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As the holiday season approached, I met more and more people on the road trying to figure out what to do for New Year’s Eve and asking other travelers for suggestions. I was no help to them though, as I had already decided to spend my New Year’s Eve in silence at Tam Wua Forest Monastery in northern Thailand.
I had first heard of the monastery after I embarked on this journey through Asia and decided it was something I would like to experience. It just so happened that the best time for me was over the holidays. And so I returned to northern Thailand once more, this time to check out the hippie haven of Pai, and more importantly, spend some time in meditation at Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery, located off road 1095 between Pai and Mae Hong Son, roughly 8 miles from the Burmese border (if you cut straight through the forest).
Unlike many other places that have meditation programs, no registration or fee is required at Tam Wua. You simply show up, and when you leave, you leave any donation you wish. I’ve been dabbling in meditation and mindfulness over the past 2 years, so I had an interest in a deeper experience. The hefty price tags attached to most similar experiences were enough to keep me away, however. In the same vein, the lack of one made Tam Wua a realistic possibility.
My intentions heading to the monastery were based in peace, patience, and reflection. In no particular order:
- Experience something different
- Reflect and learn more about myself. (In part it is to help me figure out what I want out of my next job when I get home. On a larger scale, to clarify what I want in my career and life overall.)
- Learn more about mindfulness and have guided meditation practice.
- Go off the grid and live each moment without societal and technological distractions.
I also chose to be silent during my entire stay at Tam Wua, though that’s certainly not a requirement.
I had initially planned on staying for two weeks but ended up having to leave on my 8th day due to an unforeseen issue that had to be dealt with. The time I did have at Tam Wua certainly fulfilled each of my intentions to varying degrees though. I’m still processing my experience in these initial days as I reenter the real world, but here are some thoughts:
- There is something surreal about a place so peaceful, quiet, beautiful, and nurturing. It’s so rare to find in this world of ours.
- Mindfulness in life’s daily activities is much easier when the people around you are also mindful. For example, I learned to eat more mindfully at Tam Wua and actually chew my food, unlike the wolf child that I am. It’s easier to do so at the monastery because most people also eat mindfully. People are not reading or on their phones; few people even chat. I hope to be able to continue strengthening this habit as time passes.
- Being at the monastery made me feel that I need to slow down my life and live each moment more in the present. I feel I do that much more while traveling and need to maintain that softer pace back at home. Going mostly off the grid while at Tam Wua certainly helped. I should also consider what I consume on the Internet each day and how that impacts my life positively or negatively.
- I don’t know that I discovered anything shocking about myself as much as I gained clarity about various aspects, from my personality and what I need to be more mindful about to why it is I like or dislike certain things and how I need to consider those as I embark on my job search when I get home.
- I need to be more aware of how I let external factors, such as other people’s behaviors, impact me. It is net negative if it is making me less mindful and/or upset.
- I certainly gained more practice with mindfulness and meditation. It’s hard not to with 7.5 hours of it each day. But more importantly, I gained a lot of foundational knowledge I didn’t have before that will be helpful going forward. It’s hard to build a house of mindfulness without a quality foundation.
So what exactly does one do for New Year’s Eve at a monastery?
Unbeknownst to us, the monks had a special program planned for us on New Year’s Eve. Typically evenings consist of chanting and meditation from 6-7:30 p.m., followed by personal meditation and free time, with the lights on the monastery grounds shutting off at 9 and a proposed bedtime of 10.
On New Year’s Eve, however, we saw people setting up something while we were chanting. They turned out to be candles. We were going for a nighttime candlelit walking meditation session. Another sitting meditation afterwards capped off the 3.5-hour meditation session, and then the monks gave us blessings and advice. As midnight finally approached, a special chant helped us cross into 2018.
More to come on Tam Wua (updated with info on visiting here). For now, I leave you with my favorite Buddhist principle:
Nothing is permanent, all things decay and die, and all things are beyond our control.