Author Archives: priyasblog

About priyasblog

Hi. This is Priya and this blog is absolutely my scrib board of kinds - things that fascinates, depresses, infuriates, humours me - essentially my ramblings on everyday life, nature & generic stuff.

Vipassana experience at Dhamma Arunachala

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There was a book on the mountain Arunachala I read while I was a school student.  I was enamoured by its description, history and Ramana Maharishi.    I did my first Vipassana course about 5 years back at Dhamma Setu, Chennai.   I wanted to do it at Dhamma Arunachala (Tiruvannamalai) this time, for the sheer magic of the mountain and the Maharishi, I have so read about.  Last month I looked up at my kids school holidays and told myself if there was a 10 day program around this time, I would definitely go.  I checked online and bingo, there it was, perfectly matching those dates. So I applied about 20 days earlier.  However, I got no official confirmation until the evening of the previous day the program  was to start.

 

The experience :

There are 5 basic precepts one needs to follow strictly during the course – no speaking lies, abstain from killing, no sexual contact, no intoxicants, no taking whats not given. This is quite the easy part.  There is no communication allowed, through the course.  Mobile phones are switched off and handed over in the beginning.  No eye contact or communication is encouraged with fellow students.  Men and women quarters and dining area is separate. For old students (those who have taken a 10 day course atleast once before )  3 additional precepts to be followed – no meals after 11 am in the morning, no bodily decorations, ornaments etc and no luxurious or high beds .  The last meal at 11 am was one thing I was a bit skeptical about handling, but I set in comfortably from day 1 to this new routine.

The first three days Aana Paana meditation is taught, as a precursor,  to help focus and set the base before Vipassana technique begins.   During this time, there is more clarity as well as ups and downs. Every emotion sort of overplays until the mind settles down.  I witnessed significant reduction in thoughts (from say trillion to million may be 🙂 ) as days progressed.   Vipassana starts on day 4.   As Goenkaji explains, it is like doing a surgical operation of your mind.  As you go deeper and deeper you cut across more and more layers.

This time my experience was different from the last.   I kept witnessing images of random people and creatures from time to time.  I tried to not get involved with any of these, except a golden snake I saw on day 2 that seemed to tell that it wasn’t going to harm me.  Somehow couldn’t shrug that image easily and it kept crossing my mind every now and then.   The teacher , Ruth (foreigner) rightly pointed out the idea should simply be to watch whatever comes up and not get involved.   Watching the various sensations equanimously is pretty much the gist.  Sensation like ants crawling over different parts was new to me this time and kept showing up often.

By day 7 practice became intense .  I witnessed  free flow every now and then in certain parts but never as a whole.  That did not bother me.  I clearly felt much lighter from the 6th day.  9th day however, I was more looking forward to getting back and did not focus. 10th day was breezy.  Noble silence rule was broken and we could talk in the quarters.  On the 10th day night I experienced a very strong high and happy feeling like I was almost floating.  It felt wonderful.  Apart from the first 2 days I did not sleep well any other day.  Even during the breaks I barely rested.  However, I never felt sleepy nor tired.

On day 11 after breakfast I made my way back home with a fellow Vipassana student who generously offered to give me a ride.

So am back now lighter, better and determined to practice regularly.

For those considering to do this program, one must  understand it is not a retreat.  By far, it might be one of the most  challenging acts, you might have encountered.  To constantly watch one’s mind also means  to deal with the monsters  we have created in our minds.   At the end of the program one will experience a certain relief, restoration and feel purified, but all of this only if one put’s in determined efforts.  There are bound to be times, when we feel like running away, but the secret is to hold on.

The day schedule starts at 4 am and is packed till 9.30 pm.  Two breaks in between for breakfast and lunch and 5 to 10 minute break between sessions.  Sitting through atleast 10 hours a day will be challenging but possible.   One can ask for extra cushions or chairs if there is heavy discomfort.  Goenkaji’s discourses in the evening will be a treat to hear.  One may agree or disagree, either way, its absolutely fine.   One may consult the teacher about any questions on the technique during scheduled hours.   Also there are Dhamma Sevaks (volunteers) whom one can talk to for any help in terms of facilities.

