A rare opportunity for silence&reflection

For the next 10 days I will be participating a silent meditation retreat at a temple not too far from where I live. I believe it will be mentally and physically uncomfortable, especially with no evening meals, getting up very early, surviving on 6 hours of sleep daily as well as not being able to write to reflect on the day AND I am looking forward to the challenge (although this whole week I’ve been on a food and phone binge like a worried bear going into hibernation).

I will be sharing my experience after the fact; for now, here is some general information for those who are interested. For Wat Suan Mokkh information click here.

(With some modifications on Day 9 and Day 10)
04.00  *** Wake up                 *** = Monastery bell
04.30 Morning Reading
04.45 Sitting meditation
05.15 Yoga / Exercise – Mindfulness in motion
07.00  *** Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
08.00 Breakfast & Chores
10.00  *** Dhamma talk
11.00 Walking or standing meditation
11.45  *** Sitting meditation
12.30 Lunch & chores
14.30  *** Meditation instruction & Sitting meditation
15.30 Walking or standing meditation
16.15  *** Sitting meditation
17.00  *** Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
18.00 Tea & hot springs
19.30  *** Sitting meditation
20.00 Group walking meditation
20.30  *** Sitting meditation
21.00  *** Bedtime
(the gates will be closed at 21.15)
21.30  *** LIGHTS OUT

How to Participate in a 10-day Meditation Retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh
01/29/2013 by Kristin 28 Comments

The 10-day meditation retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh in Chaiya, Southern Thailand, has been inviting English speakers to learn more about Dharma and meditation for several decades.

Thanks to generous donations of time and supplies, mostly by local Thais, the open-air meditation halls in the beautifully manicured forest of the monastery provide a perfect refuge for both newcomers and those who are deeply familiar with the practice of meditation.  The retreat is designed for anyone who wishes to achieve peace, compassion, and an ability to approach destructive emotions in a new and healthy way.

One of the main teachings is to be present and mindful – to let go of the past and not angst over the future.  Another teaching is to practice loving kindness towards all beings.  Yet another is to recognize what causes pain, and how to approach it in a healthy way.  Each of these teachings is meant to lead to inner peace and calm.

If you decide you’d like to give the meditation retreat a try, the best plan of action is to go in with no expectations.  One of the main issues with meditation is the near impossibility of achieving it if one desires it.  Have an open mind, and be a true student.   Also, recognize that this is a Buddhist monastery and, as such, will naturally rely on Buddhist teachings to communicate the meditation methods.  Of course, this does not mean you must convert to nor believe in Buddhism.

Be receptive and ready for change.  How often do you get ten full days with no speaking and no distractions to truly listen to yourself and recognize what you spend most of your time thinking about, all while surrounded by the beauty of a forest?  This, in itself, is a rare treat.

Things to Consider Before Participating:

Your objectives: you will be interviewed prior to admission into the meditation center, and will be asked what you hope to achieve through the 10-day meditation.  To know for yourself why you are participating is a good start.
Your physical well-being: can you handle concrete beds, hours of sitting meditation (you may not lay down), six hours of sleep, and are you free from physical addictions?
Can you be respectful of the rules: no smoking, speaking, no killing (this includes mosquitoes, centipedes, spiders, and scorpions, all of which you may encounter), no reading, no writing, no eating past afternoon, no laying down, no jogging or other exercise, no sexual acts, and no straying from the grounds of the meditation center.
Can you speak English fluently? All instruction and Dhamma talks are given in English.
The meditation is not rehab.  It is not suitable for those suffering from addiction.
Getting There:

Take the bus from Surat Thani bound for Chumpon for 50 Baht. Tell the bus attendant that you want to stop at Wat Suan Mokkh (What Soo-An Mock) in Chaiya.  He/She should know exactly where you intend to go.
There are two sides to Suan Mokkh: the International Dharma Heritage (IDH) is located on the opposite side of the road from the main monastery where most tourists visit.  You can get a ride from the information booth at the main monastery (where you will most likely be dropped off) to the registration area at IDH.
There are no reservations at Suan Mokkh – simply show up prior to 3pm on registration day, which is the 31st of every month.  The earlier, the better.
Helpful Information:

Sign up for your chore early on registration day in order to avoid getting stuck with a less-than-desirable chore, such as cleaning the toilets or foot baths (that’s twice a day for ten days cleaning out toilets – yuck).
Bring loose-fitting pants and shirts to keep your person covered without getting too hot – Southern Thailand is nearly always quite warm and humid.
Bring leggings, an extra sarong, or additional body covering to combat the mosquitoes, which are the worst at Suan Mokkh than I had encountered anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
Clothing should not be tight, and should cover past the knees and shoulders.  Clothing does not need to be white.
What is Provided:

