When you go on an extended spiritual retreat, you never really know what is going to surface. For me, there were no major revelations, but a lot of things that I already “knew” really sunk in deep. One of those things had to do with dedicating my spiritual practice to someone. This was quite a profound realization, because meditating 11 hours a day for ten days can get incredibly difficult. It helps you to keep going, if you aren’t just doing it for yourself.
If I recall correctly, it was day two. My legs and joints and back were sore. My energy was sapped and my mind was mush. I had really good meditation sessions, but there were times when it felt really tough. It began to really dawn on me that doing this for me, and me alone, wasn’t much of a motivator.
One of the first things that I noticed around the meditation center was that “be happy” was posted everywhere. It was at the end of every instruction, on many of the forms we filled out and signed (Name, Passport, Address…Be Happy!), and it was even posted on signs. To be honest, at first it felt quite kitchy, simplistic, and generically New Agey. That was my first impression. Then I started to meditate and strain and hurt. After two days, I noticed the signs again. “Be happy” suddenly struck me in a new way. Whatever work I was doing was in large part to gain more inner peace and greater happiness. I also began to really internalize the fact that my happiness is directly related to the happiness of all beings: my little nieces and nephews, my parents, brothers and sisters, friends, co-workers, random people I meet in Saudi Arabian airports, and also the greater non-human world of animals, plants, and the entirety of the eco-system.
This feeling stuck with me through the duration. I wasn’t exactly the perfect picture of a Buddha, sitting for two hours without moving a muscle. God no. But I found that this sense of practicing for the good of all beings was a motivation much stronger than my own spiritual growth. Being more present to people is a powerful good for the world. Maintaining greater patience and equanimity in stressful and tense situations is a gift. Having deeper, authentic joy in my life brings more joy to others. This helped keep me going when meditating became difficult. It’s something quite significant that I’ve been missing in my daily spiritual practice.
I liked the idea so much that an idea started to hatch. As regards the “be happy” signs, I decided not to simply eat my words but to inscribe them on my flesh. So, after the meditation retreat, I went under the needle in Pushkar and tattooed the Hindi script (shown above, “Mangal Ho”) on my arm. Also tatted on were “panna” and “dhamma”, words that represent wisdom as well as the universal connection of our actions to each other.