Saturday, October 31, 2009

Be Real Aware, Be Happy

Two days. I felt the sting, for two days. Right in the center of my heart. For two long days, I watched sorrow, sadness, fear, rage, and an assortment of other painful emotions, take turn in long parade of silent suffering. I tried sitting, swimming, talking to stinger, examining content of my thoughts, listening to my dreams, loving kindness meditation . . . all to no avail. This morning, still achy heart gave me the answer I needed.

Going back to the stinging incident, I realized the sting was not so much the issue, as the way I had taken it. I remembered my outrage at the comment made, that questioned the peace in our household, and threatened the new sense of joy, and love I have been feeling as a result of my practice. While the comment was malicious, no doubt, I realized this morning, it had little to do with the persistent suffering in my heart. No, the real source was my clinging to the good feeling of love in the family, and my craving for it to continue. I was not willing to make room for the possibility of conflict, and badness.

If anything, the misery from these last two days, has driven home the value of insight, and of 'real time' awareness (just made up that word :)). The more delayed the attention, the greater the suffering.

PS- Sting's gone . . .

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cognitive Therapy, a Useful Add-On to Meditation?

Fear loomed large, as I went about my business today. The thought, 'I am catastrophizing', reminded me of "The 10 Cognitive Distortions", a useful tool from cognitive therapy, that I sometimes remember to pull out of my self-care toolbox. I first became familiar with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) while working with patients at El Camino Hospital Older Adults Program, back in the early 90's. CBT has been proven particularly effective with persons suffering from depression, but it can be used by all who are struggling with emotionally charged situations. Pulled from the CBT Forum, here is a quick overview of "The 10 Cognitive Distortions":
It has been proven that people who have a tendency to experience overpowering moods, be it depression, anger, anxiety, worry etc., often have a tendency to form distorted cognitions or thought patterns.Below you can see the ten cognitive distortions that people typically fall into when they become trapped by negative emotions. Identifying these patterns when they arise and writing them down is the first step to taking control of your emotional state:
  1. All or nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories. If you’re not a complete success, you think you’re a total failure.
  2. Overgeneralisation: You view a single event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. You may tell yourself, “This always happens,” or “I’ll never get it right.”
  3. Mental Filter: This is like the drop of ink that discolours the entire beaker of water. You dwell on one negative detail, such as an error you make, and ignore all the things you did right.
  4. Discounting the positive: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count.
  5. Jumping to conclusions: You jump to conclusions that aren’t warranted by the facts. There are two types: a) Mind-reading: You assume that people are terribly judgmental and are looking down on you; b) Fortune-telling: You tell yourself that something terrible is about to happen: “I just know I’m going to blow it when I take my test next week.”
  6. Magnification and minimization: You blow things out of proportion or shrink their importance. This is also called the binocular trick. When you look through one end of the binoculars, all your shortcomings seem as huge as Mt Everest. When you look through the other end, all your strengths and positive qualities seem to shrink down to nothing.
  7. Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel, such as “I feel anxious, so I must really be in danger.” Or “I feel like a loser, so I must really be one.”
  8. Should statements: You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “oughts,” “musts,” and “have-tos.” For example, “I shouldn’t feel so shy and nervous. What’s wrong with me?”
  9. Labelling: You generalize from a single flaw or shortcoming to your entire identity, instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you label yourself as “a loser.” This is an extreme form of Overgeneralisation.
  10. Blame: Instead of pinpointing the cause of a problem, you assign blame. There are two basic patterns of blame: a) Self-Blame: You blame yourself for something you weren’t responsible for or beat up on yourself relentlessly whenever you make a mistake; b) Other Blame: You blame others and deny your own role in the problem.
How do the recognition of cognitive distortions fit within Vipassana practice? I see a direct
connection with investigation, as described here by Gil Fronsdal:
By sorting through the unwholesome and the wholesome, we can choose to cultivate the wholesome and let go of the unwholesome. If you feel an inclination to be generous, for example, you can choose to water the seed of generosity by following through on that inclination. You may be able to distinguish mean-spirited feelings and choose to let them go. With enough mindfulness and investigation, you can even choose which thoughts to pursue and which to drop. You may be able to recognize when you are thinking along unwholesome lines and choose to think about something more useful.
Becoming familiar with the list of "10 Cognitive Distortions" will help sort out helpful from unhelpful thoughts, whenever the time comes. In turn, choosing to not indulge distorted thoughts will remove some of the stickiness of heavy feelings. Sometimes, one needs all the help they can get . . . and CBT is one more tool, that can work well within the context of meditation.

The Gift, and Curse of Memory

Lingering sadness, a leftover from yesterday's bitter exchange with family member, reminds me once more of the power of memory over one's sense of being. In this case, memory acts as glue between unpleasant past event, carried over feeling felt right now, and anticipatory thoughts about possible consequences for future. Objectively, sadness no longer belongs to present moment. The event is over. Same with the imagined thoughts.

