I wish to share something interesting with you about one particular aspect of a laughter yoga session! Whether you have experienced Laughter Yoga before or not, it is my hope that you will find this to be a worthwhile piece of literature, that will shed some clarity on these two practices.
Towards the end of a usual Laughter Yoga session, it is customary to share a short guided journey, called 'Yoga Nidra' with the participants, as it is an essential part of grounding and stabilizing our energy after all the laughing and playfulness we’ve experienced for the past 45 minutes or so. This is so that participants don't leave the session feeling like they are on a wild high, or feeling emotionally unstable as if they are flying up in the sky somewhere.
Recently at a laughter yoga leader training event one of the participants asked me this question, "what is the difference between Yoga Nidra and Hypnosis"? while I've had extensive experience of both of these, I thought it made for some valuable research, to understand, outline and define fully the difference between the two.
First of all, lets define the origin of these two words -
1680 - 90; Late Latin hypnōticus < Greek hypnōtikós sleepinducing,narcotic, equivalent to hypnō (variant stem of hypnoûn to put to sleep; seeHypnos ) + -tikos -tic (Dictionary.com)
Yoga Nidra -
Yoga from the root yuj in Vedic Sanskrit, meaning, "to add", "to join", "to unite" and Nidra, meaning sleep. (Wikiedia)
And here is a definition of Yoga Nidra as given by Dr Madan Kataria (founder of Laughter Yoga) -
Yoga Nidra (Sanskrit), also known as yogic sleep, originates from tantric yogic practices. It is a wakeful state of deep introversion. The body is deeply relaxed, while the mind is fully conscious and awake, and is the fastest way to recharge body and mind, and perform at maximum. It is both relaxing and has the power to transform our core issues and is the most thorough and profound process to move our consciousness systematically through our entire being.
Physical and muscular tensions can be removed by sleeping, but mental and emotional tensions are deep rooted and cannot be removed via sleep. Thus, it is a powerful technique to reprogram the subconscious mind as this state of mind accepts the truth without contradictions. If you want to change your lifestyle, habits, heal your body and mind, this is a very effective technique. Yoga Nidra is also used for stabilizing your emotions and grounding your body after a Laughter Yoga session.
And herewith is a definition of Hypnosis given by the Mayo Clinic
(international healthcare clinic) -
Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus and concentration. Hypnosis is usually done with the help of a therapist using verbal repetition and mental images. When you're under hypnosis, you usually feel calm and relaxed, and are more open to suggestions.
Hypnosis can be used to help you gain control over undesired behaviors or to help you cope better with anxiety or pain. It's important to know that although you're more open to suggestion during hypnosis, you don't lose control over your behavior.
And now comes the really interesting part; -
Although these two appear to be very similar, as they are both used to influence the mind, they are fact completely different from each other. In point form, I shall outline why this is, thanks to the help of Swami Satyananda Saraswati -
Because yoga nidra can be used to influence the mind, many people think that it is a form of hypnosis. But the truth is that these two are totally different sciences. Although they may start from the same point of relaxation and receptivity, yoga nidra proceeds in one direction and hypnosis in another.
The state of mind achieved in yoga nidra is far beyond hypnosis, but when the mind is dissociated from the sensory knowledge it does pass through a hypnotic state.
However, if you can disconnect the sensory channels and still maintain awareness, you will be able to transcend the barriers of your personality and go to any depth or height. The consciousness can go as far as you can lead it. This is the aim of yoga nidra. But at the same time, you must know when you are transcending, that up to a certain point, you are passing through the territory of hypnotism.
In Yoga Nidra one important instruction is always given: 'Do not sleep'. You must try to keep awake. You are relaxed, but you do not sleep. You are not conscious on the sensual plane, but you are conscious that you are practising yoga nidra. A process of automatic thinking is going on.
This enables the mind to receive a higher quality of stimuli, increase its capacity and develop a different type of awareness than what we are experiencing now. In Ayurveda, this would be referred to as a sattvic condition.
In yoga nidra the instructor is only a guide. He gives the technique and answers any questions, but he will never force or compel the student in any way. It is the technique which leads the mind to illumination and independence of judgment, not the instructor.
When you absolutely refuse to become a part or shareholder of what is happening around you, then yoga nidra becomes a stepping stone to higher yoga.
Whereas, in hypnosis, the subject is led into a deep sleep state in which the brain is completely shut down. The consciousness is confined to a small area and the capacities are limited. In Ayurveda, this is a very tamasic condition.
In hypnosis, the therapist generally dominates the mind and will of the subject. He or she directs the mind to a specific memory, visual or sensory with the intent of erasing and replacing a lodged pattern within the subconscious mind.
And there you have it! It's is not so simple to compare them, that's for sure, however it is now very apparent that the two are in fact vastly different from each other!
