Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Untying The Knots: Meditation Boot Camp

So for the past 11 days I attended a 10 day intensive meditation course. It was without a doubt the most challenging 10 days of my life but also the most rewarding.

So I arrived in McLeod Ganj around 3 am and a man came up to me when I get off bus,
"You need room? Very cheap! Come!"
"No, I wait til sun comes up then I goto Tushita for Meditation course."
"Oh Tushita? I don't know much bout that, but there is another place right next door a man from Israel stay at guest house go, I introduce you and you two go together yeah? Come"
So I go to the guest house and surely enough next morning I get introduced to Peter. The course was the next day, but I went to register that day. I went to Tushita but they were offering Introduction To Buddhism courses that did not interest me so I went next door to the meditation center that was suppose to be open at 4pm. I arrive at 4pm. Doors are locked. An employee sees me waiting, comes up to me and tells me he will get the guy to open the office. He returns 20 mins later telling me,
"Uhh..He asleep...Or meditating, something like that ahaha" Ok....So there I wait for him to wake up and come down when he feels like it I suppose. I dont care Ill wait 10 hours, if that will get me into the course, this is why I came to India. So he stumbles down around 5:15 and I get put on wait list. So with a good intention I hope for the best.

The next day I go to the center for the registration time and Im in! Stoked! Once again, my intentions are perfectly inline and somehow magically come together. I considered myself extremely grateful. However, I wasnt too stoked that you had to turn in anything that could distract you from the course. Phones, Ipod, money belts, books, passport, jewelry...Naturally the first thing that came to mind was No way! That is madness! But everyone else was doing it, so once again with a good intention I hope for the best, then let the possibility of theft go.

Attending the course you had to abstain from the following.
No intoxicants
No sexual misconduct
No lying
No stealing
No killing

I then get assigned a laundry bag, and a bed number. I got to my corridors and started laughing at how it was put together...The walls and roof were propped up with wooden trunks from trees, the outside walls were made out of a tarp that was ripped and torn, was once white but natures corrosion made it brown. I shared my sleeping space with insects, rodents, and dust bunnies. My sleeping space was no larger than an American bathroom stall. My bed was a rod iron table with a poor excuse to call a mattress on top. My pillow was once white as well. But was so filled with dirt that it was mostly black. The dividing walls were curtains that did no justice for sound or sight privacy. I was put in the very back corner with one other young man from Israel. I did not get his name. The sleeping corridors reminded me of a boot camp that you see in the movies. I smiled, this is ironically the type of experience I yearn for here. Give me an uncomfortable, dirty bed and I accept it with a smile and gratitude. I would have slept on the floor outside if that would have made me able to take the course.

The whole rest of the day I spent talking to the rest of the male applicants. Males and females were segregated. I met a man named Duncan from Washington D.C. He was 34. He has done alot of humanitarian work, worked in the peace core, works in the medical field all around the world helping people. What a life. This was his first meditation experience in general. WOW! How inspiring. Ive been practicing for 3 years and he stuck with it without any previous experience. How inspiring! I sat next to him in meditation and at the end of the silence we immediately started talking.
"Well hello Siddartha! Wow, you were incredible. So composed, such a straight back. I was so envious but it was helpful hearing the teacher say do not compare yourself to other students because I looked at your practice with such inspiration!"
"It may look like I am composed and full of bliss on the outside but there is alot of work going on that isnt so pleasant ahah Look at yourself, you achived this course without any meditation experience. Your determination is what is inspiring!"
I hit it of the most with Duncan. We exchanged info and will definitely keep in touch. I want to get involved with some of the peace core work that he is in. He might come down to California for a retreat in Joshua Tree, awesome! Id love to be in his company!

Next impactful person was Peter from Israel. Long haired and thick beard, he was placed in my path for a reason. Peter is trying to break free from his past drug abuse with more positive tangible ways of experiencing the bliss he was seeking with such destructive ways. We have similar storys and stayed up til midnight the last night talking offering him insight on how I have remained sober with a background of drug abuse. I could see the pain in his eyes, the want to break free from this pattern of drug abuse and I offered every single piece of advise I have used and found useful. I know exactly what he is going through and pray for his success.

