The Silent Retreat in Dharmalaya
This one is very close to my heart.
I was doing my usual roaming in Bir, a small town in Himachal Pradesh when I came across Dharmalaya. What caught my attention first was the set apart location. Overlooking a huge part of Kangra Valley was this big mud house with wide glass windows. There were few local ladies washing dishes and a small group of volunteers. When enquired, I learned it’s an institute that supports and promotes Compassionate Living. It focuses on contemplative service-learning and sustainable development. As I was curious I asked one of the volunteers about the project and how to be a part. She showed me around and gave a brief description about how it supports and educates Sustainable Development. She gave me a list of upcoming workshops and retreats focusing on combination of contemplation, meditation and yoga.
The next one in schedule was The Silent Retreat.
An 8 days retreat where we would stay silent and practice meditation to relax and enjoy the present moment fully. The aim is not Awakening but Awareness to start with. It was my first attempt towards mediation, I had decided to not read or enquire about it. I did not want to keep any hopes or expectations. I settled for going free mind and to see what it can do to me.
We were a group of 15 people from different corners of the world. Our Instructors- Zohar Lavie and Nathan Glyde welcomed us at the meeting point. After a small introduction session we took a cab ride to Dharmalaya- a few kilometers ahead of Bir.
On arrival we gathered in the meditation hall, where we met Mai-Linh Leminhbach- the project manager. She briefed us about few practical rules to be followed to main the decorum of Dharmalaya.
The first day of being silent will start tomorrow so till then we had time to learn about Compassionate Living and how Dharmalaya is contributing to the society in its simple ways.
Dharmalaya is a Charitable Organisation devoted to education and empowerment of the local people by guiding them towards Compassionate Living. A lifestyle that focuses on sustainability, contemplative service-learning, eco-tourism and traditional wisdom. Dharmalaya in itself is a great model of ecological sustainability. It is not entitled to any religious norms, and is rooted to 4 basic principles: Karuna (compassion), Ahimsa (non-harming), Maitri/Metta (lkindness to all) and Seva (service).
Sustainable Development in Dharmalaya:
To make our smallest contribution towards a future where people enjoy equal resources and to restrain our planet from being abused we can be more careful about the following points:
SAVE WATER: It is definitely the first step. As per a recent research, in next 10yrs Delhi and all major cities of India will not have enough water to supply to its residents.
USE NO PLASTIC: Do you know that a plastic bottle takes 450yrs to decompose and a plastic bag actually never does. To stop manufacturing of plastic, we need to reuse the plastic we have and avoid buying new plastic.
NO ANIMAL ABUSE: Thousands of animals are killed/harmed to meet the need of meat and dairy products. A cows milk is for it's calf but as per the market's demand the cow is injected with high steroids to produce more milk. Similarly other chemicals are injected to create thicker fat for meat.
NO CHEMICALS: Chemicals are present in drugs, detergents, fertilisers and many other products we use in our daily lives. They are not only ruining our body but also the nature around us. The water treated with chemicals ultimately goes into rivers or farms making them poisonous and infertile.
ECO ARCHITECTURE: ‘Vernacular architecture’ is defined as any regional system of domestic building design and construction that is passed on through generations as local tradition and (historically) is learned through practice rather than through formal academic study. It minimises negative ecological impact through the use of primarily natural, local, non-toxic, non-energy-intensive, renewable, and biodegradable materials.
By end of Day 1, we were told about the schedule and everyone was dedicated to do a physical job, which was part of Karma Meditation. Our day schedule included 2 hours of meditation session in morning, afternoon and at night. There was also a 2hrs instructed meditation session in the evening. In this session our instructors guided us towards the principles of mediation and everyone was free to discuss their issues. We were told that there are no rules to meditation, and we all have to explore our way to it. It was my favourite part of the day.
There is no itinerary that I can share, and to try to express my spiritual experience into learning mediation will be waste of words. So briefly I will take you through the three ways to meditate and some of my favorite Dharma teachings from Dharmalaya. In respect to the Silent Retreat course, I will not share all details. The objective here is to aware people about the power of Mindful Living and to encourage Sustainable Living in our world around.
Meditation: is an approach to life by some degree of inner and outer silence.
Often our minds seek satisfaction from the outside world, while meditation is a process of finding solutions within. Its natural for the mind to wander in rush of worry, or anticipation about the future or pre occupied with past life events. What we practice in Meditation is to focus into the present moment and resist working far back/ahead in time.
3 Key Ways to Meditation:
To start practicing any form of mediation one must get into the right posture, keeping the spine straight but not too stressed. The body should be comfortable and as relaxed as possible. You can use a cushion to rest your bottoms or find a chair with fine back support.
