Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

Elephants World Volunteer Experience

Good Morning ElephantsWorld

Volunteering at ElephantsWorld
Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Humans need ElephantsWorld. Let me explain:

I volunteered at ElephantsWorld (EW) because a friend told me I had to. I casually told her that I was planning a trip to Thailand and before I had finished my sentence she told me I had no option of not going to ElephantsWorld on my travels. She told me it was one of the most amazing things she had ever experienced and the best part of her travels in Thailand; turns out her sentiments were well founded and shared by myself.

I was fortunate that just as I had planned to be in the Bangkok area ElephantsWorld had a spot open for a volunteer. I had emailed the admin staff a few times back and forth and once the timeline worked and they said I could come I was on the first train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, and then on the EW morning bus out to the sanctuary. My previous experience with Elephants had been similar to most: I had gone to the zoo, and had seen their Elephants off in the distance, separated by a large fence, then a ditch, and then another large fence. As anyone knows that has visited EW within your first 20 minutes not only are you standing next to an Elephant, you are feeding them and hanging out with them, and being overwhelmed by them. It is an incredible experience that is a one of a kind memory for tourists, and only gets better as a volunteer. The first day I spent as a visitor, I went through the program not quite understanding yet that everything I saw I would soon become an integral part of.

Volunteer crew

Volunteer crew

Volunteering at EW is not an experience, it is a lifestyle change. At many places when you volunteer you will help out on the periphery if there are extra jobs to be done. This is not the case at EW; once you become comfortable with your duties you become a part of the sanctuary, and it won’t run without you. It is at first a daunting thing but very quickly becomes a fulfilling one. As you get more comfortable you can accept more responsibility and you really do feel like you are making a contribution to the welfare of the giant Elephants wandering around you. It can be hard work, and long days, and at times you will be tired…but it also can be amazing, and life-altering, and can help you develop yourself and your connection with the natural world around you.



The duties change from volunteer to volunteer and from day-to-day. In the morning often you will be packaging food for the Elephants (which includes trying to convince 77-year-old Aum Pan that she should wait until her food is ready….and should not simply help herself in the food shed). Then during the day you’re either guiding visitors, which I will talk about in more detail, or will be helping with day-to-day operations like social media, managerial stuff, or if everything is done means you can just hang out and watch the Elephants. At nighttime you make sure everything is squared away, and then you just hang out with the other volunteers and mahouts. I should also mention that the food is fantastic. Some of my best meals in Thailand came from the kitchen ladies at EW, every meal was highly anticipated by this guy. There are also other non volunteer things that pop up and are awesome; the Sunday local market in Lad-Ya, the going away parties, the local festivals. I wont go into any of these in detail, so you can have the fresh experience all to yourself when you get there.

Caught this lady trying to sneak into the food shop...again

Caught this lady trying to sneak into the food shop…again

Volunteering here gave me memories I can guarantee I could not hold otherwise; I was playfully chased by one of our teenagers Kam Kaew while I tried to sneak past her with food. I was picked to feed our blind Elephant Lam Duan at night-time. Lets just say she is lightning fast and once she smells you and her food; she wants to get close right away, in the dark. I had countless tug of wars with our little guy Johnny, his record stands yet undefeated. I also had some surreal moments just watching all of them go about their daily business; oblivious to the Canadian guy sitting awestruck 50 feet away.  I met a great group of people; all with their own personal strengths that they brought with them as volunteers. It was also my fortune to stay for 5 weeks and spend 4 of them as the head volunteer; which helped me progress my own leadership skills in a very real way. The mahouts always kept things lively: mahouts are the Elephant cowboys. They each work individually with an Elephant and some have been with them for 3+ years. They all live on-site with you; and so you’re living with them. You’ll get to learn a lot about their culture and their style of life. You will also get to have a ton of fun with them during the day and after the sanctuary closes. I met some great guys and girls who live and work there that I am looking forward to seeing when I return.

