An emptiness that’s fulfilling – my experience with the isha shoonya program

Over the last four days, I had the opportunity to attend the shoonya intensive programme at the isha ashram in coimbatore.

Intensive is the right word – indeed it’s the first thing that strikes you about the program. Right from the consecrated hall which sends out intense vibes, the format of the program which makes sure that every minute is accounted for effectively, and the very wise teachers (who are also full time volunteers) and the program volunteers who take service to a whole different level altogether, and of course the curated videos of Sadhguru which ensure that concepts become internalised truths in you – intensity is a word that perfectly describes the programme.

The interesting thing though is this – all this intense focus does not translate into long faces and on-edge behaviour. Indeed there’s a sense of relaxation and gentle humour pervading the entire program.

At every moment there’s the sense that a good-natured-laugh and a profound learning is just a minute away.

The teaching is deep – and like all of the best things in life, the practices grow on you over time. I know this from past experience. On my very first isha program, I was surprised when the teacher advised us not to take notes.

“This is not a learning of the mind, but an experience to go through. Just stay with us and you will pick it all up” he said

I have come to appreciate that there is a different way to learn – that of experiential learning. You learn through hearing, seeing, visualisation, doing and repetition. And stuff learned this way stays with you – its a transmission of experience not just a transfer of concepts.

So what I did I learn? I came back with two practices – about an hour’s worth of daily practice – which promise deep restfulness and explosive energy respectively. If these seem contradictory, its another fact I have come to appreciate about spirituality at large – its hard to decode spiritual practices with just the mind. The best approach is to try it for a while and see if it does something to you. When it comes from a true source, it will often flower into something that you cannot explain or predict – its beyond words. The little while is a mandala to start with – about 40 days of uninterrupted practice for the practice to take root in your life. Its something I will be able to do hopefully – and will look to post on any experiences.

But there’s another learning that’s stayed with me.In one of the videos played, Sadhguru mentions that every day he is greeted by tears of joy no matter where he happens to be in the world. And I believe, its these tears of joy and gratitude toward their master and the world that inspire the teachers and the volunteers to share so much and so well – with absolutely no expectations.

Indeed that’s the learning – that there’s an extraordinary way to go about one’s life – being relaxed yet attentive, intensely focused, with a smile on the face, and a joy in the heart. When you work like that, I guess you are a blessing to the world.

Its an inspired way to live and work – and while a long shot, its something that I look to internalise – stay tuned for any progress updates!

Prudence?

I heard it said somewhere recently that “we should take loans or debt only to finance those things whose value would appreciate”. This to me is a very profound thought, and while I search for the source, it’s worth meditating in our usual irreverent way on this statement.

Value on deeper reflection could be on at least four dimensions – financial or material value, emotional, mental or on the spiritual levels – let’s take a look at each of these using the thought above as a lens.

If we are in a developing country, we would perhaps say that we should invest in real estate but not in cars. We look back at our sub-prime crisis however and tighten our grip on the money. ltcm and books like the black swan question the wisdom of trusting our financial investment bankers with the dollar as well. So really there seems no adequate material investment that guarantees appreciation!

On the mental level, we can invest on education. Take a loan (read time and money) to see the world or enroll for an advanced degree in college. The degree in itself may not guarantee a better job and financial riches (especially in today’s world where “hot” courses become obsolete in the blink of an eye), but the exposure to different points of view, knowledge and culture (if traveling is on the agenda too) is sure to make one more successful. Frijtof Capra’s ability to compare Hinduism and Taoism with particle physics certainly was helped by oriental travel and advanced education (not to mention some pretty spaced out thinking and substance use!). Ditto the late (and great) Steve jobs – whose course in calligraphy, experiments with Tao, a garage startup experience and his computer skills made his contribution so potent. Excellence does seem to require investment on the mental level.

Emotional – I guess this translates to investing in things that make us happier emotionally – quality time spent with family and friends, on hobbies, with nature and such things – and simultaneously keeping negative emotions like anger at bay. All religions at their foundation have techniques to help achieve this – a foundation without which one would not have the subtleness or the perseverance to pursue the higher ideals. Investment can simply mean adopting a better work-life balance (which in itself proclaims that wealth need not be material alone), being more receptive and appreciative of one’s near and dear ones, de-cluttering one’s life and undertaking some self-introspection and alignment to one’s ideals. Joshua Becker’s blog on minimalist living and Leo Babauta’s blog zen habits are wonderful life aids toward this end. laughter clubs and other exotic outlets apart from the numerous yoga and pranayama techniques also can help. Interestingly, it takes a healthy body to groom a brilliant mind – so most of the yogic methods advocate taking both hand in hand.

This brings me to an interesting question put forward by an ancient student (probably sitting on the lower branches of a tree to maintain eye-level with his levitating guru!) – I know the many things I need but can you also tell me what for I need them? I know I desire a car for example, or a family or a home – but why do I desire these? The sage (sagely of course and maybe with a cup of milk to his lips) then goes to explain that man has only one need – to be happy or joyful. All the things one desires are because we superimpose happiness on the objects mistakenly. So we long for the car not for the sake of the car, but because we think it will make us happy. Ditto, the house or even the family. The student his head spinning goes after all his desires (we can only imagine they would have been the ancient equivalents of Las Vegas, ferrari’s, cxo jobs and all such sense-driven ego boosters!) and returns after he has exhausted but unfulfilled at his very core – only to find that the happiness is his very nature – a discovery that makes him proclaim some pretty big mahavakya (great truth like “I am he!”) and settle into a great samadhi with a halo on his head. The moral therefore is therefore not that you should go through las vegas to become spiritual but that even if you do you do so to be ome happy – a state that is within you and not in the neon lights and flashy casinos.

If you didn’t realize it, the above was the end point – the fact that appreciation in value should be measured by contentment not by more money, temporary excitements or ego-funfillments. Easy to say, but takes a lifetime (unless you are one of the spiritual supermen!) to achieve…..may good luck shower on us all to experience this in this life itself…