Sunday, May 30, 2010

As I Please

Reluctantly, I drove this morning to Zen Hospice. The sight of red poppies in full bloom, and the gorgeous sunshine were calling me to spend the day outside instead. Oh! hiking in the hills, if only . . . Why did I agree to a Sunday shift?

I had plenty of time during the drive, to sit with the annoyance, and the wishing. And then, amidst the unpleasantness, the thought of the people I was about to visit. A big wave of compassion washed over me, at once. And gratitude also, for my good fortune. Unlike the residents at Zen Hospice, I have the ability to walk and drive as I please. I am not stuck to a bed with no view, and I can go out and enjoy the red poppies. How blessed! 

Most surprising to me, is the grace with which most residents of Zen Hospice accept their condition. I have much to learn from them . . . 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

10 Secret Ingredients of MBSR

Last Thursday was our last day of MBSR teacher practicum training with Bob Stahl. To celebrate, Bob took us out to dinner to his favorite vegan restaurant in Mountain View. Ten weeks we had been together, and now we had to part. The mood was bittersweet, and we swore to keep in touch, and reunite soon for more practice sessions in each other's homes. I was most struck by the tales of personal transformation, shared by all around the table, many of them psychotherapists with years of personal work and professional experience under their belt. I had witnessed similar testimonials throughout our weeks, participating in the larger group with the 'regular' folks. And I wondered, what are the ingredients in the MBSR elixir that make it so potent? 

By no means  a complete list,  here are the 10 key ingredients I found as I deconstructed my experience, both as a MBSR group participant, and teacher trainee:
  • Mindfulness practice - formal and informal
  • Loving kindness, and radical acceptance
  • Teacher's modeling of essential qualities of equanimity, unconditional love, effort, and humor
  • Group process - normalizing, universality, and support
  • Integration of body and mind, including mindful movement practices such as yoga, qigong, and walking
  • Mindful inquiry - combining mindfulness with investigation, for liberating insights
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy - as in systematic tracking of one's thoughts and behaviors outside of group meetings
  • Rituals, as in ringing of bell after each sitting, dimming of lights before sittings, and group sharing
  • Imagination - engaging through sharing of poems, metaphors, and role plays
  • Participants empowered to take responsibility for their own healing 
So powerful. 

Which brings up another question. Why isn't MBSR use more prevalent? Currently, MBSR is mostly practiced in hospitals, as part of health education. Participants are usually referred by their doctors, as a result of chronic pain, or life threatening illness diagnosis, or difficulties with dealing with stress, or anxiety, or depression. So far, attempts to use MBSR outside of healthcare settings have been scant. Yet, its applications outside of the limited realm of healthcare, are obvious. One area in particular, is the corporate arena. Google, is taking the lead, once more.

Meng Tan has taken upon himself to introduce MBSR to his fellow Googlers, as part of Google's Search Inside Yourself  initiative. I am interested in pursuing that lead, and exploring ways that mindfulness, and MBSR in particular, can be used, by itself, or in combination with other self-actualizing tools*, to foster greater creativity, productivity and happiness in the workplace.

* I am thinking art therapy, and other forms of creative expression :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Pain of Hungry Monkey

Sitting this morning, I was the hungry monkey.

Trapped by my own clinging to the sweet honey of 'doing'. I have been working too much lately, and my body is on a roll. Stomach in a knot, throat and jaws, tight, shoulders high, heat rising to the head. I could feel the suffering from the clinging. Such a clear connection.  

Patiently, I sat. Sensing. Breathing. Investigating. Fully knowing that I was not to add yet another craving, as in wanting the release from the clinging.

Instead, holding the moment, tension and all, with great gentleness.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Few Minutes That Could Change the World

Last night, was IMC (Insight Meditation Center) monthly board meeting. As usual, we started with a few minutes of meditation. Taking the time to check in with ourselves, and get centered. Thoughts, emotions, sliding by the way side, until breath made itself felt. When the bell rang, there was only silence, and openness.