My buddies - the littlest Mahouts

My buddies – the littlest Mahouts

The visitors to ElephantsWorld are also a rewarding part of the experience. One great thing about EW is that tourists who come to it, fully knowing it is a sanctuary and not a tourist trap, are all good people. They get it.  They are so keen to learn about the Elephants and are so exuberant in their desire to help out. It was such a cool feeling to learn all about Elephants as a species, and then to pass that knowledge on to people who are really stoked to learn about it. When you volunteer at EW you’ll be amazed at how much you learn, and how fast you learn it. Often people in the tours would laugh when I mentioned I had zero background in Zoology or Elephant welfare; because I had been answering their random questions about Elephants all day.  I would usually offer a free water bottle to whoever could stump me first. No mention that water bottles are provided to all the tourists…free of charge.

Giving Aim Pan some love with a visitor from my group. This is 'working' as a volunteer...

Giving Aum Pan some love with a visitor from my group. This is ‘working’ as a volunteer…

You don’t just learn facts about the Elephants, you learn about the Elephants themselves. They are not a separate attraction like in a zoo; they are as much your friends and colleagues as the Mahouts are. You get to learn which Elephants have no problem with a group of strangers being brought up close to them; and which would rather not. By the end of 5 weeks I could usually tell if one Elephant was just having a bad day, and would just steer the tour away from them to give them some peace. You get to feel that some of them like you, and some of them could care less, and some don’t like you at all. I think Aum Pan liked me, Kammoon would acknowledge my existence from time to time, and Wasana was not my biggest fan haha. Lam Duan was more than happy to have me as a mobile feeder during the night-time. I can’t tell you how cool a feeling it is to know an Elephant. That is something a volunteer has to experience for them self.

Feeding Songkran

Feeding Songkran

I started this by saying humans need ElephantsWorld and that I would explain what I meant, well I am a man of my word. Later in my stay I had a morning off to do whatever I wanted. So I did whatever I wanted. Part of that included finding a secluded bench overlooking the river and letting my thoughts wander as they wished. Bear with me here, there is a point. I was watching this giant butterfly float from flower to flower and I started thinking about the difference between it and myself. Namely how it operated with zero care that I was watching it, but how I was sitting there captured in what it was up to. This led me to a realization: that of every species on the earth, the only one that has the power to be benevolent and go out of its way to help all the others is humans. We have the ability to pick any species, and make it’s life easier if we choose. We’re alone in this ability: A dolphin can’t wake up and decide he’s going to plant trees for monkeys, an ant can’t stroll out and give medicine to a stray dog, and that butterfly can’t make sure a lake is clean for fish to live in. Humans can, we are the only ones….and so far, we’ve blown it. Almost every species, maybe every species, has been affected in a negative way because of us. We are the only ones who can make a difference, and we are the only ones who haven’t. I then however, looked around me, at where I was sitting and what was going on around me. I was on a bench, at a sanctuary for old and abused Elephants, a place that lives each breath with the intent to help out another species that should never have been subjugated in the first place. When you get to know Elephants personally as a volunteer, you’ll know what I mean. ElephantsWorld is like a huge billboard to nature saying “I’m sorry, we’re sorry, and we’re trying to make it better.” It is going out of its way to correct the mistakes that history has made before its existence. Our species needs places like ElephantsWorld, it needs beacons of hope that show that somewhere, someone is trying to do the right thing. That our species can indeed, wake up in the morning and be a positive inhabitant on the planet, not one that the planet would be better off without. The world needs to become a sanctuary for itself, and it needs human beings to build it, and it needs places like ElephantsWorld to show us how. Humans need ElephantsWorld.

I am more than proud that I was a part of it for five weeks, and it was an honour to do my best to help EW breathe a little easier, and to be a part of something truly good. I wish any prospective volunteer all the same life-enhancing experiences I had while I was there.


Chris Hetke
ElephantsWorld Volunteer 2013


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Wat Ram Poeng meditation retreat

Wat Ram Poeng

Wat Ram Poeng

I recently undertook a two week meditation course at Wat Ram Poeng. I thought I would write a summary of what I experienced there, as I have had a few people ask me how it was and I really haven’t given a good answer yet! The experience was, to be honest…hard to describe. It’s something that needs to be undertaken to be understood. At times it was brutal and I wanted nothing more than for it to be over. At other times it was surreal, inspiring, and made me feel like I was really starting to understand myself, and how I fit in as this tiny speck in the world. I am a better man for doing it.

We weren’t allowed to write or keep a journal, but around day 5 I started jotting down main points anyways so I wouldn’t forget them. My Monk teacher (Namaskan Phra Max) was giving out some real gems of life changing information, and I was starting to make some sense of it…I didn’t want to lose that so I bent…well, broke the rules a bit…well, completely broke them haha.  So this is my post-recollection of a two week journey.

