The New Year’s Eve party across from our campsite continued well into the early hours of the morning and the sounds of the live band and the revelers were intermingled with the chants in the courtyard. This was probably the first New Year celebration I had spent alone and in a quiet manner. I reflected on the relevance of “the party’s over when the music stops” to my condition coming into the camp having lived for all these years in ignorance, reveling in the party of my unaware and indulgent consciousness.
The waning moon had moved further below the North Star in the morning sky. The pagoda bells were chiming more briskly in the background as though with a greater sense of purpose than their leisurely pace from the previous evening. I like the new moon the most of all the other phases with its crisp outline, the slender shape, and the way it curves itself as if in a smile. The setting was like a moon chime playing in the morning sky.
As I sat down for a nourishing breakfast at 6:45 am, I felt my eyes moisten spontaneously and inexplicably. I couldn’t quite tell if these were tears of gratitude and good fortune for finding a better way of life or were from wonderment and shame over the years of ignorant living. I wiped the moisture from my eyes without drawing a lot of attention to myself and stepped out into the garden for my last morning walk at the camp, continuing to look for an explanation for the teary breakfast.
It was soon time to join the other students in the Dhamma Hall for the final group sitting before the noble silence was to be broken in a couple of hours. We had been advised that this sitting would be atypically longer, as we would be learning the final meditative technique called mettā bhāvanā (development of loving kindness), or in Hindi, mangal maitri (friendship towards all living beings).
During this session, I came up with my own logic for why we go into the samādhi (the quiet statue-like state) and are required to keep our eyes shut, hands and feet in position, to meditate. It’s sort of like creating a closed system as an engineer or a physicist might say in order to fully ensure the mind is able to reflect inwardly and not have any external interchanges (input or output) through the body. I had noticed that even my lips would slowly seal shut completely and found it hard to open my mouth when in a deeply meditative mode. Finding my own scientific rationale helped me appreciate the process even more.
I started reflecting on the ten days of intense meditation and how I had practiced something around-the-clock without any previous introduction to it. It reminded me in some way of my time at the Bridge Nationals in which I had participated a year previously in Washington D.C. At such major tournaments you played bridge all day, every day, in back-to-back sessions from morning to night.
Despite the frequency of sessions, you keep going back for more as if you can’t ever have enough of a good thing (though one can argue that card games can have addictive potency!), and your skill at the bridge table improves considerably in an intense week (or more) of near continuous play. You begin to recognize card distribution patterns that can only come from continuous observation and are able to perfect lines of play that you otherwise weren’t fully adept at or naturally and consciously familiar with.
Everyone stretched their legs after the hour-long sitting and swiftly readjusted their postures to get ready for mettā bhāvanā. Goenkaji explained that this meditative technique was also known as punyā vitāranā (or distributing one’s good deeds to others) and began with summarizing a little bit of what each student might have concluded by now.
“In my life, I have become anxious because of my own vikārs (negative emotions) and have come to realize that this is the true cause of my suffering…”
“What’s more, every time I became anxious, I also made everyone else around me anxious, which created a very tense atmosphere around me for others. Essentially, I made myself miserable and made everyone around me miserable as well.”
By this point in the synopsis, tears were streaming down both my eyes uncontrollably and I tried hard to sob silently so as not to disturb other meditators. I now knew why my eyes were moist in the morning. I had begun to realize deep down how I had unknowingly made the lives of many people—my wife, parents, in-laws, sister, friends and colleagues a living hell many times when I was under stress, for which I had misperceived them to be the cause of my anxiety.
I couldn’t help but repent at how I had hurt others in my lifetime through my words and actions. Vivid images were flashing through my mind of how, in anxious moments, I had transmitted the anxiety to others and also magnified my own anxiety level. I also realized that the source of all anxiety lay inside me and had little to do with anything or anyone external!
I gently kept wiping the tears off my face as the overview progressed…
“I now know how to become happy and have tested the benefits of a truly happy life through firsthand experience. I finally know how to break the cycle of painful suffering and misery.”
“And now that I know this, I want everyone else to draw benefit from this process and can’t contain the urge to pass it on to as many people as possible.”
It felt as though every word Goenkaji was uttering was being spoken on my behalf. It couldn’t be truer as at that point I wanted the whole world to hear about my positively beneficial experience. I had been thinking of how to get the word out to as many people who would care to read or listen to my story. Even if only one other person drew a small amount of benefit from a similar experience, I felt my efforts would be worthwhile. How else could I ever repay even a small fraction of the infinite debt that had saved me from further misery and opened the door to true and lasting happiness?