ThaiLife Homestay Noble Silence Retreat

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I feel like I have been dropped on heaven’s door step.  The property is something out of a dream, my dream!   Bungalows, beautiful top-notch, 5 star accommodations, with a tiny kitchen, a separate bathroom and a separate shower room with an outdoor shower all surrounding a beautiful lake.  To my left is the meditation hall, a gorgeous building with everything encased in white, like fluffy white clouds surrounding every part of its structure, inside a white marble floor with white poster beams throughout the room, eight high ceiling fans, a shrine with Buddha at its helm.  Meditation mats, yoga mats, comfortable tables and chairs along the boundaries.  Tea, coffee, water all set up in perfect order.  I would arrive in this heaven to be greeted by warm, welcoming staff and notice an outdoor pool off to the right of the large reception area, salt water pool without any traces of chlorine.  I would be driven to my bungalow and guided inside by another warm staff member showing me where everything is situated, immediately I felt a calm wash over me as I walked into the space and saw what was in store for me in the days ahead.  A King sized comfortable bed with beautiful white, clean linen bedding, pillows and a bolster like body pillow which makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs, jump for absolute joy, a desk that feels like it was made for me and a meditation lounge filled with pillows, bolsters and a meditation cushion fit for king.  A large deck right outside the front door with the view of a beautiful man-made lake surrounded by bungalows that, at the moment, nobody is occupying.  Other than a group of volunteer students saying in one of the group residences, I am the only one.  It is quiet.  It is the off-season.  Travelling to countries in the off season has been a wonderful experience as everything is quiet.

I have come to ThaiLife to participate in a meditation retreat – a noble silence buddhist meditation retreat.  The owner of the property is the GM of Thailife and a meditation/buddhist teacher.  She does this because she loves it and wants to spread meditation as far as she can reach.  I am the only participant and she is honored that I have come and will continue with the full curriculum as though it was a full retreat.  I feel honoured, I feel special, I feel comfortable, I feel like this is where I was meant to be with this teacher in this place, at this time.  I am deliriously happy.

I would settled in and meet my teacher at the meditation temple in one hour, she would arrive and we would sit across from one another on the floor seated on cushions and converse for two and a half hours.  She would impart many things in that short amount of time confirming so much of what I have built my own foundation on that I find myself choking up with emotion and unable to speak.  The journey has brought me here to this place, Thailife Homestay Resort & Spa with this teacher, Maneerat Grueneberger along with her wonderful, attentive staff.  The resort is fully staffed even though there are very few guests at this time of year.  Their philosophy is to treat each guest as a guest of honour and continue to give the same service they would provide if it was a full house.

This woman is a philanthropist, she is humble, she is kind.  She has been fortunate in her life while at the same time she has worked very hard to get to where she is.  She has a brilliant mind and continues to educate herself although already highly educated in many areas.  In her kind hearted buddhist way she gives to many causes.  She and her husband were here when the tsunami hit in 2004 and they would make it part of thier mission to help as many people as they possibly could providing jobs for many villagers and helping to rebuild the community.  She supports a foundation that helps older men and women who were left without any family after the tsunami hit provinding financial support to ensure these people are taken care of by funding food, water, shelter and support.  She sponorsor a foundation to help end the suffering of dogs and cats in Thailand, employing a vet who takes care of wounded or helpless animals, spaying and neurtering the animals to help keep the populations down. She is a kind soul and people know this so many people drop the animals off on the property knowing that she will take care of them.  There are many stray dogs on the property, some she has claimed as her own and others who have come to know it is a safe place to sleep and gather a few scraps of food to live another day.    She sits on many councils including a council in charge of helping the wayward youth of this country, offering solutions, trying to help right these lost souls.  She is involved in the Willpower Institute founded by her master, Phra Dhammongkolyarn, Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo, giving FREE meditation courses to anyone who wants to learn the art of meditation for themselves or to share with others.  These are just a few of the wonderful acts of benevolence that this woman does in her busy life.  I am in awe of this calm, peaceful, driven, giving woman.

Her German husband, John, spent some time with me during my lunch breaks and filled my mind with stories, a brilliant story teller.  A brilliant scientific mind.  He would enterain and keep my mind buzzing with information and stories for hours at a time.

The restaurant is a larger area with many table and pergola’s and many attentive staff to ensure you are taken care of in every way.  The food is outstanding.  Each morning I arrive at the restaurant I am given a sheet of paper where I tick off the items I wish to nourish my body with each morning.  The spread of food that is put in front of me is huge, much more that I could ever eat and some of the most delicious food I have eaten to date.  The staff is attentive, kind and respectful.

We would then go to dinner together and keep the conversation going as I peppered her with questions for another hour and a half to retire to the absolute comfort of my room and the huge deck that overlooks the beautiful stunning lake with light flickering in the distance.  Sitting outside on the deck taking in the wonderful sounds of nature, I would smile and feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

I already feel like I never want this week to end.

My retreat is scheduled like any other retreat with meditations and dharma teachings throughout the day with some free time to do whatever I feel like getting up to.  This property has lots of options, walk, bike ride, the pool, the lake, the beach & the Ocean, the meditation hall, the restaurant.   I already know that I will stay right here and enjoy every moment of this experience while I sink into myself and spend a week in retreat.

