The gladness of letting go…

On saturday I got to go for my first day-long retreat since Anjali was born eighteen months ago. I can’t believe it has been that long! We did sitting and walking meditation most of the day from 9.00am to 4.00pm and were led by a wonderful, funny, wise and skilled teacher called Chas Dicapua from IMS. I was excited for my first retreat and nervous too because I haven’t sat for long periods of time in a while.

The day came, and the morning was busy making lunches and saying goodbyes to hubby and daughter. I reached there on time, hallelujah. Most of my sits were very sleepy and I realized how tired I was. The sitting was physically difficult. I was hungry as well during the morning sittings, and sat there waiting for lunch time. But sometime in the afternoon during a sitting, I came to ‘know’ that I was sitting, that this was the retreat I was waiting for. And that realization brought joy with it.

Even though the sleepiness remained, there was no longer any judgment about it. I could relax, be compassionate and cheerful through my sits and my sleepiness. Around 3.00pm, during the dhamma talk, I caught this thought in my head – ‘I can’t wait to go home and have those oatmeal raisin cookies. yum!! and see my family and hear Anjali’s sweet voice say ‘knock knock, whose in?” When I heard this thought, I found myself laughing – inside. Here I was at this retreat I had been waiting for – and now I couldn’t wait to get home!! The story of our lives.

Coming back from a retreat was hard – it always is. They should have instructions on that! I was miserable because all my reactivity stared me in my face. I was very tired. And I wanted to go back and have some more of that quiet, of that joy of stillness. The ‘opening to your experience’ that the teacher had talked about, seemed impossible to do. And in the middle of my suffering, I wondered if I would ever regain my equanimity.

Everything changes, nothing lasts forever. Thank Goddess! There was a moment when I came back from a walk, and saw, really saw my daughter and how beautiful and alive she looked. In that moment, the joy in my heart returned, and the connection with this moment right now, happened. I could let go of my need for my experience to be other than what it was in this moment, right now.

So here I am, on a monday morning – feeling just ordinary. body breathing, sitting, hands writing. knowing what gladness arises when we go inside. and how we have to let go of everything, every day, every moment, to be truly happy.

With Love, S.

Advertisements

I open my eyes because I love mountains…

Leaves in a stream move without a plan
Clouds in the valley drift without design
I close my eyes and everything is fine
I open them because I love mountains.

These lines are from a poem by Stonehouse, a zen monk who lived in the 12th century in China. I love these lines so much. I know exactly what he means in the first three lines. I love solitude, I love the time when I’m by myself and everything is fine. I know my place in this world, and feel deeply rooted to where I am – strong and centered and at peace with things are they are.

And then I open my eyes. I enter this world, of playing the many different roles –a mom, a wife, a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a daughter, a sister, and more. Sometimes I play them gracefully and lightly, but a lot of the time, I see a myriad of emotions come up: impatience, irritation, frustration, judgment, imperfection, reactivity, as much as love, amazement, wonder, freedom, space and gratitude. I push away the first set of emotions and grasp tightly to the second set. But whose judgment am I using? Why is one wrong and the other right? As a human being, will I not experience anger, frustration and jealousy? Can I make room for them so that compassion may arise?

Then perhaps I may have a chance to see deeper that there is something beautiful in everything. Not just in love and peace, but in anger and impatience as well, and for me, this week, in loneliness. When we sit and feel the pain, there is such an aching beauty in it, how loneliness feels utterly desolate and yet is simply passing by, and in the very next moment, it is possible to feel connection. This surprises me to no extent – our capacity for joy and peace and space amidst utter chaos.

Many times, I find myself asking: I have so much! So much to be grateful for. Why the struggle? Why this loneliness? And the answer always comes later: so that I may know that suffering passes. Everything passes. And nothing brings more peace than sitting with one’s own pain.

Poet Hafiz says: Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut more deep. Let if ferment and season you as few human or even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft my voice so tender, my need of God absolutely clear…

In loneliness, we seek true companionship – the one that can only be found inside. There are times when I’m aware that I have all the love in this world and still felt lonely – and allowing myself to feel it lets me find the friend inside, the one who knows like nobody else does, what I really need in loneliness.

Waking up and realizing it as a gift only comes by only if we are sleep in the first place. Gratitude for kindness becomes oh so clear after a dark night of judgment. And connection is never more profound as when we have sat with our loneliness. Doing so is when I come to know what Stonehouse means in his last line, when he says that I open my eyes because I love mountains.

With Love, S.

the dance of wanting…

I was thinking last night about how our suffering doesn’t really depend a whole lot on circumstance. I know this in theory of course. But every now and then it really sinks in.

