Returning to Blogging

Today I made the decision to return to blogging regularly here on Living Vipassana, as one way to help keep my Vipassana meditation practice central to my life — sitting regularly being the primary way, of course!

There. Is. No. Substitute. For. Sitting.

I also just enjoy expressing myself through writing, and this feels like the right outlet for me to do so.

Some of the themes I want to develop and explore here include Vipassana as it pertains to relationships and family life, friendships and community, spirituality and religion, and career and life balance. Expansive themes, I know, but these are things that figure prominently in my world and, indeed, in the world, so let’s see how it goes!

Speaking of friendships and relationships…I was visiting a good friend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this past weekend, which is also where my husband, Ryan, and I first met, back in 2012. My friend and I decided to hike Occoneechee Mountain, which is the exact place where I actually first met Ryan. The hike brought back fond memories, and I’ll share our story soon… I figured it might be of interest to other meditators out there to get a window into one couple’s story of how a serious meditator met a non-meditator and they fell in love and got married! Stay tuned.


NYC Old Student Talk

Hi All!

I thought I’d share the following, which I posted last night in the Goenka Vipassana group on the Insight Timer app:

This morning I had the good fortune to attend a group sitting in New York City with many, many fellow old students and to hear an old student talk given by Dr. Paul Fleischman and Susan Fleischman titled “Allowing Dhamma to Become Integral to Your Way of Life.” What an incredible experience it was to get support from being in the company of so many others also walking on the path of Dhamma, and to get encouragement and guidance from such senior teachers. I came away truly inspired and further committed to developing in Dhamma (ie qualities such as equanimity, humility, and metta).

They provided the following link to acces a pdf of the slides from today’s talk:

One point that I found particularly valuable came up during the Q&A. An old student noted the guidance that “friendship is the path” according to the Buddha and the student inquired why sangha doesn’t figure more prominently in our tradition as it does in various Buddhist traditions — is this because Goenkaji specifically intended it this way, or has our tradition simply evolved this way without particular reason? We received the clarification that sangha is, indeed, very important in our tradition, and that our tradition guides us to give Dhamma service as the primary vehicle for sangha, rather than social events which are separate from our meditation. I’ve struggled with this question myself and found Dr. Fleischman’s answer to make good sense. Obvious, perhaps, but it resonated with me in a new way today. Maybe because I understood it newly in the context of “allowing Dhamma to become integral to your way of life.” There is certainly a role for (social) Dhamma friendships in my life, but they aren’t the complete source of sangha that nurtures my growth in Dhamma. Just thought I’d share — and I’d be interested to hear others’ experiences and feelings about this.

Many thanks to all of the Dhamma servers, teachers and organizers from the New York Vipassana Association who made this opportunity possible. I am truly grateful.


PS – if you have the volition, and do not have a “home Center” of your own, perhaps consider bringing your Dhamma vibrations to serve at Dhamma Pubbananda (Delaware). Strong old student vibrations remain uniquely valuable, I feel, to augment the committed team and culture taking root over the past few years. Bus fare from NYC to Delaware is considerably cheaper than an Uber from Manhattan to Brooklyn, it turns out ($20 vs $35 last night), and a nice 2.5 hour ride :). The Center is also 45 minutes from the Philadelphia airport, FYI. New York Vipassana Association will be holding more non-Center courses at the Fishkill site, and these are also opportunities for people in the area to serve.


Announcement: Dr. Paul Fleischman to Give Talks in NYC, April 13th and 14th

Hi, Living Vipassana readers.

With permission from the New York Vipassana Association (NYVA) organizers, I wanted to share information about two upcoming talks to be given next month in New York City by Dr. Paul Fleischman.

Here are the Eventbrite links with details about both talks:

  1. Meditating in Troubled Times”— Open to the public. Friday, April 13th, 5-6:30pm at Columbia University.
  2. Allowing Dhamma to Become Integral to Your Whole Way of Life” — Old Student talk. Saturday, April 14th, 9:30am-12:30pm, at McKinsey and Company.

