So the year is coming to a close and it really seems like it was just yesterday that I was in exactly the same situation welcoming the year 2008 in and bidding the year 2007 farewell. However, the situations couldn’t be any more different. At this time last year, I had still not committed myself to the spiritual path that I am now on. Nevertheless, the signs of great change in my life were abundant. I spent a little bit of time reflecting on how the year 2007 had affected my life and what the major lessons of that year were. Then, I wrote down a list of resolutions that I intended to take up and execute in 2008. It is fitting for me to take a little bit of time at this moment to do the same thing again in order to see what has changed, what hasn’t, and what still needs to be changed.
I remember that upon reflection, I chose to label the year 2007 as my year of change. That was a year where I first began breaking out of the chrysalis society donned me with and forging for myself the life and aspirations that I believed were most fitting. The year 2008, although also a year of great changes, is more suitably themed my year of spiritual awakening. Of course, my spiritual path is only just started, but it is this very revolution of mind that opened in me my spiritual aspiration that most strongly characterizes this year. I consider myself to have been largely asleep and unconscious in all of the years prior to this one. And the key event which aroused within me the seeker was learning how to meditate. Certainly, one could trace the proper causes all the way back to the big bang if you follow through for long enough, but there is still, in a certain sense, a triggering event. What happened to me in this year was a gradual stumbling around certain areas in which I was extremely interested, namely: neuroscience, hypnosis, and meditation. I was interested in all of these because they all seemed to me to hold the keys to my mind and my consciousness and this was for me the single most mystifying aspect of life. There was a massive gap in the knowledge structure I had assembled. In consciousness I found the greatest contradictions and uncertainties and the biggest questions and concerns. And try as hard as I may, I could not find any answers. I remember first taking up the subject seriously during the final years of high school whereby I decided that it was impossible for science and a purely materialistic examination of the universe to explain something as seemingly immaterial as consciousness. However, the obvious question of “what else?” swirled continuously throughout my mind and I could not, despite my best efforts, abandon the materialistic paradigm without an alternative. Eventually, I switched back to the materialistic understanding and this is where neuroscience came in. I became voraciously interested in neuroscience and I started reading book after book in the desperate effort to attempt to find some way to explain consciousness through science. And this is where I found myself at the start of the year 2008.
Here I gave neuroscience a little break and decided to pursue hypnosis instead. I began practicing self-therapy techniques and began trying to induce hypnotic trances in myself and in friends. I remember being intensely interested in Derren Brown and his seemingly impossible hypnotic tricks. On several occasions, I had very deep experiences where I would settle into a deeply peaceful state and would find myself feeling something like relief for the first time in my life. I felt like this was actually doing something and wasn’t just a suggestible brain falling for predictable cues. I had had my doubts at first but once I started experimenting with it I began to enter deeper and deeper into the hidden world of my mind. I recall one instance where I felt like I was beginning to bridge the gap into my subconscious mind and I believed that I had established, for the first time, contact with the subterranean depths of my psyche. These events continued along and I continued to experiment with them for a while but the real clincher was the discovery of meditation.
This event happened one day as I was randomly surfing the web. I happened to stumble onto a website claiming to teach about meditation. Naturally, I was interested because I felt that this might hold another method for unlocking some of the mysteries that plagued me. I started to focus my meanderings through the internet onto sites relating to meditation and spirituality. I was immediately intrigued. This offered an approach radically unlike anything I had previously encountered to tackling the problems of consciousness. These teachings seemed to encourage the direct apprehension of knowledge on an individual and personal level rather than in an abstract manner that can then be promulgated to other sentient beings. It spoke of the truth as something ineffable, irrational, yet directly tangible. And I was perplexed. I had never been exposed to knowledge of this sort before. My whole life, I had been trained to use my rational brain in the acquisition of knowledge. I had been taught to use logic and science as my tools in my quest for truth. But here was something different. Of course, I was still very skeptical at this point, but my curiosity had been sufficiently tickled. So, I tentatively began attempting meditation through the guidance of Gil Frondsal’s guided meditation series on an introduction to mindfulness. Immediately, I began to wake up from my age-old slumber. Something inside that had been stirring for while was now past the tipping point, and the first fresh revitalizing rays of hope began to shine through. I remember the internal revolution that took place seemed to sweep me off my feet and yet I felt like I had finally discovered what I had always been searching for. It was so sudden and spontaneous but there was not a shred of doubt associated with it. It was so surprising to me how quickly I overturned the tables and committed to the path and even more surprising how sure of it all I was. And today, around nine months later, my commitment is infinitely stronger and growing by the second. I have refined that initial discovery and matured into a genuine spiritual seeker. But it is still shocking to me how fast of a process this has all been. In the first couple of months, I recall having several deep insights per week and it felt like I was going to be enlightened within a few months. Obviously, the incalculable length of this path is evident to me now, but one can glean the elation and optimism that I felt from that premature expectation. I was at last relieved and every exhalation became a sigh of release at finally having found my purpose, my goal, my aspiration in life. I remember thinking that I had found it, the solution to all my problems. This path that I entrusted myself to seemed to resonate harmoniously with something resting at the very core of my being and it seemed to me to be the final method that I required; now, it would just be a matter of time. No longer was I lost in my aimless wanderings. No longer would I need to travel from one phase to the next hoping to find some restful repose. No longer must I be troubled in this life.
This radical upheaval of my life seemed to stretch and encompass all the various areas of my life and there was not a single aspect left untouched by it. One of the main areas that received its influence was my habit of smoking which I quit cold turkey at around this time. The habit of meditating filled in and seemed to replace all the habits in my life that I felt were harmful to me and wished to eliminate. Another change I noticed was the disappearance a noticeable and large chunk of my previous stress and tension. These used to manifest themselves physically as stomachaches and headaches and all sorts of other disturbances but these all seemed to fade away now. Given all these benefits and all this elation it would seem that this tale is too good to be true. And surely enough, it took a couple of months of my spiritual practice for me to encounter my first major obstacles and setbacks which knocked me back to reality and sobered me up for the long journey that awaited me.
During the summer of this year, I consolidated all that I had learned and launched myself into a disciplined spiritual commitment. I can say that it was this summer that transformed me into the spiritual seeker that I am today. I settled into a solitary zone where I rarely interacted with others and had no responsibilities to society. I read many, many books and surrounded myself with spiritual reminders. My daily meditation matured and developed into a steady habit of at least one hour daily sitting. I also began doing walking meditation and I really took the aspiration up to a whole new level. I can safely say that my only concern for the duration of the whole summer was my meditation and cultivating my mindfulness. And it was such a beautiful summer; in fact, I still believe that this was the happiest summer of my life even though I was practically a social recluse. However, towards the end of the summer I travelled with my family to Thailand, and this represented my first major spiritual setback, which I have only just recently fully recovered from. It is strange to say that travelling to Thailand was a setback given that this is a Buddhist country whose atmosphere vibrates with spirituality and whose culture is permeated by Buddhism. However, it was a setback to me because this was my first social interaction of the whole summer. I started drinking again and smoking as well. And I stopped meditating for approximately three weeks. At the end of the trip, I felt utterly stripped of all the elation and optimism that was present at the start of the journey. And it was quite hard to bring myself back onto the path from such a low that I had descended to but once I did, I realized the challenges that lay ahead. This was not going to be an easy path, and it is not enough to simply “commit” to it. There is effort and there is diligence required. Above all, there is discipline required. But these are just the lessons that we learn from life, one way or another.
Another important event that happened this year was my introduction into the world of blogging. I started this blog “sycadel on the path” with the aim of documenting my spiritual path in order to add a level of reflection and to help give me some guidance in the absence of any teacher or master to guide me. I started it a couple of months before travelling to Thailand in the summer and found it to be immediately helpful. It simply added another layer to my spiritual path and an additional place where I could contemplate spiritual matters and concerns and potentially disentangle my confusions through journaling in an honest and genuine fashion.
All in all, it has been a fascinating year, the single most significant year of my life. The events that have transpired this year will leave their marks on me for the rest of my life, and the commitments I have established this year shall remain with me until I draw my last breath of air. In terms of my resolutions, or my intentions for the coming year, the Noble Eightfold path takes care of those for me, delineating right resolve, along with a few others that I have added. My spiritual intentions are to continue the cultivation of this spiritual path by: meditating every day, reading spiritual texts continually, and visiting Buddhist temples and searching for masters. My other intentions concern cultivating my physical health and my mental health by: running regularly, reading regularly, writing regularly, and excelling at my studies at UCL.