Shuba’s Weblog

Journeys of the soul…

On Retreat…

My meditation teacher Doreen has been caring for her mother these past four plus years. Her Mother Anna came to live with her in her 90’s, and these past years have been a profound spiritual journey for Doreen. We as a sangha, a community, have been a witness to this transformation that love invites – indeed asks of us – and we have seen the quality of metta and compassion shine through Doreen in her teachings. Anna passed away recently in March – in a joyful and peaceful manner. Anji and I visited her in her last days – and the room was filled with a sort of joy that I didn’t know could exist near the end. There was so much love in that room. And Anji brought her own pure soul into the room – and connected with Anna at that deep level that only children and old souls can do. It was beautiful to witness.

Talking to Doreen a couple of weeks ago, we were chatting about retreats. After several years, Doreen is going to a formal retreat in the near future –where one is often given formal instructions for practicing mindfulness, and the opportunity to go deeper into our own inner experience in the comfort and protection of silence. I was talking to Doreen about my life and where I am and how difficult it would be for me to go on a retreat right now – much as it is something I have always and would love deeply. My last formal retreat was in 2009, nearly four years ago. And Doreen gently reminded me: Shuba, this is a time of retreat for you, just as it was a time of retreat for me caring for my Mom.

This gentle reminder hit home for me in a deep manner. Many times, I’m torn and indeed amazed, even shocked at times at how little I know of what is going on around in the world. I’m not in touch with news enough, or with people I don’t see in our immediate lives. I’m not on the computer enough (and many times I feel bad that I don’t read the blogs of these wonderful creative beings who take the time to read mine.) My world revolves around my family, and caring for our two and a half year old daughter for the most part – and my own spiritual journey.

I have never skimped on my practice – even now (as before having a child) I usually meditate everyday in some form and read dhamma, connecting with an intention that speaks to me, and listen to talks regularly and attend sits when I can. I write and I reflect and I seem to have time for that. IN a way, it doesn’t even feel like a choice: my practice is how I take care of myself, it is how I tune in and find out how this being inside of me is really doing. And it seems to take priority over so many things. Sometimes I wonder, is this real, the life I am leading? Sometimes I feel lonely and starved for mental stimulation. But other times, this feels more real than anything else I have ever done in my life: there is a urgency right now – to be with what is happening, the emotions, the keeping up with developmental milestones (I’m not sure if they are my daughter’s or mine!). And the letting go.

Mark Coleman, who is one of my favorite teachers when it comes to dhamma talks, says in a talk, that the most important practice in terms of mindfulness/Buddhism can be summed up into two words: Let Go. Let Go Let Go Let Go. As a parent we are challenged to do this everyday, to let go of our ideas, our expectations, our goals and our agendas. We are thrust into this world where our little one doesn’t and cannot understand these concepts (thank god for that!) and we have to let go. It ultimately serves us well – but who said letting go was easy?

This is perhaps my biggest struggle: to let go of what I think is a good day, of what I think my daughter should be like, and the ideas I have that constitute ‘’good parenting’’ which in itself is a trap. Since I have no prior experience in parenting, these ideas are largely questionable: they have not been tested out by my own experience. This to me is an important clue. So I learn the hard way: to let go.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.” Says Rumi of the soul. We keep finding our way back to this field. This field – this abundant peaceful all-knowing compassionate place inside of us knows at a very deep visceral level what the truth is. But we forget in our human ways and conditions. And so we force ourselves to remember.

So I am grateful. To have a time in my life when so much of outer distractions seem to be removed so that my own inner experience comes to the forefront. All of it: sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. And it is just like it is on a retreat: a time for remembering the sacredness of our lives, in its tiny details.

So this is what I say to mothers who resonate with me (and to myself – since I so often forget!): when the retreat ends – however long or short it is – we will be ready to meet the outside world. Until then – this is the journey – and we follow. Lets leave behind our guilt, shall we? And lets take in the love. The love never stops.

With Love, S.

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Fall…

Sometimes life is full of surprises. Just when I’m cruising along, something hits me like a ton of bricks. Nasty cold, headaches, awful rainy weather…IT doesn’t seem to take much. But it brings with it humility.

Nothing lasts – and it is a good reminder this season. I feel a tinge of sadness as I watch the leaves fall outside our window – the trees shedding their autumn garb getting ready for the winter. I so want to hold on. Hey wait! don’t go! But my words fall like the leaves in the cool air. Not much I can do about this.

My only respite is to remember this is how I felt last year during the fall time, and the year before. It always happens. and then when the time passes and the first snow of the season arrives, there is joy again. Perhaps this is the dance we will do until eternity – joy, gladness, sadness, heaviness. Perhaps it is the sure sign that we are alive.

