Thailand : January 18 - February 16 : 10 Day Retreat

30. January – 11. February

10 day Silent Retreat

Suan Mokkh International Monastery, Chiaya


I can not remember a time in my life when I did not speak for 10 days in a row. Neither can I remember a time when I ate a vegetarian diet for 10 days in a row. Finally I do not recall getting up at 4:00 AM every morning for 10 days in a row. Well now I do. Alex and I decided to join a 10 day silent retreat in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. We were compelled to take part in this out of curiosity and the hope it would give us some time to sort some things out.


·      What would it be like? 

·      Can we make it through the full 10 days?

·      What benefits will we get from it?

·      Will we still love each other afterwards?

·      What might get uncovered?

·      How does Buddhism look like close up and in detail?


It turned out to be one of the most influential and meaningful experiences we had on our trip around the Pacific.


So what exactly was this retreat about? In a nut shell the Suan Mokkh monastery offers a 10 day mediation retreat every month (starting on the first of every month). And meditation is exactly what you do there. Every thing there is set up in a way to make it really easy to learn to meditate and quite your mind. And this simplicity starts right from the beginning: You can not make reservations: you just have to go there on the last day of the month and sign-in…very straight forward.


But what are you signing up for? No talking for 10 days, only two meals a day (breakfast and lunch; vegetarian only), only water or tea to drink, no gadgets such as mobile phones, cameras, pda, etc, no reading or writing, sleeping with a wooden pillow and many more components of a simple monastic life. But my honest personal experience is that you are signing up for a very profound experience of a life time. It is an invitation to experience a glimpse of the immense power of life that is hidden (under the sensory overload of modern western life) in the human mind. A world mostly unexplored by most human beings despite the immense vastness and resourcefulness it has to reveal. In addition, it is a path to see more clearly all aspects of yourself with all its weaknesses and strengths, a way to learn about yourself in an undeniably transparent manner. All in all, very powerful stuff.


And how does one get these experiences? Through meditation: you will be for 10 days in an environment that 100% supports you in your effort to quite your mind down to a serenity that only the fewest of us have already experienced. Once there, your will work with your mind, train your mind to calm down even further, into states of highest, sharpest concentration by utilizing meditation practices taught by the monks of the monastery. What you learn is called “Anapanasati” or –in English- “Mindfulness with breathing”. One learns to focus the mind exclusively on the breath as is enters the body, fills the lungs with fresh oxygen and then exits again through long out breaths, which in turn calms the mind further down. Imagine sitting for 20 min. with no thoughts in your mind, your mind being completely focused on your breathing. It’s quite an amazing experience and just the mere fact that you can train your mind to do exactly that is immensely powerful. Quite a difference to the “monkey mind” we usually live with jumping from one subject to the other from one thought to the next in matters of seconds at any moment of our waking hours.

[Click on any picture to view full screen slideshow]

Let me show you the schedule of one typical day:


04:00 ***

Rise & Shine

04:30 ***



Sitting meditation


Yoga / Exercise

07:00 ***

Morning Talk  & Sitting meditation


Breakfast & Chores

10:00 ***

Dhamma Talk


Walking or Standing meditation


Sitting meditation

12:30 ***

Lunch & Chores

14:30 ***

Meditation Instruction & Sitting


Walking or Standing meditation


Sitting meditation

17:00 ***

Chanting & Loving Kindness Meditation


Tea & Hot spring

19:30 ***

Sitting meditation


Group Walking Meditation around the pond

21:00 ***

Bedtime Goodnight ... (the gate will be closed at 21:30)




*** signifies that the large bell will be rung just before the activity begins. Which for those like me (without a watch) was the only indicator of time throughout the retreat. Kind of nice not to have to worry about time --- uhhh, one less thought in my mind to worry about



[This is a playlist with several videos, click on the film strip button (next to the play button) to see all]

Some comments to the schedule:

·      The morning reading is 5-15 min. reading of inspiring text read by different people everyday. It turned to be a favorite time of the day as the text was always very inspiring and supportive. (Besides, it helped us get awake at 4:30 AM)

·      Yoga at 5:15 AM was one of the life savers in the rigid and tough schedule of a monastic retreat. Practicing in the dark, while the world around you slowly but surely wakes up was a truly amazing and humbling experience. By the time the practice was over the day had arrived, it was dawn outside and one could see the sun rise in the east with a body that felt well balanced and stretched for the day

·      Breakfast was a very blend rice soup (every morning). You would think that after day 3 you had enough of it, but it actually turned out that your body ends up needing the nourishment more that your mind was needing taste variation. It was interesting for me to see that the more days passed the more tasteful the soup turned out to be. Really amazing how – due to the lack of sense stimulus one ends up being able to taste the very subtle and refined tastes of the soup.

·      After breakfast most people used this time to complete their daily chores. (Every person signs up for a chore when registering for the retreat) Mine was to sweep the walkway around the men’s dormitory, an activity that was nice as it was meditative in it’s own way yet provided the feeling of movement and accomplishment.

·      At 10:00 as well as at 14:30 (2:30PM) we had Dhamma talks (instructions and lectures) by various speakers about the meditation practice Anapanasati. Some were Thai natives (which took a little concentration to understand – although all of them spoke English very well) and there where a few Westerners as speakers. One was Tan Dhammavidu, aka British Monk (Tan = Monk). His English was obviously flawless but moreover his style of delivering the subject matter was nothing less but absolutely brilliant. A mixture of well chosen words, breaks, repetitions, and plenty of sarcastic jokes to loosen up the so very heavy topic he was reciting about. This person absolutely blew our mind, wanting to pick up every word off his lips. This was a great way to learn about the principles of Buddhism and its components of Dhamma, Sukha, Dukha and more. Just imagine your mind being regularly being swung from hearing mind boggling words to being completely relaxed with laughter within seconds.

