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Archive for April, 2011

Meditation Yoga: April 2011

For fellow yogis who are interested (or for any reader who is simply curious), here is the yoga sequence I wrote for the 45-minute session I taught at the Bhante G meditation retreat in April 2011.

  • Seated small body circles
  • Seated large body circles
  • Overhead arm lift-and-side-lean (one arm at a time)
  • Overhead arm-lift-and-twist (both arms at the same time)
  • Cat/cow
  • Circular cat/cow
  • Hands and knees – then opposite arm/leg lift (balance pose)
  • Hands and knees – then lift one arm up in the air (small spinal twist)
  • Hands and knees – breathe
  • Down dog – pedal feet, shake head, circle hips
  • Walk hands to feet
  • Inhale – half lift
  • Exhale – forward fold
  • Inhale – all the way up
  • Step to the top of the mat
  • Tadasana – small circles, then large circles, then small circles, then find center
  • 4 sun salutes
  • * Tree – then wave the branches
  • * Starfish
  • * Chair
    (then repeat * on the other side)
  • * High lunge
  • * Warrior 2
  • * Reclined Warrior 2
  • * Warrior 3
  • * Reclined Warrior 2
  • * Warrior 2
  • * High lunge
    (then repeat * on the other side)
  • 2 sun salutes
  • Circle cat/cow
  • Cat/cow
  • Overhead arms & twist
  • Overhead 1 arm lean (then repeat other side)
  • Seated small circles
  • Savasana

I had planned to do a third standing sequence of high lunge, warrior 2, triangle, standing wide-legged forward fold to sides, standing wide-legged forward fold to middle (the repeat other side), but I just ran out of time.

I also forgot to include a supine spinal twist; if I were to do this again, I would include this just before savasana.

Oh well.  Considering I had never taught I real class before, and that I had about 30 minutes to pull this together, I think I did pretty well.  :)

Click here to return to Day 2 of the retreat.

Click here to read about the experience from the beginning.

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(as shared by Bhante G)

May all beings be happy and secure.
May all beings have happy minds.
Whatever living beings there may be,
Without exception: weak or strong,
Large or long,
Medium, short, subtle or gross,
Visible or invisible,
Living near or far,
Born or coming to birth –
May all beings have happy minds.
Let no one deceive another,
Nor despise anyone anywhere.
Neither from anger nor ill will
Should anyone wish harm to another.
As a mother would risk her own life
To protect her only child,
Even so towards all living beings,
One should cultivate a boundless heart.
One should cultivate for all the world
A heart of boundless loving-friendliness.
Above, below, and all around,
Unobstructed, without hatred or resentment.

Whether standing, walking, or sitting,
Lying down or whenever awake,
One should develop this mindfulness.
This is called divinely dwelling here.
Not falling into erroneous views,
But virtuous and endowed with vision,
Removing desire for sensual pleasures,
One comes never again to birth in the womb.

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Aka, “What I learned”:

  • Loving-friendliness is the key to happiness.  When I am friendly, when my heart is open and caring, loving and compassionate, I am happy – regardless of any other person’s response.
  • The present moment is the key to true freedom, to liberation.  When I project into the future or ruminate about the past, I suffer.  Big time.  But when I just stay right here, right now, right in this present moment, life is just fine.  Perception is most people’s reality; I would like to make reality my reality.
  • I like yoga more than I like sitting meditation; and I am more present for more time during yoga than during seated meditation.  And I do get good awarenesses and learnings via both methods.  That being said, up to this point in my meditation and yoga path, I have received deeper, more ‘transformational’ insights in my sitting meditation practice than via yoga.  As much as I wish that weren’t the case (because I ‘like’ yoga more than I ‘like’ meditation), it is my current reality.
  • I’m not sure that I’m willing to do the work required to attain genuine, full liberation.  And that’s really difficult for me to admit.  I never thought of myself as ‘lazy’, or unaccommodating – but at multiple points in this retreat, when push came to shove, I opted for the ‘easy’ way instead of the growth-producing (freedom-yielding) way.  And it hurts me to admit that (and it really hurts me to observe that within myself), but it’s the truth.
  • Still, while my mind may be overly-active in thinking, and while my ego may be unruly and make judgments, my heart is still a lotus flower – and I need to never forget that.  No matter how deep I am in the muck, I am still a beautiful flower, striving to bloom.

