Posts Tagged ‘acceptance’

A meditation poem

A friend introduced me to a poem that I think is wonderful for a meditator to read/hear – and a very good addition to a meditation blog.  :)  The poem is titled “A Place to Sit”, and was written by Kabir (an Indian tradesman who was also quite a contemplative fellow, who lived in the 1400s).  As Kabir didn’t write in English, the below version of the poem has been translated by Robert Bly (an American poet who is still alive today).

As poetry is intended to be shared aloud (versus read silently), I invite you to audibly read the text below; I find the words take on deeper meaning when I speak them versus see them.

And now, the poem.


A Place to Sit

Don’t go outside your house to see flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
inside the body and out of it,
before gardens and after gardens.

~Kabir (translated by Robert Bly)


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A reminder of why I meditate

Ten months ago our 14-year-old sweetheart-of-a-puppy died.  To be more accurate (and blunt), ten months ago my husband and I made the heart-breaking decision to have our ailing, frightened, pained puppy put to sleep.  We had the vet take her life.

I don’t apologize for this, nor do I feel guilty – sometimes death really is a blessing, and a relief.  But the decision was still incredibly painful for me to come to terms with; to then put it into action literally hurt my heart.

Additionally, our dog was an animal laden with a lot of emotional baggage for both my husband and I, so her passing was even more complicated and difficult than otherwise losing a dear family member would be (which is nothing trivial by any measure).

Okay, so not a terribly bright or light start to this blog post – but I really do have a point, and I’m getting there now.  When our puppy died, my husband and I had her body cremated.  Our intention was to spread her ashes on a lake.  However, she died in November – and in the very cold northern state where I live, all of the lakes were frozen by that time.  So my husband and I waited until this summer, when the ice had melted and the warm sun shone over the fresh water, to make our final goodbye to our sweet girl.

That transition occurred a few weeks ago.  My husband and I stepped onto a small boat, and he drove it to the middle of a small-ish lake.  He opened the box that had been closed for the past ten months, and unwound the plastic bag that held the ash remains of our dog.  My husband then handed the sack to me, and proceeded to slowly drive us back towards shore while I let the ashes trickle out of the bag and into the water.

As I held the bag, I sensed the weight of it shift from heavy, to lighter, to empty.  As I literally felt the ashes move past my fingers and into the lake, I thought, “I will be the last human to ever touch our puppy.  I will be the last person to ever feel her, or sense her.”  As her ashes slipped beyond my hand, I genuinely felt her fur on my skin, my body on hers.  It was fleeting, and momentary, and powerful beyond measure.

And I noticed other things during those thirty seconds that it took for us to release the ashes into the water.  I smelled the freshness of the gentle start-stop-start-again breeze that had invited itself into the day.  I heard a chorus of sounds as well as the individual players: the boat motor hum, the lapping of water against the sides of our vessel, the ducks and loon that paddled nearby, my own breathing.  I saw bright sunshine glancing against the small waves caused by the motion of our little boat, and it truly looked like the water was dancing.  I had never noticed that before. Ever.

I wasn’t trying to make those thirty seconds ‘special’ or overly meaningful – I just showed up, open and willing and ready.  And in that space of being nothing but present, a genuine experience was, well, deeply experienced.

I know I could not have come close to arriving at a place of peace on that day without my meditation practice – much less had the clarity, patience, and ability to be in present-moment awareness and allow the beautiful power of plain ol’ every day life to occur.  To allow life to unfold, as it wanted to; and to have me simply sit back, be aware, and bear witness.

People often ask me why I meditate; they just don’t ‘get it’.  Truthfully, some days I ask myself that very same question.  Why do I make the effort to get up very early every morning and spend time alone, motionless, and completely silent?  Why do I spend what amounts to around several hours each week just sitting, breathing, bringing my mind back again and again and again and again…?

This day – this experience – was a reminder of why.  Meditation is a practice: in the sitting, and breathing, and noticing, and returning, I practice “showing up”.  I practice re-connecting from the mindless drift.  I practice re-engaging with life as it is (and not as I might want it to be).   And the practice then enables me (and supports me) to show up fully, completely, and selflessly for real life, for what really matters.

Like the passing of a good friend.


