How often have you experienced your laptop fan speeding up and becoming a constant background hum as the gadget eventually overheats? The first thing we do is often check the task manager to see if any unnecessary processes may be terminated. If that doesn’t work, we can always resort to powering down and restarting the device, or utilise the disc defragmenter to ensure that space is being allocated efficiently. If the issue remains after these measures, it’s possible that the device has been infected by a virus or other harmful software, at which point we’ll have to resort to drastic measures like formatting the disc or even a “Factory Reset” to wipe it clean.
What if this is happening in our own lives? What if we are feeling tired and worn out, our feelings are running high, and the fan is going full blast to cool us down? How do we decide which processes in our task manager to end and which ones to keep running? How do we figure out which processes use the most CPU, memory, and disc space within our body? How do we know if our operating system, our culture, has not been exposed to bad software, i.e. if we’re with people or things that aren’t good for us? The way we started this journey and set up our cultural compass, is it still showing the true north? Are we becoming more like institutions and living in a culture we didn’t believe in before?
Where is our nuclear option to help us get back to the original factory setting, i.e. setting us back to our original and natural self?
I have been trying to find answers to some of these questions, and this blog shares some of my learnings and experiences.
After taking an introductory meditation course in October 2022, mentioned in my blog The Pursuit of Happiness, I took the conscious decision to meditate daily. This was to find out if the wonderful feelings I got from my first meditation session were just one-off or if they would be long lasting. I was becoming more comfortable with the daily meditation for past four months and the positive impact, and so I signed up for an Advanced Meditation Course, organised by the Art of Living Foundation.
This is where I found the factory reset button.
We live in a digital age, so we expect a digital experience with one screen and one click, like a “Google Search” interface, that gives us access to everything we need, such as a world-wide web search, Google Photos, Google Calculator, etc. Silence is that single point, one-click, interface to the self that gives you access to shutdown/restart, disc defragmenter, system optimisation, removing unused programmes, reclaiming and fixing the bad sector storage and memory, and resetting yourself to factory settings.
I realised in the course that silence in words, in actions and in thoughts, is that answer that can help cleanse our mental system.
With over 12 to 15 hours of meditation each day for three days, the online course was fairly demanding. There were breaks in-between, but they were useless to me because of the 5.5-hour time difference between the UK and India. For example, after the lunch break in India, there was a rest period, but it did not help me because it was 9:30 am in the UK. In a way, this was to my advantage because the course used to stop at 8 p.m. IST, when it was only 14:30 p.m. GMT in the UK. This gave me more time to reflect on my life and spend time with myself because it was too early to go to bed.
The main activity of the advanced course was three days of silence. So, what exactly is silence, what exactly is meditation, and why was silence associated with the advanced meditation course?
It should be noted that while maintaining silence was a predefined rule, learning how to maintain silence was not the course’s goal. The course taught students how to let go of things, people, emotions, and their unnatural selves. The course’s main theme was to make one believe that he or she is nothing and thus let things go.
The brilliance of the teacher or guru makes it appear simple and easy to accomplish, even though it is actually difficult. Once one lives the following two steps, the letting-go state follows naturally.
- The first step is to make ourselves feel hollow and empty, this is to make us realise that we cannot hold on to anything even if we want to
- At the second step, we learn to give up control and rely on a higher power to guide our life, i.e. surrendering yourself
Letting-go is the destination, the above two are the roads that takes us to the journey to that goal.
The realisation that we are all essentially hollow and empty has many positive outcomes: (1) we become more open to novel experiences; (2) we are less likely to hold prejudices towards others; and (3) we are able to reject the idea of living in a hierarchical society, in which one group is superior to another.
The challenges/problems we face in life can be categorised into three broad categories:
- Most difficulties can be classified as temporary. There’s no need for us to stress too much about them because they’re only temporary.
- Then there are problems that won’t go away any time soon, they are of permanent nature. We might as well just accept them as inevitable and go on; there’s nothing we can do about them.
- Some of these difficulties, whether they are short-term or long-term, worry us and give us something to think about. Surrendering to a greater power, a supreme energy, a god or a guru, boosts our confidence in our abilities, provides us strength to face adversity, and brings out our best.
When we accept that we will be taken care of no matter what happens, our outlook improves and we become more willing to take chances, and learn to live in peace.
The Energy Centres ⚡
Before we discuss further the link between meditation, silence, feeling empty and surrender, it is important to know about the energy centres within our body.
If you could feel the feelings in our throats, you’d know that when we’re overwhelmed with joy or sorrow, our throats are the first place we go to express them. Feelings of love or pain cause a heaviness in the chest area, while anger causes a similar sensation to settle on the forehead. Why? This is due to the fact that our seven chakras (or energy centres) each supply a unique form of energy, such as love at the chakra located near the heart, gratitude and grief at the chakra located in the throat, anger at the chakra located in the space between the eyebrows, and so on. There are 108 chakras in total (with the 109th located directly above the crown of the head), but the seven major ones are the ones that really matter.
Those who are filled with hatred are simply suffering from an imbalance of energy in their heart chakra. Ones having anger issues are due to lack of positive energy for the chakra in between the eyebrows that gives access to knowledge, awareness or alertness.
