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.

Metta,
Maria

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.

 

Paradox of Mediation

In 2017, Robert Wright published a book “Why Buddhism is True” . In this book he described the paradox of meditation, which I have had for a long time.

He said: “There isn’t supposed to be success at meditating. As any good mediation teacher will tell you, if you talk about mediation in terms of success or failure, you are misunderstanding what mediation is.

I would not advocate mediation if I did not think there was something people could achieve by it.  Granted, it may be best for people who are meditating to not think about succeeding , but that is because thinking about succeeding gets int eh ways of success.  Granted, if you do achieve meditative “success”, that may lead to a new frame of mind that is less caught up in the pursuit of success that your old frame of mind – less relentlessly focused on achieving certain kinds of distant material goals, more aware of the here and now.

In sum, you can best achieve success at mediation by not pursuing success, and achieving this success may mean caring less about success, at least as success is conventionally defined. “

As I mentioned before, I started meditation because that I was motivated by several books, which described the beauty of meditation.

I think the major paradox came from the wide spectrum of meaning of “Success”. There are too many complexity of this word “success”. If we define it as “fully-focused”, the logic of “meditation and success” may become easier. Therefore, “meditation” is the practice or process; “success” is the goal of meditation, which is fully-focused.

Music and Healing. Or Waiting for the Miracle…

There are tunes that stay in our minds for a long time. It was Leonard Cohen’s: ‘Waiting for the Miracle to Come’ that stayed with me for days….Music can make us happy or sad, can bring peace, tranquility or relaxation or can even protect our mind from negative influences.

During my bad times I came across relaxation music and this helped me a lot during long sleepless nights. Later, I started to enjoy native and aborigine’s tunes and meditation music with their seductive sounds. This music resonated within me and I realized that the same tunes and repetitions used in Asian or native Indian music can be found in Slovak folk music.

Recently, I was lucky to see the rituals involved with the enthronement of a new abbot in a Tibetan monastery; ceremonies and music were performed for several days before installing the abbot to his throne. The rituals were designed to wish him well in his carrier and to bestow positive energy on all involved. The main instruments were drums and horns.

Very powerful and ancient shamanic drumming uses a repetitive rhythm that begins slowly and then gradually builds in intensity to a tempo of three to seven beats per second. The ascending tempo will induce light to deep trance states, and facilitate the techniques of empowering and healing.

The key to understanding shamanic drum music is to realize that the universe is made of vibration energy; of a single, flowing rhythm. As we know from quantum physics, everything in the universe, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest star, has an inherent vibrational pattern. The entire universe is created through vibration and can be influenced through the vibrations of drumming. Thus the shamanic drum is a tool for altering the vibrational state of the person, which can facilitate healing. It is known that the shamanic drumming activate Theta waves that occur at 4-8 Hz (cycles/sec.) and the sound of a drum vibrating resonates at a similar frequency to that of the Earth,  which is 7.8 cycles/sec (Schumann frequency).

The sounds and rhythm of native music such as that of Native Americans, but also the tribe music of Africa, Tibet and India and any kind of chanting or mantras can restore peace and harmony in our mind.

This is done by its beat and repetitiveness which alone can bring the initial meditative stages in ones mind. It is believed that the pentatonic scale (with five notes as opposed to today’s seven notes in one octave)  was used way back in ancient times. It has been found in ancient music around the world including that of the Native Americans, Celts, and Slavs from the High Tatras in Europe. This forms the structure of the most basic primordial music with repetitive lines being of utmost importance for human life; it is the connection of humanity with the heavens, and with the universe.

As a fan of Vangelis music I was pleased to know that this is the style he used in his major hymns. Personally I often listen to his music, when I need to think, to work, or when I need to put more effort into something. The heroism and the great effort that I hear from the music help me to move on with the task at hand, and with my life. Conquest of Paradise or Voices are my preferred pieces for hard work; in them one can feel the intense struggle of humankind struggling together with me.

It was Billy Joel who said: ‘I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from everyone loves music’.

