Source: स्प्लॅश (SPLASH): स्वतःचा शोध!
Something new everyday! Today we were to start with AddhiThaan – the sitting of great determination. Three times in the day, one hour each time, we would be expected to sit without changing our posture. Sajag (Aware and Alert) and TaThasta (detached and equanimous ) – that was the goal.
We had to choose our posture wisely, so that we did not have to change it for an hour. The legs and arms could not be crossed or uncrossed and the eyes could not be opened once the time started.
The first position I chose was itself incorrect and I learnt my lesson. For the next AddhiThaan I was wiser and chose a posture that would give me minimum discomfort and would also aid in the Process. Thankfully there were no restrictions in back movement and I used that to stretch and coil, meanwhile sitting in the same posture. During the next two days even that wasn’t necessary. A small goal achieved.
Cognise and recognise with equanimity. Work hard.
‘Hum yahaa vyakul hone nahi aye !’ We have not gathered here to be sad and sorrowful. Catharsis was not the focus and goal. Emotional outbursts were not the requirement. Past was not to be revisited. Future was not yet there. Present moment was the only reality as of now.
With this in mind, I continued the prescribed activity with determination. The excess inner noise started disappearing. Since the Process itself was active, it helped the focus stay on the required path. We all continued our cycles of the Process over and over again. What was done in one and half hour on the first day under guidance could now be hastened with continual practice to a speed of one cycle every five minutes. That went in every hour in repetitions. I was feeling lighter and quiet. Things inside my brain were changing. My plastic brain was responding to the efforts I was taking for it. It was fascinating!
Sthitapradnya – a word that had fascinated me since childhood – an elusive state of mind where there is unlimited equanimity. Control has been attained over all the indriya- the sense organs and the information they convey from outside to inside – Control over all the temptations from the material world.
Now here I was for ten days in Igatpuri, using just what nature had given me, nothing more, just my Mind and my Body – not even language, no learnt word, no syllable, no chant, no mantra, no image, neither dot nor line, just my Body and Mind to aid me in achieving that elusive state! Would it be possible? Could it be possible?
Some similarities struck me as we proceeded further. Mythology speaks of Shiva as the oldest Vedic God-figure, the tales filled with paradoxes – Shiva meditating with eyes closed, with inner strength and outer detachment, inner arousal and outer calm and equanimity. Withdrawn from the world, draining energy around him. And the Buddha depicted in his meditative postures, detached and equanimous. So much like Shiva, The God, detached and equanimous, internally aroused and lit up! But Buddha, let us never forget, was a human. And Buddha was lit up with detached compassion, wanting to distribute his discoveries.
The beauty of Gotama the Buddha is that he was also just a person who was able to attain the state. He said – There have been many like me, there are many like me and there will be many like me – enlightened and hence equanimous!
It is all about the species – Homo Sapiens- Humanism. A Universal rule that the species follows. A rule due to which hurt feels like hurt and anger feels like anger. Joy is joy and tears are tears. A crime is a crime and kindness is kindness. Compassion is compassion and faith is faith. In any country, in any community, as long as it is about our species, things follow the same rules where the working of the mind is concerned. These universal features of a human being make it possible for humans to watch a movie in another culture and still relate to the emotions in it, to hear a song in a different language and yet understand the pathos beneath, to read a translated book written by an author in an unknown language and yet relate to the translated version. Emotions are the universal truth about humanism. They are the property, the characteristic of a human being. The Dharma. GuNa-dharma. These universal features were and are the target of Vipassana. Offering balance and clarity. Worth a fair try!
What Gotama offered the society around him was an Upgrade for all, an upgrade for humanity, irrespective of sect or geography. The process being internal and the effect being Homo Sapiens version 2.0. Of course this is a simplified statement and there are many other aspects to it!
Goenkaji told us almost every other day that there was no monopoly or copyright on enlightenment. And since one human had achieved it, it could be possible for others to achieve it too. Deserves a fair trial for sure. Even though my goal is not to become a Buddha, I certainly want to live a good life. And this seems like a useful tool to be able to achieve this goal. Worth a fair try!
Purushaarth karo, kept urging Goenkaji! Take proactive steps towards betterment. Do not be passive. Get up and make the effort in the right direction. Take constructive action. Understand the impermanence of things – Anitya!
Everything being Anitya or impermanent or constantly changing, why do we assume that ‘I’ cannot change. My experience with rehabilitating Neurology patients has taught me that changes in the brain are possible due to the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. Then how does society assume that a persons nature can never change? Though a leopard cannot change its spots, our brain has immense potential to change. If brain wouldn’t change we could not have developed into walking talking and learning sentient beings. If motor skills can be developed, so can emotional ones. Emotion is primarily e-motion. A feeling that sets our actions in motion. Emotional skills can be learnt. Each intellectual philosophises and states that this can happen. But who will teach and train about how.
Here is a process that takes resort in natures building blocks and helps us introspect and develop equanimity. On this substrate we can then mould our selves, our inner world, to have the required skill sets.
With clarity we can see our goals better, uncluttered by external pressure and societal requirements.
Definitely worth a fair try!
Or The Day of Burning
The journey of Vipassana meditation is bound to be different for each individual. The destination is more important than the journey. A friend of mine has warned me not to describe my experience in too much detail, as that would affect the experience of the readers in case they go for Vipassana. The process of ‘suggestion’ might be at work and they might end up having similar experiences. I hope that doesn’t happen. Everyone has a different past and future. Everyone has multiple different influences acting on them. And hence we all are on different paths already, hoping, however, to reach the same goal. Some things about us all are universal despite the various origins.
I have tried to keep the actual Process details out of my writing, just hinting at certain aspects. I want others to know that ten days were not taxing at all. In fact, each day was a journey full of happenings inside and outside. Each day opened up new doors and windows in my mind, which gave me a fresh insightful perspective to look at (my) life and myself. One day might appear terrible and yet the next day can bring peace and a small package of freedom from your old burdens. By the time we return home, the baggage of past hurts is much much lighter.
Sharing my experience through this blog has become a personal need. My aim in sharing to the extent that I am, is to make the readers want to go and give this Process a fair trial – to go for this experiential learning of a skill which I think is an essential one. Ten – eleven days out of your life may sound too much. But actually it is just one day at a time. And it’s an investment of time and effort. The benefits are yours for the taking.
My Shunyagaar pass was for two days. After our group, a different batch of people were given the pass. We were back to the Dhamma hall.
I was progressing well in the technique. There were no comparatives and superlatives. I had only my yesterday to compare with my today. The Arya Maun– Noble Silence – helped here, so that we were not comparing ourselves with others but only with where we ourselves were yesterday. Each day seemed to take me forward. By now I was able to feel subtle sensations. However there was one area which would not give any feedback – the blind area. We had been told to just focus on the Process, and not worry about anything else, including blind areas. But I had not yet attained the level of equanimity which would make me NOT worry.
Trying to play detective to see if I could identify the reason for my blind spots, I started wondering whether there was something I was deluding myself about. Was there something I thought I had been brave / stoic about? Something which I thought was over, but wasn’t!? Something from which I was sure I had moved on but actually hadn’t? Was there?! Is there?! Curiosity, over-smartness and nosiness drove me to these thoughts. I started doing inner scans. I brought up my MonkeyMind ‘current issues’ checklist and the ‘breaking news’ series. The issues and news went out of the window of my mind one by one. Blind area remained. Then I thought of my dream of a few days ago and thought of a Hidden checklist with the SquirrelMind! And I brought out the ‘This-was-an-issue-BUT-I-have-moved-on-for-sure’ list. The first two of those were discarded. As I approached the topic of My FATHER, another figure, that of My KAKA came up next to it. (http://wp.me/p5DjQ6-v) The two merged together and in a moment my legs started burning. Once again, I was shocked. I had dealt with this one! Bravely! It was over! Or was it? The burning sensation continued beyond the meditation sessions. They burnt as if they were being heated up. It was confusing. I was not afraid, just intrigued. It did not fit in with my medical knowledge of the human body and physiology, as taught in medical curriculum. It did not make any academic sense, just like the small episode of my hands and forearms getting a sudden 5-minutes-bout of prickly sensations in the Shunyagaar a day earlier. That one had started just as I was about to get up for a break, which I quickly cancelled because the pricking had started all of a sudden. I had continued with meditation that day. The pricking sensation had continued for 5 minutes till I was well into the repetitions of the meditation Process. This burning, however, lasted for around 5-6 hours and gradually subsided, irrespective of whether I was meditating or not.
Could it be my hurt and anger that I have been keeping under the wraps of stoicism and brave fronts? Is that how psychosomatic problems occur? Deep gashes on the subtle mind? Failure of the active ‘I’ in protecting the inactive universal being inside from hurts and wounds?
All this experimenting however, made no change in the blind areas. So that was quite foolish of me.
I spoke to my assistant teacher about this the next evening because that day my shock made me unwilling to verbally discuss my personal issues there. The assistant teacher simply said that I should have done more intense Dhyaan so that it could have gone away earlier. And she told me once again that I should NOT WORRY about the blind areas and just focus on the Process. I was happy she asked no probing questions and did not attempt to counsel regarding the actual past ‘issue’. Non judgemental! She did not judge me, the Process did not judge me, I was learning to be non-judgemental.
I realised that I had to be non-judgemental towards others as well. But let me start with myself.
Dusaron ki Jai se pehle khud ko Jai karo
(हम को मन की शक्ति देना, मन विजय करें
दूसरों की जय से पहले, खुदको जय करें)
Before I turn towards others I must first conquer my own self. Nothing new – often heard and read old instructions (Shrutamay Pradnya). But now I had a tool with which to execute the plan and reach the goal. A Process, The Process which bestowed Experiential Knowledge, Bhavanaamay Pradnya and therefore wisdom. I had to use no external device but just the framework of my own mind, brain and rest of the body. I am the brand. The brand I – I am the CEO, indeed! And I am the sweeper and cleaner. I am the staff of the Back office and the Front office. I make policies and I get them executed. I work for their execution. I make the mistakes and I correct them. I make progress. I make peace within. I am responsible for ME!
On the physical front, I was noticing palpitations throughout the day since the past few days. They were most prominent during the panic-ridden sleepless night. (http://wp.me/p5DjQ6-1V) I have had hypothyroidism since many years now. I have been on 50 mcg of thyroxine for the past year. After 5-6 days of Vipassana, after the sleepless night, I decided to reduce my dose to 25 mcg. That change reduced the palpitations. Something somewhere had changed for the better on my thyroid axis. At least temporarily. This needs further studies of course.
It reminded me of several of my patients suffering from various medicine-resistant pain syndromes and I thought of how this Process could help them.
Similarly, the neurobiology of the Process intrigues me. What is happening in my brain as I sit there in intense concentration, focusing and executing the Process?! It reminded me gratefully of my neurology teacher, Dr. G. M. Taori, and I wished he were still alive! We would have discussed and devised ways of studying it in detail!
Something biollgically adventurous was happening, stretching the limits of what Homo sapiens can achieve internally. Something the biologists have not thought possible. Fantastic! Something unique and beyond the books!
#burning #brandl #I #hypothyroidism
Despite just a 2 hours sleep, as per my newest habit, I woke up at 4 am and got ready to go. My system had geared up for this routine now. The options were to go for the 4:30 group meditation session or to lie in bed worrying anxious irrational MotherMind (term coined by Mrs. Piroj, a dear friend and regular-reader-of-my-blogs) thoughts. I chose to go and meditate in the shunyagaar. Of course I dozed off in between, woken up in spurts by the Ravens (https://poornimapoonam.wordpress.com/2017/06/03/the-ravens-of-igatpuri-and-squirrels/) who had probably begun to worry on my behalf, having felt my anxiety through their surveillance efforts. I felt good by 6:30 and even better after breakfast. My doubts and anxiety had lessened to bare minimal and I was sure that everything was fine. The Shunyagaar experience continued.
At 11:30, before lunch, I located the Sevika, who informed me that the phone call had been made and my husband had given the message for me that everything was fine and I need not worry at all! Bless him!! My MotherMind, was now relaxed and at rest.
After the lunch as I returned to my room, I realised I had a new neighbour. On asking the Sevikas who were helping the lady with her luggage, they said that the previous one had gone home the day before. The new neighbour had been in a double occupancy room with a snoring member as a roommate. She had requested for a change. Looks like everything happens for a reason! Or at random.
By now I was also full of admiration for the way the course had been brilliantly designed, giving us a little bit more everyday, making it a stepwise learning of such a complex skill. The highlight of each day would be the recorded talk or discourse by late Shri Goenkaji in the evening session, wherein he would put all the day’s happenings in a contemporary contextual perspective. His oratory skills are / were admirable. He catered to an audience with a wide spectrum of ages, cultural differences and other variables. He made us laugh and we were glad to hear that sound resounding in the Dhamma hall. Aware that adults were being taught, he focused on some rationalisation, some intellectualisation, stories, humour, suggestions, advise. And everything was amazingly non-judgemental and non-preachy. That, of course was my perspective.
He spoke to us about change and impermanence – अनित्य !
He spoke about the five friends:
(1) Faith ( not blind, but discriminatory & intelligent),
(2) Effort – in the right direction
(3) Samadhi – mastery of mind & concentration,
(4) Bhavanamay Pradnya – experiential wisdom and (5) Awareness – being alert and aware.
He warned us against the five enemies –
(1) Doubt ,
(2) Drowsiness / dullness
(4) Aversion and
Wisdom / Pradnya, he said was of three levels: Experiential knowledge and wisdom.
1) Shrutamay Pradnya – wisdom we gain from what we hear / read about (or nowadays, google!)
2) Chintanmay Pradnya – wisdom we gain through discussion, intellectualisation, analysis and conclusion
3) Bhavanamay Pradnya – wisdom we gain as we go through life’s experiences.
Bhavanamay Pradnya was the most superior! Vipassana was a process which gave us Bhavanamay Pradnya as it made us actually experience sensations which revealed the truth, along with settling the mind into equanimity and awareness.
These were the thoughts of Gotama, The Buddha, he said. And these particular ones were / are relevant even today. And the path to attain them was meditation, which was a skill, a tool, essential in the toolkit of managing the human existence that we have been given.
With all the small bits of free time piling up, no phone and no writing allowed, listening to late Shri Goenkaji talking about the Person who attained compassionate enlightenment 2500 years ago, since the second day of our course, images had started forming in my mind, struggling to get out. Guided by my forever running Squirrels and the Ravens, I went scavenging the area for some material to sketch/draw on. I found a bark of a tree – I am not sure if it was banana or a part of a fallen coconut tree leaf – with one side dark and another cream. It was hardened. I washed it and peeled a layer from the inner side. I had a drawing pencil with me, which I hadn’t submitted at the office. And since nothing had been said about rules against drawing, I spent minutes of the remaining 2-3 days in sketching the image which kept knocking from inside. Not having drawn since years, it took some time. But I had lots of time now since life here was simple and uncluttered. And I discovered that just by washing I could erase and sketch again after drying the parched bark, thus further highlighting the concept of impermanence.
The Image formed itself and a Face expressed itself smiling silently back at me with eyes open in slits of compassion. I kept it in a corner of the room and instantly felt companionship with the Person. It did not talk back or want to listen. I did not share or listen either. The Person was there in my temporary residence, and so was I – when I was not in the meditation hall or the shunyagaar or the dining room or the Shantipath or the walking area.
Of course I grew attached to MY creation. Watching the meditative eyes and the content smile thereafter.
Next day, during the 4:30 am session we were reminded gently to perform the process we were taught last evening. There was no verbal guidance. We just had to follow the sequence of inner actions as it had been instructively narrated yesterday. Each one could take their own time for one cycle of the process. And then the cycle had to be repeated over and over again, till the session ended. Initially I needed around twenty minutes for one cycle of observation. In later days it was to become shorter and shorter.
We were no longer watching the breath, unless we wanted a pause in the Vipassana cycles.
What we were doing now was an intensely active process and the thoughts started taking a seat rather further away from the main screen. But they were there. Especially the dream related inner Monologues and arguments. SquirrelMind had things to say. And the moment it saw me wavering it would up the intensity by intruding with a fiery monologue – my own mental words directed in a monologue to a concerned person from the dream. And then there was the Vipassana process to be done. All this was hard work. Inner peace was to be achieved with intensity and intense focus.
There was a surprise for us. In the post breakfast session, our group of six people was called by our assistant teacher and we were given a 2-days pass to the Shunyagaar. It was supposed to be a series of small chambers, enough to fit one person, inside the pagoda. We were allotted a specific room/ chamber number. We would be even physically alone there. No silent crowds.
