Vipassana Day 12 – 28th May – Seeds of Enlightenment 

Is spirituality for the aged, then ? Is it a retirement plan? As my Mama (maternal Uncle) had constantly suggested to me, it is not. It is a process for the youth too, to enable them to live a life with thoughtfulness. To learn how to control the emotional mind/brain with the help of other facilities available to us as humans. However, some amount of Translation is needed, Intellectualisation required, Rationalisation desired, and Encouragement to be regular. A TIRE system. 
The youth want tools for self growth and don’t know where to find the standardised ones. 

The need is to have a tool. The method is to move from inner growth to outer presentation. 

This is a tool that using nothing beyond what we are born with – the framework of body, mind, especially our own ability to pay attention. This tool is universal and is meant for self help – A tool that everyone should have in the self care toolbox 

As the last day arose, I wondered what I should do with the sketch of The Buddha. It was so tempting to own the created Face. And there were also those seeds to think of. 

During the early morning session we were given the last discourse of the session and were trained for Maitri Sabha. This was a technique for spreading your good vibes towards others through the inner force of compassion. The thought itself was good. सबका मंगल हो! May everyone find peace! 

On the previous day we were allowed phone calls. I could only make a few. The task of speaking had suddenly become so special. Each word had to be meaningful and important. Each word was an effort and had to be chosen carefully. I called up my family and I also called up one of the friends who was responsible for persuading me to pursue vipassana. I told her about the sketch. She agreed with me That I should take it back with me. 

But all the learning of ten days had also taken its effect. I could not claim ownership. I also saw that it was impermanent. My efforts to immortalise it would be wasteful. The transformation was to be inside. I had to take the steps towards it in real life and in real time- not just during the periods of sitting down for meditation. 

As I packed my bag on the last day, I left the sketch in the sit-out in front of my single occupant room.  And the seeds – I strew them around it. The seeds of enlightenment, hoping one of them would have found its way within me, to grow every day to take me further on my road each day.  

I left the campus with equanimity at 7 am, found an autorickshaw easily. The autorickshaw crowd was well tuned with the Vipassana schedules. It took me just 5-10 minutes to reach the railway station. It felt strange to be going back into the crowd. My train was for Mumbai. At the station I met fellow travellers from the meditation camp who were on their way to Mumbai. We had a last exchange of ideas and concepts. We talked lightly over mundane matters. 

I was satisfied with my experience here. I had arrived with a blank and open mind for the experience and was returning with a different perspective on life and people. My burden of past hurts and anguish is much much lighter. It’s as if a load was left behind. I don’t brood over several minor matters, as I used to previously. 

My knowledge of the nervous system has also undergone an experiential change. It is getting reflected in the way I approach the problems in patients, the way I counsel them. Neuroscience books on functional Neuroanatomy state that the nervous system starts in sensation. Years ago, when I was reading the book by Per Brodal for my exams, I had had the distinct feeling that this stuff – where the author started with one single cell, the Neuron, and took me, page after page through the intricate structure called the brain – was beyond academics! It was a spiritual and sociological adventure – the study of the nervous system. After the glimpse into the meditation process of Vipassana I felt I had experienced that journey in a much up-close-and-personal way. 

I have made changes in the SPLASH weekend workshop for self development that we conduct through our NGO . 

I sit for the Process as far as possible for an hour a day. Each sitting adds further to my ability, though the first 10-15 minutes are spent in stabilising my mind. 

The sensations, the feeling the process generates is close to Ecstasy as my cousins friend described to him – but only if you choose to look at it like that. One needs to go beyond that. Otherwise one can get stuck in a multitude of oxymorons, craving for detachment! It was this thought perhaps that made the Buddha smile gently! 


Vipassana – day 11- 27 May – Kindergarten Saints

At last the buffer day dawned when the oath of Noble Silence would be over. After the 8 am to 9 am session, we would be allowed to speak to each other, we would get our mobile phones and we would be allowed to write. Funnily enough I had become used to not talking and the act of talking appeared irrelevant at that point of time. We were allowed to talk on this day so as to allow us a process of buffering / shock absorbing, before we went out in the world of everything else. 
In the morning session we received further instructions on how to proceed further in our skill even after returning to our routines and lives. There were muted murmurs in the gathered group of women. We were formally releasing from the oath of noble silence. We spoke to our ten day neighbours. My immediate meditation-mat neighbour told me that she had been upset for the last few days as she got news from her home that her little daughter had taken ill. It wasn’t serious, but enough to make her feel restless. The lady behind me was Bhavani, from Dubai, and she was attending the Vipassana camp with her husband, with whom she would talk after ten days, despite him living in the same campus in the ‘Men’s zone’. 

