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Old 22-01-2011, 11:41 PM   #1
solve_et_coagula
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Smile Seeking the Illuminated Body

Seeking the Illuminated Body

Eli-Yahu Mishulovin

The journey to enlightenment and unitary consciousness is a long one. Why is the road so uninviting and fraught with obstacles where so few seem to have reached the other side, much less have attained an illuminated body? Might we be holding out because the other side does not quite live up to our idea of enlightenment?

Of my earliest conscious memories, the times I spent in and around the synagogue with the Lubavitcher Rebbe are still vividly present, semi-ingrained and all-too-easily available for recall. Following the life of this Hassidic Master and attentively listening to the teachings he imparted was the preeminent occupation of my psyche, time and energy from childhood through the first years of my adult life. At the age of fifteen I was asked to assist the lead transcriber in recollecting the Rebbe's words, specifically those delivered on Shabbos and Holidays when writing and recording devises were prohibited. Speaking in Rabbinic Yiddish, the style, format and contend of the his talks ranged from expansive analysis and development of Hassidic-Kabbalistic Cosmology to practical lessons in being a mensch and at home living; from rigorous logical analysis of Talmud and Commentary to a nuanced elucidation of a Midrashic line or a tale in Hassidic lore - all seemingly effortlessly woven and expounded on in discourses, homilies, and transmissions during Hassidic gatherings. Yet, the most salient within all the Rebbe's talks was the unrelenting infusion and invocation of the hope for, and drive toward, a cosmic redemption ready to be reveled and experienced here on earth.

During one such talk as the Rebbe lamented the suffering of exile -- reflected in the misplaced energy of the wandering Shekhina, the tumultuous history of the Jewish people, and the chaotic state of human life on planet earth -- there was an emphatic expression, that what we want is for the body to shine! With this phrase, he seemed to be articulating a major component of his messianic vision. The body, not a stand-alone theme in Hassidic parlance, was given a voice as more then a vehicle for the souls' expression. Though, it was left open as to what it means for the body to shine, and how may we come to that level of beingness.

The said expression was heard on Hosanna Rabba, the last day of the festival of Sukkoth (Booths), toward the completion of a ninety-minute talk following the communal prayer services on an autumn evening in 1983. Discoursing on the transmutation of suffering while standing and leaning on the side of his prayer lectern the Rebbe said,

The soul's cry-out for salvation from her exilic state is all the more so in a time of deep darkness, when "the darkness covers the earth" (Isaiah 60:2), and though it is true that "Havaya, the Lord, will shine onto you"(ibid.), what we want is for the body to shine; and not to shine with another's light, which illuminates it, but for the body to shine in it of itself, the way it will be ‘in the days to come' (l'osid lovo).

But why can it be so in ‘the days to come'? Because the body has this ability now as well; not in some hidden or abstract potential, but in an actually that is ready in the body now; it is merely locked under a lid. But the lid is locked!



There is the drive to have our bodies overcome its inertness and be brought into the light and in tuning consciousness to being more integratively embodied. And the Rebbe's words reverberate as both a plea and a teaching: a heartfelt cry on the suffering of exile articulated in bodily terms, the body being in darkness; and a teaching as to the higher state of bodily existence envisioned for ‘the days to come,' the integrative awakened experience within an illuminated body.

How, however, are we to reach that state, or, at least in someway, prepare for and foster this level of transformational body consciousness?

The need to elevate rather then subdue the body is already found in the teachings of the founder of modern day Hassidism Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (also known as the Besht {1698(?) -1760**), who set out to reverse the then prevalent practice among Jewish mystic aspirants and Talmudist, of asceticism and negation of the physical. In the Beshet's exegesis the line in Exodus 23:5, "When you will see the donkey of one who hates you faltering underneath its load, and thus you halt from assisting him; you shall offer to help and assist with him," is read as an allegory on the battlefield with corporality. The Hebrew word for donkey, Khamor, is similar to the term which signifies congealed materiality, Khomer, exemplified in the weighty energy of the body. The verse thus reads, ‘as you notice that the Khamor, the bodily needs and desires, hates you and is dragging you down, so your impulse is to resign from offering assistance to this overburdened aspect of your being, the animal carrying the heavy load; nonetheless, provide help, and assist rather then subjected your body; then by harnessing this bestial force, it is no longer you adversary, but with you, becoming a friend who joins in the work for higher existence, transmuting corporal energy in service of the divine.

The Besht also emphasized the importance of joy and equality; taught methods for concentrating the mind and how to connect to Spirit in prayer; and the importance of bringing numinous awareness to bear even on the routine of daily life. His primary teachings as expounded on and propagated in the Chabad School center on the ideas of Divine Providence, Spirit's love for all and the primacy of heart centered living.

Providence as taught by the Besht extends to even the most mundane. Once while in the forest with his students he pointed to a leaf whirling in the wind as it descended from its branch and said, ‘Even the direction of the leaf's spin as it falls from the tree is not random but divined by Providence, and as you witness the leaf's wobbly drop it is fulfilling a part in creation's master plan.' The recognition of this level of providence reveals Spirit's watchful eye and guiding hand, and so there is nothing to fear but to rejoice at being in the benevolent presence of all-loving Spirit.

Another primary teaching of the Besht's was on the people's equality in the eyes of the Divine. In the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe of his time there was a strong division, bordering on a riff, between the Torah scholars and the common folk. The Ba'al Shem Tov, whose name is Hebrew for Master of the Good Name, would travel to small towns as a healer and spend time in the markets uplifting the poor and uneducated folk by listening to their stories, telling them tales, and even prescribing mixtures of therapeutic herbs and protective amulets. Later, in his teachings as a revealed master, he emphasized that intention of the heart trumps the knowledge possessed by the mind. One may be highly learned and another may only know a few verses of Psalms, yet the one with purity of intention in prayer is more likely to reach Spirit.

One Yom Kippur day, a twenty six hour fast-day dedicated to introspection and repentance, the Besht spend an inordinate amount of time in prayer during one of day's five services. An illiterate peasant teenager then lost his patience after sitting mum for hours while all the others recited the prayers, pulled out a whistle he secretly stashed, and blow it in middle of the synagogue, an act, akin to the playing of instruments, which is forbidden on this day of renunciation. The Besht, who was leading the service, then emerged from his deep contemplation, quickly completed the prayers and explained to the congregants what transpired. That afternoon in one of his customary visionary ascensions into other psychic realms, he was made aware of a pending ruling which would ominously effect the Jewish people. During the lengthy prayer he was interceding to have it revoked but was unsuccessful; until the sound of the simple boy's whistle pierced the heavens and annulled the decree. The purity of the boy's unmediated cry out reached to where even the holy man's prayers could not.

The Rebbe, (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Nikolayev, Ukraine, Spring 1902- New York City 1994)), was the seventh and last master of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic linage. Chabad, is an Hebrew acronym for wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and a third generation Hassidic school, originating in 1780's Lithuania. After fleeting the Napoleonic invasion of the Russian Empire in 1812, the movement's leadership settled for over a century in the Russian shtetl, town, of Lubavitch.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century as Hassidism gained momentum and attracted a diverse following throughout the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe, the inspirational chaos led some factions to seek to completely overturn the rigidity of the established Halachic order of prescribed rabbinic law; their public practice involved continues celebrations and inebriations, shouting and dancing in the streets, performing somersaults in the city square, and deliberately wearing their hats and coats inside out, a proclamation of their disregard for worldly norms.

Countering this anarchical strain, Chabad philosophy stressed the need to cultivate the power of the mind, specifically, in order to regulate the hearts impulsiveness, by way of emersion in the study of mystical text and through contemplation before and during prayer. It also incorporated in its credo the almost persistent need for inner work, and set it as its goal not mystical transcendence, but finding the return from divine union, and harnessing the power of the animal instinct and the lower self on the path of integrative transformation.

In terms of tapping into and finding the source for inspiration, the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Hassidic teachings stressed that though it ultimately descends from a space which inner work can not reach, as a gift of grace, yet it is still incumbent upon one to work in that direction that will help facilitate and evoke the inspiration to come forth. The inner work of focusing ones attention to create space for the divine energy to enter initiates movement in other realms, which don't meet the eye; the inspiration then begins to descend to our lowly state of life on the dense material plane of planet earth, where upon its arrival it then finds a suitable habitat within which to manifest.

Talk of bodywork in Hassidic literature, primarily, surrounds the reason for mitzvahs, commandments, which are intended to refine the body and by extension the space around you. For example, the Biblical prescription to gather together the finest of four plant species during the Harvest Holiday, a palm, citron, myrtle, and willow, is combined with the Rabbinic ordinate for blessings, prayer recitations and the performing of three directional shakes with the four species toward each cardinal point, above and below. This symbolic ritual of interconnectedness aligns the plant and human kingdoms, and also purifies the body energetically, where the corporal energy is not used for self gratification but for a higher purpose, for something more then mere self; thus it gets cleansed for divine light to shine in and through the body.

As to the revealing of the body's inner shine, this too would seem to necessitate a practice to facilitate an awakening. However, other then intermediate steps or preparatory ground laying, the Hasidic directives tend towards work in using the body for a higher purpose, subjugation of the lower self or practices to overcome the bodily drives and inclinations.

But what of a more specific practices to aid and tune the body's energy in revealing its inner shine, beauty, and even its own consciousness? Where about to search for the right key that will help open the lid on the body's inner light?

In esoteric teachings, beings are at times classified as emanating forth from the Kabbalistic Divine Names, Ma or Ban; Ma is utter surrender and Ban related to the feminine. The work while embodied on earth reflects the journey the divine soul undertook from an embryonic spirit through the realms of manifestation. The former have an expedited gestation period, in their surrendered state there is not much resistance from the sense of being a separate self, and thus they swiftly navigate through the different developmental levels on the journey toward embodiment. Souls who emanate as sons of the feminine spend more time absorbing and learning while descending through the birthing channel.

