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To be able to sit with oneself with no thoughts of then or now, to simply exist. To close your eyes and be content with darkness. To be patient, to be silent, to be mindful. I hear that word a lot… “mindful.” To be aware of self and mind and of your surroundings. But how can we achieve this? Can everyone be mindful or is it just those who care enough to try?

The past two days at the monastery I was asked to challenge those questions. We all were. We have been asked to sit on a paper thin, brown cushions in rows of 15 while we direct our gazes at three giant gold buddhas. He stares right back at us. It feels as though his eyes peel each and everyone of us, like an onion, not stopping until reaching the raw fleshy core within us all.

We wear clothes of white and some lavender. Women’s hair must be tied in a knot at the base of our head while no voices are allowed above a whisper. I was awoken this morning by Willow. She tapped me gently, awaking me from my comfort, as she told me it was time to start the day. It was 5 am.

We sleep in one open room seperate from our male counterparts. The room has nine body sized mats lined against two walls. With each there is a small pillow and a brown blanket not even big enough to cover my toes. We rose and prepared for the day in absolute silence. Ramphai was sitting, back straight as a board, legs folded and eyes closed at the edge of her bed. We finished our routine and each joined her.

We walked in a straight line with our umbrellas in hand to the Dhamma Hall. There we started our meditation. I felt as though, when I closed my eyes and stopped thinking, I was going mad. Strip away the mindless chatter and noise of everyday life back home, and I saw myself. At one point it went from black to white to red. I saw myself standing.

When I looked into my eyes I saw everything you could possibly imagine. I saw anger and fear, happiness and safety. But what I saw scared me. Once we finished I found my peers asking me questions during breakfast while I stared blindly into space, head nodding. How come, even after 15 years, I still hadn’t seen myself like this?

During our break time we gathered at a rocky overhanging to do our usual check in. Still in a trance, I listened to the words fall from mouths and I couldn’t help but cry. I buried my face into my knees and felt a hand in mine. Teresa. My other hand was taken. Kate. We walked together once more to endure our evening meditation. I was still quiet.

I sat in the back this time, looking around to see rows upon rows of women and men alike sitting with legs folded and eyes closed in dress of white and lavender. Twelve monks chanted before us as we echoed their thunder with noise of our own. Then, once again, I was faced to face with myself.

After the last three prayers were sung for the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Sangha, some grabbed tea while other left to rest for the night. I sat alone in the back of the dining room and I wrote of my experience. I was soon joined by my new family and I finally opened up about what I saw, crying once again.

Others cried too. They had experienced the same thing. This time here, these hours spent alone with ourselves, has changed every one of us. Whether we know it yet or not. For now, my mind is at peace with itself, and I now spend time reflecting. Tomorrow I will wake and feel this once more.