Keep calm and meditate

Meditation session in Bangkok

Photo from casnocha.com

My fascination for meditation began when I came in Thailand in 2009. It’s no surprise because meditation is greatly embedded in Thais’ religious lifestyle. Although some would argue that meditation is not confined to Buddhism. Many practice meditation solely to enhance their well-being without any religious connotation.

I started meditating in 2009 but I only do it for 10 minutes, at the office toilet! It was my way of preparing my mind to write –I work as a writer at the marketing department at the time—or coping with stress. But I have not gone far from that until I stopped.

Yesterday was my first time to attend a meditation session. The weekly meditation happens every Thursday from 6:30-8PM at Ariyasom in Sukhumvit Soi 1. The place is really nice with lots of plants around and some vintage-looking ornaments.

The meditation was led by an English monk. I heard that he was fascinated with Buddhism and came to study Buddhism in Thailand. Since then, he has organized various meditation groups and meditation courses. The session started with a brief introduction of meditation for those who are first-timers including me. After the introduction, we are left to meditate with our own style for 30 minutes.

At first, I felt so calm and at ease, focusing only on my breathing. Whenever my mind starts to wander, I would gently bring back my focus on my breathing. But after a few minutes, the impatient monster began giving me a nudge. I started talking to myself. “I should blog about this. No, don’t think about that yet, just focus on meditating. Hmmm, that Arabic restaurant along the road seems interesting; we should have dinner there after this. Shut up, just meditate. God, when will 30 minutes be over?”


My legs felt numb and then painful. The English monk said that whenever we want to move, we should let 2 minutes pass and see if we still want to move. He encouraged us to just be still and learn to let go of the whim to move. I also learned from a Thai friend who became a monk that pain is part of the process. “When you meditate, it’s normal to feel pain in your legs but after sometime you will learn to accept pain and detach yourself from it.”

I felt uneasy and impatient. Then I told myself, this is exactly what meditation is for. It will teach us to be patient and tame our thoughts. Nothing comes easy. Reaping the life changing benefits of meditation must start with the will and a great deal of hard work –which is ironic because meditation should be making our mind and body still – because silencing our mind is the hardest thing to do.

I realized that attending a meditation session is an effective way to start the practice because with a group, you are compelled to finish the allotted time. Before, no matter how I forced myself to meditate for 30 minutes, I always get up before my time is up. I was so impatient. It needs getting used to and hopefully with the support of our meditation group, I will be able to make this a habit.

After the session, we had dinner at a Bangladeshi restaurant nearby. I had a good time with new awesome friends from Colombia who work at the newly opened Colombian Embassy, an American former professor who has a book on poetry, and a Brazilian lady who came to Bangkok for 3 months to find herself. And oh, I’m able to drink lassi again! I ordered it because the name sounds familiar and when I tasted it I remembered I had it in Nepal. Their fattoush salad is delicioso! Thanks to my colleague Olesya for bringing me there.

Ruins of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya ThailandMy mind was mulling over a quote from the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It goes like this, “A friend took me to the most amazing place the other day. It’s called the Augusteum. Octavian Augustus built it to house his remains. When the barbarians came they trashed it along with everything else. The great Augustus, Rome’s first true great emperor. How could he have imagined that Rome, the whole world as far as he was concerned, would be in ruins. It’s one of the quietest, loneliest places in Rome. The city has grown up around it over the centuries. It feels like a precious wound, a heartbreak you won’t let go of because it hurts too good. We all want things to stay the same. Settle for living in misery because we’re afraid of change, of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked at around to this place, at the chaos it has endured – the way it has been adapted, burned, pillaged and found a way to build itself back up again. And I was reassured, maybe my life hasn’t been so chaotic, it’s just the world that is, and the real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”

I could have been at the right moment, right time and right place like that of Liz if only I was in Augusteum. But no, I was in Ayutthaya. As my mind digested the depth of the quote, my heart was filled with awe at the magnificence of Ayutthaya. I felt joy beyond words.