So, where to go from here?  I really don’t know.  But I do know I’ll still meditate tomorrow; because really, what else can I do?

Stef

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4 am: I woke up – and the very first thought that entered my consciousness was ‘mindful’. I blinked my eyes open, and the next thought that I had was ‘breath’. Then ‘lungs’, then ‘present moment’, then ‘mindful’.  Holy crap, my attempt to establish mindfulness last night actually worked!  I woke this morning with mindfulness!

4:01 am: And then my mind wandered on to thoughts of packing, and a to-do list quickly formed in my consciousness.  But for a good minute, at the very beginning of my day, I was totally mindful.  It’s a decent start.

5:45 am: I was at my car, placing my suitcase in the trunk, and about to make my way back to the meditation hall for our 6 am sitting, when I saw Bhante approach from his hermitage.  Wrapped up in a big brown coat over his maroon robe, wearing a maroon stocking cap and scarf, he struck me as a tiny, spry, wise old man – full of peace, but also common (worldly) sense.  I love it.

6 am: Sitting meditation.  This session was rocky for me as far as concentration was concerned, but beautiful as far as decreased self-judgment, and increased acceptance of what is.  It’s not complacency, but instead a simultaneous non-judgmental acceptance of the present state of affairs, coupled with an earnest, wholesome desire to want to do better, get better, be better.

7 am: Breakfast.  The sun came out for the first time since we arrived at the retreat; and before he walked upstairs to the kitchen, Bhante stood at the big bay window overlooking the lake where I had stood yesterday, and gazed at the sunshine, enjoying the view.  I agree.

8 am: Schedule change.  Originally we were supposed to have a teaching at this time, but it got moved to 9 am – and we weren’t given any explicit instructions for how to spend our hour from 8-9 am.  The most obvious choice would be to meditate (either sitting, walking, or doing yoga); but I had done about all of the meditation my mind could handle these past two days – so I engaged in stare-out-the-bay-window-and-watch-birds meditation.  (And I thought of my mother-in-law while I did this [as I nearly always do every time a bird catches my eye], and sent her well-wishes while I gazed.)  During the 45 minutes I was at the window I saw a very red robin, a very blue jay, a small black-and-white spotted fellow, and a tiny brown sparrow.  I also heard a woodpecker intermittently, but I never was able to see him.

9 am: Teaching.  The theme of this session was metta (loving-friendliness) and mindfulness, and the relationship between the two.  During this talk Bhante made three key points:
1) A meditator should not practice metta without also being mindful as well, lest the wholesome friendliness of metta turn into an unwholesome state of clinging.
2) Metta/loving-friendliness practice is a practice – so this state should be cultivated in our thoughts (meditation) as well as in our spoken/written words and our physical actions.  Metta should be cultivated both on our cushion, as well as out in the world as we live our lives.
3) Metta should be practiced for our own benefit, not for anyone else’s.  Other people will be just as they are; the world will be just as it is; and we can’t change every single person, nor can we change every single factor in the world.  What we can do is change ourselves – and in changing ourselves, we will certainly benefit, but we will also slowly change the world.  Now how’s that for a terrific koan?  : )

9:30 am: Meditation.  I felt restless and antsy, yet also focused and committed to practice.  I want to go home, but I also want to maintain the deeper meditative states I have experienced/cultivated while here on retreat; and I’m not confident that I will be able to do that (or, perhaps more accurately, remain willing to do the very hard work it takes to maintain them) once I return to my busy, everyday, householder life.  I felt conflicted, and vacillated between relief and anxiety, calm and fear.

10 am: Q&A.  I asked Bhante, “You’ve told us so many good things these past thee days.  But if we are feeble-minded and can only remember one of them, what is the one thing you would have us do when we leave here and return to our everyday lives?”  Bhante’s answer: “Be mindful.”

It couldn’t be any clearer, or simpler.  Certainly not easy – but I shall do my best.

With that, I picked up my meditation cushion and blanket, walked to my car, started it up, and drove down the unpaved driveway, headed for home.

Stef

(Click here to go to the afterward – if you are so inclined.)

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4 am: I woke up, and got out of bed – stiff.  But not sore.  Looks like my 11 months of yoga training have served me well.  Yay!

