SST 2012 Update #7 is written by Lauryn Mencer of Hamburg, NY. She is a Sophomore Psychology Major at Messiah College.
I hope everything in the States is as sabay (relaxing) as it has been here in Chiang Mai. As our final exams quickly approach, the SST Wat Stay (temple stay/meditation retreat) seems to have had perfect timing. This past weekend the group set off to spend time at a forest temple a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city in Lumphun, Provence. However, before our weekend of relaxation and meditation began we made some pit stops along the way.
We toured other temples in the area, one of which called Wat Pra Baat Tak Pha, had a staircase leading up to it that you would have thought reached the heavens. It really was that steep. Only six of the craziest SST students and Phii Abigail were willing to race to the top of it and yes, I was one of them. Our knees were ready to buckle by the time we reached the top but the feeling of accomplishment made the climb worth it.
Next we were taken to a small mountain where we went caving. It felt good to get out of the hot sun and go spelunking in a cool dark cave. However, the deeper and deeper into the cave we went, the more hot and smelly it became. It turns out the methane gas of the bat feces is what created the heat as well as the smell. Eek!
After our caving expedition it was off to Wat Doi Lung Tham (literally the temple on the mountain behind the cave)–the temple where we would be spending our weekend. One of the first things we did as a group was learn the basics of meditation from Buddhist monks. This consists of fluid motions and thinking only about the present moment–and quieting our “monkey minds’–as the monk told us. It was a great way for us to clear our minds.
The next morning, we woke up at 5:00 am to walk to the closest village and make merit by offering food to the monks. Making merit is a way of showing respect and supporting the monks by giving them food to eat which was also shared with lay people who were in need of food. After our breakfast with the monks, we learned two other types of meditation: walking meditation and lying meditation. We arrived back at CMU at 3:00 PM and went home for much needed rest and sleep before another busy week of study and internships.
Being a psychology major, I feel incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to work at Suanprung Psychiatric Hospital. It has been a rewarding experience to work along side the doctors and nurses associated with this hospital. Most often I observe group therapy sessions accompanied by a doctor who is willing to translate and explain the group dynamics. But I also have the privilege of practicing my Thai with some of the patients. One of the toughest challenges the patients have to overcome is the stigma of being a patient in a psych hospital. Against popular belief, most of the women I work with suffer from depression which is triggered by a dysfunctional home life. They have no where to go for help other than Suanprung where they receive anti-depressants, counseling and a safe place to sleep. The patients are treated with a form of counseling called group activity where they learn basic trades like sewing, cleaning, cooking, etc. to prepare them for life on their own.
Clearly, these women aren’t what one would associate with being a typical patient in a psych hospital and because of this, struggle with the image that living at Suanprung gives them. Although this isn’t true for every patient, I believe it is important to know more about the people who go to this hospital and attempt to eliminate the negative stigma.
I believe I can speak for us all when I say how much of an incredible experience this has been so far. I look forward to seeing what else our SST program has in store for us.