In Thailand the influence of Buddhism is seen everywhere- from the serene monks walking down the street to the beautiful temples and Buddha statues scattered across the county. I am not religious but I have always had a deep appreciation for buddhism. It is an inviting religion mixed with science and spirituality.
I think this quote from Buddha perfectly explains why Buddhism is such an non-judgemental and inviting practice:
“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
There are many quotes from Buddha that have inspired me and so I decided that- while I was in a country where 93% of the people are Buddhist– I would learn about the religion. A large part of Buddhism is mindfulness and to be mindful one must meditate. However, I did not know the first thing when it came to meditating.
I have always loved yoga- which is often seen as a form of meditation. But when it came to actually being still and sitting peacefully with my breath- that’s where I struggled. I couldn’t imagine sitting and not thinking about anything other than my breath. I mean let’s be honest- it sounds pretty boring.
Yet, one day while wandering around Bangkok I stumbled upon a pamphlet about free meditation class. This must have been a sign from Buddha…does Buddha give signs? Nonetheless, I was in Thailand and if I wasn’t going to learn to meditate here I was never going to do it.
So, the next day I went to the mediation course. I walked into the room where there were about seven other people. Everyone-like me- was a traveler. Some people were young and some were old. Everyone was there for their own reasons.
The lesson was taught in English and started out with our instructor teaching us about the history of meditation and it’s benefits. Some of the benefits of meditation include the following:
Decreased anxiety and stress
Makes you more present- leading to happiness
The lesson then continued with us practicing breathing exercises. We were taught how to acknowledge the sounds and movements around us, but to not give into them. This is something that takes a lot of practice. I had a growing itch on my leg and it was easy for me to acknowledge but very difficult not to give into.
Then we practiced meditating while walking. Each step consisted of four distinct movements and each movement was accompanied by a your breath.
As I left the meditation I felt so relaxed and peaceful. What surprised me is that I came out of that class learning a lot more than just how to meditate. I realized that mediation should be how we see our whole life. For example, if there is something that makes you angry, acknowledge the arising frustration, but do not give into it. As Buddha says “you will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”
Happy with the progress that I had made, the next day I decided to join a real meditation practice. I came back to the same place but joined the real Thai meditation this time- led by a monk. I was the only foreigner there and everything was spoken in Thai. None of this surprised me though. What did surprise me was that the practice was three hours long! As a meditation newbie this was way more than I had bargained for.
Nevertheless, I had signed up for this and so I stayed until the end. I didn’t reached enlightenment but I was happy to have learned the steps to become more present and mindful. Things always go wrong when traveling and meditation can teach us how to stay calm when our plans go astray.
If you want to take a free meditation class while in Bangkok, Wat Mahathat offers classes in English and by donation. The classes are three hours long and held daily from 7 – 10 a.m., 1- 4 pm and 6 – 9 pm.
There are also many other meditation courses around Bangkok and Thailand so if you happen to stumble upon one I would highly recommend giving it a try