The greatest Spiritual mystery hidden in plain sight
Beyond all spiritual tools, texts and shiny techniques, something simpler is waiting for the seeker to find. Something powerful, infinite and completely free.
By Moriah Hope
Over the past 10 years as I have chased after the great mysteries of spirituality, those mysteries have seemingly chased after me. I periodically tucked myself away in quiet woods for months long hermitages. I cherished the mysteries in secret, enjoying intimate evenings alone with my journal and candlelight…
I traveled with spiritual masters and studied safely under their wise wings, and upon returning from each seasonal ‘awakening’ I innocently attempted to teach those around me what I had not yet integrated into my own day-to-day life.
As these spiritual endeavors continued I began having difficulty relating to the world. My naturally playful, artistic spirit fell victim to spiritual asceticism and a strong sense of responsibility to relay to others all I had been learning. Finally in the spring of 2017, everything changed.
It was then that one of the most profound practices ever to have revealed itself to me forever changed the course of my existence. My years long spiritual chase took a drastic turn when the ‘initiation’ of this practice took place, stripping so much of what I thought I knew and throwing it in the shredder.
It asked me to leave behind everything I had learned, everything I identified with, everything I practiced, and everything I considered to be a necessity… It required no credentials, no material belongings, no fancy activation techniques, no protective crystals, sacred scriptures, yoga exercises or mantras… Not even my most cherished belongings—journal and pen.
If you had told me at the beginning of my spiritual quest that being stripped of all of these things would bring me more peace, I would’ve stared blankly at you and reached sneakily for my spiritual material belongings as I ran out the door.
But alas, this time life was undeniably chasing me and I had no choice but to give way. Leaving behind all I had known, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime deeper within. With nothing but the clothes on my back, I walked into destiny’s arms and hoped that life would catch me as it had time and time again.
This mysterious new practice promised that everything would be waiting for me upon my return. I could take it all back if I chose to, and maybe even have a better relationship with all of it. But only if I agreed to part ways from what it considered to be the ultimate distraction—something immaterial that can’t be sent to a donation store or left in a box in the garage.
I accepted the challenge and spent 10 days in total silence with this practice, unpacking what it considers to be the ultimate distraction and most complex baggage known to man: thought. How is this possible? After reading that statement I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you turned away and labeled this new-age nonsense.
Even I myself might have rejected the idea had I not experienced what I did. As someone who could barely sit still for 10 minutes, I had always found meditation boring—until fate guided me deeper into the practice of Vipassanā.
What is Vipassanā?
Vipassanā is a Pali term translated as “observing reality as it is.” It is a non-dogmatic, non-denominational ancient meditation technique in which you spend 10 days minimum meditating in total silence. You are forbidden from any form of human interaction such as waving at others or looking in their eyes.
I had heard of this practice of “Noble Silence” frequently in the past and spent many years intrigued by it prior to taking the actual step. It is no experience for the faint of heart. Thoughts are like perennial plants that grow back instantaneously, so unpacking the mind is often a monumental challenge.
Even though I had been practicing some form of yoga every day for a while, I had never grown comfortable with sitting still for meditation. I preferred pumping my mind with ancient knowledge, exploring supernatural capabilities, seeking one transcendental experience after the other. But my pervading thirst for uncovering spiritual mysteries finally brought me to my seat to experience the secrets of stillness for myself.
Learning about Vipassanā
Each individual is on their own exceptionally unique journey. The spiritual path is very delicate and not to be dictated by anyone outside of the seeker’s own inner voice. Therefore, I don’t share my experience with intent to proclaim how others should live. But if after reading this you feel intuitively that it’s for you, listen to that!
Whatever experience you have, whether light or challenging, is sure to contain deep reservoirs of insight. I simply recommend participating in Vipassanā without any expectations.
A concept shared at Vipassanā that has stuck with me in relation to this subject is something called Panya, meaning ‘wisdom.’ Panya has three steps. The first is Sutta-maya-panya: knowledge that one gets from reading or listening about truth. The second is Cinda-maya-panya: knowledge gained from observing those who have attained wisdom and those who haven’t through reasoning.
Step one and two are only at the intellectual level. But the third step is Bhavana-maya-panya: understanding truth through direct experience within the framework of your own physical body. Truth lies within and experiencing it directly is Bhavana-maya-panya, the ultimate wisdom in the Vipassanā tradition.
You may be at the edge of your seat wondering what this practice looks like. While the majority of this article is more about my story than the specifics of the technique, I will distill the practice into a quick exercise you can do right now:
As you read, bring your attention to the in and out of the breath. No need to force longer inhales and exhales. Just gently observe its natural rhythm. Notice the belly and chest rise and fall. Feel the air from each exhale brush against the upper lip. For a couple of moments, pause from reading, close the eyes and continue observing these subtle sensations and allow the breath to guide you deeper within.
That’s it! You’ve just participated in the first simple yet critical step in Vipassanā called Anapana meditation. “Thats it?” you ask? Could it be that after all this talk of ‘spiritual mystery,’ something so seemingly plain could be the very key to achieving ‘everlasting peace and harmony’ as the masters of this tradition claim?
