Start a new Travel Blog! Blogabond Home Maps People Photos My Stuff

A few ruminations from the retreat

Dharmsala, India

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it now: The path to enlightenment is no walk in the park. Katy and I sat on a meditation cushion for 12 hours each day, straining to not strain, but rather remain equanimous with our mind and body. It is pretty amazing how quickly my inflexible body was able to adjust to the lotus position, but the first five days were filled with awkward squirming and consistent back and leg pain. It was an amazing experience to share with Katy, and I know that we both came away with some very valuable insights into the "Art of Living". What follows are some random journal entries that I made in secret, as writing is not permitted under the rule of "noble silence" during the retreat. At times I may have become delusional, but other moments were filled with great clarity. You be the judge.

  • Be where you are. Seems simple enough, but when one really examines the mind, it finds the energy is almost always concentrated on either the past or the future. It is an art form to remain present, and to just let it be.

  • Awareness is the goal. The Buddha taught the practice of being aware of the breath. It could be any number of different objects which you could focus on, but the breath always remains with you, from birth to death, from the first to the last. It is a particularly useful object of concentration because it can be controlled by the mind to some extent, but is still a constant bodily function similar to the beating of the heart. The focus on this interplay of mind and body helps the meditator to remain present. If the mind wonders, and it inevitably will, there is always another chance at being present with the next breath. When the mind wonders, the practitioner makes every effort to remain balanced, not becoming upset when the realization occurs of how feeble and sporadic the mind is.

  • I sat in the half-lotus position for one hour straight today. It was undoubtedly my least mindful meditation session thus far, as I was simply determined not to change my position for the entire time. The physical pain waxes and wains, and the mind follows. I've resorted to using the helpful wooden stool as an alternative meditating position from time to time to relieve the knees.

  • There are subtle sensations all over the body all of the time, one must simply train the mind to shut out all the clutter and remain aware of the present moment. Today, when I successfully quieted my mind, I was able to detect my heartbeat in every single corner of the body. Just sitting, listening to the rhythmic flow of my being, the pulse begins to feel like the eternal wave, connecting me to all beings. When I pass my awareness from one hand to the other, the flow is simply transferred. Rather, my attention is transferred within the continuous flow which occurs everywhere all the time. Nature has a continuous flow, a rhythmic heartbeat, an eternal wave. If the mind is sharp and the body aware, one can consciously join their flow with that of the universe. Far out, man.

  • I just had my first experience of uniform subtle sensations throughout my body for a brief period. The dominant sensation of the pain in my upper-right back subsided for some time, and I was able to observe, objectively, the constantly changing vibrations of sub-atomic particles which comprise my body and all things. This is the Buddhist concept of impermanence, which holds that everything is in a constant state of flux. Or, the only constant is change. There is no entity which is Mark qua Mark or tree qua tree.

  • The vipassana technique is wonderful and very reasonable. It is experiential wisdom that each individual must gain for themselves. For full liberation, one cannot simply listen and obediently follow another, but must find their own path to universal truth. There are many great sages and saints and prophets from which to gain knowledge and draw inspiration, but they themselves warned of the danger of following their words blindly without direct experience. These are humans who have conquered all suffering, and intimately understood the law of nature, seeing reality as it is. I have read a lot, and will continue to seek wisdom through the words of others. But, to personally draw connections from my experience in meditation and thoughtful contemplation is go beyond knowledge gained from a book.

  • Summary of Buddha's teaching: Suffering (sin) exists in the world. This suffering is caused by our reactions to any and every sensation which we experience through our six senses. We begin to crave (desire) positive sensations, and have aversion (fear) toward negative sensations. It is better not to react at all, but simply to observe, be aware, and let the sensation pass, as it is. Every sensation will inevitably pass, as change is the only constant. If you can view this objectively and with equanimity all the time, the universal truth, which lies beyond the realm of mind and matter, will reveal itself. This allows the enlightened being to live faultlessly, in perfect accordance with nature, creating nothing but peace and harmony with their presence. Although full enlightenment may be beyond the grasp in this lifetime, any effort made will bring benefit in the form of karma, for the individual and for all beings. The ardent meditation practitioner will surely perceive reality with more and more frequency, eliminating suffering and moving toward greater wisdom and happiness. This echoes my favorite quote from Aristotle: "Happiness lies not in the pursuit of pleasure, but in the contemplative use of the mind."

  • This "noble silence" at the retreat can be pretty hilarious at times. One guy dropped a wooden stool on another guy's foot in the mediation hall, and it took all of the victim's strength to withhold a loud cry. There is also a big, tough-looking guy with a NY Yankees cap that has been cruising around hugging trees the past couple of days. I've found myself to be quite uninhibited as well, which is refreshing.

  • Between moments of "get me the hell out of here" and "why did I think this was a good idea again?", I've taken away many valuable insights from this experience. Extended periods of pure peace, sheer bliss, and complete harmony lasted during and between meditation periods. Despite the challenges, I remain convinced that meditation is one of the best things you can do for yourself to sharpen your mind and deal with your demons. "Know thyself" is a common theme among the sages of the past, and sitting in silence for ten days is certainly conducive toward that end. Discovering that you can survive without eating dinner, without speaking at all, and without any material comforts can actually be quite liberating. You are truly living like a monk or a nun for ten days, completely dependent on the charity of others to survive so that you can afford to concentrate all of your attention on your meditation practice and remaining present and balanced.

  • A couple of alternative definitions of "Son of God": "Offspring of Universal Truth". "Product of complete awareness of the Law of Nature". Jesus was certainly an enlightened being, as evidenced by his complete peace of mind at the time of death. Even as he was brutally tortured and grossly humiliated, he had nothing but love and compassion for his executioners. "Forgive them, for they know not what they do". Most of us walk around with a mind saturated in ignorance (manifesting as fear and desire) and our actions reflect this imperfect state of consciousness. How difficult it is to really wake up, see clearly, and act rightly on every occasion. Anyway, I think Jesus and the Buddha would have been buddies.

  • permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on May 17, 2009 from Dharmsala, India
    from the travel blog: India and Nepal
    Send a Compliment

    Mark- What a great experience, and I'm sure it wasn't easy. A super trip for you and Katy. Keep safe and we look forward to your return back to Denver. Sue and I will leave in a 16 foot truck for California on Thursday. So we will also have some time for meditation and sitting. But not quite as intensely as you. I admire your being able to put your experiences into words and to do so without inhibitions. Keep up the good work. Russ

    permalink written by  russ haskell on May 19, 2009

    comment on this...
    Previous: And then there was one Next: A couple more highlights from Kashmir

    Katy and Mark Lewis Katy and Mark Lewis
    1 Trip
    27 Photos

    We are two siblings from Colorado (aged 24 and 26) who find ourselves simultaneously between a job and a graduate school program. We both came down with a case of itchy feet, so we're going searching for the cure while we've got the chance!

    trip feed
    author feed
    trip kml
    author kml


    Blogabond v2.40.58.80 © 2022 Expat Software Consulting Services about : press : rss : privacy
    View as Map View as Satellite Imagery View as Map with Satellite Imagery Show/Hide Info Labels Zoom Out Zoom In Zoom Out Zoom In
    find city: