If I took the time to quiet my mind and listen to voice of the universe, what would it say to me?
My truth is within me, so what is my truth?
What does my heart of hearts say?
What do you think the universe would say to you?
What does your heart of hearts say?
Have you ever listened?
On January 1st 2016 I did just that….
For two days at a Buddhist Temple here in Chiang Mai. I awoke after just a few hours of sleep from bringing in the New Year at another temple, Wat Phan Tao, which lies amongst the old city and neighbors Wat Chedi Luang. For the last 2 hours of 2015 I was surrounded by lanterns twinkling the night sky, the flames of candles dancing throughout the grounds, monks chanting and sharing words of wisdom, and new friends enlightened by the entire experience.
Fireworks went off in the distance, the streets littered with locals, tourists, and expats like myself. The energy was filled with excitement from a new and oh so different way to celebrate New Years than I ever imagined I would. There was a calmness amongst the temple grounds. I always anticipate when the clock strikes midnight on this day. Every year, like something big is going to happen right at midnight. This year was different, my heart was filled with constant smiles, I found incredible joy with sharing this experience with new friends, new to recovery, and all of us new to celebrating in this particular fashion.
At ten minutes to, the Monks began to release lanterns. Gazing up at the night sky watching the lanterns meet the rest, wondering what wishes these Monks had asked for in the new year. A lantern was given to our group and with the hands of about 10 of us we managed to light it, put all of our dreams and wishes into its flames, along with anything to let go of from 2015. We raised our hands, the heat mustering within the shade let us know it was time to go. Time to fly. Off it went, I looked up and noticed the swirls of lanterns, a spiral of wishes floating into the universe. The moon caught my eye. Smiling with me. I will never forget the end of 2015, and the magical begining of 2016.
A few hours later, in the early morning of 2016 I found myself at yet another temple, Wat Umong, “The forest temple” signing up for a 2 day silent meditation. Yes, yes, you read that correct, silent meditation. Along with that I chose to fast for the 2 days, given when you go into a meditation at a temple you live very similar to how monks do. And monks only eat at 8am and 11am, they do not eat after noon, so thats like not eating anyways since I dont usually eat until noon. I can tell you that fasting was not the hard part. I changed into the all white clothing I was given, shown to my room, or closet for that matter, and handed a pillow and thin blanket to sleep on a thin pad on a cement floor. Did I just sign up for 2 days of jail? Because thats exactly what it felt like, the clothing, the “room/bed” and no talking?! Here I am just over 4 years clean and I just paid a monk 700 baht to remind me what jail was like. Okay, it wasn’t that bad.
At 9am we sat in the meditation hall criss cross, awaiting the monk to come and give us direction. He spoke about Vipassana meditation. Vipassana means “to see things as they really are.” Allowing your thoughts to be exactly that, thoughts. Not chasing them to see where they go, letting go of the attatchment towards the thought. Hearing a bird, and letting it just be a noise, not wondering what kind of bird. For the next 10 hours, we were left to our own devices. Which meant I was left with my head. A year or two ago, this could have been the scariest place in the world for me to be. Today, I learned, it is not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. I learned I have a lot to think about, but I have the ability to let the thoughts come and go, peacefully. I sat inside the hall, I sat outside on cement platforms amongst trees, birds, and many bugs. I might have slept more than I meditated. I found myself nodding off while sitting in the warm sunshine criss-cross in a forest. (if you can envision this imagery, its rather funny). At 7pm we met again with the monk, he gave us more words of guidance. He discussed how Vepassana meditation allows us to “know thyself.” We must know ourselves, not just intellectually in the realm of ideas and theories, and not just emotionally or devotionally, simply accepting blindly what we have heard or read. Such knowledge is not enough. Rather, we must know reality experientially. We must experience directly the reality of this mental-physical phenomenon. This alone is what will help us be free of our suffering.
The next 32 hours or so were the absolute hardest. The reality of my mind, my obsessions, desires, feelings, emotions all floating through my head with zero distractions. Anger arose from negative self talk- “this shouldn’t be so hard for you” “you’ll never grow if you don’t get this right” “you always take the easy way” and so on. To the point I almost gave up. I turned on my phone and reached out, I recieved some encouraging words and stuck it out. From that alone I was able to learn that I so often rely on the oppinions and directions from others. Yes, I was taught this in recovery, but it also can hinder my experiences and my life if I continue to rely on what others think or say to me. I cannot souly rely on others direction to guide me through my life. The anger that arises causes me suffering. Everyone faces suffering, it is a universal malady that requires a universal remedy.
Observing the truth inside is observing reality as it is, this is learning oneself directly and experientially. The more I practice, the more I learn to free myself from the misery of mental impurities. From the external, apparent truth I can dive into the ultimate truth of mind and matter. I can transcend it, and experience a truth which is beyond mind and matter, time and space, beyond the conditioned field of relativity. After 4 years of observing the truth from the outside, beginning to transcend to the internal truth is an entirely new journey. With eyes open I see the world as I percieve it, with my eyes shut I see my authentic self. I can see within me, even that which I do not want to see.
What is most beautiful about this experience is I stuck it out, the feelings came and went and I continued on. I closed my eyes, I opened my eyes, I saw glimpses of my hurtful truths and discovered impermanence. Everything is ever changing, I have the ability to control me. Everything else is out of my hands. I can change me because I am impermanent, ever changing. As the leaves on the trees, as the phases of the moon, as the tides eb and flow, I too change.