How Practicing Meditation With Monks Changed My Life

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Have you ever felt a pull towards something but ignored it?

Maybe you felt it calling you but you just didn’t have the “time” or “ reasoning” for it to make sense.

Let’s circle back to February of 2020 when I decided to follow my intuition.

COVID was just starting, the world was freaking out, and I had just moved to an island in Thailand after selling my first content business.

I was doing well. I had a nice little room on the Island of Koh Lanta, a number of friends who were living nearby, and a cool little co-working space, Kohub, to work out of.

The island of Koh Lanta is a very calm and peaceful place.

At this point in my life, I had started to practice meditation on my own every day but it was somewhat of an on and off activity that helped a little bit.

I used guided meditation apps sometimes and other times I practiced without any help.

As someone who has managed living with a chronic illness that has an underlying emotional and anxiety component to it, I definitely felt that deepening my meditation practice could be helpful.

So with enough free time on my hands living in the land of the Buddha, I decided to follow my intuition and find a nearby meditation center I could sit at.

Little did I know that this experience would have a profound impact on my life and the way I viewed the world.

Finding a Place to Sit and Learn

So I was on the search to find either a monastery or a meditation center close enough where I could ride my motorbike there every day to practice meditation.

Not to mention I was fascinated with Buddhism after living in Thailand for a while and wanted to learn from a monk who had more experience.

There was something about the wisdom and philosophy of the Buddhist tradition that really appealed to me after suffering a lot in my life with a digestive disorder. 

In Thailand, it’s pretty easy to find a nearby monastery or meditation center since the large majority of the population is Buddhist.

I opened up my computer and did some google searching for meditation centers or monasteries nearby.

There were a few options, but one stood out. It was called the International Meditation Center in Koh Lanta

It seemed like the monks there could speak English and they were welcoming of all people from around the world, so I decided to take a ride down there to check it out.

I rode my motorbike up and down trails next to the beach for about 30 minutes before arriving at the right location. I then entered the private road that led up to the meditation center. It was a pleasant winding road that ran through the forest.

The center was peaceful, quiet, and situated on a gorgeous plot of land.

At this time it seemed like there were not many people around so I walked around to try to find someone to talk to.

I finally found a monk and he told me that there was open meditation every day at 11 and 6:30 PM and to come back when I wanted to practice.

Check out International Meditation Center Koh Lanta:

Practicing Meditation with Monks 

Boonrit in the middle

So I made the decision to ride back to the center and for the next month I would visit at least once a day, usually at 6:30 after eating dinner.

My first day of practice was great. I met Boonrit, a monk who I would be sitting with for the next month.

He was pretty matter-of-fact, kind, and helpful when getting me started.

He explained to me the technique I would use for walking meditation which we always started with when I arrived.

He told me to use the mantra “pu-to”, a two-syllable phrase to focus on while walking and sitting. I can’t remember exactly the meaning of this mantra in Thai, but it was something nice.

So for the first 30 minutes of practice, we would walk back and forth practicing focusing our mental concentration on the mantra in conjunction with our steps.

After 30 minutes of walking meditation, we would transition to sitting meditation.

I used a rectangular cushion and blanket for padding on the ground.

Not gonna lie, this was my first time sitting in a Burmese-style posture on the floor and I definitely had some knee soreness and numbness since I’m not super flexible.

After we finished the 30-minute sitting meditation Boonrit would say a quick Thai style prayer and then he would open up for questions as we were stretching our legs.

So we did meditation for a total of 1 hour (sometimes 1.5).

The Experience I Had and How it Changed Me

The lower pavilion of the center was great at night

First, I think one of the most important things that I did when starting this practice at the meditation center was to go into it with a completely open mind.

A lot of times people will take their own mental baggage into a retreat or a new experience and view everything from the lens they have developed in their life.

When I decided to learn from the monks at this center I wanted to take a beginner’s mind. This meant that I was welcoming, open, and receptive to everything they had to offer including any rituals they used, styles they wanted me to practice, and insights they had.

Looking back, I think it was the perfect time to do this because I had just off-loaded one of my business projects, I had free time, and I was living on a small island in Thailand where the population was small and the way of life was dramatically different from where I grew up.

It was a ripe opportunity for cultivating a beginner’s mind.

So, how was my experience?

It was definitely life-changing.

Like I said, before this I had been doing some 10-20 minute meditations on my own or with guided help from an app but after improving my practice at the meditation center it was a night and day difference.

To put that in context, I haven’t used a guided meditation since. 

