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.


A moment in time…

The Buddha on the windowsill looks at me with his eyes open, as if puzzled: what are you doing? He asks. The candlelight flickers sending shadows on his stony face, like he is grinning, or maybe laughing, or both. I feel very loved, like a benevolent child under the loving eye of her benefactor. The crickets go about their song – continuous but still with gaps. I think of the word intermittent. And my thoughts too flow intermittently. The breeze is gentle on this quiet summer night.

Tonight is a blessing. The lawn mowers have stopped, done with their work on the grass, work that seems to always happen at odd hours in my neighborhood, and not so welcome at times. Certainly not when it is noon and Anjali has just gone to bed, or at 8.00 in the night when I want to finally just be quiet. There are no planes overhead either – maybe the Lebanon airport has Tuesday nights off. Anjali is sleeping – today she didn’t do her usual half hour of singing and talking to herself about her day. Today she was too tired, and her voice dropped after 5 minutes leaving complete silence. And when Anji is sleeping, Abhi tends to be very quiet downstairs, looking at his iphone and possibly making his moves in scrabble, or playing his chess games.

Really the only sounds seem to be the crickets and my typing which feels rhythmic and even. The words are flowing from somewhere, and I watch the screen fill up. I’m amazed that this even makes sense: a moment in my day when I let my guard down – there isn’t my child to feed, to make sure she takes in something even though her urge is to not eat much when she is sick. It’s hard to let go of that habit – it is perhaps the most difficult and draining task sometimes. Today I danced my way through it without my usual strong hold of attachment. Some pieces of bananas, some rice with ghee, a piece of tofu and some dahi. None forced – my daughter, going to be two years old in a couple of weeks, has now learned to say politely, ‘no thank you’ and I stop trying immediately because it is so darn cute.

I actually savored my dinner tonight – a delicious omelette made with mushrooms, chilis and cheese made by Abhi, on delicious sourdough bread. I could feel the gooeyness of the cheese along with the heartiness of the bread and the earthiness of the mushrooms. When was the last time I savored so much of a meal? I don’t remember when.

The words seem to be slowly ebbing as I too gear up for the night. Thought I don’t want to leave yet – I want to sit on this chair forever and let the words flow, as I wait. Perhaps the waiting is for that moment when I will feel the urge to move. And then I will get up, shut this computer and move on. My thoughts will restart into the planning mode and I will let them be as I make my way to bed. There will perhaps be one stray thought that manages to tilt the boat – but maybe tonight I will catch it in time and sleep in peace. This writing here today, on one window of wall somewhere in the Internet world captures one moment of my life when everything is just right and I know it.

In that silence of knowing, I can rest for these few moments.

With Love, S.

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.

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.

Making memories…

It is hot hot hot in chennai. We are all complaining, all of us except Anjali, my nineteen month old daughter on her second visit to India. She is totally taking it in her stride with good cheer. And she has her instincts right – be outside in the morning when the breeze from the beach blows, go for drives in the ac car, and avoid crowded marriage halls under all costs.

Our time in chennai has so far been wonderful, relaxed for me, with my mom and dad revolving around Anji in a way that I can’t find words for. Its like magic, seeing their attention given so freely and watching them anticipate her every need and make sure she eats, she sleeps and she plays. On phone calls, I overhear each of them relating proud moments of how quickly she picks up things, how smart she is, and how even tempered (and how good with the iPad!). It is sweet and it makes me realize how special the bond between grandparents and kids are. It makes me glad I made this trip.

In the same room that I once studied for exams, read Jeffrey archer in bed and dreamed of potential boyfriends as a teenager, my darling daughter now lies, curled up on her belly with her face buried in the bed, dreaming her own dreams. It feels incredible that life comes a full circle, that it is my turn to give my parents: joy the kind only grandparents know and presence, of being and listening to their lives and their routines, now lonely without their two daughters, the apples of their eyes.

In this past week, Anjali has met new people, had new experiences and adventures, and our routines have been forgotten as we have played the way one plays during the summer vacation. I am a sucker for routines. Back home, If you told me I would let my child go to bed late or skip nap time to go to the beach, I would have scoffed. And here I am doing it.

I realize I’m learning the art of letting go, not just for myself, but also as an act of generosity, of giving the people I love something they will cherish – new memories. I learn too of the struggles my own parents went through when we were children, the struggles they never talked about, but they can now, with a sense of camaraderie. I too am a parent. This unspoken acknowledgment speaks volumes…

Mostly I feel peace, in this room that I grew up and that my daughter will know, and I hope, will come to make her own sweet memories, of hot summers and water melons and getting muddy on the beach, of power cuts and movie theaters and bhel puri and of crowded restaurants, loving relatives and pampering by her grandpa and grandma,

Tomorrow we head to a different city, Mumbai and Anjali will meet a different set of grandparents and I will get to see my beloved hubby.

