3 Months in a Meditation Centre
A little over 10 years ago, before I turned 20, I went and stayed in a meditation center for 3 months. Here’s my story.
I was living in Paris and had gotten a flat with my then-girlfriend. It was right after the summer of my high school graduation. I was about to start business school and was living the “dream”, up to this point. But being a young adult kinda sucks.
I did not realize that I actually had to study in a business school. I thought it was all going to be about partying and networking, which is part of the process as well, but students still needed to work pretty hard.
For the first time in my life, after having left the nest, I felt my only responsibilities were to show my presence 3–4 times a week at school and not coming home too drunk! Then I decided to stop going to school and stop talking to my girlfriend. Why not? If I am to be a fuckup, I might as well go all the way.
To keep the long story short, I got “depressed”. I started drinking more and when my parents found out, they “deported” me to a meditation center. In fact, I actually made the choice to go there.
I was supposed to go to Burma now known as Myanmar but there was the ‘Saffron Revolution’ and I ended up in beautiful Chiangmai, Thailand. Most foreigners at the meditation center came for the first course of 10 days or the second “course” of 21 days. I stayed for 3 months and there were few who did.
Many men and women who came, gave up after a few days. My brother and mother went there last year and my sibling gave up after 3 days. Out of a group of ten people, 3 quit after a few days including my brother.
I don’t want you guys to think that people were getting tortured there although some of them might feel mentally tortured. It is an experience like no other and you don’t really know what to expect.
If you think you’re going to levitate and become enlightened after a few weeks, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I remember seeing a guy almost running out of the meditation center.
It was kind of odd and hilarious at the same time. For me, it was probably one of the best things, if not the best thing I did in my life. Let me describe a little bit of the routine. The first 3 days we were “trained” by one of the monks in charge of newcomers.
These 3 days were grueling and so exhausting. I did not shower for 3 days. Yes, I was dirty. I had to get used to sleeping 6 hours a night on a hard bed and hearing this f**** bell waking me up at 4 am every day. And no solid food is allowed in the afternoon.
Then you are introduced to the walking and sitting meditation. The practice is pretty “easy” and straightforward. You alternate between walking and sitting meditation.
Many of you may not be familiar with the walking meditation practice. To be honest, I am not a big fan of this practice but when you go on a retreat you need to do it because it is hard to stay on your ass for hours on end.
Walking meditation is the Pilates of the Buddhist monastic world. I won’t get into too many details but walking meditation is pretty much the same as sitting meditation. The only difference is that you have to focus on the movements of your legs and feet instead of the rising and falling of your stomach.
After the first 3 days, you’re pretty much on your own. You got your wings now and you can try to fly. You have to report to the head monk every day except for the new moon and full moon days.
You wake up around 4 am. Meditate till breakfast at 6.30 then return to your room. That’s the time I would choose to take a shower then get back to meditation. A lot of foreigners would sweep the compound to take a break from meditation and to gain merits but I was told not to do so.
My monk friend told me I was there to meditate and not to socialize and to sweep. After the shower, I meditated till lunch at 10.30. After that, it was meditation until the reporting time around 5 pm and meditation till bedtime.
Sounds pretty boring right?
On top of it all, as a meditator, you have to take 8 precepts before the retreat begins. Here are the 8 precepts which I copied pasted from the Dhammadana website :
The eight precepts are:
«pānātipātā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from being harmful to the living .»
That is to say: I will not kill, I will not cause injuries to other beings, whatever and whoever they are. Not even to the mosquitoes that bite me.
«adinnādānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from stealing.»
That is to say: I will not appropriate others’ property, I will not take possession of that which has not been given to me. I will not even take the metro, even for a station distance, without paying.
«abrahmacariyā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from all sexual practices.»
That is to say: No copulation, no masturbation. I will even avoid indulging in petting.
Beware: When we only deal with the five precepts, the 3rd thus becomes:
«kamesu miccacara veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from all inconvenient sexual practices.»