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Unplanned insight

I had a rather interesting experience in meditation this morning.  I sat on my usual cushion, placed my body in the usual position, closed my eyes and began bringing my attention to my breath in the usual way… and almost immediately, I felt a sense of physical release, then mental ease.  I felt like I had come home to a very pleasant, familiar spot.  I felt completely relaxed, completely at ease, completely comfortable with myself and the world around me.  I ‘just’ sat – and in the sitting, I felt like everything was just…wonderful.

It’s actually really difficult for me to put into words the experience that I had.  I guess what surprised me the most was that, in these past 2 years of daily meditation practice, I’ve had LOTS of sittings where I felt physically pained, and/or mentally ‘restless’ (read: absolutely frenetic in my crazy brain), and/or emotionally crappy (frustrated, annoyed, doubting…); and I’ve had many days where I sat in meditation not because I wanted to, but because I felt like I ‘should’ – my meditation practice was done more out of a sense of obligation and a feeling of ‘I-know-this-is-good-for-me-but-damn-I-really-don’t-want-to-do-it-but-I-guess-I-need-to…’ than from a place of enjoyment or even appreciation…  And this morning, I wasn’t overly excited to meditate (I wasn’t resisting it, but I wasn’t looking forward to it, either; it was just another part of my morning routine that I needed to do so that I could continue on with my day, just like showering or drying my hair) – but within seconds of sitting down, I felt a sense of, “aaahhhhh…… welcome home.”

I have learned enough from my Buddhist studies and my own meditation practice to not try and re-create this experience tomorrow, and to not seek it out in future meditation sessions (that would be grasping, and grasping only leads to futility, frustration, and distress); but instead to recognize it for what it is/was, to appreciate having had the experience, and to use it as a bit of an ‘insurance policy’ in future times of doubt or struggle.  I now know that meditation “works” because I’ve experienced the ‘workingness’ of it first hand – and it’s powerful, and lovely, and liberating.  And I’m deeply grateful for it.


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Turning towards

A few months ago I was listening to a talk where the speaker said that all emotions last no longer than 90 seconds. Period. Fact. Now, people can feel the impact of an emotion for longer than 90 seconds (sometimes minutes, hours, days, even years) for two primary reasons: 1) because people allow the mind to keep re-visiting the catalyst that initiated the emotion in the first place, or 2) because people never allow the emotion to actually move through the body and reach resolution. The first scenario is like a person picking at a scab: just as the wound finally starts to heal, and healthy skin starts to grow, the person rips away what was working, and re-exposes the original wound all over again. Do this enough times, and yes, eventually the wound will probably heal, but it will take a long time, be more painful than is necessary, and may even end in a nasty scar. The second scenario is like immediately covering a wound under heavy gauze; yes, the area will be protected from additional assaults, but the skin will also get smothered, and without allowing some fresh air onto the surface, infection is likely to take hold. Here again, healing can’t occur. A somewhere-in-between (middle-way) approach is needed: the wound has to be exposed to air, but also has to be left alone long enough to actually heal. To complete the analogy: an emotion has to be experienced and fully felt, but then it has to be let go and left alone so that it can fully resolve. Missing either half of the process renders the whole thing non-functional – and so a person ends up 1) in a perpetual state of feeling upset/unhappy/irritated/depressed/worried/anxious/pick-your-emotional-nemesis, or 2) repressing (stuffing, smashing) everything that comes and living life feeling hollow/empty/disconnected/disassociated/void. Emotions have to be seen and acknowledged,then be allowed to move, express, and emote – and then they need to be let go of, released.

This morning I had a series of occurrences of not getting what I wanted. Each instance was really minor (and, quite honestly, incredibly petty) – but they were all driving me absolutely crazy. Literally. I was in my car, driving on the freeway, fully aware that I was pissed off, and fully aware of why I was pissed off, and fully aware that I really didn’t want to be pissed off – but completely unable to get rid of the pissed off. And then the talk I heard a few months ago popped into my mind. And I realized two things: 1) I hadn’t really FULLY felt the emotions that were generated during each of the various instances that had occurred over the course of the morning, and 2) that my mind kept bouncing from one instance, to the next, to the next – and with each bounce, I would feel (literally feel in my chest and my head and stomach) an annoying flare-up of emotions.

