Reflections on 2010

Well well well, another year has come to its end and so it is again time to take a step back and look at my life from a distance in order to recap what has happened during this year and what the overarching theme of it has been. 2007 was the year of upheaval and change, 2008 of the birth of spirituality, and 2009 of the overcoming of hard-heartedness towards people and society. What oh what shall we label this year that we stand together at the threshold waving goodbye to? Interesting and amazing things have happened to me in 2010, but aside from these rarities it does seem from my current vantage point to have been a mostly uneventful year. Of course the actual interesting and amazing things were very much actually interesting and amazing, but they constitute the minority with respect the year as a whole. So, where to begin?

The year was kicked off with the completion of my last term at UCL, which concluded the fourth and final year of my degree program. This was a time of many challenges and tremendous work ethic. My trusty routine of the previous several years was helpful and still in use: working during the day, every day including weekends, and relaxing and smoking up during the evening, every evening. This was helpful in that it provided the impetus to do the work that was required of me for my university education, but harmful in that it resulted in a negligence towards my spiritual duties, namely meditation. Although I did not give up completely on it, my discipline and motivation to continue to meditate each and every day began to fade slowly as the days passed by. Also, this lifestyle left me almost completely without a social life, with the exception of the occasional rare visit by Seto and random socializing with classmates at university. This anti-social attitude was motivated to some extent by my desire to be alone for the majority of my time, but also by my desire not to drink alcohol, an activity which a social life seemed to entail, sadly enough.

During this period of time, the first quarter of 2010, that is, I became heavily involved in the world of philosophy, and specifically Schopenhauer’s philosophy. I read most of his works and dedicated large amounts of time to thinking these through critically and writing about them in an effort to incorporate them into my own belief system and internalize them. This entry into the world of philosophy was exhilarating for me as it was the first time that I had actually been able to comprehend its value and understand it sufficiently enough to engage in it. And Schopenhauer, my educator, was instrumental in fostering this. The more I thought about his work, the more I recognized the stamp of truth in it and its concordance, at least in general, with the philosophies of Buddhism. As I delved deeper and deeper into the world of rational thinking and concepts, I began to re-engage with that most intractable of problems, that of free will. I began to see the impossibility of free will as we normally imagine it to be and that we believe ourselves to possess. This led me to the realization that the flow of life as a whole carries us with it wherever it goes and that nothing is actually under our control. I began to understand that what was required of us was to acquiesce to the flow and to go with it acceptingly and peacefully. Struggling against this flow began to appear to me to be the cause of my troubles and so I concentrated my efforts on learning to be at peace with whatever the circumstances of my life happened to be. This was foreshadowed by the resolution that I had set for myself at the end of the previous year which was to try and cultivate an acceptance of every single event and situation. It proved to be prescient resolution as many of the events of 2010 resonate with this lesson. This is why I think that the overarching theme of this year has been acceptance and its maturation into equanimity, which happened in June during my second Goenka retreat which I will talk about shortly.

Another notable development during the beginning chapters of this year was my acceptance (of a different kind) into UCLA and rejection from Stanford, UCB, and UCSD. When this happened, I realized that I was going to be moving to Los Angeles and beginning a PhD program in autumn. However, my mentality was in flux and my priorities were suddenly clarified at some point when I decided that I did not want to pursue stem cell research or anything related to biochemical engineering, in fact, due to my disillusionment with the commercialization and profit-seeking ethos in the field. I became uneasy at the prospect of manipulating life and lower organisms for the benefit of humans, as though we were above all of the rest of nature. For this reason I decided that I would pursue my doctorate in the field of neuroengineering which was offered as an option within the broad program that I had been accepted into. This was an opportunity for me to study neuroscience, which I have been interested in for a long time, and to pursue research into the extraordinary mystery of consciousness. Such a radical departure from my background in biochemical engineering worried me, however, and I was anxious about being unable to succeed in an advanced degree that I had very little prior training in. But I was adamant that my fierce interest in the subject and curiosity about it were sufficient to ensure that I would be motivated enough to do the work required and eventually complete the degree successfully.

