Tragic Optimism.

“The man I am, greets mournfully, the man I might have been.”
~ Hebbel

I contacted a Senior Teacher of Vipassana in Pune yesterday, whom I have known since the last more than two decades. He was a highly successful Medical Practitioner as was his wife but, both have quit their practices to devote their full time and energies to Vipassana. I contacted him to find out how best I can attend a camp with my health issues. Being a doctor and a teacher of Vipassana, I thought that he would be the best guide to approach as I felt that I needed a concentrated meditation camp at this stage of my life. He guided me to my full satisfaction and also assured me that he will ensure that I will be well looked after in the local Meditation Center.

It was a nice long chat catching up with each other on many subjects and I intend keeping in regular touch with him henceforth.

After the talk was over, he sent me a photograph taken during the early days of a Vipassana Meditation Center at Markal near Pune with me and two students of meditation in it. The link will take you to show you how the place is now.

This was circa 2003 when it was still in its nascent stage and accommodation and meditation hall were still in early stages of being set up. I was approached by the same teacher to be a volunteer to serve the attendees as by then I was already a caregiver to my incapacitated late wife. In this particular case, they were a group of blind students who had to be looked after, and guided around the primitive undeveloped area so that they did not come to harm and the ten days that I did this changed me for ever.

Spending eleven nights and ten days with blind people and serving them will do that to any body. One is humbled by them with their good cheer and will to survive despite their handicap and their total trust and unconditional affection for me was a high impact emotional experience for me. My caregiving duties only increased and was even doubled after my then 91 year old father came to live with us.  That period till ten years later saw the most stressful times that I have ever experienced and thankfully I was able to withstand and survive those situations due, I have no doubt, to my regular meditation practice.

That experience with the blind students changed my attitude towards life and just about that time was when I first came across Viktor Frankl and his Tragic Optimism. His profound conclusion that I share with my readers below describes my current situation at the age of 77 with health issues.

“From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.”

Enemy.

This is one of my all time favourite quotes and when someone sent this image to me on WhatsApp, I immediately wanted to share it with my readers.  It is innocuous to begin with till one starts to reflect on it.  And then, bang, it hits one like a thunderbolt that this is a very profound and true statement.

Another great writer went a step further and came up with some more profundities – “Like every man, I am my own worst enemy but, unlike most men I know too that I am my own saviour.” ~ Henry Miller.

Let me share a story of a man who I know well. He is a very wealthy self made man in his seventies with extensive properties in and around Pune. His world and conversation revolves around his wealth and how much he benefits from it as well as how much he suffers from it. He is suspicious of every one and therefore is lonely and bitter but unlike Henry Miller does not understand that he has to be his own saviour. He has become a hypochondriac as, at least in my opinion, he has nothing better to do. He comes to me often to let off steam because I give him a patient hearing and have no interest in his wealth. When I point out to him that he is lonely because he is unable to stop showing off and be considerate but, he is unwilling to accept that as a character flaw. He continues to be miserable and all his wealth goes to finance his constant consultations with medical practitioners of all specialities.

On the other hand, there is another friend who is far from wealthy but a great human being unfortunately prone to panic attacks and depression. We became good friends a few of months ago after we became closer to each other than we were before due to a series of unintended developments. I shared with him my experience of overcoming depression through consultation with a psychiatrist and suggested that he too does that. He took my suggestion, and today accepts his failings with his relationships, has made amends and is better off for doing just that. He now understands that he is his own saviour.

In my own case, my exposure to Vipassana meditation 35 years ago enabled me to look into the mirror to see the reality of myself and find ways of overcoming my weaknesses. Having kept up regular practice, I have been able to handle life’s vicissitudes with some equanimity. To anyone who asks me for guidance, my first recommendation is to learn to meditate using any technique and inevitably, those who do, benefit and learn how to manage their own enemies. I strongly believe that meditation IS learning to love oneself by handling the enemy within.

Sleep Is The Best Meditation.

The title is a quote from The Dalai Lama.

Way back in 1978 I was burning both ends of the candle and a very dear friend put me on to Transcendental Meditation to prevent me from self-destructing. I found it very helpful and became an evangelist for it with the zeal of a typical convert. I subsequently moved on to Vipassana Meditation and have stayed with it for over 34 years now. In between, I also learnt Yoga Nidra which I take recourse to on and off at need. I had learnt all three techniques from trained and qualified teachers.

Having explained my qualification and experience to write about meditation let me come to the topic and what I think that the Dalai Lama meant with that quote.

Meditation of all three techniques listed above takes one into stages of conscious awareness and deep silence. Properly and regularly practiced, this takes one to a lifestyle free of tension and anxiety. It helps if one also follows some kind of spiritual / religious life, though not necessary as a precondition.

