Meditation is about quieting one’s mind. A mind without thought is not a thoughtless mind. It is an empty mind, a mind with nothing in it. It is a no mind, as Buddhists say. Sunyata[i] or emptiness in Mahayana Buddhism is enlightenment.
By this point in my journey, I was deeply immersed in two fields of inquiry–physics and the Vedas. These fields were converging for me. Wisdom of the Vedas was shining new light on many abstract concepts in modern physics, such as wave-particle duality. Conversely recent theories in physics, such as the nature of the void, were giving me, a scientist, permission to be open to the insights of the Vedas.
I was beginning to accept that the Vedic sages were scientists, of sorts, and they used, what Einstein called, “thought experiments” to arrive at their deep insights. They had other highly developed “tools” for probing into reality, such as meditation, yoga and mantras. I was no longer skeptical of these eastern practices and was ready to explore them for myself. I took up meditation.
Don’t let anyone tell you that meditation is easy. My father-in-law would tell me “all that you have to do is watch your thoughts”. As hard as I tried, I could not quieten my mind. I later learnt that trying hard is the problem. One has to just let go. I was ready to give up on meditation. In desperation, I took to extreme measures to quieten my mind.
I started by listening to music while wearing high fidelity headphones and cranking up the volume. I mostly listened to drums and Buddhist chants. Low frequency sounds would drown out the noise in my head. Lo and behold, my mind would quieten. I would drop into a state of “no mind”, lost in my music. The longer the music went the better I felt.
I was so drawn to this experience that it became my practice for almost a year. Every night I would put my headphones on and repeat the exercise. I became addicted to the experience. This was also the time that my teenage son started a punk band. I took to going to his performances and losing myself in his music. I would close my eyes and listen to his very loud band with my entire body, this experience too, as strange as it sounds, would quieten my mind. This was my introduction to meditation. Very unorthodox, I admit.
After years of listening to loud music through headphones and going to concerts with a view to “meditating” in this unorthodox way, I felt motivated to try traditional meditation. I was now able to let go of the chattering monkey in my head and sit quietly in meditation. I was able to watch my thoughts float by, like wisps of clouds in the sky. Often my mind would become still and completely quiet. In those moments I experienced nothingness of the void. It felt good.
I meditate often, and I can drop into meditation in the noisiest of places, such as in crowds or at a party. The switch for me from an outward focused life to a life lived inside-out started when I became skilled at watching my thoughts and meditating. I flipped from being a scientist of the world outside-a physicist, to a yogi of the mind. I could now switch easily and seamlessly between two realities-the external reality and the internal reality. I had the know-how to experience first-hand what the ancient sages spoke of. The wisdom of the ancient sages was now a realized experience for me, it was no longer an abstract idea. I could replicate the experience of the sages. Thus, I came to believe in the Vedas as much as I believed in physics. This was a breakthrough for me.
I could now integrate and synthesize two streams of knowledge-scientific and Vedic. I look at scientific knowledge as the “wisdom of the west” and the Vedas as the wisdom of the east. I have understood that they both point to true north or the absolute truth.
The absolute truth, soul, spirit, God or Reality by any name is within us. The journey in search of Reality is like traveling down the yellow brick road, in the Wizard of Oz, the further you go the more you come to know yourself,[ii] as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tinman did.
This I believe: 10. Self-discovery is a slow unfolding. The further you go on this journey the more you come to know yourself.