The following is a personal account of the 10 day retreat at Suan Mokh, that is held monthly in English. This retreat is very famous and has been running for some 20 or 30 years already. It’s written by Jan, who many of you will know well.
Wat Suan Mokkh International Dhamma Hermitage
This is a place welcoming meditators at any level though most participants are new to meditation.
There is also an email contact now, email@example.com . Reinhard is one of the regular coordinators at the retreats, therefore you cannot reach him from the 27th to 13th day of the month while he is on retreat.
I will give practical information only if it relates to my personal experience or if I think it’s not on the website.
If you take the train to go to Chaya note that it can be extremely cold in the AC sleepers and sometimes foreign travelers make a lot of noise well into the night. Air Asia flies to Surat Thani and can be an affordable option if you book a long time ahead.
The registration now ends at 3 pm the last day of each month. The retreats run day 1st to the 11th of each month and the fee is 2000 thb (non- refundable). There is a short interview before actual registration. Simple meals are provided for free during registration day.
You can deposit valuables safely before the retreat starts. From my second retreat I also deposited any reading materials, etc, as I had been tempted by those during my first retreat. You can lock your room (padlock). No safety issues though some people’s slippers went missing – so best to take some cheap ones.
The retreat center is in a former coconut grove which might benefit from further landscaping. The meditation salas fit beautifully in the surrounding area. A lot of birds and insects. There are big dorms, where everyone has a separate room (cell). The bed is a cement slab with a straw mat and a wooden pillow. I thought that was excellent but in December the cement tends to get very cold at night and it caused me back pain. So during the cooler months you might bring a thin insulating mattress. Lights out at 9.30 pm wake up at 4 am, a cold shower really helped me to be more awake during the first hours of the day.
Food is vegetarian, twice a day. I loved it so much some days that in my first retreat I ate too much at lunch which had dire effects on my practise.
WSM attracts mainly beginning or new practitioners so the first few days can be a little uneven in atmosphere as people try to find their way around the rules of not speaking and being properly dressed; up to a third of participants leave, mainly in those starting days. Some days there is ambient noise from the nearby highway, some participants tend to break silence but generally speaking conditions are satisfactory.
The schedule is quite doable, lectures are about vipasana-anapanasiti, there is also daily chanting and a little loving kindness meditation, but mostly focus is on mindful meditation with breathing. Tan Damavidoo, an English resident monk, is both entertaining and highly interesting.
The sittings are not long, at most 1 hour at a time, but the many sessions a day really add up and my knees were getting worse rather than more accustomed to the sittings. There are pillows and benches and even chairs. Daily yoga exercises and hot spring can alleviate sore muscles.
My meditation efforts and results were varied; the first retreat I went quickly and easily into concentration, while this was enjoyable and calming, I felt I didn’t get to examine enough while meditating, it was more like a blank natural high, oohs and ahs. The second retreat I spent a lot of time trying to get the same results back quickly; that failed but, as a wise man once said, those “many bad meditations inevitably lead to some good ones”. The third retreat was much more challenging, maybe due to external factors in my life at the time; I couldn’t concentrate, my mind always brought up stuff and lead me astray, it was very upsetting, like being taunted constantly, and furthermore I began beating myself up for not being able to meditate, so that was a double whammy. In the end I was so exhausted and cried, I gave up fighting the brewing thoughts and obsessions and also got to reassuring myself it didn’t matter. I started over (and over) and tried to just consider what my mind brought up without trying to cling to it or reject it. I feel glad to have had such different experiences but the road seems long still.
At some point in the retreat you can register for individual interviews with monks and laypeople; you can discuss your practise and ask your questions.
The last evening there is an open mike about meditation experience, so silence is in a way broken and I felt overwhelmed by the confessional style; a lot of personal histories rather than meditation experience reports.
That evening, and then on day 11 when the silence is definitively lifted, you get to know your fellow practicioners; many backpackers wanting to get to know meditation, people on sabbaticals, some people who come from very far only for this retreat, dharma seekers who seem to go from one retreat to the next, yogis. Two retreats had a silent supportive dynamic which was encouraging , a third time the atmosphere was lackluster, but at all times the coordinators do a good job and they’re really available when needed.