A hush falls in the room. I, like the rest of us in the room, a motley collection of 20-30 people, close my eyes and try to focus my mind on my breath for one minute. The first breath goes in and out without much trouble, my mind completely focused, staunch and unwavering. I'm in total control. No sweat. Heck, this is easy, I tell myself. But by the time the second or third breath touches my nostrils, all pandemonium breaks loose. My mind becomes a bucking horse out of control, jumping from one thought to another in a confusion of feelings and sensations.
Gradually, as I continue to sit motionless with my eyes looking inwards, I begin to glimpse patches of blue sky between dark clouds. According to the tenets of Vipassana, all I had to do to attain inner harmony was to face those dark clouds within me, recognize their significance, understand their nature, and let go of them - allowing myself to float away into the realms of self-exoneration. In life, dark clouds will come and go, but the blue sky is always there within us, always within reach. The blue sky that I had glimpsed within me, beyond the dark clouds, I was told, was the real me. And I always had the power within me to reach in and touch it, which was a comforting thought.
Each of us has our own distinct landscape buried within our subconscious. When we look inwards, each of us encounters different scenarios depending on our own unique life experiences - like a patchwork quilt made up of hills and valleys, unfathomed troughs of gullies, unexplored yawning canyons, mysterious dense forests, and serene soaring mountains. Troubled clouds over calm blue skies. Black nights and bright days playing tag with each other. Every tree, every mountain stream, every path disappearing into the forest. Every sullen dark cloud, a dark piece of memory in the kaleidoscopic patchwork of the inner soul.
Because of each of our unique life-experiences, each of us may experience Vipassana differently. While for some it may be a pleasant experience, for others it may be terrible, as each tries to deal with their own special dark clouds, says Dr Hameed Ganla.
And who is Dr Ganla? A pediatrician by profession, and a philosopher by inclination, he has been practicing Vipassana for over 10 years now. He also treks, does yoga, and so on. He was the one giving us the talk, and putting us through our paces, on his favorite subject - Vipassana. Not given to much navel gazing myself, I had tagged along for the talk at the behest of a friend of mine who had experienced several of such talk-cum-meditation sessions on Vipassana. What I have narrated above is my very first minute of Vipassana, my first small step into the esoteric realm of meditation. And I thought I'd share with you some of the gleanings of that talk.
Meditation, as a concept, is as old as the concept of God itself. Almost all religions and cultures have some form of meditation at their core - the chanting of 'Om' in Hinduism, where of course the practice of meditation goes back to a time that has not even been recorded, the reciting of the Christian rosary, or the proclamation of 'Bismillah' five times a day facing Mecca, in Islam, are a few examples. For some of us, each is as strange as the next, though for many, any of these could be as familiar as breathing.
All the wise men and women of the world, since time immemorial, have always professed that through prayer and meditation, one can achieve what we are all seeking - self-awareness, peace, and joy. Perhaps even reach a higher state of consciousness.
Although so-called modernity often scoffs at age-old systems such as these, yet many today find that self-healing techniques like meditation can be a source of comfort, which brings some sense of order and meaning, and inner peace to our lives. And isn't that what we all seek? Some semblance of meaning to what can often seem like pointless existence? A little patch of happiness under an often unseeing, uncaring sky?
Now to delve a little deeper into Vipassana meditation. It can be a powerful tool for attaining self-awareness, and a means of seeing things as they actually are. Vipassana, in fact, is one of the ancient methods of meditation. It was about 2500 years back that it was said to have been rediscovered by the Buddha, and was then taught by him as a form of universal remediation for the universal existential problems of mankind.
The aim of this non-sectarian meditation technique is the total elimination of mental anguish, resulting in complete liberation, and the highest sense of inner peace and joy. The basic purpose of Vipassana is healing, and not merely curing illnesses.
Through Vipassana, one can achieve self-transformation via self-observation. It helps in focusing on the deep interconnection that exists between the mind and the body. This can be experienced by focusing ones attention on the sensations felt physically, which interconnect continuously, conditioning the state of the mind. It is this journey based on self-observation and self-exploration that delves into the root of the body and mind, which enables the dissolution of mental anguish and pain, leading to a mind that becomes completely balanced, and full of deep awareness and love.
The fundamental laws that govern one's sensations and feelings become clarified. By focusing directly inwards, the essential manner in which one regresses or grows, how suffering is produced by the self, and the ability of freeing oneself of suffering, becomes clear. This results in serenity, self-control, non-delusion, and heightened awareness. In other words, Vipassana can be a means of touching the blue sky within.