Last week, I went for my first meditation retreat led by Ajahn Sujato (An Aussie Monk). I guess this is the closest I would get to live a monastic life. We have to observe the 8 precepts for the 4-days retreat:
1. I undertake to abstain from causing harm and taking life (both human and non-human).
2. I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given (for example stealing, displacements that may cause misunderstandings).
3. I undertake to abstain from sexual activity.
4. I undertake to abstain from wrong speech: telling lies, deceiving others, manipulating others, using hurtful words.
5. I undertake to abstain from using intoxicating drinks and drugs, which lead to carelessness.
6. I undertake to abstain from eating at the wrong time (the right time is after sunrise, before noon).
7. I undertake to abstain from singing, dancing, playing music, attending entertainment performances, wearing perfume, and using cosmetics and garlands (decorative accessories).
8. I undertake to abstain from luxurious places for sitting or sleeping, and overindulging in sleep.
We had to observe the Noble Silence, which means no talking (not too difficult for me). No Phone Call, No Text Messages, No Email, No Music/MP3, No Facebook, No News, No Entertainment for 4 days is challenging. Having Vegetarian Breakfast & Lunch was easy. No Solid Food after 1pm was surprisingly easy (we were given abit of cheese and chocolate in the evening). Sleeping on the floor was tough, I had a stiff neck on the second night.
The daily routine was waking up at 5am; Short 5mins chanting; followed by 1.5hr meditation; 1hr Breakfast; 1hr Meditation; 1.5hr Dharma Talk; 0.5hr Break; 1.5hr Guided Meditation; 1hr Lunch; 1.5hr Meditation/Rest; 2hr Self-practice Meditation; 1hr Refreshment; 1.5hr Meditation; 1.5hr Q&A Session; 1hr Wash up; Sleep.
Meditation at 6am.
(Obviously I wasn't meditating)
I wanted to leave on the second day as well as the third day. I was really struggling with my meditation. My mind could not settle down. On the second day, I felt lethargic and body was aching from sitting upright, so i decided to take a "short" nap, while others were meditating. I woke up and realized that I slept for 3 HOURS!!! The worse thing was I felt dizzy after the nap. I felt lousy for the lack of discipline and determination. In fact, I breached the 8th precept of indulging in sleep.
My worries kept surfacing up, and I told myself that I could not anything about it NOW, as I am in the retreat. I needed to stop worrying. I felt really unaccomplished, but at least, I finished reading a book during the retreat (while I was not meditating).
Ajahn Sujato impressed me during the Q&A session. He is quite knowledgeable in various topics other than Buddhism like Recent Scientific Findings, Sanskrit/Pali Suttas, Christianity, Vedic literature, Psychology etc... Actually, it is not his knowledge that I was impressed, it was his unassuming, humble, kind and gentle manner. I was glad to meet a good role model.
When I left the retreat and was happy to indulge in worldly senses (eating, swimming, listening music, watching tv, chatting). I kept asking if I had wasted 4 days. I did not realized that I learnt something until I left the retreat.
I was so much at peace with life and people around me. I was not bothered by small details about life & people. I reaffirmed the fact that I don't need a lot of physical possession to be happy. I was reminded not to cling on to my ego (don't need to be defensive or agitated over bad criticism/remarks). I was learning to let go of things beyond my control (as long as I have done my best). I was reminded to enjoy my short journey, and stop worrying the uncertain future. I was grateful.
Not sure if I can sustain this level of optimism and peace, especially in a stressful and competitive society.
Well, at least I have experienced it.