Contrast that experience with my mother's state of mind. My mother is suffering from Alzheimer's. While her loss of memory is having tragic consequences on her ability to function, it has also enabled my mother to start living in the present. My mother, a chronic worrier, was never able to really enjoy life, which in turn made it very hard for me and my brother to be with her. Last time, I visited her, I noticed all her concerns, about her health, her material possessions, her children, and life in general, all the thoughts that used to poison her existence, were gone. Past no longer existed, and thoughts about the future were faint. Her many regrets about a life lived mostly in frustration, were gone. Only left, was the moment, between her and I. For once, the burden of her anxiety had lifted, and we were both free to enjoy our precious times together.

Memory, it's the glue that perpetuates the illusion of a fixed self, and the much needed cohesiveness for a functioning ego.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Surrender" Meditation Practice

At one with breath, sinking deeper, and deeper, until body fades away, almost. Only breath, and awareness of breath. Oh! so quiet. Stillness jarred, all of a sudden, by sound of doors, slammed. Not just once, but several times. Prad is back, and is going about his business. The back porch needs to be cleaned, and instructions given to the cleaning lady. Conversation, loud and clear, back and forth in English and Spanish. I am not missing a word. State of concentration, interrupted. Frustration, noted. No, to meet the moment, no matter. Surrender, surrender to what is. Resourceful mind's offering 'surrender' as way to deal with situation. Doors opening and closing. Surrender, back to breath. Conversations. Surrender, and breath. Phone ring. Surrender. It is about being mindful, no longer concentrated. And letting go of clinging to bliss of deep calmness. Microwave beep, twice. Surrender. Dishes being put away, noisily. Surrender. High pitch of spoon against cereal bowl. Surrender. Getting used to cacophony, and rhythm of noise, surrender, breath, noise, surrender, . . . Then, silence, and only breath, again. Back to beginning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Twitter Tales of Awakening

I have been wondering, what is it that draws a person to follow the Buddha's path? According to the Dharma, one has to first become aware of their personal suffering, and be willing to see it as the beginning of a sacred journey. It certainly was true in my case. Only after feeling that there was not way out but in, was I moved to further explore the teachings. I knew enough, from prior explorations, to have a sense that there, maybe lied the solution to my misery.

Last night, when I asked the question on Twitter, I was surprised by the the flurry of answers:

We, who have had the blessing of conscious suffering, should rejoice . . .

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Still Body, Deeper Practice

I made the mistake of sitting after lunch. Sleepy. I am feeling sleepy. Not liking having to sit up straight, and still. My body's rebelling with aches here and there. Under the tip of my right foot, in the neck, right shoulder. I refuse to give in. There is wisdom to be gained in not moving. Breath's helping, only a little. The un-indulged tiredness feels like Chinese torture. Thoughts come and go. With each, I escape moment, for a short while. I could latch on, and distract myself, some more. No, to stay present, with the torpor. Noticing I am not 100% there. My brain's doing some interpreting of the moment. Misrepresenting, lumping each sleepy second into one big stretch called "I'm so sleepy, and I want out". Leaving little room for finer attention, to the subtle changes. Outside noises, take turn to break into the rigidity. Each time, giving awareness a fresh start, a new chance to focus, and explore 'sleepy'. After a while, fresh energy starts flowing. Mind, no longer dull, can start working with breath again, and engage in satisfying work of concentration.

Although Vipassana practice makes room for slight shifts of the body during meditation, I find I am getting more out of sitting when I take on the stillness of Zen. In the discipline of motionless body, there is no escaping the moment.

A Halloween Collage

Tis' Halloween. Time to be silly,

in the face of reality of death, and impermanence.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Delight of Now

Going with, not against the moment. Taking in whatever comes. Breath, rushed at first. Then slowly, finding its rhythm, in the stillness of body. Thoughts, passing, many kinds, from benign, to negative, to pleasant. Outside noises. Birds, chirping. Gardener, blasting with leaf blower, then raking, gently. Other familiar sounds. Some pleasant, others not. Thought, where does judgment come from? Opinion constructed, layered over otherwise neutral experience. No, to welcome each moment as a newborn. All ears, only raw encounter, without extra baggage of memories from the past, or wishes for next moment. Sensation of body, sinking, fading into mostly awareness. Delight from surprise of each new breath, each new sound, each new thought, each new feeling. Bell ring. Already?

Lately, I have been reflecting, a lot, upon importance of being present in moment. Using rational mind and mindfulness, to chisel at long standing tendency to resist the now.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

There is Only Love

Watching beautiful sunset by the beach, with my loved one. Thought, this is such perfect moment. Feeling, I want it to last. Anticipating the inevitable, the ending, the bitterness that comes with love. Awareness that I am creating my own suffering, as I remember the Buddha's teachings. No, rather than fleeing into the future, I am to train my mind to stay present, with just the love, for that is all there is, really, now. Breathing, I watch the clinging, and the fear shrink back into oblivion. Heart filled with 100% sweet love. In gratitude.