Next was Jesus.
"And whats your name?"
"Not Christ right? ahah"
"No of Nazarene."
I turn to Duncan to laugh with him and when I return my sight back to ask where he is from he is gone. Within 10 seconds he vanished.
He spoke with a thick accent and a lisp. He looked like a cross between Gandalf from Lord of The Rings or one of the village healers in Kevin Costners Robin Hood. He was thinner than me, long brown hair and a beard that pointed off his chin that reminded me of how Shawn had his beard. He always walked with a walking stick that he would twirle between his fingers around his head and back. He has been travelling around india for 11 months. Backpacking and from the looks of it resembles the life of a homeless person. Looking at this man made me laugh, not out of anything other than love. He tickled my sense of humor because of how different he was. Always had to break the rules too ahah. He would feed the monkeys food when he was instructed several times not to, go over course boundaries, and on the last day he was playing a guitar while playing a flute like device. The instructor came over put his hand on the guitar telling him no and he kept playing with such a smile on his face as though he was playing the most remarkable love song. A truly remarkably funny person who was a blast to "people watch".

Then I met Steve. Steve was originally from Los Angeles, but moved to Singapore 3 years ago. He is 34. He is a chef there in Singapore, and is heavily tattooed. Needless to say we got along well. He and I were very similar. He was sober, had a past of drug abuse, broke free from it and lives a very positive life. He loves and follows the punk rock scene and rocks it. After the retreat we spent the majority of the day talking over a good cup of coffee. We exchanged info.

I met another man named Ashley. He is from Sri Lanka, a country near India an island off India. He also is living a sober life. How wonderful! For so many years I have looked so hard for sober friends who do not surround themselves with such negative means of getting happiness. He might go trekking tomorrow to a nearby town tomarrow. After coffee with Steve we saw Ashley and we went to get food at an amazing vegetarian Japanese restaurant. So good!

Then I had small talk with everyone else. Many people from spain, israel, argentina, filand, england, from all over! Such a expierience of so many different backgrounds. It really influenced me to start learning other languages.

So around 7 we have dinner which was a slop of cornmeal and beans. "We serve very basic vergetarian food here" was what they said in their opening speech and it couldnt be more true. Most of the food looked like slop, was bland in taste but I was greateful to have every spoonful. You only ate teice a day. Breakfast and lunch. We also were blessed to have a cup of Chai, needless to say that was my favorite part of everyday which I will describe in further detail a bit later.

So after food, we have meeting about the course and the "Noble Silence" begins. You are not to communicate in any way with any other participant. Whether it be with eye contact, verbal or non verbal gestures etc. The only people to talk to are the servers, and teachers. Thats it. Lights out around 930.

Next morning a gong gets struck promply at 3:50 followed by one of the assistant teachers walking around the whole place ringing a very loud high pitched bell. Morning meditation started at 430. But I was normally up right away and in the hall at 4. The daily timetable consisted of the following schedule:
4:30 to 6:30 - Morning meditation
6:30 to 8:00 - Breakfast and rest
8:00 to 9:00 - Meditation
9:00 to 11:00 - Meditation
11:00 to 1:00 - Lunch and rest
1:00 to 2:30 - Meditation
2:30 to 3:30 - Meditation
3:30 to 5:00 - Meditation
5:00 to 6:00 - Tea and rest
6:00 to 7:00 - Meditation
7:00 to 8:15 - Teachers explanation of the day
8:15 to 9:00 - Meditation
Lights out


So the tequnique as I understand it as follows.
First you start with the awareness of your breath beacuse when you do this your mind becomes sharp and over time notices sensations whever you place your attention. The teaching of Vipassana means to see things as they really are. So over time, we build an awareness of sensations throughout the body and then practice the actual art of Vipassana. Each sensation that arises in the body you must understand is impermanent. Pleasant or unpleasant. Its very nature is to arise and pass. Each sensations needs to be observed without judgement, without craving to keep the pleasant sensations, and not to pull away from the unpleasant sensations. Just observe with awareness and equanimity. Like a scientist without attachment to the changes who puts his experiment under a flame and sees "Oh look, the chemicals are changing!" This in time, reaches the sub conscious level of the mind, the deepest level of the mind, which is always intune with the sensations of the body and changes the habit pattern of the mind to not run away from pain but to observe it objectively with calmness, and not to crave pleasant things but to observe it with even mindedness. Over our lifetime we have created a pattern of reactions to pleasant and unpleasant feelings whether we are aware of it or not and this is the main cause of our suffering. For example, one gets addicted to alcohol because of the sensations that arise from when they drink. Maybe they have a bad day at work so they go pound a few down unknowingly creating a deep destructive habit pattern to seek pleasure in these times of unpleasantness.

