10 Days Of Silent Meditation – 7 Valuable Life Lessons I Learned.

The first time I heard of doing a 10 day silent meditation retreat was after meeting a very unique group of backpackers in Chiang Mai. They all seemed genuine, present and happy. I asked them the typical questions, “Where are you from? How long are you staying in Thailand? Where have you been? “You know, the same old, same old. However, instead of the normal answers I’ve heard a hundred times, they told me about having just done a Vipassana Meditation retreat – and it just blew my mind. “Wait! So you actually lived in a monastery with Buddhist monks, for ten days, and you weren’t allowed to talk? What did you eat? Isn’t it hard to meditate? Did you just read all day? What, you’re not even allowed to read?” It turns out that there are 10 day silent meditation retreats to be found all over Thailand where you live like a monk, eat, sleep and meditate all day – so, I did one!

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It also turns out, that it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life and I’ve done a lot of crazy things: I’ve climbed the highest mountain in South East Asia, been scuba diving with sharks, been in four pro Muay Thai fights; but this was hard – really hard – and the only thing I’ve ever come close to actually giving up on. I arrived at Suan Mokk in Suratthani, southern Thailand, mainly because I had no idea then that other retreats existed; however, it turned out to be the perfect place. The temple is in the middle of a forest, and you meditate around a small lake which in the middle has a tiny island, called ‘nirvana’. The retreat starts every month on the last day of the month. I arrived a day before and stayed in the free dorms just to get situated and clear my head before it all started. The 10 days is more like 12, as it starts on the 30th and ends on the 11th of each month. During those nights, you get your own room but don’t expect any luxuries. In fact, one of the ten precepts you’ll practice is not to sit or lay down on comfortable beds. It took a few nights to get used to my wooden bed but my back never felt better afterwards. The wooden pillow, however, was a different story!

Ten Precepts
• Refrain from killing living things.
• Refrain from stealing.
• Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
• Refrain from lying.
• Refrain from taking intoxicants.
• Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
• Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs (performances).
• Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garlands (decorative accessories).
• Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
• Refrain from accepting money.

Our days started early – really early. At first, I was a bit angry at why we needed to be woken up at 4am – I was off to a bad start – but the first morning’s reading/lecture, entitled “The Power of 5am” was beautiful. It made me feel like, maybe, I should just trust the system instead of constantly trying to control things and make them better – which is very American of me. According to the first morning reading, 5am is the only hour of the day that is truly peaceful. Before that you still have people up late, drinking and partying. By 6am you have people waking up rushing to work, stressed and unhappy – but at 5am, nobody is awake and everything just feels peaceful. I wasn’t happy about some other things, too, including the fact that we weren’t allowed to eat anything after noon – which meant we’d have to survive on two vegetarian meals a day. Aside from not speaking, we also weren’t allowed to listen to music, watch TV, read books or even write. I ended up breaking the rules a bit and wrote a postcard each to my mother and father telling them all the things I assumed they knew, and the things I had wanted to get off my chest but never had. It was because of these postcards that my dad – after 28 years – first told me that he loved me. Now, I always knew that he did but it was the first time the words ever came out of his
mouth and it meant a lot.

1. Being alone isn’t the same as loneliness.

If you can’t eat alone in a public restaurant, or find yourself reaching for your cell phone or something (anything!) to do whenever you’re just waiting,
standing or sitting alone, then you are just like me and everyone else in society. We always have to look busy, or be doing something, or with someone.

Why? Can’t we just be?

2. There are two types of happiness. (Most of us only know the first) The first type of happiness is through stimulation: Doing something, eating something,
buying something or having something – that makes us happy. Some external factor, whether music, a friend or something else is the source of our smiles. Whether it talking to someone, listening to your favorite song, eating food, or even hanging out with friends. These aren’t bad things (in and of themselves) but it makes us dependent. The second type of happiness is ‘just being’. It took me 13 days to finally just be able to sit alone, at a restaurant, doing nothing, thinking about nothing, looking forward to nothing, just to be able to smile and realize that I’m happy – just because.

3. Our possessions posses us .

Before moving to Koh Tao I was in a car dealership trying to figure out a monthly payment to buy a new Corvette. If I had been able to afford it I would have
been stuck paying $800 a month for the next four years, and would never have been able to travel. That $800 Louis Vuitton handbag is the same price as a round trip plane ticket and a few days of expenses in Paris. Yet, I know 20 girls with LV bags and only 1 that has ever been.

4. The duty of effort is today, and even tomorrow we may die .

Whatever our duty, job, or chore is to do, instead of trying to rush through it – to empty our ‘inbox’ – we should realize that our inbox will never be empty,
even when we die. So, we might as well enjoy the act of working, by doing it mindfully and live in the moment – enjoying every minute of it.

5. We are fine exactly the way we are .

Whoever we are is okay. If we can’t even love ourselves how can we expect others to love us?

6. When we get angry at someone or something, it hurts us more than it hurts them.

It’s funny that we can relive angry moments that happened years ago so easily. We can bring them up in our minds and feel hatred and anger as if it was
happening to us today. Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate. By being mad at someone, does it hurt us more than it hurts them? The answer is definitely yes; so, why do we do that to ourselves? We need to just ‘let go’ (easier said than done), and let karma take over.

7. Material things can never make us happy – as they are fleeting .

Every time I buy something – even in the days, hours or months before I buy something, when I may dream about it – I smile. But soon after I have it, the smile
disappears and I want something else. Expensive things cause more stress in life, and we really don’t need it. When I drove a Porsche I always had to put the
top up so people wouldn’t fuck with it. Everyone I met assumed I was a pompous, spoiled asshole. People expected and treated me differently – and not in a good way. The only thing to do to make myself feel better was to think of them as jealous or envious but that never made me happy. Everyone would ask why I didn’t buy the 911 Turbo instead. No one was ever happy for me to have acquired my dream car and, as it happened, my dream turned out not to be what I expected. When I drove my Celica, Miata, or even my ‘87 Nissan, I was happy and no one ever treated me with ill-will. So, why do we think luxurious things and expensive things can make us happy? Is it because we want to fit in, or is it because we want to have what others have? Either way, I finally realized that I don’t need it. There is actually very little we need in life, and the more basic things are the happier and freer we become.

My final thoughts.

If you agreed with any of the above or learned anything from it, please do yourself a favor and realize that the worst thing we could do is simply read it, nod
our heads and then never think about it again. Even worse is reading it and saying, “Oh, I already know this”. It took me 10 days of living it, to realize these things for myself and have them really settle in. I will try to do my best every day, for the rest of my life, to remember these things I’ve learned and actually live them.

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