Mind Matters Most
“Mastery of speech is good, mastery of physical actions is good, but one who masters the mind is a real warrior.” Cant remember where I read this quote, but it left an impression.
Like many, I went through my midlife crisis and struggled to find answers to questions such as, what is the meaning of life; what is my purpose and what is real happiness? I thought that if I could answer these questions I could then understand how to my mind works and how I would master it.
Had heard of hypnosis and thought that, it would be an easy way to conquer the mind. I’ll just lie on a couch and allow a qualified hypnotist perform surgery on my mind. It did not work! I came out of hypnosis exactly the way I had gone in. My mind was still unsettled. Next I went to a healer and then a fortune teller in the hope of getting answers to my questions. Each time I came out even more disillusioned and confused.
I started doing my own research and almost all research pointed me towards meditation.
Just the word “meditation” puts me in a state of unease as I am one of those who can’t stay still even for a minute and meditation is all about stilling the mind and focusing on a single thought.
But I had made up my mind to become a mind warrior “As an archer aims an arrow, a carpenter carves wood, the wise shape their lives.” The Dhamppada
I had to shape my own life as I was the only one in control of it. I had read about a Buddhist meditation technique called Vipassana. (Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.)
Some friends had gone for the 10 day course and had come out feeling transformed. I felt compelled towards it and thought I’d give it a try. All I had to do was have no contact with the outside world, have two vegetarian meals a day and observe noble silence for the duration of my stay. Noble silence means absolutely no talking or communicating in any way with the fellow meditators.
That sounded a bit of a challenge.
Well I guess the road to wisdom and mastery would demand a few sacrifices!
So I drove myself to Karnal (a little village in the north of India) on the eve of the 10 day course. There were a few others signing in. I looked around to see the expression on people’s faces looking for some kind of assurance, anything to make me feel that I would survive the 10 days. I had heard so many people talk about how strict and tough the regime was that I needed assurance to be able to handle the so called penance camp.
At around 6.00 pm we all gathered in the hall where we were asked to get rid of personal belongings such as phones, books, wallets, note books, pens etc. Anything that would distract us from the complete immersion into our minds.
As I started giving away my life lines, I started feeling very uneasy and broke the first rule. I snuck a phone in my bag, promising myself not to use it, but just having it in my possession gave me the much needed support structure. We were told about the rules and regulations and starting 8.00 pm that night would be the last time we would be allowed to speak for the next 10 days.
I was ready for the challenge!!!!
4.00 am the bell rings right outside my door but I had been hearing sounds since 3.30 am as there were some rather enthusiastic attendees who had woken up at 3.15 am and were already queuing for the bathrooms and shower. So, kicking and dragging myself out of the bed I went and stood in line for my turn to use the facilities. Nobody even acknowledged each other, we all stood there like zombies letting our imaginations run wild and judging each other in our MINDS. Our monkey minds had not been tamed yet.
4.30 am we all gather in the meditation hall and are played a tape guiding us as to what to do. The focus was mainly on the breath, the technique is called anapana where one is asked only to observe the breath.
How in the world was I supposed to observe my breath? Do I look for movement in my chest? Do I look out for tiny particles of moisture coming out of my breath? What was I supposed to do? How does one watch their breath?
Well, all I was supposed to do was to concentrate on my breathing and acknowledge the incoming and outgoing breath without any judgment or expectation. Sounds easy but trust me; it is one of the most difficult things to do.
Having woken up with the birds was starting to take its toll on me. Trying to watch my breath, I started to doze off. I very quietly snuck out to the back of the room and drifted into slumber land. My freedom was however short lived. Within about 2 min or so I got a slight nudge on my shoulder; it was one of the helpers. She very politely asked me not to doze and try and sit still. After all I was here to learn meditation and the number one enemy of meditation is SLOTH!
My boarding and lodging was completely free, all I had to do was to follow the 5 percepts ( to abstain from killing any being; to abstain from stealing; to abstain from all sexual activity; to abstain from telling lies; to abstain from all intoxicants) and conduct myself according to the laid down code of discipline. It sounded easy in the beginning, but only two hours into the first day and I wanted to run away and find my way back into the comfort of my bed.