4:15 am: I enjoyed a screamin’ hot shower.  Nice.

4:30 am: Thirst kicked in big-time.  I knew I didn’t drink enough water yesterday, but now I’m realizing how significant that deficit was.  I now know what to bring as a donation item to future retreats I attend: bottled water.

5:15 am: I did my usual morning situp/pushup/yoga routine, and it felt fantastic.  My body loves to move.  I felt tight, tense muscles elongate and relax… it really was quite beautiful.

5:50 am: The morning bell rang.  Time to head to the meditation hall.

As I walked to the meditation hall, I passed by a bay window looking out on a lake.  The sky was still quite dark, but enough light was present that I could make out forms, and see the waves of the lake hit the shore line.  The view made me stop walking; and as I gazed at the scene, I realized (admitted?) that life certainly would be simpler – and I truly would be happier – if I quit my present life, and joined a monastery or convent.  Now, don’t laugh – I really am being quite serious.  As a child, I wondered how I could join a convent; but then I learned you had to be a nun, and we weren’t Catholic, so I just assumed that I couldn’t pursue that option.  Had I know then what I know how (i.e., that I really could enter a convent – just a Buddhist one instead of a Catholic one), I truly believe I might have done it.  Seriously.

Alas, that wasn’t my path – so I have to believe that my life was meant to have some ‘other’ purpose; that I am meant to be doing ‘something else’ while living as a householder.  But I just don’t know what that ‘something else’ is.  I wish I did know; I think that information might have the power to transform my life.  However, in the absence of that information, I’ll just keep plugging along, and do what I can to stay open to whatever might come my way; and then do my very best in whatever situations I find myself as a result – and trust that everything will work out exactly as it should.  I’m trying, anyway…

6 am: The other retreat participants and I all sat in the dusk of the pre-morning sun, the room illuminated by candlelight.  Everyone was silent; then the teachers entered the room without speaking as well.  We all took our seats and closed our eyes – and I focused exclusively on the present moment.  I didn’t try to control my mind, or the meditation session as a whole; I didn’t try to force my heart to be full of love or my mind to be full of peace; I just sat, and breathed, and did my very best to just be with whatever arose.  To not think about the future (immediate or long-term), to not reflect on the past (recent or distant), but to just hang out in the right-here, present moment.  Surprisingly, I was actually able to do that for relatively sizable stretches of time.  And when I did, it was so lovely.  And when I didn’t, it was uncomfortable, and at times even painful.  But I was able to stay really present for the majority of the sitting – and so it went by relatively quickly and peacefully.  This meditation session was an amazing lesson and reminder.

7 am: Breakfast.  Hot tea is so soothing, and comforting.

8 am: The schedule indicated that we were supposed to have a teaching from 8-9 am; so a few minutes before 8 I made my way to the meditation hall.  8 am came and went – and no teacher.  Hmm…. 8:10 am passed by – and no teacher.  8:20 am… 8:30 am… 8:40 am… and with each passing minute, I grew more confused, and more irritated.  I stood at that big window overlooking the lake, and stared through the glass at the gray sky and the choppy water.  (Funny how the external weather mirrored my internal environment…)  I stood, and I stared, and I rocked back and forth, then side to side.  I tried to let go, and to accept; and it was really difficult.  My mind kept going back to questions (“What’s going on? Where is the teacher?”) and judgments (“This is wrong! This is irresponsible! This is a waste of my time!”), and I saw – and really felt – the pain of those mental states.

At 8:57 am I paused, breathed deeply, and said to myself, “Well, Stef, you’re here on this retreat to meditate, right?  So, you might as well go into the hall and sit” – so I did.  Literally one minute later, the teacher arrived, sat, and began the instruction session.  No joke.

9 am: The teacher gave a talk on the hindrances.  And just like yesterday, both the timing and the content of this talk seem to be perfectly pointed to me: I’m being plagued by, well, all of the hindrances.  The solution to overcoming the hindrances is to not fight them, but instead to just be aware of them, let them play out, and then gently return to the present moment once they have passed through.  Nearly every hindrance (or thought, or emotion) has a life span of less than a few seconds; these items are only able to last longer when we cling to them, feed them, perpetuate them.  If we simply let them arise and pass on their own, they will move through our minds very quickly.  It’s when we try and push the hindrances/thoughts/emotions along that we get ensnared and entangled, and actually cause them to stick around a LOT longer than they would otherwise.  So, notice, allow, watch, then return to the present moment.  That’s all.  That’s enough.

