I spent 40 days meditating at Pa-Auk Tawya, in Burma. Pa Auk is a forest meditation center renowned for rigorous concentration practices.
Why I decided to go meditate at Pa-Auk Tawya
I heard about Pa Auk by doing a web research. Exploring the fascinating world of concentration practices appealed to me. In my previous 10-day Goenka Vipassana retreats, we only did 3 days of concentration practices and then proceeded to insight meditation. I always wondered what the results would be if I pushed my concentration further, so I decided to go meditate at Pa Auk for 40 days.
I e-mailed the monastery and they agreed to send me a sponsorship letter. This letter made it possible to get a special meditation visa. This visa allowed me to stay for as long as a year in Burma (Myanmar) as opposed to the 28 days normally allowed for tourists. I got the visa at the Burmese embassy in Vientiane, Laos. The process only took a day.
Getting at Pa-Auk Tawya Monastery
I flew to Burma from Bangkok, took a bus the next day from Yangon to Mudon, and asked the driver to drop me off at Pa-Auk Tawya Monastery, which was on the way. It took a couple of crappy drawings to get my point across, but eventually, he understood!
I got there at about 3am, walked around and in fact, kind of got lost in this vast monastery! This allowed me to explore this beautiful place while the sun was rising. At Pa-Auk Tawya, the wake-up bell is struck at 3:30am every morning so the monastery was already very lively. I didn’t see any lay people though, there only seemed to be monks.
Eventually, I found the foreigner’s registration office, where a monk – who spoke accent-heavy and hardly understandable English – asked me a few questions on my reason for coming to Pa-Auk Tawya and my earlier meditation experiences. He and two other monks also kindly gave me some of their alms food so I could eat. Seemingly satisfied with my answers, he then handed me a copy of the Pa-Auk Tawya Monastery’s rules as well as the daily schedule:
|4:00 – 5:30 am||Morning Chanting & Group Sitting|
|5:45 am (approx.)||Breakfast
(Exact time depends on the time of dawn)
|7:00 – 7:30 am||Cleaning & Personal Time|
|7:30 – 9:00 am||Group Sitting|
|9:00 – 10:00 am||Interviews,Walking Meditation & Personal Time|
|10:10 am (approx.)||Lunch|
|1:00 – 2:30 pm||Group Sitting|
|2:30 – 3:30 pm||Interviews & Walking Meditation|
|3:30 – 5:00 pm||Group Sitting|
|5:00 – 6:00 pm||Interviews, Work Period & Personal Time|
|6:00 – 7:30 pm||Evening Chanting & Dhamma Talk (in Burmese)|
|7:30 – 9:00 pm||Group Sitting
He then proceeded to recite the 8 Buddhist precepts in Pali, which I had to repeat after him, as is the tradition. Thumbs up to him for not laughing at my terrible Pali accent!
Another monk then led me to my assigned room, which I shared with another guy. As the 8th Buddhist precept dictates, the bed was low and “not luxurious”. It was an elevated wooden plank, with no mattress. It did, however, have a small pillow.
From then on, I started following the regular schedule. At 9am, I met my appointed teacher. The teacher interviews happened in a group setting, my group consisting of about 30 monks and 2 other lay people. Turn by turn, we went up front, answered the teacher’s questions, asked our own and received instructions. I really liked this “case-by-case”, personalized approach! It was fascinating to hear about other meditators’ experiences, especially since some of them seemed very advanced in their practice.
My first impression of the teacher was good. He spoke fluent English and explained in a very clear and concise way. He definitely seemed to speak from experience.
Like I expected, I was instructed to start by focusing on the breath at the region below the nostrils, above the upper lip. My teacher specified not to focus on the sensations that made up the breath but on the breath itself, seeing it as a continuous entity. In pure concentration practices, individual sensations are not the object of meditation since they can’t lead to absorption states (Jhanas) because of their impermanent nature (they’re always changing). At Pa-Auk Tawya, meditators typically wait to master pure concentration practices before proceeding to insight meditation (in which sensations are observed). He also taught me the Burmese meditation position, which is the meditation posture I use the most nowadays.
After meeting with my teacher, it was lunch time. Unlike in the Goenka Vipassana retreats I had attended before, I had to go for almsround, like the monks. This was made possible by the local people who supported the monastery by providing meals for us twice daily. We therefore stood in line with our bowls, which was generously filled with vegetarian food. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and diversity of food we were given. I was even given some energy drink powder and a wet towel!
