A Spiritual Journey

by Edmund Celis, April 12, 2016.
Deer Park Monastery overlook
Photo by Edmund Celis at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA 2008.

This article describes several spiritual events in my life that have enhanced my awareness. May they help you reflect on your own and learn from them.

When I was about 10 years old, I remember praying for my neighbor across the street to come out of his house, so that we could hang out.

Crouched down with my hands together, I prayed for my friend to appear.

To my disbelief, I then saw him opening his front door and I immediately yelled out to him, so that we could play. I was so happy and thanked God to myself!

Looking back on that memory, I smile at my innocence. Although, we may experience coincidences in our lives and disregard them as chance, there is an inexplainable power that drives these events. It is actually a coincidence that we are alive and in this body the way we are. Or is there a reason behind it all? You may ask yourself:

why was I born in this body, couldn't I have been someone else

just as easily given the chance of two DNA molecules interacting with each other? Why am I in this specific form, for what purpose?

As we grow older, we accumulate many enlightening experiences that each have something to teach us and they all lead to our purpose in life.

Growing up Catholic, I attended church every Sunday with my family and although I would fall asleep mostly as a child, it instilled a deep sense of awareness of the truth. As a child,

I experienced hardship at a young age.

Both my parents were immigrants from the Philippines. Luckily, my father was serving in the U.S. Army, but moving was a struggle growing up, especially when my sister and I had to move from school to school. I remember as a child going with my Mom to her work, whether it be from a house she was cleaning or the salon where she cut hair, and it was so boring. Thank goodness for my sister though. Nevertheless,

I witnessed my Mom work painstakingly growing up and I knew my Dad did too.

Experiencing hardship as a child definitely helped me understand myself better by learning from those difficult times that are molded into my memories.

During my struggles after my mouth injury, in which I lost my upper front teeth, as described in my article "Adversity Opens Doorways to Enlightenment",

I learned the benefits of meditation.

My cousin introduced me to the art. One day, he took me to a meditation studio in Irvine, which can be found here on their Yelp page, "Sahaja Meditation", and I met this wonderful woman, Preeti Singh, who led the class. I was not completely new to meditation before attending the class but it was quite different in that there was more structure in their technique.

After a few exercises, we moved to the last part which involved another person "working" on the energy within me. As my partner did some hand movement behind me, I

suddenly felt a weird pressure near my lower back,

as if he was touching me but he wasn't. It was like a resonating feeling ... It was simply amazing. Afterwards, I felt so relaxed and stress-free. I had never felt anything quite like it before. I will return to this experience later.

Then, I started school at UCLA. I enrolled into this freshman seminar called

"Zen and the Art of Mindfulness."

I remember it being full but I met with the teacher and he was so kind to let me attend anyway. His name was Peter Kollock. Each class, he would begin with a bell and ask us to listen to the bell with our eyes closed, telling us to

"just be aware of the sound of the bell and be with it for the whole duration of the sound as long as you can hear it for...

and think of it like a continuous bar with no breaks in between." He also told us to try to listen to the sound of the campus bells at UCLA and try to pause and be one with them. I made it a habit to breathe when I hear bells now.

Thank you Jessica for this wonderful bell. Video made by Edmund Celis.

He would always be smiling and cheerful. We had just one required reading and it was,

"Peace is Every Step" by Thich Nhat Hanh.

I recommend that book to everyone as it teaches us to be gentle with life. At the end of the seminar, we had a field trip to the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA. It was an enchanting experience where we stayed there for a weekend.

The first night there, we had a silent meal, where all of the attendees of about 50 people gathered in the cafeteria and sat in silence with each other. It was very awkward at first and I remember giggling too, but it was an intensely rewarding experience where the

silence actually amplified our awareness.

The next morning, I woke to the most gentle sound of a bell

ding... ding...