As my UCL degree was nearing its completion and the seasons were turning, I planned to do another Goenka retreat in June before leaving London for good. It was during this experience that I received the most potent lesson of the year. On the whole, this retreat was a huge leap forward for me in my spiritual development and discipline. I was able to sit for far longer periods than I had during my previous one, and in general felt like my practice was deepening and that it had been deepening all while during the intervening time between the two retreats. As the retreat progressed, there came a time when I suddenly penetrated into a field of pure equanimity. This came at the climax of the pains and discomforts that I feel after sitting for long hours meditating when I suddenly and abruptly gave up on the whole intentional approach of desiring pleasure and comfort and running away from pain and discomfort. With my mind balanced and equanimous, I remember distinctly feeling that I would be able to remain in the same position no matter how intense the pain got and for an indefinite period of time. It felt like I had made a crucial dissociation from the reacting mind that creates all its own suffering for itself. Sometimes, after sitting for a entire hour without moving in the slightest, the gong would ring signaling the end of the meditation hour and I would remain affixed to my spot without moving for a little while longer, whereas without this equanimity I would be desperately awaiting that sound and would upon hearing it immediately relax my legs and get up from my spot to nurse my aching body. However, this equanimity would inevitably always fade away eventually which showed me that it was a skill that needed much cultivation in order to become a constant state of mind. But crucially, the birth of this field within me represents a major milestone along my path and the maturation of my previous purely intellectual understanding of ‘acceptance’ into the experiential knowledge of ‘equanimity’.

Another notable fact about this retreat which was arguably even more potent than the one just described was my crossing paths once more with a deaf girl that I had seen exactly one year earlier at a hostel in Cardiff while travelling around the UK. Then, I had felt something extraordinary about her, as though she was surrounded by an invisible spiritual aura, and she had the most remarkable and strong effects on me which included regular crying and electricity flowing through my spine. And I felt sure that our paths would cross again because I was aware of some ineffable connection between us. But I was astounded to find that I was right and that it would happen exactly one year later, and at a meditation retreat. Upon seeing her there, I was sent into an excruciating turmoil of uncertainty and indecision about whether I should approach her or not. The potent lesson I learned from this experience was what I called at the time ‘self-effacement’. When I finally gave up on my desire to make contact with her and act on the opportunity that the enormous coincidence had presented me with, I finally settled into a new zone of renunciation and self-denial. This remarkable occurrence had a huge emotional effect on me as well and remains seared into my memory and continues to evoke bodily tremors and tears and electricity every time it is recalled. It was one coincidence too many and resulted in a firm and deep faith that this life is purposeful and symbolic and guided by invisible forces. It dealt the final blow to any residual nihilism and materialism that remained within me. Finally, it gave me hope that I may one day meet her or another beautiful angel like her again when I am mature enough to handle it and make a real-life connection out of it.

After the retreat, I travelled back to London to meet up with Sami, collect my bags that I had left with Seto, and fly back home to Saudi. I had decided that I would finally become a vegetarian, something I had been wanting to do for a while but never quite managed to. I decided to take the opportunity of having already been one while on the retreat for ten days as an impetus to make the transition into vegetarianism once and for all. During the summer that ensued, I spent the vast majority of the time alone or with Simba as my mom and sister travelled to spend it in Lebanon and my dad and brother joined them for a couple of weeks. I made the decision to avoid Lebanon this summer because I did not want to have to confront the relatives and the family which would have had a negative impact on me and generated a lot of stress within me. However, this decision itself also left me feeling a little guilty of abandoning all these people who missed me and wanted to see me, especially my mother, grandparents and Kamel, and so generated a little bit of stress anyway. But my solitude outweighed this guilt in my considerations as it gave me an opportunity to continue to deepen my practice and to consolidate and get ready for the big move to California. Also, I learned how to bake break and grew to immensely enjoy this activity and cooking in general. I learned how to cook a few more vegetarian dishes as well and felt good that I was transitioning to a more healthy and conscientious diet. The summer was also important in fostering in me the deep love for and appreciation of animals, specifically Simba. I forged a very powerful love bond with this beautiful creature and separation from him has come to be very painful indeed as a result of this. But, I remember being very troubled during this summer with a lot of anxiety and doubt about the uncertainty surrounding the imminent move. I hadn’t found a place to stay in LA yet and was still very uncertain about the funding situation and did not want to have to burden my dad with the tuition for this degree among various other troubles and concerns. This contributed to a loss of motivation to meditate and a lot of stress building up inside me and general suffering for a large amount of the time.

