I reflected on all the positive benefits that I had drawn with only a week of employing the Vipassana technique and how seismically my mindset and behavioral orientation was tilting in a new and positive direction. I then started to think about what it would be like when I returned to my life as a consultant, with clients and colleagues, and with my friends and family who had all known and experienced me previously in a certain way.
A case in point—I had come to a fairly informed conclusion that I would find it easy to give up alcohol because I had discovered that my preexisting logical basis to consume it to relax the mind was flawed at its core, if I was also to believe that continuous happiness can only be achieved through a highly vigilant and equanimous mind, which runs counter to consuming substances that can overpower or numb the senses. I reckoned most of my family wouldn’t mind my resolve to abstain from drinking, but certain friends, colleagues and clients might find it more than a bit odd and potentially off-putting or anti-social in its appeal.
I certainly didn’t want some of my closest friends to feel less chummy with me because of the lifestyle changes I would adopt when I resumed my regular and active social life. I later concluded that those who truly cared for me wouldn’t distance themselves or sever ties simply because I would be making different choices about how I planned to live my life in the future. I was probably sprouting such thoughts because with my old mindset, I might have considered a close friend to seem less familiar or relatable if they dropped an activity (like drinking) that we had jointly enjoyed in the past and associated with as an essential mark of our friendship. After all, how can you remain “drinking buddies” with someone who no longer drinks?!
Upmā (savory semolina snack) was served for breakfast and I ingested small mouthfuls slowly as I pondered how I would practically integrate what I was learning at the camp into my regular life so that the nascent and recently metamorphosed butterfly of my mind wouldn’t be trapped in a spider’s web on its very first flight. I was hopeful that the rest of the days at the camp would help me find answers to how I would live my new life in the outside world while following the path of Dhamma that I had learned on the inside in a cocooned camp environment.
Dring my post-breakfast morning walk ritual, I reflected further on Goenkaji's analogy of the ten-day meditation camp being similar to a complex medical surgery. The toxic tumor had now been cleanly removed and healthy new cells were beginning to regrow inside the impaired organ, but the external surface incision had yet to be sutured up, and I felt all raw and tender inside. It was important to not allow any unsterilized instruments into the operating room as the chances of infecting the opened-up body were still high.
My post-breakfast walks had become increasingly more energizing as I was more aware of my surroundings and drawing vitality from the sights of the flowers and trees and the chirping sounds of the morning birds. Later in the morning during group meditation, I did six sets of back and forth full body scans in the hour-long session. It computed that the cycle time for each scan should take roughly half the time now that we were covering symmetrical organs simultaneously.
I was eager to speak with the conducting teacher about my queries on sustaining Vipassana and its principles in everyday life and headed up as soon as the short break between the meditation sessions was announced. He told me reassuringly that the next several days (including one of the entire evening discourses) would be dedicated to the practical aspects of meditation after the camp was over, but agreed to take a couple of short questions on the spot.
I started with my predicament about deciding to quit alcohol but maintaining a circle of friends who considered me their (drinking) buddy. He sympathized and shared the example of his neighbor who was a teetotaler and yet a very prolific businessman who had gone so far as to employ a savvy manager specifically to take care of entertaining all his customers so he could maintain his abstinence principle without making these important guests feel out of place or unwelcome by their host who didn’t conform to their social drinking norms.
That said, he told me that it would be okay to consume alcohol in moderation if I really must drink socially. I clarified that it no longer made sense to drink because I had uncovered that alcohol actually leads to the opposite effect than I had intended and expected from it all along. The question was no longer about moderation versus abstention, but about managing the social and business optic of not drinking.
The conducting teacher smiled in acknowledgment as if to convey that I had grasped the essence of the instruction and went on to explain that three types of things would happen over the next few months as I made Vipassana an integral part of my life as it pertained to my social circle.
- I would naturally and gradually convince some of my friends and family to also follow the path of Dhamma and practice Vipassana,
- Some of my current circle of friends would choose to distance themselves because they might experience the feeling “we have lost our friend to some obscure practice,” and
- Some new people would enter my circle of acquaintances and friends who were already familiar with or in the process of learning about the benefits of Vipassana as we would have that as a natural basis for affinity.
A seasoned consultant couldn’t have better summarized the various possibilities in a mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (or MECE) manner. Since I was getting a brief but rich audience with a learned Vipassana practitioner of over 30 years, I quickly layered in another paradoxical question.
I asked that if we shouldn’t have any attachment towards outcomes (as Dhamma legislates), how can we also pursue various business and other life goals with zeal and intensity? He smiled again, this time expressing mentoring affection at my nascent understanding of the deeper concepts. He explained that we must naturally continue to set ambitious targets and strive hard to achieve them, but Vipassana would help develop the equanimity to enable us to remain calm and not become agitated if those targets are not achieved due to unexpected and uncontrollable circumstances. He also stressed the importance of having a noble sense of purpose and aspiration while pursuing one’s chosen goals.
His answers made complete sense strive to achieve lofty and principled goals but in a detached manner so as to avoid over excitement or disappointment based on the actual outcomes. Seeing my look of illumination with his satisfying explanation to my conundrum, he inquired how my meditation practice was going. I told him that I thought it was going well and that I was finally experiencing little to no discomfort or pain during the sittings.
Only a few days before, he had offered me a back support or the use of a chair when I was in complete and utter agony during the initial adhiṭṭhāna sittings. I had politely and gratefully declined, as I had wanted to test the limits of my pain tolerance further and certainly hadn’t wanted to chicken out without giving it my level best. At the time, I had noticed some disabled and elderly people attempting to manage their discomfort without chairs or back support, which had inspired me away from taking the easy way out. I was now glad to report that the pain had gradually subsided and eventually disappeared. His final smile for this short Q&A implied, “I knew it would be so!”