Having been drawn to Buddhist teachings since my early twenties, I was thrilled to be going to my first Buddhist country: Thailand.
I heard about a Buddhist Centre on the island of Koh Lante, where we were staying but due to a stomach bug, I had to wait three days to visit.
When I arrived just now ,by Tuk Tuk, a long road, with palm trees either side, led me to a modern building in a beautifully peaceful setting. Walking through a canopy of brightly coloured, sweet-smelling shrubs, a smiling Thai man in his forties greeted me and asked how he could help.
I told him I would just like to visit and come back at some point with a view to taking some Buddhist instruction on meditation and philosophy.
I was immediately offered some food and coffee, which I declined as I’d just had breakfast. The place was spotlessly clean and organised, women dealing with the food on the floor and, behind them, on a slightly raised platform, there were five Buddhist monks having breakfast.
After a couple of periods of waiting I was summonsed, by the original man who greeted me, to meet the chief monk. The man told me I was very lucky to have this time because this was the “boss monk” who was only visiting and is normally resident at a different monastery in the south of Thailand.
The monk gestured that I should sit on the mat in front of him. Now there were only the two of us in a large room.
It was clear we were to engage in some formal meditation. He told me to focus on the breath and then we sat in silence for an unknown period of time.
Immediately there were many images of Buddhas in my mind’s eye and I dismissed this as auto suggestion though it did feel “real.” Then I wondered if something might be being transmitted to me. I dismissed this too, as spiritual narcissism. Then I experienced periods of deep peace interspersed with “monkey mind.” This is how the nature of the mind is explained by Buddhists. We constantly analyse, criticise, judge and predict. We are fearful, we are restless, we are unsatisfied…
I observed myself observing myself! It was as if years and years of reading and study were being put into a real experience of the nature of my/most people’s minds.
Then there were the periods of peace. Nothing except swirling images of purple and black in the mind’s eye (like something from the psychedelic sixties). No personal mind interfering… just presence. As soon as I start to “claim” this as some kind of special experience, I lost it and came back into monkey mind.
I sensed a slight movement from the monk so I opened my eyes and he was ready for me and suggested I stand up and follow him. We descended to the shade of a courtyard where we practised a walking meditation. He said, “fast or slow, you choose, just meditate…”
I had observed a group of women doing a walking meditation at the Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok so this was not an entirely foreign concept to me.
We walked together — and separately.
It was a wonderful complement to the sitting meditation as it was another opportunity to practise being fully present — walking being a more everyday experience. It was like coming home to myself. My body. My senses. My moment. Make it as meaningful or as distracted as you want, Danny! Fortunately, the former was the case and each time I walked up, paused and back again, it was as if a new revelation came, sometimes as simple (ironically) as seeing how quickly I became distracted mentally then bringing myself back to the process and widening my sphere of perception by being fully present in each moment as it unfolded: the scent of the flowery shrubs being stronger, awareness of swifts circling above, the increase in the wind’s strength: so much to notice in every moment…
After about fifteen minutes or so, he called it to an end and welcomed me back the following morning.
The original man appeared, as if on cue, to say goodbye.
It was all very fortuitous as it transpired that today was a celebration day in the Buddhist calendar: Nirvana Day.
Curiously, my stomach ache has vanished since the visit…