My experiments with meditation

I signed up for a mindfulness course earlier this year with my town’s community ed program.  It was taught by an ex-Buddhist monk.  I had read up a little on the theory by Thich Nhat Hanh and Henepola Gunaratna.  I figured I would benefit from some practical advice.  The class while it lasted was informative and helpful and I continued the practice until I made a trip home to India at which point I discontinued the practice.  I’ve noticed that my sporadic attempts at dieting or exercise also meet their untimely end when I make a trip home. It is ironic considering meditative practices hold such a prominent place in Indian culture and mythology.

I grew up reading Amar Chitra Kathas – Indian mythology narrated in the form of comics.  An underlying theme through many of these stories is of sages or rishis who meditated for years often assuming convoluted yogic poses.  The power they accumulated could affect natural phenomena and the natural order of the universe finally resulting in one of the principal deities granting the meditator a boon of his or her choosing.  Not all meditators had the good of the world in mind and usually, when the boon involved superhuman or supernatural power, absolute power would invariably corrupt absolutely.  It was then that Vishnu would assume one of his avatars to rid the world of its scourge.  Naturally, the rest of the gods would want to preempt the efforts of these meditators.  They would send in their weapon of choice, one of the celestial nymphs – Urvashi, Rambha or Menaka to dance before the meditator, thus breaking his concentration.  As an eight-year-old, I could not quite grasp what attractions these nymphs (curvaceous as they were in the illustrations) held for the meditators – given that they could gain some cool superhuman powers if they could just resist opening their eyes and viewing the dance.

I was about eight when I chanced upon a book on Swami Vivekananda at home.  It chronicled his life from his birth to the point he attained his samadhi.  Apparently, the young Vivekananda was a meditator and this was someone much closer in time than the ancient rishis of yore.  So it was on a Sunday afternoon that I decided that the time had come for me to meditate and gain some superhuman powers.  I had a Hindi test coming up and I needed all the help I could get.  My dad was taking his afternoon nap, my brother had gone out to play and my mother was in the kitchen.  I went in and announced to her that I was hereby renouncing all material belongings and I was going to meditate.  I was not to be disturbed.  The handbook on motherhood probably prepares mothers for such exigencies and she assured me that I would not be disturbed.

I needed the ideal place to meditate along with the accessories. I remembered that just the previous year, I had accompanied my dad to Shivbala yogi’s ashram in Bannerghatta.  Besides his hypnotic eyes, I was struck by the number of tiger skins strewn around.  I decided that I needed one. After looking around,  I settled on my dad’s old vest that he used to clean his scooter.  There were sufficient stains on it and I convinced myself that it would do for a tiger skin. I spread it out carefully in the center of the living room, sat down, crossed my legs and closed my eyes and waited.  It was a bit of an anti-climax. The comics never mentioned the techniques of meditation.  It must have been a fidgety five minutes (an eternity to a young boy) when the aromas wafted in from the kitchen.  My mother was baking a sponge cake!  I was so taken up with my plan to meditate, that I had failed to notice her preparations while I was in the kitchen.  As I debated what to do next, in a stunning moment of clarity, no doubt brought upon by my meditative practice, I realized that a cake baking in the oven meant that a bowl and spatula with some residue of cake batter was waiting on the kitchen table.  Any delay would see it join the ranks of waiting vessels in the kitchen sink.  I made it to the kitchen in record time and my mother looked at me as if to say – I knew you would be here any moment.  She handed me the bowl and spatula and I happily licked the batter.  Young yogis are immune to the dangers posed by salmonella.  Now that I look back, the sponge cake was my Menaka and the gods in the form of my mother were indeed very wise!

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