By Halina Kurowska

April 18, 2016

The day is just waking up with the first gentle rays of sun and I’ve already completed two hours of morning meditation and had breakfast. The morning is still somewhat cold and damp, and the path is covered with a fresh dusting of snow. It is very early spring in Canada after all.


At dawn, just a few minutes after seven o’clock, into the woods I go.


As I walk deeper into the forest, it becomes denser and darker. I stray slightly from the path as I approach the ravine to see the creek down below …that’s where the animals are the easiest to spot. Beaver is gathering wood for his feat of engineering; a new dam is being build and the little creek is already wider than it was last year when I was here.


On the trail, I see the footprints of coyote on the pristine white snow, he was here just a moment ago walking the same path. I look down towards the creek and I see him heading into his den. The night is over, time for the creatures of the dark to rest.


On my path I meet another soul puttering around the forest and then another. I begin to realize that in a way, we are all in the forest — the forest of our own mind. Signing up for this meditation retreat is very much like entering the woods, not knowing what to expect, and being ready and willing to encounter whatever will present itself. And, very much like the forest, our mind is a peculiar place, quite often an unknown and uncharted territory.


We came here to this sacred place to have a deep look at our minds and to get to know it well … or at least better. To have a glimpse into the dense, at times dark, recesses of our minds.


Meditation is like walking in the woods of our own psyche, where we get in touch with our own thoughts and feelings: with our fears, our ‘boogey-man’, our perceived inadequacies, and our deeply rooted negativity. We meditate, observing all this without judgement, thus eventually freeing ourselves from the burdens we carry. At least that’s the goal.


We go deep into the dark, scary, and not always pretty or pleasant places, and we are encouraged to face all this and just look and observe without judgement, without aversion, with compassion for ourselves and our own nature.


We are asked to look at our lives without aversion towards the unwanted things that did happen, and the wanted things that did not happen. We are asked to accept it all exactly as it is, to look at our lives with equanimity, and to treat ourselves and other beings with compassion.


However, this journey towards achieving a calm, equanimous, and compassion-filled mind takes us on a long, winding path infused with perils.


The meditation I practice is called Anapana, (I also practice Vipassana meditation but that’s for my other article),  it is about observing one’s breath: ’pure breath,’ ‘bare breath,’ ‘nothing but breath.’ First the observation is about the deeper breaths and then, as ones mind gets more and more quiet and is able to discern the subtle breath, one is advised to observe the subtlest breath for prolonged period of time.


Although this might not be clear at the beginning, there is a purpose and a goal to observing our breath. Through this process we achieve what’s called the purification of our mind. Being aware, alert, attentive, and vigilant about observing our respiration, we achieve an alert and attentive mind. A sharp mind is able to focus on breathing which will eventually lead to awakening and transcendence.


If you are thinking, “oh, big deal, it is just observing the breath,” I suggest you try it for a continuous period of time and you might find out how difficult this simple activity really is.


The first obstacle in this exercise is … can you guess? … my own mind. The moment I settle down on my meditation cushion, the mind starts working — and not in any coherent, sensible way. The thoughts that pop up are the strangest thoughts one can have. And they are jumpy! I look at them puzzled … where is the sense? Why this thought now? What does it even mean? No wonder Buddha called our untrained mind, the monkey mind, jumping from one branch to another. No offence to monkeys, they might be jumping with a purpose, but my mind does not.


I’m told to observe all this with compassion, and gently, lovingly direct my attention to my breath. Observe the breath.


And when I do that, I notice some awesome things I was not aware about that pertain to my breath, even though I’ve been breathing for over fifty years. Like, for example, there is a special spot where the air touches the nostrils when entering it; ‘the touch of the breath’. It is quite an amazing feeling to discover this about yourself. But one has to get very quiet and very attentive to notice that.


That’s why on this meditation course we observe what’s called Noble Silence for ten days. This might seem excessive to some, yet there is a deep wisdom in it. When we get silent like that, for the first two or three days we still carry within us the conversations of the world we just left behind, but by the third day, they start fading away and silence embraces us all more and more.


As my mind gets more and more quiet, the noise and chatter of the world outside depart, the space opens up for beautiful lights dancing in my mind’s eye.


Going deeper and deeper into my own being, with relaxed body, and calm and quiet mind, I reach what Buddha describes as the bangha state, the state of total dissolution. In this state the normal perception of the body as a solid matter is lost and there is no separation between my body and the outside world. I experience myself as a mass of tiny wavelets, bubbles — a mass of kalapas as Buddha described the subatomic particles. Quantum physics describes the Universe as tiny vibrating strings of energy; Buddha came to the same conclusion 2600 years ago, stating that there is no solidity in this world, everything is waves and bubbles, arising and passing away with great rapidity.


All is in a constant flux.


And now, on this meditation cushion, I’m experiencing this. I feel like I have melted, there is no boundary between my body and the world around me. If, for example, someone asked at that moment if my hands are touching, I would not know.


This very insight and awareness of no separation removes fear and expands LOVE. The consciousness expands as it’s free from fear and free to love All.


Taking this experience with me into the world of everyday life allows me to have new understanding, love and compassion for all living beings. All is One. I Am One with everything.


So, we go to and through the woods, until the physical forest and the forest of our minds are bathed in the divine light. I stand in the forest elated by its beauty and I sit on the meditation cushion immersed in Oneness.


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