On Mettā-day, the purpose of this whole technique is taught, or this is how I feel about it at least. For 9 days we’d been deprogramming ourselves to have a clear mind by day 10. This is important, because whatever thoughts, wishes and desires are there with you on this day, is likely to be with you for much longer than you may anticipate.
For the 10-day duration of the course, all meals are prepared and served very punctually for the participants. Generally the food tastes amazing and is very nutritious. Some days I’d sit and dream about too cooking for large group of people. What an honor I thought it must be to feed and nourish many. How rewarding it must be to provide deep care, deep nurturing and to ad an element of unexpected value to the life of another, I thought.
Occasionally during the course a quiet, but interesting looking person would enter the meditation hall to meditate with us. Sometimes I used to see him pass by my hut to the property next door. He must be working there, involved with the operations of the center. Should I try and speak with him after the course? He must be interesting to speak with.
I never did speak to the mysterious wonderer, but I received a phone call from him about a month or two after my course, to know if I’d be available to help out during the next course. I said yes. I arrived, I was put in the kitchen. We were only a few, so we all learnt at a steep learning curve. By Mettā-day, day 10, finally we’d have a handle on things and could enjoy the calmness that came with this day.
Walking to throw out the compost just before 6 am one Mettā-day morning, I watched the full moon hanging close to the earth. I had never felt so much contentment, fulfillment, purpose and belonging in my life and so I looked at the moon feeling at one with her, as if she’s just an extension of me not very far away and I said: “I want to come back.”
I had not yet learnt the manifesting power of these Mettā Days. The next month I was back in the kitchen, and also the month thereafter.
When an older student asked me if I wouldn’t like to come help out at the center long term I said: “I’d love to, but……. there is life”
Have you ever heard the saying that anything before the “but” in a sentence makes it redundant? Well this was the opposite. My heart confessed its truth before the “but”and only the truth was heard. Before I knew it I was back in the kitchen, this time to stay for an extended period of time.
However, there was only one problem… I was in strong resistance to the teacher S.N. Goenka. His voice bugged me, his way of speaking bugged me, and he seemed way to overpowering to my liking. I’d hear people talk about him as a big teddy bear, but I got none of that.
On my first night of a being long-term server, I sat on my bed, not quite sure what to do with this lack of regard for the main teacher of the technique. Of course he lived in India, it was not like I was going to run into him at any time, but it didn’t feel right being at the property without admiration for the person who created the very opportunity. That night I had a dream. S. N. Goenka was in it. He sat on my bed, simply looking at me. His eyes were as shiny as they appear on all his photos in the books, only much, much more, like beams of light it looked straight into mine. I woke up the next morning with nothing but love for him, and that stayed.
We were all siting at 142 Lea Bridge Road, London, a place of cultural get-together, free exploration and all kinds of young hearted shenanigans. My introverted nature did not put me at the forefront of events, yet I was part of the mix, due to my newly found connection, Shiv – an overtly expressive, dashingly charming, attractive and convincing young Indian man. What he was describing seemed like some rite of passage, some challenge or test, that only those with true conviction can survive. It wasn’t until he said the words “complete silence for ten days” that my attention fully merged with his delivery. “That sounds cool,” I thought to myself. “I have to try it one day.”
Soon after, I spent a year in India, traveling to various parts, including the Himalayan Mountains. In a place called Parvati Valley, where days were met with a customary charras (Indian hashish) culture, I spent a lot of alone time walking through the mountain-top forest. During some of those walks I recall hearing the voice of a male, chanting ancient-like sounds, sounds I would only recognize some time later during my first ten day retreat.
It is said that those who have the calling of Vipassana from a previous lifetime cannot resist upon finding it in a current lifetime. When the seed has been planted, it must grow.
From India I went back to Cape Town, where I had to make the switch back to real life. My life there felt in contrast to my yearning for spiritual fulfillment and even though my practice of Tai Chi and Qigong, which I almost religiously held on to, was a savings grace, something was pulling on me.
One night, I found myself suddenly sitting upright in my bed. It was time to try this Vipassana thing.
Arriving at the retreat center you are assigned a bed and a small space to unpack the limited belongings you brought with you. You are requested to make do with what is given and not a have unreasonable expectations for luxurious accommodation. The retreat center is about an hour outside of Cape Town at the foot of a mountain slope in a beautiful natural setting.
I regretted that the sleeping bag I packed in to sleep in was not enough. In stark contrast to the attitude of abundance I now know is at the core of Vipassana, I felt inhibited to ask for an extra blanket to keep me warm at night.
At lights-off time, I relaxed into the warmth of my body through my mind, while in fact it was absolutely freezing cold. During the day I would work diligently as suggested by the teacher. There was no switching off for me, my mind was at constant awareness in relaxing into what was. I look back now, and think of this discomfort at night as one of the reasons the technique caught hold on me so strongly. Here’s why:
Towards the end of the course you are guided to direct your awareness, observing a rapid flow of energy through your whole body. One night I was lying in bed, still unable to differentiate between mental effort and mental observation. I applied my, then, very concentrated mind to this task of observing the flow of energy. (In actuality this is rapidly observing the energy as it is naturally, appearing as a rapid flow.)