Beings on earth related to the divine name Ma, concentrate their attention on working with their soul, while those connected to Ban, focus on elevating the physical body. Examples given of Biblical historical personages who in their embodiment reflected these differences are Moses, Ma; David and Elijah, Ban. The eleventh century French rabbi and the leading elucidator of the Torah, Rashi, relates, form the Talmud, that Moses was born at six months and one day from conception. The Egyptians foresaw a birth at nine months for the one who may lead the Hebrews out of bondage, which is why, as the story is told in Exodus, Moses' mother, Yokheved, was able to conceal the infant at home for three months before being forced to place him on a papyrus basket floating among the reeds at the edge of the river, there by sheltering him from Pharaoh's decree to put all newborn boys to death. David was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse, who was to have been born a miscarriage if not for Adam, the first man, gifting him seventy of his thousand-year life. Elijah was born already circumcised after a full twelve months in the womb.

In the Biblical story Elijah is a sole surviving Prophet, who battles with unrelenting conviction to (re)turn the peoples' hearts from idol worship, or worse their fickleness in straddling the fence as to which lord to serve. After his victory at a showdown on Mount Carmel, where a heavenly fire consumed only his sacrifice, he put to the sword the Ba'al prophets. Despondent, he asked the Lord to end his life as he is no better than his fathers, then found refuge in a desert cave where he heard a call questioning what he is doing there. Elijah responded, ‘I executed vengeance in the name of the Lord of Hosts after the Sons of Israel deserted Your Covenant, destroyed Your alters, and put Your prophets to the sword; while I was the lone one left and they sought to take my life' (1 Kings 19). He was summoned from the cave by an awesome display of wind, thunderous quakes and fire, yet in all that was not the Lord. Hearing a kol d'mama daka, a still-soft voice, he wrapped his face in his mantle and appeared at the cave's entrance, where the Voice again asked what he is doing there. Elijah repeated his story of vengeance and isolation. He was then told by the Lord to return to the people and was given directives to anoint Kings for Aram and Israel and Elisha as his successor. Fulfilling his work, Elijah split and crossed the Jordan river, then entered a heavenly chariot of fire and ascended, leaving behind his weeping disciple Elisha who requested of his master twofold of his share in Spirit, and then gained it when he kept his eyes on Elijah as he was taken up.

I chanced on the Elijah story while in the Amazon rainforest readying myself to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony officiated by a gringo Curnadero gone native, the mostly toothless and middle age Ron from Kansans. Riding on a packed rickety bus shuttling people home into the lush jungle form their day labors and escapades in the industrialized and polluted city of Iquitos, Peru, I was exercising my faculty of concentration and preparing to enter the rarified psychic space accessed by drinking the sacred elixir, by reading up on the visionary inspired lives of the Hebrew Prophets spanning the first millennium BCE.

Two years earlier, in my inner quest, the Ayahuasca medicine confirmed the possibility of manifesting higher living and being within our earthly existence, an alternative, to the alienating and mechanical lifestyle of the western mind, practiced under the banner of progress, as well as to the insularity and dogma of religious life. But when the jungle brew began to untangle my psyche, it also sent me on a return journey to investigate my heritage, following more then a decade where all which I youthfully ingested from the remnants of the Hebrew tradition, evoked, either a shudder or various expressions of masked indifference. And one avenue I was looking into was the apparent historicity of the Israelite civilization, recorded and written by eyewitness accounts, and passed down for over two millennia.

What struck me in reading the Elijah story was that his otherworldly vision while in the desert takes place after he was guided there by an angel in a forty-day trek with no food. Why then was the Voice querying him as to what he was doing in the desert cave? Perhaps, Elijah's wandering and hiding implies that in the public miracle he performed to demonstrate the validity of Spirit over idols and in his then putting to sword the Ba'al prophets, he overstepped the bond; for not by might or power but by my Spirit, so said the Lord of Hosts (Zechariah 4:6).

The explicit lesson I took away from the story is that it is not by the awesomeness of visions where Spirit is heard, but through the ‘still-soft voice'.

Elijah is the manifestation of the archetype who's energy body reached the ready state that enabled him to ascended to heaven alive, not experiencing physical death; and so it was with Chanokh, Enoch son of Jared, "Who walked with the Lord and was no more for the Lord had taken him" (Genesis 5:24), though that was before life on planet earth is reported to have been wiped clean by the Deluge, when the Bible chronicles the average age as 900 years plus, with the exception of Enoch who only made it to 365 before being taken up.

Elijah's path is the body's surrender to the soul at all points, almost willing itself to nullification, and is an expression of the unsettled drive of continuous ascension. But it lacks the integration of the return journey, where the physical body itself is brought to a state where it express spirit.

Another, more exalted level, in the literature, is that of Moses, "The humblest of all men on earth" and "Rabon, Master-Sage, of all the Prophets (Maimonides), who demolished tyranny, liberated the oppressed, established moral law, and "knew God face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). Moses is distinguished from all the other Israelite Prophets as having seen directly and not by reflection or in a dream (Numbers 12:7). His body-soul consciousness was at the level of Ma (not) and so did not interfere, thus he attained Spirit Vision while embodied on earth. Moses' body of flesh, "whose eye did not dim and cheek did not wither" even as death called, was a form for a higher being to manifest and at the age of 120 was buried in an unmarked valley in the land of Moab.

Moses level of bodily surrender, where ordinary mind and body interfere not, enabled him to be a clear channel for Spirit even while dealing with earthly matters; as he was standing in front of Pharaoh and his sorcerers in Egyptian bondage or while being harangued by his own people in the desert, he communed directly with Spirit "mouth to mouth" (Numbers 12:8) and delivered its message. Moses refined his body by way of a compatible and settled surrender, where the body dos not seek to lose itself and disappear into higher being, but where body consciousness, in a settled manner, tailors its functions specifically for the soul's differing forms of expression.

While these Biblical figures may represent archetypal characters that offer us lessons as to possible attainments and to ways which Spirit manifests, or as highlighting the various rungs in the ladder of collective inner development; what does it imply or teach us as we move forward in historical time? What about the specific practices that aided these beings in their journey which may be relevant and helpful to our being existence now? Or are those mere technicalities of technique which shifts and develops over time, and we may each creatively devise our own methods once we are made aware of higher existence or have an inkling as to what it may be about.

Or have these exceptional beings already paved the way for the day when living at that level of consciousness may be the norm, perhaps without the need for us to individually chart such extreme levels of surrender and self nullification bordering on annihilation? Are we collectively closer to a time of unbounded Spirit manifestation on earth; when a cleansing of our psyche will bring the experiences of the past, individual and historical, to the fore, and when purified be seen as steps toward the day when the layers of ego and separateness are shed both within the individual and between the collective; and we as humanity will merit to Know Essence and Be Love?

In closing the above quoted tear-soaked talk on the pain and incomprehensibility of the depth of the darkness, suffering, and length of the exile the Rebbe said, "One of the solutions to overcoming this darkness and bringing about the redemption within a moment or instant, (despite the limitation of it being nighttime when the temple can not be build... and all the other questions to the as of yet unfulfilled parts of the story...) there is the need for great joy in general and especially on Hosanna Rabba; and a genuine joy, not, chas v'sholom, protection and peace, a feigned one. And remove from your thoughts for these moments or hours all matters which distract from the joy, (though they are legitimate complains...and the Torah wants you to voice them and demand [an explanation]...). In the spare moments left in this holiday, whose theme is joy, may there be dancing in the street; first getting the street [that which is still on the outside] to join you in dance and then the street will get you dancing."

Following the talk, a quick bite to eat in the Sukka (a hut roofed with vegetation of bamboo and cedar or palm leaves, which functions as a temporary habitat for the fall holiday), and the reading of Moses' Book, Deuteronomy, I joined the masses of Hassidim as we danced and celebrated on the streets of Crown Heights Brooklyn for a few hours. At one AM, midnight in ‘real time' and morning enough for public Biblical readings to commence, we gathered once again with the Rebbe in his synagogue for the public recitation of the complete book of Psalms.

At some point in the two-hour Psalms reading, I experienced the inner struggle of my then ten year old self. As I stood among thousands of men in the back of the overstuffed basement hall under the women's balcony while facing a stack of oversized books, I began to be overwhelmed by fatigue. At first, I set out to finish reciting all 150 psalms for perhaps the third time that month, but I kept on nodding off and waking when my neck slightly snapped and my head slumbered down. I gave up keeping up with the crowed and kept telling myself that if I focused my mind I can override the body's automatic shutting of my eyes, simply, by the power of deciding to not do so no matter what. I lost track of the psalms and battled back and forth, between nodding, waking and resolving to stay upright. The body was mostly victorious as my knees kept buckling and I continually slumped down, but I recall being baffled at my inability to stay awake if I so choose.

The Rebbe, however, it was said, did not go to bed all the seven days of the holiday. He would quote from the Talmud that in the days of the Jerusalem Temple in connection with the annual ritual during this harvest holiday of drawing water from the Shlioah spring and the ceremony of offering it over the alter, there were all-night festivities in the large women's section of the Sanctuary, which included fire juggling by leading rabbis, due to which, people did not taste sleep for seven days; explaining, that taste meant there was no going to bed, but as humans can not, as read in the Talmudic laws on vows, subsist for even three days with no sleep, they would nap by leaning on each other's shoulders. He would encourage his Hassidim in his nightly talks during the holiday to push themselves so now as well. On day seven when the he was in his late eighties I witnessed the Rebbe seeming so tired that when he walked into the synagogue or as he spend many hours distributing to all who requested a piece of honey cake with his wishes for a sweet year, it looked like he was moving, even dragging, his body, by the force of his will. But being the Rebbe he did not succumb to fatigue or allow himself any rest from his continuously mounting activities.

After the Rebbe's passing in June 1994, following the hype surrounding him as a potential or the actual Messiah, I transitioned away from the community and culture of late 20th century Hassidic Brooklyn, as well as from the ideas and teachings I absorbed there. I first focused my energy learning to read and write in the English language; to that point in my life in the insular neighborhood of Crown Heights I spoke Yiddish, read in Hebrew and Aramaic, and wrote almost nothing in any language. I satiated my academic curiosity studying the ‘secular' subjects that growing up were highly taboo to read about or even to know of their existence, and were, unquestionably, not legitimate avenues for inquiry; such as evolution, physics, biology, writing, math, philosophy, and the arts; graduated with a degree in English literature from Columbia University; danced at all night beach parties and hippie gatherings; backpacked around East Asia for ten months; and had my heart open to the beauty of life at an art festival in the desert; all while searching and seeking for human connectedness, myself, love, spirit; and later my tribe, calling and voice.

As to the question of body consciousness, perhaps, due to the time spend in the Hassidic world of bodily neglect and the academic world which construed the body as a mechanism for housing Man's functioning apparatuses, I began to suffer from periodic bodily breakdowns and severe debilitating illnesses. In my early thirties I began a consistent physical yoga practice, which help awaken my spirit to its habitation within the structure of the body. Though yoga gave me some experience in consciously aligning mind and body energy and helped mend some of the disconnect and abuse of my structure, I still felt removed from living consciously through and with my body. It was when I found my way to a silent mediation retreat that I felt, by way of a practice, that I was discovering an integrative means to bring our being and consciousness into harmony with what seems like the innate matter of the corporal.



*

Recovering from living for close to two years as itinerant in New York City, which left me feeling scattered and unfocused, and looking to regain some personal equilibrium and to find a consistent level of discipline in my writing practice, in the fall of 2009 I committed to spending ten days at a Vipassana meditation retreat in Northwestern Massachusetts. Perhaps, I reckoned, sitting in complete silence will help flush out the chatter in my psyche and tune my mind to a subtler, more serene pulse, which may then give rise to the emergence of my inner voice, the pure voice of the soul, dressed in the regalia of conscious experiences, finding coherent self expression. Or, more modestly, to learn something new about the nature of psyche and the idiosyncratic driving forces beyond my own mind, thereby coming to better understand its workings, with the objective of attaining a degree of self-control and becoming more of a conscious agent rather then a reactive one.

I was a bit apprehensive about being silent and sitting still for a week an a half. When in preparation for the course I dedicated some time to sitting in quietude and in focused attention on the breaths rhythm, even thirty minutes was tough and required mustering quite a bit of will power to be still or not peek at the clock. I knew of a few friends who bolted midway through, but another handful of people I spoke to who completed the ten days reported, that it was difficult but very doable. Would I be able to patiently stay the course regardless?

As I was also struggling with a pervasive habit of smoking tobacco, with a ration creeping up on 15 hand-rolled cigarettes daily, it made the prospect of my ten day seclusion with no option of taking a break to feed my oral fixation, seem all the more daunting. On the other hand, I took solace in the thought that this might be the final nudge that will help free me from the addiction which had taken hold after ten years of success as a causal smoker. Not wanting the urge and its suppression to dominate my psyche in meditation, with the aid of tee tree toothpicks soaked in a variety of essential oils and tasting of mint and cinnamon, I was able to stop with the nicotine five days before entering the retreat, and then stayed clear of tobacco for seven months following my days in voluntary solitude.

A communal ride up to New England in a van with six New Yorkers' looking to deepen their horizons, a stop in the boutique-ish town of Northampton for a last sumptuous meal and some chit-chat in an attempt at getting to know each other at an Indian restaurant, brought us to the mediation center in the mountains country hills of Shelburne Falls MA, promptly enough to check in and leave with the volunteer staff all items with which we may be tempted; pens and paper, phone, music players; and even our keys, (was it, least we run away?).

This meditation franchise has been propagated by Sri Satya Narayan Goenka, a Burmese born Hindu, who has established hundreds of centers around the globe, which are billed as ritual free, non-denominational, and open to all for the price of a commitment to stay the course and donate at the end as one's heart desires. Goenka leads the meditation sessions and nightly lectures through audio and video recordings. In the late 1960's, he began teaching this meditation technique in India, the land that birthed it. After close to twenty years of practice, which he began as a last resort to treat his migraines, his teacher authorized Goenka to share the ways of this mediation, beginning with his mother who had by then returned to India. A special intersession with the government allowed Goenka, once a prosperous businessman and leader in the Hindu community, to leave Burma, a country that was then and is still now under the rule of a military dictatorship; where in cities and towns one is bombarded by ten story high Orwellian billboards visually depicting the supremacy of state, communism and the heroism of military sacrifice, underwritten with strong admonishment, for some reason exclusively in English, as to the crushing of all who oppose or disavow these truths. Way before I ever heard of Vipassana or taken interest in mediation, in the summer of 2002, as my final stop in my ten month post-graduation Asia sojourn, I visited the isolated country of Myanmar, the former British Colony of Burma but where these days almost no one speaks English. I recall being struck by the posture of the people there, who carry themselves in the most upright and organic fashion I've ever seen, owing perhaps to how they effortlessly balance heavy loads on their heads even while steering their bicycles, mostly while attired in intricately patterned wraparounds in lieu of trousers.

The Land of a Thousand Pagodas, Burma, is proclaimed to be the place Vipassana is to have been preserved in its unadulterated form as it was first revealed by the historical Buddha, Gautama, and the time period of its return to India is purported by Goenka to be in accord with a prophecy that the Buddha's teachings will return to the land of their origin 2,500 years after he moved on from this planet at the age of eighty.

