🥝#22 Flowism: My Philosophy of Living
I was obsessed with my Dad's study room when I was little. How could he pick up some colourful and rectangular things on the shelf and lock himself in the room for the whole day? I imitated his behaviour but hardly understood anything from his accounting, economy and management books.
One day, I browsed my Dad's treasures and found one book rather fascinating. The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche by Daniel Halévy (The Chinese translation version of that book called Friedrich Nietzsche: I am the Sun《尼采传：我是太阳》) triggered me because that are the only few words I could recognise at a young age. I felt excited, like Archimedes leapt out of the bath and rushed home naked crying, "Eureka! Eureka!" I thought I had found the universal truth: the Sun is this bearded and weird-looking guy!
My family made fun of me for secretly telling everyone, "do you know the Sun has a name called Ni Cai (Nietzsche's pronunciation in Chinese)?" and how I regarded myself as a detective scientist who decodes the identity of the Sun. Silly, right? That childhood mystery followed me for ages until I learnt at school what metaphor is and who the real Nietzsche is.
My old friend' Nietzsche did not fade away with my stupidity but lingered around my life and led me to dig more about him and his fellow philosophers. As he says, he who has a why to live can bear almost any how. Like many rebellious, moody and self-centred teenagers in my adolescent years, I blamed my parents for everything because "I did not choose to be born". My early 20s were filled with enormous pains from internal self-doubt and disturbing external facts. I did not know why I was here and what is it for.
I wrote numerous suicide notes in my diaries but never made them into action. I suffered from a constant existential crisis but never fell into mental illness. I do not know if I am a coward or a survivor in this life game.
Now I want to share my journey of discovering my WHY (aka, my philosophy). This article is my guiding principle for my short life on earth. I hope you will find your path and live on your own terms.
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My life philosophy is Flowism, a term I made up when my friend James asked why I constantly change my mind and never settle down on one idea, a place, a job or a person.
I joked, “I go with the flow and am practising Flowism.”
That is how Flowism came to life, and it is a great term to define my living principle.
Going with a flow does not mean I am a fence-sitter or flip-flopper. It is a state of following the universe’s rhythm and constantly evolving my thoughts and ideas. As Alan Watts said, “there is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity”.
If the universe was an ocean, what we understand is only a drop of water. I know my limited knowledge, but I can explore everything with intellectual curiosity. Therefore, I must change my mind regularly with new information based on my critical thinking.
The concepts of time and space and cause and effect are an illusion, and nobody can define the objective truth based on our current understanding of the universe. We need to ask honest questions and obtain a good explanation.
All things are neutral, and everything depends on our perspectives. We can fall into nihilism or make everything meaningful to ourselves. As Albert Camus said, “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”. Choose the suffering we enjoy the most.
All things, including people, come and go. Nothing is certain. Nothing is for sure. Everything is impermanent. The secret to living a peaceful life is not forcing, not interfering, just accepting everything as they are.
Remember, we come to this world alone and will die alone. Life is a single-player game with sufferings from desire, departure and detestation. Once accepted in this setting, everything we encounter in life will be more bearable.
Everyone has their own hero journey. The most important question we must remember is whether we dare to face the uncertainty and walk through this lonely journey.
Our thoughts and ideas, or so-called free wills, are inextricably tied to language, and language is socially constructed. We are all socially conditioned. The only way to escape the circle of the condition is to seek truth and beauty and follow your bliss.
The meta meaning of living is existing. We are loved just for being who we are. We did not come into this world but came out of it. We are part of the universe, and everyone is connected with love.
What I say here may sound different from what I mean, but it does not matter. Go with our own understanding of flowism because others, including myself, are an illusion.
Life only makes sense when we look back and connect the dots. So, go with the flow forward and collect as many dots as possible.
Remember, all things come to those who flow the way, as all wild streams and unruly torrents eventually drive to great rivers and the sea.
I summarise and update my life principles on my birthday every year. Here are my 30 principles to live by (Chinese version):
When facing a dilemma, choose the option that will bring more opportunities in the future; choose the path that looks complicated for now.
Experience a religious ritual or psychedelic retreat. We do not have to believe in or be addicted to it but keep an open mind for unexpected healing effects.
Invest in a good pillow, mattress and eye mask. A good night’s sleep is a free remedy to repair our bodies.
Regularly review our friends and colleagues circle - do they inspire or hold me back? Try to surround people with whom we want to play a long-term game.
An information diet is as essential as a healthy diet.
There are no adults but curious children constantly learning and trying things out in our world. No one knows what they are doing, and no one cares what we are doing, so feel free to try new things and run experiments.
Make it done/work first. THEN make it pretty.
We cannot have everything, but we will get what we want the most. Be focused and understand our true desires.
Sooner or later, we will discover that we cannot always please everyone. There will always be somebody who misjudges or misunderstands us. One must learn to stop living one’s life based on the expectations of others and live on our own terms.
If we improve by 1% every day, we will not improve by 365% at the end of the year, but by 3800%. This is the power of compound interest.
Simple rules can generate highly complex systems. e.g. Mandelbrot Set and the Game of Life. Focus on the fundamental principles and let them grow and evolve organically.
If we focus too much on optimising our lives, we will miss the opportunity to live in the moment. Be here and now and feel.
We are at the golden age for creators. Find the niche where we serve the person we used to be.
“Every transformation demands as its precondition ‘the ending of a world’—the collapse of an old philosophy of life.” — C.G. Jung
We have been given life as a gift to discover the gift in our life. When we figure out something that could give back value to our world, it is our responsibility to fulfil this mission.
Most people prefer ugly certainty to potentially beautiful uncertainty. The biggest question you need to answer is whether you dare to step on the unknown journey.
People are not seeking the meaning of life but want to experience life and feel what it is like to be alive.
My underlying logic of human interaction is that we can always learn from everyone we encounter. Do not judge but learn.
Any relationship is good as long as we are a whole person rather than a person having a hole to seek for others to fill the gap.
There are countless paths in the world, and each unique individual should avoid competition and take their own course. The guaranteed way is not a suitable way for everyone.
The problems in life are features, not bugs. Find the ones you like to solve and make peace with them.
We spend our whole lives unlearning to find our lost true nature.
Mastering storytelling as a skill. If we look back at history, the stories repeated again and again that formed our society.
Sources of Suffering: treat maps as territory and treat stories as reality.
When we give up controlling our life, the universe takes us to the perfect place. The universe has a much better plan for us than the one we envisage with your short-sightedness and limited knowledge.
Amor Fati. Memento Mori.
Logic is a human being’s creation. The universe does not give a damn about that. We all try to figure out the correlation and causation and brag about the pattern we discovered. However, many Black Swan events are happening around us. Maybe randomness is the key message we should bear in mind.
Be careful with others’ compliments, and then we will not pay much attention to their criticism. Our ability has a benchmark and will not change based on others’ thoughts. Nevertheless, be humble to take constructive feedback.
Action speaks louder than words. If we want to know people’s values, look at their actions.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” --Albert Einstein
I was born in Jinan, China, where under the tremendous influence of Confucianism, emphasised personal and governmental morality. The societal values are to respect and obey authorities and elders and sacrifice individual welfare to achieve a group goal.
Throughout primary school, I studied very hard, obeyed all the rules, and was awarded as a Merit Student. I remember so vividly that on graduation day, my best friend Shixin told me, “You have such a beautiful pair of eyes, but I cannot find any happiness inside them. I wish you a happy life.”
I was shocked and then cried for many days.
That was the first time I realised I lived a pretentious life and never was a happy kid deep inside. All I did was oppress my free spirit to adapt to mainstream society to get approval from others. What’s for? Why do I do that? What’s my purpose? Those self-examination questions lead me to so many depressing hours during my childhood.
Thanks to my grandparents, Qi Kaimin and Sun Yuzhen, the Cultural Revolution survivors, who were highly educated and cultured. They devoted their retiring life to researching Yi Jing (also known as I Ching or Book of Changes) and other ancient Chinese classics, including Three Teachings (Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism). They proposed changing my name from Chenlu to Yixuan to alter my fate based on Yi Jing’s statement.
I had no idea why I changed so dramatically after the name change (puberty hormonal changes?). I started behaving rebelliously, disobeyed authorities, wrote political-sensitive content, and asked numerous questions about existence that drove adults crazy. My parents saw through my personality and thought it would be better to send me overseas than live in a traditional Chinese society where my free spirit was suppressed.
I joined the exchange student program and went to New Zealand to study. The language barriers and culture shock took me to another round of loneliness and depression. I came across a Baptist Church near my school and prayed for Christian God to save me from suffering. Meanwhile, I attended a campus counselling service and tried to cure myself based on psychological practice. I also found libraries and bookstores as my shelters where I could temporarily escape from reality and enjoy my solitude time.
After I moved from New Zealand to the UK, I got a chance to meet and talk with people from different cultures and backgrounds where I could learn about Muslim, Orthodox and other schools of religions and philosophy that originated from the northern hemisphere. I read from Greek saints to German philosophers, from ancient gurus to contemporary thinkers, and then developed my philosophy by standing on those giants’ shoulders.
Apart from reading, I also tried different religious experiences, meditation and psychedelic retreats and alternative therapies.
Here is the list of names and schools that influenced my philosophy to my awareness:
Stoicism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Existentialism
Plato, Rene Descartes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Soren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, William Blakes, Simone de Beauvoir, David Deutsch, Jed McKenna, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Martin Heidegger, Ayn Rand, Mark Manson, Ryan Holiday, Derek Sivers, Naval, Kapil, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts and Alain de Botton
Among hundreds of books I read, this is the list of the top books I recommend which I benefit a lot from: https://mostrecommendedbooks.com/user/camelliayang.
Here is my current frequent listening and reading podcasts and newsletters from modern thinkers.
In 2015, I quit my full-time job at a well-known New Zealand corporate because I lost my motivation and inspiration as a content creator. I went to America and indulged myself in materialistic pleasure. It was a fun month, but this kind of action provided me with a temporary solution rather than a permanent cure.
I fell into a void and emptiness.
Back then, my Dad made his trip to Tibet and shared photos of those majestic palaces and magical natural scenery with me. I have always been fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism and the profoundness of Tibetan culture. Since I was a child, I heard about Princess Wencheng entering Tibet and marrying Songtsen Gampo and the story of how Tibetan used human skin to make drums.
I longed for this sacred and mysterious land, and it was time to pay for a visit.
It took me 24 hours by train to arrive in Lhasa, Tibet. I went through horrible altitude sickness (headache, accelerated heartbeat, and breathing difficulty), but the scenery along the way made me survive this mammoth trip.
I visited many villages where I saw the national five-star red flag flying in almost every house. I had no idea if it was the government’s efforts or if Tibetans voluntarily did so. My journalist background drove me to talk with everyone I met, but many elder villages could not speak Mandarin. Although we could not communicate, their genuine and innocent smiles made me feel very comfortable.
What impressed me most was the Tibetan Buddhism Prostration. Tibetan Buddhism believers prostrate themselves on the ground with their heads, arms, and knees down on the ground and move forward slowly, following every step with a kowtow. This was the way to express their honest hearts to the Buddha as they walked from their hometown to Lhasa, one kowtow with every three steps they took until they arrived in Lhasa (usually took a couple of months with 100,000 kowtows!).
I was shocked because I never saw hundreds of people prostrating this ritual along the way. What made them so devoted? What is the purpose for them to do so? What would they want to achieve?
Reflecting on my life, I had never focused on one thing, not to mention committed to any practice like that. I talked with the locals and prostrators and learnt that Buddha said our world is an illusion. To achieve enlightenment, humans can strip themselves of this illusion through meditation and self-denial. The prostration practice is essential to the mind’s purification, freeing it from lousy karma due to harmful doings or thoughts.
Although I had read a couple of Buddhism books before and had an idea of the Tibetan prostrator, words on paper could not compare with seeing them practising at the Dazhao Temple in front of me! Their actions and devotion so touched me. Moreover, visiting Dazhao Temple gave me emerge hope for our human race.
The Dazhao Temple owes its fame to its life-sized statue of the Buddha at age 12, brought to Lhasa as part of the Chinese Princess Wencheng’s dowry in 641. One thousand years later, another notable event happened in the temple’s long history: Chinese Emperor Kangxi visited here as a part of governing inspection.
How glad to see different ethnic groups could live harmoniously in one land throughout history. Although conflicts and wars occasionally happened, the mixed ethnic culture memes would find their way to survive and leave their essence to the future generation.
One of the highlights of my Tibet trip was visiting the Potala Palace. Songtsen Gampo built this world wonder by marrying Princess Wencheng from mainland China over 1,300 years ago. The Potala Palace was built on top of the mountain with more than 2,000 rooms full of paintings, books and exotic treasures.
The whole trip was mind-blowing with awe. Although humans only existed in this universe for a short period, the hard labour of creating those fantastic buildings and arts has always touched my heart with tears.
According to Tibetan Buddhist culture, circumambulating Mount Kailash clockwise on foot in the Year of Horse will bring good fortune. Because Mount Kailash is considered the home of Buddha Cakrasaṃvar, who represents supreme bliss; If you walk around Lake Namtso clockwise on foot in the Year of Sheep, it will bring Buddha’s blessings because Lake Namtso is the holy lake in the Tibetan world.
The sixth Dalai Lama, Cang Yang Gyatso, once wrote a poem about his experiences walking around the mountain and the lake, “In this lifetime, circumambulating the mountains, the lake and stupas but not to seek rebirth, only to meet you along the way”. How romantic!
I also wrote a piece about this beautiful land that blessed me with her beauty and holiness.
Farewell to Tibet,
The Potala Palace shone brightly under the rising Sun.
Farewell with the prayer flags with five pure lights.
Farewell to Tibet,
The Tibetan incense is curling up,
Farewell to its white clouds, blue sky, and colourful lands.
Farewell to Tibet,
The Buddhist chanting is bursting out,
Farewell to devoted people from the bottom of my heart.
A beautiful day has come and gone.
I’m saying goodbye.
You are staying hereby.
We are fated to meet again,
Between the dark and dawn.
Meditation can seem both improbable and pointless if you have never tried it before. You might wonder what the point is of sitting quietly for twenty minutes, and it looks like a waste of time without tangible benefits! Nevertheless, countless people and books talk about how important meditation is for your health, so I wondered: shall I give it a go and see what would work for me?
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
In 2018, after researching many different ways of meditation, I signed up for the Transcendental Meditation (TM) course, primarily influenced by Ray Dalio, whose Principles was one of my favourite books. In this six-week course, my teacher taught me a mantra (he said everyone’s mantra is different. The mantra itself is meaningless, and it is just an anchoring tool to help you focus). All I have to do is practice meditation for 20 minutes twice a day, once after waking up in the morning and once before dinner, in any setting or comfortable position.
So, how do I practise? First, choose a comfortable position, sitting cross-legged or on a chair or sofa, as long as you are not lying down. Second, close your eyes and sit still for half a minute to one minute. When you feel relaxed, start repeating your mantra in your head. Your brain will generate many mixed thoughts at this time. The ideal state is when the mantra and the thoughts cease to exist, and a feeling of emptiness is achieved.
As it is written in the biography of Steve Jobs, “If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes things worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there is room to hear more subtle things — that is when your intuition starts to blossom, and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse at the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It is a discipline; you have to practice it.” I agree. The important part is not controlling your thoughts but letting them go without interruption.
It takes time but worth it.
Yoga and Meditation Retreats
Once a year, I took a couple of weeks to make a Yoga or Meditation retreat. In 2019, I joined the Blooming Lotus Yoga retreat in Bali, including daily morning and evening yoga classes, theoretical study of the yoga system, daily morning and evening meditation sessions, and Bali’s cultural tour.
As an amateur CrossFit girl, I always find yoga too soothing and soft, and I prefer to pump and punch in the gym or go to a HIIT class; it makes me feel like exercising. This seven-day intensive yoga training has changed my perspective on yoga classes in a fundamental way. I had a chance to learn Yin and Yang yoga. One is slightly faster, fluid, energetic and powerful; the other is softer, focusing on stretching and emphasising endurance to achieve a state of unity between body and mind.
Yoga is not just a form of exercise but a way of life that unites body, mind and spirit, dating back 5,000 years to the Indus Valley. It has evolved over the millennia into many schools of thought, from the classical five major systems (wisdom yoga, karma yoga, hatha yoga, king yoga, kundalini yoga) and the eight branches of practice (abstinence, practice, asana, pranayama, mindfulness, concentration, meditation and samadhi) to the countless variations in modern society (hot yoga, Iyengar yoga, etc.).
The instructor briefly introduced us to Yoga Nidra, Chakras, Ayurveda and the yogic philosophy of ‘Unity of the Self’, and highlighted how to apply this theoretical knowledge to practical life by adopting healthy eating and exercise habits, self-healing and achieving a state of inner peace through a series of daily rituals. The most exciting part for me was the sister of Yoga: Ayurveda, derived from the Sanskrit word ‘life science’ with 5,000 years of history (Chinese medicine is also derived from Ayurveda).
Ayurveda believes that everything in the universe is made up of the five elements: Air (Akash), Wind (Vayu), Earth (Prithvi), Fire (Tejas) and Water (Apa), and the same is true of the human body (the five elements of Chinese medicine). These five elements are mixed to form Doshas’s life energy and are divided into three main categories.