The Power of Investigation to Dissolve Frustration

I was looking forward to this morning's sitting with Gil at IMC. Took place in one of few remaining seats, and quickly settled.

Not sure at first, of what's going on inside. Breath to help go down below the surface. I notice usual noises of people coming in, coughing, whispering, do not bother me, for a change. Attention drawn inward, instead. Feeling heat. I shall not move to relieve discomfort. Ache in right shoulder. Thought, this sitting is not pleasant. Itchy chin. Not getting better. I do not like this. Thought of getting up, and leaving. No, I am committed to staying, and sitting still, no matter what. Putting name on feeling. I am feeling frustration. Lots of it. Breath provides temporary relief, here and there. Frustration persists, gets more intense, even. Noticing frustration about frustration. Thought, I am stuck with feeling forever. Practical side takes over. Realization that yes, I am stuck with frustration for now, and I better make friend with it, not resist. Also, I start paying attention to quality of awareness. Thought, awareness is really gross right now, assigning fixed, permanent, rigid quality to frustration, which I know to not be true. Need to shift, and let go of preconceived notions about presence of frustration. Breath. Attention drawn to exact moment. Frustration about frustration, and other possibilities not yet known. Breath. Feeling of settling, and comfort even, with moment, including frustration. Surprise of bell ringing. Too soon.

As usual, some of Gil's talk felt particularly relevant to my earlier sitting experience. Today was about the value of investigation, in the context of equanimity. Here are some of my notes:

Three leading factors of equanimity: 1) ability to have overview of situation, understanding from larger perspective, 2) ability to stand in the middle, to be balanced and centered, not reacting, 3) ability to step back and investigate, mostly nature of thinking process. What is glue that keep us attracted to certain thoughts? The stronger the glue, the more difficult it is to reach equanimity. Difference between 'thoughting', the process of mind creating thoughts, other which we have no control, and 'thinking', that which creates chain of associations between thoughts, and that is optional. Importance of not getting involved into thoughts, of not believing that thinking alone will solve our problems, of exploring range of beliefs we hold about thinking. Last, value of answering this important question: what is desire/wish hiding behind when we are thinking about something? and how can we best address that want?

I came home, feeling calm. Frustration, dissolved. Almost.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Short Answer to 'About Me'

Seemingly innocuous, the About Me section is, in fact, a perfect trap for the delusional ego. Since starting this blog, I have tried out various versions of what I thought the world ought to know About Me. The last one, was particularly exhaustive, listing all the wonderful accomplishments from my condensed life. Looking at the list, made me proud. There was also a small voice, inside, that expressed unease.

Today, the dissenting voice grew so loud, I checked in with Prad, my dear husband, who is known for speaking the truth, always. His answer came, blunt. No choice, but to chop down the long list. Not unlike, cutting hair of Buddhist nun during vows. Slight pinch in the heart. Big part of what used to define self and give substance, gone, in one radical 'Delete'. Only left, pared down answer: "Is there such thing as me? is there?"

Oh! the lightness . . .

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Buddha Would Approve: "No Self-Reference Practice"

It started as a tweet:

@Minddeep: noticing how hard it is to communicate without using 'I', 'me', 'myself' :)

Followed by responses from:

@Juliasnz: The tweet cloud at tweetstats is real good for external feedback on your most common words : )
@Kwansahn: Not possible yeah? But possible not to buy into it and use it to help others :-)
@ookiee: I now try to edit out as many personal pronouns as possible from communications. Oops - there's one there - at the beginning...

How about, once in a while practicing writing, talking, tweeting, blogging, without using any self-reference? How about that? It would be great to hear back from you . . . :)

The Gift of Sickness

The last couple days, my body's been asking for some attention. This morning's sitting was all about aches and pain. And my reaction to the discomfort. Pressure in the forehead kept drawing me. The doctor said I was fine. It's only a sinus headache, left over from viral infection a few weeks ago. Still I feel all head, and I don't like it. To sit still, and breathe, and make room for the persistent pain. Dislike, noted. Thoughts of business to take care of. More annoyance. Wishing for a pain-free, hassle-free state. Craving, noted. Many things in life, I don't get to pick and choose. Heightened awareness, of suffering, and impermanence, and the wisdom from not craving what is not, and not disliking the inevitable.

Today, I bow to the headache for another lesson in truth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poem for the Unknown Dead

The man in black,
proudly took us, for a tour
in the back of the funeral home,
where the dead await
his final touch.

Not a sound,
only the persistent smell
of embalming chemicals,
and the cold, stainless steel
of the mortuary table.

In passing,
I noticed a smaller room,
with clothes, scattered on a shelf.
T'was so quick, I couldn't tell
if they belonged to man or woman.

Along with the clothes,
a brown plastic grocery bag.
filled with things,
and tied in a knot.
So ordinary, it got to me.

An empty bed,
white bottom sheet,
and a rectangular container,
long enough for a human body,
closed, that's all I saw.