The goal of the practice is to get to a place beyond mind, or mind as it was here defined, the thinking apparatus, and to do so we first need to cleanse our psyche and find harmony in our consciousness of mind and body. This ultimate attainment is mentioned in passing and qualified as something which is a long way, many lifetimes even, down the road, and not to be paid much heed to in the here and now, as it will distract you from, the oh-so-illusive, being present in the moment.

The days in silence commenced with a 4-am wake up to the sound of clacking bells and at 4:30, a three-hour collective sitting. We first practiced anapana, exercises to quite and concentrate the mind by focusing on the breath and the sensations it produces within the nostril area. On day four we transitioned into Vipassana, Insight Meditation, with a focus on the workings of body and mind.

Those first days were bordering on torture for me to just keep my body still while sitting in a meditative posture. Positioning and repositioning myself on cushions of various sizes and densities to get into a comfortable sitting position and enter some kind of meditative state, the body was reacting and even revolting with restlessness and agitation. Observing, I noticed how the body mostly moved of its own accord without my volition or conscious choice; the body was operating on a mind of its own and I was in the dark, unconscious, as to what it was doing, and even less so as to why.

Sitting, fidgeting, or trying not to for a few days, a semblance of body stillness began to take shape by day four as the Vipassana meditation began in earnest. Master Goenka in his booming voice initiated our entry into Insight Meditation by deep chanting in the ancient tongue spoken by the Buddha, Pali. Right form the go I felt a switch in my energy state, things were moving into higher gear, and my body began to feel waves of energy running through it. And though sitting with my eyes closed and absorbed in my inner world, I had the distinct impression that by the power of Goenka's channeling and the collective focus of the meditators, the whole room was now vibrating on some higher frequency.

The first phase of Vipassana, variations of which were practiced for the rest of the retreat, involved sequential up and down scanning of the body's energy form the crown of the head to the bottom of the feet, feeling and noticing sensations on the skin's surface. Later when the energy coalesces, and in the sweep of one in-breath you succeed in smoothly traversing the whole body on the way down and with your exhale move up to the tip of your head, the attention is turned to the inner organs, opening them, by the inner gaze of awareness, from being static processers to vibrating on some conscious frequency. But for starts, with the scans I registered no or little sensation, easily confused with the mind's great ability to project, interpreting the thought about the surface of the body for the feeling of an actual sensation on the skin.

The idea of this meditation technique is to just sense, notice, and move on, or if a part of body is particularly dense and nothing is sensed or if pain is felt at some spot, then spend a few extra breaths with your mind's attention on these areas, allowing it to open, release and reintegrate its static energy. Putting myself to a challenge, while paying attention to the coloring of different sensations and before moving on to another spot on the body, I began devising names for the differently felt sensation, identifying them with labels, such as, harsh or piercing, open or un-centered, etc. But I was, soon enough, disabused from my attempt at honing my descriptive skills while meditating, when I consulted with Michael Jordan, the in-person leader of the men's workshop and a calming meditative and teaching presence, while his wife, Leslie Gray, led the women, as they sat side by side perched on a knee high podium. The idea, he said to me, is to just observe and move on and not get attached or entangled in the experience or thoughts by creating ever more categories. Thus, in Goenka's lingo, you put into action on the visceral plane of the body the foundational Buddhist principle of non-attachment through the recognition of anicha, impermanence. Sensations in the body come and go, observe, notice, and let them flow on.

These sittings reveled to me not so much my mind's attachments or the overall restlessness of both my body and mind, easily attributed to the lack of harmony between them, but my own slacked consciousness. How much my body reacts to situations out of habit or impulse, and how I'm only aware of its movements after it has begun; as when sitting in meditation and trying to keep the body still an itch will arise and unconsciously I begin to make the move to rub or scratch it, or an impulse builds momentum to move my body out of a position of discomfort long before I noticed it. I found that in these situations I was at times able to catch myself at the beginning of an action before its fruition; I would move my hand toward my face and stop it in mid movement before the desire to rub the itch was satisfied. As my meditation deepened the gaps between urge or action, and awareness or halting, narrowed. As an improved meditator, I was also becoming more of an actor and less of a reactor, though still not in meditative awareness.

As my body began to accustom itself to stillness, my mind was still jumpy. It would move from a state of flow in scanning my body, to times when mind would play tired, bored, restless or agitated, and proceed to wander and muse over the myriad of subject matters I entertain in my psyche.

As my chief preoccupation at the time was my attempt to find consistency in putting my story and ideas into written form, I found myself beginning to script out paragraphs in my mind. During one of these brain-writing exercises, I heard a voice. In clear Hindu-accented English the voice of Master Goenka spoke to me in a firm but benevolent tone, "It is not helpful to do the writing in your head, save it for when you are sitting down to write."

