Donnerstag, 17. Februar 2011

Mindfulness with breathing - Anapanasati and Vipassana


As I mentioned before I have just completed a 10 days silent meditation retreat at Suan Mokkh, a Buddhist meditation centre: www.suanmokkh-idh.org.

When I arrived in Thailand, I fought with a so called ‘monkey mind’ (an expression I learned at the retreat) – a phenomenon which lots of people have :) I am sure you know what I mean – simply we think too much about the past (the past can’t be changed) and the future (the future always changes) and forget to live in the present. During those 10 days I managed to learn a meditation technique and with it to still my ‘monkey mind’ and to just let it go.

The meditation technique we learned at Suan Mokkh is called Anapanasati - Mindfulness with breathing - and Vipassana (going inside). So with a special breathing technique one learns to meditate. It’s an easy technique and the good thing is one doesn’t need anything to do it, just: breathing in and breathing out.

The philosophy behind this meditation technique is that ‘breathing’ is everything, without breathing we wouldn’t exist.

Meditation is a way to train and cultivate the mind, to develop con­cen­tra­tion, mind­fulness and awareness and use it all in www.suanmokkh-idh.org daily life.

I was, of course, a bit afraid what it would be like and maybe on the following picture, a day before the retreat started, I look a bit ‘scared’ but all worries were for nothing. 


I started the retreat with 143 others, at the end 107 ‘Dhamma friends’ :) were left – some always leave since they feel like this isn’t for them, the timing might be off, some got sick and some just wanted to be more on the beach in Koh Samui than in the meditation retreat but I think for the rest of us, it was a great experience.

Our daily schedule looked like this:

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 (I was sweeping the men's yoga hall)
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

In those 10 days we didn’t talk, or listened to music, didn’t read, I didn’t look in a mirror, no Internet or TV – you just concentrate on yourself without distractions.

my room - yes, the bed was a bit hard to be honest but well...

outside of my room, the women's dorm

view from my room

The famous wooden or according to our monk 'buddha' pillow - I admit, I used my own 'soft' pillow, I just couldn't do it - but in all fairness, I did try it out.
After the first night I woke up every day before the bell even rang at 4 am. 6-7 hours sleep were more than enough and it is a great feeling to get up early and practise meditation and yoga with the sunrise.

At the beginning I thought I would be very hungry, since from 1 pm until 8 am (19 hours!), one eats nothing but 2 cups of soy milk at 6 pm – well, maybe I lost 1-2 kg in those 10 days but that was just beneficial, since I felt like that if you are lighter, the mind is sharper and the body is lighter for yoga practise. So, I didn’t mind 2 meals a day at all and since one can’t change it anyhow, you just get used to it.

dining hall
Whenever we ate a meal, we would wait until everyone had gotten their food and recite the following:

‘Food reflection’:

With wise reflection, I eat this food
Not for play, nor for intoxication,
Not for fattening, not for beautification.

Only to maintain this body
To stay alive and healthy
To support the spiritual way of life.

Thus I let go of unpleasant feelings
And do not stir up new ones.
Thereby the process of life goes on
Blameless, at ease and in peace.

Then we would all start eating – to be honest, at the beginning I found it a bit strange but soon one learns to eat slower (more mindful) and appreciate the food more. One would also think you would eat double at lunch to balance out the 3rd missing meal but actually, you only do that mistake on the first day and then you feel so full that you can’t concentrate when meditating and so you stop really quickly with this behaviour and just enjoy what you can eat and be happy with it.

For breakfast we would get rice soup with some salad – well that was nothing I really looked forward to but I knew it was a healthier alternative than toast and jam so you get used to it. For lunch I have to say the cooks couldn’t have done better – every of the 10 meals was a vegetarian highlight and I haven’t eaten as much tofu in my whole life than in those 10 days and I loved every single meal they cooked for us.