As with any meditation retreat and facing yourself head on there always seems to be another test put forth on my path and this one is no different.  With all the beauty the surrounds me, with all the peacefulness sitting at my doorstep a gloom fills me with its ugly presence today and the tears spill out tearing my mind from what I am here to accomplish until my teacher imparts her words of wisdom and guides me into a deep meditation.

It seems the test of all tests has decided to drop itself here, now!  I find myself put in the middle of my children yet again!  My heart feels like it is breaking and I can’t do anything about it except feel it, be with it, and let it be.  The mind is a ferocious beast that plays with you like a chew toy if you let it.  Mine has been tossing me around, bringing to the depth of despair and all I can do is cry, it just seeps out of me yet I know to be with it and listen to my heart even when it is breaking. 

Another test in my strength, in my resolve, in my teachings, in my knowing yet each time a situation comes up it is never easier than the one before. 

This too shall pass, those wise words I use on so many other people now it the time to use it on myself. 

To find the strength within me to allow myself to make the decision that is true to my heart, a decision that allows me to stay in my heart with all the pain surrounding it.  It is in these moments that become our biggest teachers, this I know but in the moment I don’t know it, like every one else, I wish with all my might that there might be a way around it, a way to satisfy everyone.  But as we all know this is not possible at the best of times, when a difficult decision is to be made there is always someone left feeling something that is not what we want.  

Being a mother is the hardest job I have ever encountered, it’s that instinct that pulls on the heart-strings that leave me in indecision time and time again.  It’s that instinct to protect, to save, to rescue that never seems to get any easier.  I feel her pain inside my own body as though it is I who is encountering the situation, it makes me look over my life and feel my own pain of myself in a similar situation and the decisions I made at the time and the pain flair up and the memories come rushing back. 

My wisdom tells me that my daughter has the capacity to rise above her situation and I know with my heart she will come out a stronger person if I do not rescue her yet all of my instincts tell me to protect and rescue my baby. 

This has been a recurring lesson in our lives as we have moved from dysfunction to healthy and it has not been easy.  This is another test.  I see it so clearly.  

No matter how much my small cub is hurting,  I must listen to my gut, my heart and believe that she will stand up and rise above her situation, her pain, her suffering and learn, perhaps for the first time in her tender young life that she is strong and that now that she has babies she will make the best decision for everyone involved and all I can do is support her and love her without stepping in and taking over which is such my nature especially with her. 

I have had many lessons present themselves to me and I wish to say that I have learned.  The universe is serving this lesson up on a silver platter for me again to see how far I have come, to see what I will do.  I know that if I don’t do the right thing, it will continue to be served up for me until I get the lesson, until I do the right thing and that is to let my daughter stand up and fight for herself and her children without her mother running to her side to rescue her.  I know this.  Knowing this does it make the decision any easier.  Absolutely not.  Does it make it any less painful?  Not at all.  In order to move past this lesson, I have to make the right decision for everyone involved and let my daughter stand on her own two feet and rise up, to gain confidence in herself as a woman, to be a role model for those two beautiful children she has brought into this world, to apply her own teachings and start to believe that she too is a strong, independent, healthy woman who can make decisions on her own and can walk her own walk and talk her own talk.  This I know first hand with many of my own experiences when I shrunk down, when I didn’t do the right thing, when I inadvertently hurt other people while making a decision that supported my fear rather than my gut.  Fear can drive us to do really stupid things sometimes but fear can also drive us to do really amazing things as well!  I have had this shoe on both feet. 

Today was my first full day in retreat and as darkness falls and the lights glisten from the lake right outside my windows I am settled into a calm having made a decision to honour myself and my journey and honour both of my daughters the best that I can in this moment.

I look forward to tomorrow, a fresh mind, a new day, and a whole bunch more teachings.

As my journey moves along, I notice that my practice seems to elude me at times and I don’t practice.  Even though I know all the benefits, sometimes I just don’t sit as often as I could.  I start to notice my bank account holding negative numbers when I let this practice wane and as soon as I start to sit again I quickly notice the numbers moving in the positive direction and I settle, the peace and stillness tank starts to fill up and the wheel starts to provide a smoother ride as my journey continues.

Our body and our mind are so completely opposite yet they are meant to go together like so many things we seem to encounter in our lives.

Our body enjoys the stillness while our mind likes to wander and bring suffering.  Our body has instinct our mind conjures up past memories and perceptions from the large library of memories we keep locked up within our mind.  Where there is danger, our bodies naturally move away our mind, on the other hand, like to emerge itself into the danger.  Our body naturally let’s go of anything heavy, puts down the baggage but our mind loves to carry it around stuffing more and more inside each case dragging it along, storing it, hording it, keeping it.  In order to bring about balance in both the body and the mind we must do the opposite, we need to train and move our body but for our mind we need offer stillness and quiet the mind letting go, putting down and clean out the overcrowded storage.

What is/was the best time of your life?  What is your greatest task in this life time?  Who is the most important person in your life?  Consider these questions for a moment.

