Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Wed August 17 2016

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  • Shannon Wolf | August 17, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    Truth in Tushita: A 10-Day Course in Buddhism and Meditation

    Truth in Tushita: A 10-Day Course in Buddhism and Meditation

    PHOTO: A group photo of the June 2016 “Intro to Buddhism and Meditation” class. (All photos by Shannon Wolf)

    Today is the first day of my “Intro to Buddhism and Meditation” course at Tushita in Dharamsala, India. 

    It’s also the first day of silence.

    No more sleeping in until noon, no more delicious cappuccinos, cream cheese carrot cake or bedies. Sounds easy enough, but for someone who admittedly likes to indulge in seemingly unnecessary pleasures, this will be difficult. But then again, I’ve always liked a challenge.

    The gong rang at 6:20 a.m. and I groggily (and silently) got up and ready along with the rest of my dorm-mates, just itching to talk. Visible swirls of fog surround the premises, as we all walk silently to the meditation hall to attend our first class. 

    I sit on my cushion among 100 other students and our teacher begins the 45-minute guided meditation. Due to no coffee and being more than half asleep, I struggle to not doze off or let my mind wander off into nowhere-land. Halfway though, I begin focusing inward and thus began one of the best meditations I’ve had to date.

    READ MORE: 9 Things You Need To Know Before Visiting Buddhist Temples

    The gong sounds and meditation is now over. I’m surprisingly awake, energized and feel a sense of calm — but I still want my coffee. We shuffle along to the dining hall and line up for our first jailbird breakfast of porridge, bread, peanut butter and bananas, which I’m unimpressed with, considering the only thing I can eat is a banana in silence. Namaste.

    The rest of the day consists of two Buddhist lectures speaking about how Siddhartha became Buddha; the four noble truths; past karma and the workings of Buddhist beliefs followed by a series of Q&As where we were briefly allowed to break the silence to ask questions.

    PHOTO: The meditation hall in which we spent our 10 days learning the workings of meditation and Tibetan Buddhism.

    Not surprisingly, the masses of questions pertained to the quest of finding internal peace and happiness in one’s life.

    One man asked how to find relief through Buddhism after being an Israeli soldier in war-torn counties where he saw the kind of things no one should ever stand witness to. He said he hadn’t found a moment of peace emotionally or mentally since leaving the army and was wondering how and if Buddhism can help him finally find amity.

    Another girl who suffered past abuse cried during the lesson and I realized then that so many of us carry these heavy burdens upon our shoulders and are looking for relief from all these skeletons we have in our closets.

    In hindsight, I see that I have my own set of issues, fears and baggage — but not to their caliber. I thought back about my life after the lecture was over and I felt both saddened by their pain and also immensely thankful that I have finally found a light in my own life. I am able to rid my shoulders of the weight they once carried after working every day over the last two years on my mind, thanks to applied Buddhist philosophies, meditation and remembering to live in the present moment.

    During the ten-day silent course, I became accustomed to the routine of waking up as the sun rose, attending my meditation classes, Buddhist lectures, discussion groups and eating my meals in silence. I still dreamed of coffee but after three days, I was happy enough with the lemon-ginger teas, masala chai and Tetley tea they provided during breaks.

    There were a lot of hours in between lectures and classes that gave each of us ample time to think and reflect on all of the teachings and our own life. I found that living in your own head brings up a lot of questions. In time, the silence provides you with valuable answers.

    Throughout this course I have grown to have a better understanding of the Buddhist philosophy, the importance of meditating every day and finally understanding and accepting the one topic I had always struggled with: Impermanence.

    It took me a while to realize that impermanence can be looked at in two aspects: You can choose to see it as negative. That everything leaves you in the end (so what’s the point?) OR you can see it as a silver lining. By things coming to an end, firstly, you appreciate the delicacy of time and how you must live in the present moment (otherwise, it can be gone in an instant). Secondly, it allows for growth and for new experiences to flourish. As one of my favorite musicians once said, “A line allows progress, a circle does not.”

    On our second-to-last day of eight-hour meditation during our afternoon class, we were surprised with a chance to leave the Tushita premises on a silent meditation walk to a stupa hidden amongst the cedar forest where monks lived in makeshift tin houses.

    PHOTO: At the end of the course, we all walk silently to the stupa to perform a beautiful light offering.

    We walked alongside the dirt paths leaving Tushita, and for the first time in nine days, it wasn’t raining. The sun peeked through the leaves of pine trees and we walked as we listened to the sound of gravel beneath our feet and the birds that sang in the trees.

    We walked for 30 minutes through easy terrain with clear views of the Himalayas and up a hill past the tin-roofed homes. At the top, the sun shone among the hundreds of Tibetan flags strung throughout the forest. It was so breathtaking that a smile was plastered on my face until my cheeks began to hurt. Warmth flooded throughout my body and everything felt perfectly in place in a state of pure bliss for no apparent reason.  

    I walked among the trees. My hands at either side touched homage flags as I walked past.  I sat for a while in silence in the stillness of the day, feeling nothing but gratitude to be so fully alive in every sense of the word.

    READ MORE: Dharamsala: Where India and Tibet Meet

    On my last day at Tushita, although I came into it with no expectations, I came out of it with much lighter shoulders after tackling some internal questions I previously hadn’t given myself time to think about and a grander appreciation for how I can use my mind as a tool rather than a ruler. One famous monk once said “The place we really tend to live is inside. Our mind becomes a dumping ground that we never clean up and we wonder why it’s a mess.”

    Whether you’re spiritual, religious, atheist or agnostic, this course, more than anything, brings you to the understanding of how to work on the mind; how to cultivate positive emotions to shift your awareness and how we all have the ability to live a joyful life, both internally and externally.

    In conclusion, I will leave you with the wise words of the Dalai Lama: “This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness.” 

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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