By continues observance of the mind and the places where it likes to wander I also gained insight into myself and the unresolved spaces in my psyche. One was my deep longing for connectedness in the form of a partner with whom to share in love and life. I found myself quite a few times during meditation going through lists of different women I am fond of and resolving to connect with them upon my return to society. It was at these points that I felt almost compelled by some outside force to remember the names of these women, even while I was diverting my consciousness with the scanning technique. Part of me was scanning the body and another part was making lists of women in New York I knew. Six women I visualized with the potential for cultivating a serious relationship with, and another six or seven were seen as cool-fun companions which may help jolt me out of my mostly hermetic life. When I got back to the big city I sought out and contacted the women who appeared to me in mediation in an attempt at developing a meaningful connection with them and I even got together for a few dates, but a love relationship or romance has yet to call or flicker.

As my consciousness was being subverted into the realm of gender relations I also began to mull over past relationships and lessons I may learn from them; was I too guarded, too forgiving, or not loving enough? This was all after I had taken up Sila, Buddhist morality, which includes renouncing sexuality and practicing abstinence during the retreat. Men and women are housed in separate buildings and sit on opposite sides of the meditation hall. They even had a curtain hanging at the main entrance which divided the kitchen and the women's quarters from the dinning hall where we men were fed and silently ate our twice-daily intentionally bland vegetarian meals. It was reminiscent of my life in Jewish Orthodox Brooklyn and the customary divider, mechitza, separating the sexes in synagogues and at weddings, and can now even be found on orthodox buses, where a veil is stretched across the isle. Though in Vipassana men and women do the same practice, in the same room, and are given equal footing on their inner quest.

Even while thinking of women to connect with, my experience in meditation was mostly mind based, without much of my customary entangled emotions, desires or urges. However, more then once when the name of bliss aficionado, Linda, came up in my psyche it brought on a surge of sexual energy that pulsated through my whole body.

One Saturday night the prior spring, I was on my way to a mock wedding of two male party promoting friends, when Linda, new to New York and who I had met a week earlier at a masquerade celebrating Mesoamerican pyramid culture, invited me up to her crash pad, in a mutual acquaintance's cookie cutter apartment in the East Village, to just say hi and maybe share a class of wine. Once there, she showed me slides of her photographs on her newly minted Mac, glossy but quirky shots that included fruit picking in Parisian markets and mountains living on the foothills of the arctic circle. In waivery indecision - to move on to the next party or deepen our getting to know each other? - we consulted a not so precise oracle in the form of a deck of cards. She picked Archangel Hilarion, crystal pure light, and I pulled a double, Moses, strength in action, and Buddha, meditation and clarity of mind. This called for a dab of Hoffman's potion. We then found ourselves stretching on the yoga mat where Linda fluidly channeled prayers of surrender to vibrations of infinite love and pure light. The rest of the night had us embracing in all sorts of Eros pastures, which felt like a soul re-union; then rolling around on the hardwood floor in cries of ecstatic commitments to love while teetering on the brink of everywhere and nowhere, with reverberating exclamations of, ‘wow, it is you!', ‘how did you know?!' and ‘love, love, love, only love'.

As the morning shun, the floor of the antique looking apartment was no longer quite as inviting, and so the affair was left unconsummated, which left me hobbling around the city in the day's rain. A few further encounters and attempts to rekindle the union faltered in a game of hide and seek, and we dropped out of touch, with me having long ago resigned to meaningfully reconnecting with the tall Icelander. Yet in the depths of stillness, with the mere trigger of her name, a powerful carnal surge rushed through me which I needed to actively quite and not just allow to dissipate. I later chanced to learn from Linda, that when the syllables of her name unleashed in me visceral creative energy, she was transitioning from teaching yoga to serving as a message therapist catering to rich New York men unsatisfied with their partners.

With the exception of three ideas which I took note of and even considered pondering, for my time at the retreat I was able to put aside my proclivity to actively remember my experiences and thoughts. Two ideas, on the wave function in quantum mechanics and ways of priming the body to shine, were reveled in mediation; the third one came to me as I sat by the creek during our lunch break.

There were fleeting moments when it felt like I was entering into some deep meditative state, not merely a relaxed mind or an energy flow in the body, but where mind and body were in harmony and my attention would just be in serene presentness. However, upon noticing and registering this as a unique state of conscious awareness, my mind would jump from the tranquility of wave-flow to fixating on a thought or a specific body part. This was so eerily similar to the description of the collapse of the wave function I studied in physics, that I could not help but think, am I perhaps experiencing the Quantum Mechanical wave-particle duality?

May it be, I pondered, as I am sure others have, that the experience in Vipassana can shed light as to what happens to the Quantum Mechanical wave when instrumentally measured. And may it help resolve the so called Measurement Problem: how and why do the laws of motion of all known elementary atoms and particles in the universe go from eloquently being described and predicatively found to follow the precise mathematics of probabilistic wave equations, to then, upon observations of atomic measuring devises, found to have registered determined and localized characteristics of discreet particles?

At times in meditation, I glimpsed another realm, where the usual constitutions and division of space-time no longer convey or are even relevant to the experiential content of the mind; a mental state where the incessant flow of thoughts cease, seem to no longer grasp or attach themselves to a specific experience, and in this heightened consciousness, awareness may even be in more then one place at the same time with such acuteness that informational content can be observed and retrieved from both spaces. May that be another dimensional space and similar to the state of matter described by the QM wave-function before it is localized by measurement? It seems that our crude minds have trouble fathoming what it means for something to exist without fixed boundaries or without being located in the ordinary parameters of space and time. Would tapping in and experiencing what is beyond the norms of our accustomed four-dimensional space-time perspective, expand our minds and help us develop a more cogent theory as to the fundamental and foundational workings of the universe, and the relationship between matter-energy and experience?