In sleep one goes through stages of awareness, dream states and deep sleep sans dream stages. Exactly the same sequence that one goes through in meditation albeit with full consciousness. I suspect that the Dalai Lama wants to convey the need to sleep effectively to recharge one’s battery as it were, which is what meditation does. If one cannot meditate, at least proper sleep should be sine qua non for a stress free life.

If one is blessed with both, so much the better!

I have suggested this topic for this week’s 2 on 1 Friday blog posts where Shackman and I write on the same subject. Please do go over to Shackman’s blog to see what he has to say on the matter.

Cause And Effect.


No, I don’t intend to bore my readers with Newton’s third law or the butterfly effect. I simply want to share a few stories.

I smoked cigarettes and cigars from when I was about thirteen years old till just a few years ago. I quit too late. I am now saddled with COPD. The last time I saw a pulmonologist was an event marked by humour for him and shock for me. He said that nothing can be done to reverse the damage done and that I had to learn to live with it. He said that it was a classic instance of the theory of karma manifesting itself. Smoking the cause and COPD the effect. He further added that I must have had a lot of good karma in my ledger because I escaped getting cancer of the lung. Thank God for mercies!

It is no big deal. I have accepted my condition and the limitations it puts on my life. I enjoy myself to the extent possible within the limits imposed on me by the condition.

And that brings me to the cause for that ability of being equanimous.

I started to meditate with TM when I was 35 years old. I graduated to a more rigourous technique called Vipassana when I was 41 years old and have continued to practice regularly since then. I have attended many retreats and have read widely on the benefits of meditation and can vouch for its efficacy in my personal life. Cause – Meditation, Effect – Equanimity and joyful living.

One more story and I will conclude this weekly Friday LBC post.

I met with an accident that damaged both my hip joints. That was the cause. Effect, replaced hip joints, causing wear and tear to the prostheses, resulting in revisions and so on. Another effect, I have been using a cane / walking stick since 1981.  It has its advantages as younger folk seeing me with my cane defer to me in queues and even offer seats!

I have suggested this week’s topic. You can see what the other writers of the LBC have to say in their respective blogs.  Maria, Pravin, Ashok and Shackman.

Meditation.

buddha

My blogger friend Jody has left this comment on my post on Writers’ Block.

“I was just thinking of you yesterday because I’ve begun to meditate again, and I was remembering that you have a practice that’s been going on for a long time. One day, can you share how it works for you? Before or after morning tea, how long, what do you feel it does to/with/for you?”

Beside that request another young lady Mona who receives my posts by email advice has asked me to write on meditation and other spiritual matters and so this post is dedicated to both these ladies. Mona has recently started to meditate and I am delighted that Jody has revived her discontinued practice.

To start with, I request Jody and Mona to visit my blog post Meditation which I wrote just over a year ago. More than the post itself, the comments and responses are more interesting in my opinion.

Let me however start off by sharing how it all started and come back to answer the specific questions that Jody raises.

In 1977 I was burning both ends of the candle when a friend suggested that I try Transcendental Meditation.  (TM).  I took to it in earnest and that was also the beginning of my spiritual journey as I inevitably started to study the Bhagwat Geeta that Maharshi Mahesh Yogi recommended. TM was of great benefit to me and I became quite an evangelist for the technique with my colleagues and friends. That led my then mentor and immediate boss to challenge me to go for a ten day Vipassana Meditation camp in 1984 and I got hooked. There was no looking back and till the year 2000 I attended at least one and sometimes two, ten day camps and a couple of short three day camps every year. I could not attend them anymore due to my preoccupation with my caregiving duties but I have kept the practice going without a break.

There is a significant piece of information that I must share here.  During both the TM and Vipassana initiation stages, my late wife enthusiastically joined me and got initiated too. Till she died five years ago following an eight year long convalescence from multiple cardiac and cerebral infarcts,  she practiced Vipassana every day without fail and I am convinced that her peaceful convalescence despite her dementia was due to the practice.

To come to Jody, my normal waking-up time, without the help of an alarm clock is 4.45 am every day. After a wash, I sit down for an hour long meditation session on an empty stomach. Morning tea and other chores are all only after this session. It is now a habit and I miss it if I don’t get the full hour’s session. Sometimes it does happen that I have to be satisfied with shorter sessions, like when I have to drop someone off or receive someone coming from the airport or railway station or I myself having to go out of town. Sometimes, I also meditate at some other part of the day but those sessions will be for shorter durations, from between 20 minutes to thirty. I also meditate while I travel as long as I am not driving that is! These sessions will be after at least an hour after any kind of food intake.

How have I have benefited? Let the Buddha answer!
Buddha and meditation

Mona who has met me personally will vouch for these to be true in my case.