I am aware of a few other settings with such practice. Zen Hospice for one, where we start, and end all our shifts with meditation. At Wisdom 2.0, Tami Simon shared how she has made it a part of the Sounds True culture. Other presenters there, including Gopi Kallayil, a Group Marketing Manager at Google talked about running all his work meetings that way as well. I have also heard of schools that have adopted the Mindfulness in Education curriculum.

This got me thinking. Imagine a world where every meeting started like this. In families, in the workplace, in schools, in places of worship, in hospitals, in the courts, at world leaders' summits, in the Senate,  . . . Imagine what would happen.  

The world would be a very different place indeed.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coining 'Mindfulness-Based Social Media'

In the spirit of Wisdom 2.0, and for lack of a better alternative, I would like to coin the new term 'Mindfulness-Based Social Media', or MBSM, to refer to  the delivery of mindfulness related content, through online social interactions that adhere to mindfulness-based principles of communication and practice. Mindful communication means not misrepresenting the truth, not engaging in communication that divides people, not hurting other people, refraining from idle chatter, communicating at the right time, and on a more positive note, communicating in ways that are trustworthy, harmonious, comforting, and worth taking to heart. Mindful practice refers to the wise use of social media, to further promote one's own practice, as well as others' practice of mindfulness, and being especially careful to not fall into danger of addiction. A working definition, that is open to further refinements, and wordsmithing . . .

MBSM is about content, delivery, and form. The content includes all online material to do with the pursuit and exploration of mindfulness, including the Buddhist teachings on, and practice of mindfulness, also the applications of neuroscience to mindfulness, MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction)MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy), MBP (Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy), Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, etc . . . The delivery takes place through the various existing social media channels, including blogs, Twitter, wikis, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, Yahoo Groups, Ning and other social networks, forums, bulletin boards, etc . . . The form elaborates on the Buddhist precept of right speech, and also the mindful use of social media for personal benefit.

I would love to hear your take on this first attempt. Can you think of another term? A better definition?

Meanwhile, let me share all the links on Mind Deep blog, with some relevance to the topic:

10 Tips For Buddhists on Twitter
Twangha, For Community of Buddhists on Twitter
Spiritual Friendships on Twitter
Taking Mindfulness Vow, on Twitter
Spiritual Quotes on Twitter, Anyone?
The Plain Truth About Wisdom 2.0 and Addiction
Traps and Wonders of Wisdom 2.0
7 Tips for Buddhist Bloggers

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Sixth Hour

"Don't forget the sixth hour!" 

Eric leaves us with these words, as we are about to head home, after our weekly, five hour shift at Zen Hospice.

The sixth hour, means taking one hour just for ourselves, before we transition back into our daily lives. Today, I went for a long walk, part walking meditation, part listening to a dharma talk on my iPhone. 

For those of you engaged in service, what is your version of the sixth hour? How do you take care of yourselves? Do you always find the time? If not, what gets in the way?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not Bad, Just Unskillful

I have become rather fond of the term 'unskillful'. It assumes being kind and loving, is a skill that can be learned. Lots of hope there . . . It also helps in relating with those not blessed with the skills of right speech and right acting. When confronted with such a person, I now think, oh! he (or she) suffers from wrong speech, and does not know any better. And I end up feeling for him, and wishing him well.

Another gift from the Dharma!

Friday, May 21, 2010

With a Spoon

Sitting in a chair, eyes closed, I am supposed to be dying. I only have a few more days to live, and can no longer speak because of the lesions in my mouth. I have also lost my vision, and I am too weak to lift my arms. A woman introduces herself. She appears to know me, but I can't remember if I met her before. Her gentle voice feels good. "Today is a beautiful Spring day. The sun is out, and the flowers are in full bloom. Would you like to eat? Some strawberries and cream?" I am not really hungry, but  I figure why not . . .  

