By a long series of coincidences, I found myself with Nick, a friendly Aussie girl, asking a monk in the Laotian monastery of Nakhoun Noi near Vientiane if we could stay there to learn about meditation. We were brought to Ajhan Phan, who welcomed us warmly then sent a monk to bring Nick to the nunery and agreed to be my teacher. He made a deep impression on me: he was smiling and lighthearted yet firm and authoritative. When we arrived he gave the impression he was waiting for us.
Ajhan Phan told me four meditation techniques:
- Sitting meditation: concentrate on the breathing and counting it ( inhale: one, exhale: two,… until hundred then start again).
- Walking meditation: concentrate on each step (“step right”, “step left”,…).
- Sleeping meditation: same posture as the lying buddha and stay aware without falling asleep ( when you fall asleep you wake up instantly due to the position).
- And some kind of strange yoga exercise.
Then he told me to follow this programme for one week:
- 3am: wake up
- 7am: breakfast alone in my room
- 11am: lunch alone in my room
- 5pm: shower
- 9.30pm: go to sleep
“At all other times practice the four meditation techniques, one hour each in the order you like. When you have a problem come and see me, but talk to nobody else. Meditation is very easy if you have the will.”, Ajhan Phan added. Surprisingly, with his huge smile he did make it sound really easy. It was only later that I realised how difficult it actually was!
I managed to (very approximately I confess) follow these instructions for four days, but unfortunately Ajhan Phan had to leave unexpectantly after the second day. Without a teacher, I decided that four days would be (more than) enough.
These four days have been mentally challenging. But it made me understand some basic things about meditation. Your thoughts can have a profound impact on your mood and character. Having control over them is therefore important. For example, I’m sure you, like me, must have had some sort of “obsession” or habit that you know is ridiculous but that you just can’t get out of your head. By learning how to let some thoughts go and vanish just as they arrived, you can avoid these successions of thoughts you don’t like. Advanced meditators are capable of experiencing the world without added mental constructions. Just try to look around you for 5 minutes without commenting or judging the things you see!
I’m happy to have done this retreat, it was a great experience. That being said you can rest assured: I won’t turn into a buddhist monk either!
For more information on this, I remember enjoying the talk given by the French monk Matthieu Ricard at Google.