Medically, I am blessed with a natural low blood pressure system and meditation has certainly helped in keeping it there. In fact my two surgeons who have operated on my hip joints on five different occasions have remarked on this at each operation. I am also naturally endowed with a cheerful disposition and I think that meditation has enhanced this aspect of my personality too.

In Vedanta, there are four states of being , waking, dreaming, deep sleep and a state that is simplyh called the fourth.  The last is being in a state of consciousness where one is  consciously witness to all the three states. Advanced meditators reach this stage of awareness. I am not at that stage yet but am sure to reach there eventually. I am in no hurry. It will happen when it has to, but I do get moments of intense clarity and awareness off and on and it is happening more and more frequently since the last surgery three years ago.

No, I am not a saint. Not yet anyway! I do occasionally flare up in anger but that does not last longer than a few moments and I am back to normal in a trice. I occasionally do go into whymeitis but here again my recovery is rapid and without rancour or regret.  I was the sole caregiver for my late wife till she died and was able to manage that responsibility as well as running my household without stress.   Between end 2008 and end 2012 I went through a mentally and physically challenging period due to another caregiving responsibility.  I am convinced that I would not have survived that period had it not been for my practice which helped me in keeping my sanity intact.

The spiritual journey that started with the initiation into TM way back in 1977 has taken me into the study of Vedanta under a Guru / Sishya parampara system. This consists Shravanam, Mananam and Nidhidyasanam. The first is to listen and learn from a qualified teacher, the second is to internalise the learning by study and the third is to reflect on the learning through meditation. My Guru has now released me from the first requirement and has instructed me to focus on the second and third aspects. Eventually, this path will lead me to Samadhi and Moksha. The last may not be in this lifetime but it will happen now that I am on the path.  It is said that Religion is belief in someone else’s experience and spirituality is having your own experience.  I would rather call myself as a Spiritual person than a religious one.  To a large extent, I have evolved into one over a period of time largely influenced by my meditation practice.

I trust that Jody and Mona find this useful.  I will be happy to respond to questions from them as well as from others who may want to explore this topic further.

Silence.

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Ashok, Conrad, gaelikaa, Grannymar and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get five different flavours of the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Grannymar. Grannymar is lucky! Of all of us, she would know most about this topic.

“True silence really means going deep within yourself to that place where nothing is happening, where you transcend time and space. You go into a brand new dimension of nothingness. That is where all the power is. That is your real home. That is where you really belong, in deep Silence, where there is no good or bad, no one trying to achieve anything. Just being, pure being. Silence is the ultimate Reality.”
~ Robert Adams.

Way back in 1978, I was on the fast track career-wise and burning the candle at both ends with a great deal of social obligations. My dear friend Sultan advised me to take to Transcendental Meditation (TM) made popular by the Beatles. Sultan had heard a lecture on the benefits of this technique and thought that I may yet be saved if I took to it. I did. After only about a week of regular practice ie. twice a day for twenty minutes each session, there was so much change in me that Urmeela wanted to learn and she did. Both of us regularly meditated and that was the turning point in my life, both in my career and personal life. Nothing else changed. The pressures of the career and social obligations remained, but I changed .

It simply meant that I was contacting that Silence that the opening quote talks about and the contacting was impacting my mind and body in a very positive way.

That exposure led me to study Indian spirituality for the first time and that has remained my first priority reading till today. It also led me to seek others on the same path and my spiritual progress has been enriched by those connections.

Six years later, in 1984 my mentor and boss at work, challenged me to successfully complete a ten day meditation camp to learn and practice Vipassana meditation. The requirements were to agree to ten days of total silence, no intoxicants and abstinence. Not one to let a challenge pass by, I attended a camp – and got hooked. So did Urmeela, once again seeing the beneficial effect it had on me. Both of us switched over to Vipassana. I started attending a minimum of one full 10 day camp and one or two short camps every year till, other compulsions made it impossible for me to go away for such long breaks from normal life. My practice however continues and I can no longer be without that daily dose of meditation. The exposure to such intense silence and meditation changed me completely.

The single most important aspect of meditation is the getting in touch with the Silence. All other benefits sucha s, increasing mindfulness, understanding and internalising impermanence, are byproducts, as beneficial as they may be. In that Silence lies my present and future.

Naturally, I prefer that Silence even during non meditation times and have been able to become a good listener because of that preference. This has had the unintended result of my becoming a mentor for many people who seek me out. I inevitably guide them to start any form of meditation that they will be comfortable with. I do not teach them, but guide them to teachers who can. I have seen some remarkable changes taking place in them with that, the most important being less agitated and stressed.

Silence and solitude go hand in hand. It is ecstasy when I can get it. I can be very creative and mindful in whatever I do, thanks to the regular getting in touch with my Silence in solitude.