This is a story of my 10-day Silent Meditation Retreat in Northern Thailand. This is the centerpiece of my 100 Days of Backpacking Southeast Asia. Actually, my initial plan was just to visit my cousin in Phom Pehn, Cambodia and then do the 10-Day Meditation Course and go back home to the Philippines but as we all know, things change. Will talk more about “change” in the next paragraphs.
The day of registration we were asked to surrender our valuable things like camera, cellphone, laptops and even reading and writing materials. We were also asked to temporarily discontinue whatever religious rites or rituals we do or even yoga so as to give a fair trial to the technique that will be taught. So every meditator are focused on working on the technique and wont have excuse to do something when they find the course challenging.
We were assigned a room and meditation area inside the meditation hall. Food is provided and they really made sure that everyone who joined the course were well-taken cared of.
It was my second course so I was expecting this thing already and was okay with it. I actually love the idea of having silence after traveling and getting my senses overwhelmed in Siem Reap, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. We were also asked not to talk to or even make eye contact to other students doing the course, we call it “noble silence” so everyone is just focused on their own thing. Great! Why not?
Here comes the good part! I mean there’s a lot of good parts but this is one. Since I was a returning student “old student” as we call them, I am only allowed to drink tea or fruit juice for dinner while the “new students” get fruits and sometimes bread.
Okay, tea for dinner why not? But for 10 days, let’s see…
I got the title when I was drinking tea on the 3rd or 4th day maybe… contemplating on the cup of tea on my hand while the new students were eating melons and making jam and bread. It was raining outside and the view was just amazing. Let me tell you the story by the teas I drank during the 10-day course.
Day 1: Chrysanthemum tea is a very cooling tea which has herbal qualities and is used to detoxify liver and even helps if you have lots of acne. Anyway, the first day dinner was Chrysanthemum tea for me. I was so excited and so focused because the first Vipassana retreat I did in the Philippines really helped a lot and gave me clear vision and focused in my life. Day 1 was like, “Wow! so grateful to be here in the 10-day meditation retreat.”
Day 2: Bale Fruit tea. What is Bale/Bael fruit anyway? I was like, “Why not? It should be good!” What I remember on day 2 was that I just get settled in this new place, with a really nice view of the mountains from my balcony and there were so many different species of birds in the the field and even nesting on the roof of the center. The weather pattern was hot but occasionally it would rain either in the morning or in the afternoon or even in the evening. Bael fruit tea by the way is great for people with poor digestion or those having constipation problems. It is very cooling too and is caffeine free.
Day 3: Some unnamed tea. The food in the center was really good- simple Thai vegetarian cooking. What I love about the food is the many condiments available- soy sauce with cut chillies, crushed roasted sesame seeds, brown sugar, roasted peanuts, vinegar with green chillies and crushed red chillies. I just put all of them on the brown unpolished rice they always have which is really kinda hard to find when you are traveling around since the Thai white rice is what usually used by restaurants. The 3rd day I felt like running away and going back to Chiang Mai. Must have been the thought of 7 more days to meditate and 10 hours a day of sitting meditation. Imagine 1 hours a day watching your inhalation and exhalation. Cool, why not? It happens that sometimes you just want to run away! Accept it.. The rainbow that came out after the short drizzle during the tea break around 5pm was just special. I wish I have the camera but then the best photos are posted not on Facebook but stored in the heart.
Day 4: Roselle tea. 4th day is one of the special days because only here we were taught Vipassana meditation. For the past 3 days we were practicing AnnaPanna meditation which is watching the respiration and focusing the attention on this small area above the upper lip and inside and below the nostrils. I also amused myself in the nature around me. I found out that in the center there are at least eight different kinds of flowers, seven of them are yellow and white, one is pink. Amazing yellow and white colors like the Dhamma flag. I also learned that there are four different kinds of grass in the meditation field- bermuda, carabao, clover and one I really don’t know. These things I would not notice if I’m just walking around without awareness and curiousity. Plus you cant talk to other meditators so you begin to talk to plants and worms and ants around the field. Really amazing find! Crazy! Roselle tea has a sour and fruity taste, used for treating loss of appetite. Yeah? I actually have a big appetite for Tomyam and rice.
Day 5: Safflower tea. I managed to stay and even though the thought of coming out came up A LOT, I would just watch that thought and decided to stay. Still the 2-hour sitting meditation is a struggle for me. So much impatience and boredom comes up and thought of how cool Chiang Mai always came up. Ohh, I dreamed of Tomyam soup in my fave local restaurant. So much attachments and craving on food even though the food in the center is really good. Safflower tea I learned soothes your nerves and helps you to relax. It can also treat fever and colds- essentially strengthens the immune system.
Day 6: Lemongrass tea. I love this tea and there were four more days left before I go back to Chiang Mai. Meditation retreats like this really gets into you soooo deep. I began to question my sanity. And found out that really, I AM INSANE. Who would do this? I am and that’s fine! haha To kill time, there were times when I would lay on my bed and start to count how many squares there are in the window screen. CRAZY! Of course, I would stop after 25 and laugh at myself. Lemongrass tea I believe is one of the most aromatic tea, if you find it just drink it! So many benefits like maybe 167 benefits- helps digestion, healthy skin, fights cancer and more. Like meditation- so many benefits!