Below are the main experiences I had:

  • I was able to cultivate more consistent concentration and clarity which allowed my body and mind to relax (I would say this was one of the most peaceful time periods I had experienced in my life)
  • I started a process of deep insight into my life, mind, and the world in general which has continued since. I realized how much of an impact our unconscious emotional reactions and thoughts have on our lives and how they cause so much damage to the world
  • It showed me a state of being that was free and at peace with the world. My motorbike rides home after practicing for an hour were insanely peaceful 
  • My digestive illness improved a good amount and I was able to have more stability with it 
  • I was happier, less agitated, and able to see the world in a more loving way

A lot of those experiences mentioned above occurred because I was able to reach very deep states of concentration that I had never actively cultivated in my life before.

I found that usually after the 30-minute walking meditation my mind was calm and clear, then when we went to sit for the remaining 30 minutes I was able to reach very deep states of concentration, clarity, and equanimity. 

When I would reach those states of mental concentration I would naturally have insights and subconscious material come up from my mind. 

You learn a lot about yourself when this happens.

I also began to notice that when I started to learn more about my mind I was able to see the same issues in everyone else in the world, which allowed me to have more compassion towards other people. 

The patio where we meditated was outside in the Thai forest and Boonrit would sometimes light incense to make it smell nice.

We could hear the crickets and bugs making noise around us and the two dogs that lived at the center barking.

It was an awesome environment to practice in. 

After we were done with the hour we had the opportunity to ask the monk questions.

I remember sitting there as Boonrit would answer questions and it felt like I was glowing. 

I don’t even recall asking many questions because I just wanted to relax in the peace I was experiencing at the time.

One last funny note is that occasionally when my legs would get sore I would take a moment to shift them around a bit and while I was doing that I would take a quick glance at Boonrit to see how he was meditating. 

Man was he dialed in. He would sit in half-lotus posture and it looked like he was sleeping but obviously, he was just extremely calm and focused. 

Overall, practicing with monks at the International Meditation Center in Koh Lanta had a big impact on my life because it started the process of greater personal awareness, improved mental equanimity, and increased compassion and love for the world. 

The Following Six Months After Practice

As the COVID pandemic was heating up and I was living in Thailand practicing meditation it came time to make a decision if I should return home for a while to ride it out or if I would continue living in foreign countries.

The main deciding factors that made me go back home to San Diego were the following:

  1. My Thai visa was expiring soon 
  2. A lot of airlines were starting to shut down 
  3. The country I was considering living in next (Japan) was about to close to foreigners 
  4. At this time the pandemic was uncertain and the numbers were rapidly increasing

These four factors made me make the decision to return home to San Diego for a while to ride out the initial surge of COVID.

That being said, I would only later look back on this time and realize how perfect the timing of my meditation practice was in conjunction with the pandemic and the following social isolation after returning home.

For the next 6 months after returning home to San Diego I continued to practice.

I would sit for 30 minutes in the morning and then do either a walking meditation in the evening or both walking meditation and sitting meditation in the evening.

I can honestly say that during this time of lockdowns and public freakout I was the most stable and calm I had ever been in my life or at least for the last 5 years of my life.

This just shows how the external environment never causes problems, it’s your internal environment and mind which are the issue.

The external environment just activates your internal issues when they are ripe for picking.

I would continue to meditate consistently every day and over the next year or so my health and well-being was very solid.

This was a big deal for me because I suffered from a pretty severe digestive disorder for the last 10 years of my life.

I think the reason practicing with monks helped so much is it forced me to sit for longer periods of time consistently each day.

Once you directly experience deep states of equanimity, clarity, and concentration you realize that it’s the way you were meant to function so it motivates you to keep practicing.

Looking Back On My Experience Now

The restaurant I would stop at on the way to practice

I’m writing this post about 2 years after my experience practicing at the meditation center. 

As of today, I’ve meditated every day for the last 2 years. It’s a part of my morning routine before starting work and sometimes I get 2 sessions in a day but always 1. 

I’d say that it has been very helpful for me managing my health condition, as well as slowly improving my awareness of myself and the world around me. 

I’ve been able to lower my medication use a good amount that I needed for digestive function and mental health which is great, as the practice has allowed me to better respond to the ups and downs of life.

The technique I use now is a little bit different than when I started. I’ve gravitated more towards mindfulness meditation instead of mantra-based meditation.

The mantra style of meditation was perfect for me to start with to improve my focus but I got to a point where I knew it was important to improve my sensory clarity and insight as well using mindfulness. 

Mindfulness has also been better for working through my personal issues as it allows you to sit with them instead of focusing on an alternative point of concentration.

I’ve also changed up my sitting style a little bit. I now sit mainly on the edge of a chair or on a meditation bench in seiza style on the ground.

Occasionally I’ll sit in a cross-legged Burmese style but I found that if I was working out more and jogging that giving my knees a break in an alternative position was good.

In conclusion, I’d say my experience has had a big impact on my life because I feel like I’m slowly becoming more myself, peeling back layers of emotional pain and purifying my mind to see the world in a better way.  

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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.