Just then, as I was conversing with two other meditators, I saw a large dark blur soar about 15 feet above our heads. I turned to follow its flight and thought for a second that I saw a strange-looking Canadian Goose. I shielded my eyes from the sun and then I was able to make out the white feathers that covered the birds thick, muscular neck that contrasted its dark feathered body. That’s when I was also
realized that there were two. I had never seen a bald eagle in my entire life and now I was seeing two! It seemed impossible and majestic. I asked God why now and immediately, I received the message: “Even when you do not see, even when you aren’t looking, you are never alone. “ (Check out this link for a more on the meaning of eagles). I felt wavelets of chills run down the length of my body and every single one of my cells felt as though it vibrated with life. Incongruously I finally understood how all those saints and gurus could willingly forsake sex because this felt like a body orgasm! The first time, perhaps in forever, I felt the current of life coursing through me like the thick bass from a beloved 90’s song. I felt my soul resonate with the frequency of the rest of creation. I felt at home.
Picking Up The Pieces
As I parked my car in front of my house and began unloading my bags, I wondered what I was going to do with all of this new awareness? But between my constant travels my discipline of practice waned and I could feel myself slowly losing my balance of mind.
There was a time not too long ago when I blamed everyone and everything for my problems. I didn’t know what a weak stance this was. If everyone else is the cause of my suffering, then where do I find the power to change my condition?
Fortunately, I came to understand that this premise was fundamentally flawed. I found strength in owning my flaws and mistakes. I found the power to change my circumstance by deciding to take control of my thought-habits through disciplining the mind. Discipline doesn’t happen overnight but change can.
Change happens as soon as we decide to move forward on an opportunity without looking back and without allowing yourself an out from the discomfort of pain. Each sitting of strong determination was a test of the fortitude of our mind. How can we hope to change our lives if we cannot deal with the temporary discomfort that inevitably comes from doing something out of the ordinary.
Get this: if you want change then you are going to have to do something out of the ordinary. But continue doing those things which are initially uncomfortable and the habit pattern of the mind changes. It’s not that the activity is any different. You are different. Like they say in the Matrix, “You must first realize that there is no spoon. Once you realize this truth you’ll come to understand that it is not the spoon that is bending. It is only yourself.”
We must first change before our environment changes. For me, this was a particularly powerful realization of dhamma given that I had left a career in radio and had come to realize that I was doing very little else to actually change my circumstance in life.
I slept horribly for weeks following the retreat. My dreams were flooded with memories from the past and imaginary dramatic scenarios. These dreams often highlight my true thought pattern, habits, and the very likely and less than honorable choices I would make in pivotal situations. Needless to say, I thought that this was a crock of crap. Didn’t projection-Goenka say that I was supposed to sleep better? He also said I would need less sleep but after wrestling with my demons for six hours each night it seemed I felt more exhausted than when I first laid my head down.
That’s when it dawned on me. I did actually get something from the course. It’s not that I changed in the sense that I was a new person, void of carnal desires, cowardice and selfishness. I am very much still the superficial, arrogant, self-absorbed, self-righteous, judgmental 26 year old black guy that walked into that camp on May 5th. The painful difference is that I am now aware of my own thought pattern and the progress-inhibiting coping mechanism of spiritual swag that I’ve accumulated over the years.
Coming to this recognition made me feel a bit like Pinocchio. I was hampered by strings and for a while, I was kind of bummed out and went back to the carnival to drown my sorrows as an easy out from this pain.
My seven sins: Beer, sex, gym, gossiping, pretentiousness, over-eating and napping. After one or two days of this indulgence I was overwhelmed with a sense of self-disgust. I observed the feeling of revulsion with being so common and weak. It felt like I was selling myself short.
I traced each one of these strings back up to the puppet holder who was jerking his hands and forcing my limbs. This puppeteer wasn’t some conspiring corporation or bored God entertaining himself with my grief. The puppeteer was me. I began to wake up to my own self-destructive patterns of self-sabotage that prevented me from reaching the goals that I had set for myself in high school. This was probably the most frightening realization that I had come to in a long time and it was scarier than the worst Chuckie movie I ever saw as a child.
You probably still don’t have a clear idea of exactly how Vipassana meditation works. That’s because meditation truly is a personal experience and each person’s path is different. I don’t want to rob anyone of the profound journey by relaying inaccurate or incomplete technique. I’m not trained to teach meditation but I fully recommend that you find a place like a Vipassana center so that you can experience it for yourself.
I Am Not
It’s fascinating. The old me would never have published this article. The me from 38 days ago would have never even written this article. I was incapable of honesty with myself.
And even if my parents or one of my ex’s, an old teacher, therapist or mentor had written this review of my personality, I would have never accepted, not to mention e-mailed it to a bunch of people because I’d be inclined the cover my tracks out of fear of judgment. But I am not my thoughts. I have learned to observe my thoughts constantly. And though my thoughts come and go, I remain.
Just as I’ve learned to let go of these thoughts without identifying my self with their impermanence, I’ve also learned to let go of the fear that I harbored concerning the question, “Who am I if I am not any of these things?” Simply put, I am and this state of being is timeless. It’s nonsense to feel depressed or elated about my recent recognitions because this too is transient.
Perhaps the most beautiful gift that I gained through Vipassana was an unconditional acceptance of reality as it is. Now that I see the strings that were holding me back I can finally know where to hold the scissors so that I can gain freedom. Through Vipassana, I feel l’ve finally come to know that true faith is never blind and that anyone who takes the step towards getting to know them self, the real self, will always feel the inaudible song of “welcome” and the invisible arms comfort. By learning myself, I’m beginning to learn how to love without expecting to rewarded and how to be truly compassionate towards other travelers simply because I know how rocky the road seems at first.
Then I thought back to those bumble bees. If God cried every time a bumble bee dies then he would be a pretty miserable God. But God designed these things to be temporary. When we become acquainted with our timeless self, we also loose attachment with all that is impermanent. The interesting thing about bumble bees is that they are born knowing their purpose. They don’t spend 17-26 years of life trying to “figure out” why they are here. I’m not ashamed to say that one little bumble bee has probably done more for their hive than I have done for mine. But like all things in life, the truth of that statement is also temporary. This is the beginning of a purpose driven life.