Vata = Air + Wind
Pitta = Fire + Water
Kapha = Earth + Water
The Ayurvedic system teaches people to look within, understand themselves from the inside out, and find out what makes them. The essence of Ayurveda is to find, discover and regulate your sense of balance, to live in harmony with yourself, others and everything in the world. No one can give more than what they have, so you must start loving yourself. Be less obsessive with perfectionism and focus more on caring for yourself.
The most noticeable change since I started meditating is that I have become more aware of my ‘thoughts’ and many things I thought I had forgotten. Also, the emotions I had previously hidden and suppressed have come out (it can be horrifying at the beginning few months of practising meditation because you have to confront those ugly things that you avoided before).
Sigmund Freud once said, “unexpressed emotions will never die, and they are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” No wonder I went through a couple of panic attacks in the past years --- my repressed emotions eventually reached their breaking point and suddenly attacked me.
With the help of meditation, I have more courage to face these deeply buried thoughts and feelings, which, although painful, are temporary, and when they are resolved one by one, I will no longer be disturbed by them and will have a clear-thinking mind.
Meditation, like most things, is a long-term process, and just as the body needs to keep exercising to build muscle, the brain needs to keep meditating to develop awareness. Once you can be aware of yourself rather than follow the crowd, you will better understand who you really are and what you really want. Furthermore, once this fundamental problem has been solved, other secondary issues that arise from a lack of clarity about who you are will cease to exist.
Digital Detox Retreat
Due to my work nature, I am always on my phone or in front of my computer, swiping through various social media platforms at all times and actively/passively receiving much-fragmented information. Because of the fragmented knowledge in my head, I cannot focus and am easily affected by all kinds of redundant and cluttered information whenever I think about complex issues. I constantly feel tired and less productive.
In 2018, I got a chance to check out a digital detox retreat in Auckland. It is an excellent excuse to get away from the screen, be alone, and reflect on myself. I did not touch any of my electronic devices in those three days. Each morning, I woke up naturally and practised two full meditation sessions, including 10-15 minutes of yoga, 5 minutes of breathing exercises, and 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation, resting in bed for the last 10 minutes and then repeating the above set of movements.
The rest of the day was spent writing journals, reading books, going out, and talking with other participants. One day, I was meditating on my balcony, and the sun shone brightly before I closed my eyes. When I woke up from the half-hour-long meditation, it was drizzling outside, and a little bird was standing on my balcony, singing freely.
It reminds me of the time I watched the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The heroine saw a deer strolling on the green grass under the billboard, with the sunray in the backdrop. The heroine could not help but talk to the deer about her love for her daughter, and she returned to nature and faced the soft part of her heart. I shared the same feeling, appreciating nature’s beauty with gratitude.
10 Days Vipassana Meditation
No mobile phone, no talking, no reading or writing, no listening to songs or watching shows, no physical contact with others, no killing, no drinking or eating meat... plus getting up at 4 am every morning and meditating for 12 hours. This has been my life for the past 10 days.
When I heard about the Vipassana Meditation course from a friend and read the rules above, my first impression was, 'WTF... who would like to go to this meditation prison? Especially for someone like me who heavily depends on digital devices for work. However, out of curiosity, I decided to give it a go. So I enrolled in a course at one of the Vipassana Centres in England, along with more than 20 new students, to learn this thousand-year-old Buddhist meditation technique.
Overview of the Course
Vipassana is a Pali word that means seeing things as they really are. This ancient Indian meditation method was rediscovered and developed by Siddhattha Gotama over 2,500 years ago as a technique to help human beings out of suffering. Vipassana Meditation aims to rebuild the mind-body connection, eliminate distractions from the mind, and cultivate a balanced heart to live with peace, love and compassion.
The course is taught on video by S.N. Goenka, who was born and raised in Burma to a family of merchants and grew up with a luxurious lifestyle just like Buddha Siddhattha. After having everything but feeling unfulfilled and unhappy, Mr Goenka started a fourteen-year training with Sayagyi U Ba Khin and learned the technique of Vipassana from him.
In 1969, Mr Goenka moved to India and began teaching Vipassana in person. In 1982, Mr Goenka appointed assistant teachers to help him meet the growing demand for the crouse. Nowadays, there are over 160 Vipassana Meditation centres across the five continents, with hundreds and thousands of students from different races, religions and backgrounds.