Going for alms is a very humbling experience ; you basically depend on the generosity and goodwill of other people to eat. I found it to be an extra motivational pratcice reason, since alms are given to us so that we can dedicate ourselves fully to our meditative practice. After lunch, I went for a nap and then proceeded to the meditation hall.
With temperatures often exceeding 40°C, Burma is hot as hell. Drenched in sweat, I could hardly maintain awareness of my breath.
After an afternoon of meditation, I went to the monastery’s library and talked with an Indian monk who recommended me the book “A Map of the Journey” by U. Jotika, which was indeed a very good read, detailing the stages of meditative practice and addressing some practical concerns meditators may encounter. I then went to the evening meditation, which went better than the afternoon one (it was a bit cooler, so that definitely helped) and then went to bed. As is usual, especially when I do a lot of meditation, I had sleep paralysis and some cool lucid dreams. This allowed me to somehow maintain my practice while sleeping.
First week – Getting the mind into it
The next day, I woke up at 3:15am, 15 minutes before the wake-up bell. Even though I slept on a hard wooden plank, I actually felt mentally refreshed, even though my body was a bit sore. I did some stretching and a little physical exercise and then took a shower to chase the sluggishness away. I then went to meditate, I was clearheaded and it went well.
The breakfast was simple but good, consisting of noodles with tea. I also chatted a bit with my roommate, a 30-year-old Iranian guy, and went back meditating. The morning session went well, I got some early “lights”, which typically are a sign that concentration is improving, although these lights weren’t stable at all. I kept my attention on the breath, and for some brief moments, it actually was quite pleasant and effortless. One of the first checkpoints in concentration practice is when your meditation object appears as a bright light in your “mind’s eye”. This “mind object” is called a Nimitta. The more solid and stable the Nimitta gets, the better one’s concentration is.
Carrying on with the daily schedule, the afternoon session was uncomfortable, the discomfort caused by the heat made it very hard for me to concentrate and maintain peace of mind. I thus decided to ask the monk in charge for permission to meditate in my room, which he granted without hesitation.
In the evening, I started coughing and sneezing pretty badly. I woke up the next morning feeling sicker, so I slept in to attempt to speed up my recovery. It’s ridiculous how I always seem to get sick when I go on a meditation retreat. That day, I had no success in solidifying the Nimitta. My ceaseless cough didn’t help me concentrate.
The next day, I still felt quite a bit sick but the worst of it was behind me. In the morning, a monk gave me a bag of potato chips, a peanut bar and a carton of soy milk. Monks aren’t allowed to store food overnight, and therefore often gave me stuff they couldn’t keep for themselves.
I also began to really see the value in taking formal resolutions before meditating. These resolutions mostly consisted of stating exactly what I was doing, for how long I was doing it and why doing it was a good idea. It made it easier to stay focused and committed to my meditative practice. Here’s my resolution for mindfulness-of-breathing meditation:
For the next hour, I will train the mind to stay aware of the breath. This will improve my relationship with the present moment, generate peace and happiness and sharpen the mind for insight meditation. I will not let a single breath go by unnoticed.
I felt the mind becoming increasingly malleable and less resistant. However, I still didn’t get as deeply concentrated as I wanted. About halfway in a session, I realized that even though my gross thoughts were sparse and weak, there was still an underlying layer of very frequent “micro-thoughts” that impaired me from becoming fully absorbed. These micro-thoughts lasted only for a blink of an eye after which I went back to the breath. These thoughts could be anything, from awareness of a surrounding sound to a subtle opinion or judgement about my practice.
The mind always wanted to grasp on to something, ANYTHING! The mind is so damn wild.
The following morning, everyone had to go to a hall and take the 8 precepts again by repeating them after a monk. I’m not a huge fan of “taking precepts”, I find it dogmatic and somewhat useless but hey, they were hosting me so the least I could do was respect their tradition.
That day, the perception of my “meditative progress” really shifted. Although on the one hand, I saw that concentration was improving fast, I began to see how much of a beginner I still was, even after a few years of regular meditation practice. It was getting clearer that the impression of having good concentration abilities was only caused by the grossness of my mind. Isn’t it ironic that the better my concentration got, the weaker I felt it was? Great lesson of humility!
I also began to include a fair amount of walking meditation in my routine. Practicing walking meditation helps to develop the habit to meditate in everyday circumstances. It gives the body some exercise and chases tiredness and drowsiness away. In the context of a meditation retreat, it helped me keep up my practice throughout the day, and not only in formal meditation periods. In my experience, it also makes sitting meditation much easier! I find it unfortunate that walking meditation is not encouraged in Goenka Vipassana 10-day courses. When my mind was very agitated or I simply wanted a “break”, I just did walking meditation. It gave me all the benefits of a standard “break” without me losing the inertia of my meditative practice.
