May 25, 2011

My tryst with Masochistic Meditation: Vipassna, Part 3

So first let's turn our attention to the elephant in the room.
I love elephants by the way. They're my third favorite animal in the world.

It's no mean feat, to have completed the 10 day ordeal. The story in itself makes a great conversation starter.

Notice that I started off by counting the hardships of the meditation camp in part 1 of this post.

It’s a great ego trip and deeply satisfying for the latent narcissist in each of us.
You know.
The one we refuse to acknowledge.

At some point during the ten days, you will begin thinking. Thinking about anyone that ever doubted you, anyone that called you a weakling. That moron in kindergarten that shoved sand down your shirt. Or the jerk that made fun of your braces in high school. Could they ever, in a million years, do what you have done? They wouldn't last a day. Now you've showed them.

It will always be the cherry on your sundae, the cheese on your macaroni, the frosting on your cupcake, the gooey centre of your chocolate brownie.

Sorry, it's almost lunchtime.     

The second, most unexpected bonus I got from camp with was a fresh perspective about myself. I realized I was a work-in-progress. Not a fully functional, industry of 'perfection'. Who would have thought?

Don't answer that.

Other than the debilitating revelation that I was in fact a control freak, vipassna also tore my confidence in my adaptability to shreds.

I've never been the kind to complain about my physical surroundings. I was quite sure about that fact that it's always mind over matter for me. I've lived in rat-infested dorms and single handedly caught (in those humane traps, of course) a single mother rat and seven of her babies, who had housed themselves in an ancient air-conditioner that never worked . I have shared a bathroom with 13 girls. I have often picked a stray strand of hair out of the cafeteria food and gone on with my meal, without a trace of repulsion.

Well, what else do you do, when you have no other option?

Don't get me wrong. I'm big on personal hygiene. But I'm not finicky. Anyway, I thought I was a make-do-with-what-you-got sort of person.

The vipassna camp changed that forever.

I met two girls, tourists, who went on to become my friends.

Yes, we couldn't talk for ten days, but we managed to forge a bit of a friendship.

I know. Weird huh?
So here were two girls, from countries thousands of miles away. Where, when the temperature crossed 26 degrees Celsius, health warnings would be issued by the government. Where you would probably only see geckos in the zoo. Where mosquitoes seemed to be extinct.

And I observed the calm, nonchalant composure which they exuded. When I'd be gulping down breakfast and lunch, barely managing to avoid choking myself (so I could go take a nap), they'd be savoring the food, giving it the attention it deserved.
The food was good, if you were wondering.

When I was in my semi-conscious state on my bed after lunch, I'd see them wet their scarves and wrap them around their faces and with their plastic bottles full of water, they'd head out onto the neighboring sand dunes to explore the landscape.

When my misery and I, would be slumped on the ground, in the five minute breaks we would have between the four hours of meditation, they would be walking briskly, stretching, making me feel like an 80 year old.

I hated the fact that they seemed to be … enjoying…. this.
Okay. You know I didn’t hate it. I mean I envied it.

It's one thing to put up with something because of the lack of options, but its entirely different to enjoy the good things so much, that you don't notice the bad things.

That's a distinction that I had never made before. A distinction I had never thought to make before.

Although the very essence of vipassna is that I should be happy with the good, and ignore the bad without being attached to either. It really  drives the point home, when you see people doing it before your very eyes. It's the kind of inspiration you can go back to, every time you feel defeated.

So that really burst my bubble. I was introduced to some inadequacies in my demeanor. Which, hitherto was impeccable. 

That is officially the first time I have ever used the word 'hitherto' in my life. It feels a little surreal. I never thought the day would come.

Finally, the common thread that runs through your experiences throughout the ten days is the fact that you are alone, with no one but yourself. You are introduced to yourself. You see yourself as a third person, objectively.

No, I'm not hinting at the creepy football face friend,Wilson, that Tom Hanks had in 'Castaway'. Did you think about that too?
Or was it just me?

I realized I was a planner, deep down inside. Obviously, really really deep down. That’s what I did ALL day.

I planned, how much time I would have to nap. How much time that would leave me for food. What speed should I walk to my room to optimize the use of my limited free time. That's just the tip of the iceberg. I planned things I can't mention on this blog.

I realized I wasn't physically as tough as I thought I was.
I also realized that mentally, I was the Incredible Hulk.

Basically, I mean that you see your reactions in different circumstances, the good (sometimes), mostly the bad and the ugly. In the real world, the ugly times are precisely when we focus on others, trying to pin the blame on them. But here, there is no 'other'. You're to blame for what you're feeling.

That doesn't change everything. But it starts the ball rolling. And when the ball gets rolling, it could change a LOT.

That's a LOT to happen in just 10 days.

Okay, don't worry if you're confused. If I read the last two lines by themselves, I get dizzy.

The point is that the experience is very personal. Some people come away with absolutely no new information about themselves or their problems. While for others, this strenuous mental training changes their lives forever. You'll never know which one you are, until you take a shot at it.

What've you got to lose?

I thought I would end this post with that question. And I tried. I really did. But I failed. I have to end with a quote from a person with a PhD. I'm sorry. Don't read it if you don’t want to. But I have to do this. I won't be able to sleep if I don't.

Dr. Richard Davidson, whom I've quoted previously, also says:

Based on what we know about the plasticity of the brain, we can think of things like happiness and compassion as skills that are no different from learning to play a musical instrument, or training in golf or tennis. Happiness, like any skill, requires practice and time but because we know that the brain is built to change in response to mental training, it is possible to train a mind to be happy.

Ahh. Order in the world has been restored.
Now, I'm going to bed. In peace.
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