Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Realm and Rewards of Vipassana, Part III

This is the final piece in a 3-part series on this subject.

Read Part I here. Read Part II here.

Part III: The Harmony of Breath and Pain 
When vipassana boot camp ended, I was more than ready to return home and be with my family, and even more ready to plunge into my normal life with my husband, children, friends and family, and I did so with a renewed sense of spirit. One of my chief concerns during the course had tethered on whether I’d make the transition back into talking and how challenging it would be to get back into the rhythm. The thought surfaced in meditation, especially in the beginning, and I remember wondering if there would be any “side effects,” such as hours of speech training and therapy. And then my mind had switched orbits. What if I’m so taken by silence that I decide to embrace monkhood, trading in my home for a monastery? Imagine, Sister Raji! Oh, my poor family! How are they going to manage my loss? Oh, the mind is so rooted in fears and self-importance! Of course, my concern was completely baseless as I neither ended up in a convent nor have I stopped talking since the course concluded.

Vipassana, the blueprint of a new life, has helped me fashion a world in which I’m able live in sync with my heartfelt longings, without the fear of failure or of being judged. I live life with a keen sense of awareness. I understand that I should stop reaching out for sense gratification, and instead, reach in, within myself, to find the authentic me. The Buddha’s teachings have taught me to focus on my myriad strengths, surround myself with positive people, and tailor my attitude to be more accepting of people and their behaviors. I’m less inclined now to fulfill others’ expectations at my emotional expense. Vipassana has also turned down the volume on my “complain” and “demand” notes. Forever I had experienced anger and frustration because I could never win arguments or dominate conversations like some of my friends and colleagues did. Post vipassana, my “deficiency” has transformed into a skill—a skill that allows me to be a better listener and remain open to others’ points of view, one that has added a whole new dimension to all of my relationships. I now understand that dominance and defiance are the hallmark traits of the ego, not of an individual; that traveling in the fast lane and multitasking are recipes not for effectiveness, but rather dissatisfaction. Making peace with what I cannot change or make go away has been, paradoxically, empowering.

Continued practice enables me to operate in a realm in which I’m truly excited to be myself and I’m energized to serve the greater whole. Awareness of the overwhelming impacts of perfectionism and self-recrimination has resulted in my being kinder to me and less self-critical. What is really great about silence is the simplicity it evokes, the opportunity to observe, absorb and appreciate the miracles in seemingly ordinary things, including bees buzzing as they flit from flower to flower transferring pollen, puffy white clouds that drift away to reveal a blue sky, or sunlight glistening through raindrops to erect a rainbow. I’m also learning to integrate flexibility into my life through the art of prioritizing. Each day now is a celebration of life’s bounty—food, shelter, health, friends, and family.

By profession, I’m an environmental engineer. Years ago I had a sweet government job, owned a house in the suburbs, had a wonderful family, and lived a perfect life by all external accounts. Yet I felt restless, powerless, and driven—if not consumed—by an inability to accept my good life. I always wondered why I was among the few that flourished while millions languished in hunger and poverty. I later traded in my career to become a stay-at-home mother, which, unexpectedly, proved to be a turning point. I became involved in volunteering, a new life experience that allowed me to have a meaningful, positive impact on communities worldwide, and eventually helped channel my distress into gratefulness. I have since stayed active by being involved in my children’s lives and in charitable causes. A privilege that I’m truly grateful for is using my thoughts, words, and action to inspire my children.

Before long, the waves of life washed me over to vipassana’s coast. Looking back at my early years, I now realize that I lived like an iceberg, a drifting existence, a mere flick of the potential that lay obscured below the surface of who I am. Vipassana has helped me tap into that potential, giving form and expression to my creativity. I’m sure glad to still have the house in the suburbs and a wonderful circle of family and friends. I’d like to believe that I write more adroitly now. In addition to responding to my family’s needs and fulfilling my various responsibilities, I am beginning to articulate my own needs, voice my opinions, express my preferences, and nurture my passions like never before. As a youngster, I loved to sing. So I enrolled in voice lessons to revive and enjoy the art. I wrote and published a book about my vipassana experience, entitled Inner Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me. Thereafter, I started writing a blog. I maintain my Facebook fan page and a website. I’m now a motivational speaker and deliver talks on topics such as meditation, life lessons, health and wellness at various venues. And to think that public speaking had always buckled my knees! My hope in sharing my story is that it’ll inspire others to begin their own journeys of self-discovery, at their own pace, through vipassana.

Having said that, I still experience low days. “Inner” conflicts still hold their grip. Despair, dread, and doubt continue to clutch at me. Anger and frustration over what I can’t change, like when my neighbor overwaters their lawn, still burns my insides. But the equanimity derived from vipassana has made it easier to release irrational fears and negative emotions. Vipassana meditation is helping me reconfigure my life, one fear fragment at a time. To say that these changes happened overnight would be a gross exaggeration. Finding the authentic me is—and will be—a lifelong journey of exploration, trial, and acceptance.

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