Sadness doesn’t have enough space in our lives. We think we have to be happy, joyful brimming with good cheer all the time. But thats not possible so we set ourselves to feel bad. But when we make space to be sad, to embrace what our hearts feel naturally – with the passing of seasons, friendships and ice creams, the things we love – life becomes more real. We become more honest. There is no pretending anymore.

So I finally did what I needed to – went for a long walk – took in the foliage, hues of yellow, the leaves scattered everywhere, falling. I felt the cool air touch my skin, the leaves telling me their goodbyes in soft whispers. I felt my heart open just a little bit. It was all okay. There was enough space to hold it all.

With Love, S.

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Reflections on the lake…

I’m standing in the lake with Anjali. It is about 6.00 in the morning on a saturday.

We are at the lake house which my dear friend Stella’s lovely niece Fern has rented, where we spent last night. This morning, we woke up really early – Anji and I. Anji started squirming next to me on the bed at about 4.00am– the result of crashing early last evening. I appreciated her valiant effort to go back to sleep, until she finally gave up at around 4.45am and said, mama, up! And then pointed to the bedroom door and added, ‘Door open it!’

So I got out of the bed, and we went out to the living room. We each pottered around, I changed her diaper – gave her some snacks – and then made the unfortunate decision to take her out on the porch to see this water bird, one that looked like a stork, that just sat motionless on a rock on the lake. Once on the porch, she could see the water. Of course, next came the plea. Water! Water! Water!

Anji loves the water. Its like she was born to be in the water. The first time she saw a beach, she was wild with delight. Last afternoon, her first time at the lake, she stood in the water with all of us, and looked just so happy. She saw the fishes and the bugs, and heard the frogs and she looked so big… and so small. She was so tiny, bulked up in her suit. She played, she explored her boundaries and mostly she was content to just be. No ipad, no iphone, no music. The nature provided all the entertainment she needed.

Today, right now, it is just the two of us. I thought the water would be very cold, but it isn’t. It feels nice. And it feels very still. We don’t see the fishes we saw yesterday– maybe they are still sleeping! I see a couple of loons swimming – and suddenly they disappear under the water. I didn’t know they could do that. I wait to see when they will come out – and suddenly they are at the other end. Can they travel so fast, or are these different ones? I wonder. I feel so present and so still – as if waiting for something, as if both of us are waiting for something. The household is sleeping – it seems everyone is. But not the frogs. And not this squirrel that is perched precariously on this bush eating something – a flower perhaps. Anji says: squirrel swimming. She is proud of stringing the two words together. I don’t know for sure if they can.

Anji turns her attention back to the water. She goes a bit further into the lake, the water still only her knee-deep. She loses her balance – and I catch her – so that she is swimming. It’s sweet. I’m thinking: this is incredible. I’m out here at 6.00 in the morning, which I would never do if it weren’t for Anji. I’m waiting for someone to tell me this is stupid, and she will catch a cold. But it doesn’t feel stupid. It feels wonderful!

It is also sweet to witness her trust that allows her to relax into this space. She moves towards the sandy shore – and comes back in. she doesn’t want to leave yet. I don’t know if I want to either.

Life feels so simple in this moment. We can be here as long as we want, until we want to leave – as long as she doesn’t get too cold. And when we want to leave, we can. I want to carry that with me…

With love, S.

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Independence day…

I’m having the good fortune of attending a women’s writing circle, with an amazing group of women. We each get to write our stories from the heart and share them – and it has been an absolutely uplifting experience. Here is one story that has come out of me, based on Joni Cole’s prompt: independence.

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One of the times when I felt truly independent in my life was on my 10 day silent retreat in Sonoma county in 2009. I had the wonderful good fortune to be in a small retreat – only 15 of us, with Michele Mcdonald, our teacher. Even though every day had a structure to it – periods of sitting and walking meditations, meal times, interview with the teacher and so on – I just remember time extending by. Time to simply be. I remember that it took a few days to settle into the quiet – but slowly the mind became clearer. I could really take in the beauty of my surroundings – the redwood trees were so tall – I had never seen anything like it. The zendo was so beautiful, the walkway from my cabin to the bath halls a lovely walk. The space in front of the dining hall was open and in late afternoon, deers would hop by unafraid or maybe accustomed to our presence. In the late evening, I remember seeing the sun set – the entire process talking over half hour as if slow motion – and I would see it through the cracks of the hall where I would be doing walking meditation – and I remember the pause before I would give in and came outside to see it more clearly. I remember walking by this slope by the garden and from there, I could see the entire valley – mountains, trees, stretching in front of me. I remember the silence this one afternoon when I saw a squirrel up there on one of the trees – seemed so impossibly high – and then drop down. Everything was slowed down – and that squirrel dropping had me hold my breath, until I saw it safely scurry up the branch below.