So, this is how it ends,
I thought,
and cried, tears of sorrow,
for the unknown dead,
inside the grey box.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Settling Anxiety With Just Sitting

Anxious. I felt the frazzling vibes of the big A, all day. Loved one was leaving, and my heart was protesting. Back from the airport, I headed to my chair, set the timer, and readied for 45' of quiet. Sittings have become a wonderful refuge, a place in time when I can be present to myself.

Heart calling at once. Love's filling me. The big A's receding. Tears, rolling down, so soft, I don't even notice them at first. Image of loved one, and warm thoughts her way. That she be happy, and safe, and well, and at peace. Breath in, and out, in, and out . . . Hardly any thoughts. Sleepiness taking over, slowly. Mind won't let it. Not time for a nap, at least not yet. Using breath to stay awake and aware. Anxiety sapped my energy, and now my body's demanding some rest.

On Sunday, Gil described anxiety as a wasteful state, to be dispensed of. I agree with him. The big A's insidious, and tends to creep in, particularly during emotional charged moments. If I still had any doubts, today's sitting proved the importance of giving the agitated mind time to settle. A few minutes, is all it took.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Discernment and Right Livelihood

Finding the Buddha's path has turned my life upside down, in a good way. No area has been left untouched. Lately, I have been most preoccupied with discerning where to go next with my professional life. Asking and looking for answers to such questions as: who am I? what are my intentions? are they pure? what is my true calling? what changes do I need to make? what is the next step?

While I do not have a full answer yet, the picture is becoming more clear, starting with a list of qualities that are dear to me:

creativity - intelligence - freedom - innovative - feminine - passionate - simplicity - authenticity - service - meaning - spiritual - relatedness - adventure - irreverence - love - compassion - generosity - gratitude

Several ideas have formed in my mind, of various ways I could enact those values in some meaningful work. All have to do with helping create a new way of helping others, that makes best use of my various skills and talents. I am trying to be patient, and not rush. Gil told the story of how it took him one year, to sort out his calling. For now, I shall be content, just knowing the answers are there, inside the orange envelope, within the black purse.

I am curious to know how your practice has informed your choice of right livelihood.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Letting Go of Expectations and Being Present

I came in to IMC this morning, determined to sit absolutely still for the whole 45'. A first for me! I was not going to indulge any itches, or aches. Knowing I only had one chance to get my posture right, I took great care to adjust pillow behind my back, and to plant buttocks and feet precisely where my body felt happiest. Eyelids closed, I oriented myself in the semi-darkness. Attention on breath, soon drawn to sound of newcomers whispering. Exasperation, thought of standing up and asking them to please shut up. No, I need to take everything in. It is part of now. Breathing, I am concentrating on the breath, while hearing noises from more people quietly taking their seat. Woman next to me is sniffling, a lot. She has a cold, I realize, and is trying her best to be quiet nevertheless. Labored breathing and coughing fits from her are more compelling than my own breath. Thinking she will leave room maybe, if coughing gets to be too much. Feeling ashamed for holding such unkind thoughts. Back to the breath. Awareness of neighbor supersedes, again. Even when the woman is quiet, I start anticipating her next cough. Anxiety. Aversion about situation. This sitting is not going as I wish. Clinging to idea of quiet sitting. Thoughts about last night's sitting, and deja vu feeling. Expectations. I am falling victim to my expectations, of what sitting is supposed to be. Bell rings. Gil starts his talk about equanimity.

I realize one of my big hindrances are all the preconceived ideas, and expectations I have about how life should unfold. In this case, sitting. 99% of the battle is in being conscious of those expectations, and I can't think of any better occasion than meditation practice. Today, I make promise to myself, that I will get clear on, and let go of, my ideas about 'perfect' sitting. There is no such thing anyway.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Unsatisfactoriness of Too Much Happiness

Fall break. Tonight, the house is full of girls. Laughing, singing, running up and down the stairs, slamming doors, talking up a storm. My heart, happy with so much life, is also yearning for a chance to be quiet, after a long and busy day. I close my office door, dim the light, set the timer, and start to settle in the chair. Noticing breath. The heat also. To bear the hotness, or for a second, break the stillness, and remove my sweater? I opt for comfort. Source of unpleasantness is unzipped, and dropped on the floor, quick. Breath, breath. Tingling in left foot. Soon turns into intense heat. That, I can bear. Probably another weird body manifestation from sitting. Breathing. Deep breathing encountering pants' waistline. Frustration. I fancy breath, flowing freely, and looser pants. What to do? To stick it out, or ever so slightly, readjust my position, so that pants don't cut into belly? I go for ease, again, rationalizing that I am doing so mindfully, so, it's ok. Happier breath. More girls coming at the door, welcomed by excited cheers. Wishing for more quiet. Unsettled feeling. Thought that I should just quit. No, this is what moment brings. I am to embrace whatever comes. Tonight, it's a bunch of very happy girls, and a warm house, and a stomach too full from our celebratory dinner.

