31 century museum in Chicago

Meditation Retreat at Wat Pa Chicago (Self-Leaning)

Lauren Goldstein

The meditation retreat was an opportunity to experience traditional Thai Buddhist Vipassana meditation. Though the retreat only lasted for 2 days, we were immediately immersed into meditation techniques, and challenged to commit our bodies and minds to this task. It was extremely tough to sit still in silence for several hours a day, though this was an expected part of the retreat. What my classmates and I didn’t expect was to be fed a Thai feast at lunch both days, and to witness the offerings of food to the monks. We were treated with the utmost kindness, and this cultural experience was so greatly appreciated. This retreat also helped me understand Kamin’s concept of the 31st Century Museum because his background and art practice eventually lead him back to traditional meditation techniques, and meditation is all about understanding, knowing and being at peace with oneself.

Rebecca Hernandez

While short in comparison to most meditation retreats, the intensity of this visit was greater than any meditation experience I have ever had. I have been interested in alternative medicine and holistic lifestyle choices for most of my adult life (even if my interest rarely made it into my daily life). Meditation was one of those practices that always seemed so appealing but so difficult for me to adopt. I’m used to “doing.” A lot of it. So sitting still for me—just staring at the wall, as someone I know would say—usually makes my skin crawl and my limbs twitchy. And quieting my mind seemed an impossibility. My mind races most of the day, making any awareness of the present moment a significant challenge.

All of that is still with me. Twitchy limbs, crawling skin, ever-lengthening to-do lists in my mind, and guilt about all of the pieces that haven’t quite come together in a day. The meditation retreat was not a transformative experience in the sense that it jumpstarted a daily meditation practice that has put me on the path to enlightenment. But it has changed me. Maybe in ways that have yet to realize themselves in my daily life, but my thinking has shifted. I have new tools to deal with these obstacles the prevent me from living in the present. The words of Thanaprasert as he led us through numerous shifts of walking and sitting meditations—the chats that we had after each session, the opportunity to talk about these challenges and understand that they’re ones that we all face—are still with me.

So, have I meditated every day since our retreat? No. Have I meditated some? Yes. And I strive to do it more frequently. And rather than feeling guilty for not adhering to a strict practice, I’m recognizing without judgement that I’m neglecting a tool that in the short term can help me face the struggles of the moment with thoughtfulness and care, and in the long run can provide a space for me to examine and reexamine my life, my choices, and the position that I choose to place myself in this world.

Joel Parsons

When I got home from the meditation retreat I noticed that I was sore, and exhausted. The hours of sitting and slow, steady walking were somehow both stimulating and enervating. I wish I could say that I woke up the next day at dawn to chant, or that I sat with myself for hours on a patch of grass. But I didn’t – I slept in, I probably ate a cheeseburger for lunch, maybe I napped? I’m not sure, but I think I am noticing my breathing more, and that’s something.

Katie Waddell

For a novice meditator, one would think that the most memorable experience I took away from two near-solid days of meditation would be a cricked neck, an aching back, and a newfound awareness of the limits of my own attention span. As it turns out, meditation is hard, hard work, and I felt every bit of it on the train ride back to the city. What really stuck, however, were the afternoon ceremonies with the monks and the sense of community they fostered.

We were invited to have lunch with the monks and the Thai locals who support the temple and use it as a gathering place for familial celebrations. Every Thai family brought a dish. The dishes were passed from monk to monk who, taking a little of each, dropped food into their individual (and rather large and official-looking) bowls. We formed a chain to collect the dishes that the monks were finished with and passed them to an adjacent room, where we would eat once the afternoon ceremony concluded. There was a certain grace, or graciousness, and efficiency with which the meal and ceremony were conducted. Everyone pitched in. An assembly line was formed to deal with dirty dishes. Children were tended to. Everyone was fed. We were asked to help ourselves to anything on the table. We were treated as honored guests and not Buddhism tourists, which could have been a fair accusation. It reminded me of something we discussed with Ken at City Farm: that food (such an ordinary, often remarkable thing) can be a locus for community and exchange. In my life, food is an indulgence or inconvenience at best. Here, it was both an offering and bonding experience. If what Ken says is true, that there is a correlation between our relationship with material resources and people, then how might our relationship with mealtime, and food as a resource, be reflected in other areas of our lives? How might our lives change if we started thinking of people and material resources in terms of gifts and offerings rather than as a necessary hassle?

Marissa Lee Benedict

Of all of our trips, the two-day excursion to the Natural Buddhist Meditation Temple of Greater Chicago was for me the most unusual, and in a sense otherworldly, of our Chicago adventures. Both physically (in terms of distance) and mentally, it was the most removed from my everyday existence; it felt somehow as if I had left Chicago entirely, traveling to someplace impossibly located between Chicago and Thailand. A prairie-style Midwestern home adopted – and adapted – by Thai Buddhist monks, the temple is an amazing space filled with hybrid cultural objects and traditions. It is a place where Thai is the first, rather then the second, language spoken by monks and visitors alike. Wonderfully, and surprisingly, I felt a tourist in my own city.

Although I have read about how the design of Japanese rocks paths are created to alter the visitor’s pace and the rhythm of their stride, I have rarely slowed myself enough to experience the act of actively walking with both body and mind. My usual state while walking is one of intense mental activity, my attention either devoted to mulling over a problem I wish to solve or lost in observation of the world around me. My mind is never fully directed toward the placement of my feet or to my physical contact with the ground. It is only when I lose contact by tripping or falling that I pay attention to their activity. Introduced to us at the temple, the practice of walking meditation made me – for the first time in a long time – hyper-aware of the point of contact between my foot and the earth. The repetitive roughness of the uneven path underfoot and the occasional cool, smooth feel of grass brushing against my feet as I wandered to the edge of the walkway became both repetitively numbing and exhilarating. The intensity of my focused mind and body somehow seemed to generate for me a simultaneously calmed and awaked state. Sitting meditation, while similarly activated by focused attention on breathing, was admittedly more difficult, and I know Thanaprasert (our monk teacher) was patient as my head continually nodded off the left or right.

Above and beyond the meditation sessions, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of both the monks and the families who came to the temple to care for – and be cared for by – the monks. Presented to us both days of the retreat was a sense of dedication to family, community and religion; a rare experience in the West, yet one which seemed typical of traditional Thai culture. I hope to continue living and practicing with this spirit of generosity as I return to my everyday existence.

Kamin Lertchaiprasert

Do not astray in happiness and suffering.

Share Published on Sep 20, 2011 at 4:37 am.
Filled under: 31 century museum in Chicago
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