Love, Process, Integration

September 12, 2012

I had a powerful, experiential realization about love the other day.

Love is acceptance.

Love isn’t about helping someone, fixing someone, doing things for someone.

It’s just total, open, non-judging acceptance.

But how many of us accept ourselves? And when we don’t fully accept ourselves, how can we accept others?

Love, Unity, Oneness, Peace – can only come through acceptance.

And acceptance only comes through fully accepting oneself, integrating our rejected, repressed shadow sides.

So, integration leads to acceptance leads to love… leads to peace.

Integration comes through processing – through experiencing, through living.

Process has been coming up a lot for me lately. The journey of life.

We don’t cut a butterfly out of the cocoon; why do we cut a baby out of a human?
I was recently introduced to the theory that the skipping of the birthing process – Eden/Womb, Contraction/Fear, Struggle/Journey, and Birth/Realization – produces people who have trouble following through as adults. They didn’t get that initial blueprint for the Hero’s Journey. Makes sense to me.

I think Integration is a key word for the future of the world. Integration of the masculine/feminine, east/west, natural/human, light/dark.

I know this photo doesn’t really have anything to do with the post but I like it. Sunrise meditation at Sirolo, Italy, August 2012

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Blog-a-Day + Dream Life

September 7, 2012

I think I should do another Blog-a-Day Challenge. I am entirely out of the habit of blogging, and I need something to get me over the resistance/fear that accompanies creating. Plus there’s been so much amazingness going on in my life these past few months, I feel guilty not sharing!!! (I’ve ditched most of my general guilt, but I still haven’t managed to completely shake the blogging guilt…)

So I’ll do a blog-a-day starting today and going through September 20th, when I leave my home of the last month and a half for a trip to Florence and the Ligurian coast.

For the last three weeks I’ve been renting a room with two lovely roommates about 5 kilometeres from the Ananda center here in Italy. We’re an international bunch, me being from the states, one roommie, Calypso, hailing from Greece, and the other, Luigi, an Italian native (obviously… Luigi). A Portuguese woman named Lakshmi normally occupies the three-room apartment; she’d been house-sitting but is moving back in next week.

After a year and two months of Nomad Living, the thought of committing to stay anywhere for more than a month at a time brings up some issues for me. Though I don’t want to keep traveling forever, and I don’t actually enjoy the act of traveling, I haven’t entirely shaken the itch to keep moving. But life here at Ananda is pretty close to my dream life. I’ve got a community and group of close friends who already feel like family. Everybody meditates and does yoga. The community is working towards self-sufficiency, and I’m helping to launch the Academy of Art, Creativity, and Consciousness. I’m speaking Italian every day. The air is fresh. It’s beautiful. It’s quiet. My house is in the countryside overlooking olive groves, and our neighbors make home-pressed olive oil from their orchards, which we can see from our bathroom window.

For now, I’m happy here. Very happy! Yet at the same time, not entirely sure I’m ready to commit to staying… I feel I still need to be following my bliss and inspiration, and I don’t want to confuse myself and my path by making commitments to other people and becoming entangled in their plans… So, I’m sorting through some things, figuring out which is the voice of fear and which is the voice of my soul.

My house! Complete with bunches of grapes and outdoor dining area…

View from my bathroom!

My backyard. I’ve climbed almost every tree.

View from my terrace. Yes, that’s a giant fig tree. Best figs I’ve ever tasted.

Cat and kitten included (Names are Bella and Neve=Snow)!!!

Dinner party!

My roommate loves to bake organic bread. #luckyme

Every sunset here is gorgeous…

One Month of Ananda

August 18, 2012

I’ve been here at Ananda for a month, and it’s flown by. It’s beautiful here, and I’ve been meeting new people every day. Most of them thought they knew me or had met me before, that odd sense of familiarity – what is that? Is it the knowing of a prior lifetime? A soul recognition, a soul resonance? Is it a product of my Irish/English face, the genes that have spread around the globe? Is it merely my love for people in general, my work at being open that causes them to feel that we are closer than strangers normally are, that I accept them like an old friend would?

