Alright I'm back. I feel good about life again!
The meditation retreat was okay. The retreat itself wasn't really what I was expecting or wanting, but the time to myself outside of the city away from work was awesome. I had a lot of realizations about things and I was able to let go of some things I was holding onto that were causing me stress.
I didn't really "feel the love" at the retreat. It wasn't quite the atmosphere I was wanting. There was not very much sitting meditation, just lots of talks by the monks and nuns, and some walking meditation. One thing I really liked though was there was lots of singing. The dharma talks were a little frustrating/boring because it was non-native speakers of English giving talks in English that were simultaneously translated into Thai, so it took twice as long to get the information across and the message ended up being really disjointed. A lot of times I had no idea what they were really trying to get across. I also felt really sick for most of the time, my body ached, I was sniffly and really tired. So for the most part, not that fun of an experience, but valuable.
On the second last day, they ask you if you want to receive the 5 Mindfullness Trainings which is a Thich Nhat Hanh thing, kind of like vows or precepts to live a better life.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to receive the trainings (there's a ceremony) because the it seemed suspiciously like getting baptized or joining a cult or something (you get a "dharma name", which seemed a tad culty to me, but I actually really like mine (Boundless Love of the Heart), so I've decided I'm okay with it).
Also, you vow to give up meat and alcohol forever which I wasn't sure I was ready to do even though I've had little of either in the last three months. I sat in the meditation hall for about 15 minutes thinking about whether or not to do it and figured that I would if I got a sign. I got up and as I was walking out, a couple that I felt really connected with since the first "Day of Mindfulness" I attended, stopped me to talk. They said that it wasn't really strict like some other religions like "you must never do this again and if you do you should feel guilty" but more like practices to help you along the way to being a better person and having better relationships with people and with the earth. I was also reminded of a conversation with my good friends Gaston and Laurence in which Gaston referred to the trainings as "friends" which gently remind you how to be rather than hard and fast rules. With this, I felt more comfortable and decided to accept the trainings with my personal caveat that it would be okay if I broke them sometimes and that I would not feel guilty if I did, simply accept myself and my situation. After the ceremony the next morning, the aching in my body, the intense tiredness, and the negative energy I had felt all weekend (and the anxiety I'd felt for almost two weeks) lifted and I felt free and happy again. Until then I had been a little disappointed with the retreat, but I realized that that was the reason I was there, not for the dharma talks or other things, but to let go of expectations and guilt in myself and get back in touch with a lighter spirit that had accompanied most of my time in Chiang Mai.