This 12-post blog series is dedicated to 12 of the most valuable insights that I gleaned during my 10-Days of Silent Vipassana Meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh, a Buddhist monastery in Surat Thani, Thailand.
Having listened to monks speak for 10 days, I can confirm that most of them are closet comedians. In honour of their light-hearted approach to life, I’ve tried to write these 12 blog posts in an amusing and entertaining way.
The 12 insights are: 1) Silence. 2) Expectation. 3) Fatigue. 4) Adversity. 5) Cleaning Toilets. 6) Impermanence. 7) Attachment. 8) Authority Figures & Control. 9) Pace of Life. 10) The Present Moment. 11) The Pond. 12) The Tree.
I hope that the insights prove to be as valuable for you as they were for me.
Insight 12 - The Tree
A majestic tree resides in the centre of Wat Suan Mokkh. Having admired it for the first 6 days, and recently liberated by my pond meditation experience, I decided to make it the object of my meditation on Day 7.
Once again, I sneaked my meditation cushion out of the main hall and took it to a small open-air hall next to the tree. And as my fellow silent meditators returned to the main hall following walking meditation, I remained.
I took a few deep breaths and observed my surroundings. Most notable were the ominous clouds quickly making their way towards us. I could feel the electricity in the air, the tingling feeling of excitement and apprehension before a storm.
About 15 minutes into my meditation (I'm guessing - I had no watch), the storm hit. Dramatically. Powerfully. Ferociously.
I opened my eyes to witness it while still focusing on my breathing. My senses absorbed the moment. A torrential downpour. Deafening noise. Raindrops striking the earth with tremendous frequency and force. The savage wind wreaking havoc as it malevolently danced between the trees.
And the tree, standing strong and firm amidst the chaos around it.
It was immovable. Unshakeable. Enduring the storm with patience, for it knew that the storm was impermanent, that it too shall pass.
The tree began to sing to me, just as the pond did the day before, and I began to synchronise my breathing with it:
(Inhale) I stand strong,
(Exhale) I stand firm.
(Inhale) I stand patient,
(Exhale) I stand grateful.
The storm passed 15-20 minutes later, leaving behind sunshine and blue skies.
And the tree, having patiently endured the onslaught of the storm, now glistened with every part of its being. It glowed in victory, in strength, in peace and in gratitude – just like we do after we make it through a particularly challenging obstacle. We bask in our victory, praise our strength, and feel relief and gratitude at having made it through.
I meditated further upon the tree until it was time to leave for evening chants. I’ve typed up some more extracts from my diary here:
“The big tree must have been around for centuries. And yet it is constantly being reborn – though its roots and branches are firm, its leaves are constantly growing and falling. The tree is impermanent, ever-changing throughout its life. It has no attachment to its identity – leaves grow, and they go. But those same leaves re-nourish the tree and the earth around it. In letting go of a part of itself, the tree not only feeds its own growth, but gives back to the earth.
The elements keep the tree in balance. The same rain that pelts the tree, that can drown a tree, also nourishes it. The same sunshine that dries the tree, that can parch the tree, also feeds it.
The same wind that tests the tree, that parts it with its leaves and branches, also gives the tree a voice with which to sing. Without the wind, a tree’s song would not be heard. And when there is no wind, the tree is beautifully silent. It simply is.
The stronger the roots of the tree, the deeper its connection with the earth from which it receives the gift of breath, and the more capable it is of standing steadfast and resolute in the face of adversity.”
We should all aspire to cultivate strong roots that connect us to the very essence of our being. Our foundations shouldn’t be built upon accomplishments or material objects; they need to run far beneath our surface to the depths were not even ego can follow. We shouldn’t be afraid to let go of the leaves on our surface – as with the tree, the things we let go of may actually help us to grow.
To this day, when I face adversity, I imagine the big tree standing steadfast and patient in the face of the storm. I imagine it glistening with victory having survived its onslaught. And then I stand strong, firm, patient and grateful, and I embrace the challenge awaiting me.
I hope that the 12 insights in my “Meditating With Monks” blog series have brought as much perspective and value to you as they did for me.
May you keep growing from your past. May you keep striving for your future. And most importantly, may you keep shining in the present moment.
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.