To know about what is Vipassana and how to apply, please refer this site : dhamma.org

Travel :

I boarded a Super Deluxe point to point bus from Chennai to Tiruvannamalai from CMBT.   Travel time was exactly 4 hours .  (There are barely any AC buses from chennai ).  Ideal to leave early morning.  Got down at Periyar Padhai (Tiruvannamalai bus stand is still further away and no need to travel all the way there and return)  and took an auto to Ramanashram.  Being a week day, it was quiet and I did a soulful meditation for a brief while, then looked around the place, enjoyed the sight of a posing peacock on top of His Samadhi room.

 

There are just two buses – Surya and Krishna buses one can board outside Ramanashram to Kizh Vanagambadi where the center is located.  They  are not very  frequent.  I  enquired at a tender coconut shop across the road and they asked me to wait for one hour.  As I made myself comfortable, I was approached by another person who apparently was from Bengaluru and travelling to the same place.  He wanted to know if we could share an auto to the place.  So enjoyed a chatty auto ride for about 8 to 9 kms until we reached the venue.

 

About the centre – Dhamma Arunachala :

This is a recent center.  So its work in progress in some ways.  It is created in a eco sustainable kind of environment, with bio gas, solar panels, water purifiers, etc.   One is expected to take back any plastics we may bring, like bottles and not leave them there.   I understand car parking facility is available in the premise towards the male quarters.

Food is one significant aspect.   It is fully vegan and millet and whole grains based foods.  More like a typical village diet.  It was challenging for me, as no comfort food like idli, dosa, roti, white rice, curd etc was in sight all through the program.  But it is definitely a healthy sattvic spread.

The center is quite touched by nature with variety of birds , butterflies, insects and many other creatures.   The pagoda cells are quite large and comfortable.   The meditation hall and the room does feel warm.  The mosquito net in the room, especially prevents free air flow.   The quarter has decent basic facilities.  Room is on sharing basis, depending on the number of registrants.  This applies to old students as well.

Things to carry : Clothes, 2 bedsheets, pillow covers, torch, anti bite cream (if you are sensitive), umbrella, flipflops, Id proof, photograph, toothbrush, paste, soap, washing detergent.

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Personally, I felt handheld right from the time I left my home till I got back.   It is an experience am happy to have invested in and will cherish forever.

Peacock at Ramanashram

Pagoda

Ramana Samadhi

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A memorable trip to Valparai

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valparai

A trip to Valparai was on the cards for sometime.   It happened this March, when my husband and I took a day off coupled with a weekend and headed to Coimbatore.  I had made reservations online at Briar Tea estate Srikundra Bungalow (incidentally, Valparai has limited options.  The best ones are the Briar tea estate or the Tata estate).

As per google intelligence I was led to believe, it would take max about 3.5 hours to reach from Coimbatore.  We landed at the airport at around 11.30, went to catch up with a friend and  left in a couple of hours.  Unfortunately, the vehicle had a minor issue with the door and the fixing took about half an hour or so more .  But turns out, Google timing was not right.  It takes a solid 6 hours to reach this place traversing atleast 40 hairpin bends.

Nature view Valparai

So by the time we reached, it was well past dinner time, dark and deserted.   Luckily the driver was well aware of the place.  This as we realised, was not just an absolute boon, but much a necessity to travel safe in this terrain.   We retired straight after a modest dinner only to be woken up by the estate guys to check out a bison in the vicinity of the cottage.

Next morning, we were up and early for a Nature walk in another of their property.  We were welcomed by the Naturalist there, Rahul Aradhya.   This location was pretty wild.  First stop, was at a beautiful swamp and a few clicks later, moved on to a whole territory of lion-tailed macaques, that’s endemic to the Western Ghats in South India.   Out there, we thought we saw a Hornbill.   Rahul confirmed there were  Great Horn Bills in that region.   We were to eager to pursue so he led us on through some trails following the bird’s sound.    While the walk was so wonderful, and the air fresh and crisp, the Hornbill evaded us. On the way back we spotted a family of Gaurs or the Indian

Gaur or Indian bison

bisons, at a safe distance and moved on.  But just around a curve was another of this beast barely a few metres away staring at us.   Rahul insisted we stood still until it turned away, which it did in a while.  But that was not all.  There was a whole family of bisons behind this one.  I was definitely scared.  With the Naturalist leading us slowly and carefully, I heaved a sigh of relief once away at a safe distance.   A sambar deer with its little one was our next spotting.