"Are you ready?" I nod yes. "Here it comes, open your mouth". Hard metal spoon, cream softness, and big chunks make their way in, all at once, against parting lips and tongue. Still working mind makes association with memory of cold speculum entering body during gynecological exam. I find I am really not hungry. Nevertheless, I manage to slide down the whole slew. My heart wells up with sadness and frustration. I am feeling incredibly tired. "Do you want some more?" My face says no. Woman offers to hold my hand.  That I will take.

Another powerful role play at Zen Hospice.

So many things I take for granted. Like the capacity to pick my own spoon, and the food I want to eat. Or being able to feed myself, when I want, and where I want. I am feeling so incredibly grateful!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where Do You Live?

I was listening to one of Gil's old podcasts while driving home last night from Zen Hospice. In his talk, titled 'Thinking', and delivered in July last year, Gil asks, "Where do you live?". A most important question, well worth considering, which led me to this place:

Do I get lost in "thoughting mind"*, leaving myself exposed to the randomness of thoughts, with all the risks attached?
Do I get swept by the powerful currents of emotions, into the superfluous suffering of unbridled reactivity or moods?
Do I stay prisoner of my body's sensations, and let pain take over your life?
Do I escape into meaningless activities, and forget to be present?


Do I dwell in a place of gentle awareness, one step removed from all those trappings?
Giving myself the space to be free, and the time to be calm. 

Between those two, no doubt in my mind . . . 

I have the image of awareness, as a bird sitting on my shoulder, gazing at each moment, with great softness:

Where do you spend most of your time? Tell me . . .

* 'thoughting', as opposed to thinking - the automatic production of random thoughts, per Gil Fronsdal.

Waiting Out the Wanting

My notes on Andrea Fella's talk, on the Second Noble Truth, during the retreat:

We are conditioned to react to things of the world in terms of wanting, or not wanting. In that conditioning lies the direct cause of our suffering. The good news is, since reactivity happens in the mind, it can be changed

Our culture, encourages that type of wanting, largely through advertising. 

Classic Buddhist story of the hungry monkey, that is so attached to the idea of having sweet left inside hollow coconut, that it can't let go of grasping hand, and in doing so, is trapped, and cannot pull hand out through slit, through which it originally slid open hand. The monkey is trapped by its own craving. All it would take for it to be free, would be to open its hand and let go of the craving. 

When we get what we want, we get a double hit of pleasantness:
1) getting what we want
2) having pain of wanting go away

We start to believe the only way to get happiness is to get what we want combined with release of the wanting. As the pleasure of the satisfied craving fades away, we want more of same thing, or we create more wants. This is a perpetual cycle. 

Rilke's Fifth Elegy:

'But who are they, tell me, these Travellers, even more
transient than we are ourselves, urgently, from their earliest days
wrung out for whom – to please whom,
by a never-satisfied will? Yet it wrings them,
bends them, twists them, and swings them,
throws them, and catches them again: as if from oiled
more slippery air, so they land
on the threadbare carpet, worn by their continual
leaping, this carpet
lost in the universe.
Stuck on like a plaster, as if the suburban
sky had wounded the earth there.'

The Buddha recognized this was not very satisfying, and that a deeper happiness resulted from letting go of the craving. This requires a leap of faith. There are lots of opportunities for testing this out during a retreat. Of getting in touch with feelings of wanting, and the experience of unpleasantness associated with wanting itself. Realizing that wanting is dependent on causes. Also seeing that feeling of wanting eventually disappears, and leads to feeling of satisfaction. This can get tricky, as when we start looking for, wanting moment when wanting disappear. 

Having a sense of curiosity is very helpful.

It is not about getting rid of wanting, but instead understanding it, and as we do, it will let go of itself. 

Most obvious wantings, have to do with sense pleasures. There are also more subtle cravings, such as for feeling, or identity. This relates to teachings on dependent origination, including 12 steps, starting with contact experience, and resulting in suffering. Basically, each contact experience between the six physical senses and the mind, and the world, has a feeling tone, that is either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. This, combined with ignorance and misunderstanding, leads to craving or aversion. As we become aware of this process, we can retrain our mind. If we do not indulge these wantings and leave the mind alone, these wantings will start to shrivel

Suffering and its causes happen in the present. Although it may appear that our suffering is a consequence from something that happened in the past, in reality, our suffering is the result from a present thought about a memory from the past, or an anticipated future. Our craving is about wanting a different past. 