It’s really, really hard to do.

9:20 am: Meditation.  So many hindrances came up – at various points in the meditation I wanted to cry, and at other points I wanted to puke.  (I’m not being melodramatic; at multiple different points in the hour that passed I felt tears at my eyes, and bile in my throat.)  Yet, the second I returned to the present moment, I felt instantly okay – almost peaceful.  It was so fascinating to experience!  The answer really is the present moment!

10:20 am: The monk showed no signs of stopping the meditation session, so at the hour mark I simply got up from my seat and gave myself a break.  At 10:30 am I did walking meditation on my own in my room – and it was so beautiful, and so peaceful, and so deeply lovely.  Quite the contrast to the meditation I had come from just minutes before.

11 am: Q&A.  Various students asked questions regarding meditation practice, and Dhamma, and Bhante G’s perspective on a few different Buddhist topics.  The story that most intrigued me/caught my attention was this one: The question posed was related to pain, specifically the pain people often experience while sitting in meditation.  Bhante G said that during his initial training as a monk, he was required to sit on a concrete floor for hours at a time, without a cushion.  As you might imagine, he reported that the pain was intense. He said that he still has calluses on his ankles.  But he made it through his training, and was then able to sit in half-lotus position for meditation for hours at a time, without any pain.  He continued with the story: “Then, at 65 years old, I thought, ‘Here I sit in half-lotus; why not full lotus?’  So I train.  After two minutes of full lotus I was in so much pain – I thought my leg would be amputated because of no circulation! But I train.  And I train.  And I train.  And now, at 83 years old, I sit in meditation in full lotus for hours, no pain.”  Damn – 83 years old, and sitting in full lotus for hours at a time?  This is one cool cat.

11:30 am: Lunch.  As we were about to break for lunch, two retreat participants entered the meditation hall, carrying a tray of food.  Bhante G explained that one tradition some people observe is to make an offering to the Buddha before eating a meal.  The monk then said, “The people who have donated lunch today would like to adhere to this tradition, so we will do it.”  His tone was slightly put out, as if to say, ‘Oy, really?  You want to do this?  But it’s so formal, and unnecessary… but you brought the food, so okay, here we go….sigh…’ It was quite humorous to me.  Bhante G then led the group through a brief (3 min) chanting and bowing and offering sequence, then the two retreat participants placed a plate of food at the foot of the Buddha statue at the front of the room.  It was cool for me to observe this small ceremony (I had never seen anything like it before); but I also wondered, ‘But then what do they do with the food?’

Anyway… we all headed upstairs to the kitchen, where I enjoyed a fantastic meal. Oh my gosh, it was so good.  I ate steamed, chopped kale topped with yellow lentils; sautéed mushrooms and onions; seasoned seitan; cut mixed fruit topped with vanilla yogurt; and hot tea.  Ahh… it was so delish!

12:30 pm: Private time.  I spent about 30 minutes writing a yoga sequence.  Why, you ask?  Here’s the story:

Apparently I wasn’t the only person disappointed by no yoga yesterday.  Seems that in the evening, one of the participants approached the monk, and expressed displeasure at not having yoga after so much sitting all day.  From what I gather, the monk told the participant that he (the monk) didn’t know yoga, so that he (the monk) couldn’t lead a yoga session; but if he (the participant) could find a yoga teacher, then he (the participant) was more than welcome to coordinate a yoga session for today.

So the participant must have had his eyes open for someone who looked ‘yoga-ish’; and I guess I stretched at one point in the morning (I don’t remember doing this specifically, but it is very possible that I did; I frequently stretch after an extended period of sitting), so the participant approached me and said, “I think you might be a yoga teacher.  Bhante said that you could teach a session for us today.  Will you?”  I smiled.  Note that he never asked if I actually was a yoga teacher; it was just assumed that because I’m thin and stretchy and bendy, I must be.  Hilarious.  Anyway… he asked the question, and I suspected that people would really appreciate having some yoga today (especially after 2 days of multiple long seated meditation sessions), so I said that yes, I would teach if he/Bhante/other participants wanted me to do so.  The man lit up into a big smile, said, “Thank you!”, and nearly skipped off to tell Bhante.