Day 7: Ginger tea. Actually the ginger tea is always available in the food hall. If you are having nausea because of too much meditation (kidding!) or having a bad stomach ginger tea is your friend. This day I almost started packing my bag to leave. I guess because during the afternoon meditation I experienced total dissolution of the body. During meditation I saw my body disappear like it was just waves of energy without solidity, just complete bliss. Some call it nirvana. Our teacher calls it “banga” or “banga nana.” For 15 minutes I was just watching my body disappear and just float in the air like a wave vanishing and flowing. Still I am very conscious because I’m still aware of my breath and I felt my pure soul. I felt infinity in me. I had this experience on my first meditation course a year ago but it was just like a minute or so. This one so long and so overwhelming in a sense that twice I would see fear coming up because I cant feel my body anymore. Just a wave, just an energy, total dissolve of the physical structure. So powerful! Goenka, our teacher, says this is a very dangerous experience because it is so damn good and blissful you can develop an attachment and craving of it and you want to experience it again and again during meditation. And the truth is that it comes and it goes. Actually, banga is not the goal of meditation. The goal of Vipassana meditation is that we remain “equanimous” with everything that we are experiencing- whether good or bad sensation, we just watch it arise and fall having that knowledge that everything is “Anicca” or impermanent. And not to develop an attachment to the good sensations or aversion to the bad sensations. So “equanimity in impermance” that is how we purify the mind.
Day 8: Chinese Herb tea. More and more I thank myself for staying and get to face myself- how I easily get bored and how so impatient I am. But not to condemn myself for that, but to accept it that I am like that. And watch it and be true to myself. Then when I’m aware of that impatience I actually get patient. Ironic. Still the struggle is real. But two more days. I really don’t like the taste of Chinese herb tea. haha The evening discourses from 7-8:30pm were like my saving grace because it helps me understand more of the practice of meditation. No talk of religion whatsoever too and so practical and universal truths being discussed.
Day 9: Roselle Tea. On the 9th day, I again have to face that impatience. It’s not about the meditation center or the food or the people or anything else outside me. I found out that I don’t want to deal with myself. So much enlightenment and liberation happening and my own demons coming out that I have two choices- suppress them or let them go. Of course, I have to let them out since suppression would only make me miserable. I managed to watched myself one more day and tomorrow is a new day. Btw, Roselle tea is also called Hibiscus tea, in the Philippines its the gumamela. A bit citrusy and sour when mde into a tea.
Day 10: Bale Fruit tea. WHEW! Last day and I was thankful that I stayed. After the morning meditation, we can finally break our “noble silence.” By 10am, I found myself slowly becoming “social” and now can talk and discuss the experiences that we just had for the last 9 days. So the Thai meditators talk among themselves and I found myself talking to Christof from Germany who left his job of 8 years in Germany to travel for 6 months in Asia, Mantas from Lithuania who brought his home-made meditation stool with him, a cool guy that films everything he finds amusing, John from LA who is flying the next 2 days to the Philippines and spend a week in the place I call home- Palawan, David and Leo two older guys from Australia. David is a copywriter and has done atleast 28 10-day Vipassana sitings. Wow, he must have memorized Goenka’s discourses and Leo who has been living in Chiang Mai for the last seven years, well-traveled guy with his Harley Davidson and two big backpacks at the backseat. Such a character! He has been in the Philippines during the 80’s.
Ohh, the “old students” are now allowed to eat dinner. Since we were quiet for the past 9 days, we just talked and talked about spiritual things and speculated on how the earth will end. I think I slept around 11pm where for the past days I am already in deep sleep by 9:30pm since we were to wake up 4:00am and start meditation 30 minutes after.
Day 11. No tea anymore. Closing Discourse and Send-off. It was a weird feeling when I started to pack my stuff and clean my room for the next meditator. As I ate my breakfast at the food hall, I look back and I can feel how I wanted to stay one more day to meditate and take things slow. I don’t want to go back to Chiang Mai right away. So much learning on the impermanence of our feelings and mind. How quickly we change based on a lot of things in so many levels. What a life changing experience. A new chapter in my travel and life for sure. A CLEAN SLATE.
So, tea for dinner, for 10 Days? Why not? Maybe I wait another year or tea to do it again. But I highly encourage everyone to try it. You’ll know when you are ready for it.
It is called Vipassana Meditation by S.N. Goenka, which has centers almost everywhere in the world. I did my second 10-day course at the beautiful Dhamma Simanta in Lamphun, Northern Thailand. Meditation here is FREE and is non-sectarian and open to all religion or background. I really encourage everyone to experience one 10-day course near your place. It changed my life in so many ways I can’t imagine and I want to share this Dhamma to all my friends and everyone who read this blog.
I thank the Thai people who volunteers in this mediation center, our teachers and the former students of this center. Because of your danna and metta my life has changed. KhopKhunKap! *hands together bows head* In the Philippines, we say “Maraming Salamat po!“
You can check the centers around the world here: Vipassana Meditation