During the retreat, I did get plenty of opportunities to watch the cravings come, most of which could not be satisfied right there, and with them the associated suffering of the feeling of wanting itself. And then, pouf, on their own the wantings would go away, replaced by another craving. No need to indulge. Time took care of things, eventually:

Quick, out of the meditation hall,
to secure the sun-warmed stone path,
for my bare feet.
Walking meditation.
Craving, satisfied, 
soon supplanted by hunger pain.
Anticipating the 5.15 dinner bell.
Unpleasantness of wanting,
not met, right now,
quickly forgotten.
Body starts to feel stiff;
I want to stretch on the lawn.
Ten minutes worth,
three cravings, right there.

Taking the high road, getting at the roots of suffering.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's Your Story?

This is part 2 of 3 posts summarizing key points from Andrea Fella and Gil Fronsdal's Dharma talks during the course of our retreat, on Four Noble Truths. Today's post deals with the First Noble Truth, as seen by Gil:

The First Noble Truth, of truth of suffering, deals with dukha, a word that encapsulates stress, discomfort, and conflict with self, others, our emotions, our experiences. It is important to study our relationship to it. Some unwise, common strategies: 1) denial, avoidance, distraction anger, blame; 2) 
looking for someone, something to take the responsibility

The 5 hindrances of sensual desires, ill will and anger, sloth and torpor, anxiety and restlessness, and doubt, are also ways that react to challenges as in, escape, blame, resistance, restlessness, and doubt, the most powerful of all. 

It is important to really understand the internal causes and conditions of our suffering. The way to freedom lies in understanding our contribution to suffering. How is our heart closed? What are we resisting? What are we holding on to? A clever way to deal with suffering is not head on, but around the edges: what is my relationship to suffering?

Some unwise ways that we deal with suffering: 1) we place it in a story, eg, if I am uncomfortable it means something is wrong, or I am a failure; 2) we are a character in a story, eg, story of the victim, or the crusader for justice. Hence the importance of figuring out the story we have about ourselves in relationship to suffering.

3 valuable reasons to turn to (not away from) suffering:
1) it is true - without the extra added stories, we can have a simple relationship to suffering
2) there is inner wisdom there - when we are present to our suffering, the heart knows what to do - mindfulness is about not interfering by overindulging or turning away from suffering
3) we can learn from that suffering, since it can act as a mirror from which we can understand ourselves better.

Most suffering arises out of being in a relationship. The problem is the unhealthy ways, as in compulsivity and driven-ness, that we bring to our relationships.

Need to trust the inner unfolding of suffering, even if it takes a long time. 

I find this approach to the First Noble Truth very empowering. We have a part in our suffering, and it is up to us to remove it, using the means of wisdom, mindfulness, and concentration.

Now, what is your story about suffering? What do you bring into the smelly pot?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Knowing How to Let Go

Here are my notes from talk given by Gil on 3rd Noble Truth, during our retreat:

The 3rd Noble Truth is about letting go of craving. Letting go happens a thousand times a day. We only need to focus on developing what we are already doing. This is a different view from traditional view of 4 Noble Truths as religious teachings that we need to import into our life. We need to export what we are doing instead. Some areas are easy to let go of. In some other areas it is difficult but possible with the right effort. In others, it is not possible the way we are right now, but we can prepare for it. Even when it is very challenging to let go, we can prepare by letting go around the edges, not attacking the craving directly at first. Sometimes by chipping away at the outside, we can work our way to the middle, eg, paying attention to the fear of the fear, as opposed to going directly into the fear. 

