'No me, no my, no self, no soul. No me, no my. No me, no my.' The venerable Ajahn Poh, seventy-eight year old abbot of Suan Mokkh monastery in the southern jungle of Surat Thani, renowned spiritual leader and author - gaunt of body, bald of head, orange of robe and calmly, childishly radiant of face - gave me his verdict on how to overcome my meditation struggles on the sixth day of my ten-day silent retreat.
I wanted to hit him.
It's been tough thinking about what - whether - to write about my experience practicing anapanasati (mindfulness with breathing meditation) at Suan Mokkh. An outpouring of introspective narrative seems rather a betrayal of the present-dwelling, mind-clearing, ego-dissolving Buddhist ethos in which I've been immersed.
In fact, it’s been tough plunging back into the socialmediopolis, with this renewed sense that I am simply firing off emotions scattergun; throwing me-bombs into the global village green; polluting our thinkspace with… well, with thinking, for the sake of the neural kick.
Although maybe the tough part has been how easy it is. Here I am, plugged into iPod and mobile and Mac on the First Great Western to Abergavenny, writing as indulgently as ever.
Ajahn Poh was gently, maddeningly, wisely alerting me to the gusto of my ‘monkey mind’. It grasps on every mental image with an brutal opposable thumb; swoops from branch to branch of sensation; turns it all into one long Tarzan cry of selfhood. It exhausts me before I’ve even got out of bed.
Breathing, observing, and focusing my mind for ten long days barely slowed its pace. From the very first session of sitting meditation (at 4am) my body and brain threw a petulant tantrum and sprung bruises inside and out. But really that’s what they do all the time: the toddler approach to life. And this time, for the first time, I got to watch as well as participate – even, occasionally, opt out.
The food, what of it you could cram in before noon, was great. Fabulous. Fabulous tofu. Who knew?
The straw mat and wooden pillow were brutal. I broke the rules and killed a mozzie. I killed two.
I have no idea what the consequences of my trip will be. I’m always going to be more monkey than monk. I choose emotion – I choose suffering – but I do feel that choice itself is starting to have a slightly bigger role.
It feels like a beginning.
But this time I don’t get to make up the end.