Vipassana courses entirely rely on donations from participants and volunteers. Students must follow a strict code of conduct during the ten days and then apply what they learn in their daily lives afterwards. Here is a summary of my experience during this ten days course.
Upon arrival at the meditation centre, I was assigned to a dormitory with another two girls. After a short break and course induction, we started to live in Nobel Silence (following the rule I mentioned above) with a strict schedule.
Getting up early and having an extended meditation routine is not difficult for me because meditation has already become a part of my life since I started five years ago. I was not perturbed about the strict timetable but rather glad I finally had time to be with myself without any external distractions.
Speaking of the food, breakfast is organic cereal/bread with fruit plates, and there are various nut butter and jams and coffee and tea to choose from. Lunch varies daily: Indian curries, Italian pasta, Middle Eastern dishes, Chinese tofu, and many stir-fries or slow-cooked dishes with rice. There is no supper, but tea breaks where fruit plates are served.
On the first day, I learned the Anapana technique. This breath-focused meditation requires focusing on the triangle area between mouth and nose and devoting yourself to inhalation and exhalation activities only. Since I have been practising Transcendental Meditation for a while, this course was an unlearning process for me to get used to this new technique.
Whenever thoughts emerge in the head, just let them come and go, repeatedly bringing your attention back to the breath. I found the first three days relaxing because I enjoyed this breath-focused meditation. Moreover, I also indulged myself in daydreaming exercises during each break. A little theatre in my head featured me as the main character—what a pleasure with imaginative scripts full of pleasure and fun.
Just when I thought it would be such a free and easy ten days at Vipassana centre, the reality hit me hard.
Day four was the official starting point of practising Vipassana. Mr Goenka explained that our mind and body are ready to enter the deep level after three days of preparation. We need to scan the whole body from head to toe and not move during the entire one-hour meditation.
Meditating in solid stillness for 20-30 minutes is easy for me, but for one hour, I doubted that. As expected, the first Vipassana session was a mental and physical struggle, and I got tangled up at around the 30-minute mark. Not only did I feel my legs tingle and my back stiffens, but all the cells in my body were howling madly inside and screaming: MOVE!
I kept using my willpower to convince myself not to move. Well, my monkey mind would not listen and kept popping up fearful thoughts one after another: I am going to break my legs if I do not move; ah, my face is so itchy, and I need to scratch it; OMG, I am going to be paralysed for the rest of my life! Every part of my body is hurting so much!
Seconds felt like years, and I finally used up my willpower. I burst out with tears from self-blame and pain and started to stretch my legs. At the same time, I was aware that other students around me began to move, and I could even hear the footsteps leaving the meditation hall. I was in a frustrated stage: how come I was too weak to sit still just for one hour? And I cried even more (silently).
When I researched this course, I heard many students left the meditation centre on the third or fourth day. I thought they were incapacitated, and now I was one of them planning to go. Just the moment I came up with the perfect 'prison-break' plan, the chanting from Mr Goenka hit my ears. The hour-long meditation ended. I felt like his voice was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.
I rushed out of the hall to the yard, stretching my limbs. Many other students joined me, and everyone looked like a newly released prisoner desperate for fresh air and wide-open space to free their trapped bodies and minds.
I had an appointment to talk to the assistant teacher on the fourth day. The moment I opened my mouth, I wept uncontrollably. What a blessing to be able to speak! I spoke to the assistant teacher about my physical pain, weak mind, and desire to leave the course. The assistant teacher, a middle-aged Asian woman, practising Vipassana for over 20 years, looked at me with a gentle smile.
She said it was customary to experience what I had been described. When the pain appears, we need to observe it, not fight against it, knowing that pain is just a feeling like other pleasurable sensations. The MIND constantly differentiates those feelings and gives them a different meaning. In general, sensations are all the same, all Impermanent.
I had studied Buddhism before, knowing the teachings of the Four Noble Truths. I know I should not crave different sensations; everything will pass away eventually. However, knowing is one thing but doing is another thing. The assistant teacher reminded me that most people know, not the Panna (wisdom). Wisdom is about continually applying what we have learned into practice, due diligently and persistently.
In the afternoon, I took the teacher's words into mind to observe pain from the third person's perspective by replacing the phrase "I am in pain" and "I am going to be paralysed" with "this is the point of pain" and "the pain will not last long". To my surprise, after a few rounds of attempts, the pain, like a child playing hide and seek, stopped pestering me when I uncovered it. In the following days, I played this 'hide-and-seek' game with pain, and finally, on the sixth day, I could meditate for an hour or more without moving.