It is important to know that for anyone who wants to do this themself: this was my experience, and it will probably be very different from yours so read it knowing as much. I would to hate to influence anyone else’s experience as a result of them expecting what happened to me. So get your own experience! this one is mine haha. I also won’t be writing about any personal struggles, because they are…well…personal. Though if you buy me a beer sometime I might share them, if you buy me two I might even tell you the truth!

I had intended this to be short. but obviously failed haha.  After 14 days of silence one has much to say! I learned a lot though, much of which I tried to explain as this post goes on…so if you get to the end, hopefully some of it is useful and makes sense!

Guidelines / Rules

The guidelines are there to ensure you live by Buddhist precepts, and also to ensure your day is focused entirely on meditation with no distractions. I am writing this off memory, so I may(will) miss a few things!

  • No socializing, gossiping, or discussing meditation practice with others. It is intended to be silent.
  • No coffee, 1 cup of tea per day. To avoid false mental stimulation.
  • Do not sit and rest for more than 5 minutes to avoid laziness.
  • No visiting other meditators rooms, females and males are to stay out of each others living areas.
  • Be mindful all day, when you walk, practice meditation..when you look at a butterfly, practice meditation…etc.
  • No killing living things.
  • Eat your meal in silence, and clean your own dishes after.
  • No food in your room, your area must be kept clean. This includes sweeping the grounds etc.
  • You hand in all electronics at the start: no reading, no writing, no music, no external distractions.

Daily Schedule: Pretty basic.

4 am: Bell rings to wake up. Loudly. No one knocks on your door or checks on you; it is up to you to get up and start your day.
4 – 630 am: Meditation.
630 – 700 am: Breakfast. Eating is preceded by prayers and blessings from the Monks, Nuns, and laypeople. Then you eat focusing on being mindful of the food.
700 – 1030 am: Meditation / cleaning
1030 – 11 am: Lunch, again preceded by blessings, and again eating in silence with mindfulness.
11 – ~430 pm: Meditation / cleaning
~ 430 – 530 pm: Meeting with meditation teacher. This is where you explain to him your experience(s) that day meditating, he then gives you insights, advice, and a prescription for the next day. The prescription was usually how many minutes total you should practice (6-12 hours), and how long your sessions should be (starts at 15 minutes walking/15 minutes sitting, goes up to 60 minutes each). This was the most amazing part of the day; my teacher, Namaskan Phra Max, was one of the most amazing people I have met. Teaching is his gift.
530 – 10 pm: Meditation
10 pm: Sleep, lights out.

First thing you hear every morning is this bell, 4 am sharp.

First thing you hear every morning is this bell, 4 am sharp.

Daily Record

Jan 16: Orientation/confusion…ACCEPT

  • I got there at 930 am. Things seemed hectic and crazy and confusing. The other 5 people in my group and I really had no idea what was going on. The Monk who was in charge of orienting us – Phra Chaibodin – seemed to be running all over the place, doing everything but telling us what was going on. It turns out there was a 5 day celebration being planned for the opening of a new temple, and Phra Chaibodin was in charge of some of it, so he was stretched thin. He did, however, continuously spout off 4 lines, all of which would be pretty important the next 2 weeks:
    • Learning by DOING
    • Don’t cry before you are hurt
    • Knowing, knowing, knowing
    • ACCEPT
  • Walked around most of the day silently. Eventually around 730 PM we had our opening ceremony , which was run by the Abbot Phra Ajahn Suphan. Then we were all taught the basic meditation methods. We learned the proper way to sit down, stand up, sit, start meditation, and walk (the walking was a prescribed gait pattern that changed as one progressed)
  • I ended up with a roommate as many of the rooms were filled with visiting Monks for the opening of the new temple. So I was lucky enough to sleep on the floor! haha, with a thin mat. But after doing nothing but being confused all day, sleep was easy.

