How monks helped prepare me for uncertainty
It’s 4am at the monastery and by this point I’ve already meditated for 30 minutes. At 7am when I sit to enjoy a simple breakfast in noble silence, 20 hours would have passed since my last meal. As the monks and I gather in the main temple for the first hour of group meditation of the day, Master Chaiya seats himself at the front with his fellow monks lined up in a row behind him.
The room is vast, dark and silent as candles bathe the monks’ red robes with a dim yellow glow, giving the men a powerful aura as they sit silently in the lotus position. The sweeping of the second hand on the grandfather clock seems to echo through the building as I meditate alongside monks in the Buddhist temple. By day’s end I would have meditated for over 8 hours, all within 5 miles from the epicenter of Sin City, Las Vegas.
Almost twenty years in the Navy has taught me that military life is anything but predictable. Being comfortable with uncertainty and chaos is a precious asset to any military officer especially while deployed as plans change adnauseam, people get hurt, and sometimes your comrades die. Though circumstances can be stressful, it’s unfortunate to see people become angry, frustrated, and lose control when reality doesn’t meet their expectations. Not only is it an incredible waste of energy, but it’s extremely toxic to the team and everyone else they’re connected to. This is why I decided to spend my final 7 days of leave before deployment sleeping on the floor and in silence at a monastery with Buddhist monks.
I’ve found no better way to strengthen my mental fitness and comfort with uncertainty than by complete surrender via meditation.
Something special occurs when we eliminate mental noise and focus the mind for an hour on a single point of experience such as the breath or the ticking of a clock. First off it’s very difficult to do, but with time it increases one’s mental and spiritual fitness. Analogous to exercising your body at the gym, meditation takes your mind to the gym. Not your physical brain — but your formless mind. Why is this a good thing? Because as you become more mentally fit you gain increasing control of your decisions, reactions, thoughts, and emotions. This allows you to be better equipped to navigate anything the universe throws at you.
Any wild animal can react in a fit of rage when things don’t go their way. Taking a higher path of patience, introspection, and presence when the unexpected arises requires someone who is mentally fit, spiritually grounded, and internally balanced. As your meditation practice matures you’ll become aware that the entire universe and everything within it is constantly changing.All the things we cling to — our ideas, children, plans, friends, bodies, knowledge, etc. are all impermanent and will one day cease to exist. This means that written plans become obsolete when the ink dries as the infinite chaotic universe will always get its way. The best you can do is enjoy these things to the fullest while they last. Keep in mind, this isn’t an excuse to not plan for success or to not try your best.
On the contrary, give it your best shot every time; however, your inner peace shouldn’t be contingent upon the outcome.
As you follow the breath during mediation, let it remind you that everything, including your breath, is constantly changing. And if this is the case, then it should be no surprise that your life plans will change too.
As a manifestation of the universe it would be wise to align with it as opposed to the other way around.
It is normal for people to try and force their desires into reality the way a child pounds a square peg into a round hole. But when was the last time you gained eternal happiness from forcing your will on the universe? At best you were probably content for a few weeks or months, then the high wore off and you set your sights on another goal that needed forcing. The forcing method can be effective at achieving what you want in life, but at what cost? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then any emptiness you feel inside should give you an idea of the price you’ve been paying. Meditate and become still so that deeper answers to that question may emerge from within.
Surrender to the universe and you will realize that it was always rigged in your favor.
If it sounds odd that an active duty military officer uses the word “surrender” in this way then it may be an indicator that there is a dimension to life that you are unaware of. The universe doesn’t align with you — you, when ready, align with it. Everything else already does that, every rock, leaf, raindrop, planet, and star. Amazing things happen when we stop forcing things to happen to us and simply allow things to naturally happen for us. Ironically, once you surrender and allow life to flow through you without resistance, the journey becomes effortless and you will achieve everything you ever desired and much, much more. All that’s required is that you make audacious goals and let the universe guide you to your requested destination. Just try not to resist the paths by which you get there.
Meditation is a means of dampening the noisy mind so that you may connect with universal higher guidance. With time you will begin to realize that all those paths that seemed like a waste of time were invaluable and necessary for preparing you to achieve the goal you originally set forth.Below are some of the benefits I’ve gained from increasing my mental fitness via meditation and surrender:
- Undesirable events that normally drains others of precious energy tend to have little effect on me.
- I have more freedom of choice as my words and decisions are not controlled by negative thoughts or emotions.
- Simple experiences reveal extreme beauty, gratitude, and valuable life lessons.
- Pain is processed quickly and converted into precious fuel that propels me toward success.
My time at the monastery has given me a priceless experience that has opened my mind to deeper levels of awareness than I ever thought possible. Living barefooted alongside monks who completely surrender to life while radiating love and compassion to all sentient beings has been nothing short of a life changing experience.
As I prepare to deploy with my military unit into the unknown, I will not forget my time here or the lessons learnt in this beautiful place. I now carry with me an inner awareness of peace and oneness that cannot be taken away.