My silent squirrel

Is she saying something?

My squirrel?

Now that I am in need of some help and guidance,

Does she have a clue?

How quiet do I need to be

So that I can hear her?

How long should I sit still

So that I can access her help?

Can she not extend her tail and toes

To reach out to me instead?

Guide me,

Help me,

Be with me!

I am ready

To listen,

O SquirrelMind!


Bliss 1

Exhaustion could be blissful

If the effort was from deep

And the walk was for the miles

To be walked before the sleep.

An uphill could be blissful

The ragged and the steep

The terrain of adventure

To be climbed before the sleep.

An argument could add bliss

To the dullness and the heap

Of boredom between people –

To flourish before the sleep.

Silence must be blissful

Serene, soft, it will sweep

The tumultuous and violent –

To sense before the sleep.

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.