High in the hills of the Burmese mountains is the setting where Burmese and foreigners stay for a week to do a seven day long meditation retreat.
Now in 60th retreat, this seven day meditation retreat has proved to be popular; every year passes more and more people come. A big draw for people are the different styles of meditation, you’ll have the opportunity to explore. Just don’t forget to stay awake during the lying down meditation!
Never ever Done Meditation Before?
Over half of our group of 12 people had never done meditation before. Many people told us before coming, that if you are going to try a meditation course then this is the one for you.
A More Relaxed Meditation Retreat
The monk in charge of the retreat especially emphasised ‘‘the natural way”. Techniques which can easily be transferred into your daily life are heavily encouraged. An example of this was being allowed to speak (Silence is mandatory in many retreats). Having the possibility to speak about your feelings allowed people to process the experience in a meaningful fashion.
During meditation people are guided in a way which does not place undue stress on your mind. A natural way of meditating means you don’t block any thoughts or focusing too intently on one particular aspect (often your breathe).
The day was split up into different activities. Attending all of them was advised, however they were not compulsory. For the older people, walking for one hour during the walking meditation can become quite challenging!
Free from Detachment and Craving
As a thought enters your mind, we were encouraged to not label it in a negative or positive way. Desire comes from the clinging onto things or experiences your life. Having the ability to condition your mind to the fact that happy and sad times come and go is especially important.
How Much Does It Cost?
The course does not cost anything. It is recommended to give a donation at the end of your stay.
The Cold Nights
The large amount of blankets that the retreat has in reserve, are there for a reason! Due to the attitude of the retreat, night time temperatures often fall to around 5 degrees. Come prepared!
Separate Rooms for Men and Women
The rooms are basic with just mats on the floor and the men’s room doesn’t have hot water. The cold water showers are certainly refreshing in the early mornings. It does get very cold during the nights, there are blankets but bringing a sleeping bag is advisable.
The food is simple and sometimes it does contain lots of oil. During my interview with the monk, he speaks about monks not needing to be vegetarian. Therefore there is meat during the meals and what is on offer are from the donations from the local communities.
There is no evening meal which is intended to teach you that we can still be satisfied with less food. You don’t have to strictly obey the rules, so if you want you can venture out and go to local shop who serve the best shan noodles.
Good Deeds and Meditation
Throughout the course, the monk reiterates long term contentment can only be attained by doing good deeds combined with meditating. Activities are therefore organised whereby attendees work together on tasks that need doing in the retreat such as weeding, cleaning or cutting trees.
Is the Meditation difficult?
The variety of meditation helps (walking, standing, lying and sitting) to keep people motivated. The first few mornings, the monk led the sessions. For me this helped a lot, as i wasn’t used to be sitting for such long periods.
Towards of the end of retreat, the monk did not provide any guidance. After 4 or 5 days of meditating it was amazing how peaceful the mind became, that sitting for one hour meditating really wasn’t a big deal.
The longest session is only an hour (which is shorter compared to other retreats), there are plenty of mats and cushions to help with posture. Noble speech was really helpful in letting you talk to the other people to understand what people are going through, to help with processing all the emotions.
The Daily Routine
They busy schedule (however there’s more free time compared with other retreats) certainly leads to action packed days! The couple of hours free in the afternoon allows for people to often enjoy a nap.
The bell rings at 4 a.m, this sounds early but you soon get used to the routine. For 4.30 a.m. you arrive at the meditation hall. With 90% of the people being from Myanmar, there is a strong emphasis on Burmese chanting. The session lasts for an hour and fifteen minutes, with guiding done by the head monks in both the Burmese and English languages.
As the last time you would have eaten was lunchtime the previous day, you’ll certainly be hungry. The Burmese prayers before food are a big highlight! At breakfast it’s time to tuck into more than likely rice/soup/meat/crackers.
The retreat is perched majestically in the Burmese mountains, and this makes the walking meditations extremely enjoyable. For one hour, you gently stroll around the complex, focusing on being mindful of everything around you.
For one hour, discussions take place about the main principles of Buddhism. Debates serve an important purpose in dissecting what you can do to lead a contented life (in the eyes of the Buddha).
Lying Down Meditation
Even though this was during the afternoon, there is a still big chance that you’ll fall asleep during this! There were also a few flies buzzing around, which were mightily annoying. 10 minutes into it, you’ll start to hear a cacophony of snoring. It was very amusing.
Lying down for an hour sounds easy, I have to say it’s not! You will feel aches and pains everywhere!
The evenings are cold in the mountains, so people often bring extra blankets. The sessions last for an hour and is the same as that of the morning, as it’s sitting meditations and takes place in the main meditation hall.
Going To Sleep
The first night is challenging to fall asleep, but after that it’s easy. The accommodation is basic with just a mat on the floor to sleep on. The point of this is to observe a luxury free life for duration of the time you spend at the retreat.
Returning One Day?
This retreat was certainly a more pleasurable experience than the more serious 10 day retreats. The more relaxed environment allowed for more enjoyment. We had so much fun with the Burmese people who were so incredibly friendly. We all hope to take what we have learnt from the experience and try to let it influence how we live our lives.
For more information please visit Thabarwa’s website here.