What’s ironic to me now looking back is that in my innocent zeal of over-complicating the spiritual path, I neglected to truly practice what nearly every spiritual tradition points towards—the art of stillness. How did I manage to dance around what was in my face for so long?
After only three days at Vipassanā, I felt entirely brand new and ready to tell the world about what’s possible when we become silent for even just a few days… Alas, I still had a week to go and was really just getting started.
Into the Belly of the Beast
Vipassanā provides drastically different results for everyone. While I happened to have an incredibly nirvanic experience, things might not always look so pretty. Oftentimes, reviews say exactly that. There is a reason it has been dubbed the “Buddhist Boot Camp.”
The journey with stillness can be arduous. It may bring up your deepest insecurities and most ingrained limiting beliefs.
It requires consistent self-discipline. Yet there is something to be said for this specific technique gaining traction around the world.
Vipassanā is not the only way and not the end all be all, and many will find that other techniques are better suited for their current stage of development. However, very little has come close to what I have experienced through this brilliantly crafted, ancient science.
At the core, Vipassanā is very simple. It is simply being with life as it is. What I found on the other side of this straightforward technique was a ‘piercing through the veil’ of a severely limited reality I had grown so accustomed to—a world beyond the mind ruled by incessant thought.
This is not to say that all thought is harmful, as healthy and directed thought can turn into right action. What Vipassanā teaches is how to have a healthy relationship with your mind—how to refine your intellect into something productive rather than destructive. At the very least, the Vipassanā course itself provides an atmosphere free from technological interruption which is a commodity in our fast-paced, over-stimulating world.
For me the true quest and ultimate test has been transferring the practice into day-to-day life. All of life has become one long Vipassanā experience, observing the ever changing moment as it is. Still I have seriously fumbled, crashed and burned plenty of times since then. But if I remain ever loving, patient and persistent, even life’s most painful circumstances can serve as a grand experiment.
Stillness Opens the Inner Floodgates
Fairly consistently during my 10-day Vipassanā I was overcome with what can only be described as unconditional love—a waterfall of pristine life-force energy swimming through my entire body, mind and soul. I felt so close to nature when taking my daily walks outside, despite the rapidly changing Washington weather. I happily skipped in the rain and snow, embracing the miracle of water pouring from the sky.
I had so much love to share yet no one to give it to. I could hardly bear it. I was filled with a constant stream of gratitude and compassion. I felt like I could explode. And so, I did—in the form of tears gushing from my eyes. Everyday I cried profusely tears of true joy. I quite literally became a wellspring of love.
I felt an eagerness to share this overflow in the arms of loved ones—a yearning for those suffering in the darkest corners of the world to be blessed with this seemingly infinite ocean of bliss accessible in the simplicity of the breath. The most challenging aspect of Vipassanā for me was the realization that I had not loved the people in my life as fully as I could have because I was too busy chasing after things.
I had been unknowingly taking life for granted, constantly seeking new experiences and not taking time to appreciate what was. It’s as if I had a near-death experience and watched my whole life pass before my eyes. I saw myself, an innocent, naive soul running around neglecting to pay life full respect. I actually thought I was pretty good at that during this point of my life, but I learned I was wrong.
Everyday in meditation I broke the rules and did what (I thought) was outside the confines of the Vipassanā technique. They are very strict about discontinuing all other forms of meditation, but I was willing to break the rules in the name of love: every day I sent out a prayer for this energy of unconditional love to reach every living thing on the planet.
This little meditation I was doing in secret turned out to be the final practice revealed on the 9th day of Vipassanā: Mettā-bhāvanā, or ‘meditation of loving-kindness.’I wished this practice had been introduced from the start. Until then, I always felt like something was missing.
Nevertheless, throughout the 10 days, as a means of surviving the nearly unbearable amount of divine love flowing through me, I managed to instinctively practice this Mettā-bhāvanā by sending waves of appreciation to loved ones, to the deer frolicking through the field; I built little mandalas outside with pinecones, flowers, and stones as an offering to nature; I literally hugged trees—anything to share the bounty of energy I didn’t know was possible to feel.
As a result of this awakening, my goal is not to disappear into spiritual isolation but to draw upon the vast body of unconditional love that stillness provides and bring it into my work and relationships. It is a constant practice for my existence to be an act of devotion to creation. Instead of excessively seeking after spiritual knowledge, I endeavor to simply acknowledge each step as the great mystery of the ever-changing present moment unfolding before me.
Leaving the golden gates of that profound Vipassanā experience marked the redefining of my mission to not only advocate for meditation but to open the hearts of humanity through allowing all of life to be a living, growing, breathing, moving meditation… To engage with life for the sake of creating, serving and knowing the divine… And to recognize that true peace and harmony requires little but the moment.
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With her amalgam of certifications in holistic arts and over 10 years of personal practice, Moriah is devoted to addressing the harmony of body, mind and soul so that we may effectively participate in creating sustainable change in the world.