Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Buddhist retreats... not for me!

"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.


hrag said...

ha ha! good story sara. I am glad you left. I felt uncomfortable just reading about how that must have felt. in contrast there is a buddhist monastery near kyoto, japan where monks run one marathon every day (barefoot) for seven years.

Preeti said...

Hi Dr Schultz :)

WOW, cant believe you lasted 5 days of that retreat thing. You should really be very proud of yourself!

I myself feel like trying it out for my undiagnosed ADHD :)

Thailand pics seem intresting. Did you get a chance to see white elephants yet ?

We are back in clinic now, does not seem as much fun. Really missing your lively laughter that could be heard from the other end of the corridor :)

Enjoy your trip and keep us posted.

Take care,

Auntie Verdle said...

Unka Ross was laughing frequently at the thought of you being silent for longer than 30 minutes. Chalk it up to another life experience most people will never have rather The pics are great - love the tuktuks.
Looking forward to the next adventure!
love, Auntie Verdle

CARRIE said...

Man that would be hard...especially being raised in ND where you are taught to fill empty space with chatter. Usually I just talk incessantly about my dog-you have witnessed this at cousin Michelles. :) I would not have lasted more than a day. Maybe you should try the Master Cleanse next-it is more fun than you could ever imagine!

Josh and Molly said...

Oofta! I would've freaked out! Glad to hear you left too. I think the bed itself would've sent me running. Yuck!