Freedom to me is surrender. It is surrender to our circumstances, our situations, so that we may have a choice in how we want to respond to it, to our lives. It is the freedom we have, when we get up in a crabby mood, and can see it and make a choice – on how to be with it. It’s the freedom we have to stop ourselves when we need to, and let ourselves go when we need to. It’s the feeling of effortlessness – that happens when there is no resistance. The precious moments of independence that have been most dear to me, have been when I really want to nap in late afternoon after a tiring day with our toddler Anjali, and its not possible – and I make a choice to let go of my needs and wants, and choose playfulness. Independence is for me, the feeling of time stopping – there is nothing I need to do. I have realized over time, that it isn’t necessarily that there isn’t anything to be done, but more that I am relaxed and there is no hurriedness so I can respond to what needs to be done with spaciousness.

Independence is letting go of my grievances – about my family or friends – so that I can make my choices out of love. It is letting go of the need to be on retreats to feel truly present. It is letting go of the need to feel or be a certain way. When I come out in the morning and look at the blue sky – it reminds me always of independence. There is so much space to hold everything – that even in the most difficult circumstances it is possible to be free. Independence is doing the things we care about while letting go of the need for them to be a certain way.

May we all be free and may we have peace.

with Love, S.

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Bringing the old and new…

It has been a little over two weeks since our return from India. Two weeks of readjustment, recalibration, and tuning up. Jet lag was a part of this recalibration, but only one part of it. The sheer length of the travel and what it took out of Anjali and I, needed us to figure out a new way of relating to each other and the place we called home. When we entered our house after an arduous, over 30 hour travel involving two planes, one bus ride and the stop-overs and start-overs in between, Anjali learnt a new word: home. She ran from one end of our living room to the other, repeating in delight – home, home, home. Indeed we were glad to be home, and see Abhi.

What then unfolding was longing. Missing. Comparing. Anji waking up in the middle of the night asking for the place she left. and me missing the old predictable routine we had had before we left. Ah the comparing mind. The only thing it does is bring suffering. After over a week of this dance, I realized this was a new place we were in. This was unchartered territory. Anji was in a new place – new developments, emotions and the pain of sheer growth. and I had to meet her there. We weren’t going back in time – to before our India trip or to the time of the trip itself. We weren’t time travelers.

Once I made that leap, we could go back in time – cheerfully. Visit our photos and videos from the beach, time with grand parents, seeing planes, long air conditioned car rides, ceiling fans, autos and buses. And we could see with new eyes what was in front of us: abundance.

Indeed in the three weeks we were gone – nature came into full bloom. Spring arrived here, loud and clear. The roads lined with flowers, trees heavy with blossoms and bees, sunshine and warmth and the grass so green it felt like you were wearing a green lens. Everything was so green. Surrounded by this beauty, we countered our jet lags and new routines with gentleness.

So now here I am, finally, on a warm sunny day, writing in this space. I missed it. I missed being here. and I am here now. same as old, and yet new and different. As each of us are in every moment, every day. May we allow ourselves to meet this moment with openness and grace.

With Love, S.

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journeys and destinations – part one

It is a sunny afternoon and I’m sitting outside on our porch with my computer, listening to the birds, the sounds of the neighborhood cars and the humming of the tractors from the construction nearby. Anjali is sleeping upstairs. Just the knowledge of that makes everything peaceful. It makes everything right – me sitting here right now, here in this moment. There are no questions of self-worth or doubts.

It is not often that such moments come by. Motherhood is filled with moments of attachment –to want to do everything right or perfect, to want to do our best, to be patient and kind all the time, to love, to be the model of discipline and control – not too much and not too little. To nourish our little ones with the right food and the right affection, so that we may raise sweet kids who know how to share and be kind, who may know empathy and compassion as well as joy and affection, and who can bring peace and goodness in this world. This is a tall order for a human being.

And then there is also the emotional piece – the holding on, versus letting go that happens every day. Letting our kids explore the neighborhood but not go too far. Letting them feed themselves but still sometimes want to feed them the buttery rice with our own hands, while they wriggle from underneath our grasp. Play run run and catch catch, and as we catch those little bodies and give them a hug, a moment of holding on and then letting go of their squirmy bodies to run some more and explore some more. In this emotional landscape of a parent, it is easy to get attached. We want to do it right and we care so much!