My days at Ananda usually begin around 5:30am. Recharging exercises (a series of breathing and muscle tensing exercises), kriya yoga, and meditation at 6am or a shorter one at 7am, in the temple or the yoga hall. Breakfast served at 8:45am – homemade yogurt, fresh baked bread, honey, oatmeal, cream of rice, corn flakes, fruit, coffee, tea… and, occasionally, unfortunately, Nutella. I cannot NOT eat Nutella if it’s within eyesight.

While here at Ananda I participated in the ‘Yoga in Action’ and ‘Service is Joy’ programs, so for a discount on room and board I volunteered around 20 to 30 hours per week, washing dishes, peeling potatoes, vacuuming the large dining room, cleaning bathrooms. We were given a few tips on working joyfully that were actually quite effective, so I almost always enjoyed the work – I even learned to scrub toilets without minding. This for me was quite interesting. I feel like I didn’t really learn to clean the house growing up – searching my memory banks (which are fairly sparse on childhood memories), washing dishes, cleaning windows, washing the car and taking out the trash were some of the chores I remembered doing. I don’t remember ever actually cleaning the house or bathrooms, so I think for those reasons they were always chores I’d avoided after growing up. Through this work at Ananda I learned (and practiced) cleaning efficiently, without negative feelings or resistance. The daunting concept of cleaning has become more manageable.

Sometimes in the morning we would have Sadhana meetings with Tony and Namasia, the two directors of ‘the Service is Joy’ programs, during which we would meditate and discuss spiritual readings and topics – part education, part therapy. During ‘Yoga is Action’ we were allowed to take one of the courses offered at the center – I did “How to Live With More Energy” and the incredible art workshop with Dana Lynn AndersonPainting from the Heart and Soul”.

Lunch is served at Ananda at 1:30pm. Vegetarian/vegan, always a salad bar and fruit and steamed veggies and rice and then the day’s offering – gorgonzola pasta or stuffed zucchini or a lentil dish. I’ve been eating entirely too much as I always want to try everything, and the fresh bread is so good.

Afternoons are more work or class, yoga and meditation around 5:45pm, dinner served at 7:30pm. Most evenings there’s something to do after dinner – kirtan music and dancing, a talk about art or community, a concert by the resident cellist or a visiting violinist.

There are about 150 people who live here in the Ananda Community, and anywhere from 30-100 guests who stay at the retreat center. So there are always people around to chat with and new people to meet.

Everything is in Italian and English, which I absolutely love. I’ve gotten to translate a few times – in a yoga class, in a meeting. It’s a skill I’ll have to practice more – it’s challenging to be talking at the same time someone else is an trying to keep up – but I enjoy it.

Sunsets here are amazing. In 30 days I think I only saw one sunset that wasn’t spectacularly vibrant reds and oranges. And the views are 100% Italian – rolling hills, patchworks of fields, green trees, stone houses.

Patagonia Mornings

April 20, 2012

The Chacra (little ranch) I live on is surrounded by small mountains/large hills, so there’s a nice hike in any direction you head in. Yesterday I decided to do a sunrise hike. I woke up at 6:30am and did Vipassana meditation for one hour, then bundled myself up (temperature’s in the 40’s F at night) and put my iPod, journal and Kindle into my bag.

I listened to a Philosopher’s Note on my iPod as I headed east, walking through the dry riverbed behind the house and past the Mapuche school. The Philosopher’s Note was on the book ‘The Power of Habit’ by Jack D. Hodge.

“It’s often said that habits are hard to break. This is an inaccurate statement. Habits aren’t broken; they are replaced. In other words, you replace, not erase, bad habits. This is an important distinction because if we are to change a bad habit we must carefully consider which habits we are to replace it with. Purposefully choosing new habits to replace old habits will greatly increase your chances of changing bad habits.”