And that’s how I found myself writing a yoga sequence during my free time, never having actually taught a real yoga class before.  Looks like this week is all about new experiences for me!

1:30 pm: We were supposed to spend 30 minutes in seated meditation; but about three minutes into the session, I started to doze.  I realized (admitted) what I really needed was sleep – so instead of fighting or denying my body, I gave it what it was asking for.  Hmm… doing what I need, instead of what I think I should; this is big progress for me.  Wonderful.

2 pm: Sitting meditation.  For nearly the entire 45-minute session I watched my mind engage in a very gentle back-and-forth between drifting from awareness, then returning to the present moment.  Drift, return, drift, return – but it was all judgment-free, so it was freeing.  More progress.  Lovely.

2:45 pm: Tea break.  I drank some tea.  That’s all.

3 pm: Teaching.  For an hour the monk talked to us about mindfulness.  And he shared a lot of excellent wisdom.  But by this point in the retreat experience I was starting to feel overwhelmed with information, content, and experience; so of all the information Bhante articulated over the course of the 60 minutes, I really only remember two points:
1) The purpose of mindfulness practice is to purify the mind.  (So that one can be free of greed, anger, and delusion, and ultimately reach the state of full liberation, nibbana.)
2) All of the answers we will ever need to know are inside of us.  We need only look within, and we will find everything we need to be fully liberated.
While these are ‘only two’ points (out of probably 10 or 15 that were made), I think these are pretty valuable ones.

4 pm: Yoga.  Okay Stef, let’s see what happens here…. Fifteen people (out of approximately thirty total retreat participants) showed up to the session, eager to do yoga.  There was an even number of men and women; and while three people were probably in their late 20s/early 30s, the remaining twelve individuals were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.  Half of the group said they had never done yoga before.  Okay…. A wide variety of ages, body abilities, and experience levels.  Piece of cake, right?  ;)

I had created a semi-gentle yoga sequence (as I wanted to do movements that allowed for, supported, and even encouraged easily connecting breath awareness to body movement), and I chose to teach the session by demonstrating the movements I wanted the participants to do, while simultaneously talking through step-by-steps of how to complete each pose.  (For example, “Inhale-lift-your-arms-above-your-head, exhale-move-your-arms-down-to-a-T-and-forward-fold.  Inhale-halfway-lift-keeping-your-back-long, exhale-forward-fold-aiming-to-touch-your-chest-to-your-thighs.”  [And so on.])  The teachers at my yoga certification program would likely be completely appalled by this approach (they believe a yoga teacher should use verbal cues exclusively, and do minimal [and preferably zero] demonstrating during a class), but I felt doing this was absolutely necessary given the audience I was working with, as well as the very tight time frame I had to try and squeeze the session in.  And – it was terrific.  Teaching this way felt completely natural, and beautiful, and wonderful.  I think I just found my teaching style.  : )  Selfishly, it felt awesome to just MOVE, and my body hummed with pleasure as I led the group through cat/cows, sun salutations, graceful warriors, and motion in general.  These 45 minutes were the most joyful I had on the entire retreat – and the most mindful.

5 pm: Sitting meditation.  During this session I continued to grow deeper and deeper awareness of my mind slipping, sliding, and resuming mindfulness.  I felt myself grow much more settled.  Still.  Present.  Interestingly, whenever thoughts started sliding away from mindfulness (into mindlessness), my physical head started to hurt – like a tension headache.  Then, when the mind returned to the present moment and mindfulness was restored, the headache went away – instantly.  So throughout this session I had mini-episodes of tension headache pain, then poof – gone.  Then pain, then gone.  It was really interesting to observe – and a very effective practice tool.  Not necessarily ‘pleasant’, but very effective.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, pain is one of the ways I learn things quickly.

6 pm: Chanting for 10 minutes, then a ‘tea break’ until 7:30 pm.  During the break I ate dinner (that I brought in with me from home; though I will say that this retreat was fully stocked on the food scene – they provided nearly a full meal for the evening ‘snack’), then read a cute little book from the retreat center library.  It felt really nice to just sit, read, sip tea, stare out the window, and relax.  Feel contentment.  Enjoy life.