In the buddhist tradition my teacher tells me the answers are all very simple.

Now.  Care.  The person in front of you.

Meditation is a core foundation in buddhist tradition and for some reason I have had the unbelievable opportunity to come to a retreat in this unbelievable surrounding, in the low season which basically means no one else is here.  So it’s just me and the teacher.  I feel so blessed, so lucky.  Then I stop and think for a minute and go back to the universe and this path that I am on and all the coincidences and lucky breaks, and I realize this is all part of the plan.  I have been put on this teacher’s path and she has been put on mine. I am filled with gratitude for both the experience and the teacher.

Colorado was like jumping off the mountain and diving head first into the deep end without the foundation, without the basic knowledge.  It was like taking a PHD course without first finishing high school or so my teacher has explained to me.  I have to agree not that I have had the opportunity to sit with her day after day as she brings me right back to the beginning and shares with me the foundational pieces I did not have before making the leap.  I learned patience, I learned how to endure, I got to see my mind in full tantrum without many of the tools I needed to understand or deal with it.  I look back now and I really don’t know how or why I made it through that month.  I believe it was a combination of  belief & faith along with effort and willingness! I endured the pain, the memories, the sadness, the unbelievable courage to sit through nine hours of meditation a day without a solid foundation in buddhist teachings.

So now that I have the foundation, let me share it with you.

Meditation is the way of letting go, it is the path to the empowered mind.  The only goal in meditation is silence, stillness and clarity of mind.  The effort is directed at letting go, developing a mind that inclines to abandoning, the willingness to give away the baggage of the past and the future.

  • Stage One:  Present-Moment Awareness
    • letting go of any and all baggage even what happened just a moment ago.  You start to develop your mind as a padded cell anything that hits it falls to the floor and stops.  We do not carry around coffins full of dead moments, letting go of the past will set you free in the present moment.
      • this is not an easy task, it sounds easy but it is not – your mind has a tantrum, like mine did in Colorado.
        • keep in mind that there is no bad meditation, each and every meditation we struggle through puts money in the bank and builds belief in self, effort, consciousness, peace & stillness and adds to your wisdom.
  • Stage Two: Silent Present-Moment Awareness
    • No commentary.  “that was good, this is bad, I don’t like, I like”
      • Become that host at a party and you are so busy greeting each guest that you don’t have time for any chit chat to anyone who comes through the door, you must greet the next guest.
        • Put down the backpack your carry, set it down, just for now.
          • Recognize the space between the thoughts – silent awareness.
            • Its a slow road but builds momentum and grows.
              • Silence is shy if she hears you talking about her, she vanishes.
  • Stage Three: Silent Present-Moment Awareness of the Breath
    • we choose silent present moment awareness of just one thing – the breath.
      • letting go of diversity and moving into the opposite, unity.
        • watch the breath wherever you want, nostrils, tummy 
          • try not to control the breath, watch it.
  • Stage Four:  Full Sustained Attention on the Breath
    • you notice the full extent of the in breath from the moment the air enters through your nose
      • your recognize the pause between the in breath and the out breath
        • you follow your out breath until it disappears and the function is complete all in silence and present moment awareness
          • your mind reaches this stage experiencing peace, bliss 
            • this is where the doer, the major part of one’s EGO starts to disappear
              • Get out-of-the-way
    • this is where we dive into the blissful states by maintaining the unity of consciousness by not interfering, the breath will begin to disappear, fade away, the mind focuses on the center of the experience of breath.  We are no longer aware of the breath, the body, thought, sound or the outside world. 

(this information was taken from Ajahn Braham’s book Happiness through meditation)

In my meditation practice I have reached each on of these stages, sometimes for short periods of time, sometimes for the whole meditation.  From my experience it has been like climbing a staircase as I move through each of the stages, sometimes I slowly climb, sometims I stay in stage one for the whole meditation and sometimes I drop right into stage 3 or 4.  Each and every meditation is a brand new experience; certainly the more I practice the easier I settle and come into the latter stages.  Each time I sit it is a clean slate, a brand new experience and I get what I get, whether it is a difficult sit with my mind swimming in thoughts about the past or the future, or I focus on my breath for the entire time, or maybe I get a taste of stage 4.  The important thing I try to remember is that is does not matter, each meditation is money in the bank.

Letting go of the past is why we meditate, it is the way to a powerful peacefulness within the mind.  It is hard work in the beginning which may take years of practice but like the law of nature without effort one does not make progress.

The goal in meditation, if you must have one, is beautiful silence, stillness and clarity of the mind.

The effort is directed at letting go, developing your mind to abandon the past.

As you can see from reading my blog it is no easy accomplishment to get to the peace and bliss but it comes in waves, like that of the Ocean, and each time I am riding high on the peak of the wave, even if its only for a few seconds, it leaves me wanting to go there again and again.  Each time I drop some of my baggage there is a calm, a peacefulness, a sense of bliss.  At 51 years of age and much baggage from the past I will continue to put in the effort day by day with the hope that I will someday reach the goal of the beautiful silence, stillness and clarity of mind.  Equanimity no matter what life throws at me.

 

 

 

 

 

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