We need to understand, study, how to let go, and also for the heart to appreciate letting go. It is like developing the muscle of letting go. It is important to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy ways of letting go

The 4 unhealthy ways of letting go:
1) people unnecessarily letting go of all of their money, or sexuality, when what is necessary instead is to let go of clinging to object, but not the object itself.
2) letting go out of duty, obligation, or excessive politeness.
3) "I don't count", self-diminishing, self-effacing way of letting go, eg, I do not really deserve that chocolate.
4) Letting go out of aversion, or fear, eg, letting go of desires.

The 4 healthy ways of letting go:
1) letting go of something, eg, conceit, identity, fear, clinging to chocolate . . . (the most common form).
2) letting something be, ie, letting go of movement of not letting things be, of our taking agency; letting ourselves be as we are; finding a place of stillness within our awareness; letting breathing or sounds come to you.
3) letting something in, ie, to trust, to not resist, to let in what we are holding off at bay, eg, sorrow, suffering, love; letting go of resistance.
4) letting go into something, eg diving into a pool; we can let go of agitation into a feeling of calm and peace.

Healthy letting go begins with having wisdom and healthy understanding. Best is to catch clinging as it is arising rather than wait for full blown clinging attack. The body is a great treasure that way. We can be mindful of how physically we clutch on in different parts of the body. If we can't let go of psychological holding on, we can start letting go of physical tension. At a minimum we can hold area of physical tension in awareness. 

The cessation of suffering through cessation of clinging can take place consciously or not. For instance during a retreat, one can play cat and mouse game with clingings, ie waiting for clinging to go away, when in fact clinging may just go away on its own without us noticing. 

Such a profound interpretation of the 3rd Noble Truth. Harmonizing, reconciliatory, simple, . . . 

Monday, May 17, 2010

One Big Mistake

I just came back from listening to Gil's Sunday morning talk, on the value of meeting ourselves fully, including embracing the big mistake(s) in our lives, as a source of compassion and humility. Not dwelling on the past, and beating ourselves up, but rather moving forward, taking appropriate reparative actions with others we may have hurt, and making the necessary changes in ourselves, so that we do not keep on perpetuating the same mistake. Gil's talk was very timely, considering that I have been spending lots of time lately facing my big mistake, up close.

During recent week-long with Gil and Andrea, I encountered a part of myself that I did not expect. Every night, I met her in my dreams. And during the day, I felt the effects of her presence, as I sat with a whirlwind of emotions.  Anxiety, rage, fear, sadness, and grief, taking turn to keep me engaged, in my seat. 'Her' is the puella girl who refuses to grow up.

She has been a part of me, my entire adult life. And although I have known this on an intellectual level, it was not until I dwelled in mindful awareness, for hours on end during the retreat, that I started to actually relate to her in an intimate fashion. I saw her for who she is, a weak feminine presence, who does not believe in herself, and cannot figure out a way of her own.  She has come to rely on male authoritarian figures for her survival, and resents it. Although she may dazzle others with her brilliance, she never stays long enough anywhere, to reap the fruit from her efforts. She has become a burdensome presence in my life, whose detrimental effects are far reaching, both professionally and personally. 

After I came back home from the retreat, I reread Linda Schierse Leonard's chapter on The Eternal Girl, in her book, The Wounded Woman:
Ultimately, what is demanded of the puella in the process of self-transformation is to give up her clinging to girlish dependence, innocence, and powerlessness and to accept the strength which is already there - to really value herself. For if she accepts her power and strength, then her girlish innocence will show itself as youthful, feminine elan and vigor, as the spontaneity and openness to new experience that makes creativity and fruitful relationship possible. 
I really get it now. The time has come, to part with my puella friend. No less than my life, and the happiness of those around me, is at stake. Which brings me back to Gil's original point during his talk on compassion.  There is something incredibly humbling about owning one's big mistake, as I am doing. From Heal Thyself, by Saki Santorelli:
Compassion begins at home, with ourselves. Whether offering or seeking help, we are all wounded and we are all whole. 
Now, tell me, what is your big mistake? What can you learn from it? 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mama Bird's Song

She sat in her nest,
still abuzz from all the tweeting
and the flying around, here and there,
and waited, and waited,
not a flutter from her wings, not a peep,
until a great calm dawned on her.