Hope to laugh with you soon! - and we can experience Yoga Nidra together afterwards, to ground us back to the earth and stabilize our emotions ;-)
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Lately I've come to realize that as my age is increasing, I am in fact growing younger. This is because now at age 37 I am far more energetic, vital and playful than I was when I was 20, and thus it has caused me to radically question the notion that we are to begin to 'grow older' as we increase in number, and that instead, through a few simple lifestyle habits and choices, we can choose to 'grow younger'.
Awesome it is that the word 'youth' in the English dictionary is defined as "the appearance, freshness, vigor, spirit, etc., characteristic of one who is young." Therefore here we have legitimate proof that, "youth" does not need to be associated with someone in a particular age group. Even further proof of this is given to us by Pablo Picasso, who stated that "youth, has no age".
Growing younger 101 -
Think and Act
Neuroscience has revealed to us that our brains are plastic in nature and thus we have the ability to rewire our neural pathways! This means that if we have unhelpful beliefs about growing older, we have the power to input new and helpful beliefs instead.
This may sound like a daunting task, however it need not be. One way to input better beliefs and behaviors is by participating in a program such as the TeamUp Triad Experience, whereby one can undergo this rewiring process within the support and comfort of a team. This is an incredible online coaching program that teaches us how to become more mindful of our thoughts and actions and thus become better in the areas of life that matter the most.
Reprogramming our neural patterns and pathways can be fun and exhilarating! We can defragment all kinds of boring and outdated belief systems - who knows how long they may have been passed along from generation to generation, until..…. bam! - we were born and saw through the veil, and mindfully chose to input new beliefs, pioneering the way forward up the family tree.
The next time you look at yourself in the mirror, notice if there is any age related dialogue that emerges in your self-talk? How do you perceive your silvering hair and facial lines? Do you see them as a shining sign of your refinement and your incredible feats of accomplishment?
Lately I have been affirming and strengthening my beliefs about my youth each time I look in the mirror. I tell myself that I am becoming "younger and younger, and more and more beautiful" each and every day. After I do this the associated feelings arise causing me to think and act differently too.
We've all heard the saying, "you're only as old as you feel". Inputting new youthful beliefs, results in a new and youthful feelings arising too, - it works like magic.
Try it out and see how it makes you feel! If you haven't done it before, it takes a little practice until you've have washed away any resisting or opposing thoughts. If your mind protests, just tell it that it's for fun, and that no harm will be done.
Move and Breathe
Are you familiar with the 5 Tibetan Rites? These are exercises that are practiced by Tibetan lamas in monasteries in the far reaches of the Himalayan mountains. They have an amazing effect on getting our chakras spinning at an optimal speed. It is this optimal spinning speed that keeps us youthful. Some of these lamas have lived for well into their hundreds (if not more) from practicing these Rites every day.
I have been doing them now for several months, and I love them. They are easy to learn and I have become increasingly proficient with practice.
My own body type loves a large amount of movement and exercise to feel optimal. Thus I vigorously practice hatha yoga, laughter yoga, dancing, as well as, swim, hike and walk out in nature as much as possible.
My own journey inside a body has definitely not always been a pleasant one! At age 24 I developed a really strange and unpleasant painful symptom which was unidentifiable by both doctors and healers. As a result I suffered greatly with physical pain and discomfort in my 20's and early 30's. This unremitting pain served as a massive motivator. I was determined to locate the cause and after a considerable journey, I did.
It is now to my amazement just how enjoyable an in - body experience can be!
Laugh and Play
When was the last time you felt like a playful 3 year old?
When I was in my 20's I was an incredibly hard working type. I used to think that anything I did needed to have a specific and measureable outcome, and I frowned down upon activities that I deemed too frivolous. Years of this lifestyle and the result? A miserable me.
As I have grown younger I have also become a little wiser. I now see that every single thing I do has a measurable outcome, and that the more frivolous and fun the activity, the higher return. These fun-filled activities make me younger, less inhibited, more creative, more light-hearted, expansive, energetic and open-hearted, - which all add up to a healthier and happier me.
There are many simple, easy and free things we can do that are just for fun. Here are a few of my favourites -
Singing along with a song I love, prancing around the room to African tribal music, having a conversation with an animal or a plant, laughing for no reason, drawing a picture and sticking it on the fridge door, pretending to be a horse and galloping around the garden (you can try this one out with your own zodiac animal).
I would love to know what your favourite frivolous activities are?
The way we eat contributes to a longer and more vibrant life. This is because some eating habits provide the body with energy, while other eating habits take up energy.