Every time I applied strong effort, the wind would pass by in a gust, to stop as quickly as my my mental effort did. I experimented with this for some time. Was it real? Was I imagining things? Was I manipulating the weather? I was astounded at how this could be and even though I knew it was real, the I did not exclude the possibility of being in a disillusioned trap of the mind. I knew it was real, though. The confirmation would come many months later.
The next day was Mettā-day. The silence would be broken and we’d engage in light communication with the other participants. I had just started enjoying the new world inside, only accessible through silence, which was now sadly coming to and end.
Yet, I was curious. What was the others’ experiences like?
To be continued.
We all can be a little hard on ourselves. How often do we think that we should have figured this or that out by now, or that surely we should have been more successful here or there, had we just made better choices.
Don’t we all wonder at times whether we should be doing more, or whether we should back off, and this evaluation process we become just a little frustrated with ourselves and the level of progress?Ok, maybe not all of us deal with these internal judgements, but I am pretty sure that a large number of us do.
After being dedicated to spiritual pursuits for so many years, and still not “having it figured out“, the spiritual ego can start chipping away at our self-confidence for not having maintained a certain level of happiness, for making bad choices, causing emotional dips or for misaligning our thoughts, resulting in feeling depressed at times.
This actually has nothing to do with the spiritual ego, because a person dedicating so many years to business pursuits and still doesn’t have that successful business to show has the very same internal voice, so does the artist who keeps on creating and still is unseen and misunderstood.
Now you may say that we all know that happiness lies inside and that spirituality has to do with finding happiness inside while continuing with what you are doing. The business enthusiast simply has to focus his attention on feeling good inside and trusting that the universe will provide. This is spirituality, this is the true practice and then his business will flourish, not that it would matter, because he would have found happiness.
You may say that the artist’s focus should be on the fulfillment he gets from the actual creating, not from the recognition he gets. This would be his practice and the enjoyment of his work will reach the public through the vibration he project, and the by-product of his enjoyment would be recognition and resonance.
What is the obvious answer in the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment?
Be happy and you won’t go through emotional dips anymore? I have heard this taught. I have seen rooms full of elated spiritual seekers forcing bliss upon themselves making inner promises to be in bliss from now on always. When your elated, you project good energy to the world and the world will meet you back with good energy. Which is true.
However, often what happens is, we’re not able to maintain an elated state of mind. We feel like we’ve failed. Our confidence gets crushed a little, we maintain a happy face for the sake of it and the gap between what we feel and what we show increases.
Spirituality is NOT about being happy all the time. In fact being happy is the by-product of living according to spiritual values, it is not the goal or the practice. Being fulfilled is what happens naturally when we live in accordance to the higher truth that we are not our experience, we are not our thoughts, we are not our mind.
Anything can happen to anyone. Your circumstance may be shit or it may be great. Yet you are not your circumstance, you are not your experience. You are not your mind, even if you have a mind that likes to create wonderful things. You are an infinite being, not as some new agey concept, but in actuality.
Thus approach every part of your experience with NO judgment, and with a deeper knowing that you are perfectly where you’re supposed to on all levels, to be met at a place where you can most effectively overcome your sense of separation and create a greater sense of love and connection.
Whatever difficulty you experience, there is no judgment. You have not failed at being a spiritually enlightened being. It is impossible to fail at, because each experience is only there to facilitate your understanding that you are not your experience. Your experiences will persist until you come to true understanding of the nature of it.
With this knowing there is a deeper sense of happiness that doesn’t necessary look like a happy face all the time, but that feels so calm and peaceful to be around with.
Be really accepting. Be really patient. Be really compassionate towards your every experience as it passes and take that break to feel true peace and love and harmony before again following your mind to the next experience it wishes to create.
Compassion. I often hear it in context of feeling sorry for another.
The quality of compassion, is quite the opposite of feeling sorry for another. Compassion derives from experiential understanding of another’s situation or position. Compassion is developed from knowing a certain place first hand. That place may be a situation of jealousy, rage, pain, turmoil, blame, greed, fear, or any other limiting condition.
Compassion is different from feeling sorry for another, in the sense that compassion feels only love, positivity and trust in the evolutionary process that brings us all closer to love. A person experiencing compassion knows that after an experience of intense struggle, comes an experience of love.
The experience of compassion is one of hope and gratitude – gratitude for our suffering, knowing that it diminishes the walls between us. Compassion knows that we are one as species, as living beings. Compassion is in full support of another’s journey, understanding its purpose, and feeling grateful for the shared responsibility.
Compassion is much bigger than having sympathy, or empathy for another’s suffering. A compassionate person understands another’s suffering, because he/she has been there before, and has come through the experience with forgiveness and love.
Often we see things in the world that is so wrong, that makes us angry, that gets us upset. We seek justice and want others to be pushed. To have compassion for our enemy, and those who trigger us is far from easy. Just for a moment, put yourself in their shoes. Feel how they must have felt before committing such a crime, the crime you condemn. – Perhaps extreme anger, extreme lust, extreme insecurity, extreme shame, extreme fear. Are these feelings within themselves not enough of punishment, of hardship to go through?
If still you cannot come to a place of compassion for having felt such intense emotions in the past, and currently having a much more balanced life experience, then humbly accept these people as your teachers.
May all living beings come to a place of love and understanding. ~ Peace ~