It was easy to see why the 5-star and very luxurious Le Meridian Resort was selected for the Happiness Retreat in Thailand. Set in acres and acres of landscaped gardens, and situated on a beachfront, it was conducive for meditation. The resort was pretty much secluded, since it was situated in Khao Lak (which was not on the more popular and crowded Phuket Island). In the night, the resort was awashed with sounds from the crickets in the gardens. In the day, while sitting on the verandah of our room, we could catch the chirpings from the birds. This being the rainy period, the resort was not fully occupied with tourists either. Instead, it heralded a quiet charm, perfect for relaxation for both body and mind!
Ajahn Brahm Taken During The Happines Retreat
It’s been 2 days since I came back from The Happiness Retreat. The retreat was organised by the Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore, with guided meditations led by Ajahn Brahm, the abbot of the Boddhiyana Monestarty in Perth. When I first found out about this event, I did not hesitate in signing up, as I have been a follower of Ajahn Brahm’s talks for more than 7 years now. If you have not heard about him, then read this biography found in Wikepedia about who Ajahn Brahm is. He is gaining much popularity nowadays, as the author to the book Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung and as one of the few Western monks taught in the forest Thai meditation tradition by Venerable Ajahn Chah. A few days of intensive lessons on How to be Happy taught by a monk, renown for his wit and practical wisdom, would most certainly be a rare treat!
What had also attracted me to signing up for this trip was the opportunity to bring my kids. It was the first time that Buddhist Fellowship had opened up its retreat to families. It would be perfect, I thought, for I could listen to Dharma talks and go on guided meditations, whilst my kids have the option of spending their time at the Kids Penguin Club of the Le Meridian Resort, where the retreat was conducted; or if appropriate, to listen in to the talks. I was looking forward to the trip that even my husband’s subsequent cancellation of his plans to join us, in lieu of business meetings, did not deter me from going ahead with my plans.
I was in for a surprise on the place that I was going. In my eagerness to book the trip, I omitted finding out more about the location that I was going. Not that it mattered any way. Well, en-route, I found out that Khao Lak was one of the worst places that were hit by the tsunami in year 2004. The effects of the devastation were still felt to this day. Although much has been rebuilt, we could still see ruins of many buildings left standing. I was also told that parts of Khao Lak never saw the return of family clusters since the tsunami.
The Happiness Retreat
Ajahn Brahm was his usual self during the Retreat. He interspersed several jokes and stories, in between life lessons. Much of what he taught had a central theme: Meditate for Happiness. He also touched on anger, jealousy, worry and fears – emotions and thoughts that obstruct our way to happiness. Ajahn Brahm highlighted the importance of present moment awareness and about Being in the Now. He skillfully introduced how meditation can help us cultivate inner joy and also, taught us the basics of meditation.
Lessons on happiness did not just end with talks and guided meditations. Some of us also went on an optional trip to an Orphanage, which was set up to accommodate kids left behind in the wake of the tsunami. The trip turned out to be an enjoyable one for both my kids and I. I was impressed with how clean and organised the set-up was. Although the Orphanage was built to house 30 kids, they were already accommodating 50 kids. We had arrived at short notice but the orphans were able to quickly put up a puppet show for our benefit. It was hard to tell that behind their lovely smiles, were painful memories of the tsunami that had swept their parents away!
My kids having a photo taken at the Orphanage in Khao Lak
Needless to say, I was also pleased to find out for myself that the donations I have made via Buddhist Fellowship had gone directly to helping these orphans. The saddest thing would have been to discover that our donations have gone pretty much to paying for the admin costs of managing a charitable foundation, as is frequently the case. I thought it would be nice to visit the Orphanage again either next year or sometime in the near future, to see the new extension wing that it is hoping to build to accommodate even more orphans.
The Happiness Retreat was overall a happy one. For a while, it did not appear so. What was supposed to be a time for peaceful sanctuary was interrupted by my kids bickering over small issues. I started to bemoan that the retreat, meant to help me cultivate calm and stillness, was being ruined by two kids fighting over who got to brush their teeth first (don’t laugh….but this really happened!) one night or who took the red color pencil the next night.
However, my frustrations and disappointment soon dissipated. I decided that to be a happy mommy, is also to practise patience. My kids had acted no differently, be they in Singapore or Thailand. Being so close in age, they experience sibling rivalry somewhat. They can fight and then, kiss and make up, several times a day. I could hardly hold them so tightly to their promises to be good during this trip.
If anything, it was my expectations of how my retreat should be like, that was creating even more problems. Since I have decided to bring my kids along on this trip, I should be reasonable in not expecting a 100% bicker-free trip. As soon as I made a conscious decision to be at peace and be happy, I was able to view things in good humor.
My daugther: An Angel for Now?
It was also nice to be expose my kids to another side of life. What my kids could clearly see for themselves during the visit to the Orphanage was that they did not have to share a bedroom floor with 49 other kids. I had to explain to them what the tsunami was and how the kids lost their parents. I wanted to impress upon them that there was much to be grateful for. Neither should they take for granted their toys, happiness and each other. They nodded their heads in agreement. And that - for the time being - was good enough for me!
No…I did not manage to attain Enlightenment in the last 7 days. Neither did I come home with a halo over my head. But I am happy that I got to enjoy a couple of good meditation sessions; one of which I intend to write about in my next post. I believe that it contains an important key to paving the way for cultivating present moment awareness; and ultimately, leading to inner joy and wisdom. If these are what you are looking for as well, stay tuned!