Unfortunately I had to learn this the long and hard way! After many years of eating too much bread, peanut butter and processed food, I developed severe candida in my early 20's. I initially tried to eliminate it with pharmaceutical drugs, until I finally submitted to an extremely strict diet, eating only vegetables, nuts and gluten free grains, removing all sugar, fruit, meat, white flours and processed food. It took a long time to adjust to this way of eating!
Each of has a unique body constitution, we can learn how to optimize our eating style for maximum efficiency. It took me quite a few years to learn this, but finally I became skillful as to how to eat healthy and right for my own constitution.
I am very inspired by the eating style of the Tibetan lamas. Although they are vegetarian, they do eat eggs, butter and cheese in sufficient quantities. One of their secrets is to eat only one food type per meal. For example, one meal would comprise entirely of bread, another entirely of vegetables. Different food types, these lamas say, require different types of digestive processes in the stomach, and therefore combining more than one type together in one meal means that neither type is fully digested, resulting in wasting valuable energy in the body.
I love this idea, and I've been reducing the number of foods I eat in one meal. It's saving me a lot of time.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Hippocrates
Could it be possible that we are in fact age-less beings, or,... beings of a self-determined age?
The experience of life may feel a little, uh,... different,... when it is completely liberated from all age-bound restrictions. If it were possible to do this, would you give it a try?
I have now decided to 'de-age' and 're-age' myself according to how I feel, meaning that, if someone asks me my age, I will check-in and respond with a number that I feel I am at that moment. Ask if you dare!
I am so much loving this process of 'youthing', that I'll be sharing these, and other fun, simple and easy practices in an exciting new workshop, for anyone who would like to 'grow younger' along with me.
Here now, travelling alone, on a 33 hour train journey from Xi'an, central China to Lhasa, Tibet, I am the only westerner on this train, surrounded by a sea of Chinese and Tibetans,.. and in my sleeper cabin I am amongst three Chinese ladies and four Tibetan teenage girls, ..
This is not an experience for pleasure!! Despite the beauty of the rolling mountain scenery and herds of yaks out of the window, I am thoroughly derailed from my own comfortable space and I ask myself how I got myself into this situation,….. Why didn't I just fly to Lhasa?! Why did I choose to take the train?! What was I thinking?!
Truth is, another part of me, the part of me that knows there is larger version of myself, requires to be well stretched and tested now and again, although I'm not in agreement with this idea right now, I know I will feel pleased to have survived this test once it is over.
I am now stuck and confined in this cabin with this lot who are continuously snacking and chattering!!
All kinds of chatty squeals and shrills pierce my hearing, as the hours roll by,.. It is me that must adjust myself as my environment is not going to change for many hours to come,…
Luckily I slept well last night, despite this chattering that continued late into the night, even as sleep crept in and even as they all awoke, it went on,… a culture where constant connecting and exchanging seems the status quo.
I watch my mind as it goes into judgment about them from time to time; how attached they are to their constant snacking; all kinds of greasy, dripping items are being pulled continuously from plastic packets and consumed around me.
Such gluttony, such mindlessness, I hear my thoughts,.. But I catch myself! I know I cannot allow myself to indulge in judgment, this will only make this experience even more difficult. I remind myself of the times when I've been attached to food, when I felt so uncomfortable in myself that the only thing that brought me a measure of illusory peace, was that ideal and familiar snack or drink,.. and I was convinced that I needed it, less something terrible might happen to me if I didn’t have it.
I am in no position to be judging.
I attempt to access some inner resources and dig deep for the wealth of mindfulness training I've received over the years - now is the time I really need it - can I reach for it and access it when I feel so displaced? And when what I truly want to do is escape the huge discomfort of my mental perception of the present moment.
Perhaps it's because I'm on a train to Tibet, a picture of the Dalai Lama flashes in my mind; the face of kindness and compassion - these qualities may be the only antidote to my current space - genuine compassion for myself and those around me; as we are all doing whatever we know best to endure and inhabit this human experience.
I ask myself what might be the purpose for finding myself here? What might life wish me to discover? How might I use my mind now in way I had never previously considered, to ease this moment?
One of my own deepest sensitivities is the fear of being watched, particularly by strangers. And now as I am the only foreigner here on the train, I am a subject of great interest. I feel my every move being noticed and monitored, which is then largely aggravated my mind as I'm aware I have this sensitive condition, and this makes my momentary existence feel highly restricted - trapped here, a prisoner of my own mind patterns, perhaps more so than my environment.
These sweet, kind Tibetan teenage girls are helping me; one of them can speak a little English, she warns me that I may begin to experience a reaction to the rising altitude, as we are gradually climbing to the highest plateau on earth, now at 5233m above sea level,… they offer me watermelon, and inform me that this will help to alleviate the altitude reaction symptoms. I'm pleased to say, that as of now all my vital systems are functioning optimally. It's only my mind that tortures me, I remain watchful of myself, how will I do in my survival of the final 12 hours to Tibet by train,….