We were asked to form lines outside the meditation hall and were systematically given a brief tour of the pagoda. We saw the chamber where Shri Goenkaji used to meditate. 

And then we were off – to collect our mobiles and call up people. 

I called up my son first. And I could not speak properly. Words came haltingly and I had to give thought to minimise words and get points across. I was spacing out the words differently. I then called up a list of my closest people after intervals for recovery in between calls. I spoke to my husband in the afternoon, when he was free to talk after his surgeries. There was too much to tell but I was unable to say it all or even a fraction of it. Silence had started feeling comfortable. 

During the lunch break we mixed with each other. The men and women were allowed to intermingle and speak to each other. That’s when I realised that some people had attended the program together. There was a son and mother. There were many couples. There were friends, siblings. 

The amount of sound and noise in the dining hall was amazing. Everyday during meal times, the resounding sound of metal over metal – the sound of the steel plates and spoons and glasses clashing over each other – appeared harsh to our ears over the thock silence we had become used to. But today NO METAL was heard. We all were talking so much. The metallic clinks were submerged in the sound of human interactions. 

Over lunch we spoke about our current experiences and routine mundane lives. We discussed how the experience had been for us. Awesome, said Maitri! Oh OK said Ahana. 

One of the delightful features of the twelve days spent here had been NOT HAVING TO PLAN ALL THE DAILY MEAL MENUS! I expressed that and Maitri, a psychologist from Mumbai, gave simple tips to simplify this part of life by fixing the 3-meals menu for a week during Saturday evening family meetings. It had been working for her for the past 4 years, she said. 

I visited the huge kitchen area and congratulated the person in charge and thanked him for cooking healthy meals for us everyday. He said they had been feeding around 1500 people everyday including participants and staff. There were many residing in the Tapovan, which was at some distance from our area. These were people who had come there for advanced and extended courses of 1, w or even 3 months. We did not have access to it! 

The entire course is free of charge. How can a price be placed for training someone in skills which are deemed to be essential? And what price for this fantastic process? How does anyone decide that this much is befitting? With these thoughts in mind, Shri Goenkaji has fought his way through keeping this process free for everyone and anyone who wants to give it a fair trial. And on the last day there is an appeal to donate as much as one feels like. So, there were lines open for donation – as much as one wished and as much as we could comfortable give. There was no minimum or maximum cut off. Some have ₹ 50/- some ₹ 100/- and there were those who gave more. There was a book store and a CD / DVD store, in case one wanted to take home the written versions of any part of the course. 

Outside amidst the nature it was different. There were groups of youngsters talking and laughing and exchanging their experiences. I was amazed to see so many youth in the age group of 20-30 years. The authorities were taken aback by their facetious levity. Twice in front of me they were asked to move to a different spot and not laugh and talk so loudly. I wondered who they were. I am always fascinated by that age. The age when everything appears possible. I approached them and asked how so many of them had decided to attend such a strenuous ten day meditation camp together. They informed me that Vipassana was a part of their two year fellowship program. We discussed matters further. I had noticed few of the girls from that group. One especially used to somehow be somewhere near me when I was standing in line for meals or water. I discovered she was a graduate in Islamic history, now enrolled for the fellowship. There was a civil engineer, other graduates, all excited to be talking to each other. Everyone had had their own journey for ten days. The inherent generational cynicism stopped them from exchanging the good bits. Their initial impulse seemed to be to exchange the hardships and to make fun of some aspects which appeared silly. But on further probing I realised that changes had occurred, for the better, whether they accepted that or not. We discussed ‘craving’ and a youth said that he needed to have his craving at that age. Another had doubts about whether The Buddha had really escaped the cycle of birth and rebirth! 

There were too many doubts floating around in their minds. They were shy and reticent about it. And yet they had questions to ask me when they heard that I am a neurologist. 

We talked about job stress and future and so much more! There was a young lady who was an assistant director from Mumbai! There was an architect, a free lance copy-writer! Young people who wanted to explore the truth about themselves, youth who were diverted to Vipassana because they were already into Yoga! There was a young Montessori teacher, the youngest child brought up with pampering, who had been horrified by the concept of Noble Silence and no smiling at each other policy! She was happy to finally talk. And she did that non-stop. 

Everyone’s reason for being there was different. Everyone’s journey had been different. And yet here we were – all together. 