Mosquito net
Individual dorm room
Water bottles with filtered water
Candle lantern
Buckets, clothes pins and drying lines for clothing washing
Daily vegetarian food (most of which would also be suitable for vegans)
Mats, cushions, and wooden seats for meditation
Meditation instruction
Daily yoga instruction from a program participant
What to Bring:

A towel
headlamp or flashlight
Copious amounts of mosquito repellent
Toilet paper
Something to sleep on if you don’t fancy concrete and wooden pillows
Loose, breathable clothing that covers the shoulders and knees
A sarong to bathe in (no nudity, uncovered underwear, or bathing suits allowed)
An umbrella
Laundry detergent
Yoga mat (useful but not necessary)
You may even find a mosquito tent helpful
2000 Thai Baht (the equivalent of USD$60) to donate to the monastery – this is compulsory
What NOT to Bring:

Any kind of drugs or alcohol
Stimulants such as tea or coffee
Food or candy
What you will have to submit for safe keeping during the retreat:

Cell phones
Excess money that you would like kept in a safe (they recommend you keep 500 baht on your person — about USD$15 – to buy provisions at the convenience store, which opens on certain days to sell repellent, toilet paper, candles, etc.)
Read more about the day-to-day schedule and overall experience  on the Wat Suan Mokkh website.



Eat, Eat, Love

It is true that fried rice with mixed vegetables topped with a fried egg (Khao Pat Paak, sigh Kaai Daao) is still my go-to favorite dish to order at a Thai restaurant; however, I’ve started to record and track other dishes that spark my palette more than the average Pat Thai or Pat See Yew (still favorites of mine!).

Khao Kha Moo

This dish has been a favorite from the start. The pork shanks braised in cinnamon, soy sauces, garlic and anise flavors, melt in your mouth. Combo that with pickled mustard greens, steamed bokchoy and green chili sauce and I’m in nirvana!


Khao Dtom Gai

This simple rice soup with chicken is a zesty classic for a rainy day (I ask for a bowl without the chicken feet). Fun fact: the brown nuggets are coagulated blood blocks!

Khao Man Gai
Simple shredded chicken on rice with the BEST ginger sauce ever! I crave this sauce…I plan to blend up a batch and store it once I buy some of the fermented soy bean sauce that the recipe calls for.

Khao Kluk Kapi

I adore this assorted dish; closest meal I’ve found to a salad and full of so many flavors! Shredded green mango, omelette, red onions, dried shrimp, sweet pork, sausage, chillies, cucumbers, carrots and top with cilantro and green onions.


Khao Paak Khing

Surprisingly, down south, I find it difficult to order just a simple stir fried plate of vegetables. In the more central regions, when I catch sight of fresh ginger in a food cart, I ask for them to cook up some veggies with ginger and chicken, and now this is a staple dish I cook on my own.


I’ve posted about Joke before. Another boiled rice soup, with a soft boiled egg, that you can eat in the morning or for 4th meal late at night. I love the fresh ginger of course and the fried dough on the side.


Mangosteen or in Thai “Man-Coot”

Considered the Queen of Thai fruits, it is beautiful, fun to peel even though the rind’s juices stain your fingers pink, and the white part is pleasantly sweet.


Dragonfruit or in Thai “Gaeeo Man-Gon”

Also a beautiful fruit that is refreshing and light to eat.

Almost everything I eat is homemade and fresh (except an occasional salty cup of Ramen or Joke from 711) and there is always fruit available to snack on, which is healthy, but I’ve never eaten so much meat in my life!

Pork is daily here and many meals are simply rice and fish or rice and chicken (rice+anything) plus sugar-heavy (and very spicy) sauces. I eat eggs everyday so I am getting tons of carbs and proteins, and an overabundance of sugar, yet struggling for my doses of vegetables.

I question the nutritional choices of my students who eat fried chicken or an assortment of weird processed meats dipped in sweet sauces for breakfast, and always have an ice cream, sweet drink or sugared kanome in their hands after lunch. Not that American children make better choices, but it still bothers me because children are still building the foundations of their constitutions and there are so many better choices available!

I am lucky to be living in a country so many rich in culinary choices; nonetheless, the daily Thai meals I eat are not all flavorful masterpieces and the struggle to eat a balanced diet is a real struggle.

