It was the summer of 2014 and I was living near the University of Colorado, Boulder campus doing my summer internship at the Computational Cognitive Neuroscience lab. Colorado had just legalized recreational use of marijuana. You didn’t need anything more than an ID to prove your age to go buy weed in stores. Dispenseries were cropping up everywhere where you could browse catalogs of strains, buy smoking accessories, buy edibles, or sodas infused with weed, or just use their “weed vending machines” if you weren’t really too keen on talking to the store employee. No surprise that I was smoking regularly during my stay in Boulder.
At the time I had a close friend named Nico who I would spend a lot of time with. Nico was half white, half japanese who had lived both in the US and Japan. The dude was very funny, social and we had a great vibe together. We would hike around the Rocky mountains and smoke in cool places, drive down to go watch movies or binge eat at Chipotle or the local Indian restaurant. Fun times. One day we had gone to the local dispensery and we were browsing through all the strains and I wanted to get a premium variety and I was a huge fan of high THC strains. So I got this tin case of about 6 fat blunts of a strain called “The White Goat”. I had smoked half a blunt early evening and the thing hit me heavy. A little while later Nico asked if I wanted to go out with him to smoke some. I, being the impulse-driven debaucherer, said yes and we went out to smoke. We finished the rest of the blunt and I wasn’t feeling well. I got back to my room and just lay down on the bed. I was sweating a great deal and breathing heavily. It felt pretty critical. I knew it would be temporary but it was quite intense.
After a while I suppose I just fell asleep and when I woke up again, it was nearly midnight and I was thirsty. I was feeling fine otherwise. I wasn’t high anymore. I walked up to the kitchen and got myself a glass of water. I had a habit of keeping a voice journal. So I pulled out my recorder and started recording my thoughts. I don’t recall what I was saying, but there was a brief moment of a loss in my train of thoughts. Not very uncommon for a stoner. As I sat there with my mouth half open, trying to pluck out those thoughts that had escaped my mind, I just noticed the hum of the refrigirator, the omnipresent chirping of the crickets, the roll of the tyres on a distant road among other things. I started witnessing all these things around me that had been happening all the while, whether I paid attention to them or not. And I noticed how I had been so engrossed in my little trail of insignificant thoughts that I hadn’t even paid attention to these things. So I just sat there immersed in that silence, just observing all the things around me, and also myself, and the things that were popping in my head. I observed all of it without judgment or any intention as to what I would do with these observations.
And as I spent several minutes just observing, I started witnessing my thoughts and how they pop, evolve, perish and become replaced with new thoughts. Some of these thoughts evoked desires to do things. I resisted the impulse to just follow these desires and just keep on observing. And then I witnessed how with the perishing of the thought, the desire attached to that thought no longer seemed strong. In fact, it didn’t even remain in my consciousness anymore, as it was replaced by something entirely new. A new thought, a new desire, let these pass and there’s something else entirely new replacing all of those.
Eventually I snapped out of it and went back to bed. I continued to just observe how my face felt, the tension in my body, my thoughts among other things. I observed everything around me and within me with absolute detachment and dispassion. As I spent time doing this I just saw myself for what I was - a human being living as a temporary speck on the vast cosmos. What ensued was somewhat of an obsession. I took every opportunity to just keep observing and witnessing my interiors and my behavior to understand my own mind.
I eventually arrived at an important realization - I had just a few decades left on this planet and all I was doing was binge watching Netflix, binge eating, wasting my time, indulging in debauchery among other unproductive things. I began realizing my own mortality. I let go of all the things that I thought was important and surrendered to this one thing - “I don’t have forever to live and I must make the most of what time I have left.”
The most important of the realizations I had was that I could observe my own thoughts if I focused inwards and the power that one little act held. Observing one’s thoughts is as natural and effortless as observing the things that happen around us. It’s just a matter of orienting one’s attention in the proper direction. There are 2 reasons why it seems so impossible at first. One, we just don’t have enough training in doing this, at least not as much training as we have with the world around us. The second reason is just that thoughts are more ephemeral. They pop in and out with no significant consistency or deeper meaning to their arrival and departure. Regardless of these, once you get the hang of monitoring your thoughts, you will gain an immensely deep understanding of your own nature. You begin to witness the reasons for why you want something, for why you do things, for why you have certain tendencies. This is the most powerful knowledge that anyone can have of anything, because in our lives as individuals these are the things that define the nature of our existence. It is knowledge that can transform anyone from living as driftwood being dragged around by the currents of one’s intrinsic tendencies to an entity that is capable of self-observation, self-transformation and ultimately an entity capable of agency and self-direction.
When I first realized this little thread and started pulling it to see where it leads, I felt like I’d discovered a hidden treasure that could transform the world. I literally reacted to this knowledge as if I had stumbled upon a massive pot of gold. I sat there chuckling at how big this was. I suppose I was just naive, because what I had discovered was something that entire civilizations and generations of individuals had undergone. Great works had been written about it and great feats of human achievements were made possible by those who had mastered this technique. It took me many months to connect the dots and realize that I wasn’t a pioneer but a newbie who had just stumbled upon something that was only a secret to those still living an unawakened life. I was just a baby who had just opened his eyes, in a world that was roamed by those who were awaked eons ago and then went on to live their lives in their awakened states and did profound things.
I started realizing that I was living in a world divided by only one line - those who were living as slaves to their unconscious mind, and those who had realized that they could live freely and put that realization to various degrees of use.
I had tried several times to help others understand the significance of this act. But it always fell flat and they always end up walking away with the idea that I’m arrogant. When I speak of meditation, they just see it as a means to relax the mind or to manage their anger. It wasn’t this tool to fundamental reawakening. I suppose I would have reacted similarly if someone had had this conversation with me while I hadn’t had my own experience.