Ruud's Spiritual Experience
Why this Story?
From a Spiritual-Storytelling perspective, everybody has a beautiful story to tell. We can grow and learn from listening to each other's stories and cultivate more love, understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.
I want to share the spiritual journey of Ruud (37). He is a teacher and practitioner of Vipassana or Insight Meditation. It is an amazing story about the impact of an eleven year old's curiosity on a teacher's life. Ruud has requested to stay anonymous. He considers his spiritual experiences a private matter. Enjoy this beautiful story.
For Ruud it all began fourteen years ago with a question from one of his students: ’I was teaching Physics. One particular day a curious, eleven-year old student asked how I knew that the core of the earth looked like the pictures in the books in front of us. I replied that I had learned at college that researchers had done tests and they had found out which layers the earth consisted of. My student was not satisfied with my answer and continued firing questions at me. One of the questions made me doubt what I had learned in school; he asked how the researchers knew for sure what the core of the earth looked like, even though they have never been there themselves. I found myself speechless and clueless: unable to give him a proper answer. As a result I started questioning my own knowledge…
The spiritual experience
This questioning felt like there was a vacuum in my head. I tried to fill it by reading philosophical books. One text caught my attention. It described that true beauty; the ultimate truth, could be achieved by not seeing the phenomena as beautiful or ugly, but as self-existent beauty on their own. I kept on reading it again and again, until I connected with the truth behind the words. At that moment it felt like something opened up and blossomed deep inside of me; it was as if I understood a deeper reality that all the religions and spiritual gurus were talking about. Several days passed during which I had no thoughts or opinions about anything; I experienced total equanimity. I understood that every person has access to all the wisdom in the world. If you want to know something, you can connect with a universal source full of wisdom.’
Ruud is convinced that he had a spiritual experience, but he also explains, ‘I was fully aware of the danger of my experience and the euphoria that had arisen. It could lead to narcissistic tendencies when I would identify with that euphoric feeling. It's a treacherous state of mind where one may think that he is unique because of his spiritual experience, that he knows better than others, and knows how everyone should live.
Soon after this experience, he watched a documentary on television about the spiritual journey of the Buddha. He was not familiar with Buddhism at that time, but he decided he wanted to know more about meditation. Ruud says, ‘I was really eager to learn more about meditation and I had the feeling that I had to go to India if I truly wanted to change and transform my life.’
Looking for answers in India
In his first month in India, Ruud met a like-minded European traveller in an internet café in the city of Dharamsala: they both were looking for answers to their spiritual questions. Ruud dives into his memory and shares, ‘The first time we met, we just talked to get to know each other better. When I saw him for the second time in the same café, I noticed something had changed in the expression in his face. I asked him how he was doing, and he said he just came back from an eleven-day Vipassana meditation retreat on the top of a mountain. It was a half hour walk from where we were at that moment. They were starting a new course that day and he advised me to go and see if there was a free spot. I immediately stopped emailing, closed my computer and went up the mountain to the retreat centre. I arrived after a ninety-minute walk. There was one spot available. I walked back down, packed my stuff and walked up the mountain for the second time that day.
On the first day I recognized as a Physics teacher that the Vipassana meditation method worked for me as a person: no mantras and no faith. You only focus on your breath and objectively observe the sensations in your body, and focus your attention on what you feel in your body, such as pain and other sensations. The question is, do you react immediately to what you feel, or do you observe it first by looking objectively at the physical and mental sensations in your body? For me it was the perfect science that mind and matter are interconnected.’
Ruud’s experiences in the Vipassana Meditation centre in India corresponded with his knowledge of Physics. He explains, ‘According to Einstein everything is made of energy. But if I learn formulas like E = MC2, or that everything in the universe vibrates, I gain knowledge not wisdom. Vipassana has taught me through experience that the human body is energy. Now Einstein's theory has become a real experimental science for me; it brought me the peace of mind I was looking for since I started questioning my own knowledge.’
A mental shower
At the time of this interview, Ruud had done twenty-seven Vipassana retreats in the Netherlands, Belgium, India and Nepal. ‘Every Vipassana retreat is a deep purification process of the mind, like a mental shower. For instance, I don’t want to deliberately lie to someone, but I am aware that subconsciously I do tell a lie sometimes; I fully want to accept people, and really listen to someone without letting my mind wander off to what I want to tell, so be completely in the moment. Vipassana meditation has helped me to become a more loving person, I am more patient, I make better financial decisions, and I choose my words more carefully than before. Vipassana is also a great medicine against stress. When you are stressed, you put knots in the energy system of your body. Vipassana connects you to that feeling, and if you look objectively at what you experience, all the knots loosen up. That's why I meditate every day and I scan my body; it is as if a cool summer breeze blows through my body. When I feel some kind of tension, I take my mind off the thoughts that cause stress, and I go to the feelings and sensations in my body. It is not the situation that causes the stress, but my perception of that situation and the feeling that arises because of my perception. The most important aspect of Vipassana meditation is the realization that al feelings are impermanent.’
The return to the classroom
After six years of being abroad, Ruud returned to the classroom. At the time Ruud shared his story with me, he had been teaching for four months at a school where the students are relatively difficult to teach compared to the previous schools he had taught. ‘It is a new challenge; there are times that they are so loud, that I get angry with them, and I get overwhelmed by the stress this causes. Because of these students, I know that I'm not yet the teacher I want to be. I still have some work to do on myself. I continue my spiritual practice, because when I sit on my meditation cushion, I give myself a mental shower and I feel that all the sensations in my body are impermanent. Therefore I know some day I will enjoy teaching the students at this school.
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