Following the breath was slowly becoming my mind’s “default activity”. Of course, the mind would wander once in a while, but these gaps in my practice were getting sparser and shorter. I really began making use of every opportunity and free time to practice. Even upon waking up at night, the pleasure of going back to sleep was weaker than my desire to meditate, therefore I sometimes meditated for a good part of the night. Obviously, the fact that I was sleeping on a wooden plank didn’t help me want to indulge in excessive sleep!
Again, my concentration was improving, my meditation sessions were peaceful, but I was still not getting a clear Nimitta. Was I doing this right?
On a side note, one day I was given some ice cream for lunch! Definitely didn’t expect that in Burma. And it was good!
Second week – Am I doing this right?
I began to wonder if I was practicing correctly. I remembered the teacher telling me I had to focus my attention on the “conceptual breath”. Was I putting too much emphasis on the individual sensations themselves? Perhaps the impermanent nature of the sensations made it impossible for concentration to become very stable, making my attention waver in a subtle way.
After the last meditation of the 8th day, a sense of frustration emerged in me. I felt puzzled and clueless. Interestingly, I felt like the “conceptual breath” was easier to nail down and focus on when doing walking meditation than when sitting, perhaps because the act of walking made me not “try too hard”, which is common in sitting practice.
Nevertheless, the mind was definitely getting more and more inclined to watch the breath – or the breath sensations – to the point where it would take strong conscious effort not to be aware of it.
The next day, I read the section of Mastering the Core Teaching of the Buddha discussing concentration practices (the book was available at the monastery’s library). This passage helped me:
Try not paying too much attention to the individual sensations themselves, but conceptualize the breath as a coherent and continuous entity, with many different types of sensations all being thought of as a single breath
In the morning session that came right after breakfast, it felt like I kind of “nailed it” for a few instants. I got a pretty clear, bright and round Nimitta for what felt like a few seconds. Obviously though, I couldn’t help but get excited so it quickly faded away. I think that the key thing in “nailing” the conceptual breath was to seek and find the only constant and unchanging part of the breath, which is the mental conceptualization of it. Note that this concept is not “ultimately real”, it’s just an idea, an agglomerate of diverse sensations that we identify as the breath.
I went to my teacher to describe my experience, and he told me that I got the “light”, as he called it, very quickly. He proceeded to tell me that this was likely because I had practiced this technique in a recent past life. I’m skeptical about that claim. He told me to keep practicing and that if sensations arose, not to fight them but to keep the attention on the conceptual breath. There’s no point in seeing sensations as enemies. In this concentration practice, they are seen as an indicator that the breath is present. They shouldn’t be the primary focus of attention.
The afternoon meditation sessions went well. The Nimitta appeared once in a while, correlating with the intensity of my concentration. The appearance of the light was really helpful in letting me know that I was on the right track. On the other side, in some later meditations, I felt like my breath wanted to progressively stop, and that I was gasping for air. According to theory, this is normal, but I still couldn’t “break through”. Once in a while, I had to take deep conscious breath, since I felt like my breathing had stopped. My concentration was always “blocked” by this.
In the evening, it didn’t go so well, I was quite tense and my eyes were flickering. Perhaps was I trying too hard? I definitely needed to relax and realize that only an attitude of positive openness and acceptance was likely to produce any results.
The next day, I was still experiencing the shortness of breath, and I felt like this was really stopping my concentration from getting deeper. I also started to feel some sort of tension in my solar plexus and overall, I felt agitated, sort of as if there was something stressful going on. Nothing external seemed to have triggered this, so maybe it was just some subconscious thing coming up. It happened regardless of my posture, I tried sitting, lying, walking, and nothing seemed to make a difference. My heartbeat was constant at 60-65bpm, so nothing abnormal. I resolved to simply keep practicing and see how this evolved. At that point, although it had already been 10 days, like in my previous retreats, I still felt like a lot more stuff had to be done. I didn’t feel like I’d want to re-enter the “real world” anytime soon.
During the day, these sensations faded away and my concentration improved. I saw the Nimitta on many occasions, but it was hard for me to keep focusing solely on the breath when it appeared.
