Experiences in Meditation

There’s a lot of things I want to write about, but I fear that I’m running out of time. I’m always spending my time learning, reading and working on projects. I haven’t really spent time on myself in so long. I have like 50 blog topics piled up that I want to write about and I’m worried that if I don’t write them now, I’ll never get to. They’re all like 5,000 word articles – that’s like fucking 250,000 words I need to write. I’ve been dreaming deeply for so long now. There’s so much still buried within me that’s never made it out. I’m not sure, but I feel like some of what was within me has made a pretty big difference in the world.

So I’ve spent some time meditating. Not a lot and not enough, that’s for sure. But enough to have experienced some amazing things I can’t explain. I sincerely believe that most believe float through life without any experiences like these. In our world it’s very hard to truly relax. There’s always something to think about and stress over or meaningless new information to consume, which leads our minds to being chaotic and hard to quiet. Monkey Mind is the the Buddhist term for this. And if someone does have an meditative experience like these, they aren’t aware of what it is because they aren’t intentionally working towards conditioning their mind.

My Introduction to Buddhism in High School

Since high school I’d always been interested in Buddhism. Mr. Oliver, my IB History I teacher, was the first to focus my attention on it. As a teacher, he couldn’t really explain much. One concept he mentioned that intrigued me at the time was that of a Bodhisattva - a powerful being of compassion leads others to lead others further. That was how he explained it. A Bodhisattva, in particular the Shepherd Bodhisattva, eschews buddhahood and vows to stay behind to plant the seeds of enlightment for as many others as possible.

So Buddhism seemed very interesting to me. In high school and early college, I tried to seek it out online, but didn’t really understand how to “be a Buddhist.” I thought to be a member of a religion, you would have to go to their place of worship and partake in their rituals. Once a week, like Christianity. And because I didn’t know any Buddhists at the time, I didn’t know where to start or who to ask. I didn’t understand the tools I found and articles I read online, so I quickly gave up.

At the time, I didn’t understand that studying Buddhism has a lot more to do with studying yourself than partaking in rituals and reading verses from a religious book. That said, there is significant purpose and meaning in Buddhist rituals of all three vehicles, but they are like tools that help evoke understanding of the world and our relation to others in it. The sutras are also powerful tools to help you understand important concepts. But every Buddhist I’ve studied from has directed me to meditation first. For the most part, they didn’t mention their religious texts.

Meditation in Virginia Beach

So, while I was living in Virginia Beach in 2011, I had another sudden inspiration to learn more about Buddhism. I’m not sure what it was. I found a meditation group on Meetup.com and I wanted to check it out. The first time I went was the first time I had truly meditated. I had tried before of course, but I focused to much on the technique of body postures and hand positions. I didn’t understand that meditation has moreso to do with getting your mind in the correct position than your body. When I meditate today, I tend to do better if I lay down, which isn’t really “correct” per se.

The meditation group met in an old ferry boat that had been relocated to a park in Norfolk, VA. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is very symbolic. Of the three types of Bodhisattva, the second is the boatman, who strives to achieve enlightenment along with all other beings. They are like a ferryman, who helps you cross a river you couldn’t cross yourself. So, I wouldn’t realize until later how the ferry boat we met in was symbolic.

On the first meeting I attended, I told the teacher what I knew about meditation. He advised me more on the mental technique that is necessary for cultivating the right mindset. He was was good at listening to what I said to understand how I thought, as well as articulating what I didn’t know yet and should focus on next. He stress that I shouldn’t actively “try” to attain a particular mindstate. That instead, I should relax and try to quiet my mind. If thoughts arose, I should attend to them only passively. Observe them, but not actively react to them.

Towards the end of our first meditation session, I had an interesting experience. We were sitting in chairs around a table. I had released the tension from my body and quieted my mind. I didn’t know what to expect, so I wasn’t expecting anything. Suddenly, a vision arose that seemed to come from outside myself. I saw a man and woman holding hands. I was looking from behind them and far in front of them, the sun was setting, but brightly piercing through. I didn’t consciously think to conjure this picture, which was very symbolic of compassion. It was very visual and just happened to pop into my awareness.

This lasted about a second before I actively started trying to comprehend what I saw. When it happened I lost the balance of my upper body a bit because I hadn’t been consiously focusing on maintaining it. When I did, I instantly fell out of meditation and quietly gasped for breath like I had just woken up from a dream – I definitely had not fallen asleep though. It felt like I had literally woken up. Both actively trying to comprehend what I was seeing and focusing on regaining my balance after I lost it out of surprise knocked me out of that mindstate.

I went to the meditation group once or twice more. The experience I had intrigued me, especially how it seemed to come from outside myself. I wanted to know if I could do it again and go further, or if it was just a figment of my imagination. Unfortunately, the mostly unconscious expectation of getting this to happen again seemed to prevent me from stilling my mind into a passive state. I was “trying” too hard, which I’ve learned will prevent my mind from entering certain states. However, this one experience has stuck with me.

