Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Life As A Monk (with Fiona Apple lol)

Annicha! Annicha! Annicha!

The powerful words of my sensei still ring in my ears. It is the Pali word for impermanent/changing. I'm still reverberating from the sound.

I just got back from one of the most intense experiences of my life. I rung in the new year of 2008 by trekking to the woods in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in central California for an intensive meditation experience. I went with my friends Nipun, Paul, Shephali, and Adam. From then until now I subjected myself to living as a meditation monk. I would not be exaggerating by saying this has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life.

The concept of the experience is to cut down sensory stimulus to a relatively extreme point and then to intensely focus on present moment experience. The idea is to sharpen the mind through the process to be able to be more acutely aware of present moment and experientially recognize the impermanence of all phenomenon.

The rules and regulations were very constricting:

-noble precepts: no killing (vegetarian/vegan food only), stealing, sexual activity, lying, or intoxicants (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, etc)

-noble silence: Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with anyone, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited

-contact: complete segregation of men and women, no physical contact of anyone (male or female) during your time there)

-food: 2 meals, 6:30am breakfast, 11am lunch. that's it.

-outside contact: no contact of any sort, including laptops, cell phones, letters, visitors.

-entertainment: no music or instruments, no reading/books, no writing, no laptops.

when you cut out this much stuff, basically all you are left with is sleep and meditation, and this is what happened. You turn in all of your personal items: cellphone, wallet, keys, books, writing materials, medication, electronical items. I had nothing for the entire time except for myself and my own crazy head. my daily schedule was as follows:

4:15 am
Morning wake-up gong

4:30-6:30 am
Meditate in the hall or in your room

6:30-8:00 am
Breakfast and Introspection

8:00-9:00 am
Determination meditation (no moving allowing)

9:00-11:00 am
Meditate in the hall or in my room

11:00-12:00 noon
Lunch

12-1:00 pm
Introspection, walk outside

1:00-2:30 pm
Meditate in the hall or in your room

2:30-3:30 pm
Determination meditation (no moving allowing)

3:30-5:00 pm
Meditate in the hall or in my room

5:00-6:00 pm
Tea and introspection

6:00-7:00 pm
Determination meditation (no moving allowing)

7:00-8:15 pm
Meditate/Listen to discourse

8:15-9:00 pm
Determination meditation (no moving allowing)

9:00-9:30 pm
Mundane activities (shower/shave/etc)

9:30 pm
Sleep

As you can see, this adds up to about 12 hrs of meditation every day with no real respite for days and days, not to mention no knowledge of ANYTHING outside yourself due to absolute silence in all ways.

Sometimes you're just sitting around waiting for time to pass, and the faster your mind goes (and it goes FAST), the slower the subjective experience of time becomes. Not only that, but meditation is no slacker activity. There's not even a moment to slack off. The SECOND you're not observing your mind, your mind starts flying around from one random thought to the next. You have literally zero moments rest for those 12 hours.

The actual activity of meditation was very focused. The first several days I was asked to observe my breath. Literally just focus on air entering and leaving the nose. For 12 hrs a day. For days on end. What this did was focus and sharpen my mind to experience sensations that otherwise went unnoticed. The remainder of the time was used to utilize that sharpened focus to be attentive to sensations on the body and recognize what exactly was going on in my system.

When my time there ended, I was taught a 'metta' meditation, which is where one's heightened attention/awareness is used to spread feelings of love outward. I'm not a really emotional person, but for the first time in over a decade, this experience had me sobbing. I mean absolutely uncontrollable.

As I was leaving, I noticed that on the woman's side of the monastery was Fiona Apple, who apparently was having a nun experience of her own. Apparently we had meditated 10 feet from each other for the entire time in the main hall and I had not known. She seemed like a nice girl. I was surprised initially, then I remembered what Nipun told me last time he was here. His roommate had been Rivers Cuomo, the frontman for Weezer.

So, obviously, this is not a standard way to spend a couple weeks, and I've gotten a lot of questions as to why I'd do something like this. There's a couple reasons:

-my friend Nipun said it's a good experience. i had no idea what I was getting into, but it seemed like it would test my limits and I trusted him, so i went with it.

-I wanted to learn more about the depth of myself. I don't know about anyone else, but I see in myself that A LOT of the time, i respond with blind reactions to things. I judge them. good, bad, bad, good. everything is given a label. I also realized that because of those labels i wanted what was good and didn't want what was bad. I wanted to know more about that. why do i do that? It obviously is the reason that i have ups and downs in my life, but there was no real rationale for it occurring. That desire to understand played a large role as well.

Now that I'm out of there, I'm thinking to what i'm going to take with me from this experience. I think 3 major elements stand out:

-1: my ego is HUGE. its an amazing intricate carving i have made of what i believe 'birju' is. and as the carving includes labels such as 'humble' and 'modest' and 'other-oriented', it is incredibly difficult for it to leave.

-2: present moment awareness is an evolving state. I sat and meditated for a hour on many days for the past 10 years. It brought me a sense of understanding what was happening in my life and awareness in general. sitting in the manner i've been sitting through this time period, i've realized that i became aware of A LOT more that was happening. some of the cravings and aversions that are there and lead to unconscious decision making don't make themselves known until you sharpen your mind to an obscene level.

On an experiential level, this meant that I started feeling sensations on my body that I had never experienced before, and also recognized that whatever it was that I was experiencing was constantly changing, not lasting. Seeing this kind of shifts my focus to understand even more and more about how things I want in this world are really just cravings and aversions to sensations felt on my body... cravings and aversions that result from sensations that are really quite temporary. makes me wonder why I react to the sensations at all sometimes.

-3: I'm not as materially simple as I thought. I was previously of the mindset that I was a very simple person who could live with only the bare necessities and I've be just fine. When actually put in a position where all i had was the BARE NECESSITIES, i was really thrown for a loop. I really how much I crave connection with others, how much i crave laughter, how important it is for me to feel I have a full stomach.

Overall, this was a very humbling experience. I feel like I got through something that pushed me to a level I've never been pushed before. I don't know if I'd ever do it again, and to be honest, I'm kind of afraid to think about it. But who knows what will come of it. Right now, I know that awareness is really important in life and this is an excellent way to sharpen awareness.

I'm going to be in SF for the next little while continuing to meditate and working with CharityFocus...

No comments: