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Archive for the ‘creating a spiritual practice’ Category

I am back from 12 days away from the world. No Internet, no phone, no contact with outside life. For 10 days I was in silence learning Vipassana meditation.

I was so, so scared to go and do this.

And I am so, so happy that I did.

Oh, there is so much I’d like to share about this! From the challenges of sitting (meditating), to the beautiful moments in between, to the amazing and supportive center, to the details of this technique, to the joys of silence for a week, to the ups and downs I felt all week long, I don’t know where to begin.

I went in expecting extreme suffering, with an extreme breakthrough of bliss at the end. Thankfully, neither of these were true. For me. One of the keystones of this practice is that it is based on your own personal experience. It is not connected to any religion—it is a universal technique which can be used by everyone to purify the mind. So, after reading up and hearing others’ experiences, I had certain expectations. So what I describe is purely my experience, as it is different for everyone.

From Day 1, I was challenged. I did not know how I would make it through the week. The days are so long, beginning at 4:30 am, and filled only with meditation. No books, no writing, no conversations are allowed. As the days passed, I understood why all this is so. All other distractions have been removed to give you the full opportunity to learn this practice, and live like a nun or monk for 10 days. Being in silence amongst a group of other women (men and women are separated) proved to be a huge blessing as we all undertook this journey. We were not alone in what we were doing, but we were granted our own special space to go through this learning on our own. The week became a very special time for me and myself. I can’t say enough good things about the center I went to—Dhamma Dhara, in Shelbourne, MA. It is run with such love and mindfulness. Down to the tiniest detail, they have your best interests in mind. The food is all prepared by volunteers who have taken the course, and it is delicious and healthy. When the bell rings for mealtime, we enter the dining hall, and it as if little elves have come in and let us the gift of food. And, being in silence, mealtime for me became time to sit there and really enjoy my food. Breakfast is at 6:30, lunch is at 11am, and 5pm is teatime. No dinner. (But you do get fruit.) My body adjusted fast, and this also was supportive of the practice. You can’t meditate on a full stomach. I learned this fast and was not tempted to overeat at either of the meals.

This technique really resonates with me. The mind, I learned, is actually full of love and compassion. But through life, we pick up all of these negativities and stuggles and pains which get lodged into our minds. This work of focusing purely on your body’s sensations purifies the mind and pulls out those negativies by the root! It is work of training the mind, of sharpening the mind, of clearing out all that is in the way of the overflow of love and compassion that exists beneath everything else.

The course is taught by S.N. Goenke, all via audio and video, with assistant teachers in the room to answer questions and guide the day. And this is a wonderful man. Each evening we watched discourses, and it felt like movie time. We could stop working and enjoy his teachings.

The hardest day for me was Day 9. Someone else mentioned that this was the best day for them. Some days I felt like I was getting it, and I couldn’t wait to go home and share my experience. Other days I was doubtful and frustrated and could only think about pizza and wine and my friends back home. Day 9, I had expected to feel so clear-headed. I expected to have some huge blissful out-of-body experience. And there I was, still just trying to bring my mind back to my body. I had to let go of my own expectations and cravings for a certain experience and accept where I was and what it was. This turns out to be a large part of the practice, and what I am taking from it.

He says a lot how people are smiling on Day 10. How the whole week will be worth it because on Day 10 you will feel so happy. When the silence was broken in the morning and we began transitioning back, I felt disappointed. I’m not smiling! Am I supposed to feel happier? Did this not work on me? Did I do it right? I’m still playing some worries in my head!

I wasn’t ready to be out of silence. I took a long walk through the trees in the back, still content only conversing with nature. A woman passed me who had her phone. My first words: “They gave us our phones back?” The woman replied back with an accent. I never would have guessed. I slowly ventured into the main area, and saw a group of women on the ground talking and laughing. Oh no! People have already made friends! It’s too late for me! Then one of the girls looked up and smiled at me. I relaxed. It’s okay. This isn’t junior high.

As I began to speaking with the other women there, that’s when I discovered the quiet joy that had been unveiled this week.

And the smile.

I did find myself smiling. Smiling from a place of joy. Laughing like I laughed in high school as a few of us were making jokes about the symphony of farts that took place in the meditation hall all week. Another thing i did not foresee: the bodily functions I’d be hearing all week! When we had our next “sit,” as each meditation is called, and one of the men on the other side of the room farted (for the millionth time), I could hold it in no longer. I started giggling. The rest of the women began giggling too. We were able to compose ourselves but then again I burst out giggles. Which set off the rest of the women again. The assistant teacher calmly asked us to please compose ourselves. I spent the next 20 minutes trying not to laugh. It was a beautiful moment to share with the other women in the room. We’d worked so hard all week, and could finally enjoy a laugh together. To laugh like that, to have to hold my nose and work harder than I’d worked all week to not laugh was the most gratifying experience of the entire week.

Now, my real work begins: keeping up this practice on a daily basis.

Jamie is on Day 5 today! She is almost halfway done. Keep it up Jamie! Sending you lots of love and light!

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Tomorrow I leave for Massachusetts for the 10-day Vipassana course. I remember about 3 years ago a manager at the restaurant I worked at told me he was leaving for a 10-day silent retreat. Now I know what he was talking about. He actually did that right after he quit, so I never heard how it went for him. I’m curious!

I have had a lot of different feelings arise since I first signed up for this course. I don’t want to do it… I don’t want to need it… What if this makes me more in my head? What if I go crazy? I probably do need this… I’m going to be so busy this summer! I definitely should not do this.

I almost cancelled my course reservation, and then I had a conversation with my friend Jamie. (Or, as she’s known around this blog, matthewbrownjackson.) She pointed out that this could be an opportunity to get grounded as I began my wild summer (which includes performing 13 solo shows in Canadian festivals). My friend Olia pointed out that I could look at this as another exploration, another experiment. And, that I could simply enjoy getting away from my day-to-day life for 10 days. And when I spoke to Nisha Moodley, she also gave me great advice: To go into this openly, knowing I might like it, and I might not, and either is okay.

So I am taking all of these thoughts with me as I begin the course tomorrow. I am mostly excited to step away from all my to-do lists, all of my facebook & Internet addictions, away from all my mailing lists and emails to tend to, away from the trains of NYC, the worries over money and everything else. I’m going at this openly, knowing I am fine with it and fine without it.

What I am really hoping is that once I “see things as they really are,” which is one of the main ideas behind Vipassana, I’ll be able to come back to my life right here and enjoy it even more, laugh at the ridiculousness of worry, and be even more present with all the great people & experiences in my life.

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Okay, and guess what!! The ultra-awesome, empowering & joyful Stephanie St.Clair (of BLISSBOMED) is going to be writing a guest post right here! I’ve written about Stephanie before. She’s an ongoing source of inspiration and empowerment to love yourself, love your life, and bring all of that juicy love into your relationships. “Like” her on Facebook and get all of her juicy & uplifting thoughts to bring some light into that status feed.

So be sure to check in and see what she has to say. I can’t wait to get back and read it. Or—-go ahead and SUBSCRIBE (to the right of the screen) and you’ll get an email when the post is up! Go ahead… subscribe! 🙂

See you guys mid-May!

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Who says you need to go on some silent meditation retreat to have a full-on spiritual experience? Sometimes you just need to be around friends and family and home, to revisit your life from years ago to be reminded that at your very core, you. are. loved.

This weekend my beautiful friend Emily got married. The entire experience just touched me so deeply. Surrounded by my best friends from high school, we spent each day before the wedding doing one type of celebration or another, whether it was a bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, or putting together programs. It just felt good to be around these girls that I can now look back on our 15 years of friendship together.

There’s this term I’ve heard in Landmark about “how you occur” to people. How people see you, how you feel around people. And I slip right back into occuring as a joyful, goofy, funny friend. All of this stuff about my mind and overthinking and worrying goes out of the window, all my struggles of my life as a 28-year-old woman. All my worries seem so silly. I am reminded how loved I am.

Emily’s service was so beautiful. She and her now-husband, Josh, have devoted themselves to Christ, and as I stood there during the service, I wondered, hang on a second, remind me again why I felt the need to leave my own devotion behind? Remind me again what there is to question about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (The fruits of the spirit). What is the downfall exactly about having all your sins accounted for, to have absolute freedom in a savior? I was reminded of the pure joy that a life with Christ brings, and seeing how God truly brought Emily and Josh together, and how their faith has built such a strong foundation for a lifelong love.

But also, I felt a sense of underlying peace, because I know that the God that I pray to is the same God. And I know that God is bringing me here to remind me that love is still the secret. And when I feel empty on that, this God is still quite willing and open to filling me up with it.

Over the past several months, I’ve been able to get some perspective on my life in New York over the past almost-7 years, the choices I’ve made and the bumps along my path. And it was only about 5 minutes after I got to this city that I started dating an atheist and exploring what was outside of the Church. I think it is similar to Eve. I really wanted to understand. I wanted to expand my own worldview and know what was outside of Christianity.

The minister who led the service baptized me when I was 21. One year prior to moving to New York. See, the first time I visited, I was hit with a wave of fear. I didn’t understand all of the worldliness of New York. I didn’t see how there could be so many various cultures and religions, but they were all wrong, by standards of mine. I had a huge spiritual breakdown and didn’t know if I believed in God any more. This isn’t the first time that happened, and funny enough, I don’t exactly remember what it was that confirmed for me that yes—I DO believe in God, in THIS God, but something hit, and hard, to a point that I knew I would never question the existence of God again.

And so in those moments in my first New York apartment where I would cry and journal and pray and question and just began to feel not right about my Christianity, I felt this faint, quiet peace. Like God was right there, giving me the OK. I felt God’s presence, and I felt the deep knowing that if this were what was true for me, God would lead me right back to Christianity. And though it felt scary to let go of this part of my faith, I could feel God smiling at me, understanding that this was my path, and that it was good for me to follow it.

So as I was crying during my friend’s service, I was reminded that this is the same God that I now pray to. (Theologically I was feeling a little confused, but I will have to sort that out later.) It is so clear to me that my friend’s faith is such a powerful, shining blessing in the lives of everyone she touches. And I felt grief over having let go of that. But at the same time, I feel a certain freedom to be a part of the world in a way that I wanted to, and to feel the syncronocities that I have felt over the past many months, that I know that this same God is walking with me, and hearing my prayers. I am even free to read the Bible. As well as Buddhist, metaphysical books, and practicing meditiation and working with spirit animals and shamans.

The point I have been missing is that at the core of all of this is love. And love was overflowing all weekend. And I am inspired to really create my own values, not out of fear or rules. I think I may have missed the mark a bit when I was younger. There was nothing fear- or rule-based about any of the celebrations this weekend. They were all based in love. And whatever you believe, and whatever face you put on your God, to take on loving yourself and the world in the way that my beautiful friends do is the secret to a joyful and happy life.

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Well, I did something, dammit. I confirmed my reservation for the 10-day Vipassana meditation course. I was squirming. I’m scared! I’m scared of this intensive mediation bootcamp. I’m scared that I will do it and come back crazy.er. crazier! I’m scared I will come back tighter, more rigid, harder on myself, and slightly insane from very clearly hearing the stuff in my head for 10 days straight. I’m scared that my friends will be in NYC laughing and having fun, just enjoying life, and I will be attempting to scrape down one more layer of non-self, to get to self.

Why am I doing it then? Well, in the hopes that it could get me grounded. Just really grounded in… Well, if I knew exactly what, I probably wouldn’t need to go! My hopes are that I can get a little more conscious of my choice in each moment. My choice to be happy. My choice to be confident. My choice to pursue my desires. My choice to be loving. My choice to think thoughts that make my life better.

My choice to be one of those people that simply enjoy life. Maybe first I go through an intensive meditation bootcamp to get to that place. But I am going because I hope I will come out of it with a new sense of ease, a new sense of peace. Or maybe, to just connect with the ease and peace that is there living and breathing each moment.

What I’m really looking forward is having these 10 days to just get into my inner world. Not my head, my heart…. and who knows. Maybe I will connect with some sort of universal consciousness!?

But yeah. 8 to 10 hours of meditation a day. Well, the menu looks yummy.

P.S. I got my official nickname in the band I play flute in, The BTK Band ,(where I get to enjoy my inner rock and roller). Once you are officially in the band, you get a nickname.

Mine?

“Eat Pray Blue”

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One of the ideas behind this whole blog is that there comes this point in time where you’ve wanted to do something for a while, and finally, you are done with excuses and the desire to DO IT wins out. And you say IM DOING IT DAMMIT!

And I think there is something really useful about that amount of time that passes by while the desire grows stronger and stronger. Napoleon Hill talks a lot about the necessity of a “burning desire” in Think and Grow Rich. It is an intregal part of any type of success. And the Abraham Hicks folks talk about eagerness and desire, how those feelings are part of the process of manifesting what you want.

All that seems obvious enough. But I’ve noticed that over the past several months I’ve attempted many challenges after the bikram challenge. The bikram challenge was something I had wanted to do since I began practicing bikram three years ago. I had an absolute burning desire to do it. It became my complete focus during that month. It was almost easy! I desired to go to class each day. But since then I’ve tried a few different things: daily yoga stretching, daily meditation, 40 days of writing therapy, or just having fun each day. And each of those have been more challenging. Or, I just haven’t taken my committment to doing them daily quite as seriously. I think it’s because a lot have come from an idea: This would be good for me. Not: I am dying to do this.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course. All of this has been such an interesting experience. The meditation continues to be extremely important. I did finish my 3 months of 15-minute meditations (mostly using guided tracks). It culminated in my extended holiday vacation with spending almost an hour doing various meditations! (Now I am working 40+ hours a week. Not so easy to keep this up daily. I miss it when I don’t do it.)

And the writing therapy opened up something for me too, though now I am in show-mode, focusing mostly on getting my show ready to go up at the PIT in a little over a week (GAH!). So I have dropped the ball a bit on that.

Making committments to DO STUFF seems to only reaaally work when it’s something I reaaaally want to do, and reaaaally commit to.