Now, here’s an interesting/crappy/annoying/puzzling part: With each emotional flare-up, I actually wasn’t fully feeling the emotions from the instance; I was getting a small taste of the emotions, but before each one could hit me full-force I squashed it back down. I didn’t allow any of them to fully emote – and so each one went just below the surface, holding its’ breath for as long as it could; but when each emotion ran out of air, it came up again – and was allowed to stay around just long enough to gulp in more air before I pushed it back down again. And my body and mind was engaged in this up/down, emerge/submerge, conscious/unconscious struggle with my emotions – and all sides were losing. And I was going crazy in the process.

And I got to see all of this: I had a moment of awareness, of insight, of vipassana. In that moment, I was no longer a helpless pawn in some game I didn’t even know was being played; in that moment, I was given power by being given a choice: I could either continue to engage in the cycle of repress/ignore then feel/hurt, or I could actually stop the cycle by allowing the emotions to surface fully, give them the attention they needed, and then give them the space to let them leave. I had a choice now: but which option was I going to choose?

In order to be able to choose the latter option, I first had to know why I kept on choosing the former. Why wouldn’t I let myself feel the emotions that were generated from my annoying morning? It couldn’t be that I didn’t want to feel pain, could it? Because this back-and-forth, tug of war process was much more painful… After some investigation, I was kind of surprised to learn that I wasn’t allowing myself to feel the emotions because I was afraid. Of what, I’m still not entirely certain; but I do know I was surprised when, underneath it all, what was stopping me was a sense of apprehension, of fear.

Well, screw that! I don’t like being ruled by fear; and I don’t like thinking of myself as a fearful person. Indeed, when I am aware that I’m feeling fear in a situation, I try and push through it, to show myself that I can do it! So now that I was aware that fear was a big driver behind this whole don’t-feel-the-emotion thing, I decided to take a deep breath, open the floodgate, and let whatever was there come on out and hit me.

And it did – but it actually wasn’t too bad. In my car, moving at a speed of 65 mph, all of the windows rolled down all the way and the sun beating on my face, I inhaled really deeply, then used the full exhale to let out a loud grunting/sighing noise. Then I did it again. Then I said aloud everything I was feeling (both physically and mentally) in that moment. {And I was kind of surprised by what I said!} And after no more than 20 seconds of talking, there were no more words to say – the feeling was gone. Done. Processed. Emoted. And I was left with a sense of genuine calm.

And my mind actually looked around the now-clear space in my head where (just seconds before) the anxious/irritated/annoyed feelings had lived – and it could find nothing. (And I have to admit, I was rather amused to see my mind grasping for something it was also so desperate to be free of just seconds before…) I continued driving down the freeway, but now feeling surprised, a little stunned, and amazed. It worked. It really worked!

For literally two hours this morning I had been a slave to irritation, annoyance, and anxiety; but after just 20 seconds of deeply honest attention aimed at my reality, I was free. Completely liberated from obsession. It was incredible. I have never experienced anything like that before – I guess maybe because I had never tried anything like that before? But wow; the experience was powerful, and incredibly effective – and I continue to be a bit stunned by it. Like I almost can’t believe it.

So I’m writing this down, with the hopes that I will remember this experience for a while; and when I forget, to have my own words be able to remind me. I was completely free once. And it was amazing, and beautiful.


P.S. If you want to listen to the talk I referenced at the beginning of this post, go to the Audio Dharma website, and download the talk titled “Exploring Emotions”, published on 2010-10-27.  It’s 11:58 minutes long, and Gil talks about the “90-second rule” for emotions around minute 4:30.

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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.


(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.


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

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I turn the key in the car’s ignition, and though it is a hard start, mercifully the engine turns over, the car sputters, and then it comes to life.  I place the car in reverse, back up a few feet, then shift into drive – and I’m off.

And then I hit a detour. Literally.

But no problem; it’s all good.

And on my detour, guess what I see.  Just guess.

Someone seriously has a sense of humor.

Then, not even five minutes later, I see this:

And this:

These are wonderful parting reinforcements for me: namely, avoid creating polarities.  Instead, accept all of my life – ’cause it’s all intermingled, and ’cause I just never know what I might encounter where.  And that can be the wonderful fun of it all.

Be well.


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