Music and healing

As for mantras I like to listen to: Mahamrityunjaya sang by Hein Braat. It makes me focus my mind and my ideas. I listen to it when I write, deal with difficult concepts or go to sleep. Somebody commented on Mahamrityunjaya; ‘It moves me to the very core of my being, after more than a year of loss, grief, and sadness I feel a warm glow in my heart, I am re-awakening.’

Recently I have come across Hemi-Sync music. Hemi-Sync is short for Hemispheric Synchronization, also known as brainwave synchronization. The founder, Robert Monroe, indicated that the technique synchronizes the two hemispheres of one’s brain, using slightly different frequency for each ear. Hemi-Sync has been used for many purposes, including relaxation, sleep induction, learning, memory aids, helping those with physical and mental difficulties, and reaching meditative states through the use of sound. During meditative states we generate theta waves in our brain that corresponds to the wavelets between 4-8 Hz.

During these stages induced by music or by meditation we are able to break and overcome our mental blocks, the hidden psychological blockages that were hidden deep inside us for many years. Now these troubles may come to the surface and we are able to recall them, face them, and break the existing pattern that we created years back and followed many times. Often we have installed this pattern of behaviour ourselves either through past experience and behaviour or in an attempt to protect ourselves from something negative (like suffering) from our past.

Meditation and meditative music can help a lot in this respect – and this is carried in the message which is still in my mind: Waiting for the Miracle…After doing a few years of meditations (I prefer to call it mind exercises) I can feel I have changed a little. But I have talked to other people regularly and many of them say: “You would not believe it, but now I am a completely changed person.” And I believe them, because I have seen their smile.

The Gate to Interior Castle. My Walking and Meditation in Pokhara.

The Himalayas are often connected with saints and sanyasis who spend their life in meditation. I see the Himalayas as a symbol of immense beauty, vast silence and the never ending inner struggle for overcoming our own personal boundaries. This year I sat a 10-day Vipassana course in a small meditation centre in Pokhara, Nepal. The centre was more modest compared to the European ones, the food was simpler, and the fruit limited to two pieces a day. The views from the centre were magnificent. From here I enjoyed the immense beauty of landscape, the tantalizing changes of light at the peaks of the mountains covered partly by snow and partly by the glistering rays of sun with the interplay of the fog and the clouds in the skies.

The place has the dream-like quality where the meeting of tangible and intangible is possible. As I sit here this seems a very special place in the universe where I can forget the past and not grasp for the future. The present is just now and I am completely happy; this instant is the very entity arising for one and only one reason: to connect the future with the past.

When sitting there I wander again and again: ‘What is the present moment? A void? What is there when past is gone and the future has not yet arisen? So is there any moment? Is there a window to see beyond?‘ Most of the time we look at the past with sadness …Or we look to the future with the eyes full of expectations – as we mostly prefer to live in these two dimensions.

Maybe staying at the present moment has a new direction in itself… and offers a glimpse of eternity for very fleeting moment.

Walking towards Panchase, in Nepal

A few days after the meditation I was sitting there again on the grassy field watching the magnificent views of Himalayas in front of me; I was in this holy land contemplating the sense of being in quiet solitude. At this very moment I could find none. Around me were villagers with their daily duties – cutting woods, fending the cattle, working on their fields… They contemplated nothing. They just appeared to grasp the very essence of life.

I raised myself from my little hiding hole behind the trees and resumed my journey, taking path upwards; putting one foot in front of the other. The space and time disappeared. There was just me and countless stone slabs in front of me. What was behind me was already forgotten and what was ahead was divided by the universe into what already exists and what is still a fantasy.

Walking upwards I passed already hundreds and hundreds of stone slabs and countless others lay in front of me. Still I had not come closer to my answers. I did not know who I am and who I may become. My mind or ‘I’ was playing tricks with a mirror trying to pretend that I am someone else. So who am I? Why I am showing different faces to different people? There is no Me who was before; and there is no Me who will be in the future. The present moment does not exist either because from the standpoint where I am I can see only the past and anticipate the future.