Every emotion we feel gives a sensation to the body. We get angry, and our heart paces, we fill up with heat energy, start sweating, we become tense etc. and while sitting in meditation for sometimes up to 2 hours at a time, naturally your body begins to ache you feel alot of pain from being stationary for so long. But staying equanimous, looking at these sensations objectively with the understanding that the sensations nature is to arise and pass away, in return the pain gets neutralized it and will feel the very subtle sensations in replace of it. But you must keep in mind that just like how the pain subsided it will arise again and pass, and the pleasant sensation will infact too arise and pass. Just be aware of the change objectively, and maintain your awareness and even mindedness. Dont develop clinging or abortion of the sensations because then you create another reaction habit pattern. By dealing with this pain with a calm mind, accepting the reality that this sensation has arisen and IT WILL PASS, you are changing the habit pattern of the mind to look at pain this way. So in return in your daily life somethings happens where you normally would react with hatred, violence, ill will, you in return dont get affected by it and return it with metta (which I will explain later). Fantastic! Such a positive means of developing ones self!

Now with pleasant sensations, you are too as well look at it objectively knowing that this sensation like everything in life is impermanent and will pass, you are changing the habit pattern of your mind to cling, be addicted, and crave pleasant sensations. Now this in return does not make you not appreciate life. Oh no, It teaches you real happiness, real peace. Real happines it to expierience what is happeneing without the attachement of the moment. Part of the suffering arises when the desire for these emotions are not fulfilled because then you crave and cling for untangible happiness.

What Buddha taught was that this was his way to being fully liberated from suffering. He is not asking you to change religions oh no. There are Christians, Jews, Cathlolics, Hindus, Jains, people of every religion practicing Vipassana. Buddhism isnt concerned with changing your religion. Keep your religion. That is good for you. Buddhism is concerned with eradicated suffering. Everyone suffers, so be free from those chains and devlop love and compassion for every being and live a proper and moral live by the abstentions. That is the essence of buddhism. That is the essence of Vipassana it teaches you how on an expieriential level. Not on an intellectual level but an expiereintuial level. This way you see for yourself because if it is only an intellectual understanding you wont fully understand. The scientist conducting the expieriment of burning the chemicals only understands that the chemicals are changing on an intellectual level. No personal expierience there. Buddha said, "All I ask is try for yourself, see what change happens in your life. If you understand the tequnie properly and work diligently you will eradicate all your suffering. " Aside from insight, Vipassana after each meditation you work on metta, which is to develop loving kindness for ALL beings. Developing the compassion to pass on your wisdom, and love to benefit others so that they may be free from their suffering and be happy. Be happy.

One of the most entertaining parts of the trip was that the center was in the moutanins and as a result there were wild monkeys. Yes, monkeys! How rad is that!!?! They provided much needed entertainment. To see them interact was such a wonderful sight to witness. To see them climb and evade each other is quite humorous. They are daredevils! Leaping from high heights jumping far lenghts between building etc, I found this along with pretty much anything they did hysterical. Also, quite often during meditation they would get alittle rowdy outside. You would hear them scream and run all throughout the mountains, jumping on the roofs etc. A truly remarkable sight was seeing the baby monkeys no larger than a baby kitten. Their little verbalization was so adorable. But not all expieriences were so nice. After meditation one day a flock come walking by me so I stand still and watch them pass with eager curiosity and love for these animals, ive always loved monkeys. They stop infront of me and sit down and have no intention of moving, after some time I know I must get back to the meditation hall, start to move and one of the monkeys and I make eye contact and he shows his fangs and charges towards me! A scream belches out of me as I flee in the opposite direction ahaha. They would be quite agressive (the women were advised to carry sticks ahaha), Jesus would give them food and would fight over it as a result.

