#TBT Throw Back Travel Memories Part 1: Volunteering on a Buddhist Monastery in Thailand!

Each Thursday, I will post a throw back Thursday post from my old website about my trip to Australia and SE Asia! This week’s is a post about volunteering on a Buddhist Monastery in Northern Thailand!

During our last two weeks in Thailand we watched eight sunrises. You must be thinking, “wow, what partyers!” It’s not what you think though. For the past ten days, we volunteered at an amazing project in Northeast Thailand near Khon Kaen and woke up at 5am everyday to do yoga and meditation.

The Mindfullness Project, started a year and four months ago by Christian and Anja, a German couple that once took the vow to be monk and nun in Wat Pho Monastery in Khon Kaen. Now their project has moved from the monastery grounds in the city to a forest monastery.

Their vision for the project is to raise awareness and funds to restore the forests of Northern Thailand. At the moment though they are just at the beginning of building their new center in the forest.

Each morning we awoke at 5am to a chorus of partying roosters and dogs. Their hoots, hollers, and howls made it difficult to fight the alarm ringing in my ear to wake up. With bleary eyes, we each walked down to the school for our yoga and meditation. We all looked like zombies meandering in the dim light of headlamps.

In the flickering light of a candle, we observed our every breath as we practiced mindful yoga. Each stretch helped to awaken our limbs. Once our body felt more alive, we focused in on our minds. At first I experienced a lot of frustration with meditation. My mind seemed to drift in and out of dreams as I attempted to wake up. Then near the end of the ten days, I started to succeed in focusing my mind and watching my thoughts. It felt so enlivening.

As we each slowly exited the yoga school and welcomed the new day, we were greeted by a happy rising sun. Each day presented us with a different array of colors painting the morning sky. I always took time to pause and observe the suns glorious ascent.

On the slow walk home, we each took our time to absorb our surroundings. I tried to walk slowly and listen to every crunch of gravel beneath my shoes and every bird singing it’s morning song. Somedays my mind became immediately distracted with thoughts but on a good day I could be present in the moment and observe my surroundings. Focusing my mind got easier as the week went on.

Everyone ate breakfast in silence. I chewed each bite of fresh fruit and coconut yogurt with a conscious mind. I tasted every sweet bite. After breakfast we all worked on different projects in groups. Twice I volunteered at the local school teaching English. The children had zero structure in the classroom making it challenging. I enjoyed connecting with them though.

Other projects included building the kitchen out of stones and cement, making a mosaic, preparing lunch, and gardening. I worked on all of these projects except for gardening.

After a hot day working in the sun, we all gathered on the steps and helped prepare lunch, which was always vegetarian and half raw/half cooked. The raw component always amazed me, because I never knew eating raw could be so good. A lot of the sauces were made with nuts and coconut milk making them tasty and healthy. Lunch was always eaten silently not because we had to, but because it was so good it made us speechless.

In the afternoons, we relaxed or swept the path around the monastery. At 6:30pm everyday we had a sharing circle to share our honest feelings from the day, good or bad. Everyone felt comfortable to share openly in front of each other. The group always felt like a close family, no matter who came or left. We all respected and loved each other from the start, making it difficult to say goodbye when people left.

It is truly amazing how each person that passed through the project doors brought true hope and joy to the project. Everyone also had inspiring skills and stories to share with the group. Each time a person left, we had a proper goodbye of prayers and love for them. I cried during mine.

On the weekends, we visited Khon Kaen for the night market and a break from sleeping on the floor. On our last Saturday it was Buddha day. On Buddha day you prepare food all morning then bring it to the monastery to offer to the monks. We listened to the beautiful chanting of the monks and meditated, then shared our food with the monks and villagers in attendance. The lovely women of the village also shared their food with us. Each food brought to my lips was a surprise in flavor and texture. I loved this practice, which happens each week in accordance with the moons cycle.

Later that day we visited Khon Kaen and wandered around the city before going to Wat Pho, the temple where Christian and Anja were monk and nun. Here we saw the beautiful grounds where they built an earth back dome with mosaiced walls and interior used for darkness meditation. Then we sat in the temple for more chanting and meditation. I really felt connected to these words even though I couldn’t understand their meaning. The chants place a warm guiding hand on my heart. I felt love inside me instead of the usual fear.

Leaving this project and these wonderful people made me feel like I was leaving the nest for the first time, scared but prepared to face the world with new eyes.

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