Dong, dong, dong, the sound grew more intense with each clash of the stick against the metal gong. I remembered Joelee's threat that if our room light wasn't on by five A.M. he would ring the gong outside of our door, and I immediately flicked the light switch. I had tossed on the thin mattress supported by a built in concrete bed frame all night and was in no state to think about meditation or personal enlightenment at this hour. I reluctantly lifted myself out of bed and my day proceeded as such:

5:30 chanting meditation
6:00 yoga
7:00 breakfast
8:00 discussion group-my favorite hour of the day where we were allowed to talk and ask Joelee any questions about Buddhism or meditation.
10:00 walking meditation, sitting meditation
12:00 lunch
1:00 walking meditation, sitting meditation
6:00 dinner
7:00 walking meditation, sitting meditation
8:30 chanting meditation
9:00 lying meditation, bed

It seemed like there was a routine for everything. Before we meditated we had to chant, before breakfast we had to offer food to the monk and before any meal we had to contemplate on our food before eating it.

In Buddhist culture, the monks wander the streets and markets each morning in search of food. They walk with their empty bowls and patiently wait outside each door depending on the goodness of the locals to provide their daily nourishment. Later, they eat however little or much food was given to them for breakfast and lunch. They don't eat after noon, as to not suffer from desiring food and to remember the use of it as a means for living, not a luxury.

Offering the monk food became our daily routine. We would gather small bowls of rice and stand side by side as the monk passed down the line allowing us to pile our rice into his bowl.

Afterwards, we enjoyed our own breakfast. We sat with our steaming bowls of rice and soup in front of us and chanted our contemplation on food in Sanskrit, later repeating the English translation in unison:

                We must contemplate on the food before eating it
                So that it is not eaten for pleasure or fun
                So that it is not eaten for beauty or attraction
                Only for the nourishment of this body
                And to destroy the feeling of hunger for awhile

I appreciated the intentionality with which everything was done at the meditation center. I tend to find myself rushing through life, doing things absent-mindedly and rarely acknowledging people in passing. This purpousefulness was refreshing and an aspect of Buddhism that I wanted to bring into my own life.

Each day dripped by slow as honey and losing its sweetness by the end. The meditation was fine. I could concentrate my thoughts and reach a relaxed state during each session, it was the little bits of free time before and after each meal and between meditation sessions that eventually drove me crazy. There were so few distractions at the center that my mind resorted to what it already knew for entertainment. I felt as if I were stranded in the vastest desert on the hottest summer day with absolutely nothing or no one in sight for miles. I drove my thoughts in endless circles thriving on past memories and obsessing over the future, the images revolving like a broken record making me positively crazy. It was ironic that I had come on the retreat with hopes of living in the present moment and pushing my thoughts of the past or worries of the future aside, and here I was able to focus on everything but the present.

At one point I was so frustrated that all I could think about was home. I didn't want to meditate or even be in Thailand anymore. A home with my family, a warm house and nice conversation seemed like heaven and the only way out.

It was my mind that had brought me to this low point and now all I had was my mind to get me out of it. I decided to take a break from one of the sessions and go for a walk. Just at the perfect time I met Chang, the administrator at the center. He asked me how my meditation was going and I began telling him about my trip through Thailand and my home in Colorado. Honestly, I didn't care what we talked about, I was so happy to be talking that I asked question after question just to delay my return to reality. After a few minutes Joelee noticed us and told me to go back to meditating. I did, but with a new joy inside and enthusiasm that I would be able to finish the course.

That evening, my brain wandered off. As I sat contemplating the numbness rushing into my leg from sitting too long, colorful flashes of light and a slide reel of images flowed into my mind. I saw places known and unknown and people going about their daily lives. I was suddenly in he middle of a field below the bluest of blue skies, hovering above a Pixar-worthy rolling green landscape with perfectly shaped cotton ball clouds. I didn't feel my leg anymore and outside sounds were of no importance. When I tried to divert my mind from this dream state, I could focus on thoughts for only a brief second before they were destroyed by these new exciting images and blissful state. Suddenly the gong rang and it was time to wake up. I slowly returned back into the present, exhilarated that I had finally reached a true meditative state. I was ready to tackle day four with strong spirits, implementing all I had learned and preparing to take my new knowledge with me when I returned to reality.
In the meditation center with Joelee

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