Back in the monastery, the Venerable Arjarn Ekachai instructed us on our routine, which was to be similar to the one at the previous monastery. Over the next week, we maintained silence and kept the routine as instructed.

My only challenge was walking barefoot through the villages. The country paths were at times rocky and at times full of bristles and thorns, but we marched through it despite the pain.

The Venerable Arjarn Ekachai would meet with us in the afternoon and late evening, when he would go over our practice of mindfulness.

Because there were no mirrors, we did not know what we looked like to each other. The others treated us with great respect and reverence and the villagers were very generous in the giving of alms, which mostly included rice, vegetables, fruit, boiled eggs and sometimes even a bar of chocolate.

It was amazing to see the generosity and love and reverence in the eyes of the peasants as they offered food to us. We ate once a day as in the previous monastery.

By and by, I started to feel I was losing my sense of my previous identity. Physically, I was without hair on my scalp or my eyebrows. I walked barefoot. I wore the robe of monks. I practiced mindful awareness day and night, in addition to meditating on impermanence and on my own physical death.

The Venerable Arjarn Ekachai explained that being in this mindful state and shedding our previous identity allowed divine qualities to emerge—loving kindness, compassion to all beings, happiness at the happiness of others and equanimity. Indeed, I felt the truth of all this in my experience.

I realized that holding onto anything is really like holding onto your breath. You begin to feel suffocation. It was freeing to let go.

Before we went to the closing ceremony, we took our hair and packed it in palm leaves and went to the Mekong River, which runs between Thailand and Laos. We boarded a boat and went toward a shrine along the river banks where we offered our hair to the river and it floated away. This was symbolic of letting go of our habitual certainties and attachments and creating the space for new and better and more spiritual things in our lives. The hair, which is part of our body and came from the elements, was returned to the elements.

After a full week, Jate and I returned to Bangkok, once again wearing our regular clothes. But when I looked into a mirror, I could not recognize myself and burst out laughing.

What he learned from this life-changing experience


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