While sitting at the brook of water and contemplating different wisdom schools and teachings, how they tend to involve a form of knowledge and practice which then lead to higher experiences, I had a thought concerning this division in Chabad Hassidism in the form of study and prayer; work with the mind and the heart. Study was exemplified as the esoteric immersion in the teachings of mystics and masters, and prayer was the many hours spend in expressing your soul as a dialogue with your higher-self or at the level of stillness where you achieve Union with the Divine.

For most Hassidic men and- only recently by the Rebbe's emphasis -women as well, where the peak experience of absorption and communion with the Divine are far from common, daily prayer is a form of entry into a higher state of soul being, lifting yourself and being lifted out of prosaic consciousness; and the study of Hassidic cosmology a navigational prep for the moments when you achieve entry into the mythical kingdoms of the psyche.

On day ten, Master Goenka implored us, in that evening's video lecture, to keep at the practice and not waste our lives as incarnated beings on earth with the ability to elevate and shift karmic inertia, and he also gave us pointers for our further at home meditation practice. The noble silence was lifted for a few hours on that day, and as I worked on keeping at it to deepen my practice I was being distracted by the noisy chatter of people in the hallways dissecting their experience, so I joined them. We introduced ourselves, and shared thoughts and tidbits of experiences. In the conversational circle with the men with whom I spend ten days in silence, some voiced apprehension at embracing the ways of the meditator due to the lifestyle changes they deemed it to demand, like relinquishing their mundane pleasures of beer drinking or idol conversation. I insisted to them, based on a deep intuition, that it is a mere momentary renunciation, once you get to the other side, if you still so please, you may have those pleasures, and what not, in a more refined and conscious fashion, and I was happy to return to the cushion.

And here is the final thought I recall from my days of quietude and stillness. For many years, I have been wondering about the Rebbe's expression ‘that we want to see the body shine' (see first part of article), what exactly is it referring to and what endeavors may help initiate this state. Experientially I had the sense that I gleaned it at times, like in those rare moments when a flow arrived during a yoga practice and the different centers of being moved in alignment or when ‘feeling it' on the dance floor, but I was seeking a deeper understanding of the dichotomy between the subsets of our consciousness as well as a consistent method for harmonizing the divergent forces within, when these elevated states do not just happen to us but when we are able to have a degree of control over their manifestation, thus becoming conscious co-creators of our inner experiences.

While meditating at the retreat on the energy flowing through me, the mere focus on the consciousness of the body was opening spots of pain or stagnant energy and bringing my body consciousness into awareness and harmony with the rest of my being, and I felt an awaking to a more enlightened relationship with the different aspects of self, not seen as disparate but with the possibility of uniting in being expression and including the body as a conscious element of the whole. Then a moment arrived where something clicked. The observing part of self hooked up with the vibrations of the body's energy, and for some moments I felt an alignment of body and mind consciousness. Not a oneness in mind but a oneness of being. Vipassana Meditation thus seemed to be an integrative practice I've been seeking; a key which may bring the body's energy into conscious awareness, a step toward the body itself being illuminated, and through which essence may come to physically shine.

Yet, the journey to enlightenment and unitary consciousness is a long one. Why is the road so uninviting and fraught with obstacles where so few seem to have reached the other side, much less have attained an illuminated body? Might we be holding out for a reason? That even those of us who arduously practice and have a glimpse into the other side of the veil, consciously or unconsciously, retreat from entering, not because the allure of mundane pleasures still lurks, but because the other side does not quite live up to our idea of enlightenment living.

As the Buddha arrived at the gates of heaven, he refused to enter until he succeeds in bringing all living beings along with him. It was not mere altruism which motivated him to work for the benefit of all but the recognition of the interconnectedness of all. Enlightenment, in this sense, is not reaching a place full of light or dazzling visions, of transcend bliss or an illuminated mind, not an attainment of any sorts, even of higher consciousness, but the core recognition of the oneness of life and the unitary essence within all living beings. As long as there are suffering beings then there is a part of us and part of Universal Essence which is still in need of liberation, and true liberation is not a leap forward, entering into a new existence while leaving the past behind but is redemptive in nature, one which brings liberation to all aspects of self and the world, including the terrain of the psyche muddled by past experiences. The redemptive drive is for an all-inclusive enlightenment, embracing the body and the lower self, as well as the collective.

But, as the Masters all teach us, when we are then touched by Essence, prior ideas no longer hold and past notions evaporate; all the doubts and questioning as to the nature and validity of Truth and Love vanish when we come to Know. The mind's conceptions and divisions suddenly surrender their utility, and the cloud of mist lifts to the sight of the real thing in acute clarity. It is the moment of arrival, when one merits entry through the most sacred space of the heart.

http://www.realitysandwich.com/seeking_illuminated_body
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