And perhaps that is why this is the biggest opportunity we will ever have for our practice. And the moments when the roof falls over our head – children fall sick, parents fall sick, baby sitters are unavailable, daycare is a germ nest and we wonder why we send our kids there– these moments become opportunities to appreciate how imperfect we really are and how little in control. How all of us are in the same boat – we try so hard, and in that trying is the joy and the peace. As Rumi says, ‘Lo, I am with you always means when you look for God,
 God is in the look of your eyes,
in the thought of looking, nearer to you than your self…’

Sometimes it hits me that while we have a destination in mind – raising a child who will one day grow and be on his or her own feet – independent and strong, gentle and kind, it is the journey that will matter to us in the end. How we travel this journey will make all the difference. The tiny moments of how we approach these dishes in the sink and the folding of this laundry of the umpteenth time this week. This new developmental milestone – that brings the explosion of words and cognition but accompanied also with tantrums and new self-awareness. Or this growth spurt that brings new capabilities – sitting, reaching, seeing – but with day and night of nursing. This meal right now and this walk on the stroller. This fall of Bud, beloved insect friend and the picking up and giving a hug to Bud. And this sweet kiss to Mama. This journey is what will matter at the end.

We don’t have forever. We have now. That’s the deepest realization implicit on this journey of parenthood, indeed in any journey…

May we continue with patience, kindness and love on our journeys…

with Love, S.

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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.

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Enlightening cold…

I read this poem this morning by a japanese zen master Ryokan, with a smile:

Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days’ worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.

Isn’t it a wonderful image? That enlightenment isn’t in words and doing or trying too hard. Perhaps it is in not doing as much, living simply and sometimes taking the time to simply sit comfortably with both legs stretched out.

Even though I love writing about being mindful, my husband reminded me yesterday, that if I was mindful why did I have to do all the extra work I did in spite of having a bad cold and a voice like Mogambo in Mr. India. He was right. I talk about making space to be, and I do it diligently to the best of my ability. I also like getting things done! and accomplishment is one of my favorite things – even if it is sometimes just finishing the grocery shopping or making the dinner. Perhaps that is why I believe in the discipline of a practice: otherwise how would people like me, doers essentially, learn to relax? Even relaxation needs setting aside of time!

And every now and then, we stop trying so hard. We realize we can drop all the stuff we carry and let the world take care of itself. and we can pause to have that hot tea and read poetry and take our time in the shower. We can listen to the night rain and not have to apologize. It helps if we have somebody to remind us that it is okay to do this. This morning, it was Abhi for me. Maybe I can be that for you.

With love, S.

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My dervish…

Rumi writes, ‘ For a dervish every day feels like Friday, the beginning of a holiday, a fresh setting out that will not have an end. Dressed in the soul’s handsomeness, you’re a whole month of Fridays, sweet outside, sweet in.’

I thought of the last couple of lines this morning, as I looked at Anjali’s splotchy swollen face. She was sweet outside, sweet in. This past week has been so rough for her, and for us. We have been to the emergency room twice, because all of a sudden she couldn’t walk. The first time the diagnosis was toxic synovitis, which is inflammation of the hip, due to a viral type infection. She got better over the weekend. But then she took a turn for the worse yesterday with rashes all over her legs, feet and face, and again unable to walk. We went to ER again, and this time the diagnosis was HSP Vasculitis which is inflammation of the blood vessels that causes the rashes and the joints to swell up. My poor child. I can only imagine her pain. And in the middle of all of this, she has the capacity to stay present – with the pain by crying, but also with the times when there isn’t pain, by playing with Teddy. Teddy, given to her at the hospital, is her new best friend. She has kissed Teddy, and showed me his nose, eyes. She showed my the sky photos on the ceiling of the ER room, and the crows this morning at home. She has the incredible capacity to start over again and again, that has no end. And my challenge right now, is to cultivate this same beginner’s mind, with her on this journey.

So, on my thirty-second birthday, I ask for patience, presence, gratitude and support as we get through this. My friends and family continue to call and email, which has been a life-saver since Abhi is in Dubai right now. My yoga is holding me together as I remember my own needs in all of this. And somehow incredibly, I’m starting to remember to find the moments of space and connection in the midst of turmoil.

May we all have compassion and peace on our journeys. Please hold us in your prayers that Anjali recover completely and soon.

With Love,
Shuba

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Knowing…

This space in my heart
that is as wide as the ocean
how did it come to last
even as it gently meanders
this way and that
forgetting sometimes
of its own existence
and then waking up again
in awe to the breadth and width
of its own expansiveness
That moment, it all
comes together
things become clear
knowing happens
and takes my breath away

With Love, S

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