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Requirements for self-practice:
No talking or speaking to anyone including using mobile phone. Prior to undergoing self-practice in seclusion, you may notify your family members and let them have the contact numbers of the temple for them to contact in case of any urgent matters.
If you need something or have any request or questions, you may write it down on a piece of paper and place it outside your kuti near the place where food is delivered.
What is provided:
Meals would be delivered- breakfast, followed by lunch. There would be a hot water flask with packet drinks as well as water supply. Kuti comes with attached bath so one can bath and wash clothes within one’s kuti.
As Khun Mae has installed some individual kutis for self-practice, I would like to share my experience of having undergone this practice. As each and everyone of us are different, our experience may differ.
My personal experience
I undergo self practice in seclusion in 2008 when I was staying with Khun Mae at her temple in Lampang. During that time, she mentioned that self-practice in seclusion is good and would help me. I remembered that time she was quite busy in building a kuti for people to stay (she was always personally involved in all the construction to save on construction cost). But she briefed me that I was to stay by myself for 9 days without speaking to anyone.
A hot water thermos was placed together with prepacked coffee and milo. To avoid any preconceived notions, she did not go into lengthy discussion or give any detailed instructions. The message was ‘just do it and you would understand‘. I was to stay alone in the kuti for 9 days and she would send someone to inform me when I could come out.
For the first time, I was really trully alone with myself and my thoughts. Usually as lay people, when we are bored we tend to look for distractions like watching TV, listen to music, eat or talk with other people. Way back in 2008, people are not as distracted as now with smartphones and tablets- and hence may encounter more challenges in calming down the heart and mind.
There was all sorts of emotions that ran through me during the 9 days. My imagination played some tricks on me and I became afraid at night. The fear was good because it pushed to me spend more time to meditate and do chanting especially at night.
First few days I read some Dhamma books and tried to practice but realised I could not practice like what the books taught. The hours passes by slowly, especially after it gets dark.
Initially, I had problem keeping my heart calm- I had gone for retreats before I knew Khun Mae but it is different that staying in seclusion. In retreats at least we go in contact with others even though we are not supposed to talk to them. When I travel to other temples to meditate on my own, we do interact with others. Whereas when staying in seclusion, there is virtually no interaction. I was dreading on how was I going to complete the rest of the 9 days- my heart could not calm down on its own.
Then it came….the toothache.
It was about the second or third day and I felt the toothache started after breakfast. It did not take long for the toothache to turn into a totally throbbing pain. Few years ago the same thing happened when I was in a meditation retreat and could not calm down my heart (as I was working on a highly pressurized corporate job) and I also had a toothache.
The great thing about toothaches is that it forces one’s heart to really focus on an object- either on the breath or on the pain. For those who have severe toothache, one would know that the pain is so encompassing that one could not think of anything else. Strange as it may sounds, but the toothache helped me to calm down myself for I did not dare to think anything because pain would immediately be felt even at the slightest lapse in mindfulness. Because a toothache is painful (emotionally) because we relate to it as emotion pain. But essentially it is a physical pain- just a throbbing sensation and if we are mindful enough, we can stop the physical pain from becoming an emotional pain.
The pain went away about 2 to 3 days later.
My heart had a lot of gratitude for those who had to specially prepare my food, for the person who carried the tray of food over to me before she could have her meal, and then come back and take back the tray to wash. And the next day to repeat the process again.
Of course there was boredom as hours goes by slowly and the nights are long. Often I could not able to sleep at night. I alternate between chanting, walking meditation and meditation.
There was lots of realization and when I stayed there I thought of my parents with gratitude and could feel with my heart all the sacrificies made by my mom as she struggled through many adversity to raise me up. Then I also thought I had other realizations about past life affinity (but later as I asked Khun Mae she said these are the heart moving outward- and we should always avoid such speculations because what happened in the past life, belonged to the past).
Sometimes my heart feel calm, and sometimes it felt agitated, sluggish or tired. There are also angry, sadness, grief, regrets….. all types of emotions come and go. If we give power to them, the negative ones tend to linger. Whatever emotions that arises always changes and that was why Khun Mae tells us do not let our lives ruled and being dictated by emotions. When Khun Mae advised to others, often one may agree but may not be able to comprehend the meaning truly in one’s heart. But when one observe the rise and fall of these emotions when staying in seclusion, one sees them more clearly. Hopefully one develops mindfulness and wisdom one would be able to exercise self-restraint so as not to let emotions trample all over our hearts, letting our lives ruled by emotions which is something that changes all the time.
Khun Mae herself had gone into seclusion practice in the past and know of its benefits. Practice in seclusion is not about rest and relax, reading Dhamma books and enjoying the scenery.
It is about watching our hearts, our emotions and physical sensations. To establish mindfulness and develop patience, endurance and gratitude. For one who never really spend time alone with one’s ownself, it can be quite a challenge and it is not easy. But with faith and perserverance, one can do it!
When teachings is delivered in a Dhamma talk or an inspiring book- one may get very inspired to practice but with time, the inspiration may wear off as the practice may become too much of an effort. One may get disheartened as one felt that one does not have what it takes.
But as one commit onself to stay in seclusion to practice, one can learn and comprehend as the understanding is no longer merely at an intellectual level. In future, one develop resillience to carry forward till completion of difficult tasks.