Reconnecting: Thoughts Post-“silence”

Finally we muster the courage to reconnect to the ball-and-chain blessing that is the internet! It was surprising, after the apprehension towards disconnecting from the proverbial “world”, to feel even greater apprehension towards re-connecting. (Though it mirrors the experience of returning to your home country after a long journey – I always underestimated both the ease of integrating into the new space, and the unease of re-integrating into the old.)

We have passed the last couple of days in Mumbai (or Bombay as some locals still call it – contrary to the “law”), a true delight, not only because of the luxurious accommodations at the Taj, the likes of which have satisfied Hillary & Bill Clinton, John Lennon & Yoko Ono and Buddhist practitioner Richard Gere, but also because of the surprising and welcome modernity of the city, including flushing Western toilets (at least in the tourist-laden South Mumbai).

A brief recap of our incredible silent respite:

Day 1 We hurriedly packed our packs, anxious not to miss check-in and room assignments at 1pm. Fortunately I lucked out, getting a single room because there was a dearth of elderly students, and Josh volunteered for a small group room. Unfortunately this surprise blessing cost an extra 1000 rupees, leaving us with insufficient rupees for the fairly hefty 600 rupee library book deposit. Fortunately the compassionate librarian let us check out boks and wouldn’t even take our small stash of postage stamps for a deposit.

After check in, we had a full 7 hours to speak with our classmates. Over these 7 hours I began to be excited; true, I had a fleeting moment of sadness as the gong struck, ending speech, but the nun who initiated us had such humor and tolerance, impressing upon us all the importance of silence, but just as strongly emphasizing that we are to make this individual journey our own – they understand many of us are Western creatures of comfort challenging ourselves to be kind to evil doers, even scorpions and wolf spiders, and that we “need not take the entire package” of Buddhism, only to keep an open mind and take what is helpful and acceptable to us. Thus begins our 240 hours of silence.

Day 2 We studied the Four Noble Truths today. The first of these stipulates that human existence consists of dukkha – sandskrit for “a pervasive state of dissatisfaction”. Essentially our desires perpetually lead to experiences that are not truly satisfying: sitting down appears to be pleasurable, but it is in reality merely a decrease in the dissatisfying state of being tired of standing; so you seek the fleeting illusory pleasure of standing, then sitting, then standing, none of it truly satisfying or enduring. Dharma then, is any study or practice which helps to divert you away from this path of incessant dissatisfaction. Brother Dharampala, aka “BDP”, told us that “generally people who feel that life is enjoyable will not be interested in the dharma”. I wonder if we might be those people, and will ponder for many days to come on whether that is lucky, or not.

I came to learn to let go of attachements – pride, my husband, my mother, my dogs, peanut butter, as attachments lead to dissatisfaction – unfulfilled expectations. My learning so far: I don’t really think I want to be unattached. But I will learn and listen, in case I am ever ready.

Day 3 A gong announces wake-up, three meditation and three teaching sessions each day, afternoon tea and lunch (but not breakfast or dinner – to Josh’s great frustration he has almost missed dinner waiting on for the grub gong that never rings).

Sometimes (often really) I think to go and check the clock in the reception office, but there is not much point; if I am ready to move to another activity (basically, writing, reading, thinking or walking … a veritable panacea) I will go, whether the gong will ring in 15 or 20 minutes. If the gong rings in 5 I can pick up later where I leave off at whichever of these 4 activities I am involved in.

Ironically, coming here was another thing we planned while back in our rat race to “create conditions that make us happy”. Except that we are 24 hours into a 240h course, and I am impatient to reach the 1/4 mark, 1/2 way mark, done! mark. If I just force myself through this I’ll learn the secret of “happiness”.

If boredom is “confusion of the mind”, what is my confusion?

Day 4 I am bored. Which i know is one of those “disturbing emotions”, a conceptual “label” I apply to another of the world’s phenomenons, and i could examine its causes and try to remove them, change my mind’s perspective to relieve my suffering. But i just don’t want to. And, as Brother DP says, if you do not want it to, Buddhism can do nothing for you. Like Step 6 of Alcoholics Anonymous: willingness is “indispensable”. But he also said you can turn your mind from the disturbance and try to generate a wish to follow dharma. And if you wished you wanted to follow dharma, is that merely wanting fleeting, dissatisfying happiness, “using” dharma, hallucinating about it, or is it the step before wishing to live the dharma?

Day 5 I am surprised how deeply i learned of the philosophy of buddhism in 10 years of studying german existentialism, philosophy of science, and psychophysics. There are new tidbits, but essentially westerners of various sects simply independently rediscovered (invented?) the same empirical philosophies as the buddha 2000 years later.

