As I was growing up people were continuously telling me I thought too much. “Is it I who thinks too much or is it that others think too little?”- I frequently asked myself and chose to view it as a sign for supremacy. My ideas encapsulated me. My excitement to create and love made my thoughts spiral endlessly in the silence of the late night’s darkness. I burned in flames every night trying to put myself to sleep. In times of pain I drowned in my mind’s ceaseless stream of chattering and the more I fought the voice inside of me, the stronger it grew. I lied in my bed sweating, excruciated by the dominance of my mind over me.
At the age of 18 I started practicing meditation. Or at least I got the intention to do so. A website miraculously found online aspired to teach me how to quiet my mind and offered me to travel to Thailand and partake in a meditation retreat with the same objective. Unsure of the possibility of taming my mind, I let my adventurous Self prevail over my doubtfulness and decided to give it a try.
Listening to the guided meditations offered by Thai Buddhist monks through the online platform, called Peace Revolution, I copied their posture, closed my eyes and waited for the miracle to happen. And, indeed, as I purposefully closed my eyes, some quiet joy entered my body and made it soften. The first couple of minutes were always excitingly pleasing, but I could hardly go any further. Soon my mind would once again get flooded by thoughts: unexpected, unwanted guests who came with the promise to stay for a while, yet refused to leave… As if stabbed with knives, my back hurt because of the posture and I had to move… The short, yet draining battle with my mind left me even more agitated and I inwardly counted the time left before the end of the meditation, unable to focus or relax.
But while meditation itself brought me on the verge of pain, my practice of mindfulness which I viewed as “meditation in action” was thriving. I had long ago held interest in exercising consciousness and learning to be present through various exercises. Leaving home for school in the mornings, for instance, I tried to stay away from daydreaming by picking up a color and counting how many people I would see wearing clothes in this color throughout the day. Moreover, Peace Revolution posed daily questions challenging me to become more mindful of the ways many aspects of my day-to-day life such as clothing, eating habits, quality of social interactions benefit or harm myself and others. Slowly, my restlessness started peeling off as I learned to slow down and breathe.
A couple of months later I flew to Thailand for Peace revolution’s Peace fellowship/meditation retreat. The remote island Ko Yao Noi welcomed 20 of us, young people from around the world excited to follow the ancient “Know Thyself” and embark on a 2-week-journey in stillness. A journey within. Building on the premise that words are not the only way we can communicate and create connectedness, the first day started with a variety of games we played in groups to explore alternative ways of communication. The daily program of the retreat included five 1-hour-guided meditation sessions, conversations with the Buddhist monks, yoga and service. While rather symbolic, our service duties including sweeping of the floors in the meditation rooms let us observe how mindfulness transforms even the smallest “least meaningful” everyday actions into opportunities to enjoy being present and create peace and love through care. The jungle and the palms, forming a tunnel we walked into to reach the small hubs that accommodated us, and which palms I reasonably feared for they were the natural habitat of some of the many kinds of poisonous snakes living in Thailand, made mindfulness a matter of life and death.
In a couple of days I transformed into a sponge- observing and absorbing everything that was within and outside of me, I felt the abundance of live being revealed in everything around me. The need to talk gradually became less and less obvious; I felt my whole being was now illuminating love and light. Despite I strived in any other aspect, my meditations were just as difficult as when I was practicing back home. Reading about meditation and talking about it with people for months had given birth to many expectations and I was subconsciously putting lots of pressure on myself. Yet, I kept on trying.
It was yet another humid afternoon and the island had fallen into silence, exhausted by the heat. We had all gathered for our afternoon meditation and LP John was ready to start his guidance. It all started as it always did: letting go of all tension in the body, greeting the present moment and trying to stay with it, to be with it… I told myself I had nothing to lose, I had nothing to achieve or prove, or aim for. When thoughts arose and started pulling me towards one or another direction, I came back to my center which interestingly didn’t reside in the lower part of my stomach, but pulsated from between my eyes. With my thoughts settled, I stayed still, almost breathless and felt the expansion of the mind, its unfolding and attempting to embrace my whole being full of fears, insecurities, and judgment, and with it- even the whole world. On the bottom of it all rested love waiting to be awakened…
By the time the session finished I felt reluctant to open my eyes. Time had forgotten its existence and I was now floating in a state of bliss I hadn’t known before. As the monk was getting ready to start his presentation on certain aspects of Buddhism and the life of the Buddha, I slowly opened my eyes. Sitting in the lotus position without making a single adjustment, I listened to my teacher attentively, my mind being more awakened than ever.
The feeling stayed with me for the rest of the night and then slowly departed me in my sleep.
The long trip I have embarked on brought me the furthest I had gone- home. Inside.