By Namita Kulkarni on 10 August 2015
There are places one never fully returns from, even a decade after that one short visit. Places that carve out a permanent residence deep inside one’s psyche. Evocative as ever, even from underneath countlessly piling memories and impressions. I happened into one such place thirteen years ago, one random day.
The orange glow of the tent stood sandwiched between a blue-black lake and a sky that hadn’t decided what time of day it was. Presumably pre-dawn or post-dusk. It didn’t matter either way, time seemed a thing of the past. I’d been walking through a forest punctuated by lazy moonbeams and hazy cobwebs, and the rhythm of that walk still played in my feet. That, and the voice that had led me here, kept me moving. Though normally I’d have stopped and stared all around to get my bearings, catch my breath, and to just drink in the surreality of the place.
As instructed, I kept walking toward the tent. A lone dog ran across the clearing ahead of me, taking zero note of my presence and evoking no surprise in me either. I had the faintest feeling that he belonged here – in all his strayness and innocence and cluelessness – just as much as I did, in all my strayness and innocence and cluelessness. Just as much as the lake, the sky, the air, and all the elements everywhere did.
My sense of kinship with the dog grew, as if I’d expected him. And I had. He had appeared exactly an instant after the voice had told me to watch him. The voice had spoken him into existence right before my eyes, just as simply as it had spoken me into being exactly there at that very instant.
Somewhere in the air hung the slightest suspicion that everything I could see – and sense – had been ‘spoken into existence’ by the voice. Not that I minded in the least. With every passing word and cadence, I was being walked to a state underlying all the states I’d so far known. Hand-held as it were, every step of the way, without ever letting me feel ‘held’. What I’d believed all along to be ‘my mind’ slowly morphed into ‘the mind’, as I set it down the way one takes off a pair of heavy earrings after a long night. This mind had grown less and less reactive, its silence wider and louder. A silence I’d only briefly met earlier – in blink-and-miss gaps between thoughts and in that first split second of waking every morning. This silence, long a background feature, was now melting all over the foreground, while the latter shrunk back. My physical body was out of the picture by now, taken off like clothes before a shower. The only ‘sensation’, for lack of a better vocabulary, was that of a continuous ‘slipping’. I’m tempted to add ‘downwards’ but there wasn’t even enough context or a reference point of any sort to attribute a direction. All that existed was a spark of awareness of just that slipping itself, and an ever-loosening grasp over whatever little there might still have been in my grasp. A perpetual ‘letting go’ till all there remained to ‘let go’ of – was the letting go itself.
At some point, in what felt like one everlasting present moment, I felt the back of my head feather-landing and slowly sinking into the floor – my body quietly tip-toeing back into my awareness. The voice was now directing me to gently wriggle my toes and fingers and to become aware of my entire body as one unit again. And to open my eyes when I felt ready. But this time I wasn’t inclined to promptly follow instructions. Over the last twenty odd minutes in that Yoga class, a giant pause button had been pressed inside my system and I was in no hurry to unpause. If there was any way to bottle up and preserve that ‘stateless’ state and that ‘placeless’ place I’d just returned from, I would have.
A few surprised murmurs trickled around the room as some of us sat up on our mats and blinked at nothing in particular – and at the newfound ‘nothingness’ in particular. Our minds and our mouths, incessant chatterboxes up until an hour ago, had gone from being boisterous front-benchers – with a whistle and an opinion about everything – to a calm non-reactive audience that felt no desire/need/inclination to react to every external stimulus.
The phrase ‘at home in one’s skin’ comes to mind when I look back now on that sense of occupying and inhabiting one’s own being so fully that there was nowhere else or anything else one would rather be – in thought nor in feeling. Here was enough. Everything else was just cherries on top.
All the ‘happily ever after’ I could ever chase was sitting right here inside the gift of this moment, subject only to any terms and conditions I set on my experience of it.
‘So…. THAT’S what the fuss is all about’, I remember marvelling to myself a good half hour hence, as I drifted home ensconced in a calm daze and a rickety autorickshaw wobbling through peak hour traffic. Absorbed in my own nonchalant bliss and untouched by the honk-screech-honk orchestra outside, I might as well have been a caterpillar on a paper-boat adrift in a babbling brook in an Edigio Antonnacio painting.
Meditation had so far been a mental tight-rope walk I thought I was a total klutz at, but Guided Meditation, you had me at ‘guided’. As someone with a monkey mind, I’ll take all the ‘guidance’ I can get to walk me home.
To me, ‘meditation’ seems a word too grave and loaded for an experience essentially lightening and uplifting. It isn’t about going away or escaping to somewhere far off, but returning home to one’s core, the sky inside – before the clouds, the birds, the planes (and nowadays even the drones) take over. It isn’t an esoteric practice meant exclusively for monks in caves, but a free luxury and necessity accessible to anyone open to taking a walk on the inside and getting some ‘fresh air in the mind’ as my friend puts it.
An old Zen saying goes that the mind is ‘a drunken monkey stung by a scorpion‘. If you’re anything like me or if you’ve ever watched your mind for five minutes, you’re nodding in agreement. Because you know it’s no metaphor or baseless allegation to call the mind a drunken, scorpion-stung monkey. Luckily, there is a way to take the sting out and un-intoxicate the primate in question, with a ton of benefits as pleasant side-effects.
One ten-minute guided meditation a day might be just the intervention our inner alcoholic monkey needs, to counter all the unguided/misguided twists and turns we put it through in our attention-deficit times.
Go ahead, take a listen and shock your system into some serenity. There are places inside you that would love to have you, which you may never fully leave.