Its still surprising for me, how depending on my state of mind, I see the same things so differently. If I am tired and uncomfortable, I can get angry at simplest things. But if I am experiencing pleasant things, the same things bring a smile to my face. One of the cycling trip I did in Kratie(in Cambodia), reminded me,this side of the truth quite intensely.
Kratie city is a small town in the north-east Cambodia, on the bank of Mekong river. One of the activities you can do here is to cycle along the roads on the east and west bank of Mekong river. To cross to the other side of Mekong river, you need to take a boat ferry. Depending on which ferry you take you can do a round trip of 44 Km and more.
Because of my bad assumption making skills and over confidence, I decided to do 80 Km round trip with this cycle.
It all went okay in the beginning. I cycled hard in the hot sun, took less breaks than I wanted, had a fast lunch. Some snaps, I still managed to take on the way.
I crossed the river from Sambour to the other shore called, Yeav. By 2:00 pm I was on the other side. Then the first surprise hit me. There was no tar road on the west bank of the river. There were a lot of small villages and everyone was so surprised to see me. Adults with open mouths and Children running around saying Hello.. Hello.. The mud road, was in very good condition and I was going really fast, for a cycle. I was very happy and told myself, this is nice. After the hard and boring ride on the east bank this is what I wanted. The kids saying Hello made me happy, and I also shouted back Hello.
But slowly things began to change. I was getting a bit tired, sweating a lot. After 15-20 Km of riding the road started to change. There was lot of water on the road, more inhabitants in the area(which made the road even worse). Sometimes it looked like a roller coaster. Sometimes I felt I was cycling slower than how I would walk. The bumpy road made my ass hurt. The fun part of the ride was dying out fast, and the demons inside me were waking up complaining.
And the clock was ticking. I need to go 25 Km or more on this road, and get another ferry to the other side of the river, where my guesthouse is. And the last ferry was around 5.30 pm(It used to get dark around 5.50 pm those days). Rather than enjoying the ride, questions started to fill my mind. How long would this shitty road last? Where would I sleep if I miss the ferry? How much extra I would have to pay to the boat man if I had to cross by myself? Would someone give me a place here to sleep for a night? How much should I pay in that case? Cant these kids give me a break and stop saying Hello? I cant concentrate enough on the road with all these people Hello-ing at me.
I had to take deep breaths so many times to let go of the ill feelings in my mind. But then they came back again. It was a cycle of letting go and coming back. I thought of taking a ferry much before the intended destination to end this suffering. But a part of me was saying, this is an opportunity. How many times would you feel so frustrated, so hopeless, so pushed to the end.
So I decided to push myself and finish the trip as planned. All I had to do was being mindful of my state of mind. This was hard though. I was so angry at some points that I was hitting the bicycle handle and screaming. But then there are houses everywhere, so I couldn’t scream too loud. Even at the moment, I found this situation a bit funny. The village kids who made me smile before, was getting into my nerves now!
In the end, I made it to the port around 5.40 pm. The last ferry hasn’t left yet. What a relief!!! The ferry came after 10 minutes, I crossed the river with my cycle and 2 dozen other people, rode to the guest house with a final burst of power left in my body.
What did I learn from all this? I am not sure. I cannot make conclusions and say, I should have done this or done that. Any choice could go wrong or right. What else can I do, than being mindful and centered when it goes wrong?
Today I was reading an article Karmic relationships. In the comment section I came upon this question and I thought I will answer it here.
Question by Shanez:
what if outside forces ( people) get in the way of the relationship? is it considered as a karmic one… i had an amazing relationship (intimacy, trust, sharing,fun times, deep and mutually supportive connection) with a foreigner but his family opposed it from the beginning. in his country approval of the family is paramount if you want to be serious and marry. When he told them they flat out refuse but we still continued seeing each other on/off for a hear and a half. Several times he broke up because he could not handle family pressure ( they wanted him to marry someone of their origin).We always got back together mainly at my initiative. He moved back to his family 5 monts ago and at the same time i took a job opportunity somewhere else. I cannot let him go. I am convinced it is the same for him. We broke off communication 5 months ago, recently i sent him a blank email and he replied to it asking for news. he said he just got married (arranged marriage). he said it has been very challenging in the personnal and work area. Now we are exchanging emails, but don’t really talk about his personnal situation . Is it a karmic relationship?I cannot get out of my head that we are meant to be despite all those obstacles.