Randomly, in the late afternoon, a monk came up to me and gave me money (about 5$ in Kyats). Someone probably gave it to him but since he wasn’t allowed to keep or use it, he decided to give it to the first non-monk guy he saw (and I was one of the only ones at Pa-Auk Tawya). Didn’t expect that!
The next day, the early morning meditation didn’t go so well. I was lost in thoughts and had trouble finding and staying with the breath. A defilement I could clearly notice is the tendency for the mind to try to “plan” the future. It uses this as an escape from the present moment. Somehow, the mind doesn’t like to surrender to the NOW. This tendency felt like a boulder tied to my ankle, and I couldn’t seem to let it go.
Concentration improved in the session before lunch. I had hints of blissful bodily feelings, which also are an indicator that concentration is getting deeper. In the evening session though, my eyes began flickering again, this always seemed to happen during the end of the day.
The following morning, I went to my teacher and asked him about my flickering eyes. He told me it was likely because I was trying to “see” my meditation object with my physical eyes. He said it was a natural tendency, and that I should strive to ignore my physical eyes and to just perceive the breath with my awareness/mind.
Again, I felt that although my concentration had its ups and downs, overall it was improving. I had (and still have) the common and bad habit of trying to “seek” specific states as opposed to simply resting in simple awareness of the breath in the present moment, and I should definitely make efforts not to indulge in that tendency. When meditating, one must let go of expectations and be fully mindful of what is occurring NOW.
That night, I had an interesting dream.
I was coming back home, so I went through the day of taking the plane and eventually arriving back home, in Canada. I was having lunch with my family and discussing my trip. Strangely, I found that I was left unchanged. Basically, I felt like I had wasted the opportunity and I felt disappointed. After lunch, I went outside and reflected on my meditation retreat experience at Pa-Auk Tawya.
Thinking about it and wondering “what went wrong”, I realized I couldn’t remember anything past the 13th day. What had happened? I wondered how I would blog about my retreat, not remembering a thing. It then occurred to me, my meditation retreat wasn’t over yet!
The dream thus turned into a semi-lucid dream. I was still puzzled and although I knew I was dreaming, it was very hard to recall waking life and be aware of the experience. I figured I had to “go back” to the monastery, so I teleported back to Yangon’s airport and then jumped really high and landed in the dining hall (it’s a lucid dream so hey, might as well do fun things). People looked at me with smiles, welcoming me back: “You’re here just in time!” they kindly said. A woman approached me and told me in a gentle yet serious way: “Watch out showing off these powers, there are newcomers here!”.
I then woke up to the 14th day, motivated and determined to practice persistently. I was happy the retreat wasn’t yet over.
Third week – Shifting the practice
It was the full moon, which is sacred in Buddhism. I was astounded by the quantity and variety of food and stuff we received during the almsround. It included flowers, pieces of cloth, cough medicine, skin balm and even DVDs of conferences by the main teacher of the monastery, Pa-Auk Sayadaw!
Although my body was getting adapted more accustomed to long periods of sitting meditation, it got very hard to concentrate. I was swarmed by thoughts, especially thoughts about the future. My teacher told me not to fuel these thoughts, and that it was typical for the mind to try to “escape” the meditation practice by grasping to thoughts and creating stories.
Despite knowing that, my mind felt incredibly agitated. More than 2 weeks of trying to tame it, and I still couldn’t?! Was I just perceiving subtler levels of agitation or was I regressing?
I saw that I was dealing with some thoughts/sensations in a problematic way. I was reacting to thoughts way too much. I was either letting myself “participate” in some of them, drawn by the entertainment they seemed to promise, or simply tried to overcome them by force, which obviously led to more and more agitation.
I took the resolution not to indulge in this habit. I did my best to try to simply acknowledge them without participating and when they were attempting to get me off track, I immediately put my full attention on the breath. Almost instantly, I felt a shift in my state of mind. I stopped seeing thoughts as “enemies”, and this definitely helped me maintain mindfulness, peace of mind and concentration.
It’s so easy to “try too hard” and to develop expectations of oneself in meditative practice.
The next day, concentration went up and my overall level of agitation went WAY down. Meditation felt really good.
The Nimitta also improved and became more stable, and for one of the first times, I started getting strong waves of bliss and peace. Practice became effortless and the days went by quickly.
I still definitely wasn’t getting into full absorption (Jhana) though. To be considered proficient in absorption at Pa Auk Tawya Monastery, a meditator has to be able to enter the first four Jhanas at will and stay in them for a few hours, being so absorbed that he can’t even notice if someone screams at him. Without getting into too much detail, the Jhanas are characterized by their respective factors, which get subtler and subtler as you progress through the Jhanas.
