Holy hell, y’all. I’ve just gotten through the most difficult and most rewarding week of my life. I know – big statement, but you come to me drunk off the stupor of a week-long silent meditation retreat in the mutha-fuckin JUNGLE and then we’ll talk hyperbole.
Here’s where I’ve been the past seven days: Dipabhavan on Koh Samui. What. The. Fuck. I’ve never seen such diverse plant life and so many different types of butterflies. I heard the loudest cicadas and gecko burps. I (accidentally) peed on a frog. Watched a pig trounce through the jungle and roll in the mud. Buried my nose in plumeria bushes. Battled armies of mosquitos. The list goes on.
At least I’m 98% sure this all really happened. Meditation is some powerful shit, dude – it can get crazy up in there as a mute! Especially when you’re woken up at 4:30AM by bell toll after a night-long sleep on this: (please note wooden pillow)
We turned in our valuables at the beginning of the retreat (no phones, cameras, etc.)so I started sketching towards the end. Even that isn’t technically kosher, but hey – a diva’s gotta draw. So now that you’re half-awake, you climb 128 stairs (yes I counted) to the meditation hall. Don’t worry – you’ll get your cardio in with this climb 4 times a day. It can get to about 85 degrees (plus humidity) during the day, so you’ll typically be a sweaty mess at the top. Once you’ve summited the incline, you settle in for your first 30 minutes of sitting mediation for the day. Men and women are separated at all times so find your side, pick a mat and settle in. Then morning yoga, another 30 minute meditation sesh then down the hill for breakfast! This photo doesn’t accurately depict the food here, which was absolutely fantastic. I wish I could have taken photos of some of the meals that were all cooked by the staff on-site: papaya salad, pineapple curry, glass noodle salad… For a retreat run solely on donations, it’s incredibly impressive. After breakfast, you complete your assigned chore. I dried the bowls and cups with a few other girls. It was the only time I saw my reflection the whole week. This is how I discovered the mosquito bite on my nose bridge. Then, you have some down time. Wash your clothes (buckets are plentiful), take a nap, shower off the stank – do your thang. The water will be cold and the shower floor will be littered with frog poo, but you’ll do whatever it takes to not be sticky. If you’ve drifted to sleep, you’ll awake the to bell tolling again and then climb the summit back to the meditation hall. Another meditation session will be rotated with lectures from the most interesting monk in the world (more on him later) and walking mediation. You’ll then have lunch, which will have dessert. This is big. A lot of other retreats don’t offer caffeine or sugar. We started off each meal with a food reflection prayer (one of the most powerful takeaways for me given my food neurosis) and I seriously think they tried to fuck with us on more than one occasion. It’s difficult to be mindful while eating a technicolor dessert of green tapioca balls, corn and what I believe to be water chestnuts bathing in a pool of coconut milk. It sounds crazy, but it was damn delicious! Also solid were the caramelized bananas and various starchy things in coconut milk. But I digress. The food was obviously not why were were there. After chores again, you’ll have more down time. If you haven’t braved the frog poo for a shower, you’ll do so now. Before you know it, the bell will ring again and it’s back up for more sitting meditation, walking meditation, Dhamma talks and chanting. We were lucky to have the most gangster Monk: a spunky 69-year old Brit who was a classical Spanish guitarist and worked in aerospace before being ordained. Yeah – someone give this guy a book deal. After the afternoon session there will be a warm, sweet beverage waiting that you’ll ladle out of a huge pot and sip while dreamily staring at the ocean view. There might be a slice of bread or a banana involved.
Two hours later and you’re back on the top in the meditation hall for two more bouts of sitting meditation and group walking. This is where you play follow-the-leader in the garden under a blanket of stars.
You’ll contemplate leaving and talk yourself off the ledge on a constant basis. One minute you’ll feel invincible and think you’ve gotten the hang of it, and then suddenly your energy is kaput and you’ll feel like giving up. You’ll weave in and out of this mental battlefield on a hourly basis. But if you stick it out, you’ll learn things and grow in ways you’d never imagine. It’s not for everyone, but it damn worked well for me.