It is said that Ayutthaya means “invincible city”. One of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It was founded in 1350. Within 417 years as the capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya had been ruled by 33 kings of 5 dynasties. It became one of Asia’s economic and trading hubs. It is surrounded with three major rivers, namely the Chao Pharaya, Lop Buri and Pasak. With its beauty as the ruins stand today, I could not imagine how magnificent it had been before the kingdom fell from the Burmese in 1767.

Ayutthaya

Kingdom of Ayutthaya

The first time I visited Ayutthaya was in 2011 with my cousins who came for a few days vacation. A few months after our visit, Thailand was flooded and unfortunately Ayutthaya was among the adversely affected areas. It can be reached after about 1.5-2 hours drive from Bangkok. There used to be an elephant show back then but we were told it was banned now. Good news indeed because I heard baby elephants suffer from torture while being trained to dance, paint, etc. There is also a small floating market about 15 minutes by car from the ruins. Tourists can also pay for an elephant ride at the floating market. The costs vary depending on how many hours you would like to ride.

Elephant riding in Ayutthaya

I may not be in Augusteum but the splendid beauty of Ayutthaya that endured the ravages of time is enough to assure me that indeed, ruins can be a road to transformation. Even if things fall apart, there is still a chance to stand back up again, anew.

Becoming the monster I abhor

Plato quoteA friend introduced me to her colleagues who were visiting Bangkok over the weekend. One of my joys being away from home is to meet old and new friends visiting Bangkok. Touring them around is also my way of getting to know Thailand better.

All of them –my friend’s colleagues—were nice and fun to be with. But one of them is just extra warm, it’s like her heart is full of kindness which radiates from her sweet smile and soft voice. She’s the oldest among the group, much like our mother. But really, I felt so at ease around her that I couldn’t help but mention it to my friend. That’s when I heard an interesting story.

My friend said that she has never really spoken to that lady except for work-related matters. “People say her personality used to be like that, kind and loving. But she suddenly changed about two years ago. They say she suddenly became aloof. She doesn’t talk to people anymore except for work. Even after meetings, she doesn’t join her colleagues for a cup of coffee. She became strict and unfriendly, very opposite to what she used to be. Even people who have been so close to her, who have worked with her for over 10 years couldn’t understand what has gone wrong with her. She was like that for two years and now she is back to how she used to be, kind and friendly.

I got curious. I told my friend; maybe that lady has gone through very challenging trials in her life. And tough times always bring out the worst in us. And I smiled at the thought that I had my own share of unleashing the monster in me.

I hate confrontations. Whenever I encounter misunderstandings with people, I would opt to stay quiet and not defend myself even if that means I have to take the blame. I could not speak out for myself because sometimes it would mean revealing the other person’s mistake and I could not stand that a person is humiliated or hurt because of me.

My colleague once told me, “nobody can stand up for you except yourself. You can’t just let people abuse you.” I also read somewhere that staying silent and suppressing your emotions is not good. It will eventually take its toll on your health. But I was stubborn. Until one day, I just lose it.


I was overly stressed at work and was facing a lot of problems in my personal life too. I had been suffering from insomnia and I couldn’t eat well. I just don’t have the appetite for any food. I knew something was wrong with me. I was aware that I was not being myself. I just don’t know how to stop the negativities. I cannot decide whether I have obsessive-compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder (see, I have already made my own psychological diagnosis hahaha). Kidding aside, I knew now that I could have been better if I had enough sleep then.

But anyway, in that not-so-good episode of my life, I turned into the monster I abhor. I made this stupid argument with someone and ended up saying words I could not imagine coming out from me. Now that I’m over those dark hours of my life, whenever I think about it, I would regret why I had not dealt with the negative situation positively. But regrets don’t come first and feeling it would not help either.

I believe that the first step to move on is to forgive ourselves and accept that we are just humans; we are not perfect and we are bound to commit mistakes. Like what Rahim Khan said in the book The Kite Runner, “there’s a way to be good again”.

People who we see as bad, people who are cruel and unkind are people who are hurting inside. They need our understanding and love, not our hatred and scrutiny. And when this happens to us, let us not forget to appreciate those people who stayed by our side, the people who never gave up believing in us when the rest of the world slummed its doors.