Right now, I have the kind of life I would have given anything for, two years ago. I have a lovely family – the most amazing generous man as a husband and the cutest funniest most loving daughter. More than that, right now I have the freedom to do what I want, at least in the short term. Anjali goes to day care part-time and on these days I get to meditate, go for a walk, write, bead, prepare for my basic math class or attend my student meeting. It doesn’t sound like a lot, compared to the job I used to do, and it is all stuff that I really like. New mothers would kill to have time like this to themselves. And then last night, I caught myself complaining how I missed going somewhere and meeting people and doing something that feels more important. (More important than what? I forgot to ask my mind that.) My mind went racing: maybe I need to get a full-time job!

Imagine. Our minds are so totally nuts, chasing after endless wants. Nothing is ever perfect. How can it be, when as soon as we land somewhere, we start planning our next trip!

Clearly, this is the adjustment phase, the one that comes after the honeymoon phase. It’s the sinking in of a new life-style, and the making of different choices than I would have before, and the learning to live on new financial terms. It is only after acceptance that I can get to a place of knowing if this new life is right for me. If the choices I have made are right for now. It was apt that, at the weekly sit last night, the discussion of acceptance came up. How important is to practice acceptance of things as they are, before we find our way to wise action.

The scariest part is, amidst this peaceful livelihood, there is the uncertainty of the future. What will I be doing next year this time? I don’t know. And that uncertainty is hard to be with sometimes. Can I recognize it for what it is? Can I use it as an opportunity to practice being with rather than pushing away what is? Can I learn compassion?

Sometimes, in writing about mindfulness, I start thinking that I know something about the practice. And then I find I don’t know anything. It is humbling. And I start over. That is the beauty of it. There is always opportunity for practicing a beginner’s mind. It changes every moment, every breath. Can we be with this one? And just the next one?

Confessions…

I’m terrible with change. I hate that moment when things were going great and suddenly they aren’t any more. The moment (like this morning), when after peace and contentment, suddenly I’m face-to-face with irritation, anger, frustration, without any warning and left wondering where that joy inside of me disappeared. The moments when I thought I had it all orchestrated perfectly in my head, like a soap opera, and suddenly nothing is going my way. Moments when it looks sunny outside and I decide to go for a walk, only to find a cold breeze blowing my head off, making me wish I had stayed home. Moments when I want to be generous and leave a tip at the cafe only to find that I am out of cash. Moments when I want to tell the yoga teacher how great she was, but am afraid I can’t trust my voice to not break down into tears that I have no explanation for. Moments when I am bone tired after teaching an evening Math class and really just want to have a P&B sandwich, and crash. Instead I sit with hubby and eat lovingly prepared dinner and watch television, all the while resenting it and then judging myself for resenting it. And just before going to bed, hubby tells me that Steve Jobs is no more. That moment when I feel like screaming – why did you have to tell me that now! How am I going to sleep!! Because the fact is Steve Jobs is dead is so sad that I just want to cry, even though I have never met him in my life.

I can’t help thinking we create So much Drama in our lives, simply because we don’t like change. We don’t like it when we can’t control things, and when things don’t go our way (which we are convinced is the ‘right’ way). We hate it when we see someone in pain and there is nothing we can do about it.

That’s why we practice. That’s why in those moments, we try really really hard to take just one breath. and just one more. We tell ourselves – this is what anger feels like. this is what irritation feels like. This is what judgment feels like. We search desperately for that small ounce of kindness buried somewhere inside us. And we try hard to find where and sometimes, what is compassion in that moment. And slowly, surely, inevitably, we find that the judgment, anger and frustration are there no more.

The emotions will never stop coming. That’s what I’m realizing (to my disappointment). It simply is not possible – having emotions – the entire range, is part and parcel of being a human being. If we get angry, that doesn’t mean we have failed. It simply means, well, that we are angry. Being able to be open to that, and accepting and kind is what we endeavor to do in this practice. and we have keep practicing – sometimes for endless difficult moments, like being huddled in a tiny shack under the storm. And without knowing it, the storm ends. The sun comes out. and we are still standing. and so is the hut.

May we continue to be human…
with Love, S.

what lies beneath…

In our experience of life, I’m starting to realize how trusting makes all the difference. How when we breathe, trusting allows us to know that there will be the next breath – we don’t have to rush it, we don’t have to control it, it happens spontaneously, and unconditionally. Trusting invites us to let go, not knowing what will arise next, but knowing that whatever it is, will be okay. This trust goes a long way in relaxing into life and bring present for its wonder, joy and delight, without waiting for some miracle or some experience or some expectation. This joy in the here and now is accessible when we release all that we hold on to, all that we try to control so desperately, whether it be a red light when we are late for class, or a crying baby when we are leaving for date night or that project we want to do oh so perfectly. This release requires us to trust – that whatever comes up next is okay, in the very fibers of our being.

