[What follows is an average schedule of a Thai monk living in a monastery. While protocol varies from place to place, the below is a very common timetable.]
At 4:00 in the morning, the monks wake up, and head down to main hall. They meditate there for an hour, then chant for another hour.
Then at around 6:00, the monks take a field trip to the neighborhood, where they wander around barefoot, asking the locals for food.
At 8:00, they head back to the temple, and sit together for breakfast. Think Rice and Tea. Then there’s debate on scripture, sometimes philosophy.
At 12:00, they break for lunch. This is the last solid food they’re allowed to consume until breakfast the next day.
Classes start at 1:00. Some monks may attend school outside the temple, but for most, it’s a solid four to five hours of buddhist philosophy and theory. Oh, and there’s homework. A lot of homework.
At 6:00 everyone reconvenes for two more hours of meditation, followed by prayer. Talking or yawning during the prayers results in an immediate whack on the shoulders by the Gegou or other ranking monk. Sometimes, if he’s in a mood, he’ll pull your ear instead. Really hard.
At 8:00, the monks finish their homework and go to bed, happy as a clam. They get up the next day and repeat. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.
I know what you’re thinking: how in the world could anyone with that schedule, with that impossibly dull, repetitive beast of a day, go to bed happy? No parties. No booze. No entertainment, unless you count watching Somboon get his ear pulled, which I guess can be kind of satisfying.
I’d run away screaming. And unless you happen to be one of those exceedingly rare Thai teenagers with a thing for celibacy and lengthy philosophical debate, you’d probably do the same.
But for some reason, these monks report levels of happiness that’s completely off the charts. The same goes for the Amish, Tibetan monks, and most strict priesthoods. What’s the missing ingredient?
Presence. I’m sure that community and lack of stress play a role, but the only way they stay so cheery is by taking pleasure in the simple things. By learning to savour the moment. If you spend every single hour of everyday doing something mindless, what came before or what comes after doesn’t really matter.
Nobody asks What Flavour of Water is Served with Lunch Tomorrow or when they’ll be able to afford those new Gucci Meditation Pillows. The now becomes their all because it's all there is.
What if you could do the same? If you could learn to enjoy whatever you were doing, this very moment. If you could stop waiting to be happy, and be happy right now. Plus, You could be more focused. Sharper. More fun to talk to or be around.
Well, you can! And you won’t have to move to a mountain to do it.
The answer: Meditation.
Focusing on nothing but the present moment, to condition mind for happiness and sharpen focus. There are so, so many meditation techniques, from prayer to mantra. But a breathing meditation, in my experience is the quickest and most satisfying. And it’s super easy to get into. Here’s how to get started:
1) Sit down and cross your legs. If you’re flexible enough, put one leg over the other, like the picture. Make sure that your back is straight.
2) Close your eyes.
3) Breathe naturally. Focus your attention on the breath. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath. Don’t try to silence thoughts if they come up. Just peacefully observe them, and let them pass. If you have trouble doing this at first, count your breaths.
In, out. One. In, out. Two. In, out. Three. All the way to ten, then repeat. You get the idea.
Start with 5 - 10 minutes a day, whenever convenient. From there, you can work your way up to more time, and start reaping the benefits!
You’ll probably start researching more techniques and fall down the rabbit hole yourself once you’ve noticed improved happiness and sharper thinking, but a breathing meditation is more than enough to get started.
There’s just one catch: you have to actually do it. I know that sounds easy, but most people forget that one. Reading about meditation, or mediating once a week isn’t going do it. Think of your brain as a muscle. It needs consistent exercise, not just a guilty trip to Planet Fitness after polishing off a Twelve inch Pizza. It’s easy to do, but it’s also easy not to do.
Good luck, and enjoy the little things!
Meditation Study: https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/wcu/f/Teeter2016.pdf