1. Mindfulness of Breath
In this form of meditation, we focus on the breath going in and coming out. Feel the breath from within as it enters your body deeply and gently. Each in-breath brings you more into the body and each out breath allows you to relax. Its natural for the mind to wander in between, and it happens a lot of times in the initial sessions. But we have to check on ourselves and keep the attention intimate.
2. Mindfulness of Sensations
Once you are comfortable in your posture, start with gently scanning your body from head to toe. If you find any areas of tension, use in breath to welcome and out breath to relax. Channel the energy into your discomfort; it doesn’t have to be a struggle. Go easy with the process, see if you feel any blockage in your body and end the session with a good stretch.
3. Metta Practice
Metta is a cultivation of kindness and goodwill towards all being.
In traditional Metta practice, we use phases or prayers to focus on. You can use your own words or a prayer that you relate to. To start with Metta practice, we can pray for our own goodwill or security, and further expand it to our family, friends and neighbors. If you catch up with this practice, you can amplify the good energy to all people near or far from you.
Sitting Meditation: It is one of the most restful postures for meditation. You can choose from sitting on the floor with a cushion or resting your back on a chair with your legs dropped down in relaxation.
Walking Meditation: A lot of people find Walking Mediation more connecting.
In this process we focus more on the body sensations. With all your attention at one place you can intimately feel the base of your foot making contact with the earth, lifting it up in air and then placing it back. Do it while walking slow and feel each movement in your body a little deeper.
Standing Meditation: gives you effortless attention, like a tress standing tall. Look for a spot with open air or atleast well ventilated, also standing with wall at back that can be supportive. Keep your body relaxed with arms resting sideways.
Reclining Meditation: For many people this posture is the easiest as it gives a sense of stillness and openness. Breathing in and out slowly. Simply lying and taking the breathing to its natural pace till the time all your senses relax and you rest into sleep- Nidra.
Anapanasati: We all live in a split-existence. There are situations when our body is at the present moment but our mind is wandering in past life memories or future desires. In such situations the body and mind are at different places, it creates a disconnect resulting into feelings like restlessness or anxiety.
The simple exercise to keep things together is to breathe deep. It helps the mind to calm and connect to the present moment. When you are not split between preoccupations with the past or future you will be able to fully experience and enjoy the moment you have in front of you.
In Dharma there are 3 characteristic of existence: Annica, Dukkha and Anatta; All things are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self.
- Annica: is the simple fact of Impermanence. That all things arise and pass is quite basic. Like it is said “Change is the only constant”.
When we find something overwhelming or pleasant we wish to have it forever. This feeling of possession leads to sadness and depression as everything that has come will go, and everything born will eventually die.
We can use it as a tool of meditation, by using “this too will pass” as a phrase. The idea of inconstancy of bad thoughts and feelings can be handled focusing on more pleasant ones, immediately bringing in more ease. The acceptances of change will ultimate bring in more space, ease and freedom.
- Dukkha: is constant un-satisfaction resulting into pain or suffering. When we are disconnected from the inside we look for temporary happiness or materialistic support. Such things serve us for a very short period only and then we crawl back to the feeling of incompleteness in our mundane life.
How we can make peace with Dukkha is by accepting the fact that life is going to be a bumpy ride. Nobody told us it would be easy, nobody told us it would be so hard- as quoted by Coldplay. Birth, aging, illness and death are all Dukkhas, we can accept it and focus our energy on things that gives us the ultimate satisfaction. It is for you to explore what makes you feel happy and content, even if it a small thing. The power of inner satisfaction is much stronger has to be pure and purposeful.
- Anatta: refers to the doctrine of non-self. Self exists as a false premise; everything we are is not created by us. Our body came from a worm that belonged to the mother; our perception is built on the experiences or situations, which were not even in our control. And hence we make the self so important and build on higher ego.
It was my first attempt towards learning meditation and for me it was both calming and boring. Meditation is an intimate practice and it unveils different experiences to different people. Some individuals in my group felt a deep sense of calm and relaxation, well some had times of high anxiety and restlessness. It took me sometime to explore my right meditation posture and practice. After few days, I could feel the de-tangling in my mind, it was like going back to default. But at certain point each day it will get boring too.
I will surely practice meditation more as it has helped me create a lot more space in my heart and mind. In a way that I don't see boring as a problem. I welcome it as another feeling or part of the day.
To know more details on Dharmalaya and it's upcoming events, you can follow link: http://dharmalaya.in/