So my vision of going to Chiang Mai was sort of biking around town, reading books and to take the occasional yoga-class between drinking cashew nuts smoothies and tribe hill coffees. You know – as you do. These plans abruptly came to change as I spontaneously signed up for a meditation class at Doi Suthep. It turned into seven days of no talking, no reading, no exercising, no music… Barely any eating either, to be honest. Here’s some photos and thoughts from my week at a Buddhist temple.
After trying my luck at three different doors around the temple site claiming it was the “office”, I finally found my way to the ~regitration office~ where I was greeted by a monk that had this permanent grin on his face, like he was about to burst into laughter at any second. He told me I still had a good half hour before the introduction would start and advised me to get something to eat, as the next meal would not be served until 7am the following morning.
I had heard that rice and veggies were basically what’d be on the menu for this entire time, so I decided over-priced nescafé and a snickers bar would be an appropriate gateway turning into the spiritual life.
Now, you may wonder – who injures themselves at a meditaiton camp? Sigh no more – I’m your girl!
My first day was coinciding with the celebration of “Buddah Day”, as the beginning of every month. For us this meant our evening chanting would take place up at the big temple with the monks (rather than at the meditation centre). After 40 minutes of chanting in a cross-legged position, it’s fair to say my right foot was asleep. To be more precise: My right foot was more or less unconscious, like he was probably well off on his way to Nirvana by this point. One can at least hope this foot was some place nice because what happends next, as The Monk With A Permanent Grin comes to tell us we can return to the meditation centre, is brutal.
As I stand up I have the strangest sensation in my right foot. It has gone completely numb and when I move my weight over it to start walking – there’s three loud cracking sounds. What follows is a piercing pain pulsating through my whole (limp) limb. Imagine not being able to scream in a situation like this!
Made a new friend. In the afternoons we were supposed to, you’ll never guess, meditate. For four hours straight.
As the cool kid I am, I skipped most parts of this to instead walk around the temple site. There I met one of the plural temple dogs. And ever since I reached my hand out to salute this creature this particular wednesday afternoon, we’ve been sat on the benches outside of the museum, watching numerous selfies being taken by Asian couples whilst yours truly sip on her afternoon Milo. Occasionally someone will come yell at her in Mandarin, I’m guessing about how dogs shouldn’t occupy seats, but she’s too relaxed to even lift an eyebrow. (Well, not that she has much in terms of brows anyway…)
Once it’s time for me to head back to the meditation centre, I scratch her head for a bit and think “Alright mon jolie, same time tomorrow?” (Because — as is a well known fact, one develops a 6th sense – for telepathic communication with dogs – on their 3rd day of meditation,said No One Ever.)
But something must be working, because the next day and the day after that, she’ll be there to meet me again. Same time, same place.
The first few days were, without exaggeration, rather dreadful. I mean, going into having two meals a day, 7am and 11am (yes – c’est tout!!!) was definately a challenge. The rest of the day, after the 11 am lunch i.e., we were advised not to eat. I thought everyone was hardcore about following this.
So imagine my surprise when, after my first lunch, everyone is literally running off to the little shop next to the dining room. There they shamelessly stack up on biscuits, crisps and chocolate bars. And there I was feeling bad about bringing a bunch of rambutans from the fruit market…
But apart from my afternoon-Milo I stick to the food being served. This is how on Thursday when we get a colourful Ratatouille-like casserole with Pineapple, Carrots and some seriously dodgy tasting Tomatoes floating around in gravy it makes me shine like the sun. I would say that is the moment when I actually start enjoing the time I spend at this centre. Friday
Since I cannot ask people their names, nor nationalities, I start giving them odd nicknames and co-ordinating them with their flipflops. Meaning, by the purple flipflops by the meditation hall I can tell whether my neighbour “Blinky” is present. Yep, surely a good thing to have on your CV if applying for a special agent job title, ey?
This non-talking thing is put to the test on Friday evening. It is after the evening chanting and a few of us are up in the hall to practise our walking meditation before bedtime. Suddenly the concentration is disturbed by something. The sound of paws on the tiled floor.
As it turns out, someone has left the door slightly ajar and a bunch of playful puppies have entered the building. Trying to get these dogs out again is not an easy task, I tell you, especially not in silence. Luckily for me, I have this silent laughter thing going on (which does save me from a lot of awkward situations at times) so I stand there shaking of (silent) laughter. We finally manage to get the dogs out, like at the third attempt, using Blinky’s key chain as a bait. Saturday
My absolute favourite part of the day is the 6pm chanting. My intial reaction to this occurence after looking at the “sheet music” is something as: Imagine someone just going “latölihrylekthasdf” on the keyboard – and then expecting you to sing this. It is weird and it requires a lot of concentration, but it makes 40 minutes rush by and you wish it’d last at least the double.
My final day at the temple. While part of me wants to unpack and stay a lot longer in this calm and quiet, another part can’t wait to get back to civilisation. After the closing ceremony with our teacher monk that speaks of wisdom in his cute Thai-English, I swap out of the official uniform of white clothes and start walking down those 300-something steps to the village below the temple. As I reach the final step I get asked in a choir of bemo drivers “Chiang Mai?”