The beginners mind

The days blur into one another – as I spend more time with Anjali and less time in pursuits of my own. This scares me sometimes – I must be doing something wrong! Why do I not remember the special feeling of a Friday – the end of the work-week? Now Friday feels like any other day!

It is moments like this that offer us the profound opportunity to cultivate beginners mind. Beginners mind is truly the challenge to cultivate when it is the same mundane routine everyday – snacks, meals, naps and diapers, laundry, washing dishes and more dishes, bath and playgrounds. It is also the most needed and the most rewarding. Because everyday routine offers a glimpse of something deeper – to be with our yearning for change and our resistance to change – both at the same time. To be with the conflict of breaking it up, and the comfort of holding it together. To see with new eyes what we didn’t think we could – and the possibility of it becoming something we couldn’t imagine.

All of this sounds lofty when you think of washing dishes and folding clothes. It is and it isn’t. Often when I’m washing dishes is when my mind is most caught up in planning ahead – meals, outings, emails and so on. And it is the coming back to this green plastic plate holding remnants of my daughters’ food that holds the key to my happiness: the reminder of a day of nourishment and satisfaction. It is this folding of small clothes that she is fast outgrowing – the blue frock with flowers she likes so much and which is way above her knees now in just a couple of months that reminds me of time passing by. This frock that I have to hide from her as I fold it, because otherwise she will want to wear this instead of what she is already wearing! Or her cute pajamas with blue cars that she looks so adorable in, in the morning when she wakes up next to us, having got there at some insanely early hour, her hair tousled, her spirit uplifted and ready for the day. Yesterday when she woke up, she pulled my hand and said ‘mama upping!’. Even in my sleep, I couldn’t help but smile.

These moments are what we get to take in when we cultivate the beginners mind. We get to see deeper into what we are really doing here. It is easy to forget that – in the midst of the tiredness and the reacting to a stream of needs and wants, disciplining and easing up and juggling schedules and trying to make it to that dance class or yoga or book group we so enjoy. We get to see that we are living, and there is love and this joy that is unfolding right in front of us, screaming at us to wake up and be restored in beauty and delight, this too will pass. So we may as well take it in.

With Love, S.


One Year Old…

It is incredible to see Anjali making connections with her brain in new ways she couldn’t do two weeks ago! She knows that if Mama is not there downstairs, then she must be upstairs, so she makes her way to the end of the living room and tries to climb up the stairs. She has learnt (with Abhi’s help) that there is a short cut to making the sock monkey pop – by simply budging the small thumb on top. She does it and smiles in delight. Yesterday, she took my sunglasses and tried to wear them! She had figured out that that is what people do with them. She says Book – and means Book. She says duck and looks for duck. She waves bye bye and means it. She tries to take her first steps – unsteady but always within reach of support (usually Mama’s legs). And mostly, she is so incredibly happy at all the things she is learning – it makes me cry.

When do we lose that openness to life, to all its wonders, to learning and to exploration? When do we set up those barriers and create those insecurities? Of course, the wise me understands that these too are part of the human life, and that the more compassionate we can be towards our failings and imperfections, the more peace and love we can have. Yet I can’t help marveling at this amazing miracle of human life – that when we come into this world, we are completely open, vulnerable and trusting. And we start setting up boundaries as a way of protection. And slowly we become attached to them!

How can we hold boundaries with Love? How can we realize that this protection is a choice – sometimes we need it. And sometimes we can let it go, let the wind blow through us, and the rain soak us completely. And even if that opening lasts but for a moment, we become a child again – open to wonder, lifting off like an Eagle into the far blue skies of freedom.

May we feel safe so that we may open…

with Love, Shuba

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.

The joyful art of being present…

It is a mid-spring afternoon, the weather playing a temperamental mixture of sun and clouds, the newly sprouted leaves dancing in the breeze, the apple blossoms heavy and the bees taking it all in. The geese are joyful making their journeys and it feels like we have a bird sanctuary in our backyard 🙂 I love the lilacs this time of the year, their heavenly scent wafting through the breeze. It all has the magical effect of calming me down.

I have been thinking recently of attention and the art of being present. I often beat myself up when I’m not paying attention, and sometimes, I try very hard to pay attention, and the effort feels heavy and pressured. And I know neither of them is really the wise attention the teachers talk about. Wise attention is relaxed without being heavy, and it is never supposed to be yet another thing to judge ourselves by!

Yet again, it is Anjali, my eight month old, who teaches me how joyful and effortless paying attention really is. She scans the floor in front of her, broadly, and then narrows in on an object of focus. She examines her object of attention with great detail. And then, after a while, she naturally broadens her field of attention again. In all of this, there are naturally moments when she gets lost, like she is somewhere else. When she comes back, it is very graceful like it never happened. And I can’t help thinking, paying attention is really that simple. When we are not paying attention, and we come back, we simply start over again. Just like that. And our field changes and broadens and narrows, going through a natural rhythm. It’s all something we already know, we have always known. We just have to trust it. And as we start to do this, we start to recognize the contentment that children know naturally.