To share this story I need to go back in time to 2008 when I arrived at a point when I had to make some really big changes. Every aspect of my city life had painfully come to an end, and I asked myself,
“What would really and truly make me happy?”
The answer appeared to come out of nowhere. I wanted to move to Thailand and teach English. I made a firm decision and resigned from my very serious architectural job, I sold all my earthly belongings, I said goodbye to security patrolled Johannesburg and I left my very serious life of military style perfectionism.
Shortly after I arrived in Thailand I went to see a shaman because I knew something was very wrong with me. I had an unusual and uncomfortable physical condition that had remained undiagnosed, as well as general feelings of depletion and melancholy. When the shaman saw me, she was absolutely horrified. “You need to teach yourself how to laugh and have fun”, she said. I was terrified. How was I to do this? I was the most unfun person I knew.
Initially I tried to watch some funny movies, but I was indeed unsuccessful. And then a miracle happened! I started teaching English to my Thai students using songs and games and soon I noticed their spontaneous joy and willingness to become excited about the smallest and silliest of things. Their playfulness was infectious and although I was still a very serious teacher, I could feel myself changing just a little bit. At the end of each lesson they were smiling and full of energy. Perhaps I was onto something!
On one auspicious day in 2011 I experienced my first taste of Laughter Yoga from a visiting teacher in Chiang Mai, and I was completely awestruck at how light and liberated I felt after only one class. So inspired was I, in fact, that soon afterwards I traveled to Bangalore in India to study Laughter Yoga with Dr Madan Kataria, the founder and master of Laughter Yoga.
Upon returning to Thailand, together with a fellow laughter teacher, the first Laughter Club was born in 2011 in Chiang Mai, and it continues to thrive. There has been a lot of laughing since then, as well as all sorts of twists and turns in this little laughing adventure.
Along the way I discovered so many benefits of laughing that I never knew. I discovered that if I laugh continuously for at least ten minutes, my body saturates with joyful energy at the very deepest cellular level, which serves as a washing out and releasing of my old stuck negative emotions. This is proving to be life changing; as I continue to practice my own energy continues to melt, become lighter and freer, my ego is diminishing ever more which is opening my heart.
Over the years, I’ve had the great joy of meeting other laughter yogis from different walks of life, and always we have felt an instant recognition and comradery between us, having been initiated into the practice of laughing mindlessly, without the use of jokes or humour, our laughter has been liberated from the confines of the mind, and we knowingly and secretly share this understanding between us, it goes beyond any spoken words.
Among the highlights of this journey have included laughing together with enormous groups of people in Thailand, China and India, and well as groups from different spheres, ages and abilities. The impact of laughing in such groups has had an effect of reverberating in the inner recesses within me, touched by the gift of connecting so heartfully and playfully with others that I had never before spoken to and yet formed instant connections that traversed across culture and language.
In September 2014 I organized and facilitated the first ever laughter yoga leader training in Chiang Mai Thailand, it was purely magical as well as deeply challenging, having never done anything like that before, I felt stretched well beyond my limits, and it stirred up huge fears within me, which I had to let go of. This year October I am so delighted and excited to share laughter yoga leader training No.5, fully endorsed and certified by Laughter Yoga International.
There are several things I love the most about a laughter session! I simply love that I get to move around and be silly and theatrical and express myself playfully with other people. I get to express the notions of celebration and joy outwardly, which I may not ordinarily get to express in daily life. I get to connect with people in a very joyful, natural and upbeat way. I get to move out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. It appeals to my dry sense of humour and sometimes, still today, I pack out laughing simply because of the idea of getting together in a group and laughing! It is a highly creative and right brained activity as there is nothing rigid to follow, one has to be willing to be free to enjoy it. I love that shows people how to relax, and that they often leave a session looking more radiant than before.
In many laughter sessions I have felt myself entering into a state of unstoppable, cathartic laughter, whereby the laughter has taken over the experience, it is a feeling of having arrived in a place of emptiness, egolessness and surrender. I see this as a state of mindlessness or ‘no mind’, as opposed to mindfulness, or perhaps it is like mindfully choosing to be mindless, knowing of the huge benefit this has on the mind, body and spirit :-)
Having learnt certain life lessons the hard way, by placing obligation, money, ego and fear ahead of my own happiness and authenticity, I recognize on an intrinsic level the essential functioning of a happy and healthy life resides in living playfully, joyfully and truthfully. I became vigilantly mindful to make play, joy and truth the central defining points of every single decision I have made ever since, and I have built my life around these key criteria.
I now know that I have the power to create happiness from within, regardless of any external circumstances. I can influence my own life with positive energy through the practice of mindfully choosing to mindlessly laugh and play.