Different schools have different classifications for Jhanas. By some standards, I was already decently proficient in at least the first Jhana since all its factors were present to some degree. However, my teacher told me to keep focusing on the breath until the Nimitta and breath “merged” and pulled me into the first Jhana.
I got discouraged by the whole thing. Yes, my concentration was getting good, and yes, I was noticing improvements. Yet, as I kept learning more about the Jhanas taught at Pa Auk Tawya, I felt like I wasn’t even going to achieve the first one before leaving. In the group interviews, I repeatedly heard of monks that couldn’t even reach it yet. Was I wasting my time?
My confidence in the path taught at Pa-Auk Tawya went down, and even accessing blissful states seemed pointless. What were they good for? Like everything else, they would come and go, but leave me unchanged. I didn’t feel ready to return to the real world at all. How was this practice making me a better person?
After 20 days of focusing solely on the breath, I decided it was enough. I was strongly determined to use this retreat to grow as much as possible as a human being, and didn’t feel like pure concentration practices were an efficient use of my time. I turned my attention to the always-changing and fascinating reality. I switched to insight meditation.
And that’s when shit got real.
Fourth week – Sickness strikes again
Now, for those of you not familiar with insight practice, my object of meditation now became the sensations, thoughts, emotions and states of mind that made up my reality, from moment to moment. This is the technique taught in the Satipatthana Sutta, which is one of the most influential discourses of Buddha, and upon which Vipassana meditation is based.
The technique consists in mindfully observing reality as it is being experienced to gain understanding and wisdom.
Upon changing to insight meditation, reality immediately started “breaking down”. It was incredible to witness, sensations deconstructed into tiny vibrations by the mere act of observance.
Unlike in Goenka Vipassana retreats, where meditators are instructed to only pay attention to the body sensations (at least in 10-day courses), I also turned my attention to thoughts, emotions and states of mind, which are subtler.
From that point, I embarked on a roller-coaster that took me back and forth from extremely blissful states to severely depressed ones. And it was mind-blowing.
While reading, keep in mind that it’s very hard for me to put into words some of these insights and experiences, but I’ll do my best to make this understandable to you readers.
On the 22nd day, in the late afternoon, while meditating, I began experiencing my sensations and thoughts as very distant. They seemed to be “out there”, and my sense of self, which I guess we could call “the observer”, was “over here”.
And trust me, this was not merely a small mental game I was playing with myself. Physically, my five sensory inputs were experienced with so much distance that it didn’t even feel like it was actually happening to me. My sense of sight was strongly affected. I couldn’t even see properly! I could only “see” reality from far away, with my two eyes acting as two round separate windows. The best way I can describe is that it felt like I was “watching” a movie that included all 5 senses and thought. Everything was experienced, yet none of it felt close to me.
This experience lasted between the sitting meditation sessions, and it was so intense that doing anything besides meditating seemed pointless. While meditating, the notion of time was hard to keep, as if it was suspended and somewhat irrelevant.
At that point, although most of “my” experience of reality seemed very clear, a gigantic problem was still left unsolved.
Who was I?
As soon as that question arose, I felt very strong vibrations and palpitations throughout my body. Nothing made any sense. Nothing was me. Who the hell was experiencing all of this? Who was looking? Who was “The Observer”?
It didn’t make sense that experiences were “out there” and that the observer was “over here”. On some visceral level, it became obvious that this created a fundamental tension that was inevitably tainting all experiences of reality, regardless of them being pleasant or unpleasant. The subject-object duality was profoundly flawed.
After a few hours of meditating – that seemed like half an hour at most – I went back to my room and drifted into sleep.
The next morning, upon waking up, I instantly began to meditate, it was effortless. However, I felt really weird, physically and mentally. I was still experiencing reality in a very spacious and distant way, so it was hard to put these sensations into proper perspective. My condition worsened as the day progressed ; in the afternoon, my body was hurting terribly and I had strong fever (to give you an idea, the outside temperature was above 40°C and I asked for a blanket because I was cold). The only thing I found relief in was meditating, not because it “removed” any symptoms, but because it made them seem so distant that they didn’t bother me at all, it was as if they were happening to someone else. Equanimity – the ability to see reality without desire or aversion – was maintained effortlessly.
Although it wasn’t making me “suffer”, I still can say that the pain was extremely strong, it felt like every muscle and organ of my body was twisting in the wronwog direction. In fact, I didn’t know that experiencing such strong pain was humanly possible. At times I truly felt helpless, and my only comfort was found in meditation. I had no appetite, and barely ate for the next several days.