Jan 17. Day 1: 9 hours…of meditating! previous life record…30 minutes
Prescription: 15 minutes walking/sitting – 6 hours. Actual – 9 hours

  • I misunderstood the Abbot’s prescriptions. I had no clue I was supposed to do only 6 hours, so I just went as hard as I could all day and got to 9. Yep, all star meditator, at least I thought so until I saw the guy doing 14 hours, and then learned what a determination was!
  • Super sore, I had no clue how much soreness comes in the back and hips from sitting for 4.5 hours. But no pain, no gain right?
  • First meeting with Phra Max, seems like a cool guy, gave me a surprised look when I told him I did 9 hours, and he responded by looking at the 6 on the prescription page…and asking me to do 9 again the next day.
  • The only insight I had to tell him was that I was completely confused about what I was supposed to be doing for the 10 hours I sat or walked. I had only ever repeated mantrams while meditating before, but there were no mantrams here, just focusing on….what exactly?
    • Max’s response was that I am just an observer, my only job is to observe my thoughts and just be aware of them. No more, no less. Meditation is not about forcing clarity, but by just being present. Thoughts come whether you control them or not, all you can do is notice them coming, and then let them go with no residual effect.

Jan 18. Day 2: The middle way, just practice
Prescription: 20 minutes walking/sitting – 9 hours……. Actual – 9 hours

  • The night after meeting with Phra Max I had 2 hours of phenomenal clear meditation. I felt like a million bucks. I felt like I got it, I had found what I was looking for! I was going to be the Canadian meditation Guru in no time….. Then the next morning I crumbled, it sucked. I had no focus, no clarity, nothing was going right. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I had no clue why it had been so great the night before, and so bad the morning after…what had happened? I asked Phra Max about this:
    • His response – Meditating is neither good nor bad, there are no good meditators. All you need to do is practice. Do not worry about being good at meditating….only worry about being present and putting effort in. He was right, once I let go of trying to have ‘good’ meditations it made a huge difference, and I had no ‘bad’ meditations from then on, only confusing ones.

Jan 19. Day 3: Pain and Ruby
Prescription: 25 minutes walking/sitting – 10 hours……. Actual – 9 hours

  • The word of the day….pain. So much pain. My left knee was swollen from all the sitting, no clue why because it’s a good knee. Hips hurt from all the slow-mo walking. Low back was sore from trying to force my back straight while sitting cross legged. But worst of all, a long forgotten right shoulder injury kicked up, from when I separated it during rugby a few years ago. The back, hips and knees I expected, but the shoulder pain was not. It came from keeping my arm still while seated, and it was brutally annoying. It felt like someone was holding a blow torch to my shoulder. It was impossible to ignore, and I knew I couldn’t do another 10 days with it.
    • Max had no insightful wisdom. He basically said, but in Bhuddist Monk terms….toughen up
  • I decided I wasn’t going to let it stop me, so I went to the library and decided I was going to overcome this pain, if I had to sit there for 10 more days thinking of nothing but pain all day, I was going to do it. Now Wat Ram Poeng had this uncanny way of tossing in things almost every day that revolutionized the experience…for better and for worse. It was like a clock, every day I knew something meaningful would happen; just never what it was until it happened: So…first one: meet Ruby

    My little pregnant cat friend

    Ruby – My little pregnant cat friend

  • I met Ruby on my first day. She was very, very, pregnant. She hung out around the library all day mewing to be stroked, likely to take her mind off the pain of being so huge! Of course, those who know me know a cat does not walk by that I don’t lean down to pet. I named her Ruby (not sure of her real Thai name) because she was so tiny and fragile..reminded me of an old lady named Ruby.
    • I mentioned my intense shoulder pain, it didn’t get better, despite me trying to let it go. I decided to go sit outside the library for a bit on the marble stone and collect my thoughts, do a sitting meditation. I had to decide if just absorbing this pain was worthwhile…or if I needed to call this meditation retreat quits the following morning. I sat down, started meditating…and little Ruby comes right up and lays down on my lap. So now I am doing my 25 minute meditation with a pregnant cat on my lap….cool. It was pretty fantastic actually, not only was she super warm, but every now and then I could feel a little kitten kick in her belly while she slept…that was a new experience! The pain however, did not change…my shoulder was aching, the burning feeling was getting worse. Then my timer went off, 25 minutes was up but Ruby was still on my lap. I couldn’t wake her up! It was cold out, she was warm where she was, and very asleep!…so I clicked my timer..25 more minutes, no problem…..and then when it went off again……clicked it again…..and one more time after that. There was no way I could wake this poor little pregnant cat up and I did 110 minutes straight of seated meditation! When before I was having trouble fighting the pain of just 25!. But, the pain actually got better. It hurt like hell at first, but I just accepted it, and moved on..I was not gonna wake up Ruby just because I was a little uncomfortable. So I got past the pain, it never left for the rest of the meditation, but I never really noticed it anymore, I had moved past where it affected me, and mentally it did nothing to me anymore….thanks Ruby.

