“The silent meditation retreat was an incredible experience! High in the mountains of Koh Samui, in a jungle overlooking a bay, fitty silent people from all over the world lived for one week next to each other, ‘going inside’ but also becoming friends. Amazingly, throughout the silence! With friendliness, kindness, gestures and simple smiles. There were some tears but mostly happy ones and when the silence stopped someone said ‘OMG we are all shining’ and I looked around and saw only happy faces!!! I was moved. We hugged and cried, feeling like we are part of something beautiful!
Simple conditions, in a jungle with snakes and scorpions, waking up at 4:30 in the middle of a thunderstorm, climbing a dark hill to the meditation hall to be sitting in silence, by candlelight. Yoga at 6am, no food after noon, sleeping on a wooden bench with a wooden pillow and not being able to talk to people you energetically started to like… It sounds though, but it was actually easy, cozy and a BEAUTIFUL experience for me!!! I am filled with gratitude, happiness and love for everyone! (and now enjoying my king size bed and a hot shower in my comfy hotel room ;))”
— This was my Facebook post from October 2013!
In the meantime I did it again! AND AGAIN! I returned to the very same meditation center – Dipabhāvan – again in 2015 and in 2018. Each time it was a different experience but always very powerful. As they say in South East Asia ‘same same but different’.
Dipabhāvan – The Hermitage of Light
My very first time however was really a SPECIAL experience, very unique and powerful! It echoed with me for a very long time.. I would like like to share it with you and maybe encourage you guys to try it out.
It was during my first sabbatical in SEA in 2013. More out of curiosity rather than a spiritual call. Still in Europe a friend told me about it and I thought to myself ‘Bea, you HAVE to try and see if you can just shut up for a while!’. I’m an incredibly bubbly person and after years and years of representing companies on international trade shows, working as a Sales-Marketing-Business-Development-Fairy, I though that’s exactly what I need. To shut my mouth for a while.
We have this German word, which nails it – ENTSCHLEUNIGEN. It means slowing down, gear down. That’s what I needed at this point of my life. To stop running like a crazy person and just sit still. Observation instead of action. Just breathing. Taking a break from a life where I would often question in the morning, in which time zone I’m waking up. This vision of a silent retreat with (real) buddhist monks was screaming my name and became actually the only fix-planned project, pre-departure into my sabbatical adventure. It didn’t disappoint my expectation!
My observations during the silent retreat
Those days in Dipabhāvan were for me a significant personal growth. These are my emotions and realisations:
I realised that you can be part of a group, a community by just BEING. No need to talk to communicate. You ‘say something’ with a look or a smile. Not much effort needed to be understood. You can even make friends silently. You can like (or dislike) people energetically.
SMILE! It’s such a small but powerful gesture. It cost nothing and yet it is so revarding. It makes everyone happy. The world would be a better place if we all smiled a bit more.
No need to sell or market yourself to anyone (as I said, I’m coming from the Marketing background). They can accept you without knowing our nationality, age, education, mentality. Not even your name! No need to list your achievements, no makeup, no judgment. It’s like with falling in love – chemistry and positive enegry are stronger than words.
I learned how to live with very few things and realised that I don’t actually need that much. Ok it’s a but strange nowadays to be without our smartphones, but for a few days you can even get used to that. Even after the retreat I think it’s a good idea to put yourself from time to time on a digital detox!
How nice it was to relax and just be! Not having to worry about trivial everyday things like ‘where is my key?’, ‘my phone is ringing!’, ‘did I leave my wallet in the car?’, ‘what do I cook today?’. We really don’t realise how many little tasks and worries occupy our brains day by day. In such a retreat you don’t worry about anything. Delicious (veggie) food is provided and cooked for you, your valuable belongings are locked away, you don’t have to go anywhere. Your only duty here is to sit down on your mat and breath! Simple!
Dipabhāvan is located on the hillside slope of a mountain in Koh Samui. You live here in an open space of a Thai jungle, with the dorm being the only solid house. Being close to nature all over sudden you see the multitude of the creatures living beside you. You listen to rain, observe a spider building a net and you feel the texture of the leaf under your fingers. I know, it sounds like I’m a super hippie, but believe me I’m not (or I wasn’t until then) but I never felt the beauty of God’s creation as powerful as during those silent days.
Food tastes better when you pay attention to it! Just focusing on it, you enjoy it more, believe me! You enjoy the texture and taste the flavours more (I actually became a bit of a foodie after this experience, but that’s another chapter). Also it feels super nice not to go to bed with a full belly (monks don’t eat after noon anymore)!
Being mindful is having a more intense life! Seriously! All your senses are more receptive. Everything is more intense and therefore more interesting!
Let me tell you this little story of me becoming more sensitive to sounds: During my first retreat I didn’t realise how loud we started off. Dragging chairs across the floor, stomping while walking, making noises with our lunch bowls etc. With time the noises died off slowly but I was probably one of the noise makers, realising on day 3 how silent it was. On my second and third retreat I knew how to be silent from the beginning and it really pissed me off when other people where louder.