As the summer was coming to its close, I travelled with my parents to London for my graduation ceremony. This was a fairly enjoyable trip as I got to say my final goodbyes to the city that I had grown to love so much and where I had grown and matured and had so my deep and important experiences. The ceremony itself was tedious and uncomfortable but seeing all my classmates one last time and getting to say goodbye to them was poignant. Also, I saw all my friends that remained in London for one last night at The Court where we shared a very nice evening and said our heartfelt goodbyes and wishes for success in our futures. Most touching was saying goodbye to Nancy and Carol whom I had been friends with since high school in Lebanon and with whom I had shared so many beautiful experiences.  

Finally, it was time to travel to Los Angeles and start a new chapter in the story of my life. Upon arriving here, my first impression was of how remarkably laid back and chilled out everyone was. The weather was beautiful of course and the people were incredibly friendly. I stayed in a hostel in Hollywood for the first two days and met a few people who were trying to get into the acting business. Eventually I got settled in at Weyburn Terrace which is where I currently am and which is a beautiful apartment complex fashioned after a Mediterranean Villa. At first, I was constantly elated at having moved here and was full of euphoria at having the sun be so dedicated to its task of warming us up and smiling down at us everyday. However, this soon faded as several issues began to severely stress me out. First, the issue of funding has not yet been resolved and does not really show any promise of being ever resolved, at least until next academic year. Second, the issue of making friends and living a social life was a cause of a lot of trouble to me. At first, I went to all the organized social events designed to help us meet new people and make friends. I got drunk several times at these events and met a few cool people, some of whom I have retained as friends. But I soon began to grow uneasy about this drinking that was involved in socialization, so I tried to attend one without drinking but quickly grew bored and disillusioned at the whole process, so I just retreated back to my room and decided to be a recluse and not to pursue friendships and to try and live as lonely of a life here as possible. However, this decision continues to pain me today as boredom and loneliness and the desire for companionship refuse to go away. In the grand scheme of things, however, I am accepting of this situation as it is simply what life has in store for me right now. To bring the general theme of this year to bear on this situation, I try to cultivate my equanimity for whatever is going on, as uncertain and unpleasant and boring and lonely as it may be. Another issue that stresses me out is my feeling of inadequacy for the task of doing research with Prof. Ladan and not knowing what I specifically want to pursue with her. I have applied to be transferred into the psychology program so that I can be in a course that has more of a direct bearing on her lab and my general research interest, but this just brings back all my anxieties about being unable to fulfill the course requirements without much of a background in psychology. Lately, I have been trying to get my thoughts together about a concrete research interest that is relevant to her lab and that can be directly tackled experimentally but have not been able to come up with anything and I guess I am afraid of disappointing her or not living up to her expectations. On a brighter note, however, I have been immensely enjoying the courses that I have taken which cover the electrophysiology and molecular biology of neurons and got A’s for both of these courses, establishing a 4.0 GPA for now after my first quarter at UCLA. Also, I am very excited about the courses that I will be taking next quarter and am generally quite happy to be learning so much about neuroscience which I have been wanting to study for a long time.

So, after discussing in summary the events that have transpired during this year of 2010 revolutions since Christ’s crucifixion, it is fitting to briefly list my resolutions for the coming year. My resolutions are as follows: 1) to consolidate my practice of morality by continuing to abstain from eating meat and killing, lying, stealing, engaging in sexual misconduct, and self-intoxicating, and 2) to work my way up to a stricter meditation discipline in which I meditate one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening as my teacher has instructed me. That’s it. I don’t care about anything else that happens during the year as long as these two resolutions are fulfilled. These are my goals; with everything else, I aim to continue to cultivate my equanimity by surrendering all false notions of control and giving myself up to the flow of life.

May all beings be happy

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