Answer(Just my opinion):
As per my understanding everything is Karmic. Sometimes its clear to see the causes and conditions for a situation to happen, but other times its hard to see why its happening.
In your case, first lets look at this from his karmic view. He met a great girl, fell in ‘love’ with her and wanted to marry her. But because of his Karma, he was born in a family with orthodox views. Now he had two choices. Either to act out of fear or out of love. When the action is totally out of love(love for family or for you, the result of action doesn’t matter. Only his intention matters), then he breaks his karmic cycle. But from what you said about, how he still struggles in this area, it looks like his decision was out of fear and he is strengthening his karmic patterns or creating new karmic patterns. From one side, it looks like this is not the working of karma, but all because of family pressure. But no matter what the external pressure is, its always YOU, who lets it affect you.
Now, from your perspective(from what you have written here), you kinda knew that this marriage might not happen. But you were so much in ‘love’ that you didn’t want to think about that possibility. You enjoyed the present moment(which isn’t wrong, problem comes only when we want the present ‘good’ moment to be permanent and not change) and hoped for the best. And this mindset is the result of your karma. Now if you don’t want to repeat this pattern, you have to work on it and move on. The more you feel like a victim of circumstances the more you will create Karma.
Karma is very complex. Its NOT important to ask yourself, why this is happening to YOU. The question you have to ask in each moment or situation is that, are you acting out of fear or love. Is your decision based on your past experiences or your fear of future. If yes, then you are acting out of your Karmic patterns and life is giving you a chance to break the cycle.
My answer is based on my understanding of Karma and what I understood from the question. I don’t claim this is the correct(its a relative word anyway) answer.
Thanks and good luck.
I did my first 10 day Vipassana course from 2nd to 13th Sep of this year. This post is, few of my thoughts put together. I hope it inspires someone to join the course, or helps someone during the course to endure it.
Just note that these are very personal experiences. My problems were my problems. You might face something completely different from mine.
Fear before even registering for the course:
I have been hearing about this course for last 3 years. But during the last one year I was seriously considering to do it. Then why did I wait for so long? Fear. I had a lot of free time and no health problems. But I was scared whether I would be able to endure it.
I remember I went to the website for registering and saw the code of discipline. Some of the rules were no dinner,complete silence(not even sign language) for 10 days,10 hours of sitting meditation for all the 10 days and so on. And I got scared.
Doubts about my ability to commit to such a rigorous schedule came up in my mind. How can I sleep on an empty stomach? Considering how talkative I am sometimes, how can I be silent for 10 days. 10 days without even smiling? I cannot sit for 10 mins straight without changing posture, and I am supposed to sit for one hour straight here. forget about it.
I closed down the registration page and thought, may be some other time. During the next year, I met lot of souls who had done Vipassana. They all said it is nice and I should do it too. But I didn’t. I had my excuses.
Few weeks back, I had half a day of depressed time and it made me realize that how life can give you a hard time when you least expect. And I knew inside that, Vipassana would be helpful in such times. I thought, I have done enough procrastination. I went to the Dhamma website and checked the course availability in Kerala,Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Chennai had a course starting next week. I registered as fast as I could before I changed my mind. Oh, finally first part is over, after one year!
The last meal of the day will be served every day at 5 pm. I think the food is different from center to center. In Dhamma setu center , Chennai, they provided some pori, one banana and tea. It filled my stomach at the moment. But after few hours I was a bit hungry on first few days. But it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I could still sleep.
Since we all just sit and meditate and don’t do any kind of physical activities(only walking, not even stretching), it was ok to have no dinner. After few days, I realized that the less you put in your stomach the better it is for meditation. So I started having only one banana with tea.
Of course there were people who complained later that, they couldn’t sleep much because they were hungry. But as for me, my fears on this one were for nothing.
As per the rules, you are supposed to maintain noble silence from the Zeroth day evening to 10th day morning. This means you cannot have any kind of communication(verbal or sign) with your fellow students. This was difficult, but not as much as I thought it would be.
You can talk to the assistant teachers or volunteers for your needs or regarding your problems. So it wasn’t like my mouth was shut all the time.
On the joining day, you could talk with everyone till evening. But I didn’t make any friends on that day. I knew it would be easier to maintain silence if everyone around you is a stranger.
Plus at all times, I avoided at looking at someone’s eyes. Eyes can tell whole stories. Just looking at the eyes, you can form companionships. Not a great thing if you want to maintain silence.
