"Divining chance means leaving yourself open to both good and bad experiences... Trust chance and steer it in a way that you're always learning from it." -Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
By chance I wandered into a ten-day Buddhist meditation retreat. On day five, I decided to leave. I don't regret my time there. I discovered that I wasn't cut out to live in silence or sit for hours at a time. As I left, I was happy to be laden down with my compact heavy backpack as I walked to the motorway to catch a bus to Suratthani, a small town on the east coast of Thailand, one of the major gateways to the Thai islands.
I'll tell you a little of my experience in the retreat...
On November 30th, I checked in and settled into my room, which consisted of a mosquito net hanging over a cement slab with a board, straw mat and blanket to lay upon for comfort. This was ok for sleeping for a while, though at some point in the night, I'd wake up and feel like I could not even roll over, but somehow would manage to roll on my side and re-enter sleepland, only to wake up later with a bruised hip. This I could manage after a few days.
It was the hours of endless sitting and lectures in broken English. In a building overlooking a pond and forest (think palm trees) with about 80 other people on pillows, we sat for most of the day and the night. I kept seesawing between, "I'm going to kill myself" and "This is ok, I'm gonna make it."
At the end of the first day, our final meditation session was from 8:30-9:00, at which time I was fighting to stay awake. I'd slipped into dreams seven times during that last session (I was counting). I woke up. Where was everyone? I was sitting in a dark, empty hall, unknowning what time it was since they'd instructed us to remove our watches upon arrival. The bells would tell us when to go to the next activity. I panicked, knowing that the dorm gate was locked at 9:15 and wondered just how long I'd been sleeping sitting up. Hurrying back to the women's dorm, (everything was segregated, including dining, meditating, etc) I arrived and saw that the gate was padlocked. I pressed on it and then tapped on the dorm nun's window. She let me in and scolded, "The door is locked at 9:15!" I said, "I'm sorry, I fell asleep in the last session. I'm sorry." My vow of silence was broken.
It was 9:27. I had three minutes until they cut the power and then I'd be in complete darkness without my head torch. After rushing to the bathroom, I settled into bed for a sleep and a night of listening to two cats in heat and snoring. (That should have been a sign.)
I can't say that anything as exciting as that happened afterward, only that I came to the conclusion that I better not become a nun, join the army or get sent to jail anytime soon. Each day I would rise to meditate, eat breakfast, take nap, meditate, eat lunch, take nap, meditate, have tea, go to hot springs, meditate, sleep. Then repeat. I could never catch up on my sleep. I've never been so exhausted from doing nothing in my entire life!
I'd planned to stay another night, but last night, I was having trouble sleeping again and kept dreaming that I would die if I fell asleep. I think it was just congestion. Whatever it was, it seemed to signal that I should leave. I talked to the head person (I think he was a monk, though he was not wearing the saffron robes, so I am not certain). When he asked why, I said, "I feel like I am going crazy. I was not prepared for the intensity of this retreat." I was still a good experience.