The mind is the most important
“The mastery of speech is good, the mastery of physical actions is good, but he who masters the mind is a true warrior.” I don’t remember where I read this quote, but it made an impression on me.
Like many, I went through a midlife crisis and struggled to find answers to questions like what is the meaning of life; What is my purpose and what is true happiness? I thought that if I could answer these questions I could understand how my mind works and how I would master it.
I had heard of hypnosis and thought it would be an easy way to conquer the mind. I will lie down on a couch and allow a qualified hypnotist to perform surgery on my mind. It didn’t work! I came out of hypnosis exactly as I had come in. My mind was still restless. I then went to a healer and then a fortune teller hoping to get answers to my questions. He left more and more disappointed and confused.
I started doing my own research and almost all the research pointed me towards meditation.
Just the word “meditation” puts me in a state of restlessness as I am one of those who cannot sit still for a minute and meditation is about stilling the mind and focusing on a single thought.
But I had made the decision to become a warrior of the mind “As an archer aims an arrow, a carpenter carves wood, wise men shape their lives.” The Dhamppada
I had to shape my own life since I was the only one who controlled it. I had read about a Buddhist meditation technique called Vipassana. (Vipassana is a form of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnectedness between mind and body, which can be experienced directly through disciplined attention to the physical sensations that make up the life of the body, and continually interconnect and condition). the life of the mind. It is this observation-based journey of self-exploration to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind filled with love and compassion.)
Some friends had attended the 10-day course and left feeling transformed. I felt compelled to do so and thought I’d give it a try. All I had to do was have no contact with the outside world, eat two vegetarian meals a day, and observe noble silence during my stay. Noble silence means absolutely not speaking or communicating in any way with fellow meditators.
That sounded a bit like a challenge.
Well, I guess the path to wisdom and mastery would require some sacrifices!
So I drove to Karnal (a small town in northern India) on the eve of the 10-day course. There were a few others who signed up. I looked around to see the expression on people’s faces looking for some kind of security, anything that would make me feel like I would survive the 10 days. He had heard so many people talk about how strict and harsh the regime was that he needed security to be able to run the so-called penitence camp.
Around 6:00 pm we all gathered in the hallway where we were asked to get rid of personal items such as phones, books, purses, notebooks, pens, etc. Anything that distracts us from full immersion in our minds.
When I started giving away my lifelines, I started to feel very uncomfortable and broke the first rule. I stuffed a phone in my bag, promising myself I wouldn’t use it, but having it in my possession gave me much-needed support structure. They briefed us on the rules and regulations and starting at 8:00 pm that night would be the last time we would be allowed to speak for the next 10 days.
I was up for the challenge!
At 4:00am the doorbell rings right outside my door, but I had been hearing sounds since 3:30am as there were some pretty enthusiastic attendees who had woken up at 3:15am and were already lining up to go to the bathroom and shower. So, kicking and crawling out of bed, I went and lined up for my turn to use the facilities. No one even recognized each other, we all stood there like zombies letting our imaginations run wild and judging each other in our MINDS. Our monkey minds had not yet been tamed.
At 4:30 we all gather in the meditation room and listen to a tape that tells us what to do. The attention was mainly focused on the breath, the technique is called anapana, where one is asked to just observe the breath.
How the hell was I supposed to watch my breath? Do I look for movement in my chest? Am I aware of the tiny particles of moisture that come off my breath? What was I supposed to do? How does one monitor his breathing?
Well, all I was supposed to do was focus on my breath and acknowledge incoming and outgoing breath without any judgment or expectation. It sounds easy, but trust me; it is one of the most difficult things to do.
Waking up with the birds was starting to take its toll on me. Trying to control my breathing, I began to fall asleep. I slipped very quietly to the back of the room and drifted into the land of sleep. However, my freedom was short-lived. In about 2 minutes or so I received a light push on my shoulder; he was one of the helpers. She very politely asked me not to fall asleep and to try to stay still. After all, she was here to learn meditation and meditation’s number one enemy is SLOTH!
My room and board was completely free, all I had to do was follow the 5 precepts (refrain from killing any being; refrain from stealing; refrain from all sexual activity; refrain from telling lies; refrain from all intoxicants) and behave in accordance with the established code of discipline. It seemed easy at first, but only two hours into the first day and I wanted to run out and find my way back to the comfort of my bed.