Josh and I received the Karma Yoga jobs of cleaning the “bathrooms” (I’ll leave it to your imagination why that noun is in quotations”) for our stay at tushita, as the glue was still setting on my broken Himalayan shoes, I cleaned our outdoor asian toilets in bare feet today. After washing with soap and bottled sanitizer, I tried to find comfort in the knowledge that the remaining sense of dirtiness was a delusionary perception of my ignorant unenlightened mind.

Day 6 Surprisingly I want to be more alone. Silence is not solitary: we stand in line together for every meal, 5x a day to enter the gompa for meditation and teaching sessions, we also break out in small discussion groups for one hour each day. Most students are young and western (aka, no respect for teachers, elders, any kind of tradition, insolent), and they show up late to class, leave and come back in droves for even 1 hour sessions (even though the initiating nun mentioned the esteemed art of bladder control and beverage consumption planning our first night), and even speak without raising their hands challenging our impatient brother DP with mundane questions often derailing the lesson.

I am no longer bored. That enemy has been subdued, as I have abandoned classes for the library. I use to take solace in the meditation sessions (our meditation instructor is really awesome); but the brazenness of the youngsters’ impatient questioning has begun to permeate even the meditation sessions, and today I even abandoned meditation, opting for silence, solitude, and a high-altitude himalayan sunburn on the roof of the gompa.

Day 7 In a book I read today Lama Yeshe compared the mind to a baby: You do not “push” a baby. Rather you “play with it in a psychologically skillful way”. So I don’t push myself with the Mindfulness Meditation sessions. I try for however long I can, and then I let my mind go.

But the baby cannot just try the brocoli one day and then never again; so every day I try a little bit. And if the kid likes spinach, that’s a decent substitute, so I insert a little analytical meditation into the morning challenge.

The fact that the mind has the ability to “observe itself” is important in explaining the schism or duality of choosing to be at Tushita: we have decided to be here, but constantly confront things that we don’t want to do, to which we say “no way”. So in the beginning it might be that all you can do is observe your habit-mind, unable to control it, until it acquiesces with fatigue, like a toddler, crying, in fits, resisting, until it wimpers into restorative slumber.

Day 8 Excerpt from Josh’s current book:

A monk asks one of his friends “What are you up to these days?” and the friend replied “I’ve been doing a lot of meditation on patience”. “Well, big patience meditator”, the monk said, “eat shit”. And to the monk the friend responds, “you eat shit!”

I think this is the method of Tushita: inundate you with humans and their incessant giggles and idle chatter, when you anticipated silence, and see if you can muster enough dharma to endure – to practice the “patience” upon which you meditate each day. Josh kept saying what a wonderful opportunity Tushita provided for us to all practice dharma, not just learn it!

Moment of Sin: I broke down and fired up the forbidden iPod today. I was lying in the sun of the gompa roof – the only place that’s not freezing on this property (i’ve been abstaining from drinking water after 4pm because it is so torturous to venture to the outdoor asian toilets in the 10 degree celcious himalayan nights, only to return to a bed that has surrendered all the warmth your body sacrificed to it).

I set my iPod on shuffle, and felt the blissful desire to move my body to the rythms of Bill WIthers singing Grandma’s Hands, like the first bite of warm creamy caramel mixed with crisp smooth vanilla ice cream, smothering your tongue, filling your mouth. No way I’m renouncing desire.

Day 9 We’ve found what we came for and we’ve had enough.

After being chastized by a nun who caught us breaking silence for the first time in over a week yesterday, we snuck off to the forest and planned our escape. Turning in the library books, cleaning the toilets one final time, and grabbing our laundry, it’s off to the bar with us. Yeehaw! We’re practically skipping down the mountain headed back to McLeod Ganj.

Looking back now a few days removed from the experience, neither of us have any regrets. We learned much about Buddhism the philosophy and Buddhism the religion. The power of meditation to penetrate and manage the mental closet is real. Just close your eyes and see how many different thoughts you have in less than 10 seconds. Your mind turns into a two year old and wonders freely without focus. Meditation allows you to control your mind and inturn control yourself. The 11 days that we had outside of the normal india buzz was recharging and strengthening. I recovered from my “Delhi belly” as the locals call it and am ready to hit the road for the rest of our adventure. Carpe Dharma.

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2 thoughts on “Reconnecting: Thoughts Post-“silence”

  1. Always stand-up citizens – cleaning the toilets one more time before making your escape. You two are awesome! Great narrative.

  2. Carpe dharma indeed! I loved the story. But, a mental closet might not be such a bad thing. Enjoy the next couple of weeks! Luvu guys.

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