·      I believe if it was up to the monks they would have made the schedule completely a sitting mediation practice. But luckily they have chosen a schedule that allowed for what is called walking mediation. Its primary difference is that you focus your mind on your feet (while they are walking very slowly forward) instead of your breathing. Obviously, this method doesn’t allow for absorption (deep concentration) since you are walking (hence monks rather like to sit – although there were reports of some monks needing walking mediation because they would just fall into concentration the moment they sit down) but it does allow you to tame your mind to the point that it is focusing only on your walking instead of jumping around on thoughts (also called “monkey mind” in monastic circles). I actually loved this practice as it allowed me to move my body while still working on my meditation skills. On a light note: I have to admit that every once in a while when I opened my eyes and scanned the monastery grounds during this time, I sometimes felt like watching the Ghouls-Zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” played in extreme slow motion. All these people walking seemingly “mindlessly” at top speeds of 10 meters per hour.

·      Lunch usually came just in time to meet a growling tummy in the first few days (before your body adjusts to the new schedule), which was always very welcome. Another nice aspect of this retreat was that nobody started to eat before everyone had their food and after what was called “Food reflection” was shared. This was short chant of sort that focused your mind on the food and helped you appreciate it all the more. A very nice practice as is made you eat slower and therefore healthier. The second advantage was that there was never really a race to the dinning hall since there was little reason. The food was fantastic. Very well cooked Thai dishes that were nourishing enough to last all the way to 8:00 the next day’s morning. There was always enough too.

·      Chanting and Loving Kindness involved singing (or better: chanting) Buddhist songs in the ancient language of Pali. This was followed by a often too short of a session on Loving Kindness (Metta) which was that part of the day that made you thinnk the most about the other people in your life, specifically your loved ones and the hurts and joys you have brought them and vice versa. Extremely powerful as well

·      But then at 18:00 (6:00 PM) the very very highlight of the day came: The evening break with very much desired hot chocolate (I always had exactly 2 cups) followed by a visit to the hot springs (men and women were separate) to soothe your aching bones and muscles at the end of the day. Then only 90 more minutes of  meditation time remained before 7 hours of much wanted sleep.

·      Group walking meditation involved all the guys (and women separately) walking around a large pond on a path that allowed you to see the stars, calm waters and hear the wild life around you.

·      Finally at 21:00 (9:00 PM) you were allowed to retreat to your room (yes, you had the luxury of our own room in this place, but that was the only luxury you had as you slept on a concrete bed and used a wooden pillow) for the 6-7 hours of sleep allotted in this schedule. It was surprisingly easy to get up and out of this bed at 4:00 in the morning (would you like to turn-around and snuggle a few more minutes on your concrete bed?)

This was our life for 10 days. From about 120 people that registered we had only about 86 left. Alex and I were two of those and were very happy and proud that we made it. And if your are warily wondering: Yes, we still love each other...:-). It gave us access to wisdom and methods that we strongly believe will profoundly help immensely us with our future life.


Do we recommend this to you? If you are a person who aims to become a better, more loving and caring person, live a calmer life and have a focused, clearer view of life. Have more mindful awareness as you walk through life and enjoy less stressful living, no matter what you do.  If you want to enjoy a sharper mind with the ability to immensely concentrate at will to solve any problem you might face. If you want to be able to see problems arise before they are real problems. If all this appeals to you then: YES, this retreat or any kind similar will be a perfect first fierce step in the right direction towards these amazingly beneficial objectives.  

Daily Reflections from Alex:


Day 4


It is day four of our 10 day retreat – my journal is safely locked away for the duration of the 10 days. And I shall not take it as a sign from Buddha that the little shop is closed today, though it has been open every other day from 1-1:30 and it will open again tomorrow. Nor shall I take it as sign not to wrote and follow the rules but in stead be resourceful – hence the reality that I am now writing in the back of my PADI Open Water book that was just newly acquired last week. I knew diving would com in handy.


At lunch and perhaps since breakfast, I have been pondering parts of the last 6 months. At first when all hell started to break loose in my skull yesterday, I could feel the self criticism and frustration begin to build, one hardening muscle at a time. But then, as the universe would have it, this morning’s Dhamma talk was focused on Loving Kindness, towards oneself and then out towards to others. Perhaps it is this Loving Kindness that shifted my perspective, perhaps it is just a well thought out justification to bend the rules and do it my way – regardless these 10 days are about cultivating concentration, accessing my breath and perhaps finding that bit of self that sits in a sea of contented happiness. Not being so serious and letting go is the first lesson….


What came out of my bending the rules and choosing to write  can be read in the section on Singapore entitled “Meeting Mr Callan”…


Day 5


My dad used to say chew each bite 30 times. Ever tried that? It breaks down food into its basic parts, often first tasting sweet as the sugars are broken down and then quickly it goes to bland and tasteless. I have learned this week that Thai food has a surprise element to this process. Dishes that are spicy to the lips and tongue get chewed and then swallowed – but if you chew and chew some more, the saturation of chili infusion begins to grow. As the particles get ground to pulp, the fire begins to permeate every inch of your mouth in a way that it enters the sinus cavities like a vapor. The pearls of sweat develop on your brow and the panting begins. It is only when you bite into the coolness of a green cucumber or crunchy lettuce that a level of calm takes over again.


Mindfulness – it starts in the activities we do every day

7. February 


While we were living in silence, back home (in Germany) the world welcomed...


Isabella Raven



Thursday, February 7, 2008

born at 12:45 pm



8.4 pound    20.4 inch



Barbara Baum