I would love to hear your story too! What brings joy and fun into your life? Do leave me a comment :-)
If you would like to become a master of your own laugh, have a look at this page http://www.ganapatilaughs.com/laughing.html
In 2009 I moved to Thailand to teach English in response to a longing to do work that involved connecting with people. In the beginning it was stretching and challenging and I was growing personally. I was experiencing the full monty in cultural immersion at the Thai government school where I taught, and I had complete creative freedom to teach English using songs and games. The kids were loving and playful and for a time it was deeply fulfilling.
However as the months started to roll by, I began to notice that it was the emotional well-being of the students that was important to me, as opposed to whether or not they were increasing their vocabulary. I preferred being with the rougher kids, the non-academic ones fraught with issues. I could relate to their plight; I too was once that insecure, awkward and rebellious kid. I longed to be able to reach them on an emotional level and at times I found it frustrating and limiting that our interactions were restricted to songs and games.
After three years in government high schools I moved to teaching in language schools where I could teach individual students, as opposed to large groups. I really hoped this one-to-one interaction would give me the opportunity to get to know each student on a deeper level and to uncover their own personal road blocks to the English language. I wished to interact with them more meaningfully than merely feeding them grammar and vocabulary. I knew the scope of help I could offer went deeper than just this.
Since I was a kid I had always had regular, vivid visions and feelings that my life’s orientation was in the realm of the healing arts. Some of these visions I can still remember in great detail. Along with this I had been on a long personal journey of releasing my own inner knots and hurts layer by layer as well as freeing myself from a debilitating health condition that had been following me around for years. Other signs which alluded to my life path were the countless times I had found myself to be the attentive listener and councilor with colleagues, friends and family members.
Over time playing the role of the English teacher started to feel cumbersome and superficial and eventually daily life was a dreaded grind, I was a fish swimming upstream. However the thought of making ‘yet another’ career change was totally unfathomable (I had made a few already in previous years). Internally I denied and blocked out my own inner voices and I fought hard against them, rationalizing to myself that I would find a way to satisfy this part of me while I was teaching English. I can remember days when I had to truly force myself to go and teach and then placate myself after class with Thai massages and food.
One afternoon after my classes were complete I went for a walk to a waterfall, where I had often gone to when I needed to have a little heart-to-heart with myself. After a few minutes in the fresh and tranquil surroundings, I knew with absolution what I needed to do. That very next day I resigned from the Language School where I was working, I could no longer live with such internal disharmony. At the same time I enrolled for a one year life coaching course with Inner Life Skills® totally unknowing how I was going to pay for it and survive at the same time.
The truth is, I was terrified. I remember walking around for several weeks feeling totally overcome by shock and fear, it was horrible. I had the sensation that I was jumping off the edge of the world into complete darkness. It was frightening. I wondered what would become of me, where would life lead me to, would it all work out in the end, how would I survive?
Several weeks later and I was blissfully immersed in my coaching course, which had been unexpectedly and very kindly sponsored to me. Studying life coaching for one whole year was heavenly. I woke up each morning with much excitement knowing I would make a little more progress in this desirable direction and I was making a meaningful impact on the lives of others. I knew I had found that ‘thing’ that deeply fulfilled me. That year I experienced a massive re connection with myself.
What is it that makes you come alive? Is your daily working life feeding your spirit in the direction in which it wishes to expand? We are in this physical form for a very specific reason and yet many of us have struggled at some stage of our lives to know what that reason is. I struggled with this for many years, and in fact for a long time I felt like I was at the mercy of life, being thrown around in one direction and then the next. It was finally in 2012 that I started to take big steps towards pursuing the career of my heart and soul. I believe each of us has a deeper life purpose, and with a little courage and investigation it can be revealed.
I was recently invited to China to give an interactive laughter yoga presentation at a large Spa and Healing Arts Conference at the Jinzhou Congress Centre in Southern Hubei Province. This trip certainly gave me multiple reasons to laugh, and to be amazed and intrigued all at the same time.
When I arrived at Wuhan airport I was met by my host, a very charismatic and youthful spirited character. The Spa Conference itself was hosted by the World China Health Association in collaboration with the Jingzhou Holiday Inn Hotel, where I stayed for the first few nights of the trip.
There were some really flashy Chinese and Taiwanese celebrity movie stars and singers who were performing as a big feature of the show. China has talent for sure, they were incredible. In between these glamorous performances were presentations from some healing arts practitioners; Balinese massage, sound bowl healing, Thai yoga massage, Fast track technique, Ayurveda hot oil therapy, and then there was Laughter Yoga J
I was curious as to how the Chinese would take to the idea of ‘laughing for no reason’ without the use of any jokes or humour to induce laughing. I was delighted to find them to be very enthusiastic and willing participants and quick to become playful when presented with fun little exercises which are designed to stimulate and trigger laughing
My hosts really looked after m extremely well; - 5 star local cuisine in a 5 star hotel with in-house Spa and movie facilities, massage and numerous photo shoots with the various performers and audience members,. Meeting, greeting and laughing with all the fascinating and friendly folk that I met. Laughter; it really proved itself to be an international language.