That is to say: I will not commit adultery, I will not indulge in any illegal sexual relationship, neither through prostitution, etc.
«musāvādā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from uttering lies.»
That is to say: I will not lie, I will be honest while facing all situations. Whatever one might think and whatever the intention underlying it might be, a lie will always bear a negative result. I will even avoid speaking ill of anyone, swear, and indulge in vain talks. (this precept is perhaps the most difficult to observe).
«surāmeraya majjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.»
That is to say: I will not consume any substance likely to intoxicate my body or my mind, such as alcohol, drugs, tobacco, etc. I will even avoid drinking too much coffee. Due to health reasons, the medicines are authorized.
«vikālabhojanā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from eating after noon time.»
That is to say: I will never consume any solid foods after the solar noon and this, until the following dawn. During this period, I will no even drink milk, which is considered as solid food, as it is very nourishing. In case of severe hunger or a great lack of energy, honey, molasses, liquid sugars, oil, and butter are also authorized.
«nacca gīta vādita visukadassanā mālā gandha vilepana dhārana mandana vibhūsanaṭṭhānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from listening or playing music, songs, wearing flowers, jewelry, and other ornaments.»
That is to say: I will not listen to some music, I will not watch any show whatsoever, I will not watch films, neither go for entertainment nor read any fashion magazines, play games, etc.
I will not wear perfumes, I will not arrange my body for an aesthetic purpose (makeup, fashion clothes, sophisticated hairdressing, jewelry, etc.) I will even avoid dressing in an attractive way. For health reasons, skincare products are authorized.
«uccāsayana mahāsayana veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will refrain from lining or seating on high and luxurious places.»
That is to say: I will not sit or lie down on places located higher than those of the noble ones (bhikkhu, bhikkhunī or sāmaṇera, kings, etc.) or in places reserved for these beings.
As you can read. We did have some boundaries. Phones were not allowed in the rooms. You have to leave it with the monks for the duration of your stay and we all have to wear white clothes. It’s pretty much like a concentration camp but a cool zen one.
Once you get to the first-week mark, the head monk will ask you to meditate at least 10 hours a day. This seems like a lot but it’s not. It is the only thing you can do. After a few weeks, I was averaging 15–16 hours a day. The longest I did in a day was 19hours.
My first month was pretty tough because I did not know how to let go and the monks were playfully telling me to try to “control” my mental restlessness so I can see how it is actually impossible to control one’s mind.
After a month, the head monk told me to start letting go and then I started to be aware and see the power of meditation. After 3 weeks in the meditation center, you’re sleeping about 4 hours a night and meditating around 16–18 hours a day.
During this time, the monk will choose to send you to a period called “in determination” For 3 days and 3 nights, you stay in your room and only meditate without any sleep. Food will be delivered to your room and you only leave it to report to the head-monk and bring the dishes to the kitchen.
My first ‘in determination’ period, I slept 6 hours in 3 days. I could not do it without sleeping a little. I did this twice before I left the center and it was an amazing time. I turned 20 during one of the determination periods.
Most get intoxicated with friends for their 20th birthday. I got blissed out of my mind. It’s a different kind of experience. Both enjoyable though. The latter leaves less of a hangover the next day.
I have shared a bit of my experience but not all. If you have any questions please feel free to send me an email. For your information, the meditation centre where I went to is called Wat Ram poeng in Chiangmai, Thailand.
It is totally free. The only thing you need to pay is the candles and flowers for the opening and closing ceremonies. You can borrow clothes directly there. I wanted to share only part of my story because if you decide to go on a meditation retreat.
You need to be open and not have any expectations. Your experience will be amazing in its own way. I would however recommend you to stay as long as you possibly can to reap the benefits of it.
As I said at the beginning of this post, it is probably the best experience I had in my life. I still meditate every day and the only reason why I haven’t returned to the center is that I am afraid that I will never want to leave.