From 6:30 to 7:00 am it was breakfast time and from 7:00 to 9:00 it was question and answer time with the teacher. Most of us ran back after breakfast and went straight to bed for a quick nap. I think I fainted; 8:45 a.m. the bell rang again.
We were asked to sit down for the next round of meditation which ran from 9:00 am to 11:30 am. Two and a half hours of sitting cross-legged, eyes closed and watching my breath, I was losing my mind. I had absolutely no concentration; I couldn’t seem to concentrate. All I kept thinking was; Why was I doing this to myself? What madness had descended upon me that drove me to such masochism?
Finally the bell rang, informing us of lunch time.
They all went straight to the dining room for a simple but tasteful vegetarian meal. Hunger and desperation made the food taste fantastic. Lunch was from 11.30 to 12.30 and then an hour of freedom followed by questions and answers with the teacher.
At 2:30 pm I return to the meditation room for two more hours of breath watching. This time it was simply impossible to keep my eyes open, I started to drift off to sleep once again, but this time I was woken up by this extremely cacophonous belch that reverberated in pin-sharp silence. They brought me out of my reverie and brought me back inside. Not a sound from anyone, and I was dying to laugh. I looked around the room, and only one other newcomer had a faint smile, but the rest were like statues, motionless and unchanging. In the next 9 days I was going to hear so many different sounds that this sounded like a melody.
Somehow I got through the day. 7:00 pm was the moment of the speech in which we were told why we did what we did. This was the best part of the day. At least there was an explanation, to the madness.
According to Goenka ji, the modern Vipassana guru, “Meditation means continual detachment from body, mind, name and form. We have to detach ourselves from day-to-day activities. Clear our mind of meaningless talk and bring our centering inward. Through meditation, the scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgments, and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one it produces suffering or is freed from suffering. Life is characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control, and peace.”
When I got back to my room, I was completely in awe of myself. I had managed to get through a whole day without speaking and really internalizing.
This was only day 1…I had 9 more to go.
I could describe each day in detail; but that would take almost half a book, so let me cut to the chase and get to the part where I can share some pearls of wisdom.
As I continued to sit cross-legged on the floor for the next 9 days, my whole life kept flashing in front of me. My achievements, my mistakes, my pains, my sorrows and my joy. In the silence, I heard so much noise that I thought my brain would explode. As the days passed, the noise grew louder. He hated every minute of being there. It felt like an experience straight out of a very dark movie where you’re the only survivor.
On the seventh day I had a collapse. I cried until I had no more tears. He wanted to escape from what seemed like a prison. I wanted to scream and scream and swear, I threw up and felt sick to my stomach.
I don’t think I was getting any wiser or calmer. Seeing my distressed state, the teacher called me and explained what was really going on. He was undergoing a deep cleansing.
All our lives we continue to bury our pains and sorrows deep inside. We suppress our feelings and muffle our thoughts in external noise so that they become physical or mental ailments.
Seven days of complete silence and introspection had brought all the deep-seated issues to the surface and they were now being purged. She was experiencing the emotional and physical signs of release. The catharsis had begun.
After all the purging I felt much lighter and calmer. I no longer felt like a prisoner. I felt liberated, not only physically but mentally.
Two more days of regimented life and soon we’d be free to join the real world. The world we have chosen to create for ourselves. The world filled with so much external noise that the internal dialogue is completely muted. The world where our ego is pumped up and shattered. The world where we experience pain and joy as roller coaster rides. The world we believe to be real.
Finally the tenth day arrives. Now we can break our vow of silence.
So far something huge has happened. I could feel a transformation in my chemical makeup. I experienced strange energies that were almost orgasmic. I can’t explain it, but I felt as if my whole being had been regenerated.
I just didn’t feel like talking. This was a revelation; Unfortunately, the urge not to speak was not sustained for long. In about an hour I was back to my old talkative self.
But something changed somewhere.
No, I have not yet become a master of my mind, nor have I reached nirvana, but surely I have realized that I do not have to depend on hypnotists, therapists, healers and fortune tellers to tell me how to heal my life. All I have to do is dig deep enough and long enough.
Each person who attends Vipassana has a different experience, for some it is joyous, for some it is extremely painful, but for all it is life changing.
I would do it again?
I’d love to, but I’m still trying to work up the courage.
Absolutely. Even if the only reason was “because it’s there”.