The rest of the week basically consisted of almost non-stop meditating, since it was the best way to deal with my physical discomfort. My meditative insights pretty much remained the same, “I” still couldn’t figure out who was “watching” all of this, and it clearly felt like something was wrong.
On the 28th day, to my relief, I was feeling better. To this day, I’m still unsure what this sickness was. The symptoms sound somewhat close to Dengue Fever, but since it happened in such a unique context, it’s very hard for me to properly identify it.
Fifth week – Is Consciousness me?
It was a huge relief to finally feel better.
Continuing to meditate, the nature of phenomena kept getting clearer. I still experienced sensations, thoughts and mind states in a very spacious and distant way, and the big “who’s seeing all of this” question was puzzling me on a visceral level.
It also got increasingly obvious that nothing “out there” would ever bring deep and lasting satisfaction. Maintaining the illusion that things were “solid” was downright impossible. Everything was always changing. Everything was moving in a subtle but undeniable way. Somehow, this gave me a strong sense that everything was profoundly connected. The most predominant mind state was peace, but even peace was experienced with distance and detachment. This brought the overall experience to a whole new level of peacefulness… which disappeared as soon as “I” clung to the peacefulness.
On several occasions, even thoughts were very hard to form. It’s complicated to describe how I experienced them, but they just seemed like tiny abstract ripples. Observing them in their “abstract” form was in fact a “sober psychedelic experience” in itself. Thoughts were so much more comfortable in their “abstract” form that it was hard to understand how I could ever go back to normal “formed” thoughts. Even “intentions” were seen in “3rd person”, which was somewhat weird, since intentions were strongly associated with my sense of identity. Like everything else, they were just arising and passing away, and were definitely not “me”.
What was unchanging in all of this? What was left of “me”?
No. None of this was stable. None of it was me.
The only thing that seemed stable was the consciousness that was noticing and “knowing” all that was happening.
But was consciousness me?
I used to think so.
Upon meditating, around day 30, there was a shift in the way “I” experienced reality.
It occurred to me that I wasn’t conscious of sensations. They were conscious of themselves.
It might not make sense to you. You might wonder why this would be relevant. But it made all the difference in the world. “Consciousnesses” were arising with their respective sensations. It all came as a “package deal”. There wasn’t “anyone” watching. The process was just watching itself. Consciousness was permeating phenomena, just like yellow is imbued in a lemon.
Nothing was happening to anyone. It was just happening. And it was fine! How could it not be fine anyway? How could fineness be defined without a subject? All of this wasn’t even happening to anybody! It was just happening.
It’s very hard to describe how this made “me” feel. Questions like how “I” felt can’t be asked. They are fundamentally flawed.
What does a camera see when you turn it off?
Last week – Preparing to leave
After this insight, I felt relieved. While going through it though, all of this wasn’t as clear as it is now.
As I was going back home the next week, I started thinking a lot more about “real life” and about what I was going to do next. Somewhat “satisfied” with my insights and experiences so far, I relaxed my meditative practice, and mostly meditated for enjoyment as opposed to insights. I also read The Way of the Superior Man, which brought back in me strong motivation and enthusiasm to go back to the world and merge my spiritual insights with “real life”. It’s quite a shock to return to normal life after a retreat, especially a long one. I figured it was a good idea to relax on the “heavy-duty” meditation a bit.
A few days before I left, a monk also offered to teach me yoga in a wooden cabin he had built himself on top of a nearby mountain. This was my first yoga experience, and I absolutely loved it. Yoga does an amazing job at integrating the body and meditative practice, something I had neglected in the past, as I saw “mental” practices as superior. I now include yoga in my daily routine, along with meditation. I feel like they both reinforce each other in very positive ways.
Then, it was time to return home. I feel like 40 days was the right amount of time, as a shorter period might not have been as insightful. A longer time would probably have been a little too much for me, as I felt eagerness to return to “real life” at the end of the retreat. I packed my things, said goodbye to my roommate, and took the bus to Yangon. I left Pa-Auk Tawya behind, but preciously kept the wisdom it had helped me cultivate.
Although at some point I felt like they were leading nowhere, concentration practices helped me reach some very interesting territories. It’s hard to describe into words what has changed since then, but some strong shift has definitely occurred, especially in my perception of “who I am” and in the way “I” experience reality.
Everything is always all right.
Special thanks to Klaus, a German monk, for the stunning photos in this post.
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