In the midst of the trials and tribulations of life, it is clear that rest and a measure of seclusion are necessary elements to the training and balancing of the mind. Meditation is a well-known powerful practice that can achieve this to an acute degree if done correctly. However, it is said that ones’ day is the practice and preparation for meditation. Thus, if your day is packed with high intensity, over-thinking, and stress, then it may take a long time just to wind down in meditation before you can even get into a relaxed state.

In order to tackle such issues in my own life, I took some time out from my own busy schedule to visit Ajahn Brahm’s Buddhist monastery in the magical Serpentine Forest near Perth, Western Australia. Many readers will know of the famous meditation teacher, Ajahn Brahm, from his many books which are always filled with his unique combination of good humour and deep philosophy. His books always feature the practical problems of life and how to deal with them in a more enlightened fashion using common sense and good humour, such as, Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung?: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life’s Difficulties, and,  Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: a Meditator’s Handbook.

I struggled with mediation for many years, even reading in depth about fifteen different meditation techniques, yet I still remained confused as to which technique was right for me. Confusion reigned until I delved into the pages of Ajahn Brahm’s wonderful book, Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: a Meditator’s Handbook, which is basically a step by step manual of the meditation technique taught by the Buddha himself. After some successful meditations, I hit my personal ‘plateau’ and wondered what to do to progress further with my meditation practice. What better way to further enhance my practice than to go straight to Ajahn Brahm’s headquarters. Brahm himself followed the same strategy at a similar stage of life when he spent years as the student of a great meditation teacher in the forests of Thailand.

When the Buddha was asked about the benefits of seclusion from the common routine of life, he mentioned such advantages as:

  • Guarding the sense faculties.
  • Mindfulness and clear comprehension.
  • Simple contentment.

This is due to the simplicity, meritorious lifestyle and practice that the monks and guests live by whilst at the monastery. The routine I engaged in daily was filled with selfless service, walking and sitting meditation, and attending talks given by the monks. The most profound constituent of my stay was the deep and elongated silence, living in a small ‘kuti’ with no distractions.

When one abstains from food (fasting), the body detoxes. This is similar to when one abstains from mental stimulus or sensual pleasures, the mind begins to detox and thus bringing deeply embedded toxins stuck in the crevices of the mind out to the surface. This is not always such a pleasant process, but boy, am I happy they came up to the surface rather than festering away in there!

Immersing myself in meditation practice, I studied the Suttas, the discourses of the Buddha in the Pali language, along with my meditation routine, which certainly helped guide me through personal obstacles to the ‘cessation of suffering’ which I understand to be the goal of Buddhism.

Whilst in the monastery, every day of your life revolves around meditation and meritorious living, so you soon begin to realise that meditation is a mirror to your daily life. But how is this so?

The obstacles or hindrances which you face in meditation that prevent you from going deeper are, in fact, the very same obstacles/hindrances which you encounter in your daily life.

The Buddha named the five such hindrances in many of his, Suttas, as follows;

1) Sensual pleasures.

2) Ill will.

3) Sloth and Torpor.

4) Restlessness and Remorse.

5) Doubt. “But if a monk [or anyone for that matter], has overcome these five hindrances, these overgrowths of the mind that dull insight, then it is possible that, with strong insight, they can know their own true good, the good of others, and the good of both; and they will be capable of realizing the superhuman state of distinctive achievement, the knowledge and vision enabling the attainment of purity” – from the Anguttara Nikaya 5:51.