Getting lost in the clouds

“To be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery”

Often when I lay in my bed and read, I rearrange my body so that my head is where my feet usually rest so I may look out my window and gaze at the canvas outside.

Weather is a strong reminder that every day is unpredictable and strangely beautiful. Although being a Peace Corps volunteer may sound more exotic or more full of more hardships than “normal life,” I would challenge that assumption.

Every day is unpredictable no matter where you are in the world. The clouds remind me of this.

Yet, it’s easy to forget or disregard the truth of impermanence. Many a day feels the same, and so my mind wanders elsewhere, wishing to be elsewhere, no longer present to the subtle beauties around me, dreaming of what was and what could be, instead of appreciating what is.

I remind myself that a year ago, I lay dreaming and pining for this opprotunity, to be here, in Thailand. Now, here I am, at my intended destination yet still caught in the endless cycle of dissatisfaction and craving that I thought would be quenched.

It is when we embrace the mystery of the moment, set aside our preconceived notions or ways of being and seek to become lost in our now, it is then that we are fully present to the wonders available in each second of life.

Whenever my mind seeks to predict what the clouds will do next or starts to reminisce in other skies seen in the past, I remind myself just to observe what I see, get lost in the present moment. No day is like the one I am experiencing today.

“That thing, the nature of which is totally unknown to you, is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.”

Books in queue to read:

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit (quotes above)

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

A Life of One’s Own by Marion Milner

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

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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.

DAILY SCHEDULE
(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
Blanket
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
Toiletries
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
Cigarettes
Stimulants such as tea or coffee
Food or candy
What you will have to submit for safe keeping during the retreat:

Books
Computers
Cameras
Cell phones
Passport
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.

Joke

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.

frieddough

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