We then got back to the start point, spent some time over a cup of tea about the habitat, people, etc.  Leopards were apparently not uncommon in this area.  Turns out that Valparai was a complete forest, that was destroyed for human settlements a few centuries back. If Rahul’s tale is to be believed, Elephants which are known to carry memories from generation to generation is quite unforgiving in these lands for this reason.

Lion tailed macaques

We headed back to our cottage after the walk.  A few hours later we left to pick up Rahul and explore Valparai further.   Our driver Siva was a wild life enthusiast himself.  Rahul, Siva and us made a nice team looking forward to making the best of the day.   We picked up lunch at Krishna café, a decent joint for food in the town.

On our way, Rahul found the perfect picnic spot.  We stopped by a brook side , had lunch , washed up at the stream, enjoyed the place, some chit chats and moved on.  We then went to Neerar dam.  What seemed to be just a dam, turned out to be a surprise.   This had a tunnel ranging about 8 kms in length.  Once you enter the tunnel, you

Nature view – Valparai

could close your eyes to acclimatise to the darkness and then have a splendid view of the never ending tunnel .  Since the water level was not high then we were able to wade through.  This is not allowed during seasons when the water levels can go really high.    We spent a good few minutes, did some photo shoots and left.

Young Rahul turned out to be someone I would term as ‘a free spirited’

Sambar deer

soul.   A huge nature and animal enthusiast, he kept us enamoured by his experiential tales. He had been extensively involved in rescuing animals and is well trained in handling venomous snakes and the likes.   Quite inspiring.

With the impromptu itinerary looking so delightful so far,  I was more than looking forward to what was next.  We travelled back through off beat paths.  Siva was desperately looking forward to seeing elephants, which he had apparently never failed to see in Valaparai every time.   But that was not to be.  We however spotted  porcupines, giant malabar squirrel, bisons again, some more deers in the dark with their eyes gleaming  when struck with torch light and a kukri snake on the road. Rahul promptly got off and prodded the snake away with a stick, to avoid risk of being run over by vehicles.  The ride in all was super thrilling.   Through the day we spotted drongos, fantails, woodpeckers, whistling trush, peahens, bee eaters and some more birds.

The best was yet to come.  Rahul had a surprise laid out for us.

We stopped at a particular spot.  Completely engulfed in darkness, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  We obediently closed our eyes as instructed, until after a minute we were asked to open.  What I saw then was breathtaking.  There were stars as far as my eyes could see.  It was a splendid sight.  The whole territory was infested with fireflies.   In complete darkness the stars in the sky and the lights of these fireflies were just the same.  We took a few good minutes

Kukri snake

to breathe in this beautiful sight completely.  No camera possibly could capture that in a frame .  What an experience it was!  This was Rahul’s gift for us, as he claimed, for our Anniversary.  Thanking him for making this so memorable, we finally got back to our cottage.

Next morning, was uneventful. We left soon after breakfast.  So in all, it was one day well spent at Valparai with some beautiful memories  to look back forever.

“People don’t take trips.  Trips take people”

 

 

The Truth? This is it

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Take it or leave it , sometimes its a ‘THIS IS IT!’

In our quest to find answers
To questions plaguing our minds
We invest time , energy and efforts
Proportionate to how elusive we fathom it to be !

We expect something profound
An elaborate enlightening process
A dictum from heaven
A messiah with a ‘just for you’ message
Words of wisdom from enlightened souls
A divine voice out of nowhere
A truthsayer with a halo
A de ja vu moment !

However when the Truth confronts us
In the simplest of the ways, as it usually does
Like an inward whisper
A simple matter of fact clarification
Just things exactly the way they seem
Or the likes of these
We simply shrug it away!

