Life ensures an adventurous experience for one and all. While it has beautiful peaks and mountains, it also has deep valleys. One cannot exist without the other. Without the ups and downs of life won't life be called death? Probably that's why when we are not too happy with life, we tend to say our life is dead or has plateaued!
May be what we really want or need is a state of mental joy...a state of true happiness. I say 'mental joy' instead of happiness because happiness can come with temporary favorable situations that give pleasure.
“Probably then we can become like rivers, flowing as gracefully through the mountains as through the plains and valleys."
For me, when I have the need to balance my mind, nothing works better than either taking a good brisk walk or sitting in meditation.
On one such occasion, I chose to meditate away from the hustle bustle of city life...in the Himalayas. I also chose to live in an ashram so that I could challenge my limits and losen the coating of 'fuss' around me, which I had accumulated because of the usual metropolitan lifestyle.
I headed towards Rishikesh, one of my most favorite destinations and then reached a more peaceful location in the Himalayas...further on. I had visited Rishikesh many times in the past but this was first of its kind trip…a rustic solo journey beyond Rishikesh into the Himalayas.
The journey was unplanned. All I knew was I was going to find some basic place/ashram beyond Rishikesh in the Himalayas and spend some days there. I decided to just pack some basic necessities/clothes so that I could travel as light as possible.
I took my phone with me but decided to use it on airplane mode...only as a camera. That too 'occasionally' as I was not on a leisure holiday or a photography trip after all....and I decided to not talk to anyone back home during the entire trip, even once.
Here's a pic from the Ashram situated on the banks of Ganga I lived out of mostly, during my trip
I spent 8 days traveling and living solo and here is what I learnt...
1. Disconnect to Reconnect
During this solo journey my phone was switched off, I had no access to TV, no contact with anyone or with any other source of usual entertainment and nothing to do apart from meditating, travelling and doing my daily chores. Mind needs something to do and when you take away the day to day distractions and occupations of the mind it needs something else to do... so it starts reflecting!
I found myself invariably on an auto introspection mode. Initially it was a roller coaster ride and not so easy. Because when I started to look within there were a lot of cobwebs, accumulated dust and things lying all jumbled up...as it happens to any house left unattended... but slowly as the introspection continued over 8 days it helped me clean up a lot of cobwebs and sort out a lot of things in my head. The clarity that started emerging made me really happy and at peace with myself. Introspection looks like a huge task and takes time to clean up things but I guess the only way to do the cleaning is to start it!
2. Lesser the Expectation more the Joy
It was very cold and on many occasions I was not able to get warm water for bathing or washing my clothes (Yes, I had to wash my clothes by hand). This made me really experience the joy of bathing and washing with extremely cold water, in an extremely cold weather without cribbing about it. I didn't have a choice, did I? Else it could have been something like shouting at the manager and threatening him about posting bad reviews on social media? :)
When you go on an unplanned journey into an unknown place, expecting nothing, you tend to fuss less and spend each moment more joyfully. As the intention was to explore without expectations, this trip helped me be at peace with everything, whatever came my way. It helped me be more in the moment and enjoy a lot of things I would have otherwise missed....for example the beautiful birds and their chirping, the pleasant sound of the energetic Ganges flowing, the dog that wanted to play with me, the pleasant feeling of the sun-rays on my face, the mesmerizing smell of the mountain breeze, each beautiful individual I met..etc. When we learn to shun expectations or dependence on what happens 'outside' of us, we can discover peace 'within'.
3. When you talk less you tireless
I was constantly on the move, from morning till night. I would participate in hours of tiring cathartic sessions in the ashram, walk a lot, climb up and down the mountains but was still able to get up, fresh every day, at 5 am! Initially I could not understand why I was not getting tired inspite of so much.
I realised why, when one particular day I did feel really tired in the evening despite the regular schedule mentioned. I didn't do any extra work or anything...all I did different this particular day was to indulge myself in discussions with a couple of philosophical Swamis / ascetics :) Therefore I learnt that on other days because I spoke really less, I conserved a lot of energy but on this particular day I not only talked but probably indulged myself in usual argumentative, intellectual, trying to explain, prove or justify my point kind of talk. Really.. unconscious and unnecessary talking takes away a lot of our energy. This day on, during the entire trip...no matter how much I was provoked by several monks I chose to be a novice!
4. Meditation brings joy
I meditated regularly, for hours and I realised that when you are able to silence your mind for some time on a regular basis, you are able to not just hear but also 'quieten' whats going on inside. This helped me find answers to a lot of what was going on, not just in my mind but also in my life. So meditation is slightly different from introspection as you may have guessed as compared to the first point in this article...how? Well while introspection is looking deeply into the nature of things and beginning to sort them out intellectually...meditation brings us answers from the deep silent all-wise space within. Lets take a day to day example...remember instances when you are not able to get a word you want to speak out and for hours you are busy searching for it in your mind?...and then it suddenly pops out when you finally give up looking for it and least expect it to come? So where from and how does that answer come suddenly? I guess out of that silent effortless space within...and then you are relieved...did you notice that ever?