What did the retreat teach me?
After the retreat I started to be more mindful and minimalistic. Accepting the personal space of others more. I’m less attached to material things. To my cloths and personal belongings. I slowly started giving my things away. It almost became like a fun game. I also stopped moaning when something breaks or when I lose something. I think ‘you served me well. We had a great time, now it’s time to let go’. I’m still not able to be as cool when it comes to people. Letting go of a conflict with someone is still difficult. Letting go of love even harder. But I guess in general, knowing that ‘everything passes, even troubles’ is a huge help in dealing with problems and bad moods. That’s what I learned in the retreat – to be more lighthearted and to enjoy the present moment ! I take my time to stop and listen to a bird or smell a flower. I fell in love with sound meditation. I don’t listen to trash information on the radio or TV anymore. I learned to appreciate moments of silence in my life. I sense negative or positive vibes of places or people more intense. Everything which has a bad impact on my mood I’m trying to ban from my life.
I know, you probably think ‘yeah I read this Blah-Blah already in tons of books and blogs. I know all those theories’. I did too! I knew it with my head. With my ratio. Not my heart! Now I FEEL it !!!! I’m deeply grateful for this experience and this realisation and I know that every time my heart forgets, I can return to meditation and find it again! And after every retreat I feel ‘it’ more. It’s like a personal ‘tuning’.
How is the Dipabhāvan Meditation Center?
Now you are probably thinking, Bea stop bullshitting us with your spiritual blabla and give us some more pragmaticall input;)
Every center might be slightly different. The teachings here are mainly based on ānāpānasati (concentration focused on breathing), to calm and focus the mind. You also practice Vipassanā (inside meditation), loving kindness meditation and mindfulness.
Twice a month you can ‘book’ a retreat in English. Yes, you don’t talk but you listen to buddhist teachings and even if you are not a buddhist, the theories are very interesting. And let’s be honest, where else to learn about them if not during such a retreat?
Personally, I don’t consider Buddhism as a religion for myself but as an Ideology. During my last retreat I had a great teacher who shared her wisdom through storytelling. It was beautiful and memorable. Surely, you don’t want to miss it subscribing to a retreat in Thai language.
The retreat takes 7 days but you are free to leave an any time if it gets to difficult. It’s not a commercial center but an authentic place which lives from our donations and the help of voluntairs. Following the Buddhist tradition all teachings are offered free of charge. Every participant choses a chore, which he/she does daily. Even the chores are part of a the practice of mindfulness. Sweeping the floor, washing the tables… All can be done mindfully.
Your silent days in Dipabhāvan
Your day starts at 4:30 with a Morning Reading, followed by a Sitting Meditation session and Yoga. Breakfast is at 7:30.
There are four blocks of activities with breaks in between. During the free time you can shower, wash your clothes, deditake yourself to your chores or just contemplate. Lunch is at 11:30 and after that there is no food anymore (except of tea time and a banana at 17:30).
Your day consists of sitting, walking or standing meditation (in intervals of 30 min), dhamma talks, chanting, loving-kindness meditation and group-walking meditation (I liked this one! It’s in the dark by candle light, indoors or outdoors). The day ends at 20:30 and at 21:00 lights go out.
It is though in the beginning but after two days you get into the routine and actually don’t fall asleep during the talks. Sometimes it’s tempting to skip an activity and just stay sleeping but I’m proud to say that in my 3 retreats I never skipped a single thing! It’s really rewarding to try it. If you manage, you will feel awesome about yourself, believe me!
The purpose is to do it properly, right?! No cheating (no phone, no sneaking food into the retreat, no reading books, no makeup, no lazy sleeping). It would be like cheating on yourself! And believe me it’s an amazing feeling to be consequent and last until the end! It’s an incredible sensation of happiness!
On the last evening we take a break from the silence and share. There is a special atmosphere, a candle, a mic and a circle of faces looking at you, nodding in silent understanding, laughing or crying while you share your story. I didn’t think I want to speak until the moment came and then I did. Every time. Last time as one of the first, which (according to the feedback I got later) animated more people to share. The group was fantastic and people really opened up.
It seemed, with time passing, while we became more silent, we also became more aware of the others and grew stronger as a group.
Final words – with a smile
As I said, I returned twice. It became like a drug. Every experience is unique. Group dynamic, different leader, different conditions. Second time I brought someone special (at that time) with me and I thought it’s more for him or for ‘us to bond’, but it really was for me too. I realised it when I actually felt the need to return AGAIN. I have to admit the third time, was less silent. Someone I met during my travels came along and I realised when it was too late, this most chatty person on earth turned a silent retreat into a party. At one point I gave in and on day 3 of my 3rth retreat I whispered! Oups! But even this experience was needed. She was very grateful to come with me and I realised that next time I might be ready for a different retreat. More strict one. I used to think it’s a one in a lifetime experience but now I know it’s more. It became part of my life. I believe it’s good for us to ‘reset’ from time to time.
Thank you Dipabhāvan!
Thanks to my readers and if some of my co-meditators reads this: I love you guys!