I looked out the window and there was a monk walking by, carrying a bell and slowly moving it to produce the beautiful sound. Later in the day, we did sitting meditation at the auditorium and also heard talks from the monks there, and we also had time to explore the scenery in the mountains. I even played some basketball with some of the monks!

Edmund with statue
Photo of Edmund Celis, credit to Caitlin O'Donnell.

Edmund with temple
Photo of Edmund Celis, credit to Caitlin O'Donnell.

After eating our meals, we had to wash our own dishes in line and I remember a monk in front of me washing his dishes swiftly and then he said to us,

"meditation does not mean you have to be slow."

We all laughed. There was also this meditation where we all laid down and most of the people fell asleep, including me, and when I was waking up, I could hear people snoring.

The last day there, we woke up early around 4:30 am to do a morning hike. We were all a bit uncomfortable since it was raining and cold, but the monks were so energetic that they were singing and

we all chanted along in spirit.

We also did warm up exercises together, lifting our arms in circles and breathing deeply. They also gave each one of us our breakfast in a little brown bag but told us not to eat it until we reached the mountain peak. Before we started our trek, they also advised us to try to be in the moment and practice

'active meditation,' kissing every step on the earth and listening to nature

from the birds chirping to the raindrops that fell upon our skin.

Photo by Edmund Celis.

The landscape was so beautiful and simple. I noticed many details in the environment that I would not see normally, and I felt one with all the trees, rocks and animals around. I passed by Professor Kollock along the way up this winding path and I remember seeing him

smiling and at peace with himself and nature.

Being there was a complete joy and I could feel everyone's enjoyment as well.

When we reached the top of the mountain after almost an hour, there was this

massive rock

that was awaiting us. We sat around the rock and we finally started to eat the food from our little bag. The peanut butter sandwich was so gratifying because we were all so hungry.

Mountain top
Photo by Edmund Celis.

Group photo mountain top
Photo by Edmund Celis.

Since it was cloudy, we couldn't really see the sunrise but it was definitely an accomplishment to reach the mountain top. I felt like a new human being when I returned back down. That field trip will forever stay in my memories.

Group photo with Peter
Photo by Edmund Celis with Peter Kollock (third from right).

When the quarter ended, I thanked Professor Kollock for the wonderful experience and I was excited to continue taking classes with him. When Winter came along, I decided to visit Peter to ask him for a letter of recommendation. Then I encountered some people near his office and was told that

Peter had passed away recently.

I was devastated. The UCLA Daily Bruin newspaper interviewed me, and I shared to them my disbelief, as published in their article, "Long-time sociology professor dies at 49".

Peter Kollock was a great human being

and will definitely be missed. It happened so fast and I could not understand why he had to go so suddenly.

When I had heard that he passed away in a motorcycle accident, I was concerned because I also started to ride a motorcycle. About a month later, I

crashed my motorcycle while riding in the canyons in Malibu,

not far from where he had his accident. However, I was not badly injured and I remember immediately thinking about Peter. When I ride my motorcycle, I always try to remind myself to be aware and practice the meditative techniques I have learned, and after that accident,

I became more focused on being a better rider.

The more I rode, the more confident I became and I learned to control my bike better. I also returned to that same spot and conquered the turns with my new insight. When I ride, I try to remember Peter as a tribute to him.

Several weeks after my accident, I found a flyer on the bulletin board at my dormitory. It said "Free Meditation. Classes from 8-9pm. Murphy Hall Room..." I decided to attend the following week and

there I met Garima.

She led the classes and I noticed a striking similarity between the meditation and the one I had encountered back in Irvine several years back. It turned out that she was the

daughter of Preeti,

the instructor at the meditation studio where I had felt that weird sensation on my back. What a coincidence!

Ever since then, I've been practicing meditation. I try to be in the moment as much as I can now and return to my breathing when I am not. If you would like to learn more about

Sahaja Meditation,

which is the technique I learned from both the studio in Irvine and at UCLA, please visit their great website at www.SahajaMeditation.com (access through mobile seems to be disfigured but the desktop version is fine). It has many free resources to improve your meditation practice and it has really helped me grow as a human being to this day.