Jan 20. Day 4: Tree Garden
Prescription: 30 minutes walking/sitting – 10 hours……. Actual – 10 hours

  • Finally hit 10 hours! took a few tries.
  • Started to notice my mind clearing up. It didn’t scamper around near as much as when I started, and the thoughts that were coming to my mind were starting to be repeated ones, as Max told me a few days later was a normal thing.
  • Nothing crazy, but switched at night from the library to the tree Garden.  Had an amazing night there, was alone with this giant tree all night, lit up. I’ll attach a picture but it will sadly do no justice, my Iphone sucks at night photos so here is the tree in daylight. It was an amazing time to focus and meditate.

    You will have to imagine this at night, lit up all around

    You will have to imagine this at night, lit up

Jan 21. Day 5: French Monk
Prescription: 35 minutes walking/sitting – 10 hours……. Actual – 10.5 hours

  • Brutal morning. I was frustrated, zero clarity. Hated almost all of it. Likely leftovers from being so attached to the previous night at the tree. Many times had thoughts of not being able to handle this, it was too much. Again though, Wat Ram Poeng tossed something my way.
    • I randomly met a French Monk who had traveled to Wat Ram Poeng for the ceremony starting Jan 22 celebrating the new temple. He asked how my meditation was going and I was honest with him….it was not a good day. My mind was lost, I wasn’t sure where it was and had failed all morning looking for it. He gave me some words of wisdom about when he had learned and gave me a little tool to use when I was acknowledging my thoughts…he also gave me a ton of energy I did not have. Many of the Monks I met have ‘it’…you meet them, talk to them, and feel uplifted…they have incredible energy about them. I used this little tool of acknowledging and it completely reversed my day and perception of why I was there. I had a great day after, didn’t want to leave anymore.

Jan 22. Day 6: Thai temple openings are amazing
Prescription: 40 minutes walking/sitting – 11 hours……. Actual – 11 hours

  • Festival Started. It was a very cool thing to witness. When Thai people open a temple, it is a true celebration. All day local restaurants set up food stalls, and make large amounts of one item…which they give for free to anyone. That’s right, I said free. You walk up and they give you delicious food! It was incredible and I think fosters such a great sense of community; I certainly felt it. I spent an hour just walking around the foodstalls taking everything in, all the noises, smells, people. One thing that the 5 days of meditation seemed to do was sharpen my senses and my ability to focus on them. When I heard something it was more clear, food tasted better, conversations (rare as they were) were more interesting; and I listened more, talked less in them. I started noticing big changes in these things around this time.
    • One great thing, the temple staff had one stall where they made Pad Thai. I waited in line, got my plate…and was recognized by the Nun handing out food….she waved me over, and gave me an extra helping….I felt like a temple resident at that moment!

Jan 23: Day 7: One of the most important things I learned
Prescription: 45 minutes walking/sitting – 11 hours……. Actual – 9 hours

  • The previous night my roommate Inigo told me had had achieved a milestone, he had sat without moving for 40 full minutes! No stretching, no shifting weight…just accepted the pain and did it. (trust me when I tell you sitting cross legged for 6 hours a day hurts a lot). This inspired me as I hadn’t done anywhere near that without having to straighten my legs, lean against a wall etc. So I did the same that night. I let the pain go, and sat for 40 minutes with only one quick stretch at around 30!. It was incredible, my back and legs were literally shaking with pain for the last 5 minutes but I told myself I was not giving up…finished and felt incredible. I would have hi-fived anyone in attendance but I was alone at the tree haha. I smiled at the fish in the pond instead. But again, crashed big time….no focus the rest of the night, nothing the next day. I asked Max why the drop off and he taught me about attachment:
    • When you like or dislike something you develop an attachment to it. This is bad because an attachment leads to a preference….all is well and good as long as you always get what you prefer…but we all know life is not conducive to that, you can’t always get what you want. So when you are attached to a feeling (say the amazing feeling of struggling through pain and succeeding) your mind wants it, so when you next sit and meditate and it’s just normal…your mind doesn’t get what it wants….so it gives you a feeling of disappointment and sadness, which leads to misery in the long term. Preference really can apply to anything; from the food you like, to studying, to it being nice outside. He taught me it is important to recognize when I become attached to things, and to then let that attachment go. In this way I would never have the pitfalls of desiring something that was impossible to always achieve. He said when you master this, it is life changing…but it is very, very hard to master. It is a simple concept that is very complex to realize.
  • At night they had a jazz band playing, meditating in the tree garden listening to Jazz music was beautiful. I stopped focusing on my thoughts and focused intently on the music instead. With the clarity I now had jazz had never sounded so amazing.

