Friday, February 19, 2010

The Dhyana Project, Rishikesh

Reaching the Ashram
My friend and I are two Vipassana meditators from Delhi, invited to be part of a scientific experiment called Dhyana Project at Meditation Research Institute Laboratory, SRSG Ashram, Rishikesh
SRSG Ashram, Rishikesh
So we packed our bags and reached the Ashram on 15th morning for a three day, all-expense-paid trip. Claire Braboszcz (PhD student) and her assistant Stephanie Pornin quickly introduced us to the methodology of the experiment and described to us some of the activities we could participate in as guests, for instance, attending relevant lectures at the 'Knowledge Centre' or practicing unguided meditation in the Meditation Hall, just like students of the Gurukulum.
Participating in The Dhyana Project
During the four hour sitting per person, thankfully not continuous, Claire and Stephanie were going to map our brainwaves primarily, but in two distinct states of mind- meditative and non meditative- while exposing us to sensory stimulus (audio, visual etc) in both cases. We were required to be in a separate room for the test, all wired up, while they would record our brain reactions on computers outside. We also had to fill a lengthy questionnaire on the first day and go to the lab on the remaining two days, one person per day.
Lecture on 'Effective Teaching'- 15th February
Despite a perfect plan regarding our activities in the Ashram, the lab experiment got pushed to the third day for the both of us because there were more urgent things to do before the experiment. Two Ashram inmates- Klara and Atul- were in love and everybody was busy preparing for their wedding the next day! Having nothing better to do, we checked the activity schedule for 15th and opted to go for a lecture about 'Effective Teaching' by Theo van Heningen, who is working with Improvement Management, Schiphol Airport, The Netherlands.
Theo van Heningen
Between the two of us, the lecture was more of direct interest to my friend since she  has been a trainer herself, but I tagged along, secretly hoping to learn something anyway. At the end of an engaging two-hour session, we ended up discussing the importance of feedback and interaction in any teaching/training session, besides learning the importance of introspecting what we seek to learn (as trainees) and teach (as trainers) in such sessions. 
The class got divided into two groups -trainers and trainees- and we, as trainees, ended up discussing reasons that motivated us to learn meditation, for instance. Each one of us, mostly Gurukulum teachers or students, acknowledged the importance of the 'right' teacher/trainer to come along in the discipline they were pursuing, in this case, 'The Himalayan Tradition' for most.
The experience at this workshop was cathartic as most of us ended up stroking our intimate selves, mapping our respective life journeys and articulating experiences of walking on the road to self-discovery.
The Wedding Day- 16th February
Klara- the beautiful, gushing bride      
Klara's friends waiting for the groom 
Atul arrives 
Exchanging Jaimalas
Arriving for Vedic rituals
 Marriage ceremony in progress
Being part of a traditional Indian wedding at the Ashram was the last thing on my mind when I came to Rishikesh. In my view, when two people love each other, then marriage rituals from any tradition should drive home the same point ideally i.e to love, grow old (and wiser) together. To see this radiant couple in love and the spiritual meaning they attributed to this vedic marriage ceremony was such a pleasure.
Laxman Jhula
After a heavy lunch, we decided to utilise the remaining day sightseeing. Stephanie didn't mind showing me around since she is more acquainted with the place than I was! So we took a fatfati to Laxman Jhula and climbed up ten stories of a Hindu temple only to be told by pujariji that we must buy 'pavitra gangawater' in a fancy matki for Rs 50 a piece. Of course we didn't.
Laxman Jhula
Tired after walking for some time, we both settled for refreshments at the Ganga Beach Cafe that served Mexican, Italian, Israeli, Indian and Chinese food. There were more varieties on the menu that I can’t remember now! Anyway, Stephanie’s friend Yugesh also joined us. He is based in Germany and teaches Reiki, personality development skills etc. among other things.
Yugesh and Stephanie at Ganga Beach Cafe
Colourful expressions
Found him on the way to Laxman Jhula (Photograph by Stephanie)
The day ended with an hour long lecture on Yoga Psychology by Stephen Parker, a Sanskrit scholar and a psychologist by profession. He spends a lot of of time travelling around the world training teachers. I felt very lucky to be a part of such a learned group and enjoyed every bit of the knowledge that was shared. Since that felt insufficient, I was already planning an informal interview with him the next morning, just before my turn to sit for the experiment.
Day of the Experiment- 17th February
The day of the experiment finally arrived, reminding us why we were in Rishikesh at all. When my friend went inside the lab, I headed towards the Ashram's reception room, also called the 'Mandala House' for an interview with Stephen Parker. Dressed in yellow clothes, he appeared to be his usual smiling yet reserved self, sitting patiently with a laptop, checking emails. When he saw me, he kept everything aside and gave his undivided attention to my questions triggered by his lecture last night. For the first time in my life, I was not interested in documenting this interview. Instead, there was a strong urge to listen to him carefully and to internalise his words of wisdom instantly. He shared few of his mystical experiences with me besides detailing particular life events that took him from one continent to another in his personal spiritual quest. He also spoke about how he became Swami Veda's disciple and later a teacher himself. Even though logic and science have their own value, still, one should not stop trusting and surrendering to larger forces, he said.
The clock was ticking so I had to come back to the lab and get ready for the experiment. The only preparation was to shampoo my hair well, so that the electrode cap could easily transmit brainwaves through gel applied at 64 points on a dry and clean scalp. It took about an hour to get ready before the test actually began. The photo below might look a little disturbing to some but there was hardly any discomfort as I sat there.
In the Lab (photograph by Stephanie)
After the experiment got over, we decided to go out for dinner, before catching the train back to Delhi.    
                       Brainwaves on paper (photograph by Stephanie)
With Stephanie and Claire for a desi meal at Bikaner
(For more pix, click here)


  1. Seems u had a good time! Like ur pic taken by stephanie.

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