So I decided to replace my habit of staying in my warm bed with taking a sunrise hike every morning. Until it starts snowing, at least.

The sun rises late here, a little after 8am, so I needed something to get me out of bed earlier – I like to get up at 6am but when it’s dark and cold out, I’m not very motivated to climb out of my Cocoon. (I literally sleep in a Cocoon, this awesome travel sheet/sleeping bag liner thing that my friend Anne gave me. It’s stretchy, so I close myself up in it to keep the mosquitos from biting my face; it’s much more comfortable than trying to keep myself covered with a normal stiff sheet all night!).

I hiked for about 30 minutes until I found a nice rock-topped hill to perch on. I wrote my three morning pages for ‘The Artist’s Way’; I read an entry from ‘A Daily Dose of Sanity’ by Alan Cohen as the earth tilted the sun into my eyes.

While I’m living here in the middle of natural beauty and space and fresh air, I’m going to make sure I get the most out of it!

I have more photos I want to share, but the crap internet connection would only allow me to upload this one; issues uploading photos has been my main delay on blogging lately. I’m hoping it’ll be easier for me to upload to a Flickr account; will keep you posted!

“Life is a fatal adventure. It can only have one end. So why not make it as far-ranging and free as possible.” – Alexander Eliot

Guess where it is?

I’m surprise it wasn’t in India… but the next most logical spot: San Francisco.

Photo by Bay Cities News

I remember how delighted I was to see a sign for a “Meditation Room” in the Albuquerque airport; a yoga room is even better! I’ve been tempted to do yoga in airports before, especially with all the traveling I’ve done in the last year, but I never managed to summon up the cojones to do a downward dog in the passenger waiting area.

Photo by Bay Cities News

How did this happen? The director of SFO has been practicing yoga for 18 years, and after hearing someone make an offhand remark that they had everything but a place to do yoga, he made it happen.

And, it’s free to use! They even provide mats.

The world is a-changin’!!! I look forward to the day when it’s normal for everyone to meditate and do yoga, just like everyone brushes their teeth and showers.

LAX has gotta be next.

Official Yoga Pictogram - Photo by Bay Cities News

 

*Thanks to Mariana for sending me the article!

Why Meditate? And How?

January 24, 2012

 

A few years ago, I started meditating.

At first it was for 5 minutes at a time. It was hard. It was uncomfortable. It wasn’t enjoyable. My mind blabbered, my knees hurt.

Over the past few years, after numerous classes and stopping and starting again, I’ve built up to a practice of two hours a day – one hour in the morning and one in the evening (that’s on my good days; I don’t always hit the two hour mark).

I’ve experienced the positive effects in my life – less stress, less anxiety, a better feel for my emotions and my body, more awareness of the ways I’m crazy and destructive, a better memory, a stronger ability to savor and appreciate life.

In the society we’ve created, with its pressures and multitasking and addictions and smartphones and ADHD, meditation is the single most important thing a person can do for their well-being, happiness, serenity and sanity.

And more and more, there are scientific studies backing up the physiological benefits. Finally, science is starting to figure out why the spiritually-minded have been espousing meditation for centuries.

Check out the science here.

If you can’t find meditation classes near you (google around), you can begin with these free guided meditations, starting with the 5 minute one:

http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22

But I’d really recommend classes. It gets you more comfortable with the practice, and doing it with other people is more motivating than struggling to sit there on your own.

Funny how terrifying just sitting there, breathing, can be…

Burning Man, 2010

Who Are You… Really?

January 12, 2012

So I’m still trying to figure out how to follow up the Death post… the response was incredible, and filled my heart with love. Thank you to everyone who sent love, I can feel it.

While wrestling with the draft for my next blog post, I came across this mind-blowing video:

This is pretty much the deepest fuckin’ video I’ve ever seen. I get the feeling I’ll be spending the rest of my life trying to live the truth spoken here.