7:30 pm: Q&A.  Bhante is a fantastic story teller (not surprising; he’s a terrific author), and has an incredibly jubilant air about him.  Even at 83 years old, his smile is boyish and cute.  It’s lovely (and genuinely liberating) to be in his presence.  The focus of this evening’s Q&A session was a re-visitation of the topics of impermanence, dissatisfaction, and not-self. [The Buddhist ‘trinity’, if you will.]  At one point in the discussion Bhante stated, “Some people have wedding rings.  Some people have earrings.  Some people even have navel rings, or nose rings.  One thing we all have is suffering.”  A very cute way to convey an important Buddhist concept.

9:30 pm: Bedtime.  Bhante said that the ultimate goal of our practice was to be mindful always.  To that end, he encouraged us all to fall asleep with mindfulness, so that we could then awake with mindfulness, so that we could then be mindful during all of our conscious moments.  Clearly I can’t do the whole ‘mindful in every conscious moment’ part just yet, but I did do my best to fall asleep with mindfulness.  I’m not sure if I ‘succeeded’ or not, but at least I did try.

Stef

(Click here to go to Day 3.  [If you’re interested in seeing how this whole deal plays out…])  ;)

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(Disclaimer: This blog post contains some swearing.  If you are offended by coarse language, you may want to close this web page.  I don’t use cursing flagrantly, nor as an “attention-grabber”, but rather to honestly share what I was thinking/feeling/experiencing at various points in this retreat experience. Okay, all that being said – if you are still interested in reading, I happily welcome you in.)  :)

I got out of bed at my usual 4 am wake-up time.  At 5 am I was in the shower, and by 6 am the car was packed and I was on the road.  The morning was overcast, drizzly, and cold – which made for very exhausting driving.  I felt myself fighting fatigue the entire two hours it took to get to the retreat center – ugh.  (At this point I would like the record to show that I was not fighting sleep; that’s dangerous [and in my opinion rather stupid].  Rather, I was fighting fatigue, which is unpleasant, but not unsafe.  Just so we’re all clear.  Okay, I’ll continue…)

Despite the fatigue, I arrived to the retreat center safely – only to learn that the organizers weren’t on-site yet.  Okay… Forty-five minutes later, a flustered woman entered the center, only slightly apologetic for her tardiness.  Breathe Stef…. I held my tongue, received my room assignment (and roommate), put my sleeping bag and clothes on my bed, and put my cushion and blanket in the meditation hall – just in time for the 9 am introduction session.

Only, 9 am came and went, but no teacher arrived.  9:10 am… 9:20 am… My judgmental mind grew louder, and louder; and I felt my physical boy tensing and tightening; and my mind started to question why the hell I was even here – shit, I could be at home, kicking back, enjoying a nice yoga class…or reading some fun blogs…or hell, catching up on the million chores and errands I have waiting for me when I return back home… this is bullshit!  Why the hell do I do this to myself?  That’s it, no more retreats for me.  Screw meditation.  Screw mindfulness.  Why can’t I just be an unconscious, apathetic, materialistic person like so many others in society?  Why do I f***ing care so much?!

Um, yeah – clearly I need this retreat.  It’s pretty evident that too much junk has accumulated in my mind, and my heart; time to clear some clutter.

At 9:30 am the ‘better’ (insightful, wise) part of myself finally said, “Whoa, calm down.  Let go.  Just.  Let.  Go.”  And I did.  And at 9:31 am, the two teachers entered the meditation hall.  (Literally.)  Of course they did.  HP, I swear, you are one tricky bugger…

Alright.  So 9 am was supposed to be “Introductions” – but those never happened.  When the two teachers (monks) arrived, they sat down, and told us to watch our breath – and that was it.  We then meditated for the next hour.  Flashbacks of my 10-day retreat experience flooded back to me, and I did tell myself that if this was what the weekend was going to be like, I would leave tonight – I will not repeat that experience again.  During that first hour of meditation my mind was a crazy swirl, and I mostly saw how angry, hostile, and upset it was.

It was a brutal hour of meditation.  Truly.