She could feel her heart, big,
and the velvet noose
gently touching her throat, all around,
and then the wetness of half tears;
meanwhile, breathing softly,
and holding herself with kind love.

She remembered the dream
about her young in distress
and how pained she had been,
at the sight of her, circling and circling,
with hardly any sustenance;
and her heart ached even more.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How Serious of a Buddhist Are You?

It became clear, as the retreat progressed, that I was not quite made up of the same wood as some of the other retreatants. No jumping out of bed, at the sound of the wake up bell. A few times even, I lingered under the covers, past the 6 am time for our first sitting. In contrast, my roommate darted out every morning at 5.20 to ring the bell. She was also amongst those who lingered past the official 9.30 bed time, heeding the teacher's invitation to stay for further sitting 'if you want'. I never once heard her come in to sleep at night. Was she pulling all nighters? This was not about competing, but still . . . I could not help but wonder, how did she, and the others do it? So stoic, and still sitting perfectly straight, some standing even, during the last sitting. Whereas, I had to leave discreetly several times, out of sheer exhaustion. And if I stayed, I made sure to secure a spot on one of the few couches, so I could practice lying meditation, eyes wide open to not fall asleep. 

This made me think of the many shades of Buddhists out there, from the hard core ones I met during the retreat, to the nightstand Buddhists referred to by Gil in one of his talks a few weeks ago. Where along that continuum do you fit? 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Yoga for Better Meditation

I had forgotten what a gift yoga can be for the body, until a few days into the retreat, when hours after hours of just sitting, and slow walking meditation, exacted their toll on my already stressed lower back. To my great surprise, not only did the yoga stretches help with keeping up with the retreat, but they also left me at the end with a much happier body. 

A sample of my early morning yoga routine during the retreat:

- Illustrations, from Yoga Circle website, with tribute to Gabriel Halpern, my first yoga teacher, from which I learned much of what I know about yoga! -

I adapted slightly to take into account contraindications for my lower back, and skipped Setubanda pose.

I also sprinkled these few poses throughout the day, as needed: neck stretches, shoulder rolls, eagle pose, half moon pose, chair pose, dog pose, and table stretch - most of them explained on Yoga Journal website here.

Yoga to take care of body aches. Yoga to stretch the limbs, and spine. Yoga to massage the muscles, and the internal organs. Yoga to prepare the body for sitting meditation. 

A keeper, not just for future retreats, but also every day life. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Easy Does It

Formal meditation practice, particularly in such an intense context as that of a long retreat, is akin to a marathon of the mind. In order to stay the course, it is important to pace oneself, and to not overly strain one's attention. One of the big realizations during last week's retreat, was how often I mistake overbearing attention for mindfulness. Andrea and Gil both drove home that point during their daily sitting instructions. 

Andrea talked about relaxed awareness, and the importance of spending time first  relaxing the body, at the beginning of sitting. Also, wandering mind can produce thoughts that can either lead to either more tension, or relaxation. When thoughts are pleasant, it is important to use the lingering ease, to cultivate relaxed awareness. 

Similarly, Gil used the term of generous awareness, suggesting an attitude of inclusivity towards whatever comes in the moment. Not forcing awareness on to things, but rather letting the breath, or other compelling experience come into, and fill the field of awareness. As important as mindfulness itself is the attitude we bring to it. 

Meditation may sometimes feel like bootcamp for the mind, but if that is all it is, not much good will come out of it. Loving kindness and softness need to be present as well! 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

One Breath, One Step

My first reaction when I arrived at the retreat, and saw the daily schedule posted on the outer wall of the meditation hall, was one of dread.

Quick, my mind computed, nine times forty five minutes of sitting, plus six times thirty minutes of walking, make ten and a half hours of meditation every day. Time six, equals sixty three hours of doing nothing else but sit, and walk, continuously, mindfully, for six full days. Of course, I was going to plough through, but still, I noticed the aversion right away.