And don’t you just want to BREATHE that air!?!

“You are free. You are whole. You are endless. There’s not bottom to you, no boundary to you. Any idea about yourself appears in you, and will disappear back into you. You are awareness and awareness is consciousness. Let all self-definitions die in this moment. Let them go and see what remains. See what is never born and what does not die. Feel the relief of laying down the burden of defining yourself. Experience the actual non-reality of the burden. Experience the joy that is here.”

Two Births

January 6, 2012

As the bird has got two births – one birth coming out of the mother’s womb and the second birth coming out of the shell of the egg – so does a human have two births.

“Like a bird born of its mother encased in a shell, my first birth was shrouded in the darkness of deep ignorance. A bird’s second birth is its true birth – when it breaks the eggshell and emerges into the light. Just as the little bird blinks its eyes when it emerges from its shell into the sunlight, so was I astounded when the dark layer of ignorance was penetrated for the first time and I glimpsed the rays of true understanding. Indeed, the darkness of ignorance is darker than the absence of light within an eggshell or the womb.”

“Human life becomes meaningful only when one breaks the shell of ignorance and becomes established in wisdom, just as a chick breaks through its eggshell and emerges into the light.”

S.N. Goenka, Vipassana teacher

 

 

“Liberation can only be gained by practice, never by mere discussion.” -Goenka

It’s been hard to write about my Vipassana experience, mostly because the point of Vipassana is the EXPERIENCE. Not the words, not the description, not the intellectual discussion.

So, for all of you who are curious about my experience, I say:

Go. Experience it for yourself.

Here is a list of centers in North America: http://www.dhamma.org/en/bycountry/na/

The 10 day retreat is free. TOTALLY FREE. Your lodging and food (actually, quite good food!) is included. And at the end of the retreat, there’s no pressure – there’s no long guilt-inducing speech to get you to donate; there’s no one looking at you expectantly, holding a bucket. I was actually quite surprised.

The 80 centers worldwide make enough money to continue providing free retreats because the people who experience Vipassana realize the value it holds; so they donate for the next person that will be helped by learning this meditation practice. You don’t need to know how to meditate to go. Though it probably makes it more difficult, there were people there who had never meditated a day in their lives.

I understand that 10 days seems like a lot. You’re too busy, you can’t afford the time off of work, you don’t think that you can go for 10 days without talking. But when 10 days is compared to the 50 or so years you have left of you life – 10 days of 18,250 days, assuming the 50 years – 10 days is a small price to pay for the opportunity to learn how to end your own suffering.

Vipassana is not a religion. It’s not a cult. It’s a practice. On the Vipassana retreat you have 10 days of training in the purest form of meditation that was taught by the Buddha, maintained by a small number of monks in Burma over the past 2500 years. It’s not sectarian – Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Baptists, Muslims and Atheists can practice Vipassana meditation. It holds no conflicting beliefs with any religion, and it’s actually very scientific, which is interesting since it was created a few thousand years before the dawn of modern science. Vipassana teaches you to objectively observe your experience of reality, without judgment or reaction. You experience reality through your body. You THINK about reality through your mind, but you can actually only EXPERIENCE reality through the senses of your body.

Two of the main causes of suffering are cravings and aversions. Addictions/desire and fear/hatred. But there is a greater truth than this, and that is that all things are impermanent. All cravings and aversions are impermanent. Your body is impermanent. Every experience you have, every thought you have, is impermanent. You experience the truth of impermanence through experiencing the impermanence of the sensations of your body, and during Vipassana meditation you practice not reacting to these sensations; they’re impermanent anyways. Over time, this leads to equanimity. Peace. That one thing that every single human wants, deep down. Peace.

The 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I loved being in silence. People doubted I’d be able to go 10 days without talking, but that part was easy.

