My Cancer and Vipassana

Dukkha – I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January 2019. It was at early stage at that time. I started to worry because my father had same cancer and he died from this disease. It could happen to me too. I asked myself – Can I accept this? I have time to think about it.

Through the year, I did many tests to monitor the disease. The waiting for results was under heavy anxiety. I hope the cancer did not grow. But cancer took its own course and growing 24/7 slowly. What can I do to face this situation? I wandered in and out many possibilities. I considered pros and cons without any bases. Actually, I had no clue the outcome of any of them. But my mind was full of imaginations – some of them are bright and some of them are dark.

Vipassana – I practiced meditation for years. I believe it can help me at this situation. First is about life and death. It is a natural course. Everyone is on the course. If we do not put a time factor, it is really not an issue. If we do, that is the dukkha we create. When we accept death, we value life differently.

Cancer can be a dukkha if we fight against it. Otherwise there is no difference with other hardships in life. Like other hardships, cancer has anicca character. Just watch it closely. Cancer is always changing with treatment or without treatment. For me, the most interesting thing to do is watching its changes. If we do not grab or reject, cancer is cancer and me is me.

Any hardships in life including cancer can help us toward practice. We all use breathing as practice tool. There are benifits by adding cancer as another one. And I own it.

Hello again 🙏

I have decided to return to blogging after 5+ years.

  • To use writing as an accountability tool for sitting regularly.
  • To share thoughts, questions, and insights that surface through equanimous observation of sensations.
  • To re-sharpen my writing skills and experience the joy of writing again.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, read my past posts here and on blogspot.

-Geetali Sharma

A New Blog about Bringing Meditation to Teens

I’ve decided to turn my attention to a new blog called Loving Lives Delaware. I’m interested in exploring how to light the path towards a 10-day course for someone who has never meditated before. As a high school teacher, it makes sense to start with my students and work my way up from there. If you’re interested in reading about the journey of introducing meditation at my high school, go to www.lovinglivesde.wordpress.com. Good luck on your personal journeys! Time to meditate!

The 10-Day Course Is Essential, But Must It Be The Entry Point?

Goenka had a mission to reintroduce Vipassana to the world. Morality, Anapana, and many other meditation variations were present in the world before Goenka, but the amplified impact of learning morality, Anapana, and Vipassana together had been lost. To ensure students received the full benefit of learning these three foundations together, Goenka emphasized the 10-day course as the entry point into our tradition. This guideline has served the world well as these 10-day courses are now available free of charge all around the world. Goenka has made the Buddhas teaching available to the world in a form that can be preserved and protected.

Towards the end of his life, Goenka made an interesting decision to release the Anapana For All instruction teaching Anapana alone and outside the context of the 10-day course. This video seems to conflict with his previous stance that the 10-day course is the entry point to our tradition, and since Goenka died shortly after its release, this new teaching was not fully integrated into the tradition in a uniform way. I never met Goenka, so I don’t know what was in his heart and mind, but I believe this was Goenka making the path accessible to a larger audience. The 200 Centers he helped establish are teaching morality, Anapana, and Vipassana together in its most potent form through 10-day courses. These Centers are strong and independent, so there is less concern that the world will lose this foundation anytime soon. So Goenka decided to open the door to the population of potential students who are currently unable to attend a 10-day course.

This is not to say that practicing morality or Anapana alone will help a person reach the final goal of liberation, but integrating morality and Anapana into daily life may help a person take small steps in becoming a healthier and more grounded person, and these steps may eventually lead to sitting a 10-day course. Goenka’s mission was to help spread Vipassana around the world. I believe his Anapana For All video was the start of the next chapter of this mission building on the established foundation of teaching individuals Vipassana. Goenka was essentially saying that we are now ready to help entire communities to introduce a tool that promotes peace, harmony, and compassion. Instead of having individuals come to Centers, Goenka was giving a pathway to bring Anapana into schools, hospitals, businesses, buildings of worship, and many other community. To be clear, I didn’t know Goenka, so I don’t know what was in his heart, but this is the story that makes sense to me.

As we move forward, I think we need to bring these teachings to life with teacher lead (not video lead) instruction. Goenka spent decades perfecting the 10-day course. We should be exploring how to perfect the dissemination of Anapana as a stepping stone to the 10-day course. The 10-day courses have changed tens of thousands of individuals. A skillfully taught Anapana program could help change entire communities. Maybe it’s a dream, but it’s an inspiring dream. Time to meditate.

Relationships and Intellectual Understanding are Essential for Dhamma Growth

Goenka continuously emphasizes the importance of sitting – sitting 2 hours a day, sitting a 10-day course a year, and sitting whenever you have free time. His message can be interpreted to mean that sitting will solve all of life’s problems, and everything else is superficial. I’ve never met Goenka, so I have no idea what he truly believes, but I’ve found that when I hold onto my meditation too tightly, the rest of my life falls apart. Two components of my life that meditation alone cannot develop include relationships and intellectual understanding. I will look at each item separately.

My meditation practice has helped my relationships tremendously, particularly when navigating deep and complicated emotions. The saying goes that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Meditation helps me regularly check in with, understand, and work through my negative and toxic feelings, which would otherwise remain bottled up inside, so I can come to every relationship and interaction with an open heart and open mind. But at some point, to grow relationships, I need to engage in challenging conversations. The idea of a monk sitting in a cave eradicating sankharas as a symbol of service to the world doesn’t make sense to me. Instead I think of meditation as a tool to sharpen my axe (or mind) before chopping down a tree. In order to develop relationships or contribute to the world, my mind must be strong, calm, and clear, but that’s not my final goal. I want to help lead people in a positive direction, and this requires strong communications skills and diverse and robust relationships.

It’s easier to make connections and find answers to intellectual problems with a clear mind. As someone who used to continuously roll in thought in hopes of finding a solution, I know that overthinking can be problematic, but so can ignoring simple logical disconnects. Thinking is a very powerful tool to resolve problems, and ignoring this ability feels shortsighted. What I’ve found is that meditation allows me to think more humbly and compassionately. Instead of solving problems dissociated from my feelings and emotions, I’m able to integrate a more global understanding into my thinking process. Meditating alone or thinking alone will create incomplete answers, but if we learn to skillfully combine these skills, we may discover solutions that can truly help our world grow in a positive direction.

As Goenka’s tradition continues to grow after his death, I hope we continue to bravely explore and discover truth at every level within ourselves, through our own experiences, and within our communities. The teachings and guidelines Goenka left with us are powerful beacons to guide us on our journey, but questioning these guidelines is part of developing a deeper understanding of truth. Let us keep on exploring together the many nuances of truth together. Time to meditate.

Meditation Helps Us Live From The Heart

Meditation is more than a tool to decrease stress and increase productivity. As technology speeds up the world and opinions become more divisive, I believe meditation will be the tool that allows us to stay connected to our hearts and our communities so we can create a beautiful future for everyone on our planet. This may seem a bit idealistic given our current political and social climate, so let me explain how this could work.

As technology speeds up the world, we’re expected to make decisions and take actions more rapidly. This speed emphasizes the processing power of the brain and devalues the depth and strength of the slower moving heart. When we feel discomfort, the brain tells us how to quickly escape it with easy distractions like scrolling social media or watching Netflix. While this diversion can be helpful at times, by avoiding negative feelings, we’re often simply delaying dealing with something like work, relationship struggles, or other responsibilities. Negative feelings are messages that we need to hear and process to reach our potential, and while the brain avoids them, the heart has the tools to skillfully listen and act.

People connect with their hearts in different ways: taking walks in nature, reading poetry, or sharing tea with a friend. Even the brief pauses between events, like a car ride or waiting in line, used to allow processing time for our hearts to talk to us, but most of these breaks have been eliminated by technology. Yes, technology has made many monotonous tasks more efficient in a wonderful way, but this processing speed is causing us to lose connection to the heart resulting in an increase in mental health concerns.

While there are many ways to passively connect with the heart, meditation is an active conscious effort to create the space in our day to make this connection. Instead of letting the same thoughts repeatedly spin through the brain, or completely shutting down by turning to the Internet, meditation allows people to stay present with their body while mental tension naturally unwinds. In the process, the heart, which was previously being ignored, gets recharged and reintegrated.

As the world struggles to navigate difficult large-scale challenges, it’s essential that we reconnect to our hearts so we can reconnect to love, compassion, community, and faith. If we’re always stuck in our brains, it’s easy to become self-centered, afraid, angry, or greedy because it’s not our brain that connects us to other people. Building a healthy future for our planet requires our ability to connect with one another through our hearts. Meditation is the strongest tool I’ve discovered to strengthen my connection to my heart. Maybe it can help you too!

Choose Love

Another mass shooting. We know there will be more. How do we feel? Anger? Fear? Apathy? How do we respond? Do we fight back? Do we hide? None of these thoughts and feelings seem to make me feel any better. I grew up in an America full of hope and promise; Now we seem to be waiting for our turn to experience tragedy. We escape to artificial virtual realities and live at the surface of our emotions to avoid the depth of our pain, but deep down, we know we must face these feelings and circumstances head on.

Our current reality isn’t the one I hoped for. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have picked this situation, but this is my life, and my life gains meaning by my response to challenges that present themselves, not the privilege that was handed to me. I’m not on this planet to simply take in oxygen and consume nutrients. I’ve been given this opportunity to make the world a better place, and the more difficult the path, the stronger my conviction must become.

Our world is so full of anger that individuals are choosing to fire repeated rounds into crowds of innocent people and often take their own lives shortly afterwards. I can’t simply chalk this up to mental health or gun access; It’s happening too frequently. Instead, I believe people are in so much pain that this outburst of aggression provides an emotional release. Individuals are choosing these types of action because they believe the results are the best their life has to offer. I feel bad for anyone who feels so tortured that this seems like their best path forward.

I wish I had a solution that could solve these problems quickly. I don’t, but I do have a solution. We need to rebuild a world full of hope and inspiration. As distant as this dream seems, all it requires is for people to purposefully stand together and walk in the direction of love. We must put into context all of the minor difficulties of our lives, we must create space to take care of our own mental and social well being, and we must invest in the people in our communities so they have better opportunities and choices. Instead of burying our emotions or letting them overpower us, we must use them to fuel us to act in positive ways. Things are only going to get better when we start to invest in one another and start believing in a peaceful and compassionate future for all people. Let us walk together with love knowing that the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but knowing that the future is worth the investment. When tragedy hits, let’s focus our energy on becoming a stronger community that supports all of our members. Let us have faith that with good intentions and right actions we will produce positive outcomes. Let us stand together to build the future of our collective dreams.