At 10:30 am the teacher ended the seated meditation (thank G-d!), and gave 10 minutes of instruction on walking meditation.  Then from 10:45-11 am we practiced walking meditation – and I enjoyed this a lot more.  I’m a big fan of walking meditation – I find it soothing and comforting.  The 15 minutes passed by very quickly; then from 11-11:30 am the monk answered various questions people asked.

During those 30 minutes, I finally got to witness and experience the monk’s personality – and it was terrific.  Bhante G is knowledgeable, certainly; but he’s also quite witty, and very real.  Down to earth.  And he smiles a lot.  And he seems deeply at peace.  It was lovely to be in his presence; the 30 minutes flew by.

At 11:30 am we broke for lunch – and in the dining area, everyone was talking.  A lot.  And loudly.  I was dismayed.  This retreat was supposed to be held in noble silence – but because the monks arrived late this morning and didn’t conduct a proper opening for the retreat, no common expectations were established; and so people just did what they always do, which is a lot of yammering about not much at all.  Ugh.

I ate lunch as quickly as I could, avoided eye contact with my tablemates (which is one aspect of noble silence), and answered their questions with one-word responses.  (Literally.)  I wasn’t trying to be rude; rather, I was attempting to lead by example.  But I don’t think people ‘got it’.  Oh well.

After 10 minutes of eating I went into the kitchen, and did dishes.  Alone.  In silence.  Fine.

12:30-1:30 pm was ‘private time’ – the one point in the daily schedule that is unstructured.  I went to my room, hoping to find refuge amid the noise that seemed to pervade the entire facility – and instead found my roommate talking on her damn cell phone.  Are you kidding me?!

Okay, clearly I have been put on this retreat to learn patience, tolerance, and acceptance – and seeing my internal responses to the stimuli provided to me thus far shows me certainly I have opportunity for growth and maturation in these areas.  So, I can either learn the lessons and change the way I live my life, or I can continue to receive ‘opportunities’ to practice.  Ugh.  Here’s to hoping I can be a really quick study.

At 1:30 pm we did more walking meditation, then at 2 pm we did more sitting meditation.  My mind was still crazy-scattered, and I was still extremely tired, and I still felt a lot of resistance to being on this retreat.  Grr.  At 2:45 pm we had a 15-minute tea break, where mercifully most everyone was relatively quiet.  Not silent, mind you, but at least quiet.  Then at 3 pm we had our first teaching session.  The monk explained that the basic gist of Vipassana meditation (the style of meditation I practice, and the type of meditation this retreat is based on) is to watch the arising and passing of all things; and to fully experience that all things are impermanent.  Why bother seeing/feeling/experiencing that all things are impermanent?  The logic is that we suffer because we cling; we grasp at things, and if/when we get them, we hope and pray we get to keep them – but that’s NEVER the way it actually works (because ALL things are changing constantly).  So basically, we’re playing a game we can never win: we cling with the idea/goal of permanence, in a completely impermanent world.  But.  If we can learn impermanence and truly internalize it, we will cease the clinging, which ends the whole ugly cycle, and voila – we’re free of suffering.

Another way (the more ‘formal’ Buddhist way) of saying it: The five reasons we meditate are to: (1) purify the mind; so that we may (2-4) become free of clinging, anger, and hatred; which will allow us to (5) attain enlightenment/liberation/nibbana.

I’m still very much a novice in Vipassana and Buddhism, so I need things nice and simple (especially when it comes to ancient, deep spiritual teachings); so here’s my personal short-hand version of the whole deal: Let Go. Accept. Be Friendly.

Now, if only it were that easy to actually do

After the monk’s teaching, the schedule said we would have an hour of yoga – which was a lie.  No yoga was offered; instead, we were told to do more walking meditation.  NO!  (So much for acceptance.)  I was really, really looking forward to an hour of yoga each day – and was incredibly disappointed when it didn’t happen.  Indeed, at this point I was fed up.  I went to my room, and did “stare-out-the-window-and-watch-drizzle-soak-the-ground” meditation.  And after 30 minutes of standing and staring, I did fee a little bit better.