During 10 days of silence – no conversations with anyone else, no eye contact, no input from books or tv or the internet, no cell phones, no nothing – you really get to know yourself. The clarity is incredible. You get to observe the insane workings of your own mind. And that’s the funny thing – we’re all insane. One definition of insane is “in a state of mind that prevents normal perception.” We don’t actually perceive reality, we perceive what our minds think about reality.

One realization I had the first day was that I have an image of everyone I know in my mind, and I talk to them in my head. All. The. Time. I’m either having a conversation with someone I know, planning in advance what I’ll say to them next time I talk to them, or I’m narrating a blog in my head.

If you don’t think you have this voice in your head, it’s because you’re not aware of it. Either that or you’re enlightened (Congratulations! 😉 ). I became aware of the continuous narration in my head when I was around seven years old. We all have this voice in our  heads – the voice of the ego that creates the story of our experience. It is in response to this story that we react – not the objective reality of situations, but the story that we create in our minds – ie this event/person is good/bad/right/wrong, this should have happened, this shouldn’t have happened, I didn’t do that right, I’m not good enough, I deserve more, etc etc.

During the Vipassana retreat I also met my shadow side. I got to observe how arrogant I can be, how critical, judgmental, and angry I can be. I was given the perfect opportunity – the girl bunking next to me was a drug addict/bulimic, and though part of me felt like I ‘should’ have been compassionate towards her, I was pissed because she’d make noise all night eating and snorting things, vomiting in the bathroom, and then I could hear her snoring behind me during the meditation periods. Prior to this retreat I knew that I had shadow sides, but when in silence they get so much LOUDER; it becomes incredibly, painfully, embarrassingly clear.

One of the things that appeals to me most about Vipassana is that it’s a practice for daily life. It is a tool which, if used, will actually change you, and make your life better. It teaches you to observe, question, experience, and come to your own conclusions. This appeals to me in a way that no religion ever has, since most religions rely on dogma, ideology, blind faith, rites and rituals; not actual work towards making yourself a better person.

I want freedom. Not the illusion of freedom that is provided by a democratic government or the choices of capitalistic society; the true inner freedom of not being controlled by fears or addictions, cravings or aversions. I have been seeking freedom, and the resulting happiness and peace, since I can remember; around 4 or 5 years old, I remember deciding that I wanted to be Happy when I grew up. Not a Doctor or a Teacher or a Veteranarian; just Happy. I have explored many paths, read and discussed and tested many things. Vipassana resonates as being the truest path to freedom and happiness of anything I’ve found. I think it’s because it’s so simple, so personal, so direct. It’s just you. Within you is everything you need. So simple, and so true.

http://www.dhamma.org/en/bycountry/na/

I’m trying out a new challenge today.

I’m only going to check email/facebook/twitter twice today; once at noon, and once after I get home from work.

I find myself compulsively checking those three throughout the day for a sense of connection and validation. Mini pick-me-ups, mini mood-boosters.

I don’t want to rely on technology for that. I want to control technology; I don’t want it to control my mood.

I may do the same with my cell phone – just shut it off 90% of the time, and have a specific time that I turn it on and check messages and respond. I seek (and receive) that same sense of validation/connection from text messages.

I’m tired of being dependent, and I’m tired of being distracted. I want to channel my energy purposefully. I want to DO things that will make me happy long-term, rather than RECEIVE things that distract me from my dissatisfaction in the short-term. I want to push my personal boundaries of clarity and progress towards my goals.

I’m excited to conduct this experiment with my life and see how it goes. This morning I did not get online and spend my usual 45ish minutes checking email/FB/Twitter. Instead I wrote my Three Morning Pages, meditated, took a walk around my neighborhood while listening to Philosophers Notes, watered the spinach I’m growing in the backyard, did some yoga, and ate breakfast with my roommate. I can tell this is going to be a great day.

Feel free to join me in my experiment and let me know how it goes for you!