Practice is not about waiting for the perfect conditions to sit. It is about cultivating mindfulness, and concentration, in the midst of life's moments, regardless. This being said, I do believe in the value of quiet sittings . . .

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sitting With Out of Body Energy

Mind empty of thoughts, and feelings. Only breath, and the light ticking of clock. I notice anticipation of breath. Background knowledge that I am breathing being, is getting in the way of being fully present with moment. Air coming in, belly rising, chest expanding. Suspension. Air leaving chest, slowly. Break. Knowledge still there, readying for next breath. Part of now, for now. Energy quickly rises, like yesterday. This time, I choose to ride it, and follow its lead. Sensation of body twisted clockwise, then coming to stop. Head and upper chest tilting forward. Almost as if leaving room for energy mass. Discomfort from weirdness of experience. No longer sure where I belong, body or energy cloud? Energy pushing up. Body's stepping aside almost, or rather forward. I decide to check, again, and tilt head, upper body backward, to see how far body's moved. Body has not moved at all, and is still very much straight. Back to breath, and awareness of body, and energy.

Some thoughts about kind tweets from @c4chaos and @tomotvos, in response to yesterday's post. Also, that I want to discuss with Gil next time I have interview with him. Meanwhile, I feel it is best to stay with experience, and not get too caught up into what it means.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Whose Body is It?

Sitting, attention almost immediately drawn to sawing sound outside. Noise, hearing. Noise, hearing. Awareness at diffuse space of contact between the two, sawing noise, and hearing, body and non-body. Noticing breath, oh! yes, breath. Breath in, stop, breath out, stop. Slow, calm breaths. Sawing, hearing, awareness. Sawing stops, giving way to drunken sensation in body. And lightness. Energy wants to twist my body, from waist up to neck, off to left side of upper chest, forward and up, head back down. I'm afraid of losing control. Thought, "I wonder what I actually look like, I am feeling twisted, but am I really, twisted? Or is it my mind giving me impression of twisted?" I give myself permission to slightly shift my neck, head and shoulders. Small adjustment lets me know, I have been most likely sitting straight the whole time. Temporary relief. Twisting force comes back. Fear. Dislike. Nausea, dizziness. Trying to not move. Fear, still. Thought, "what's going to happen?". Lightness, floating sensation. Dislike. Wanting to feel grounded. Feeling powerless. Energy, unmoved. Bell.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Concentration in Action

"Today, we're doing 50x50". In swim coach language, that means fifty continuous 50 meter laps for one hour of practice. I started dreading the monotony, and plotting ways that I could maybe cut out early. Several laps into it, however, I came up with the idea of trading boredom with concentration. What if I started repeating the lap number with each stroke? Five, five, five, five, five, five, five, five . . . . And then six, six, six, six, six, . . . Soon there was only room in my mind for numbers, and the fleeting awareness of each stroke, and of the beginning and end of each lap. Several thoughts managed to squeeze in, and so did a few moments of boredom, but overall, it was pretty much empty mind. While I do not wish to clear my head of thoughts, necessarily, I did appreciate the temporary clearing. I realize this is a practice I can apply to many other repetitive activities.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Power of Want

Sitting, I become filled with hot energy. Demanding, insistent, . . . I name it greed, for that is what it feels like. Wanting something else, something more. The desire growing stronger with each breath. Thought that I want wanting to go away. Want. Irony of yet another level of desire. Body consumed. No choice but to stay with the tyrannical force. I want to be brave, stay still in the midst of the inferno. Want. Noted. There is fear also. Fear of not getting, not being whatever it is. And frustration. Wishing for tranquillity. Want. If only I could just be happy with the now. Want. Concentration waning. I start feeling sleepy, and dozing. Breath as anchor, to keep me as present as possible, given circumstances. I keep going back. Energy still there, although not as strong. Sleepy. I wish I could sleep. Want. Breathing. The wanting seems to be less strong. Losing some steam. Or is it my mind, playing tricks?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Gift of Sadness

Words hard to come by, to describe the tenderness inside. So vulnerable, and exposed. Should I even share? Belly soft, body relaxed, I am surrendering to the sadness. Tears. Each breath, one whole sweep up, and down, brushing softly against aching heart. Throat tight. Thought of image of Lauren Hutton calling upon her women friends gathered around the dinner table, and urging them to 'find your voice'. Not now. I shall think about tightness later. Going back to breath instead, noticing each slow ascent, and descent. Breath gently massaging the tender cavity. Feeling the hurt at each point of contact between air taken in, and out. I notice the expansion, the almost freedom, from heart open. Gratitude. Door opening, and closing. Followed by phone conversation. Noted. Soft belly, back to breath. And clear intention to be fully there, for tender presence. Holding it, patiently, with each breath.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

One Minute Worth of Tranquillity

On my way, driving to IMC this morning, my mind's caught in a whirlwind of thoughts. About this new idea, that has been growing over the last few weeks. Head still spinning, I ready for sitting with the habitual Sunday crowd. At least, I am aware, and prepared to welcome the onslaught inside. The room seems restless, adding to my agitation. Doors opening and closing, neighbor whispering to newcomer, pots falling in the kitchen, the usual coughs and clearings of throat. 'Brilliant' thought about idea, breath, noise, another exciting thought, noise, yet another thought, noise, breath . . . and so it goes, until the room, and then I, calm down enough, for breath to take center stage. Energy moving down from head to heart. Body sinking into the floor, and chair. Thinking receding. Image of still lake, and impurities settling down at the bottom. Just as I was becoming one with breath, the bell rings.