May we bring wise attention into our lives,
with Love,

Giving up the need to be perfect…

This is the best advice my counselor gave me when I went to her as an overwhelmed parent of four-month old. And it’s advice I continue to find invaluable.

The thing I’m learning, about being a parent, is that you make mistakes. There are many things you’ll do that you never thought you would. Like putting kitchen towels into the oven and forgetting about it and nearly burning the house down. Or breaking the side mirror of your car coming out of your own garage. Or hearing the fire alarm and rushing outside the house with your baby because you forgot that it was the day of the fire alarm testing. Or falling asleep at work, while in a meeting or reviewing a paper. It’s stuff you just wouldn’t do in your sane mind. And I’m not even talking about the baby stuff we mess up on!!

It’s funny when we are not in it. This giving up of our well defined structured and ‘tidy’ lives so that we may raise babies and voluntarily go through sleep deprivation and chaos. Clearly there has got to be a trade-off, even though it is not always obvious what that is :).

The tradeoff is that we learn what it is to be human. We learn patience and endurance and the kind of unconditional love that we didn’t think we were capable of. We learn flexibility and giving up ‘I should’ and ‘I ought to’ because we have no choice. And we learn the possibility of joy and paying attention because we get to be around babies who don’t know that it can be otherwise.

We get to see things as if for the first time because that is what our babies are doing: seeing paper, grass, socks, teeth, feet, rain and more, for the first time. And they continue to do so everyday. And incredible as it may sound, witnessing this is much more exciting than reviewing a paper on functional near infrared imaging of the brain. (No wonder I fell asleep on that one!). This window of witnessing what it is like to not know the concept of time or gravity, to not experience fear or doubt, to know freedom of expressing yourself just as you are, this is the gift of parenthood. And it somehow makes up for all the hours of sleep we lose and all the neurosis we go through being a parent. Mary Oliver was right when she said, ‘most things that are important, lack a certain neatness’. Amen to that.

With Love,

Meeting this Moment…

One of my favorite poems is by a Zen monk Wu Men from the 12th Century, and goes as:

ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
When your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

I love these lines. The simplicity of it and the unconditional peace that underlies it. It IS that simple. When you don’t expect this moment to be anything other than what it is, then there is profound beauty and peace in that.

It is simple, but not easy! I would be sitting with Anjali, playing with her, when this thought would come into my head: if only I could meditate now. I need only 10 minutes. Oh, imagine 10 minutes of meditation! That would feel so good. When will she sleep so I can get my 10 minutes… ? How quickly, the experience goes from enjoying my little one’s play to wanting something else other than what is. My mind chooses meditation because it is something I love very much. Your mind could choose key lime pie. Or a new car. It doesn’t matter what it is, just that wanting takes us away from the present moment.

There is a turning point in an experience like this, that repeats itself in various versions many many times in a day for each of us. It is how we respond when we realize that we are wanting. We are conditioned to judge ourselves which makes it even harder to return to the present moment.

What about a different response? Ahhh, wanting, my dear friend, there you are again! So easy, and like a mirror, we return to where we were. Ahhh, wanting. That familiar comrade of mine. So much space in that. A sense of lightness. Connection.

And then there are those moments of unconditional peace that we do experience in our lives. When we are present and don’t wish things to be other than what they are. In such moments, we can offer our gratitude. So many conditions come together to make a moment of peace happen! And like Wu Man, we understand in that moment that this right now is the best season of our lives!

With Love, Shuba

This being human is a guest house…

‘This being human is a guest house,
every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.’

I memorized these words from ‘Guest House’ by Rumi. This poem is so resonant of the experience of being human. How there is a certain ‘wonder’ about it – we never know what each day is going to bring. Literally. We have no way of knowing! Some days have it all in packets of it – the joy, the depression and the meanness. The wounds and the hurt. The gratitude and the amazement. How do we hold it all? How do we stand there as the wind blows and keep our jackets? Maybe we don’t.

He goes on to say ‘welcome and entertain them all even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture.’ Maybe it is a good thing for the furniture to go. For the house to become empty. For our selves to dissolve. The harder we hold on to our ‘selves’ and identity, the more it hurts to let them go. And the more peace we feel when we do become naked.

Rumi goes on to say: ‘the dark thought, the shame, the malice – meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.’ What a revolutionary thought! To be okay with the malice and darkness of our hearts. To invite them in, instead of turning them away at the door with a broomstick the way we customarily like to do! To be okay with the loneliness and pain that accompanies being human, for it does, as much as the happiness and joy does. To embrace the spectrum of human life – because we can, because we are alive, and because this heart can feel!!

He ends by saying, ‘Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond’. This is hard practice. It involves surrender and grace. Unconditional Love and unquestionable self-worth. Trust. And this trust is what allows us to finally BE – dance with life as it unfolds.

May we find our ways in this Universe with Love,