Without iPhone and iWatch, I did not know the date and weather. However, those details become irrelevant to me. The repetitional daily schedule took my memory back to the COVID lockdown. Back then, I thought I would be too bored to survive, but eventually, I not just survived but thrived with many personal achievements. The adaptability of human beings is truly immense, and it is the mind trying to trick us with different interpretations.
Every evening, Mr Goenka's video lectures were always full of laughter, as he always turned esoteric Buddhism concepts and terms into vivid stories. For example, one night, Mr Goenka told us the following story:
Mr Goenka was walking in the dark with five students when one of his students accidentally bumped into a man. The man started to swear and yell at his students, at which point Mr Goenka thought it was funny.
Mr Goenka was talking in the dark with five students when he accidentally bumped into a man. The man started to swear and yell at him, making Mr Goenka feel ashamed and embarrassed.
Mr Goenka was walking in the dark with five students when he accidentally bumped into a man. The man started to swear and yell at him, at which point Mr Goenka found the man was his son, so he felt ashamed, embarrassed, and heartbroken.
The story revealed why we reacted differently to the same thing because we attached emotions to our egos, especially when others attacked 'me'. Even worse, when someone 'I' cared about attacked 'me'.
Suppose one can look at everything objectively, without associating 'I' with any emotion, knowing that all emotions and feelings follow the law of birth and death and do not last forever. In that case, one can escape suffering and achieve peace and harmony.
On the last day of the course, Mr Goenka shared the art of living. Many students were moved to tears and were grateful that we had completed the course and mastered the Vipassana meditation technique.
People who suffer from inner agitation also cause negative vibes to people around them. Imagine the earth full of such people, and the whole world would suffer. So how can we maintain inner peace and tranquillity and live in harmony?
First of all, we need to understand the origin and cause of suffering, and by looking at it, we see that unfulfilled desires cause all suffering. When things do not go as planned, negative emotions arise, and people either express or repress them, making the world violent. At the same time, the latter may appear harmonious and peaceful on the surface. Still, deep down, those suppressed emotions are like dormant volcanoes that will sooner or later explode.
Avoidance and escaping emotions are not the answer we seek. On the contrary, we need to face the problem. Whenever a negative thought arises, if we observe and face it rather than react, that emotion will lose its power and slowly vanish. So how exactly should we observe emotions?
Ancient Indian monks discovered that when our mind becomes polluted and distracted, the body gives signals accordingly, either losing the usual regularity of breathing or having a biochemical reaction to produce certain feelings. Continuous training and practice allow us to easily observe the changes and sensations in our breath and body. Once we are brave enough to face this reality, there is no room for emotions to escape, and we can make them disappear through pure observation.
We like to look for the causes of unhappiness from the outside world, not realising that the only solution is the one within. Observing the reality deep inside will free us from false delusion and get away from suffering to enjoy a peaceful and happy life.
Like learning everything, ten days will not make a huge difference; all we need to do is repeatedly apply the techniques we have learned over the rest of our lives.
To look at thoughts and emotions objectively, not to be led by them or to avoid their existence, but to put the 'I' out of the way, knowing that it will all pass, whether happiness or sadness, pleasure or pain. Impermanent is the true nature of life.
An unexamined life is not worth living; we must observe and experience reality with consciousness. If we are lucky, we will be able to achieve a state of oneness and live a peaceful and harmonious life.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake
In 2021, I had my first psychedelic experience with the Grandfather plant, San Pedro, at The Lighthouse Retreat.
Two trips in 4 days let me ‘see’ the themes constantly haunted my mind: time, space, reality and dreams. We all know that language can be limited when describing something overpowering and magnificent. Here is my attempt to describe those visions and insights (The Doors of Perception: Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley described better than my words) :
Eighty-four thousand thoughts and ideas,
Landscape transformation in the whirligig of time,
Everything is evolving and decaying in front of my eyes.
Vivid Colours dance along with the music of nature,
Infinite fractals emerge and disappear like the Mandelbrot set and Mandala of Sanskrit.
Van Gogh’s painting is in a tangible form.
Ram Dass’s message comes into my mind,
“We’re all just walking each other home”.
We are nameless and formless,
We are a pixel and we are a Buddha,
Was vernünftig ist, das ist wirklich,
We’re loved just for being who we are, just for existing.
