In July of 2011, I attended a 10 day silent meditation retreat in Thailand. I’ve been to Thailand several times in recent years to further my training in yoga, tantra, meditation and have found each trip to be unique, challenging, beautiful and deepening in its own way. One of the highlights of this most recent spiritual adventure was a Hridaya Meditation retreat: 10 days of silence, 60 people in the space, 6-7 hours of meditation per day. No computer, texting, reading, talking or touching. The focus of this practise is the heart center, moving beyond the thinking mind into deep stillness. ‘Meditation for the Revelation of the Spiritual Heart’ is how the website puts it (www.dev.hridaya-yoga.org)…and as it turns out, they aren’t far off. Revelation is a good word for it.
The retreat began as they often do: hanging on for dear life through the first days of sleepiness, nodding, drifting. It seems that the mental fog starts to clear somewhere in the 2-3rd day, and the deeper meditation begins to unfold. The surrender to silence occurs at some point, and the frenetic pace of the mind starts to slow. What remains is a vast ocean of internal experience…bliss, emotion, sensation, struggle, resistance, joy, fullness, emptiness.
The method behind the ‘no talking’ rule is the following: most of us ‘use’ our life force energy daily in myriad ways…speaking, moving, engaging our mind and senses, occupying our attention with external things. When that life force energy is redirected inside, and channelled into meditation, suddenly vistas appear, spontaneous insight occurs, and expansive states are available. Revelation, even…
Part way through day 5, I had an experience that remains in my mind’s eye these many months later. In the retreat materials, various aspects of the meditative process are described: tips and suggestions for moving beyond the grip of our habitual thinking patterns and into the cave of the heart. It is said that the heart contains a wisdom of it’s own, independent of the figuring of the mind, and this wisdom can reveal itself, fully formed, unbidden, in any moment. In one of these unscripted, unanticipated moments on day 5, I suddenly and fully understood that I was free. Already free. Now.
There was no need to ‘do’ anything to become more free. I glimpsed, both visually and at a deep felt-sense level, that freedom and light is the basis of all existence. I felt a wave of joy, recognition and relief surge through my being, and a dropping away of the usual structures of thought. I was left with an awareness of conceptual thinking…how we label and interpret reality through the mind…but like I was watching it from a distance, amused, intrigued and awed at how the mind creates this reality that we so often take for granted as absolute and non-negotiable. It was a potent moment of realization that no discursive thinking process could have lead me to…it was a revelation.
That ripples of that experience continued in the days that followed, and what I came to see is this: happiness is a function of knowing who we are, beyond the mind.
We often blame circumstances in our lives for the fundamental discontent that we feel, ie. If I had more money, if my partner did this or didn’t do that, if the economy was better, if my health improved, if people loved me more, if the government was different, etc, etc.
In the mind-unravelling hours that followed this meditation-induced a-ha!, I saw very clearly that true fulfillment comes from a deep knowing of our true nature, spiritually, and no amount of re-arranging of external conditions could fill that void. It suddenly seemed very sad and unproductive to me how much of the time humans, myself included, spend wishing life would make them happy. It became evident that this kind of outside-in approach is a disservice to everyone, especially those who are dear to us.
I saw the irony in searching through the world for this elusive happiness that is actually already here and now. And, the kicker? It’s inside each of us! The major obstacle for most of us, it would seem, is the false understanding that this existential discontent can be remedied by doing more, having more, and being more. Paradoxically, the antidote is found in the non-doing…in sitting still, being quiet and looking in the last place we often look. Our own hearts.
So, on day 5, in a flash, I understood all this. And, while the freshness of that insight has faded, the imprint remains, like a new reference point for reality. (which, of course, I repeatedly forget…and, then blessedly remember!) It’s moments of clarity and grace like these that keep me going back for more…to meditation and yoga and contemplation. After all, if you’re going to search, why not look where it might actually be found?