Jan 24: Day 8: Noise, noise, noise
Prescription: 45 minutes walking/sitting – 11 hours……. Actual – 9.5 hours

  • Today was difficult. The festival was too loud. Plan and simple, too loud. At times they had a live feed of the speeches inside (all in Thai), they had a band playing on the stage, and often a second band being piped in from the audio guys. All this piped in at speakers all over the temple grounds, at a level that was probably 2-3x louder than it needed to be. It was brutal trying to focus and concentrate. I tried, but it was mentally draining to move past and I felt like I was making very little progress.
    • My lesson from Max was to not have expectations. Do not go into meditation expecting to be clear or focused. Just go into it with an open mind, and then let the future come without preference.
The bane of my existence...so much noise

The bane of my existence…so much volume

  • One cool thing: During lunch I got a pancake/sugar thing from a foodstall, and started to unwrap it when an old lady said loudly “NO”, and grabbed it from my hands. I was confused……she then proceeded to explain to me how I was supposed to open it, so that it could be best eaten. Random acts of kindness haha, the Thai people at the temple were nothing short of friendly and amazing.

Jan 25: Day 9: Who is that voice in my head?
Prescription: 60 minutes walking/sitting – 11 hours……. Actual – 11 hours

  • I really noticed my mind being clear today. When I closed my eyes, nothing happened. I would wait, and wait, and still no random thoughts came. When I wanted to think of something, it came instantly, and my focus is absolute. It’s quite an amazing feeling.
  • I asked Max what the voice in my head was, who was it that brought up random thoughts that I really didn’t want.
    • I expected a metaphysical answer, like…it’s your ego….or, it’s a demon….Max’s response was prefect. I had not anticipated it, and it was exactly what I had wanted his answer to be: Those thoughts are yours, they are no strange external being’s thoughts. They are not a little guy on your shoulder whispering in your ear, or an ego residing in the back of your mind. They are your habits that you have created over your lifetime, and those habits come up because you have always allowed them to and given them attention, even invited them. So when you can’t stop thinking about something positive or negative…you are continuously building that habit mentally…so it will come again, and stronger, and more frequently. To have thoughts coming into your head with reckless abandon is damaging, because they can lead you to focusing on things that in the long or short term can be detrimental to you. That is why meditation is important, it is not about forcing clarity, it is about breaking those habits until clarity is all that is left.
  • One of the nuns has a Dog that has two amazing qualities…1: Every time the bell rings he howls…which is hilarious. 2:He can recognize a farang (tourist) from a mile away and hates them with every ounce of being. If he saw me anywhere he barked at me until I was out of view haha.
    He hates me

    He hates me

    Jan 26: Day 10: Silencio
    50 minutes walking/sitting – 11 hours……. Actual – 11 hours

  • Today my entire group except for a guy from Switzerland who usually keeps to himself left as they were staying for only 10 days. Even though I barely talked to them it was still nice having people around who I knew were going through the same things as me. I knew that others had moments they hated it…like I had, and also moments of peace and bliss…like I had. From this point on I spoke only to Max, which was tough but necessary.
  • So all day I was alone, and bored. Extremely bored, and extremely frustrated. I was questioning the purpose of sitting on my arse for 5 hours, then walking in slow motion for 6 hours, when my mind was already clear. I wasn’t having random thoughts unless I really focused on them, and they only came like once every 30 seconds. Max to the rescue:
    • One thing about Max, he had a gift for perception. It was like he knew what your problem was before you did, and he knew the answer before you even had the question. Today I told Max I was mentally tired all day, and whenever I was tired my focus waned and I got bored and restless, and I asked for advice. His response was unsatisfactory. He gave me no tips, no hints, only told me how to deal with emotions like frustration….by recognizing them, then exploring why they are there, and then moving past them. Great advice, but not what I asked for….I hadn’t mentioned frustration at all….thanks tips.
    • He also gave me the maximum prescription. 60 minutes walking and sitting, 12 hours. Which is basically meditating every waking moment. I was not ready, but knew enough by now to just accept it, and not expect to fail or succeed, only to practice and see what happens, learning by doing.

Jan 27: Day 11: Max is smart
Prescription: 60 minutes walking/sitting – 12 hours……. Actual – 12 hours

  • Happy moment: New temple ceremony ends, noise goes away. I watched as one speaker was carried from the stage…never been so excited to see the end of a concert.
  • Other happy moment: I hit 12 hours!!! Just told myself I would, and did.
  • The night before Max had not helped, or so I thought. It turns out he knew the answer to a question I hadn’t asked. I was not really mentally tired, I was frustrated. Things were not going my way, and my mind was controlled by that emotion. I used his advice, and felt instant relief. Once I moved past frustration all my other emotions were lessened, I still felt things like boredom; but I could see it and then move past it. It was a game-changer.
  • Maybe my most insightful moment came randomly as I walked in the tree garden this night after my meeting with Max and had dealt with my frustration. I realized that I had now been living inside of my head for over 100 hours now, and that I knew my mind. Like I KNEW my mind. I knew what it liked to think about, I knew what it never brought up at all. I had never recognized up to this moment how powerful this was. I had gone through life just listening to and being controlled by my thoughts, I never really knew them. This retreat had shown me what direction my mind took when it was left to its own devices, and also taught me that these thoughts, while my own creation, were not me. They were just little habits I had created. So I spent a good 2 hours diving into this and recognizing the thoughts that came most frequently and if they were good or bad in my life. Some were things that in reality I have no control over, so I recognized that and planned how I could move past them in the future. Some of the thoughts I realized I had complete control over in reality, and I made plans to increase the good things and to eliminate the bad ones. This night was important.
Sunset from the roof of the library

Sunset from the roof of the library

Jan 28: Day 12: Falkbeards Lair! & Max is smart…again
Prescription: 60 minutes walking/sitting – 12 hours……. Actual – 12 hours

  • As far as solo meditation spots go, there is a mecca at Wat Ram Poeng. It is a small corridor in the library, and it only has room for 1 person to walk and meditate. No distractions, no one else will get in your way, and you can just focus on what you’re trying to accomplish. It had always been occupied by a man I called Falkbeard (I picked this name because he resembled a guy from a video game who had a red beard…his real name was Luke, turned out to be a cool guy) He never left, he was doing 12-15 hours of meditation a day!, and I think he knew what a good spot it was, he wasn’t giving it up. I bring this up because today 16 new meditators arrived, and the tree spot I had been meditating went from being just me….to 10 people! It had changed and it was time for me to move on. I went back into the library……and…….Falkbeard was gone! and his spot was open! After quickly making sure I was not forming an attachment to the spot I took it, and spent the next 3 days there. The trick to getting it is you have to get there right at 4 am, and leave right at 10 pm…which is easy when you get up to the 12 hour mark haha.

    Doesn't look like much, but if you want a place to be alone to meditate...this is it.

    Doesn’t look like much, but if you want a place to be alone to meditate…this is it.

  • Today I found that while meditating I wasn’t having really any progress anymore. I was just stuck. I had learned not to be angry or frustrated, I just accepted it. But it seemed all I was doing was focusing on a clear mind, and nothing else was going on. I had figured maybe it was time to go. The new 16 people were everywhere, and I had learned what I wanted to. I was a bit torn, part of me knew I committed myself to 14 days, and wanted to stick it out, no matter how long a day 12 hours was….but another, weaker part of me thought, its time to go. You are not progressing, there are meditators everywhere now from the new group…tell Max you’re leaving. It was an enticing thought as I was tiring of the 12 hour days. I resolved to wait until I had met with Max to decide, but secretly I had started leaning towards leaving and I knew it.
    • Max somehow was right where I needed him to be…again. I sat down, somewhat defeated by the realization I was leaving early. Out of nowhere he just started asking me about Canada, and told me about when he had visited it years earlier. We just had a conversation…no insights, no lessons, just a good conversation. I realized it was exactly what I needed, just a little normalcy to get myself back up to facing another 12 hour day. Again he knew what the answer was without me even asking the question.