One of the most enjoyable was guess what? Yes, enjoying a cup of Chai. Chai time was perfectly matched with the setting of the sun. So I would get my warm cup of Chai, sit on these steps that gave me perfect view of the sunset of lavish purples, pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, every color, slowly going through the tall towering trees and resting upon the snowcapped mountains behind me in a shade of a glorious majestic purple that Ive never seen before. It was different everyday and everyday I sat there, with my warm cup of Chai, feeling the greatest sense of gratitude to be experiencing this. This is where I would play my favorite songs in my head to accompany this unimaginable beauty with such vivid memorization that I wouldnt miss one note or word and for a minute, I would close my eyes and sink within myself, and it would feel like I was back home with my friends at my favorite place, a friendly vegetarian restaruant Follow Your Heart. It never failed, everytime I would start crying because I was overwhelmed with so many beautiful loving emotions. Ive never expierienced such bliss in my entire life.

Like I said the past 11 days were the hardest but must rewarding beautiful days of my life. I went from meditating 30 mins twice a day (if I was lucky) to meditating almost 12 hours a day for 10 days. I meditated in 10 days what I would meditate in 120 days ahaha. I am a firm believer that the hardest muscle to work is your mind. It takes great diligence to sit even for 15 mins because your mind becomes so agitated you cant focus, then pain comes and each second seams like days. Needless to say what its like for 2 hours and then you get a 5 minute break which was barely long enough to stretch your legs and have to start all over again. My original goal before my first day was to sit the 3 1 hour sittings without moving, no matter how unbearable the pain is. With diligence, a calm mind, and this wonderful technique I was able to move moutains with my mind. Not only did I compelte my on day 4, but I exceeded it by eventually not moving almost all day. Anyone can do this, I am one of the thousands and I strongly encourage anyone and everyone see for themselves and see the change it brings within them. Just sit for 5, 10 minutes and try to observe your breath with awareness, any thoughts that come up just recogize they came up and let it pass without judgement. See how long you can hold your attention. Then when you throw some pain in the mist add like an hour and a half of not moving in the mist, put that in your pipe and smoke it ahah. But serisouly, even 5 mins of this basic meditation will provide such a massive positive change. I looked at how I felt the first day, so angry, so angry, so irritable, so tense, to sit for so long but that is my habit pattern ingrained in me. My mind would come up with anything to have me not do this and when I wouldnt give in I would react with such anger. I wanted to back out because of the intensity. Im not gonna lie, the thought crossed my mind many many times. But that is another habit pattern in my mind to lead me away from what is good for me, but what is extremely difficult. To work on bettering yourself as a person takes much diligence and in no way am I fully eradicated from my suffering, but I am taking the right steps in becoming a better person which is my goal everyday. I pushed myself harder than anyone will ever push me and I saw and expierienced the results first hand. I am untying the knots of my destrutive habit patterns that are blocking me from real happiness, real peace, and real harmony. You can do anything if you work diligently for it. Those ten days were the most difficult and most challenging days of my life but like I said were the most rewarding. Being in silence for 10 days in itself was an expierience too. When silence is accepted between everyone, it was very comfortable, very nice. There is a comfort is silence. Ever cared to wonderful how much idle talk you spend each day? You realize when you stop for a bit. Normally in America someone who doesnt talk is suspected of the next Columbine shooting, never as noble.

It was interesting on the last day they showed a movie called, "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana" where in jails throughout india they have made arrangements to teach this meditation to murderes, rapists, drug dealers etc. and the results it has given are unimaginable. The results in the testimonals that are given are such an advancement of such love and positivity. Taiwan and the U.S. are the only other countries besides India making this available, how wonderful! Be happy!

Tonight I meetup with a bunch of people from the course to get some drinks and food. Guess what drink for me? Yes, thats right Chai! Cant wait! It is such a blessing these people that have came into my life. For so long I have been needing a community of like minded individuals, who live a sober and spiritual life. I am extremely greateful.

My plans for the few weeks is to maybe do some trekking tomarrow, then go north to a town called Amritsar to see a temple made out of Gold! (I dont know what percentage but it is supposed to be quite magnificient) Then work my way down to a town called Chandigarth where there is a "fantasy rock garden" where its more of an art museum. In this garden is a huge array of art compiled from what we would think as garbage but given the right mind, pieces of art were created. It is supposed to be quite remarkable so we shall see. Then I work my way town to the West part of India, Rajasthan. I want to volunteer at a meditation course like the one I took for my Birthday. I know not of a better way to spend my birthday than in the service of others who are trying to benefit themselves not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of others as well! If before I have time I would like to fit in my camel desert trip before, if not after for sure.

Thank you for all your emails everyone. Each email I get brings the biggest smile to my face.
I love and miss you all.

Be happy.