Sometimes, this means trusting that people have good intentions and they are doing the best they can. Then the situations where we are prone to judging become opportunities for understanding. Trusting and letting go can feel scary, but more often than not, it ends up being a relief, that we no longer have to pretend to have everything under control. This gentle letting go also shifts something and allows space for us to release into the support that lies beneath us. It is like Rumi says, ‘Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom. How do they learn it? they fall, and falling, they’re given wings.’

In the past few weeks, what has amazed me is how once we let go, we find that there is something incredible holding us all together – our inter-connection, our inter-being. There is no other word for it – it is both humbling as well as ecstatic. I find that friends and family magically appear when I need their help and people give me opportunities when I least expect them. My close relationships present this opportunity to go deeper because I’m truly vulnerable in a way I haven’t been before. And the universe is allowing for me to experiment with my time in a way I simply couldn’t have orchestrated myself.

When we trust, we allow for a new something to unfold. We become small again like a child, and in doing so, we become larger than we could ever imagine. It doesn’t mean everything will be great and we will be happy every after. But it means, no matter what, we will be okay.

Trusting means letting go of the breath we are holding, knowing that the next breath will come up, inevitably, as long as we continue to live. We can let the comfort of that knowing support us, no matter how difficult this moment is. This too shall pass. May this trust allow us to become more and more open to the experience of life…

with Love, S.

Yet another ordinary moment…

The instruction I heard from my teacher a couple of weeks ago, was to bring attention to the feeling tone of our experience, whether it is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Jack Kornfield in his book ‘The wise heart’ talks more about this feeling tone, one that precedes our reaction to the experience (such as clinging, aversion, boredom etc depending on the feeling tone). It has been interesting to practice this the past few days. What I’m finding is that there are a lot of moments that are neutral in their feeling tone. There isn’t anything fantastic happening, but there isn’t anything that is difficult either. As I bring attention to these moments, I start to see them shift to pleasant, as if simply becoming aware of these moments brings a pleasant quality to them. An appreciation that things are okay, and a spaciousness when one isn’t attached to something.

Sometimes thoughts come into my head in these moments: most often it is, how come I get to experience this peace? Amazement at my own good fortune, that things are well, and there isn’t much to worry about. So many people not very far from where I live, have lost their homes in the hurricane and have so much to worry about. Sometimes, the thought comes, I’m sure this is going to end, and my dear friend suffering will come up. Another time, it was, if everything is good, what will I write about? 😉

But the piece I’m missing is that, as we train our attention to be with the neutral moments, a whole spectrum of our experience opens up, one which we didn’t have access to before. We learn to see what is in front of us – whether it be a worm or a fallen leaf. We learn to be with this brushing of the teeth this morning. This cooking, this washing of dishes. So much of our lives constitutes of neutral moments – we learn to become alive to them. And we learn of the possibility of contentment and gratitude for the gift of life.

To me, this practice keeps opening its doors – the possibilities for exploration are endless.

with metta, S.

Being in the now…

Some days, being present feels as elusive as a butterfly.

Sometimes, it feels like all I do, in my sitting practice as well as real life, is start over again and again and again. I get distracted and then catch myself somewhere else completely and like a groggy traveler waking up in unknown surroundings, I don’t remember how I got there. and then I begin again. body, breath, now. red light, baby, sounds.

And then yesterday, reading Philip Moffit’s wonderful book called ‘Dancing with Life’, I was heartened. He talks about the power of that intention to start over and that it is okay if that is all we ever do.

The freedom in this moment when we realize we are a thousand miles away – is to not judge. The less we judge, the easier it is to come back to the present moment. I loved Larry Rosenberg’s instruction on this: just like a mirror. we simply see and we begin again. That is the practice. sometimes, we are more focused and present. sometimes, we are more distracted and scattered. Mindfulness is noticing and accepting things as they are – be it concentration or diffuseness. That is the practice!

Like the moon reflected in the clear water on a cool night, our spirit is reflected in everything we do and see and hear and think. There is nothing that doesn’t have to be there – everything is just as it is. It is just hard for us to believe that the miracle we so yearn for with our hearts is already happening in front of us! So we close our eyes. And then the moments when we open them – and see that sparkle of rain on the window shining like a thousand diamonds. or the mist in the mountains trembling like a coy bride, holding a secret. When we finally hear, really hear the song of the bird that has been singing since forever. In those moments, we wake up. and that makes up for everything else.

With Love, S.