Learning More About Buddhism

In the next two years, I occasionally spent time learning about Buddhism. I watched videos of the Dalai Lama speaking and read a few of his books. I was inspired by his message of compassion. In particular, I learned that I could observe my own thought processes and, in doing so, I could remove the negative and strengthen the positive. Instead of stressing about something that had happened to me or something negative that had been done to me, I could shift my perspective and focus on the positive. Even if I didn’t have control over certain things, I didn’t have to let them affect me. Some of these cognitive tools that I acquired from Buddhism have helped me greatly.

However, it takes a huge amount of self-control and discipline to maintain habits like these when you’re tested by abnormally negative events in your life. I’m by no means a great example. I can stay level and balanced when confronted with minor setbacks. Even shrugging off some major ones. But, in some particular episodes, I fell off and sacrificed my inner peace. So, it’s not easy.

“Yeh, I tried Buddhism once. But it was a little too much.”

Someone I met once said that to me. And I didn’t quite understand what he meant at the time, but now I do. Fortunately, he said it in such a way that didn’t discourage me from pursuing it myself and gaining insights that would help me out.

What he meant though is that Buddhism necessitates compassion towards those around you. Compassion of people around requires awareness and mindfulness. To practice this well, your mind needs to process a lot more information than it would if you were just selfishly thinking about yourself. You need to think about how your words and actions affect others, both now and in the future. You have to pay attention to how others interact and be mindful of their mistakes, but not judgemental. You have to be incredibly creative in responding to negative situations. And when you make mistakes, you actually have to care.

For me, this is actually great because I was fairly selfish growing up. It was harder than normal for me to be aware of others. So learning about Buddhism actually opened up the world for me and allowed me to be more empathetic. It explained certain things to me in a way that I could understand and allowed me to make certain insights that have been invaluable.

In particular, it underscored the Golden Rule: if we are all one, then treat others as though you literally are them.

Meditation on Boulder Creek

So while I was living in Boulder, the insights I had made with Buddhism paid off in spades. I would not have been able to tolerate the level of BS in my life otherwise.

In Boulder, early in June 2013, I was working out of Boulder Fuse, this great coworking space right beside the Boulder Creek. It was in an amazing location right beside Central Park. I would occasionally take breaks and meditate beside the creek. I had found this artist Maneesh de Moor, who uses Indian rhythms, Sitar and sanskrit in his music. Pretty heady stuff. Though it’s probably best to practice without music, I found that I enjoyed meditating with this music. The artist used phrasing, progressions and rhythms that made it difficult for my conscious mind to latch onto patterns in the music. The songs are all very laid back and mellow.

Anyways, I had been meditating for awhile, listening to this music on my Sennheiser Momentum headphones, which are superb by the way. You can hear everything, which also made this artist’s music stand out. I had a few visual meditative experiences by this time, especially that summer. By this time, I understood that I should only witness what I am experiencing and not try to reflect on it as it’s happening. Doing so would knock me out of the experience every time.

I’m meditating laying down by the creek. It’s important to note that I’m not asleep and dreaming when I’m meditating. I start noticing some visual phenomena springing from my subconscious. And suddenly this girl starts dancing around me. She has blue skin and she’s naked, like a Hindi goddess or a depiction of a dark bodhisattva from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It’s as if she’s trying to tempt my consciousness to focus towards her and either get me to fall out of meditation or to resist and strengthen my abilities.

After what seemed like a few seconds, I became so interested with what I was seeing that I couldn’t resist. And no, it’s not because she was naked. I didn’t become distracted out of desire. I was happy that I was experiencing something like this and so I started looking around as she was circling me. It was as if I was moving my head to look around, but obviously I was laying still. Shortly after I started interacting with her, I fell out. This is another experience that stuck with me.

One thing I’ve noticed when successfully getting into mindstates like this is that time seems to pass very quickly. Sometimes, I meditate and nothing happens. Other times, experiences like this stream for a while. After it happens, I’ve noticed that a lot more time has passed than I realize, sometimes thirty minutes and sometimes over ninety when it seems like fifteen minutes.

Meditation at Mipham Shedra

Another experience in Boulder occured at Mipham Shedra, which is a Vajrayana Buddhist Meditation Center founded by Guru Lhoppon Rinpoche. This was a directed group meditation and Rinpoche asked us to focus on our own awareness. As we started, he explained it as visualizing ourselves looking back at our own thoughts. I took this a step further and wanted to visualize myself looking back at my thoughts of looking back at my thoughts. I found if I took this another step further again and again, it would form a spiral pattern. If each point in the spiral began growing at a constant rate, you’d end up with something resembling a lotus flower. The pedals of a lotus spiral outward as it blooms, so I made a connection here.

We began meditating and instead of quieting my mind, I began focusing on this concept of recursively looking back at my own awareness and visualizing it as a spiral, then a lotus. Visualizing this was different than the other experiences I’ve mentioned because it very clearly came from within myself. I meditated on what it would mean to be aware of my thoughts and cognitive processes. And then what it would mean, conceptually, if I recursively expanded on this. I began visualizing the spiral and eventually the lotus.

When we finished, the first question Rinpoche asked was “Who saw the lotus?” Immediately, my hand shot up. I’m not really sure if there’s a correlation between this thought process and the symbol of the lotus, but that’s what I started visualizing as I expanded my awareness. Because of all the stress in my life at that time, I only went to Mipham Shedra once.

I’ve got a few other meditative experiences to share and I’ll write those up soon.