ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View

Feature Image

Last week we got into the concept of enclave tourism, meaning travel to a walled-in resort. And we adventuring types here at Savvy were a little down on the notion of enclave isolation. But a few listeners have pointed out to us that an enclave trip can be broader than a 5-star luxury resort. Our reporter Anne Marie Ruff lives in Thailand, and she has sent in this account of a ten-day stay in a silent Buddhist retreat - an enclave by any definition. The purpose within the four walls of this temple - all day, every day - is silence. Silence is unfamiliar territory for most Westerners, and it turned out to be a challenge for Anne Marie as well.

Spa for the Mind

by Anne Marie Ruff, 11/2/2001

Real Audio Listen in RealAudio          help Need audio help?

Greetings from Suan Mokkh...which means the garden of liberation in Thai. While it *sounds* lovely...this Buddhist retreat center *looks* like a cross between summer camp and prison. The forest-covered hill is the backdrop for cement block meditation and dining halls and dormitories. Here we willingly submit to sleeping on concrete slabs in little cells, waking at four in the morning, eating two meals a day...and we even follow the rules that forbid talking, writing, or reading for ten days.

Instead we mostly sit and meditate...we fold up our legs beneath us like paper clips. Alternating our right and left legs on top trying to avoid the pain in our knees and the loss of feeling in our toes.

The only time we use our vocal chords is when we chant Buddhist scriptures in the afternoon in the ancient Pali langage.

Sometimes we meditate while walking slowly around the grounds. If you didn't know better you would think we were a bunch of zen zombies slowly torturing ourselves to death without a speck of caffeine or a drop from a hot shower to give us some relief.

But the truth is...what seems like prison camp for the body, turns out to be like a luxury spa for the mind. Without the obligation to make small talk - or listen the idle chatter of others - my mind is suddenly free to observe a million other things.

Like the endless conversations that go on in my own head.

Anne Marie's Mind: "Gee I really would like a pizza...I wonder what I should do about the bills I have to pay...why is it that I always seem to blow it in those kind of situations...?"
But after a couple of days of this, my mind quiets down a bit so I can notice other things as well. There are frogs and insects...birds and wind. Spiders and flowers turn up in unexptcted places. The world becomes an infinitely rich place...and simple things like bathing and breathing become unusually pleasurable. On the ninth day, I reach a state of bliss and think I can understand the appeal of becoming a monk. But on the tenth and final day enlightenment still looks lifetimes away.

While it's nice to get back to three meals a day and sleeping past sunrise, I also wonder what the world would be like if everyone stopped talking long enough to notice how sweet the sound of silence is.

Return to Feature Archive

American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy