As we were about to conclude our time studying Thai massage in Chang Mai, Thailand, our teacher, Pichet Boonthume, told us that we had to do an 11 day silent meditation retreat before we started dong thai massage with others. As luck, or karma, would have it, my wife and I found a monastery, Wat Suan Mok, that was just about to start their 11 day program. Although the silence was challenging, this was a life defining time, chocked with some fairly profound experiences.
In addition, to walking and seated meditation, we were introduced to some basic Buddhist concepts, including the law of interdependent origination. It was 4:30 am when the shadow of small nun that walked and talked like Yoda, ambled on the raised seat in front of us and first spoke about the 12 factors of dependent arising. We discussed the Wheel of Life with the little nun, who was a former chemical engineer, laughing throughout her talk. Of course, it all made logical sense to me and I remember thinking this could have great value in the psychology realm. However, for a few brief moments over the retreat, I got a small sense of the peace that arises from stepping off this wheel.
A number of years earlier, a friend of mine had asked, “does you mind ever stop?” I had never really considered this question or, at the time, understood what he meant. However, it was around the fourth day of the retreat that I was reminded of his question. It was lunchtime and I realized that all my mind was doing was focusing on the task at hand. I was picking up the fork, putting the food in my mouth, chewing, swallowing, and that was all that was going on. There were no other thoughts. The food was neither good nor bad. There were not thoughts of the future or the past. There was just a quiet peace. I don’t know if my mind completely stopped, but it definitely slowed down quit a bit.
There was no doubt that the austere schedule and surroundings supported our ability to prevent feeling from leading to craving, and this is one of ways we can cut this chain of events that leads to dissatisfaction or suffering. That is why the monks encouraged us to stay past the retreat and solidify our experiences before finding ourselves in the middle of a full moon party on one of the islands, or the craziness of the world in general. There is no doubt that as a householder, and father of three it is more challenging to step off the wheel; however, I am truly grateful that I get a practical sense of what this means.