Written By Claire C.
Lots of Monk No Chat
(Monk Chat Meditation Retreat)
Hello, everyone! Before we get into the juicy stuff, we’ve got to reflect for a second. This trip is halfway through! How was it six weeks ago that we met at the airport, had those do-we-hug-or-do-we-not-because-we’ve-never-met-but-we’ve-snapchatted-what-do-we-do moments (you know what we’re talking about…) and engaged in awkward small talk about the weight of our backpacks. Look how far we’ve come! Actually, backpack weight is still a frequent topic of conversation (how do they get heavier every time we lift them up??), but now it’s not the only topic of conversation. Anyway, the past six weeks have been a blast, and we have learned so much. We can’t wait for what’s still to come!
After the permaculture farm stay, we headed south to where our journey began; Chiang Mai. This time further from the Old City (but still at a walking distance), we were able to explore a different part of the city. We were ecstatic to be back and even more so when we came to find an affordable and, may I dare say, MUCH needed laundromat. By this point, we had all sweated through the vast majority of our limited wardrobes. We restocked on snacks–a very important and cultural part of our group dynamic–and gazed in awe at the new sights that Chiang Mai has to offer. Sammi, increasingly eager for Halloween to arrive, constantly updates us on how many days there are until the 31st and lights up every time that we see a shop selling anything related to “scary” decorations.
On the first night back, all the girls had a galinner (gal-dinner?) at a Mexican restaurant, where they ate some of the best burritos in Thailand (but maybe not the best for their stomachs). On the topic of food, a five minute walk from the hostel, Bryley and Claire C.stumbled upon a plant-based donut shop. Overwhelmed by the lavish flavors (lemon poppy, raspberry chocolate, strawberry, pb&j, chocolate, cinnamon sugar, glazed…) and the delicacy of such a sweet treat, the news was quickly spread. Everyone, except Joe and Harrison, loved them. Paulina, Sammi, and Kylie all got matching star “gem” piercings, and Joe posted more on his personal blog (check out joehenryphoto.com). Many people went bowling and Kylie is proud to say that she beat the boys. Audrey spent a day walking around the city, and she found two new temples. Claire C. and Bryley treated themselves to a Thai massage at the Lila Spa, a chain that employs female ex-inmates to better their lives after release. It was a dynamic experience. Kylie, Madi, and Paulina also treated themselves to a mani-pedi!
As quickly as we came, so it seemed, we packed up and headed 45 minutes outside of the city for our spiritual meditation retreat at Monk Chat. Harrison had given us some run downs as he used to participate in silent retreats back at home. All were anxious for this silent retreat–we are a rather loud and rambunctious group–but we said our last verbal goodbyes before changing into our simple, white outfits and headed to our first meditation session. As peaceful as meditating may seem, to us, especially in the beginning, it was anything but. From sitting cross-legged to trying to think of nothing for extended periods of time… it was physically and mentally exhausting! Phra (meaning Monk in Thai) Sone would joke and say, “But you are young!” Yeah, we thought so too. ¯\_( ツ )_/¯ Nonetheless, Phra Sone was an excellent teacher who understood our needs for a change in location, position, or sometimes a much needed (bathroom) break. We would either gather in a large meditation hall with AC (yes, AC!) or outside where we could hear the sounds of birds and feel warm, soft breezes. We practiced three forms of meditation: sitting, laying, and walking meditation. Walking meditation goes up to six different steps that are essentially the same but just slower and more precise movements of the leg and foot. We also learned dynamic movement (a cycle of hand positions done while sitting) and other small tricks of the trade for better, more concentrated meditation. Paulina got extremely comfortable during one meditation practice, waking herself up with her snore. To give her the benefit of the doubt, we did wake up every morning at 5AM at the loud clanging of the bell. Before every meal we had to say a written contemplation to reflect on the necessity of food. On the daily, we were able to take a small break from the “silent” part of the retreat and engage in Q+A discussion with our Phra teaching us much more about Buddhism and life as a monk. One rather surprising new fact we learned is that Buddhism is not actually a religion but a way of life. There is no God nor is there an aspect of faith. They value not having “blind faith” which allows for and actually encourages the questioning of any part of Buddhism. In other words, if someone is confused as to why Buddhism is a certain way, they should not accept it, but challenge it.
The last day, the once (mostly kinda almost) silent group found their voices again and headed back to the previous hostel. Back in the city, we are trying to make the most of our last moments in Thailand before we head to Cambodia tomorrow. Bryley and Claire C. walked through the old city and found a local market to dine at while others got some gifts for some loved ones back at home. Since we will be in cities for a longer stretch of time, stay tuned to your cellular devices for any Skype, Facebook, or creepishly random number calls that you may get (however it is that your beloved child chooses to contact you). Sending love back home one last time from Thailand!