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“Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing that dance.”
-Dr. Amit Ray, meditation scholar
I knew I was interested in exploring Buddhist meditation after visiting my first temple (or “Wat”) in Thailand. As long as they are respectful, world travelers are welcome at these places of worship. The number of meditation classes and retreats available throughout Thailand pleasantly surprised me. That said, I didn’t want something catered to touristy Westerners. I traveled to Koh Phangan, not for the Full Moon Party, but for what I’d read was a highly respected meditation class.
… Did I mention that “class” was a 10-day silent retreat? I truly don’t know what I was thinking. I think I am an annoyingly all-or-nothing type of person, but I realized with growing panic I had bitten off way more than I could chew. I knew nothing about Thai Buddhism, and I thought I could hang with the pros, in silence for 10 days? Ugh. Talk about Western arrogance. After enjoying a few island sunsets (chatting my little American butt off), I returned to Bangkok and went back to basics. That’s where Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit comes in.
After chickening out of that 10-day silent meditation retreat, I decided to take some baby steps into the world of Vipassana meditation. This turned out to be an excellent decision, because it ultimately led to one of my favorite experiences in Bangkok. Meditation, particularly Vipassana, is truly beneficial for anyone—long as you have an open mind and respectful attitude! Personally, it was the best thing to happen to my mental health since Nutella.
What was the meditation class like?
The two hour beginner’s meditation class at Bangkok’s Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit (no, they don’t teach you how to pronounce it) provides an excellent and authentic opportunity to learn about basic Buddhist meditation techniques. First of all, it is taught in English, and has small enough class sizes to allow for questions and personalized advice as you practice your meditation technique. It is held in Section 5 of the temple, in sort of an international education area that is very well-marked and easy to find when walking along Maharat Rd. Every day at either 7:00, 13:00, or 18:00 (you can check updated times here) you can show up and dip your toes into the ancient practice of Vipassana (“insight”) meditation practiced throughout Thailand.
What do you do in a meditation class?
This, according to our ever-smiling monk teacher, is the key to pure happiness. Otherwise known as… nirvana! That’s the goal some people spend lifetimes, let alone two hours on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to achieve.
We practiced walking meditation for a half hour, which was super interesting. I didn’t realize this was even A Thing, but it was so cool to practice mindfulness as we literally just walked around a room. Normally, I’d say we walked “aimlessly” around a room, but can you be aimless when you’re being truly mindful? I had this newfound appreciation for my body, somehow, and how my legs got me from point A to point B with just a nudge from my brain. There was no need to think of anything else, which was exactly the point.
After the walking meditation, we practiced sitting meditation for another half hour. This came with more challenges than walking meditation, as it was easier for the mind to wander… but with our teacher’s guidance we had some idea of how to best handle and learn from those challenges. If anything, the half hour of each seemed too short and left me wanting more! It’s ridiculous how quickly both of the meditation sessions went by, actually.