A young girl’s told me her story of how she would be anxious of feeling hungry at night as the ‘dinner’ was at 5-5:30 pm. So to fight that anxiety, she scavenged through her belongings and found 7 lozenges of Strepsils. Then she calculated how she would need a fraction of a lozenge per day. She felt better knowing that she had SOMETHING as backup. She told me how she budgeted and managed to save 4 tablets at the end of the ten days! There had been more for everyone during these ten days than just watching breaths and sensations. The life of a monk or nun had also brought out qualities among everyone. 

We spoke about response as against reaction. We spoke about how one is not compelled to react to stimuli around us and how there is an option of a response given at a later time after accessing our hard drives of rational thought. We spoke about intuitions. We spoke about changing oneself, about self growth, about different ways of personal growth. There were a few who had attended high end costly courses in self development in Bangalore. 

Youth are searching for ways to grow. They want structured guidance. They want a rational commentary explaining why our mind is so and what is the meaning in the method to train it! They want to acquire the skills and understand the processes. They want to know. They want to grow. 

Talking to the youth was as inspiring for me as the process of Vipassana. I was full of more ideas for the immediate future and that impatient thought made me restless for some time. In the evening session, it was difficult to stop our murmurs and whispers. We were transformed to kindergarten children, wanting to share thoughts and exchange ideas. The meditation session and Shri Goenkaji’s discourses helped us get back to a level of quietness.  

Tomorrow he said, before we left, we would be taught the details about Maitri Sabha. He warned us not to crave for the sensory pleasure that the process delivered. Don’t be trapped into a GAME OF SENSATION, he warned us! He reminded us to be equanimous. And he reminded us to report at 4:30 am tomorrow. As usual. 

Vipassana Day 10 – 26th May – The Day of Continuous Meditation! 

My Mind had reached quietness by now and that gave me a LOT of mental free time of uncluttered thinking even in my meditation-free times. There was a certain lightness. A sense of fulfilment. A freedom. I walked around and discovered more areas of trees and Squirrels and Ravens. It felt as if knew them all personally – a feeling of distinct familiarity. I wondered why after ten days of being here, the squirrels still ran away!? That was the property, the nature of the squirrel- the guNadharma! Quick, alert, sharp, shy, subtle! 
The tenth day of the stay at Igatpuri – or the ninth day of Vipassana was to be a Continuous Meditation day. The message was to try and be aware, alert and detached throughout the day. 

Who else is there with me throughout the day after all?! It is I! And I have to look out for myself. I have to protect myself. I have to be sajag – aware and alert. And of course when I am emotionally excessive, my rationality takes leave. So it is necessary to be detached, objective, taThasta! Sthitapradnya – the state of equanimous knowing. Each moment – हर पल! 

Equanimous and aware – constantly! For my own sake. 

I had gone through a journey from afraid and doubtful to confident and inspired! All around me were Silent Saints with serene faces. When I walked out of the hall for a stretch or a drink of water, I now saw versions of Buddha sitting in equilibrium, some in the Padmaasan- the lotus postures. Each one seemed to have had their personal journey. No talk. A different silence was now pervading the meditation hall. It felt peacefully different or differently peaceful that everyone was in a similar mental state. The concept of a community namaaz has always fascinated me. A time during the day when everyone from the community is in the same mental state of prayer. What power that process would have!! I had always wondered. Here it felt as if I was a part of a similar force / momentum on some spiritual plane. 

And there was an additional excitement! Tomorrow we would talk! Speak! I had heard my own voice in the privacy of my room – especially when I had been feeling upset and distraught, I had sung my songs in a lowered voice! But tomorrow I would hear other voices too! The stolen, casual, accidental smiles would be those of familiarity. Most of the faces were already appearing so familiar that I had begun to feel that I knew them from before this Igatpuri visit! 

By now I was also jumping into the future once in a while – becoming eager to get back into the outside world, with fresh plans!!! The list of ideas and plans started taking a hold of my emptied Mind! There would be bouts of impatience with the situation, Super Urges to write everything down, to consolidate thought into written language!!! The future seemed bright and full of promise. My burdens were lesser and my ideas were flourishing inside me! 

With quiet mind and peaceful excitement I slept that day, in silent anticipation of tomorrow. Tomorrow I would talk. We all would talk. I would also get my phone! And I would write!!! 

Alert, aware, detached, equanimous. Today- the only truth. 

Vipassana Day 9 – 25th May – The Path of Determination 

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! 

I reflect 

So still are the waters 
That I can see 

The reflections of all 

That is to see! 

The stillness 

Brings silence 

Though deep deep within

There lives a different world. 

Vipassana Day 8 – 24th May : Mental blinds and The Brand ‘I’ 

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. ( 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. ( 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