5 lessons from a meditation retreat in Thailand

Sleep, Meditate, Eat, Repeat

This year I decided to combine 2 of my favorite traditions: to go to Thailand at least once every 3 years (so far I’ve been in 2013, twice in 2016 and now in 2019) and to attend one Vipassana Meditation retreat every December (so far I’ve been in 2017, 2018 and now in 2019). The experience has been amazing so far and I am so glad I took this month off from work to travel, meditate and think. As I spend my first day in the real world after the retreat, I remembered that some months ago my friend Derek recommended to me that within 2 days of attending a conference or event, I should take time to capture all my learnings from it before I forget them. So while I sit at a coffee shop in Chiang Mai, I decided to follow his advice and capture the 5 lessons I got from the mediation retreat I just finished yesterday:

1. CANT CHANGE IT. Every time I attend a meditation retreat, due to all the free time I have to think, and also because my brain doesn’t want to concentrate, my mind throws at me memories of events or things that happened way in the past, it makes me regret things that I should have done or not done, things that I should have said, etc. All of them things that I have not thought about for in years. This time was no different, since at around the 5th day of the retreat (out of 10 days) I started thinking about this girl I went out with on some dates way back in 2013 and 2014, a girl I have not seen or talked to in over 3 years. I started thinking that I should have said this or that, and I regretted not doing things differently with her. While I was caught in this useless thinking, I remembered something that Hal Elrod wrote in one of his books: that you can’t change the past, and there is no point in dwelling on it, whatever happened happened, and I should just learn the lessons and move on. He said to just remind yourself that you “CAN’T CHANGE IT”. This was very helpful since after this moment, every time my mind would go to think about things of the past that I can’t do anything about, I would just say to myself “CAN’T CHANGE IT”, and move on. 

The walking area

2. AS IT IS. The main teaching of S.N. Goenka discourses of Vipassana Meditation is that, by practicing this meditation technique, we are able to live a life free of craving and aversion, where we can take things as they are, not as we want them to be. On day 1, as soon as I entered the meditation center, I was confronted with my first craving: I saw that the center was very small compared to the ones I’ve been in California, the walking area was tiny, no space to get lost in the woods or anything like I was used to. Right away there was a craving: to want to have the walking area that I had at the Yosemite center, and an aversion: that I was not liking the center and was already regretting my decision to go there. Not a good start to my retreat. As the days went by I saw that they place was trying to teach me a lesson, this was my opportunity to apply what I was learning: I needed to accept the place as it was, not as I wanted it to be, otherwise, I would be unhappy the whole time I was there. After this realization, every time I would start thinking on things I wanted to have, but couldn’t, or things I did not want, I would just say to myself: “AS IT IS” and move on.

Sitting of Strong Determination instructions

3. THERE IS NO TRY. Days before leaving on vacation, I got together with some friends in San Diego. During that evening, I was telling Derek what my plans for 2020 were, and I said: “ill try to make it work”. He stopped me and said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “there is no try, either you do it or you don’t”. Days later, during day 6 of my retreat, I was able to apply this: for the last 5 days of the retreat, 3 times a day we had the opportunity to do “Sitting of Strong Determination”. The first day I was only able to do 1 out of 3, since sitting for an hour without moving is way harder and painful than it sounds. The second day I was on a roll, I did the first 2, when it was time to do the 3rd, I was pretty tired since it had been a long day, so as I walked in the meditation room I said to myself “I’ll try to do this one”. As soon as I said this, I caught myself and remembered right away what Derek had told me, I thought “what am I doing? either I do it or I don’t, there is no try”. After realizing this, I said to myself: “I will sit for 1 hour without moving, there is no other option”. And it worked! I was able to sit through the whole hour without moving. This taught me how powerful it was to change what you said to yourself and I decided to do the same thing for every sitting after that. I can happily say that it worked and I was able to do every single sitting of strong determination.

4. SOME THINGS NEED TO DIE. During FLI‘s October XCHANGE week in Cleveland, Branden DeLonay told a story from the book “The Children of the Morning Light“, about how death came into the world. The lesson of that story is that some things need to die in order for other things to live. This lesson came alive for me when, during my mediations, it became very apparent that some things that I am doing in my life have to die in order for me to do and succeed at other things. When I first heard this story, at the time I thought I had to keep alive all the things I was doing, but after taking this time off, I was able to think more clearly and realize that there are in fact things I should not be doing.

5. PRESS PAUSE. During the last months of 2019 I had been struggling with what I needed to do in order to take my coaching project to the next level. The steps I needed to take were not clear to me and I didn’t knew how to solve this. At the retreat, I was able to see how valuable it is to press pause on your life every year to think, since during the retreat, after having hours and hours to just think and relax, all the steps that I need to take in 2020 became extremely clear. I realized I knew the answer all along, but I was keeping myself too busy to realize it. I need to just stop, relax and think. After this experience, I am more determined to keep this tradition of mine to take a month off at the end of the year to just travel, relax and think.

I am surprised by how much I learned during this mediation retreat, and how helpful it is to capture everything right away, since for the last 2 years that I’ve been attending retreats I didn’t do this and now some of the lessons have been forgotten…

If I apply these lessons during 2020 (and I will), it should make for a very interesting year, full of peace, happiness and success. I hope they are as helpful to you as they were to me.

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