I am starting to see the importance of letting that desire build up a bit over time, rather than immediately being impulsive to committing myself to something in hopes of a breakthrough. Because when the time comes to really do it, I want to be ready to really do it.

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I just read Jamie’s blog entry below, “Listen,” and it reminded me of the experiences I have had lately when I realized I was actually completely present with someone. Just hanging on to every word, not knowing what would come next, even if we were just talking about sandwiches. That’s a pretty amazing experience because you are taken so out of your own thoughts or preconceptions of what someone is talking about, it is just being present to each millisecond and each word.

I like that Jamie experienced that with herself in mediation. Thank you for sharing, Jamie. 🙂

I’ve been rereading some books lately. One of them is Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. I am reminded also of what Olia says, “It’s okay, It’s okay.” Pema writes about the complete okayness of whatever it is you feel. If you feel like shit, that is okay. In fact, it is a gift. She has a chapter called “Poison is Medicine.” And the idea is that all of that junk that comes up, all that messy stuff, the thoughts, any negativity—that is the juicy stuff that can open up your heart.

Now I am sitting here going through this chapter looking for one golden nugget to pull out where she says this best. I want to just type up the whole chapter. I’ll just go with this:

When these poisons arise, the instruction is to drop the story line, which means—instead of acting out or repressing—use the situation as an opportunity to feel your heart, to feel the wound. Use it as an opportunity to touch that soft spot. Underneath all that craving or aversion or jealousy or feeling wretched about yourself, underneath all that hopelessness and despair and depression, there’s something extremely soft, which is called bodhichitta.

It’s really freeing to get that all that yucky not fun stuff is a gift. Just like love connects you to your soft spot, so can despair.

I want to start a book club. 🙂 Would you want to read some books together? Whether you are a writer or a reader, let me know. Leave a comment. 🙂

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5:32 P.M. First week in the workforce almost finished!

And I like it. I like being busy. I like getting up in the morning and getting dressed, and then leaving for work, and getting home around 11 p.m, after post-work activities. I like knowing how much money I’ll be making this month. And I like that this 3-month-gig will get me into spring, hopefully with a shiny new wardrobe. 

I don’t like riding the train during rush hour. There is no loving-kindness in my heart as I do my best to hang on to the bar that I can reach, fighting against being pushed towards the middle where my short arm will be forced to stretch armstrong up high in order to not crush the shorter girl to my right.

There’s a game of trying to pick who might be getting off the train first, and standing in front of them to claim their seat. The other icy rainy gross  morning was a packed train as usual. I was hanging on to the bar, hovering a bit but trying to not allow my umbrella to drip on the woman’s bag who had the seat. I’d been there about 20 minutes—the real estate was mine. Then a woman loudly makes a scene of excusing herself and squeezes in right next to me, nearly falling on me as she also reaches for that shorter pole on the edge.

Okay, that’s all well and good, no worries about falling, but let it be known that this seat is mine. I’ve been eyeing all seated woman’s hints of getting off the train. Grabbing her bags tightly, check. Alertly paying attention to the stops, check.

Next stop, seated woman hops up, swivels in front of me right as the loud woman climbs into her seat. It was as if the two choreographed it together. I didn’t have a chance. Now she was not an old lady, but she had a few years on me, so my thought had been, “I will offer this woman the seat.”

But then, when she sat down without even a glance at me, I was fumin. Yeah, fumin! My head goes “FUCK you lady! Fuck you!!! That was MY seat!”

And then I angrily hung on as we went over the Brooklyn Bridge. Yeah, yeah, snow-filled scene and picturesque view of Manhattan. NOT IMPRESSED.

Anyhoo, that lady gets off the train at Union Square, and I get the seat. I feel gross inside for inwardly hating on this woman. Purely for selfish reasons. It didn’t feel good. It didn’t make me enjoy that ride any more. Clearly I have nothing to worry about as far as gathering up material pre-enlightenment.

A guy enters the train and is standing there with a cane. He’s a tall, robust African American man. I thought for a minute about offering my seat. While I was stuck in my thoughts, the girl beside me hops up and asks if he’d like to sit down. He smiles and quietly thanks her. I sit there, with an easy ride through the next several stops, thinking to myself:

 “Fuck you!! You asshole!  You fucking asshole! You should have gotten up!”

The gross feeling continues.

So, what comes first, loving myself unconditionally or loving the people on the train? It’s blantantly clear in that moment that I certainly am not filled with loving kindness for myself, but there’s plenty of harsh judgment. Where am I to go from there when interacting with New Yorkers on the crowded train?  

Will going to the 10-day Vipassana meditation bootcamp in April help me to not think bludgering swears upon fellow passengers during the tense, hot, uncomfortable, long rides?

Will it help me to not heave those thoughts on myself?

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