And the Truth?  It just passed by
Without fetching a raised brow or even a second look!

So engulfing  is the process of seeking it
Specially, the speculative ‘could be’ ‘should be’ portions
That the research drags on
And that’s how we miss the forest for the trees !

Illusions !

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Thirsty and weary, the feet drags on
The spirit not having lost hope
Suddenly the most inviting sight beckonsShimmering Hope
With a glistening lake in my peripheral view.

I feel blood gushing through my every pore
From the tip of the head to the toe
Eureka! I jump in glee
As I hasten in incredible speed

Oh Alas !  A mirage !!
In place of, what I thought was an oasis!
In a quest for something, that never was
Oh the nuances of the mind and the heart !

Motherhood !

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That little something that wrenches your heart
When you hear a child wailing inconsolably in a doctors room
That little something that tears you apart
Seeing a penniless old man begging for alms
That little something that wants you to nurture happiness
In the lives of those dear to you
That little something that makes you put your children first
Ahead of any priority else
Such ‘that little somethings’ is pretty much
What defines and dominates Motherhood !

The colours of life !

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Shades of the sky !

Oh how alluring is the possibility of  knowing things
With a clear, lucid vision,
When its all laid out in black and white
And ambiguity is, but an evading state !

Yet  between these shades of black and white
Lies the amazing colours and flavours of life.
The varied shades, in a constant ever-changing fashion
Adds mystery and magic, fear and awe
Thus paints a picture, the most fascinating one, ever !

Akin to the ever changing skies, be it dusk or dawn,
Taking myriad forms as elements intervene,
Watch the shades in our life transform,
With our every single breath & every heartbeat!

How so  wonderful
Would it be
To simply lose oneself
From the nuances of the future
Or that of the past
And simply soak in a trancelike joy,
Where nothing else matters
As we enjoy the roller coaster ride,
Like a passenger on the clouds,
Left with an experience of this lifetime !

Lets take the time
To feel the magic
Soak in its pure and complete bliss
And let it simply take our breath away !

Grace in the time of grief !

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It is not something I would write about on a normal day. And yet, it is something that touched me. I write this to remind myself, that even in the most unlikeliest of situations, grace is possible.

A very very dear friend of mine lost her husband exactly two weeks ago in a road accident, when he was heading back home after a bikers trip. This happened in a place a few hours away from the city. A local called up the last dialed number and traced the family, meanwhile their bikers group went back and did all they could to bring the mortal remains, with some family members help.

It was unexpected, cruel and unnerving. My friend was totally inconsolable. The children refused to believe it happened. His daughter refused to see his face. I grieved, like never before, that day. Theirs was a cross community marriage, my friend, a Tamilian married to a Bengali. He was the only son to his parents. His parents were quite old and his father was already undergoing treatment for cancer for several years. My friend was dreading to tell his parents about it. They were flying down, unaware that he had passed away. They were told he was hurt as under the circumstances that seemed a better option until they came down.

So apart from grief, there was a certain restlessness in everybodys mind as to how his parents would take it. My friend was nerve wrecked.   Finally a couple of hours before the cremation time their flight landed. One of his family members, who went to pick them up was informed to sound them off before they reached home.

So they walked in, informed during the journey from the airport, of their loss. His mother, was naturally shaken and grieving. His father, an old man went to his son, looked at him for a while and then reached out to his daughter in law with a warm hug and said, “we lost our son but we still have our daughter and grandchildren. Now you mean the world to us. We are with you and will always be”. That, and I mean that, graceful gesture turned around the terse atmosphere. He called for his grandchildren. Again their granddaughter refused to come. So he went out to meet his grandchildren, spoke to them, like a man, a dad, hugged them, assured them and came in. He then tried to understand what happened and went with the flow, cremation rituals, etc.

Had he reacted any other way, had he broken down at his age, it would have worsened the situation that already was. Surely he grieved too. But he knew it was beyond him and went on to handling this crisis in a kind way. I was deeply touched by his graceful act, in this most unlikely situation.   Somehow it reinstated in me, that sometimes a little act of selfless kindness could make a lot of difference.