Here is a quick list of the foods I miss:

  • avocados
  • fresh olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • peanut butter
  • berries
  • bread
  • any type of sandwich
  • any type of salad
  • any type of cheese

Luckily, I am able to travel to Bangkok or other touristy destinations to satisfy some of my cravings…

Japanese Soba Noodles

A treat in Bangkok! If it’s not a pizza, hamburger or burrito, Japanese food is a great break from the daily Thai food. Never had cold Soba noodles until this meal; very enjoyable and vegetarian.

Cappuccino, Biscotti and Almond Croissant 

A treat from Kho Samui! I remember when I could eat this for breakfast everyday in Italy…

There’s no Praying on my adventures. Just Eating and Loving 🙂 xoxo

Tarot Cards read my stars

At the very beginning of my Peace Corps journey, a wonderfully warm and open volunteer, who I am now glad to call my close friend Libby Ferris, did a reading for me, that I still find relevant today. Taro readings are just another tool or lens to look at one’s situation and to explore the depths of oneself.

1st card: The Situation


The tiny figure moving on the path through this beautiful landscape is not concerned about the goal. He or she knows that the journey is the goal, the pilgrimage itself is the sacred place. Each step on the path is important in itself. When this card appears in a reading, it indicates a time of movement and change. It may be a physical movement from one place to the next, or an inner movement from one way of being to another. But whatever the case, this card promises that the going will be easy and will bring a sense of adventure and growth; there is no need to struggle or plan too much.

The Traveling card also reminds us to accept and embrace the new, just as when we travel to another country with a different culture and environment than the one we are accustomed to. This attitude of openness and acceptance invites new friends and experiences into our lives.

2nd card: Internal Struggle


The figure in this card is completely covered in armor. Only his glare of rage is visible, and the whites of the knuckles on his clenched fists. If you look closely at the armor, you can see it’s covered with buttons, ready to detonate if anybody so much as brushes up against them. In the background we see the shadowy movie that plays in this man’s mind–two figures fighting for a castle. An explosive temper or a smoldering rage often masks a deep feeling of pain.

We think that if we frighten people away, we can avoid being hurt even more. In fact, just the opposite is the case. By covering our wounds with armor we are preventing them from being healed. By lashing out at others we keep ourselves from getting the love and nourishment we need. If this description seems to fit you, it’s time to stop fighting. There is so much love available to you if you just let it in. Start by forgiving yourself: you’re worth it.

3rd card: External Struggle


In our society, men in particular have been taught not to cry, to put a brave face on things when they get hurt and not show that they are in pain. But women can fall into this trap too, and all of us at one time or another might feel that the only way to survive is to close off our feelings and emotions so we can’t be hurt again. If our pain is particularly deep, we might even try to hide it from ourselves. This can make us frozen, rigid, because deep down we know that one small break in the ice will free the hurt to start circulating through us again.

The rainbow-colored tears on this person’s face hold the key to breaking out of this ‘ice-olation’. The tears, and only the tears, have the power to melt the ice. It’s okay to cry, and there is no reason to feel ashamed of your tears. Crying helps us to let go of pain, allows us to be gentle with ourselves, and finally helps us to heal.

4th card: The Solution


The figure in this card has taken on the shape of an arrow, moving with the single-pointed focus of one who knows precisely where she is going. She is moving so fast that she has become almost pure energy. But this intensity should not be mistaken for the manic energy that makes people drive their cars at top speed to get from point A to point B. That kind of intensity belongs to the horizontal world of space and time.

The intensity represented by the Knight of Fire belongs to the vertical world of the present moment–a recognition that now is the only moment there is, and here is the only space.

When you act with the intensity of the Knight of Fire it is likely to create ripples in the waters around you. Some will feel uplifted and refreshed by your presence, others may feel threatened or annoyed. But the opinions of others matter little; nothing can hold you back right now.

5th card: The Result


The figure pictured in this card is so preoccupied with clutching her box of memories that she has turned her back on the sparkling champagne glass of blessings available here and now. Her nostalgia for the past really makes her a ‘blockhead’, and a beggar besides, as we can see from her patched and ragged clothes. She needn’t be a beggar, of course–but she is not available to taste the pleasures that offer themselves in the present.

It’s time to face up to the fact that the past is gone, and any effort to repeat it is a sure way to stay stuck in old blueprints that you would have already outgrown if you hadn’t been so busy clinging to what you have already been through. Take a deep breath, put the box down, tie it up in a pretty ribbon if you must, and bid it a fond and reverent farewell.