Appropriately, Gil's talk today was about 'Love', and Liberation. And the need to clear one self from thinking, to get to place where heart is open for love. I loved Gil's story of going to the symphony, and missing the first half of the concert, because he was too absorbed into his thoughts about the various musicians. How he had to close his eyes, to clear his thoughts, and go to place of relative stillness, to finally hear the music.

One of the big shifts in my still young practice, has been a growing appreciation for the gift of tranquillity, that comes from sitting long enough, so that the mind gets a chance to settle. No effort, other than pure awareness and still body, and patience also, to allow for thinking to exhaust itself. All in an attitude of surrender, and trust in the process. Today, I got six uninterrupted breaths, or about one minute worth of just being. Nice . . .

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gifts From Another Day at the Hospice

I had planned to share the recipe for my carrot and fennel salad, and at the same time, write about the virtue of practicing mindfulness while mincing carrots. That was last night, during a tranquil moment in the kitchen, and before I went back to Hospice of the Valley for a second round of volunteer training.

Six hours spent learning about symptom management, and universal precautions, and hospice patients and their diagnosis, and death awareness, invited a strong emotional reaction that I could not ignore. Rather than sitting, I chose to take Bailey out for a long walk on the Stanford campus. My body needed a break after a whole day spent in the hospice's conference room.

Step after step, I kept being brought inside. First meeting what felt like anger, although I wasn't so sure. Hardly any thoughts. Only feeling, and breath, and tug from the dog. Lingering anger, begging for attention. Soon joined by sadness. Heaviness in the chest, tightness in the throat. Powerful stuff. Temptation to resolve with thinking, and interpretation. No, I knew better. Back to the breath, and each step.

Tonight, I feel grateful for this day at the hospice, being exposed to the reality of life, and death. And for the emotions that got stirred up as a result. Another door opening inside . . .

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dream About Death and Love

Last night's volunteer training session at Hospice of the Valley, impressed me more than I realized. Sitting, this morning, I encountered, fear, lots of it. Breath, no match for the immensity of feeling. Thoughts, coming and going, about loved ones, and still vivid dream from the night:
A woman just found out her husband has a brain tumor. Later, she seizes while swimming in the pool, and a small tumor is also found in her brain. Husband comes and picks her up in his car. He jokes that it is Saturday night, and they have a date.
Exploring the fear, in between breaths. Fear giving way to clinging sensation. Grasping for what cannot be held. Eternal life, without death, without loss. I become aware of my delusions, and clash between what I wish for, and reality of impermanence.

Wisdom of the dream. There is only now, and it is to be lived in love.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Self-Love, and the Feminine Quest for Personal Identity

I am not alone, as I wander in search of a personal identity. Many other women, are there also. Often times, it is their children leaving the nest, that precipitates the question, who am I? For some, the quest can take a destructive turn. For others, they quickly find a new professional identity that fits. For me, it has been a lifelong process, clumsy, unsatisfactory, of trying on different personas, with more or less success, and always, too hastily. With meditation, I have found the strength, confidence, and patience, to wait for real identity to reveal itself in space of being. And sustain tension of not knowing, what black purse holds inside. As opposed to getting seduced, by first identity that's thrown my way. No matter how glorious, it won't fit, I have realized, at last.

I have started the sorting out process of listing the values that belong in the black purse:
Simplicity - Inner life - Passion - Service - Humor - Feminine - Real - Deep - Intelligence - Creativity
I also need to be mindful of the hurdles:
Greed for power, money, recognition
Fear of not having enough
Not knowing myself
Not loving myself enough to take time to figure out who I am and what I need
Of course being aware of the hindrances is 99% of the battle:
"Une femme avertie en vaut deux" - French say (A forewarned woman is worth two of them)
Last night, I had a dream that confirmed what I have been feeling lately:
I go back to my mother's house. There I meet the man for whom I had tender feelings as a child. I realize I love him and he loves me, and we start kissing. There is another man lying down outside the kitchen window. I don't know him, but he has been bringing food into the house. I decide to go meet my friend's mother.
For the first time, I am taking the time to love, and nurture myself. I can't tell you how good it feels. May all other sisters who are at a loss also, take the time to discover within the inner lover and nurturing mother. And may they all find themselves in the process.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Up In the Clouds

In the plane, flying back,

glimpses of pure sky, in between passing clouds.