Jan 29: Day 13: Live in the now
Prescription: 60 minutes walking/sitting – 12 hours……. Actual – 12.5! hours

  • First thing, saw Ruby again! Since the festival she had been gone, and I was a bit worried. She turned up sans giant preggo belly. So she had kittens somewhere! I gave her 30 minutes and got back to meditating.
  • Another thing, I realized how crazy it was that I was watering flowers in January….when my usual is shoveling snow in January. weird.
  • Finally, my last major insight. Max really hadn’t told me anything about why my meditating felt stagnant, and why nothing was progressing. Maybe he knew I was about to figure it out myself?
    • In my first hour of walking I had an epiphany. I realized that the previous week of meditation I had been going about it incorrectly. What I had been doing was waiting for thoughts. I thought I had been aware and had just been acknowledging them, but I was waiting for them. Five days earlier Max had warned me about waiting for thoughts to arise, as waiting is the same as expecting, and is a thougth based on the future, and not the present. To be truly clear is to be truly in the present, with no worry about what has happened, and with no energy trying to control the future things that haven’t happened yet (Don’t cry before you are hurt). I thought about it, interanalized it, and  completely changed the way I was approaching meditation. The rest of that day I had complete clarity, not the somewhat forced,  precieved clarity I had been having the previous week.
  • My final lesson was a re-hash of remembering not to make attachments. All day I was stoked to meet Max for my final report , I wanted to tell him about the realization I had and how it had changed everything! Then I got to report and saw Max was occupied, and the Abbot was back, and his translator was there waving me over. This was not the plan! I was going to tell Max all about my insight! and that I had actually broken the 12 hour barrier! I was momentarily choked!!! But the lessons by that time had hit their mark. I realized I had created an attachment to our lessons, I really enjoyed them every time, and it was this attachment that would cause me nothing but sadness and frustration. I explored it for a second, then let it go. And enjoyed my first time getting to talk to the Abbot, while accepting without reservation that my eureka moment would go unexplained to my teacher. And I was actually completely okay with it.
  • As luck would have it I ran into Max later on, but had no need to explain my epiphany anymore…it was in the past; and in the present he had some final words of advice.
    • You are not your emotions. If given a choice, would you ever choose to feel depressed, or nervous, or frustrated? No, no one would. So who then is choosing to feel that way? It’s not you right? so who is it? It also isn’t someone else, as your emotions are only felt by you, and no one else. In fact, you are above your emotions…they happen, but they only control you if you choose to be controlled by them. Those who acknowledge and move past them give them no power, and then they cannot affect you.
    • He also gave an analogy for meditation like a giant tree (there was one such tree he pointed at). When a tree is planted and starts growing, like a seed into a sapling…it is like a person learning to meditate. It can be broken and bent by all sorts of things, and can very easily be done away with altogether. As it grows, and as one continues to meditate…the tree  becomes less fragile. The winds don’t sway it as much, the people leaning on it dont bend it as much, it has started to become strong and unnafected by things around it. When a tree is old, and huge; it is affected by nothing, rain…no problem, intense heat, no worries, someone leans on it…not an inch of sway. The same with someone who meditates. When you start to achieve complete clarity, you are like the old tree…things happen around you and to you, but you are already big enough that they can’t move you. They can’t make you sad, and they can’t take your happiness. I thought this were good words to end my meditation here.

    Jan 30: Day 14: Internal accomplishments can’t be taken from you
    Self meditation

  • Last day. Walked around bittersweet. Sad to leave behind the life I had lived for two weeks and grown a bit attached to, even the 4 am wakeup calls! But happy to get out into the real world and see how the new lessons I had learned would play out. I knew full well that much of it would wash away, but with effort some of it could be held onto. So time will tell. All in all a life-moving experience, one that I would tell everyone who thinks they are ready for it to do. I am a better man for having done it, and I have no way of knowing….but I feel like 60 years from now these 2 weeks will be some of the most formative ones of my life.
How I spent half of my waking hours

How I spent half of my waking hours

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