I RECENTLY travelled to Nepal with my spiritual teacher, a man known as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Not the musician – Shankar is a common name in India – rather, a famous teacher or “guru” who was a disciple of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (guru to The Beatles, and founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement).
My teacher, Sri Sri as he is affectionately known, has a following of millions with his Art of Living ashrams in many cities of the world. This trip, I decided to join him in Kathmandu.
His teachings appeal to me. He explains: “The mind cannot heal the mind.” We can’t overcome self-destructive behaviours, and self-defeating thoughts with the mind, since the mind likes its thoughts and doesn’t want to be shut down. The mind gets in the way of happiness; we can’t hear the whispers of the soul because it jabbers so much. Sit in silence and witness the cacophony.
So you have to “trick” the mind into settling down by meditation, yoga, and spiritual practice. But as usual, after several days of deep meditation, I began to feel oversensitive and was crying a lot. The more I dropped my armour – no alcohol, distractions, work, sex, gossip, dramas – the more sadness came up. Not just for myself, but for all suffering beings in the world.
So how can one let go of one’s lifelong defences in order to touch divinity, yet not become so vulnerable and fragile that one is unable to cope, like a snail without its shell?
I wrote the question on paper, to be answered on stage – along with many other questions from devotees – a traditional Indian way of imparting wisdom. Each night I rushed to lectures, hoping Sri Sri would answer a question I’ve grappled with all my life.
On the last night, I flushed the toilet and was running out the door when the loo began to overflow. With my camera gear on the floor and no one to call, I prodded buttons and prayed, and finally it stopped. I got to the lecture just in time to catch the last words of what I was told had been a fulsome answer.
I skulked back to my room, bereft that such banality had washed away my chance at enlightenment. But then I remembered something someone once asked me: “Between pain or nothing, what would you choose?” “I would choose pain,” I replied.
Feeling deeply brings suffering; but it also opens us up to the infinite joy of being alive. Numbing ourselves through drugs, alcohol, addictions and distractions, deprives us of the profundity of life.
The answer didn’t need to come from the guru after all. It was there all along.
Nepalese Buddhist monks in a monastery in Katmandu. AP