We spent five days at the Mindful farm north of Chiang Mai in Thailand. We found them via recommendations from a few people, but I think they are on Workaway also. The idea of the farm is to teach buddhism and mindfulness practices along with farming. Pinang, the man who owns the farm, used to be a monk for most of his life, and only stopped because he fell in love and wanted to have a wife and a family. Today he has one child and a wife from Japan. On the farm he grows papaya, kale, pineapple, bananas, carrots, potato, chilies, avocado, lettuce, sticky rice, mango, and lots lots more, much of it I have never even seen before. It is located in between green rolling hills and there are only a few hunderd people living in the village, most of them are farmers. They share what they produce, they don’t sell all of it, but they have some garlic fileds and produce SO much garlic. More garlic than I have ever seen! The air quality was ok and it rained a little every day.
How to get there
In Chiang Mai, get to the Warorot Market. Well in this market, start asking people for the bus to Pang Term village or to Samoeng village (pronounced Samong). It’s supposed to be a yellow pickup truck like this:
We went there at a little before 11 AM, and the car left at 12. It’s better to be there early so you have time to find the car, because you will have to ask people. It’s not on the main way, but on a side street. We paid 100 baht each for the four hour drive, with one longer stop in Samoeng Village, for a toilet break.
When you reach Pang Term village, the driver or other people in the village will point you in the direction of the farm. It’s not at all obvious where you need to go, but it’s past the nice tree building with the flags, down to some steps and a bamboo bridge, across the bridge and then left, following the peanut fileds.
Buddhist way of life
We got two vegan meals every day, and most of what we ate came directly from the garden. Monks eat either once or twice a day, which has a lot of benefits, and cooking is time consuming so it’s also a way to save time in the precious evenings for mindful practices. Our problem with this was that we didn’t have enough time to adjust, and we were hungry in the nights.
The other buddhist elements of our days consisted of a workshop/ activity/ lecture every evening at 7:30 pm, where we did meditation and learned about the buddhist teachings. For example, the first day we learned a technique of walking meditation, which you can do at any time anywhere. Pinang gave us the example of waiting for something, like at the airport of trainstation. Whenever you have a few minutes of “dead time”, walk back and forth and thinks of every step you take. I found this technique easier than sitting meditation. We also did sitting meditation and Pinang told us stories with origin in the Buddhist teachings. For example, he told us about a young monk, only seven years old who had reached enlightenment. Enlightenment is attained when you fully realise that your body is not you and that you mind is not you, that “you” are connected to everything and understand the circle of life and the impermanence of all things. When you realise that “you” do not really exist, you have overcome the fear of death, broken out of the suffering that comes to all humans sooner or later.
The Little Monk
So this young monk, only seven years old, had already understood that he was part of the whole and no fear or sadness or happiness, passion, longing… nothing could overpower him, he was at peace. He went to a mountain where there was a tribe that still practised human sacrifice. The sacrifice was to please the God of the mountain that they prayed to for good harvest, fertility and all that stuff. The little monk went to this village just when they were in the process to finding a human to sacrifice to the gods and the people of the tribe found this little monk meditating under a tree. They captured him and brought him to the place where the sacrifice would take place. They tied the little monk under the big tree but the head of the tribe saw something different with this little monk. All the other people they had sacrificed had screamed and cried and begged for their life, consumed by fear and grief for their own life, but this little monk just sat there, a smile on his peaceful face and meditated. The leader of the tribe went to talk to the child: “Why are you not scared? We are going to kill you.” The little monk opened his eyes and smiled at the man.
“I am not afraid for my life because this body is not me. This mind is not me, so you cannot kill me because I exist beyond this earthly form”. The tribe leader was shocked! How could this little monk be so peaceful when confronted with death, so calm and fearless. The Tribe leader spoke:
“I see a God in front of me. I have never seen the God we sacrifice to”, he bowed down to the little monk and the tribe leader asked the little monk to be his teacher, and left the old ways and the mountain tribe stopped with human sacrifices and started following the teachings of the Buddha.
Short on Buddhism as a religion
Buddhism is not as I precived it to be. In the west we learn that it is a secular religion, a religion without a religion, but after being in Myanmar I am way more critical towards Buddhism, because it is just another religion, with temples statues, and prayers, there is a hell and there is a heaven and different levels where different beings live. The teachings of the Buddha resonates with me to a point, but I have no interest in Buddhism as it is practiced in this part of the world. You can read more about this in my Reflections on Myanmar post and the post about our time in a Buddhist monastery.
There is however a more secular school of buddism which can be found in China and Japan, it´s called Zen. Zen buddism is more focused on your own spiritual progress then any religious doctrine or practice. I believe this is the form of buddism that many percieve all of buddism to be like. So if you are interested in buddism but not the religios aspects, Zen might be for you.
The meditation practice in the evenings were nice though, and shortly after the meditation we went to bed, around 9:30 or so.
Me and August had our own house up on the hill with a private bathroom, a big bed and a little space outside where we sat before the mosquitoes took over when the sun went down. Right outside was a papaya tree, avocado tree and a banana tree and a nice view down over the farm and the small valley. We woke up with the sun around 7 and did some yoga and morning meditation before going down the hill to see if help was needed with preparing breakfast. There was a huge gecco living in our roof, and it could be very loud and woke me up a few times, chanting “Gecco, Gecco, Gecco”. They say that if you hear a gecco call seven times it means good luck . The other people lived in dorms, with mosquito nets. The girls had one dorm and the boys had one. Only me and August had our own little buiding.
We worked a few hours every day. Our work was mostly weeding, but it’s very peaceful work, but it was very hot mid day, so sometimes we worked more, some days we worked less. “Do what you feel like doing”, Pinang told us. SO it was not at all much work, and the farming part of the whole was what we were originally interested in, not so much the buddhism, but we learned for example that you can eat the carrot leaves, they are good in soup and you can fry them or put in a salad. Another thing we learned is that onion and garlic in this tradition should be used in medicine and not consumed in every meal, like we do it, haha.
Two days we went to Pinangs sister to eat in the village and the last day we went to help prepare a funeral. The funeral is more like a party, where everyone gets together and chants and prays, and cook for a big feast. The first night when we were invited to the funeral we didn’t want to go, because from our cultural reference, funerals are not places in which I like to be. But this was very different. It was festive, and the coffin with the body was decorated with lamps.
Volunteers and our experience as volunteers
When we arrived there were six or seven volunteers already there. Two or three left the day after so then it was two brittish people, one french girl and an American guy. I think that this farm highly relies on the volunteers and the go in the people who come. When we were there it wasn’t very well organised since everyone there were new at the farm. Pinang and his wife had been away from the farm for a month prior to our arrival, so there wasn’t enough time to set up workshops and yoga classes and other stuff that we were expecting. Also, we had the wrong phone company so we had absolutley no connection, and there were no wifi. If there had been wifi I think we would have had an easier time there, perhaps even stayed longer. The price for the stay is 200 bhat per person per day, with everything included.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Lately we have been discussing and getting more into meditation and mindfulness. Both at the farm and our hostel in Pai we met people who are into this and we are learning more all the time. I think that most people understand the basic concept of focusing on yourself and trying to bring focus to your mind and body. But mindfulness is a concept that can appear very confusing, and there are now many businesses that have in a way hijacked the term. Let me explain my understanding of the concept. While meditation is more specifically the act of sitting down or whatever you do and focus on breath or movement, mindfulness is something we can practice all the time. These two concepts are closely related and meditation can be a way to achieve more mindfulness in your life.
Mindfulness basically means to be present and aware in the moment, aware of your inner thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and your external surroundings. This practice isn’t exclusively Buddhist or any other religion in fact, and can and should be practiced more to your own benefit then for any religious purpose in my opinion. To be mindful is to be able to observe your own thoughts and emotions and how they affect you, and the actions you choose to take. Say someone does something that makes you angry, now your initial thoughts will come from this feeling of anger and therefore your actions will also be based on anger. If you instead try to be mindful in this moment, you might be able to observe your emotions and recognize the anger. You can then accept the feeling, let it pass and then act without it affecting your behaviour. This way we can avoid making rash decisions or let our emotions take control over our actions. This some people believe will create less suffering for you and others. So practicing mindfulness can bring great benefits to your life and well being.
I suppose mindfullness can be as simple as counting to 10 when you start getting angry like my father used to tell me when I was young.
We did the mistake of having expectations when we went to this place. We were expecting something like Navdanya but it was nothing like it. But it was good for us to be there, we figured out a lot of things becasue we had so much time for ourselves. Every morning I did yoga and meditated and the days were calm and peaceful. But it was not what we wanted at this point of our trip. We felt like we learned more in Pai, got more inspiration and I wanted to go back to Pai so bad, we eventually left more than one week earlier than planned.
There will be two posts coming about our time in Pai, this perfect place where we have spent almost one month in now, the second longest we have stayed anywhere!
Lots of Love
Linnea & August