One lady from our group declared that she would opt out of that option as she was sure she would be frightened. But the rest of us accepted. There were many others from other groups too.
After lunch, as we went into the Shunyagaar, it felt surreal. There were several individual chambers. Mine was chamber 119 – I think. I had to go into the pagoda through its lower door and had to walk down further into a basement like area. Everything was white. There was a passage with doors all along one side, with numbers written on each door. The outer wall of the passage curved gently. That was the round shape of the pagoda from the outside. Amidst complete silence disturbed only by the sound of consciously quietened footsteps, I walked on until I came to chamber number 119. I have no idea who my neighbours were. Doors were closed. 118 and 120! A little further along the way, beyond maybe 123, was another door leading probably outwards. But it appeared locked. In front of me was my door with my allotted number on it. A small door knob, a wire net in the lower part (to allow light and air) and an additional air vent at the topmost part of the wall above the door. Since it was semi basement, the 2 round shaped openings (7-8 inches maybe) in the outer curved wall placed beyond 6 feet showed a glimpse of the sky and bits of trees. As I walked in I saw that a blue meditation mattress was hung on the wall opposite to the door. It was held up by a simple strap mechanism. I unrolled it and placed it down on the floor. There was enough space for me to turn around, sleep, stand up fully with my arms stretched up and that still left some more space in all directions. But two people could not have fitted in comfortably. It must have been around 4 feet by 8 feet with a height of maybe around 10-11 feet. We had the option of keeping the door either open or closed. I chose ‘closed’. And I sat down. I watched my breath to start with, like a gym warm up before the actual workout.
The silence was astounding. I could hear it! Absolute nothingness.
I had the freedom now to choose any posture – shamelessly. I tried lying down, but there was the danger of falling asleep. And my back was inaccessible to attention in the lying down posture. Vajrasan gave me a lot of paresthesias (tingling) on unfolding my legs after one cycle. Padmasan gave me leg-aches, which I could bear for 15-20 minutes of one cycle. A simple squat or basic floor sitting posture (मांडी घालून बसणे) seemed easier. Or sitting with legs in front of me, slightly folded. That too was easy and it also kept the legs parcelled and made it easy to do the Process. After a while with even that simple floor posture, the back or something else would ache. So I adventurously and courageously attempted the posture of lying down on my back and resting my raised lower limbs against the wall at right angles to my back. This was immensely relaxing for 1-2 cycles. And so the process went on – one posture to another, one sensation to another.
The sensations were changing as we continued to watch them. Sthool aur sookshma – Gross and subtle. That was what it was all about. The Monkey and the Squirrel. Mind over mindlet. Intellect over intuition.
In the isolation of the shunyagaar, I realised once again that doubt had to be given up and sincerity had to be adopted if the stay at Dhammagiri had to make any sense and impact at all. Otherwise doubt and cynicism would just make it a waste of my time.
By evening I started wondering whether my son would reach home safely next day (23rd May) from his Himalayan camp. I wondered whether my husband would reach the railway station on time. I wondered whether they would hide facts from me in case he had got hurt during the trekking. These thoughts started taking hold of me till I became more and more anxious.
After the last session we were allowed to talk about our doubts to the assistant teacher. I took the opportunity to ask about the word ‘Pradnya’ which kept on getting repeated in the discourses given by Shri Goenkaji. She explained that it meant Experiential Knowledge, the highest form of knowing. I also asked her if I could make one phone call home. She asked me the reason. When I explained my anxiety and told her how I was unable to focus due to these nagging thoughts, she asked me to give the mobile number to a Sevika, who would arrange for the call. But I wouldn’t be allowed to talk directly to any of the family members. The Sevika made me write down the concerned names and my husbands mobile number and said she would make the call the next morning and give me the message. I was happy for this help.
And yet, it turned out to be a sleepless night. I had a proper panic attack, anxious worrying over my son’s arrival – whether I was doing Vipassana the right way – whether all this would be worthwhile – how my husband would reach the railway station on time!!! And so in. In cycles of thought. I could feel my palpitations as I lay down in the darkness. As I looked at the watch once in a while, I noted that the hour hand was moving further. I was reminded how D had told me about his panic attack when he was in the Jaipur center. I considered going out in the open. But everything was dark. I tried doing the process of Vipassana, but that was beyond me at that time. No breath could be focused anywhere. The MonkeyMind was jumping up and down and the SquirrelMind had hidden away in fright. I was unable to still or steady my mind. Sometime around 2 am I must have drifted off to sleep.