วัด = Wat = temple
ป่า = Pa = forest
ถ้ำ = Tham = cave
วัว = Wua = cow
Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery (WPTW) is exquisite, to say the least. It is located on a huge piece of land on the only road between Pai and Mae Hong Son, in North-Western Thailand. The moment I arrived I was captivated by the sheer beauty and splendor of the place.
It was high time for my next temple retreat. After my previous 10 day sitting last year many aspects of my life shifted to a lighter space having gained a broadened perspective. Over the last few weeks in Chiang Mai I had been going around in circles in my mind. The same fears and struggles were continually resurfacing and I needed to break free and clear away the next layer of limiting patterns from within me. I chose to stay at WPTW for 10 days (plus two extra days for travel) since in my experience it takes up to 7 days of meditation to reach the deeper levels the mind. Although I could see significant mental changes in my perception even after one day of meditation, the habitual mind is so deeply ingrained, the longer I invest, the better.
Getting to WPTW from Chiang Mai is easy. I hopped in a van from Arcade bus station to Mae Hong Son and informed the driver that I needed to be dropped off at the Wat. After 5 hours of driving along a very curvy road which winds itself up the mountain slope (it is not a comfortable journey), I arrived. There is a large sign on the main road, it cannot be missed. I was fortunate to have a Thai lady in the van with me who was also heading to the temple, she offered me a lift in her car for the remaining 1km.
Temple talk on the street in Chiang Mai had it that that this Wat is run by a very warm hearted and continually smiling Abbot, which proved to be most true. As I arrived he emerged in full cheer and directed me to my private Kuti where I was to sleep and meditate. A very luxurious wooden abode on stilts, minus the fact that there is barely a mattress on the wooden bed. I was housed in No. 25, when added together = 7, the number of spirituality and deeper awareness.
At this Wat, we can choose if we wish to talk during breaks or remain silent altogether. If one wishes to be silent you will receive a badge to pin to your shirt that says, “Silent and Happy”. I remained somewhere in between, speaking only when I felt it was truly necessary, following the middle way. At WPTW we must wear white clothing. At times this made me feel as if I was wondering around in my pajamas all day, and other times it made me feel like a fairy or an angel. I watched my mental associations with some amusement.
In life I have realized that I am given the experiences I need and not the ones that I want. Choosing a temple to spend time in is a great example of this. When deciding where to go for retreat, my mind emerges with a whole wish list; a peaceful and beautiful place, a cave nearby, daily Dharma talks, English speaking monks etc. Personally I’ve realized its best to abandon all of these ideas and throw myself wholeheartedly into the hands of the mighty universe which knows far better which temple is going to give me what I need the most for my highest awakening. Easier said than done, yes, however I can be sure that this is what will happen regardless of my hopes.
WPTW is home to several Buddhist monks, one of which is a tall slender and very attractive looking monk, originally from Myanmar, who speaks perfect Thai and fairly good English. He is known as The Teacher, as he leads the Daily Dhamma talks and explains the meditation method. During walking meditation practice I glanced at him a few times; his gracious, calm and poised demeanor and evenly paced strides were a sight to behold, a beautiful phenomenon. I reminded myself to return to my practice and stop entertaining such thoughts about the monk.
The Teacher described the meditation method used at WPTW. Using our breath as our object, we fix our attention on the inhale and the exhale, keeping the awareness and the breath unified. Noticing the feeling and temperature of the air as it enters and leaves the nostrils. As soon as the mind wonders astray, returning it to focus on the breath, without any judgment or anger of oneself, just simply returning it. During practice my mind wondered away constantly, I would notice it caught up again in its own illusory stories. Sometimes I would assess the value of these stories and ask myself, “Was this story beneficial to my life in some way?” The answer was always a resounding, “No”, the thoughts were simply useless mind wanderings, stealing my present moment away for no valuable reason.
The Teacher Monk from Myanmar explains the two types of Meditation that we were practicing; Samatha, which literally means ‘calm’, for calming and concentrating the mind, which we did by walking very slowly for an hour twice per day, and using both our steps and breath as objects for focus. The second type is Vipassana, meaning, to ‘see things as they really are'. We practiced this three times per day by focusing on our breath while sitting for 40 minutes and then lying down for 20 minutes. The point of this is to dispel and tame the constant jumping around of the monkey mind and concentrate it into one point to create mental fortitude and discipline, as well as clearing out defilements from the deepest layers of the mind, body and spirit. It is powerful; the effects of the practice have motivated me to stay committed to my daily personal practice.