I then engaged in about 15 minutes of walking meditation, then sat for an hour of silent meditation.  During that session I stopped fighting my mind (i.e., I let go).  Instead of engaging in battle with my lack of concentration, I just sat back and witnessed the craziness of my mind (acceptance).  I stopped beating myself up for not being perfect (more acceptance), and tried to cut myself some slack (friendliness).  This wasn’t a session of total liberation by any means, but it was progress…

At 6 pm the monk chanted for 10 minutes (the schedule indicated chanting would occur for an hour) – and then told us to take a “tea break” until 7:30 pm.  Um… that’s a long time to drink tea.  But okay, fine, I’m working on acceptance… so I went to my room, and my roommate followed.  When she closed the door she turned to me and said (loudly), “Hey, how are you doing?  How’s the day going for you?  What do you think?”  Oh hell no.  This retreat is supposed to be in noble silence – it’s one of the reasons I signed up for it!  I blinked, breathed deeply, smiled as gently as I could, then put my index finger to my lips.  My roommate looked at me sheepishly.  “Oh, okay,” she whispered.  “Sorry.  I forgot.  I’m not used to this…”  Hon, whispering is still talking!  Aaaarrrggggg!!

I picked up my tea mug, and went upstairs to the kitchen to make some tea.  When I returned to the room a few minutes later, the roommate was still there; so I walked down the hallway a bit – and saw a completely unoccupied room. Hello!  I sat in the chair of the room, and sighed.  Ah, silence, it’s nice to experience you again.  In the very next moment I made a decision: I went rogue.  I moved all of my things from my roommate’s room to this unoccupied room – and it was terrific.  Now, I know, taking this action means I did not accept the situation that was presented to me.  However, I think this may have been a case of applying wisdom (as in “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”); this was a thing I could change, and I had enough wisdom to realize it, and I applied courage to take a rogue action.  And I’m really glad I did.

7:30 pm finally came, and the teacher spoke about two topics that I swear were directed precisely at me.  The first topic was about body image – specifically, how the Buddha taught about the 32 different parts of the body, and how he (the Buddha) stressed again and again that the body is neither beautiful nor ugly, it just is.  Life isn’t beautiful nor ugly, it just is.  Once we can get past notions of like/dislike, pleasure/displeasure, beautiful/ugly, etc., and see the reality of life (specifically, to see things just as they are, and only as they are – i.e., without adding our own reactive, emotional baggage to them), we will be liberated.  [From all of the “crazy” I’ve exhibited today, clearly I’m still firmly in the ‘reactive’ stage of the noble path.]

The second topic the teacher spoke about was loving-friendliness; and about how a very good aim to have in our practice (our life) is to cultivate feelings of friendliness towards every being.  Again, from the looks of the various responses I have displayed today, I have a lot of room to grow in that department, too.

So I’m pretty much feeling like a piece-of-shit human at this point, when the teacher wraps up the evening with a story.  The basic gist of the tale is that the Buddha saw all humans as lotus blooms.  Some blooms are at the top of the pond, and only need a faint hint of sunshine before they open wide and display all of their beautiful petals.  Some blooms are in the middle of the pond, and need a bit more nudging and help to reach the surface – but once they get there, they too will open and reveal their lovely flower.  Some blooms are at the bottom of the pond, stuck in the mud – and these poor blooms have to be dug out of all the muck, then have to make it all the way to the top of the pond… and all of this can take a lot of effort, and a lot of time.  But.  Once these blooms finally do make it to the surface, they will open, and realize their lovely flower natures.

I may be a tiny lotus bud trapped in a whole pile of muck at the bottom of a deep-ass pond, but I’m still a lotus, damn it!

Stef

(Click here to go to Day 2.  [If Day 1 didn’t scare you off, that is.])  :)

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I have attended two structured retreats thus far in my meditation career: one 10-day intensive personal retreat, and one 5-day blended work/personal retreat.

I just came home from a 3-day personal retreat; and this experience was quite different from the previous two.  If you are interested in reading the details, here they are:

Day 1: A whole lot of muck
Day 2: A meditation grab bag
Day 3: Progress; now time to return home
Afterward: What I learned…

And for anyone who may be curious about the background of this retreat, you can read details about the guiding teacher and the sangha (group) that organized and hosted this retreat.

If you have any questions for me, feel free to contact me by leaving a comment, or by using the contact box located on the “Contact Me” page.

Thank you for stopping by!

With much metta (loving-friendliness),

Stef

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