On 15th May 2018, my friend called to tell me she was not coming to the trip we had planned, as our retreat and exploration. It had been a busy and stressful year. I had just finished appearing for my third year final exams of Psychology majors. And I was not about to cancel my plans.
To Tell or Not to Tell
But this would be the first time I was to travel alone out of the city, and I wondered what my mother might have to say to that. I was worried that she would worry about me. To tell or not to tell was the question.
But this journey was too important for me, and I could not possibly go out there with a burden on my heart. So, I told her. And I was not disappointed. In fact I was surprised to hear what she had to say to me. ‘You go ahead.’ She said. ‘Don’t stop.’
‘Do you really think I’ll be able to handle everything?’ I asked her, suddenly doubting myself.
She looked at me and said, ‘Yes. I know you will.’
It was the trust I saw in her eyes that gave me the faith to go ahead.
The Journey Begins
So it was, that I set out on my first solo journey. As always, my sisters cheered me on and made me feel like I’m off to space! Right from packing to seeing me off at the station, they were supportive of me throughout. My father, as always, appeared unaffected, knowing that his daughters are brave, and are fully capable of doing whatever they put their minds to.
I boarded a 12:36 a.m. train in Mumbai and reached my destination at 7:45 a.m.
So it was that on the morning of 16th May I arrived, in a train on my own, in Ahmedabad – a new state, a new city. I felt a warm welcome in my heart. Now, this journey had become possible because of the money I had saved, working part time at Touching Lives through the year. I knew I had to spend my money wisely. I had no idea how to get to the ashram from the station. So I decided to take help from the locals and figured out a bus that’d take me to the Vipassana Ashram at Ranoda, a village near the city of Ahmedabad.
The two hour journey was interesting – I knew I was going to be entirely disconnected with the world for the next ten days. That’s what the course required – no phones, no contact with the external world. It was going to be me, just me, and no one else.
I was the first to reach the ashram. Everything was so new and frankly, a bit overwhelming.
A Long Silence
The ten days Vipassana course began with an orientation; one of the dos was to practice complete silence, on all days. No verbal or non-verbal communication with anyone, at anytime.
The next day, a wake-up gong rang at 4 a.m. I can still feel the crisp morning breeze that brushed my cheeks at 4:30 a.m. that morning. The sky was showering its abundance on me. The day started early, simply by focusing on our own breath. When you are silent, someone whispers within you, who is that? A lot of questions started to arise. Will I be able to practice mauna (silence) for ten days? Day 1 started with questions and ended with meditation, with lots of breathing and self-talk. Slowly and steadily a couple of days passed with me focusing on my sensations and emotions.
One day, in the shunyagar (a personal cell of meditation) inside a small pagoda, I became restless in the middle of my meditation practice. I began thinking of my life, my family, my past and future. Shortly after, we were listening to a pravchan (preaching) by Guru S N Goenkaji. In the course of his talks, he often narrates different stories from the Buddha’s life. I am sharing two of them here:
The Buddha is Awake
One of Buddha’s students once asked him,
‘Are you the messiah?’
‘No’ replied the Buddha.
‘Are you a healer?’
‘No.’ answered the Buddha
‘Are you a teacher?’ the student continued
‘No I am not a teacher.’
‘Then who are you?’ asked the irritated student.
‘I am Awake’ replied Buddha.
Be awake, in the here and now. Nurture the company of self.
The Story of Kisagotami
In a village, there was a woman called Kisagotami. After a lot of prayer, she got a son, whom she loved the most. Two years later, the baby passed away due to severe illness. The grieving Kisagotami roamed around the city holding the body of her son, seeking help from everyone to bring his son back to life. A kind man took her to Gautama.
‘Bring me a handful of mustard seeds and I will bring your son to life’ the Buddha said to her and further added, ‘But I have a condition. You must bring seeds only from a house where no death has occurred.’
Kisagotami went from door to door to find mustard seeds from such a house. But some had lost their father, some their sister, and someone else, their mother, and so on. She could not find a single house where no death had occurred. Finally, she went back to Buddha and said, ‘There is death everywhere. The one who has come will go one day.’
Everything is impermanent. All our emotions, feelings, pain, happiness, our life itself! Knowing this, I see that if there are problems, they will go. I just have to wisely accept it, looking at things through a solution focused attitude.
Practicing Meditation, Working on Self and Listening to Stories
The 10 days of silence made me compassionate towards myself. I dedicated my body, mind and soul towards my body, mind and soul. Unknowingly, I drank eight bottles of water every day, and consumed a minimum quantity of food. I provided oxygen to my brain, by breathing mindfully. My soul was at peace by being grateful for everything I had. The answer to the question, of who is whispering from within? That was my own inner me, my truer voice, the truer me, whom I felt I had ignored.
On the last day, during meditation, I asked myself what is the one thing you are grateful for right now? The voice answered promptly, ‘I am breathing. I am alive. And I will be able to achieve my dreams.’
Poonam, is the student of Touching Lives since she was thirteen. Since then till now, doing her Masters in Psychology, she has worked bravely through all challenges. She now works in Touching Lives Media and Publishing wing. Her dream is to be a filmmaker and share inspiring stories of children with the world.