6.30 -7.00 am was breakfast time and 7.00 -9.00 was time for Q&A with the teacher. Most of us ran back after breakfast and went straight to bed for a quick nap. I think I passed out; 8.45 the bell tolled again.
We were asked to be seated for the next round of meditation that went from 9.00 am to 11.30 am. Two and a half hours of sitting cross legged, eyes shut and watching my breath, I was losing my head. I had absolutely no concentration; I just couldn’t seem to focus. All I kept thinking was; why was I doing this to myself? What madness had descended over me that propelled me into such masochism?
Eventually the bell rang, informing us about the lunch hour.
All went straight into the dining room for a simple yet tasteful vegetarian meal. Hunger and desperation made the food taste fantastic. Lunch was from 11.30 to 12.30 and then about an hour of freedom followed by Q &A with the teacher.
At 2.30 pm back into the meditation hall for two more hours of watching the breath. This time it was just impossible to keep my eyes open, started to nod off yet again, but this time I was woken up by this extremely cacophonous burp that reverberated in the pin drop silence. I was jolted out of my reverie and brought right back into the inner me. Not a sound from anyone, and I was dying to laugh. I looked around the room, and only another newcomer had a faint smile, but the rest were like statues, unmoved and unaffected. In the next 9 days I was to hear so many different sounds that this seemed like a melody.
Somehow got through the day. 7.00 pm was the time for discourse where we were told about why we did what we did. This was the best part of the day. At least there was an explanation, to the madness.
According to Goenka ji, the modern day guru of Vipassana, “meditation means a continuous detachment from the body, mind, name and form. We have to detach ourselves from the day to day activities. Unclutter our mind from the mindless chatter and bring our focus inwards. Through meditation the scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgments and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace. “
By the time I went back to my room, I was completely in awe of myself. I had managed to go one full day without speaking and actually internalizing.
This was just day 1… I had 9 more to go.
I could describe each day in detail; but that would take almost half a book, so let me cut to the chase and come to the part where I can share some real pearls of wisdom.
As I continued to sit cross legged on the floor for the next 9 days, my whole life kept flashing in front of me. My achievements, my mistakes, my pains, my sorrow and my joy. In the silence, I heard so much noise that I thought my brain would explode. As the days kept progressing the noise kept getting louder. I hated every minute of being there. It felt like an experience straight out of a very dark movie where you are the only survivor.
By the 7th day I had a break down. I cried till I had no more tears. I wanted to run away from what felt like a jail. I wanted to scream and shout and call names, I threw up and felt sick in my stomach.
I don’t think I was getting any wiser or calmer. Seeing my distraught state, the teacher summoned me and explained to me what really was happening. I was experiencing deep cleansing.
All our life we keep burying our pains and sorrows deep within. We suppress our feelings and muffle our thoughts in the external noise so they either transform into physical or mental ailments.
Seven days of complete silence and introspection had brought all the deep seated issues to the surface and they were now being purged. I was experiencing the emotional and physical signs of release. The catharsis had begun.
After all the purging I felt much lighter and calmer. I didn’t feel like a prisoner anymore. I felt liberated, not only physically but mentally.
Two more days of the regimented life and we would soon be free to join the real world. The world that we have chosen to create for ourselves. The world full of so much external noise that the internal dialogue gets completely muffled. The world where our ego gets pumped and it gets shattered. The world where we experience pain and joy as rides of the roller coaster. The world that we believe to be real.
Finally the 10th day arrives. We can now break our vow of silence.
By now something huge has happened. I could feel a transformation in my chemical makeup. I experienced strange energies which were almost orgasmic. I can’t explain, but it felt as if my whole being had regenerated.
I just didn’t feel like talking. This was a revelation; unfortunately the urge not to speak did not stay for too long. Within about an hour I was back to being my old chatty self.
But something somewhere changed.
No, I have not yet become a master of my mind, neither have I attained nirvana, but I surely have come to the realization that I do not have to depend on hypnotists, therapists, healers and fortune tellers to tell me how to heal my life. All I have to do is dig deep enough and long enough.
Each person that attends Vipassana has a different experience, for some it is joyful, for some extremely painful, but for all it is life changing.
Would I do it again?
Would love to, but am still trying to gather the courage.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely yes. Even if the only reason was “because it is there”.