I am not an expert at meditation but I do advise being open to something and at least trying it before your criticize it. In the end, it comes down to you experiencing the truth that you are and nobody can do that for you but yourself. However,

be careful of your ego trying to constantly contaminate your presence.

The mind, or ego, is a sneaky thinker that can sabotage all efforts to spiritual growth. If you can learn to breathe and let your thoughts settle down, that is a great first step.

"Thoughtless awareness,"

as Garima always told me, is the experience of your self-realization. Learn to be comfortable in the silence of your being and simply observe your thoughts. This may be hard to do at first, especially for a long period of time, but with practice, it will be your daily 'sound of the bell' for you to be conscious of yourself.

About two years after learning how to do Sahaja Meditation, my cousin invited me to do a

Native American sweat lodge ritual.

It consisted of meditation, fasting, exercise, construction of a sweat lodge from tree branches and finally surviving the intense heat within the blanketed lodge we built. It was definitely one of the most physically testing things I have ever done. The sweat lodge ritual was definitely the most memorable as we sat inside the 'hut' we had made from scratch and poured water onto coal that produced extremely hot steam, as we confessed our past and professed our new knowledge of ourselves. It was a

cleansing experience

that I actually did twice and it helped me become more

aware of my ego.

I do not recommend this practice for everyone, but I definitely enjoyed it as a unique experience that helped me connect with nature better and gave me a deeper knowledge of myself.

I don't pray like the way I did when I was 10 years-old anymore but I do still pray, just in a different way. I do give more attention to the moment which gives me a certain feeling of

closeness to God.

We do not have control of certain things that happen in life, such as death of a significant person in our life, but their

passing can be an awakening for us.

Also, when certain connections are made in life and reappear, as it did with Sahaja Meditation for me, they are important signs to be aware of. Trying new experiences that improve our awareness of ourselves can also help us as we continue to live more spiritually.

Like experiencing difficult times in life, spiritually vibrant events in life are lessons for us to be conscious of and learn from. They may come at the most unexpected times but they are here to teach us something. Like recently, I broke my collarbone in a motorcycle accident that happened out of nowhere. There is a reason for it though.

Our spiritual awakening is a journey

that can involve unfortunate or challenging events but also uplifting ones as well. It is essential for us to be aware of all of them as they happen in life to help us return to the

most important purpose in life: being conscious..

When we are conscious, we transform everything we do to something beautiful and we will be more graceful in all that we do. It is a blessed phenomenon with unimaginable powers.

When we are conscious, there is a certain quality to events in our life that awakens our soul. There is a deeper connection to the manifestations for some unknown reason.

Coincidences tend to happen when I feel one with life

and notice things around me with complete awareness. Whether it be noticing an old friend walking by and saying hi or receiving a phone call from someone who I was just thinking about, these instances give a richness to life. Perhaps, every moment is a coincidence and we just need to be in tune with life more to notice them.

Or more simply, there are no coincidences.

Although we may ask ourselves, "what is my purpose" and not know the answer, we should not worry because the

answer will not come from the mind but from the soul.

The soul is not a thing and its essence is one with consciousness, it cannot be fully understood. However, there will be events that arise from this Source that will be a signal for us to awaken to our true being.

Heighten your awareness around you and within you as you continue your day. Your aliveness extends to others, as they notice your peace, and you will connect with life on another level that is beyond understanding. There may be an event for you waiting to show you the light and if you are not conscious, you may miss it. The more we are able to approach life in a field of consciousness, the more alive we become in each moment and we can then accomplish the second step of life which is intertwined with our first step of being conscious:

helping humanity be aware of themselves so that we can all take appropriate action to help the world.
Selfie mountain top
Photo by Edmund Celis.

Here is an audio of the article as well.

Please check out my article "Year 2112"!

back to Blog