A Moment with Greed

Here it was. Greed, staring me in the face. Sprung from overheard casual conversation, about money and stuff. Usually, I would brush it away, quick. Shame from hosting such an ugly feeling. This time was different, and I held the shame, and the greed both at once. With fear, as third party. Fear of not having enough. As I sat still, I started exploring the greed, all of it. Shame gone. Only greed left, with its almost erotic pull. For a few minutes, I became 'it'. And then, poof . . . it was gone, completely, and in its place, a sense of exhilarating freedom. Joy, also.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Love Poem

Heart heavy,
I just dropped her off.
Heart heavy,
with love, and sadness.
Motherly attachment
hurts, big time.
Deep sigh.
I treasured each moment,
Knowing full well,
it was not to last.
The Buddha says so.

Notes on Sitting

These are some of my notes from sitting practice yesterday,

During sitting:

Heart and breath competing for my attention. Heart, faster beat. Breath, much slower. Heart fades out with stillness. Breath takes center stage. Two track awareness. First level focuses on overt manifestations, obvious thoughts, body sensations, breath, outside noises. Higher level pays attention to subtle, quality of attention itself. Pressured, expecting, judging, what I wrote about few days ago. Attention's coming with some baggage. Perfection. Not wanting to miss a beat, literally. Pure awareness competing with ideal of what awareness should be, and what it should lead to.

After sitting:

Feeling grounded, calm, mindful, inclusive.

Take away:

To not underestimate power of sitting, that lingers way after sitting is over. Even 'bad' sitting can lead to better way of being afterwards.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Hazards of Craving the Happiness From not Craving

Nothing like being away from one's comfortable home, to get in touch with the extent of one's cravings, and what that does to one's sanity. Sitting in my impersonal room at the hotel, I close my eyes, with the signal of the bell. Sweet ring soon transforms into shrilling sound of repair man drilling away. I was told by my host, guests usually do not hang out here during the day - meaning this is the time when we take care of business, so don't expect too much . . . Enough for trusting Trip Advisor's recommendation!

Hungry, lousy breakfast from hotel. Craving good, healthy food I am used to. Tired, this travel's making me weary, thoughts of when I return home, back to routine I have perfected. Sore bum from sitting on uncomfortable wooden chair, flashing image of cozy red egg chair in our living room. Not happy. Want to be happy. Craving feeling of well-being. Ah-ah moment. I am becoming a happiness addict, chasing after times of bliss during and outside of meditation. Ideas of what mindfulness practice should be. Conflict with reality. Not liking the uncomfortable moments, of which there are many, let's face it. Subtle, pernicious expectation that if I do it right, I will capture more tranquillity, more good times. And of course, ensuing judgement that takes me even further away from the possibility of happiness

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mindfulness In Transit

The woman installed herself, oblivious, on the seat I was about to call mine. Hateful thoughts directed at the stranger, convince me that C21 gate at Dallas Airport may be just the perfect place for today’s practice. No need to close my eyes, I am sure I will get plenty of material to work with, as I wait for American Airlines flight 872 to New Orleans.

The TV’s turned on the sports channel. All the guys are riveted, there’s a football game. I, on the other hand do not like TV very much, and football even less. I’m getting frustrated, dreaming of being home still, where I can at least – almost always – control my environment. I pull out my second sandwich. Although still full from the first one, I welcome the distraction from chewing and hastily tasting the mediocre almond butter sandwich. Two men approach to take the seats close to me, sending a whiff of cheap aftershave, my way. This is getting to be too much. I am suffering from aversion, and craving, big time. Engaging in noticing my reactions, softens the discomfort, and makes me almost happy. The couple in front of me teases me with their PDAs. I am taking things way too personally, and judging myself for it. Still, I wish I were with Prad, and not stuck here. Clinging. Aversion. If I had any doubts on my place along the Buddha’s path, this session at the airport lounge is setting me straight. You’ve got a long way to go, girl. No need to get all puffed up about your so-called awakening. No need to flagellate yourself either for your failings. I am starting to laugh by now.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

7 Tips for Buddhist Bloggers

Given folks' enthusiastic response to my earlier post on '10 Tips for Buddhists on Twitter', here's more of the same, this time for Buddhists who like to blog. Feel free to add your own tip in the comment section below, and I will broadcast them on Twitter.

1) Be real. Blogs are a personal medium by excellence. You've got a unique voice, hence let it be heard! As a Buddhist on the path, there is value in sharing your personal journey. Your successes will give others hope. Your struggles will help normalize their owns.
2) Be mindful. Of others. Do not share private matters without the person's permission. Do not write badly about others, ever.
3) Be ethical. Always source your content, and also your inspiration, no matter how removed.
4) Be generous. Reciprocate comments. If someone takes the time to comment on your blog, pay them a visit, and leave a comment on their blog. If you visit a blog, and you read a post you like, don't keep your appreciation to yourself. Share it instead in the form of a comment.
5) Practice equanimity. You can't please everyone. There is a lot to be learned from differing points of view, and emotional reactions. Respond from a calm, loving place always.
6) Protect the integrity of your blog. Block rude, or unwholesome comments. Consider your blog as your virtual temple. A very special place to be treated with respect.
7) Be detached. Ignore page views, and focus instead on producing great, authentic content. I have purposely not installed Google Analytics for that reason.

It's common sense, I know . . .

The Patience to Sit and Hold

The feeling was back, stronger than ever. In my stomach at first, searing with its caustic quality. I caught myself wishing for the warmth of yesterday. Wishing. Thinking. Clinging. Using the breath to ground myself in the reality. Irritation, constriction, yes, that's what I am stuck with, this morning. Aversion. I relax into the frustration, the weight in the midst of my body, that's taking more and more space. Touching my heart, moving up to my throat, tight. I'm holding the thing, in the stillness of sitting, patiently breathing in, and out. Tenderness, and tightness. Image of Buddha's four similes, mentioned by Gil, yesterday. The probing surgeon, the gatekeeper, the watchman, the goat herder. All decidedly male images, that do not fit my feminine experience of holding mother. Mother patiently waiting, attending, gently to her brood, in this case one very unhappy child. Breathing in, and out. A bit of loosening. The clock's chiming in with the comfort of its ticking. Liking. Bitterness, the thing's got a taste, and it ain't sweet. Outrage, sadness, frustration, . . . Urge to solve, put an end. Thinking feeling has to do with ingrained urge to be constantly doing, and proving myself. No, I am just to keep on noting, and breathe. Save investigation for later. I notice a slow melting, not sure. And the bell rings.

Friday, October 2, 2009

So, This Is What Love Is!

Today was Dharma Practice Day with Gil, the first in a series dealing with the 7 Factors of Awakening. We spent the day exploring mindfulness, the first factor. Of course, I enjoyed the company of other people from the IMC community, and the gentle wisdom from Gil. What was so remarkable about the day however, had nothing to do with the formal teaching. No, it happened in the privacy of the first morning sitting, and I want to share it because it's so good.

Sitting, I started to feel all of me, like never before. No longer distant, or oblivious. But instead, close and intimate. Melting into each breath, holding my heart, and my body, and my thoughts, and all of my emotions, regardless. I became overcome with the same kind of total love that came to me when my children were born, and I held them, for the first time. Only now, I was holding myself. With great tenderness. And the realization of the monumental change, taking place. My heart, opening, onto itself. So, that is what it was supposed to feel like . . . No thoughts, only love. And tears.

I asked myself, why only now? Why did it take so long? To love one self should not be so difficult. And I remembered Pascal's words: "The heart has its reasons that reason doesn't know". The seeds of love can only take hold after the soil has been plowed, and fertilized, and watered, and all the weeds have been pulled. If I had not experienced so much suffering, if I hadn't come across the Buddha's teachings, if I had not been ready to make a leap of faith, if I had not practiced mindfulness, if I hadn't investigated, if I hadn't . . . the conditions inside would not have been there.

Of course, there will be more winters, and times of alienation, and of feeling at odds. And they will feel different, because of that one moment earlier today, when I dissolved into pure love.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Little Red Riding Hood

Into the woods, I met Little Red Riding Hood, and the big, bad wolf, again . . .

Only this time was different, because "My many hours of pain and darkness have convinced me to live life to its fullest, to suck the marrow out of my existence, and to play my natural role" (quoted from Vogue article, author forgotten). Buddha was there also, lighting the way out of the forest, urging me to retreat, and to commit, and to investigate, and to dream, and to see, and to love with compassion, and to choose wisely, and to focus, and to make a leap, of faith.

I used to think of myself only as Little Red Riding Hood, and to be scared of the wolf. Now, I see the wolf, and I feel for him, and I want to love him also.

Unpacking the Boredom

Sitting with myself, not quite knowing what to expect, as usual. I am starting in a good place, lots of love, and tranquillity. Yesterday's poems still very much present. Not the words, but the general movement from the heart, opening. Breath moving in and out, at ease. The vast expanse feels almost too big. Fear comes in, of getting lost in unfamiliar land. Thoughts pass and do not insist, leaving room for feelings. Fear, now joined by boredom. Boredom soon taking over, and threatening my concentration. To not get swept by it, instead noticing my dislike of the boredom. Breathing into it, exploring its boundaries. Thought of Gil's words during my interview with him, 'to unpack the boredom' . . . Tenderness, I need to be tender, and not tense up. Boredom becomes frustration. Big time. Another difficult guest in my house. Breathing, loving, at least trying to be. The anger's got a sad flavor to it, very subtle. Wishing it would go away. Realizing I am to follow Thich Nhat Hanh's practice. Breathing, loving, at least trying to be. It's hard. I get really tempted to open my eyes, and check, how much more time? Maybe the timer's not working this morning? No, to stay strong, and open for the moment. Anger still there, knot in my throat signaling definite sadness. Bell ring.