Saturday, January 1, 2011

Seeking Inner Peace - Meditation retreat

Meditation lake.
Already for a while I was fascinated about mediation, and I wanted to try it and to look inside myself. At the beginning of my travel, while I was staying in Ladakh I joined three days silent retreat. This retreat took part in beautiful Himalayas and was a very intense experience on physical as well as psychological level. For three days we were mostly trying to work to concentrate the mind on the natural breath. My mind wandered a lot and it was a challenge to get it focused. This was my main conclusion. Later, thanks to the conversation with other travelers I realized that a three days meditation retreat was too short period for an initial attempt. I decided to try once again.

View from my room.
Initially I was considering to go to Burma, but political situation up there especially after recent election is tense and unclear. Finally, I decided to go for retreat to Thailand, to Pitsamulok, to try Vipassana taught according to Goenka teaching, whose teaching originally came from Burma. His teaching gained a lot of popularity and his meditation centers are spread all over the world. One is not paying anything for the retreat and everything runs on donations allowed only from people that completed at least one 10 days course. 

For whole 9 days I was very curious

what is on this island. We were allowed
to visit it only the last day of retreat.
This course teaches self-observation, concentration of the mind on the breath and looking inside the body for sensations. According to this philosophy those sensations are the basis of interactions between our body and external world. Our mind is reacting to the pleasant sensation with grasping and to the unpleasant sensation with the aversion. The whole idea about this meditation is to change the working pattern of our brain and to learn equanimity (balance). Everything is changing so the pleasant sensation will pass away, everything is changing so the unpleasant sensation will pass away as well. One should not get attached to any of it.

Meditation hall in fog.
I registered for the retreat two weeks in advance and I received an email that the retreat is already fully booked. But with my additional email I managed to convince organizers to sign me in for the waiting list. The day before the retreat I did not received any email with the conformation or rejection of my late registration, so I decided to give a try and I traveled for 13h to the retreat place assuming that it would be somehow possible to squeeze me in. And it was possible.

Pitsonoluk meditation retreat center is placed in a very beautiful forest. This place can hold 120 mediators, from which 2/3 are females (which is an usual case). We were about 40 males: 20 Thai householders (lay people), 12 monks and only 8 foreigners. 
Some Thai people took part in the retreat every year!!! There was a complete separation of females and males and we were expected to keep noble silence for whole 9 days. Nobel silence means no verbal and no body language communication was allowed, except some questions to the teacher concerning meditation practice and some accommodation and food related issues. Everyone had his small room and the food was excellent vegetarian buffet two times a day, so there was no really issues to complain about. One had to deposit mobile phones, tobacco, books, writing materials, cameras and  mp3 players - anything that could be used to distract from the meditation. It was also forbidden to practice any sport. We had to spend time in a restricted area. Below is a daily schedule:

4:00 am               Wake-up
4:30-6:30 am          Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am          Breakfast
8:00-9:00 am          Group meditation
9:00-11:00 am         Meditate in the hall or in your room
11:00-12:00am         Lunch break
12.00-1:00 pm         Rest
1:00-2:30 pm          Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm          Group meditation
3:30-5:00 pm          Meditate in the hall or in your own room
5:00-6:00 pm          Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm          Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm          Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm          Group meditation
9:30 pm               Lights out

Sound like prison? It was kind of prison for the body in order to give a change to listen your mind....

I did not have a big problem to keep silence for some days, when I was biking through Laos there was a stretch of two almost three days that I did meet anyone that would have been speaking English. The big challenge for me was to avoid eye contact with other mediators. Eye contact was always an important communication tool and here I had to learn to look somewhere far ahead or looking down in the ground. It was difficult, but possible. It was very helpful that a ratio of Thai people was so high. Thailand is a Buddhist country so all Thais were very serious about their practice. During my retreat there was one very nice a bit over-weighted guy that was a very social fellow, joking with everyone around. And then when the noble silence started he just turn off all of this. Everyone was very serious about the silence. 
For the first three days we exercise concentration of the mind on the breath. During the long and endless three days I had a constant fight with my "flickering mind". I managed to rethink all passed events and went through many scenarios of my future in this time... It was very difficult to stay concentrated on the current moment.

My small room B12.
For the last four months I was constantly moving from one place to another, hiking on the roof of the world and bicycling through Cambodia and Laos, and here I was supposed to sit on the floor in the cross legged position for ... hours every day. At the beginning of the retreat I was fine with cross legged position for a minute or two, at the end of retreat I manage to sit in the cross legged position for the whole one hour of group sittings!!! 18 months ago I had my knee surgery and I could not keep my knee bended for the whole day, luckily I was allowed to use chair from time to time. This saved not only my knee but also my back. 

From the fourth day of retreat - Vipassana started, where we were observing for gross (big) and later for subtle (small) sensation. After so many hours of sitting it was not difficult to identify overwhelming pain in many parts of my body. Surprisingly, that some of this pain vanished after some time and I could really experience the flow of the subtle sensation. After the first day of Viepasana my sleep changed. For most of the night I was half awake - half sleeping. It was not deep sleep. In the morning I could remember many night dreams, which is not usually a case for me, and  I was surprisingly fresh the next day. During the seventh day I could feel some sensation in both hands. On the last day I was able to experience few times "free flow" of sensation through my body and certain detachment from the body.

 This was unique experience.

The philosophic background was delivered during excellent 70 minutes discourses every evening. Those were recording teaching of S.N. Goenka. Some of the philosophy behind was very easy to accept for me since it was very much in line with my current one. I would like to be a master of my own mind and to certain point a master of my own emotions. But one of the aims of meditation is to get completely detached from emotions and I am not sure if I really would like to achieve it. I think I need some more time to digest this experience. I might also not fully understand meaning of detachment....

One of the strangest moment was when the noble silence was broken. For 9 days we were in the community of 40 males and no one was speaking a word, and than suddenly one could say hello, one could discuss everyone experience and one could finally look into eyes of someone else!

Will I continue meditation practice? Time will show, I would not excluded. I meditated after the course. Did it change me? Every day of this trip changes me, to what extend I hope you will be able to judge it yourselves when we meet personally next time.

To sum it up I think that despite all difficulties that I experienced and some doubts that I still have this was an excellent experience allowing me to spend ten days looking inside myself. I would highly recommend anyone to try it out

Different mediation retreat possibilities in SE Asia, which are sum up here.

Be happy.

Those are all my personal experience. Apparently everyone has his own experience during meditation. I guess the only think that you can expect is hard work.


  1. Hi there! Great article you have, I would also want to share my thoughts that Meditation indeed has positive effects not only in the body but also in the mind, a total holistic wellness that brings us to know our inner-self better. It gives us a peace of mind that helps us have a much better perception about our lives.
    Our advocacy is to promote the positive effects of meditation, yoga and inner wellness.
    Help us, visit our website at and also
    Thank you and have a great day!