Maybe mindfulness is exactly how the Thais’ are able to deal with this city’s craziness?
A few weeks ago, I attended a beginners meditation class at the International Meditation Center, Wat Mahathatu, Section 5. We weren’t hidden away on top of a mountain in the middle of a forest somewhere, we were smack in the middle of Bangkok.
Inside the monastery were rows of white buildings with small trees in front of them, and wide pathways that were strangely deserted apart from the cats, sunning themselves on the pavement. My friend and I found our way to Section 5, descended a small staircase and ducked into a tiny doorway to get inside.
There were four people total in our class. We each took a cushion and when everyone was seated, our friendly orange-clad teacher welcomed us and gave us an introduction to meditation. Don't worry about whether you're doing it right or not, he said. We started out sitting, for about half an hour. I tried to focus on my breath, but after a while all I could think about was how my foot was going to sleep. I didn't want to disturb anyone by moving around, but in the end I had to stretch my legs, then went back sitting cross legged. It wasn't particularly comfortable. I'd meditated before, but never for this long I guess.
Next we tried walking meditation, walking back and forth across the tiny basement room very slowly, one step at a time. Rising, moving, treading, rising, moving, treading. Standing standing standing, turning, turning, turning. We had to keep our eyes open for this one so we didn't bump into anything. We did one more session of sitting meditation afterward, and then we chatted with the monk.
"We're all the same, you, me, everyone else," he said. "It doesn't matter if you are Buddhist or Christian or Muslim, whatever, you can still practice being mindful."
Very wise! What I appreciate most about mindfulness is that it gives me the ability to observe my emotions and thoughts without being attached to them. "Oh, I'm putting myself down again," I can think. "That's kind of mean." You realize that you're thoughts are just thoughts, and not necessarily the truth. And that's empowering, because you can control your thoughts, even when you can't change the situation. This is all in an ideal world of course, and the more runaway thoughts you have the harder it is to be mindful. But it's still something to strive for.