I find Dr. Fleischman’s Old Student talks to be very helpful as I try to live a Dhamma life in the modern world. I am looking forward to attending and hope that some of you can too. Much metta to all.

“If there is no peace in the minds of individuals, how can there be peace in the world? Make peace in your own mind first.” — S. N. Goenka

Geriatrics and Right Livelihood

This week, Ryan and I brainstormed about our family “mission statement.” I find that it’s helpful to be very clear on what my values and goals are and to re-visit them frequently, to help me stay focused on what’s truly important. This helps me avoid getting sidetracked by things that seem valuable on the surface, but don’t actually help me stay aligned with my core values and goals.

Sharing love and light with the world is at the core of how we want to live our lives, and career, or livelihood, is one key area in which we want to manifest this mission. What does this mean for me as a geriatrician? In an obvious sense, it’s very important to me to interact lovingly and compassionately not only with my patients and their families, but also with the myriad members of the geriatrics care team–it takes a village: nurses, nurse-practitioners, doctors, certified nursing assistants, family caregivers, clerical and support staff, social workers, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, dieticians, chaplains, recreational therapists, podiatrists, janitors, medical subspecialists, administrators and more.

But in a bigger picture sense, I think about the meaning of the Dhamma concept of “right livelihood.” Right livelihood is the fifth fold of the eight-fold path taught by the Buddha. I struggle sometimes to reconcile the numerous problems in American healthcare with right livelihood. Is contributing as a clinician to a dysfunctional system with misguided paradigms right livelihood? Or should I be throwing all of my energies into changing the system and its underlying assumptions? Trying to take on both is challenging.

A Google search turned up the following:

Vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka said, “If the intention is to play a useful role in society in order to support oneself and to help others, then the work one does is right livelihood.”  [O’Brien, Barbara. “Right Livelihood: The Ethics of Earning a Living.” ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2017,]

Considered from the perspective of intention, both paths are in line with right livelihood, and staying focused on clinical practice is an absolutely acceptable option–clinicians are needed, even in the broken system. However, as a clinician, it is not acceptable for me to be a complicit cog in this economically driven medical system.  I have a duty to find ways to be the kind of clinician I want to be, to practice medicine I believe in. There are formidable barriers and constraints to doing this, but that is the useful role I can play in society.

“Work diligently. Diligently. Work patiently and persistently. Patiently and persistently. And you are bound to be successful. Bound to be successful.” –Goenkaji

Dhamma Friends Ski Trip

This past weekend, we went on a ski trip with some friends in the Pocono Mountains, and it was so much fun!! Well, we didn’t end up skiing due to balmy temperatures and ongoing rain, but I’m still calling it a ski trip :).

There were 4 couples on the trip, including 5 serious meditators amongst 3 of the couples. It wasn’t conceived of as a “Dhamma” trip, per se, although the original basis of our friendship with two of the couples was through Dhamma, and we do still try to incorporate group sittings into our social plans when we can. Over the course of two days, we cooked, ate, talked, laughed, played board games, listened to music, played pool, cozied up around the fireplace, spent time in the hot tub, and even went for a 3 mile hike to a waterfall one morning before the rain came. Great bonding, for sure. A few of us had a conversation that eventually turned to Dhamma topics in the hot tub one night, and then decided to meditate together in the common area of our cabin before going to bed–joined by one non-meditator who expressed interest in quiet time, which was awesome–but other than that, Dhamma didn’t really get talked about much. Well, okay, there was one instance when we were discussing how early to get up the next morning for skiing/hiking, and someone made a quip about being the gong ringer, har har har….ahh, Dhamma humor :).

Even though we didn’t meditate together day and night, or spend a great deal of time talking explicitly about Dhamma in our lives, these kinds of experiences and friendships are so meaningful and valuable. There is a shared understanding that Dhamma is the foundation and compass in all of our lives, along with our lives being about so many other things beyond just Dhamma, and a shared goal of simply striving to live fulfilling and loving lives in a complex world.