Thankfully, the first morning, Gil gave an instruction for walking meditation, that helped me view things under a very different light: "Only focus on one length (10-20 steps) at a time. Small intents are a lot easier than big chunks".

Of course, one length . . . that I could manage. Even better, one step. Same with sitting meditation. One breath at a time. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Plain Truth About Wisdom 2.0 and Addiction

Without a computer or iPhone for a week, I got in touch with the compulsive and detrimental nature of my connection with technology. Of course, like any addict, I have rationalized my behavior. All the time spent blogging, tweeting about mindfulness, it's all  in the interest of Wisdom 2.0, and the greater cause of spreading the Dharma. A nice cover, that did not hold very long, under the scrutiny of intense self-examination. With no room to hide during the retreat, the plain truth emerged, of my craving for constant emotional gratification, in the form of 24/7 validation. I thought again about Tami Simon's comment during the Wisdom 2.0 conference and her own inquiry along the same line. 

Who else is following me? Any messages in my DM box? or @MindDeep tweets? Any new comments on my blog? Any new emails? Any phone messages? Any text messages? Any comments on my Facebook wall? So many times throughout the days, I have checked, hoping for some candy like sweetness. Each online connection, feeding my desire to be loved, and appreciated, and acknowledged. Each one an easy way out anxiety and restlessness, and whatever other emotions may be lurking underneath. Each one delaying the hard work of meeting with myself.

There are prices to pay for such indulgence. First, is the chronic suffering from the ephemerality of these small pleasures, and the long string of disappointments when the candies are not there. Second, is the loss from broken mindfulness. The mind is not given a chance to settle enough past surface level of anxiety. So many opportunities lost throughout the day, of reaping the fruit from moment to moment mindfulness!

What is the solution? Not to give up technology altogether, although I do not exclude that possibility at some point. No, for now,  I would like to choose the middle way. Still blogging, tweeting, emailing, texting, phoning, facebooking, but in a much more deliberate fashion, and without the driven-ness. Using technology and social media in particular, in the service of mindfulness, not against it. The way to achieve that, I figure, is to condense the time spent online in one or two small windows during the day. And, more importantly, to be mindful of the urges to give in, in between, and to use those moments as yet another opportunity to go deeper into the workings of the mind.

Here, right now, I make the vow to curtail my use of the Internet, in the spirit of the three precepts of right mindfulness, right concentration, and right wisdom. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Burden of Speech

Not until I spent seven days not saying a word, with the exception of three fifteen minutes interviews with Gil and Andrea, did I realize what an imposition speech can be. And I understood Gil's instruction that  "You are to keep noble silence throughout the retreat, to not disrupt process of settling taking place. Think about it as solids settling down the bottom of dirty water. If you agitate the water, the process of settling gets hindered, and the water does not get a chance to get pure."

Not having to speak, nor to listen to others' words, gave me spaciousness of mind. No need to worry about committing false speech, or being subjected to it. My attention naturally turned to cultivating wholesome thoughts, and deliberate actions. And I got the time and stillness necessary to meet with my most inner core. 

Speech. A necessity of life, that needs to be used with greater economy, and mindfulness.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Day One of Retreat

Just back from retreat with Gil Fronsdal and Andrea Fella, along with Nancy and Greg, the cooks, and twenty six other retreatants. I remember what it felt like on the first day, exactly a week ago:

No escape,
no computer, no cell phone, no talking, no reading books, no shopping, no drama, no to-do, no swimming, no driving, no biking, no cooking, no appointments, no dogs to walk,  . . .
No other option but,
being with myself, and making the best of it,
being with body aches, and the tyranny of thoughts, and uncertain emotions,
being with 'don't likes'
being with myself.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Packing For the Retreat

Packing for one week retreat, starting today with Gil Fronsdal and Andrea Fella, I am bringing a lot more than the IMC recommended list of 'personal items to bring'. And I don't mean stuff. 