I also enjoyed the chanting every day and here comes one song we chanted:

‘Going to Refuge’
(Handa Mayam Tisaranagamanapatham Bhanamase)

Buddham Saranam Gacchami –
To the Buddha for Refuge we go.

Dhammam Saranam Gacchami –
To the Dhammam for Refuge we go.

Sangham Saranam Gacchami –
To the Sangham for Refuge we go.

Dutiyampi Buddham Saranam Gacchami –
A second time, to the Buddha for Refuge we go.

Dutiyampi Dhammam Saranam Gacchami –
A second time, to the Dhammam for Refuge we go.

Dutiyampi Sangham Saranam Gacchami –
A second time, to the Sangham for Refuge we go.

Tatiyampi Buddham Saranam Gacchami –
A third time, to the Buddha for Refuge we go.

Tatiyampi Dhammam Saranam Gacchami –
A third time, to the Dhammam for Refuge we go.

Tatiyampi Sangham Saranam Gacchami –
A third time, to the Sangham for Refuge we go.

chanting hall
During those 10 days I had time to think about my last 3 month of travelling and what I have learned so far and here is my summary:

I learned:

  • How to drink water out of a bottle without touching the bottle neck (very useful, especially if someone is sick and wants to drink out of your bottle or vise versa)
  • How to use the toilet the Indian way (Ofer, thanks for the detailed explanation :), it was really helpful and accurate. Now I will share the ‘secret’ with all of you, so you can all practise before you travel to Asia, here comes the meditation centre instructions, which were hanging outside of our toilets:
The Thai Indian Way of cleaning yourself after using the toilet:

1.      Fill the bowl half with water.
2.      Hold the bowl on your lower back.
3.      Pour the water slowly down your lower back, it will find its own way to where you want to clean.
4.      Use the water and three fingers of your left hand to wash away any residue.
5.      You will feel much refreshed and clean.
6.      Wash your hands as usual with soap afterwards.
7.      Give it a try, its not dirty! The stuff comes out of your own body, so how can it be dirty? It is just the left over from the food you ate.
8.      You might even save a tree or two.


  • How to not kill mosquitos and spiders but remove them in a ‘loving way’ out of your room (I had some spiders, geckos etc. visiting me during those 10 days and I did my very best to find a good way to remove them from my room) – all creatures have a right to live, right?!
  • How to let go of things, like unnecessary clothes to lighten my luggage – I already left 1/3 of my clothes in Koh Phangang and I am working on reducing it further.
  • How to shave my head and enjoy to not to have to take care of my hair and to see how people really see ‘you’.
  • How to not use a mirror for 10 days, not to speak, not to use any cosmetics, no TV, music, Internet, phone – well, nature offers a lot of entertainment if you observe carefully.
  • I learned about Buddhism.
  • I developed my own yoga self-practise (Ofer - thanks again to have encouraged me to do so – it’s been going really well so far)
  • How to free dive like in the movie ‘The big blue’.
  • How to ride a scooter, even if it was just a short time, I will continue to practise wherever it’s save for the others :) (thanks Corinne for your patience in teaching me)
  • How to meditate.
  • How to negotiate in India and Thailand.
  • How to be more mindful with the nature and in general – I think this is life long learning process.
  • How to do the Scorpio yoga pose – I still need the help of a wall but I continue to practise.
  • How to enjoy a drink called ‘Lemon-Ginger-Honey’ (I really didn’t like Ginger when I started my journey but now I do) and I also like all kinds of Mangos now.
As my journey continues, I will add to the list.

The main lesson I learned is that you’ll see the truth (inside you) through your own experiences. If the heart truly understands, we can let go and accept the true nature of things.

So, I will keep going, making my experiences and you will hear all about them.

Hugs, smiles and kisses from Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Yours Eylin

Me with one of my favorite nun's from Suan Mookh.
empty meditation hall, for the 10 days of the retreat I had no camera but you get the picture

women's yoga hall, where I've done every morning 1 1/2 hours self-practise

the Suan Mookh meditation retreat is taking place in a beautiful, green surrounding

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