As the day progressed, I got used to my inner uncomfortable Monologues and the peaceful interspersed silences. The triangle made its presence felt off and on. And there was a collective suspense as we neared the evening. As usual we were served Murmure and milk/tea plus 1 fruit at 5:15 pm. By this day I had given up the evening tea and settled for Turmeric flavoured milk, which made the flavoured Murmure (puffed rice) more bearable. I had also devised a sequence for eating the fruit a bite at a time, at fixed intervals between the mouthfuls of Murmure. Murmure were specifically sent to Igatpuri to test whether I had become sufficiently equanimous.
During the post-meal evening session, we all gathered with silent anticipation in the vast Dhamma hall. Imagining it to be an extension of the breathing exercise I was wondering what we would be actually asked to do. Attendance was full. Even the restless young lady in front of me was sitting, fidgeting a bit, with hope and anticipation in her posture. I took my place on my own meditation mat.
At 6 pm, the recording in Shri Goenkaji’s voice started with chanting. That had become a sound of comfort by now. We all were then asked to repeat after him, a request to him to train us in the skill of Vipassana. There was also a hint to all of us once again, that things would move as per plans subject to total, unbiased surrendering from our side while keeping the intellectualisation process aside. I had decided on the surrendering part already. Without that it would have been just a waste of ten whole days.
With open, stilled and silent mind I sat there, ready to learn and be guided – anything could have happened. And then it started.
During the past few days we had been unknowingly sharpening our focus of attention over smaller and smaller areas, till it had been reduced to a small triangularish area on top of the middle of the upper lip. The first instruction was to take our triangular focus of attention to the top of our head (anatomically: the vertex; in Marathi : टाळू). From there the journey began. For the next one and half hour, we were continuously being instructed in our journey of attention to sensation. It was hypnotically overwhelming. It was extensive and detailed. It was ethereal and surreal.
The instructions and directions given moment to moment were so minutely detailed and specific, that it was impossible to be distracted. The jargon of thoughts and the whole of the outside world was lost into oblivion. The silence and the suggestibility of the surroundings and the inner world; the calmness and the soothing confidence of the Instructors voice! It was all just inexplicable and hence magical. Was all this happening to me, a practicing Doctor? Why were we never taught about this? What IS this feeling?
It all felt so light and weightless. I was convinced that I would soon be levitating!
But that did not happen.
Instead, the session ended and we were asked to take a brief break before the evening discourse started. I wished it would have just gone on and on and on. But we live in a practical world. The session did end and we had our customary five minute break. As we came outside and stood in lines to have water, like everyday, the world seemed to be just as we had left it. There were no unusual magical happenings!
And then as I stretched my legs and took a brief walk, the spell vanished and the magic disappeared. All of a sudden. And I was filled with one HUGE thought, IS THIS IT? THAT’s ALL? I stared at my hand, which just a few minutes ago had felt as light a a feather or even lighter. Now it felt just like my hand. Had I been under a hypnotic spell inside the Dhamma hall, in my vulnerable, surrendered state? Had something funny happened to me due to the dim lights, the soft suggestive voice and all the hype around ‘Vipassana’? Am I so easily suggestible? Had anything changed at all??? Is this all that the much talked about Vipassana was all about!? An anticlimax, there was a blank disappointment within. I stopped in my tracks and had to focus on the regular breathing just to calm the shock of being let down. I consoled myself and decided to see what happened next. Maybe on the next turning there would be some revelation.
During that evening discourse, the experienced learned Teacher did touch the subject of what had happened – the magic and the crashing disillusioned state. So it was not uncommon – the spell and the journey I had been through! Many people had felt the way I did today: a whole spectrum from ecstasy to doubt! It was a phase and there was something more beyond!
Wait and see.
Look beyond the sequence of Cognise – recognise – feel – react! Get off the turning wheel of action and reaction. Be alert – aware – firm – disciplined – detached! That’s a LOT of work!!!
Goal : attaining calmness, inner peace and equanimity!!!