Anyone that has been practicing meditation for some time will tell you of all the many benefits. I myself was completely enraptured by the power of meditation after experiencing my first 10 day sitting some time ago. There are several meditation methods, however I believe it's best to choose one method and just stick with it. Judging ones method and wondering if it is the best one is defeating the point of practice, and gives the mind further material for fear and doubt.
All pain in the body is ultimately created in the human mind. This may seem like an unusual concept for someone who has not spent some time reflecting on it. When we still the mind and remove our awareness from the external world, habitual patterns, fears, ideas and perceptions from within the mind and the body break down and leave the spirit altogether. Ultimately in practice we are seeking to go from a scattered mind to a concentrated mind, to eventually reach no mind – here we are free from “self” and have merged into our true one-ness with all things. There is no point attempting to understand this with the mind, since it is the mind that has created the misperception of our separation from all things in the first place. Thus, meditation is an experiential practice, and too much time talking about it, defeats the purpose. Better to stay with the chosen method, and keep going.
I discovered an added and unexpected benefit during evening chanting practice; an opportunity for me to practice my Thai reading. This meant I would need take a Thai chanting book, instead of an English one from the shelf. I am quite a shy soul and so each evening I attempted to be inconspicuous and hope no-one would notice that I was reading from the Thai chanting book, as this would create unwanted attention from the other meditators, which I didn’t want.
WPTW is not strict and thus we must choose our own level of commitment to the practice. Many foreigners arrive at the temple from the neighboring town of Pai, which is like hippy central, in my opinion, and thus they have come to get a tourists snapshot of a monastic lifestyle. This makes for a worthy environment for me to watch my mind and notice how it judges and forms opinions of the various folk that come and go. Lately I have really been training my mind a lot; seeing others as they really are instead of how my ego perceives them. I find this to be an extremely helpful practice in keeping my heart softer than my head.
At this Wat we can choose to what extent we interact socially and to what extent we remain focused on awareness and presence. I personally don’t believe the two blend well together since to achieve greater awareness of ‘What Is’ it is necessary to remove oneself from social interaction. I chose to keep to myself and only interact when the moment truly called for it. It was fascinating to see what resulted - allowing mindlessness to dictate where I sat during meals, and who I was drawn towards and repelled by, it was liberating being free of having to make such decisions. Perhaps this is what life would be like if I didn’t think so much; free flowing, free of judgment, open-hearted.
One day I was practicing walking meditation on my own in one of the enormous manicured gardens. The Abbot emerged from his quarters and summoned me towards him. I wondered what on earth he wanted to talk to me about. His English, while quite limited, is very endearing. He motioned for me to sit down and proceeded to give me a bracelet made of wooden beads and a highly sweetened bottle of berry juice.
He then told me a story of how he wondered around Thailand, meditating in caves for 41 years. The Abbot shared a few personal stories and told how several times tigers would emerge from the forest and circle around him while he was meditating alone at night (are there tigers in Thailand? is he referring to wild cats or leopards?), in these moments he prayed to Lord Buddha to protect him. Several times during meditation he opened his eyes and looked directly into the eyes of a snake peering at him, fortunately many snakes in Thailand are not poisonous. “Vipassana have Power”, the Abbot repeated this statement many times. Clearly it does; he has his own very efficiently run monastery on one of the most spectacular pieces of land I have ever seen, he is always smiling, always joyful. The first time he came to this land, where the monastery is now located, he told me, he felt compelled to write a letter to the Thai government and ask permission to build his monastery upon it.
Every day at 10:30am it is customary for lay persons to offer the lunch to the monks . The Abbot summoned the men to collect the food and the woman to offer the food. He would call us to come, I found it quite amusing; “Woman come offer food, England, Korea, Singapore, Japan, America, Australia… etc.”, he would say. Every day he had a new list of countries, however I never heard him mention my very own South Africa. My white colored South African skin is ever a source of confusion for Thai people.
One morning while washing dishes after breakfast a French man proceeded to tell me that there we no good T’ai Chi, teachers in China, and that they were all in Taiwan. He had spent time in China searching for a good a teacher, only to find himself with one who turned out to be an alcoholic. The second time I spoke to this man, he said that WPTW was not the right temple for him since the Teacher monk was very annoying and he had heard all of the teachings before. I asked him what had brought him here in the first place and what he had hoped to receive from coming. He seemed to like my question since he stood up and came to sit opposite me. After a bit of probing to attempt to understand why he was in such turmoil, I decided to risk being direct and told him that I experienced him as someone who is unhappy no matter where he finds himself. He must have appreciated my directness, since he warmly thanked me at the end of the conversation.
