usually Thai curry with fresh stir-fry. After that.. again .. we would go and meditate until our one-on-one meeting with the monk at 3pm where we could discuss how our mediation was going and he could help us with any problems. I mentioned I had a sore back (mainly due to the mattress I think.. I had bruises on me hips from the floor.. it wasnae thick). The monk suggested a few mediation methods for me to do before I went to sleep. After our afternoon meeting with the monk we were free to meditate again until 10:30pm at night. They had a daily evening chanting ritual at 6pm in the main temple which was fascinating to watch.

In Thailand it's rude to wear your shoes into most places, especially around the temple so we had to leave our shoes outside.  You wouldn't really think it would be a problem, I mean, we're in a temple after all.  Someone, however, decided they rather fancied my purple flip flops and off they went with them.  Normally these things don't matter as they're cheap as chips but i'd only brought one pair with me as i'd packed the bare minimum.  After hunting for a bit I came up with nothing and resorted to buying a pair pf plastic bathroom shoes from the temple shop.  That night Maura and I went to the evening chanting and I noticed them at the bottom of the steps of the main temple (where everyone takes off their shoes) so I nabbed them before they went missing again.  I left my delicious plastic ones there in their place, but they decided they didn't fancy them as much.  Shame.  

The next day I went down to the market at the bottom of the main temple steps and bought food for the monks.  They prefer this as a may to say thank you.  Although I decided to donate a bit of money as well, after all they had welcomed me into their home, fed me and put me up for 3 days.  Maura and I had our closing ceremony at 7:30am on our last day.  It was very similar to our induction as we chanted and lit candles and incense. The monk told us how to incorporate meditation in our everyday lives in the future.  It was very enlightening but I don't think i'll be practicing it on a daily basis!  

Photos / videos of "Meditating with Monks":

Lighting the candles Saturdays Buddha Doi Suthep Temple and a beautiful pink sky Monks beginning their chanting Inside the temple at chanting time Flower ladies Doi Suthep at night Monks Doi Suthep Temple at night Buddhas in the temple Doi Suthep Temple at night Glowing Doi Suthep Temple at night Doi Suthep Temple at night Lighting candles and incense Monks chanting Doi Suthep at night Doi Suthep at night Doi Suthep at night Doi Suthep at night In the temple garden of the guest area at sunrise View of Chiang Mai at night from the temple Doi Suthep at night Leading down to the guest accomodation Gardens at sunrise My room