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Weekly Blog

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ordinary gathering, extraordinary experience

This week Somik and I attended a gathering with a storied, decade-long legacy:

Eleven years ago, three people decided to sit in silence for an hour, in an everyday Silicon Valley living room. No teachers or gurus. No set agendas or proposed beliefs either. Just silence for an hour every week with one strong principle -- when you change within, the world changes.

Wednesdays are a grassroots expression of spirituality, service and gratitude. It's in our living room, proposes no particular following and attracts a unique combination of people every week. We meditate for an hour and follow it up with a roundtable sharing of "aha" moments from everyday life, based on the wide-ranging weekly iJourney reading.

Wednesdays is an un-hyped, organic weekly event of friends and strangers. There is no business plan, no board of directors or steering committee. It isn't a social entrepreneurship venture, but the impact it has had on the lives of thousands of people is absolutely priceless. Whenever I attend, I am blown away by the presence and stories that are shared. And this week did not disappoint :)

The iJourney quote for the week was from Vimala Thakar on inner volcanoes:

We must become deeply aware of our bondage if we value freedom. We begin to watch our behavior throughout the day; we notice the fear, the anxieties, how much behavior is controlled by acquisitiveness, how we compare ourselves with others and want to become something that we are not. When we watch our own lives, then there is the pain and agony that the awareness of the bondage creates. If we don't observe this in ourselves, we are only theorizing about freedom. [...]

During the circle of sharing a-ha moments, Somik told a great story about an experience from his childhood. I thought the Sarvodaya posse would appreciate it, so we asked him to write it up :) Feeling inspired by Somik stepping up, I wrote up the story I shared as well. Enjoy!

Watching your inner volcano erupt - Somik
On this theme, two incidents came two mind - one from my childhood and one in more recent times. As a child, I had a lot of pent-up anger and was not good at communicating constructively. Once, my mother accidentally gave me my father's vest instead of mine. As I put it on before putting on my school uniform, I felt being choked in it as I was already getting to be larger in size than my father. I realized she'd made a mistake, but somehow the feeling of being choked overwhelmed me and filled me with anger. I was also upset that mother had made the mistake. In response, I ripped the vest apart. Mother told my father later, "See what your son has done." My father, instead of getting angry, scolding or hitting me, responded calmly by asking my mother to stitch up the vest. He would wear it to office under his shirt the next day. When mother told me about this, a feeling of great shame combined with great admiration for father filled me. I resolved then that I would work hard not to let anger get the better of me. The ahimsa method that my father adopted left an indelible mark in my memory and I am quite sure that I wouldn't have felt the same way if he had chastised me or meted out any corporal punishment.

In more recent times, I remember erupting and quickly noticing the eruption and realizing that I was a witness. I felt I was a decision-maker - and my alternatives were to continue the drama or end it, either way, it was in my hands. That sense of freedom immediately made me realize the stupidity of continuing the drama.

Exhilaration - Neil
Vimala Thakar describes the act of observing an angry reaction in one’s mind- starting from only tiny seeds of negativity - with detachment, without ownership, as ‘exhilarating’. I had never thought of describing it with that word, but it immediately made me remember an incident that happened to me recently. Thinking back now to what transpired and what my instinctive reaction was, I can only describe it as exhilarating.

It was New Years Eve night, Dec. 31. I had made plans to attend a party with friends from college. Besides being excited to re-unite with close friends, I was feeling in especially good spirits from having just come out of a 10-day meditation retreat earlier that day.

The night was an absolute blast. The party continued well past the big ball dropped and rang in the New Year. Just as the night was winding down, I was standing near the DJ's booth, when I heard someone yelling. "What are you doing?! I told you not to do that!" I ignored it, but the yelling continued. "I told you not to do that!" I turned to notice that the person yelling was actually directing it at me. He was pissed off, and now he was barreling straight at me.

He approached and without hesitation reached with both hands and grabbed my neck, strangling me. "I told you three times not to touch my girlfriend!" He was absolutely furious, ready to fight. I was confused, but I was helpless. My first reaction in such a situation isn't to fight, but to diffuse: "What are you talking about? You have the wrong guy". Unfortunately I was being choked, so I couldn't utter a word. Then he did something unbelievable.

With one swift motion he reared his head back, and then leaned into me with all his might. He head-butted me square on the nose. I had been assaulted for no apparent reason, with no real warning. After being hit, I took a step back, in complete shock. I looked at him with disbelief, and saw a trickle of blood flowing down his forehead. I then collected myself to feel my own face. Blood was literally gushing from my nose.

I few friends in the room noticed and came to my aid. I never saw the guy again; he was whisked off, yelling belligerently all the way through the door.

I can still reproduce the pain of being hit in my mind. The impact was unforgettable, so violent. I also remember his face, and his voice. There was more than anger; there was rage. His inner volcano had exploded and exposed his most ugly side. But in some miracle, immediately after I had been hit, my reaction was the polar opposite. Maybe it was the joy of being in the company of good friends that night; maybe it was a lingering trace of real inner peace from 10 days of ardent meditation. But as I stood there trying to hold my nose together with a bloody rag, I felt only one emotion: compassion.

As much as it is unbelievable to think back on now, all I kept telling my friends over my shoulder was, "I forgive him, I forgive him. I feel bad for the guy, so much anger. That is a sad thing. Tell him I forgive him. He has to know." I was insistent that he be told. I kept saying it, "I forgive him, I forgive him. Tell him I forgive him." And right there, deeply and sincerely, I had. Just like that.

Later on I was urged by friends and family to track this person down, to press charges, to make sure he pay for his actions. But the way I saw it, he was already suffering in the worst way. To carry that kind of anger, to have that potent volcano inside, what can be a harsher sentence than that? It was so clear to me that it was the most important difference between me and him. That kind of anger was not in me; I am incapable of it. I have spent the last few years in the practice of not just patiently watching my inner volcanoes, but extinguishing them. This incident was a nice validation of that hard work. And it felt exhilarating.

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If you are interested in attending a future Wednesday gathering, please RSVP here. If you do so by Tuesday, we can coordinate carpools from the Stanford area.

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