On another occasion I had a conversation with a Russian man after lunch. He told me that he felt it was good that we could choose to speak between meditation sessions if we wished because then we could practice being mindful with our words. Soon after this he told me how he regarded many people in Thailand as very stupid among saying some other very mindless things. I was not enjoying the conversation so I told him to please leave me alone to read my book. Interestingly enough, despite this first conflicted encounter, we had become friends by the end of the retreat.
One afternoon, I was taking a meditative bare-footed stroll up the mountain, towards the meditation cave. En-route I turned to greet a young Russian girl who was walking alone. Her English was not good, but we were still able to chat. She told me how unhappy she was with her life, since she didn’t know what she wanted to do and it was making her very sad. She wanted to be a writer but her parents had told her that writers were poor and unhappy people and she would do better as an accountant. We then spent over two hours together talking. I asked her a lot of questions in the hope that she would be open to seeing her situation in another way. I much empathized with her since I myself have been in that painful space of not knowing my true direction in life, and feeling tossed around and confused. She did appear to be a little more uplifted by the time I left her.
Over breakfast one morning I began chatting to a Korean girl who had been living in India for several years and was now living in Berlin with her husband in Germany. She told me that she didn’t want to work because earning money was capitalism and she didn’t want any part of it. She then told me she was struggling because she was very sensitive and she absorbed the emotions of other people very easily and as a result she felt emotionally burdened which resulted in occasional sleepless nights. I told her that I too was very sensitive and I then proceeded to share with her some of the techniques I use to protect myself from the emotions of others.
Meditation practice increases my awareness that all my judgment about myself or others exists purely in my illusory mind. Every time I am aware of myself judging and recognize that my judgments exist in my illusory mind I let go of this habit a little more. By continually training my mind to return to the present moment, fear lets go of its grip. Fear does not exist in the present moment thus this illusion is created by habitual patterns of living in either the past or the future.
One of the most helpful benefits of a long meditation retreat is the opportunity for me to see my own fears and judgments in crystal clarity. This is not possible to the same extent in normal daily life due to the distractions of the external world. On retreat I can loudly see my own imperfections and this enables me more internal space for self-compassion and compassion for others.
One of the key qualities that helps me a lot in the success of daily life is mental discipline. Remaining in the present moment by continually integrating meditation and mindfulness into my daily life. I love the fact that time is longer and increased when living in the present moment. If I invest 30 minutes of practice in the morning, I have gained several hours in the remaining part of the day - not only do I perceive time as longer, but I can accomplish a lot more in one day. It’s so interesting, my 10 days of meditation felt like about 10 weeks; so many present moments, my experience of time is expanded and a moment can feel like infinity.
I have let go of my “self” to a greater extent after this retreat. I feel less self-important and self-involved and more expansive and inclusive. I am so grateful to Wat Pa Tam Wua and the many Temples that exist to enable such awareness.
During my stay I read two books which I highly recommend. The first ‘Song of Mind’, written by Chan Master Sheng Yen, contributed massively to my remaining committed to the method and keeping my mind out of the way.
And the second book, ‘Lovely Love’, by Luang Phaw Dhammajayo. This book gave me wise insight about integrating Buddhist teachings into my primary relationships.
“May all beings be free of enmity and suffering….” excerpt from evening chanting, Reflections of Loving Kindness.
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In order to tell you the story about my Big Changes I need to go back in time to my former life in 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I was born and raised. I came to a point at age 29 where all aspects of my life collapsed at about the same time, it was a devastating and very difficult time. The disappointment of an unfulfilling career path, the painful failure of my significant romantic relationship, a struggle with ongoing health challenges, the unresolved pains and remains of my shattered family life as well as the challenge of existing in a country that was struggling to find its feet and its freedom – all these left me in a state of merciless surrender to a world that seemed unkind. I felt I was left with only the echoes of one pertinent question loudly beckoning from within;
Did I have the courage to ask myself what would really and truly make me happy? I had done my best to fulfill the life that I felt my family and society had wanted of me, perhaps it was time for me to find out what I truly wanted and find the courage to do something I had never done before.
Little did I know that this pertinent conversation between me and my own heart was due to lead me to a completely different style of life in another country. And that this was to be a pathway filled with much happiness and adventure as well as packed with all sorts of soul stretching experiences which would continually test my inner conviction to remain on a path less ordinary but greatly heartfelt.
The answer to my question was most surely answered. I resigned from my work as an architectural technologist, I sold all my earthly possessions, I said goodbye to my security patrolled, electrically fenced city as well as a lifestyle of military perfectionism and told my family that I was moving to Thailand to pursue an English Teaching career.
In Thailand a brand new chapter was born; it was dramatic, painful, exhilarating, loving, profound, scary, passionate, liberating and powerful beyond words. This story has yet to be shared. Stay tuned.