“Continuity is the secret to success.” — Goenkaji

My Vipassana Catholicism

I come from a devout Catholic heritage and navigating my spiritual/religious identity over the years has been a rich and complex journey. One of the more interesting turns was my discovery a few years ago that my Vipassana meditation practice actually enabled me to understand, appreciate and connect with Catholicism in a whole new way.

Vipassana provided a bridge of sorts — the best way I can describe it is that the Catholic teaching I received throughout life seemed to impart clear directives about what values I should strive to embody, without providing concrete guidance about how to embody them. After learning Vipassana, I found that it was the missing link I didn’t even know I was lacking; the tool that illuminated for me how to embody these values. No matter how much I aspired to be a more loving and compassionate person before this, my efforts carried me only so far — my most earnest intentions were no match for my deepest rooted mental habit patterns. I inevitably reacted to potent age-old triggers in fractions of a second, beyond the reach of my conscious mind’s ability to control my emotions (and often, my words and behaviors). Think family dynamics. Through Vipassana, I have learned a technique to face the negativities within me, towards gradually weakening their grip on me at the deepest subconscious levels. I suspect that prayer the way it’s intended to be practiced more closely approximated Vipassana meditation once upon a time, but that the meditative and contemplative emphasis was lost to mainstream church teaching long ago.

Another way that Vipassana has deepened my connection to Catholicism is that scriptures, creeds, prayers, etc. have taken on entirely new and profound meanings as I find myself interpreting them through the lens of my Vipassana experiences. Sometimes it seems the teachings are alluding directly to Vipassana practice (or more accurately, its prayer equivalent). I’ll try to identify some examples to share in future blog posts. I find these parallels to be extremely exciting. They illuminate possibilities for people of various spiritual and faith traditions to converge with a shared basis in contemplative self-awareness. The journey continues.

“Start again.” — Goenkaji

“Don’t use your meditation practice to harm yourself, only use it to help yourself.”

Do you know about Dr. Paul Fleischman’s recent Old Student talks? The title of this blog post is a quote from one such talk, available for streaming audio or download by old students on the website

You can link to the talks here.

I am not always 100% successful at accomplishing my twice daily 1-hour sittings, and Dr. Fleischman’s perspectives are immensely helpful to remember not to beat myself up whenever I fall short of the goals I set for myself. It’s all about one’s dhamma volition.

Description of the talk, from Pariyatti:

Dr. Paul R. Fleischman talks specifically with Old Students highlighting the theme, “Don’t use your meditation practice to harm yourself, only use it to help yourself.” These two talks, recorded in San Francisco and Dhamma Kuñja, will inspire and help old-students who are working towards creating a daily practice in the throes of modern life.

Here are a couple of comments/reviews about the talk from other old students on the Pariyatti website:

simple and inspirational

This talk by Dr. Paul is a must for every individual who has ever taken a course of Vipassana. We all falter on the path and get confused – I found Dr. Paul’s simple approach and reassuring words to be very inspiring. Have listened to this talk numerous times and I recommend it to everyone.

Reviewed by: Nishant from West New York. on 11/11/2016

Supportive and encouraging

An assistant teacher just recommended this talk to me when I told her that I was trying to restart my practice after stopped when I had a baby 2 years ago. I feel so grateful and supported after listening to the San Francisco talk. The knowledge that so many other meditators deal with the same challenges to maintaini a practice is relieving, and Dr. Fleischman’s advice to help with those challenges is very encouraging. It’s okay that our minds wander! I could instantly relate to his question to the audience asking whether anyone had sat for an hour and realised at the end that they had forgotten to meditate for that whole hour, without observing any breath or feeling any sensations… two days ago I repeatedly tried to feel sensations from the top of my head and I kept forgetting what I was doing before I finished my scalp – I never made it to my forehead! I admit that I gave up after 15 very long minutes. I now I have added strength and volition to persist next time, smilingly. I’ve been reminded that we get benefit from each attempt, as long as our intention is there. Much thanks to Dr. Fleischman for helping me to set priorities and realistic expectations.

Reviewed by: Lara from Toronto. on 10/3/2016

Give these talks a listen, if you haven’t already. I hope that you will find them as helpful as I have.

“Start again.” — Goenkaji