Expectations from other students:
When I came to the course, I thought everyone who goes to Vipassana are very spiritual and serious about the course. But this wasn’t the case. Some people came because they wanted to learn meditation. Some came, because someone told them its a good course to attend to. They didn’t know or realize the commitment you needed for Vipassana.
There were 67 students in the beginning out of which 8 were old students. By the end of the course 17 people dropped out for various reasons.
Feel like breaking a rule?
With all these strict rules around, you can get very tempted to break one. But I would say, please don’t.
As I said there were lot of students who didn’t knew what they were getting into. And soon they started talking in rooms, in walking zones, canteen and even in the meditation hall. The guy who was beside me asked me questions in the meditation hall. And when I pretended not to listen he poked me! Fortunately he left on the 4th day.
These guys may not realize the mess they are creating by breaking the rules. I remember, my mind getting filled with anger for few hours when my neighbor poked me. I felt like these kind of people didn’t belong here. But later, after few days, I realized that these people are part of the course too. Instead of blaming their actions, you start looking at the cause of their actions, which is suffering. You feel sorry for them. Then you start realizing that you too suffer, just that the actions comes out in different forms. And then you start feeling compassion for yourself and others who are suffering and you pray for all beings to come out of their suffering.
As the days progress, you see that you are becoming mature too. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get annoyed anymore. But I do come back to my senses much sooner.
Letting go of expectations:
The course demanded that we meditate for around 10 hours each day, with breaks in-between. I wanted to use the opportunity provided by the course to the fullest. I wanted to grow as much as possible spiritually. So whenever my mind wandered too much and couldn’t meditate properly I felt bad.
I had set a lot of expectation on myself. Soon I realized that if I have to continue staying here, I have to let go of some of them. So I let go of the idea of perfection in my mind. If my mind was wandering away, I just wandered. I told myself, “Staying the entire course is more important than an individual meditation session.” Once I stop putting pressure on myself it was much easier to take the difficult times. When I felt bad, I just felt bad.
Comparing yourself to others?
Even though all of us are here as students to learn the Vipassana technique of meditation, this is not like a normal school course. Very different types of people come to this course. And the experiences of each of them are unique.
But still in our society, we are so much used to compare our performances with others. Am I better than others in meditating? Everyone looks like they are having a great meditation.
Why am I the only one sitting here with pain and have a hard time concentrating?
The whole point of the course is to get over such behavioral patterns of the mind. But still its hard. You have to constantly remind yourself, not to compare your experiences with others. You have to be careful, not to label any experience as good or bad.
Finding the right motivation:
Without knowing why you are doing it, its very hard to do a difficult task. The same goes here. Why do you want to do this intensive course? During the course you will be asking yourself this question a lot.
Luckily for me, the course gave me the answer through myself. The pain I have been pushing inside for years started coming to the surface. It came out physically as knee or back pain or sometimes through memories which I haven’t thought about for a long time. I saw how much I have been suffering. I thought, I don’t want to live the life like I used to. If there is a way out I will follow it.
After a point you will see that everyone around you is suffering too. And you want to help others. But to do that, you have to become strong yourself. So personally for me, the motivation to finish this course, was to eradicate suffering for myself and others. Every time I had a hard time, I reminded myself of why I am here.
There will be volunteers to help you, and to do all the arrangements the course might need. These volunteers must have finished at least one 10 day course in the past.
I didn’t like one of these volunteers for some time. I have never talked to him or anything. He didn’t particularly do anything to annoy me too. But my ego didn’t like him. After few days I realized, how simple minded I was, to feel that way.
The volunteers worked for free. They have a more rigorous schedule than us. They have to wake up earlier than us and sleep after us. They have to do all the work and on top of that, serve people who are sometimes bitching about them. After realizing this I started looking at them with respect.
Non-killing is one of the moral values you have to follow for the 10 days. The food provided is purely vegetarian, so its easy that way. But you can take this, one step further, by being careful while moving around. Take care, not to kill any insects or ants.
Some times there will be lot of mosquitoes around. The normal tendency would be kill them. But try to refrain from doing so. If you think logically you will see that killing few mosquitoes will not reduce their numbers by so much. So why kill them?
Why write all this?
I was very impressed by Vipassana meditation technique. I think everyone should do this at least once in their life. And the earlier you do it, the better it is. I wrote this post mainly to spread awareness about Vipassana. If it helps even one person to find his or her path, I would be very happy.
May all beings be happy.