It has been a long time, twelve years exactly, since I went on a week long silent retreat. While I am eagerly looking forward to that time of undivided presence with myself, I am also very aware of the many thoughts and emotions that I am carrying with me, in anticipation. Some of these may be familiar to you, who have gone on retreats before. In the pit of my stomach, anxiety, excitement, relief, aversion, doubt, fear, faith, and curiosity, collide to form a nervous ball. In my mind, concurrent thoughts stumble in a cacophony of voices, some louder than others. "This is good, exactly the medicine that's needed at this point in my life." "I wonder what's going to happen." "I hope I will have a good roommate." "I hope the food will be ok." "This is not going to be fun." "I can't wait to come back home." "I wish they had a pool so I could swim." "It will be so nice to unplug, and get away." "Will I be able to sit for that many hours?" "Maybe I can take one long walk every day?" "What will I find inside?" "Will I get down to the bottom of my anguish?" "I hope I will come out with some greater clarity" . . . 

So many thoughts, so many emotions, I am bringing with me. 

PS - Of course, I will go unplugged for the whole duration of the retreat. That means no blogging, no tweeting, no ninging, until May 10th! May you all be well, and at peace, and may you all enjoy many moments of kind mindfulness.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Notes from Wisdom 2.0 Conference - Part 2

Day 2 of Wisdom 2.0 Conference. I very much enjoyed Meng Tan's infectious happiness. A refreshing presence in the midst of otherwise mostly serious and left brain crowd. @chademeng is Head of Personal Growth at Google, and goes by the title of Jolly Good Fellow. 

Worth pondering were the following three questions, that Meng shared with us: 

What is your life story?
What do you want to do when you grow up?
How do you want to save the world? and how can I help you save the world?

Used by Meng as a screening device for potential Google hires, these questions can also lead towards a process of self-inquiry, resulting in more questions, rather than straight answers.

Still fresh from  Philippe Goldin's expose yesterday on narrative/conceptual view of self, versus  experiential, embodied self perspective, I found myself resisting the first question. Being present to the now has become a lot more relevant than revisiting the past. Sure there are patterns to be seen, lessons to be drawn, but they all belong to a fixed sense of self, that no longer fits the way I experience the world.

Similarly, Meng's second question implies a narrative framework. It also suggests not knowing yet what one wants. In my case, operating from a place of mindfulness and self-compassion, has made it very clear that I am to use all of myself, body, mind, and heart, to serve. I only need to be present to the thoughts and emotions that come up in various situations to know. Last weekend, during Zen Hospice volunteer training, love flowed through my whole being. Today, during the conference, I felt my heart tighten instead, as the temptation to join the ego-driven world of startups raised its ugly head again.

Regarding the third question, I do not see how one can save the world. More befitting, would be how do I want to serve? I know the path ahead will have threads of mindfulness, and service, and intelligence of heart and mind, throughout. Right now, it includes working as a hospice volunteer, and having committed mindfulness practice. With a few sprinkles of blogging, and tweeting, and ninging. Still needing to be worked out, is the shape of my professional life. There are many possible manifestations, and I am giving myself the space for skillful discernment. 

This is when I need to stop, and leave train of thoughts, and just be with breath.  :)

Notes from Wisdom 2.0 Conference - Part 1

From first day at Wisdom 2.0 Conference, some favorite quotes:

"Social networking is like being in a karmic accelerator" - Joan Halifax, Upaya Zen Center

"Technology is like a lubricant for human nature - both good and bad." - Bradley Horowitz, VP of Products, Google

"When I looked into why I reach out to my Blackberry, for no particular reasons, and I looked inside myself, I found my true motivations were: 1) seeking stimulation, 2) looking for confirmation of who I am, 3) feeling anxious, 4) being in control. Technology enables hyperthinking. At some point, it is important to deal with empty space, and disconnect completely." - Tami Simon, Owner, Sounds True

"There are only 24 hours in a day. (on using time wisely)" - Gopi Kallayil, Group Marketing Manager, Google

"Zappos four rules of Twittering: Inspire, Connect, Educate, Entertain" - Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos