Woody Woodpecker was yet another cartoon I loved as a child and teen. Woody’s character was this self-confident and very funny woodpecker, who made many enemies because of the noise he made pecking woods and disturbing the peace. I loved that the retreat center I was attending for the Vipassana meditation, had many woodpeckers. They would peck the meditation hall roof from time to time. One of the reasons I loved Woody, was his perseverance and self-reliance. The same traits, I felt I need to cultivate (with a deeper conviction) after this retreat.
The ten-day meditation lesson simply taught me that: “It’s all you Boo”, which means, no one is going to do the work for me. It’s my discipline, my effort, my willingness, and my tenacity that will bring me closer to my goals. It taught me the superstitions that some of us were raised with, are simply tools to bring us closer to the truth, but they are far from the truth. The same fallacies that crystals help for a deeper meditation or lighting a candle can improve your meditative state, revealed themselves to me as they were, just an illusionary tool like a sugar pill (placebo). I learned that beads, aroma therapy, sound baths, etc... may be great tools to intrigue new comers to meditation, but all I need is a quiet place and a concentrated mind, to truly experience the subtle in me.
On day five, after we learned the Vipassana technique, the new students were given the opportunity to have a small room in the pagoda for an hour. A pagoda is an Asian tiered tower with multiple eaves. Most pagodas have a religious function, most often Buddhist. I was directed to a small (5 by 7 feet) corner room. A low light and a serene energy made the atmosphere ideal to dive deep inside. A soft mat, a pillow to sit on, and a wall to lean my back against, made it even more appealing.
As I sat in peace, I started scanning my body, from top of my head to my little toes; like a CT scan machine going round and round to detect any sensations. My mind was quite calm, with no distractions, no aversions, no worries, no doubt, no physical slough, or mental apathies. The scan revealed many areas in my body had tingles, few areas had a subtle itch, few areas were throbbing, and others had a minor ache. With my eyes closed, as instructed, I had to focus on each area for one minute to see if the sensations I experienced during my body scan, still existed. The idea was to exercise equanimity towards any sensation. The body parts to scan included: the top of the head, skull, forehead, eyes, ears, cheeks, lips, jaws, neck, throat, shoulders, chest, abdomen, upper back, lower back, arms, elbows, forearms, wrist, hands, fingers, thighs, knees, shins, ankles, feet, and toes. I was not surprised that the course skipped over all the sexual parts. Those poor body parts have been stigmatized as the cause of immorality since the inception of all religions. Definitely a topic I will be writing about one day.
Being in that small dark room in Pagoda was probably the most magical time I experienced during these ten days. After that day, I realized, all the suffering from missing my boys, lack of joy of reading and writing, and not using my phone, was absolutely worthwhile. And for those inquiring minds, please note that I don’t use any drugs, I don’t smoke weed, nor tried any of that. Those who know me, know that I don’t even take basic pain killers, unless I am dying of pain. So, here is what happened:
Remember on my last note, I referenced Captain Kirk in Star Trek and how the show depicted the teleportation concepts. Well, during my focus on the top of my head, I started experiencing a cool sensation, a draft like sensation, though there were no air vents in the room. I sensed that the top of my head was dismantling. Like little particles were leaving it and dissipating into thin air. A sensation that I had never experienced before. During my meditations in the past, I had visions, for instance, I had envisioned myself in other places, but never, had I experienced my being dissipating. Naturally, experiencing something this profound, for the first time, could be scary. And that’s exactly what kicked in and stopped the process. My mind triggered fear in me, which halted the entire movement, and I lost focus again.
Later that day, I spoke to the Assistant Teacher, and she told me that I was not hallucinating, that is a common experience in Vipassana, except, we must be careful to not allow the particles to leave our body. The body should always remain the container of all these sensations. So my "mind" saved me. I also learned that night from the discourses, that as light and lovely the sensation may make one feel, the main lesson is to maintain equanimity, and simply observe them. Craving those sensations will diminish their recurrence, rather than increase them. I also learned that more advanced courses in Vipassana, will teach us how to manage what I experienced, without fear and will teach us how to usher those particles safely home. (SO, PLEASE DO NOT TRY AT HOME WITHOUT PROPER GUIDANCE).
Moving forward, I was cognizant of my free spirit and managed to keep all pieces of my soul inside of this body for the next five days. Our bodies are simply our vehicles for our souls to experience things. Amusingly, I thought of Star Trek again two nights later because the male Assistant Teacher’s name was Scott. He oversaw turning the audio on and off, at the start and end the group seating sessions. Towards the end of the group sitting that night, I was tired, my mind was totally focused on the tail bone pain. So with somewhat an agitated tone, I thought to myself and hoping Scott would hear me: “Beam us up Scotty already!”. I then giggle inside and tried to make the last ten minutes fun for myself. I think Scott telepathically heard me and after the session, he gave me a very dirty look. LOL…
The best part of the ten days for me, was my newly found respect for my "mind". After all the mind bashing discussions, here and other spiritual places and hearing sentences like: “Control your mind”, “master your mind”, “your mind is like a monkey put it on a short leash”; I was beginning to think of my mind as this useless annoying thing that simply wants to put scary, negative thoughts into my head. But I experienced first-hand that I, we need our mind. We need it like a damsel needs a knight in a shining armor.
We need our mind to keep us grounded and safe. Darwin Shaw in his book called Effort and grace wrote about the role of the mind: "...In fairy tales, the knight in shining armor defends, protects, and shields the fair damsel. This is an allegory about the mind and the heart. One’s mind can be very helpful in defending the equanimity of one’s heart center, which is closest to the spiritual realm and should be predominant. The knight (the mind) helps maintain the flow of love through the heart center while at the same time providing an essential control on the sanskaric impulses that may try to come through. What we are seeking is peace of mind, which is really peace of heart. This means more harmony, upliftment, more light within, deeper and deeper values. We must ask ourselves what we value the most. If we value peace of mind, peace of heart, we will make the effort to defend the heart, through which we are capable of seeing God….”.
Woodpeckers as the main birds flying around in that retreat center, were perfect reminders, to stick it out and persevere, They also reminded me of the importance of self reliance. Every peck on those trees sounded like: "It’s all you Boo...we showed you the path, now it's up to you to come home!". So, YES, it is up to me to practice what I've learned. I can choose to be present, work with my mind harmoniously and teach it to concentrate while protecting me from myself. I truly appreciate the lessons learned, and want to dedicate the last part of “The Subtle in me” series to sharing some of Mr. Goenka’s teachings. So, stay tuned and thanks for all your kind direct comments. I feel blessed.