So meditation is a process of quietening even the introspection or thinking.. so that the real life solutions can come from our effortless, all-wise, all powerful consciousness within. Try it..its amazing to get answers like that...sometimes it becomes difficult to imagine that the answer we have been looking for outside... came from within our own selves and are so profound...try it..try meditation. Meditation can bring deep understanding, understanding brings clarity and clarity brings joy!
5. Back home is certainly the best place to test your mindfulness
While it is important to take some time off to learn and deepen your practice of conscious and mindful living... going into the mountains, silence or isolation may not ultimately ensure 'mastery' over the art of being calm and mindful in all situations! I say this because once I was back home, over a period in time, my mind started falling back into the same patterns.
Therefore I learnt that it is important to keep challenging and testing my limits, while practising meditation.. to be able to progress. I learnt that understanding is far from practising the understanding! Unless we can practice equanimity and calm in situations that challenge us in our day to day life, especially at the place of work or at home, we may be fooling ourselves that we have cracked it. Learning to be calm or balanced is a life long journey and not a matter of one off trips into the Mountains.
6. True happiness lies within
I lived a rustic life for 8 days with hardly any comforts or amenities. I slept in a 16 bed dormitory, with broken windows and a broken door, which made the room extremely windy and cold especially during nights. It was nearly December and in this part of the country, the temperature starts falling below 10 degree celsius. So I would pack myself up under a heavy old & tattered quilt that was available, to save myself from the chilly winds. I had company of unknown rustic people with me in the dormitory and many of them would snore like lions roaring! Dogs would come with their sand socked feet and sit on my mattress during the day when I was away.... but inspite of all this, the joy I experienced within is unexplainable. In fact I felt a lot of gratitude for the tattered quilt and the bed.
Living like this taught me that if I am prepared to accept what is...just the way it is, it will definitely let me be at peace with myself. This also made me appreciate small joys of life, back home and to balance my reactions to the frequent ups and downs of life.
7. Absence of something makes you appreciate it
When I returned home...it was with a new found awareness and gratitude for what I have at home. While I did find living the way ascetics live very meaningful and full of learnings.. I was also led into understanding and observing the other aspect of their life during these eight days as well, which surprised me. I observed that many monks, I met were not very content with their life, which was quite contrary to my key learnings during the trip. I realized that neither were they travelling like me "by choice” nor were they on a one off explorative journey like me. Upon close observation and discussion, I realized that some of them were really depressed and lonely because they had no comforts of home, had no friends or loving family to fall back upon. Also the very fact that they were not occupied made them more lonely and resort to all kinds of intoxications.
This trip made me really understand the importance of the home and the loving family that I have been blessed with. So while I enjoyed each moment and also learnt a lot from this humble living, I realised that it was primarily because of the contrast that it presented and the very fact that I knew I had a home to go back to. :) I silently thanked my son and my wife for the unconditional love and attention they always shower on me. I realized how grateful I was for all the privileges back home ... including the most important one... of cribbing and fussing over small things, no end. :)
8. Kindness and acceptance are the end result
Most of the interactions during my journey with various people were open and friendly. The monks were so eager to help and listen to my stories. Though I had decided to not talk much, some of them always grabbed the opportunity to vent out their feelings and tell their lost stories. They would eagerly also lend an enthusiastic ear to what I had to say. Over all there was an environment of unconditional love and camaraderie between all of us. I was amazed at how these people were so non-judgmental and loving.
Two key reasons I realized for this were 1. We didn't know each other too well to judge one another...nor did we have any apprehension of being judged ourselves. 2.There was nothing to lose. e.g. position, image, reputation etc. I noticed that when you meet people whom you don't know.. you tend to judge less.. listen and accept them more just the way they are. As you do not judge them too much by default, you are also mostly accepted just the way you are, by them. You can then allow others to express..as well as open up and express yourself without any apprehension. I feel this is real kindness!... to accept others just the way they are, for who they are...not as per our own conditioning or preconceived notions!! When we understand this, ironically we also truly begin to accept ourselves just the way we are!! The other way round is also true. World is a mix of polarities, without one the other cannot exist. If you cannot love and accept yourself..you may always judge others also sharply and will not be able to accept them unconditionally!
Therefore I learnt that no matter how much time you spend on various self development or spiritual work, if you loose it often with your family members because you think they are not as conscious, kind or understanding as you are, if you still shout at the guy who took the wrong turn on the road, if you still complain relentlessly about how things should actually be, if you still hate the guy in your office who out of insecurity always cuts you in meetings or puts you down, if you still become very uneasy with people who are in-genuine, lazy, unauthentic and dishonest... because you think you are not.... and above all, if you still cannot forgive yourself for getting angry, mad, insecure, hateful or for being the way you have been with yourself and others....its time to start loving your own self first...its time to introspect...its time to meditate and go within to your coach, mentor and guide..YOUR OWN BEAUTIFUL SELF!!...no matter where you live….in the city or in the mountains.
May All Beings Be Happy!!
Here's my other article "One Must Know When & How To Rest"! in which there is a quick step by step meditation technique as well, for you to learn and start practicing whenever & wherever you are.