Hence, it is important that these energy centres are balanced properly and are in healthy state. The idea is to remove any blockages and increase the energy within these energy centres, so that we can live with positive emotions.
This is when focusing on your breath and meditation might help. Meditation strengthens, expands, and restores the equilibrium of these energy centres. Those who meditate regularly are seen as more loving and calm by those around them.
There are subtle but significant differences between Eastern and Western meditation practises. When practising meditation in the West, one just enters a meditative state without any preparatory breathing exercises, but in the East, this is not the case. When practising eastern meditation, Prānāyam or breathing exercise is important, one breathes in Prān (= energy), then relaxes as one breathes out, eventually entering a state of emptiness.
With the increase in energy levels of these centres, the negativity and bad emotions gradually dies down. As darkness is nothing more than the absence of light, hatred is the absence of love. As the energy level of the chakra associated with love energy rises, hatred fades.
Throughout the course, the teacher emphasised that meditation should be effortless, subtle, and simple in nature. Meditation is not about focusing on an object, a phrase (Aum), a thought, or avoiding thoughts; rather, it is about elevating oneself to a podium from which to observe thoughts as they pass. It is the restoration of calm and relaxation of the body in such a way that there is no one else but you, and positioning yourself as nothing. This is accomplished through guided meditation in the company of an accomplished teacher/guru.
The Silence Rule 📜
Everything we do has either benefits or trade-offs. When we choose a path to gain or benefit, we should be aware of what we have chosen to forego as a trade-off.
Silence highlights the biggest trade-off of our life. We devote time to everyone but fail to devote time to ourselves. Being alone, away from family, friends, work, and digital devices, forces us to converse with ourselves. Solitude brings one closer to the true self, which is free from ego (ego = unnatural self). We are taught from childhood to work hard in order to develop our personalities. Personality is how others perceive us in various situations, and it can be far from reality. The word is derived from the latin root word persona, which means a mask or a literary character who represents the author’s voice. Do we want to live our lives as defined by others, or do we want to decide for ourselves what good looks like for us? Silence and solitude begin to peel away the outer layers, allowing one to see the true nature of the being.
Once I began to connect with or see my natural self, it started to become clear to me that the titles we hold, such as “Principal Enterprise Architect,” etc., do not reflect my true self and only hinder my ability to integrate and live in harmony with the universe and others. In effect, meditation leads to silence, and silence leads to our natural self, which eventually leads to the realisation that we are nothing more than a part of the universe, the supreme energy.
It gets even better: we realise we are the universe, just as the seed comes from the tree, and the tree comes from the seed.
Other learnings 🎓
The teacher taught many other things e.g., the amazing principles of Art of Living. These principles help us to not judge others, and also not allow others to judge us. The principles teach us to avoid judging situations and to accept life as it comes, to live in the present moment.
The course participants pretended to be eight-year-olds and drew a few pictures with crayons, giving us the impression that we were as innocent as children and free of the baggage of titles and names.
I loved the five S’s that were taught during the course,
- Nothing is possible without hard work and perseverance. It is critical to perform the Sādhanā, which entails working hard towards a goal and giving everything to achieve it.
- Serving without expecting anything in return, to the community, humanity, or the universe, is the real service or Sevā. The best Sevā is to share knowledge and teach.
- One of the most important things is to be in the company of right things, right people and right knowledge, which is known as Satsang
- To attain knowledge it is important to reconnect to the supreme energy and this is only possible via Silence
- We all need a mentor or a guide that shows us the true path, whether it is a spiritual journey or professional. Without surrendering under a Sadguru, a compassionate mentor, it is not possible to find our way to success. It does not matter who we believe in, but surrendering ourselves is important.
The course also taught about the four pillars of knowledge i.e., viveka, vairagya, Shatt-Sampatti and Mumukshatva, and the six real wealths, kshamā, dama, shraddhā, titikshā, uparati and samādhān, more detailed information can be found here.
One should follow a daily routine of yoga (Padma Sādhanā), PrāNāyam and meditation (Sudarshan Kriya) to cleanse the subtle body (non-physical aspect of the body for mental well-being), along with the routine physical exercises to improve the health of the gross (physical) body.
The last four months have been transformational for me. I have written quite a few blogs and have also managed to write poetries in Gujarati language, possibly this can be attributed to the increase in creativity due to the increase in energy level of the 2nd chakra or cleansing of overall nervous system, nādi shuddhi. I feel calmer inside and more at peace with myself. This allows me to take on new challenges in life without fear of failure.
During the course, I experienced silence firsthand. While it was difficult, I feel great and my breathing has greatly improved. It may be early days, but I promise to make it a habit and return in a few days to share my experience if the techniques taught in the course and tools provided make a difference in my life.
I should also mention what the teacher said at the end. The person who completes the course gains tremendous energy and can request for anyone to be blessed. I have requested that each of you and your families be blessed.
As the course’s instructor, Dr. Divya Kailash, put it, divinity = love. Please pray for me to continue on this path of divinity, i.e. love. My actual journey begins now.