Meditation Camp day 1
On Saturday I left the comfort of my home and got in a van departing for Kanchanaburi. Accompanied by two teachers the ten other students and I were looking forward to an enlightening and peaceful weekend after the excitement of Children’s Day.
At 7:45am I got a call from my friend asking where I was. Responding “at home” caused her to worry and I added that I was about to leave. Scampering downstairs and scarfing down breakfast as fast as I could… which turned out to be slower than I planed due to attempting to swallow my hard-boiled egg in fourths and I ended up choking a little as result. Ugh.
7:52am Ha! I was on the road! Although I felt a bit ridiculous lugging a bulky white bag filled with my tent, mat, blanket, flip-flops, and water. I also had my ‘trusty’ backpack which recently got re-stitched for the second time because the straps were about to break. My friend did the honor last night after commenting on how tidy my last repairs were… that was sarcasm.
8:00am Arrived at school. On time too! But evidently I didn’t get the memo that we had to wear white and my long-sleeved purple shirt was not following suit. Ooops. I had to change quickly. Silly me.
8:30am The van departed from school. Not sure what we had waited for. To my knowledge I was the last to arrive, and although some people stopped at 7/11 to get some snacks, we still sat around until the teacher motioned it was time to go. I’m not complaining though, Transformers was playing on the little TV in the security gate. The signal wasn’t so good, and I believe it was dubbed in Mandarin Chinese with Thai subtitles, but hey! Who doesn’t love watching airplanes turn into giant robots and bombing army bases.
Around 12 we stopped at a small roadside restaurant and ate lunch. This was a pleasant surprise because I expected we would be fasting since our departure.
12:20ish Back on the road. Everybody is sleepy, and takes a nap. One of the teachers talked the whole way until lunch, and even though my moral instincts said it was rude, I found myself nodding off.
2:00pm We Arrive! It’s HOT! We gathered in a small traditional pavilion and received our first lecture from a monk! The pavilion actually served as a temple but was not so elaborate as some of the other Thai temples. It had a matted palm leaf roof with a blue tarp underneath. The floor was a raised deck also covered with a blue striped tarp. There were no walls and there were just some plastic tarps with pictures of monks on them to block the sun around the Buddha statue. The monk sat on a pillow on another raised platform made of bamboo no more than a foot higher than the one for the students. The Buddha was on the highest platform over a foot and a half higher than the monk’s. Most of the decorations were images of monks or Buddha, but on the right hand side half way between the entrance and corner of the Buddha platform was a very graphic collection of photos of assorted body organs. When I first saw them, I wasn’t really certain how they related to Buddhism…and now that I think about it, I’m still not sure…
2:45pm Time to set up camp. There were two potential camping areas, in the mountains or in the small ‘forest’. As our group was co-ed, we split up into gender separated groups, and the boys would get first choice. I was grateful to at least get a tour of the mountain, a monk took us on a trail that went into a narrow ravine and opened up into a cave. I’m seriously kicking myself for not bringing my camera…Oh my Buddha it was breath taking!
The girls went down to set up our tents in the little forest. We wouldn’t be sleeping in the cave because it was too dangerous. I figured because there was a possibility of falling rocks or something. My friend informed me there were a lot of ghosts there and so the boys would stay there instead. The forest wasn’t so bad. It was a patch of thin trees no wider than 6cm in diameter and an assortment of pokey shrubs. My tent was in a smooth patch in the middle. I was very lucky, because there were only a few good spots. After my tent was set up, I helped my friends with their tents.
Afterwards we changed into clean all white clothes. Then we met up in front of the little forest to walk. The goal of the walk is to focus your breath with your footsteps. Step right, breathe in; step left, breathe out. Each step was painfully slow. We walked around the perimeter of the forest, which took aprox. 30minutes. Note: should I have walked my normal pace it would take maybe only three minutes. We also had to have our hands neatly clasped in front, and look down.
When we all finished we went back to the temple to listen to the monk. He only spoke Thai and I tried to understand as much as I could, which turned out to be very little. He lectured for over an hour. Then we departed for a mystery destination. The monks, nuns, and teachers sat in an air conditioned van. The two boys sat in the front cab of a pick-up truck. The girls sat in the back of the pick-up.
We were dropped off in front of “The River Kwai” resort. From there we took a pathway along the edge of some railroad tracks until the path ended and the high hill we were walking on slipped down into a deep canyon. The monks took us up on the railroad tracks, which were the only way to cross the ravine. Walking on a narrow metal plank between the two tracks, with a steep cliff wall on the far right and a 45 drop into the river to the left; we realized one stumble and we could fall to our death. No pressure. I wondered what would happen should a train chance to come along. A very encouraging thought as you can imagine. The first bridge ended and we walked along the side of the tracks for a few meters only to get back on another rail-bridge. I’m so glad I’m not afraid of heights. I dared a few times to take quick glances to the left at the resorts. Karaoke mixed with dance beats echoed up to us from the festivities below. The second bridge ended and we took a path to the right leading us into the mouth of a spacious cave. When I turned around for the last time, I could see the sun setting. We sat down on a platform in front of a large Buddha looking down at us.
After a brief “samatid” meditation, we opened up the booklets provided by the monks and began reciting Buddhist chants. I can tell you now, there is nothing that compares to how it felt to be right there.
I don’t know how long we were there, but when we came out the sun was down, and it was nearly pitch black. Thank goodness for flashlights…oh wait… I didn’t bring one. Not the most convenient thing to forget , especially when you have to cross over the rail- bridge. At least I brought my cell phone with me and used the minimal light it provided to see. Step by step, deep breath, focus, oh look I made it! Relief flooded over me when I could finally step on solid ground. We walked along side the railroad tracks until reaching the road.
Walking in the dark= How we spent the next four hours.
We took one break and meditated/napped while sitting, for 20 minutes, before continuing on.
Around 1:00am We arrive back at camp. Everybody collapsed in the kitchen and drank some chocolate milk and cold water(our dinner) before going off to sleep.
In front of my tent was a cat. And it scared the socks off me at first. “Tok Jai” Surprise! I tried to make it go away, and then tried to sleep. Pat pat pat, the cat paced around my tent . It’s just a cat not a ghost, there are no such things as ghosts, why won’t that cat go away? I resolved to ignore it, and before long I was fast asleep.
To Be Continued…