Let us accept ourselves and others in full,
Try not to control, try not to force, try to surrender to the power of the universe.
Time and space are a total illusion.
The reality doesn’t seem like what we see.
To see beauty, use our hearts, not our eyes.
Feel, and we shall know.
Seek, and we shall find.
I rise above the earth and travel through abstract concepts and patterns.
A snap of the finger is the moment of eternity.
I could have lived forever in that dazzling and wonderful dream,
But your sweet smile pulls me back to the material world.
Life is the eighth wonder.
When we genuinely want something,
The whole universe is always on our side.
P.S. My teacher Isher at the retreat centre gave me the nickname “Zen Master” because I could sit on the platform for hours, calm and still. He mentioned that my peaceful energy would help to balance unstable emotions from others.
Apart from the above experience, I echo what Steve Jobs once said, “You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future”.
Everything that happened in my life has already connected in a beautiful circle. What I need to do is just follow my intuition and walk through the journey with love. I was also astonished when I found Mandala flowers at the retreat centre! When I studied Buddhism at an early age, I named myself Mandala, and after two decades, I finally met ‘myself’ again.
In 2022, I had my first encounter with grandma medicine Ayahuasca in a rural area in Portugal. Before drinking the sacred brew, I set my intention to know the truth of our reality. Little did I know that my journey would be far from easy.
As I drank the thick, brown liquid, I felt a surge of energy run through my body. The initial effects were overwhelming, and I struggled to keep my composure. I closed my eyes and was transported to another realm. I saw codes that looked like deep darkness, and I could hear Ayahuasca talking to me, not in any language but in a way that I could understand.
As I continued my journey with Ayahuasca, the reality of our world began to unravel before my eyes. I saw everything as a series of codes, the fundamental building blocks of our reality. It was as if I had been given access to the backend of the universe, where everything was made up of these codes.
At first, it was overwhelming to see the world in this way. It was as if the veil had been lifted, and I could see the truth behind everything. I could see how the world was connected, how everything was linked together in a vast web of cause and effect.
But as I looked closer, I began to understand how these codes were the basis for everything we experience. They were the foundation of our thoughts, our emotions, and our experiences. I could see how our consciousness was intertwined with these codes and how they shaped our reality in ways we could never fully understand.
In this state, I felt like I had transcended the limitations of my physical body and mind. I was no longer bound by the constraints of my ego or my beliefs. I was free to explore the deepest truths of the universe, to see the world as it truly was, without any filters or biases.
It was a humbling and awe-inspiring experience. To be able to see the world in this way, to see the deep reality that lies behind everything, was a gift that I will never forget. It gave me a new perspective on life and a renewed appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the universe.
Later, I saw the life journey of my parents and the people I love. I felt their struggles, their pain, and their joys. I cried a lot during this part of the journey. I also experienced extreme temperatures, feeling as though I was in extremely cold and extremely hot environments. I felt like I had died several times, and yet I was still alive, still experiencing everything that was happening to me.
The truth was hard to handle, but I was determined to push my limits and know it. And then, Ayahuasca told me something that I never expected to hear. She said that she did not love me anymore because I was too pushy to know something I was not supposed to know. I was shocked and heartbroken. Despite the pain, I knew that Ayahuasca was guiding me to see the reality that I belong, and it was up to me to make the necessary changes to find peace and happiness.
My experience with Ayahuasca was intense, and it wasn't easy, but it was worth it. It helped me to confront some of the most difficult truths of my life, and it taught me that the path to enlightenment is often filled with darkness.
Ayahuasca is not for everyone, but for those who are ready to face the truth, it can be a powerful tool for transformation. It's important to approach this sacred plant medicine with respect and reverence and to work with experienced practitioners who can guide you through the process.
Last but not least, my grandpa left a poem for my family before he passed away in 2009.
He was a lifelong learner and independent thinker with intellectual curiosity on many subjects. Although he went through numerous ups and downs in his lifetime, he chose to have an innocent heart with a peaceful mind.
I hope one day I can reach the same level as what he called oneness between me and the universe.
The light of the day is gone without a trace,
Wealth and fame are like clouds passing by.
I am a simple person living a life outside of the material world,
And I have studied Zen from the journey within.
Yin and Yang harmonise and purify my emotions,
Moving and meditating cultivated my mind.
The essence of the spirit is my inner guard,
The universe and I unified in one.
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