So here is to sweet reunions, new experiences and to Childhood lived again, through generations…

With love,

sweet slumber…

What is the time of the day when your defenses are down? when you can be utterly vulnerable and open, and let go of all that you hold on to? when you trust in some body or something to hold you when you do let go? For me, that time of the day is bed time. sweet slumber. Its the time when I can drop my worries and rest in peace.

I wasn’t a worrier, but somehow I have become one. Motherhood, wifehood, job changes and so on. Familiar story. Now I worry a lot – about my daughter Anjali and her eating, my husband and how tired he looks sometimes, myself and my changing identity (s). I worry about others I love, how they are doing and how I am letting them down by not being as available as I used to. I judge my worrying too which makes it worse. At various times of the day, my practice makes me notice my leaning forward trying hard to control things that I can’t possibly. My noticing helps me relax – when I am non-juding. I practice compassion and softening. But then I’m not a bodhisatva. I fail a lot.

It is at night, that I truly let go. Just before climbing into bed with my sweet hubby, I pause by Anjali’s door. Somehow there is magic at that threshold. I smell the whiff of her scent in her bedroom – that scent of diapers and diaper cream and baby lotion and another scent that is uniquely hers – a milky sweetness. I hear her breathing in peace, occasionally shuffling around in her bed. she always lies face down, and I can imagine her sweet face burrowed into the soft comforter underneath her. As I stand there silently, my entire body reaches a peace. everything is okay. everything is alright. It is time for bed. Tomorrow is a new day, who knows what it will bring!

with Love, S.

The flow of life…

When we make room to be imperfect and to make mistakes, we tap into this universal feeling in the world that sometimes we can’t be on top of everything. Sometimes, the human side of us that is vulnerable and overwhelmed comes to the top. Much as we would like to ignore that side of us and pretend that everything is great, that side is very much present, and today – demands attention. When we make room for that to happen, we start truly living where we no longer try to control what we can and cannot experience; instead we embrace everything that comes along: the hurt and the judgments as well as the love and the generosity.

This is a relief really, because we no longer have to pretend to be in control! We can then surrender to the current flowing around us, and let our inner soul guide us to see the choices we do have: how can we be kind and loving and open in the face of this uncertainty of life in each day – the roof falling when we need it the most, or the lack of water when we get really thirsty. When we embrace this too as one of life’s vicissitudes, that is when the skies rain water and the clouds provide the mist for our protection …

What a relief it is to acknowledge the truth of our existence just as it is, and then choose to live and dance with that!! Therein lies freedom…

with love, S.

returning home…

…after a three week journey to India with little nine month old Anjali and hubby.

As we all settle in, my thoughts keep returning back home, the lovely memories and hearts captured by our little one. Babies have such a wonderful way of meeting change – with wonder and openness and without comparing or judging. At each juncture, Anjali surprised us with her way of adapting to the newness of the situation and making the most of it. Like the heat of Chennai and the humidity of Mumbai. The airports and security checks and air travel. New places and new homes. One incident that comes to mind was when we went to a temple and Anjali was to be weighed in a large scale so that we could donate equal measure of rice. We were sure she was going to say, she had had it! She had just woken up from a short nap. Instead she sat on the scale, gave us a big smile, and proceeded to examine the chains with which the scale was held with great curiosity. It was a kodak moment!

What also surprised me was how calm and patient I was through all this, traveling with Anjali. I was traveling alone on our way back, since Abhi had returned earlier. And I found that she and I had this amazing connection where we were in sync with each other. She would turn to me, with each change, to check in and see my response. And if it was an okay, she was okay too! Witnessing that and being on the receiving end was a precious gift. That is in addition to seeing my parents and Abhi’s parents as grand parents, and realizing how amazing they were!

Returning back home has its own set of challenges and wonders. Its nice to be settled back at home again at the end of a long journey. Its also hard because we miss what we had, the love and convenience of having family around. So yet again, we face life in all of its uncertainties and changes. And as our hearts learn to make their way to equanimity, I can’t help feeling grateful for everything that comes our way. The changes that force us to grow and respond in wiser ways, and how we learn something about ourselves in the process. May this learning continue, with love and kindness…

With Love,