I have great expectations to meet Me in the future and equally I fear to look back at the person from the past who already went out of being – the person who is not there anymore and her actions cannot be rectified. So I am here, in the present, and see myself both here and there; both in the past and in the future, such as looking in the mirror. I am touching the images made by my reflections and cannot decide which one is real. Maybe I am just an image created by my own mind …and by my habits. Maybe I already had existed and have to wait again until I can see my next ‘being‘.

There were many questions that came to my mind and yet I climbed forward. I proceeded up the valley, up above the slowly moving clouds. It was only me and the clouds and lonely rays of early morning sun. At some point I ceased to ask questions, I just proceeded with my walk.

I felt solitude. It was me and the long path upwards. As I walked I knew I am following the correct path and I understood that I do not need the answers any longer. At that moment all questions ceased to bother me and for the first time I have realized that I might not be far from the gate to the ‘unknown’; the doors that lead to Interior Castle.

Until that time comes I continue with my journey. I am patiently waiting for the WORDS that are coming from BEOYND. These words will direct me along the path that has been written for us from begin-less times. As I continue my walk a song comes to my mind and I whisper:

‘Then onward in my journey I come to understand

That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.’ (by Bob Dylan)

 I understand at last that in the never ending game of future and past where everything counts as if it was happening right now we are the forces that move the very universe, we are the Words and the Existence.

 

 

 

Working with elderly people and the dying.

 Elderly people are a big mirror into the human mind – and they all deserve a kind word. This is what I wrote to my friend when describing my current work. I have in front of my eyes the face of my client, the old lady, who looks at me with a trustful child-like acceptance. There are not many complaints, nor many desires left in her. She has lost all her anger, envy, greed, need for power or glory. There is just this gentle fragile woman who occasionally smiles when a fleeting memory passes through her mind. She does not remember her wedding day anymore, she does not talk about her late husband or passed friends; with her days nearing closer to the end she has accepted life as it is. She is the toothless child again; the child who is able to enjoy the play of sunshine on the kitchen counter, or to admire the small plant at the window sill. Time does not count anymore, she goes to bed or to the kitchen as she pleases, then she lies down in bed for 5 minutes and almost immediately asks if there is a time to get up again.

 I am looking at her with compassion and sympathy and what I see is every human being reflected in her eyes. Her power and strength is over, her body is aching, her memories are fading, she has difficulties remembering days of the week and names of her relatives, her faculties are slowly leaving her withering body. I can see now, how time is passing and all is ‘anicca’.

 I have volunteered as a helper in a hospice for a socio-therapeutic session. The main purpose was to give the elderly people there some activities, to entertain them and make the time pass in more relaxed way. They would all gathered in one large room and were asked if they wanted to do some of the folloiwng activities; painting, gluing together little pieces of paper or beads, making pictures, singing and playing games. Most of them were in wheelchairs, some suffered from strokes or serious diseases, and some from accidents. Some were not able to perform even simple tasks without help. Most of them were here to stay for the remainder of their lives. Sometimes the only activity they could do was sit, feel the warmth of human contact and be part of the group.

 Time flowed differently in this building. It was much slower and each hour had a meaning. The people divided the hours by their mealtimes. When doing activities, each person had a different pace; some painted slowly and some quickly. The fast ones could complete their picture by several strokes and then they did not know what to do next. There was an alert old man who usually painted two or three pictures a day and he was very thorough. He filled every little bit of his pictures with colors. Soon he completed one full thick folder of paintings. He preferred to paint houses, buildings and flowers. He told me “I am already 94 years old.” I almost did not believe him, but the nurse confirmed he was right.

 Some of the people still kept their former smiles and curiosities; some were resigned to their fate. Some were nice and some sour. The last time I was there I worked with a shy old woman who spoke with a quiet and soft voice. She had worked on her painting for half an hour and had trouble deciding how to decorate the rest of her work. When I returned back to the nursing home a week later, I asked about her. They said she was not there anymore to complete her work. The weekend before, she had quietly passed on.

 Why am I here doing my little bit of help? I look at the people and I can easily imagine being one of them. I can also imagine my closest and dearest friends behind the faces of these old people. And I have only one wish – to see them smile – just a little.

 Somehow I can feel that we all benefit here – by giving and receiving something. All of us need love, smile and gentle touch. All of us strive for kind words, attention, and appreciation. As our life passes we become more depended on the others. The possessions, emotions, obsessions with the life counts no more. There are only few things that may count for something – how we were able to unlock some of our potential, our greatness, compassion, the most human features that exists in each of us. Did we manage to stretch beyond what was given to us? Did we fight our fears, did we stand behind the truth or what we considered to be the truth, and did we manage to restrain our emotions to some extent? The time on this earth was given to us as a great gift and we have responsibilities for our days and hours to do something with it –maybe to extend ourselves a bit – by accumulating knowledge, experience, compassion and understanding. What counts are our efforts, the days when we stretched ourselves a little more…

 Time and meaning in a senior’s house does not count anymore. What counts is something which is reflected in each person’s eyes, something as vast as a whole universe… Maybe each person’s eyes are a window to see something more…

Giving Up

 

Recently, I’ve missed a few sittings. Sometimes because I hadn’t finished “living” until midnight; other times because I didn’t do it as soon as I woke up there simply wasn’t enough time to do an hour. Other times, I’ve “cheated” on the practice; I’ve stopped midway through a sitting and thought, “That should be good.” After consulting the clock, sometimes I had stopped about 50 minutes in. Other times, only just 30-ish minutes had passed.

 

We were told that the first year would be the year that determined whether or not we would become lifelong meditators. Clearly, nothing has been written in stone just yet, but there is a nagging voice that keeps suggesting to me that I may have a foot on the slippery slope. The technique is always there for me, but I wonder how my practice will be affected by the lack of consistency. Similarly, I wonder how my life will in turn be affected by the change in practice.

It seems I have no problem giving up meat and no problem giving up intoxicants (over six weeks now). Unfortunately, it also seems that I have no problem giving up the consistency of the practice. It does, I suppose, have something to do with the lack of a regular schedule. I don’t wake up at a gong bang every day at 4am. I don’t have a specific lights out time either, nor is my day on an hourly schedule. Is THIS the ticket to a successful practice? A successful life? Or just one of many tickets?

I know there is real resistance to giving up my freedom. I like being surprised by the course of my day. Sometimes I am on a roll (creatively) and I end up staying up very late; the night owl in me is alive and strong. It just doesn’t seem possible to wake up only four hours later. I have a childish attachment to being able to do what I want. It’s one of the ways I exert power and control over my circumstances. However, it had never occurred to me that I may actually be having a negative effect on my circumstances.

As soon as I finished the course, I had a dinner with friends and realized that night that I was very attached to my personality. I was in the post-course peace-haze and felt like an entirely different person. I was calm. I listened more than I talked. I was neither animated nor exciting. And I didn’t interrupt a single person. This is the opposite of my pre-course self: chatty, entertaining, and animated. That night, I experienced real fear that going down this path would mean the death of “me”….and the birth of a decidedly beige person. I was attached to myself. Of course, as time went by, the peace-haze dissipated and colourful me re-emerged. It seemed that the time to give myself up had not yet come.

 

It did, however, seem as though I would have to give something up. Through my late twenties, a number of daily practices were introduced into my life with varying success. These days, I am “supposed to” wake up, close my eyes and go through a list of things I’m grateful for, write three pages as soon as I get out of bed, do six sun salutations, do a full body ayurvedic massage, and now I am to sit in silence for an hour. Then breakfast? Something’s gotta give. I’m not interested in getting up at 4 so I can do all of these things. The ayurvedic massage barely happens anymore. The morning pages haven’t happened for weeks now. At this point in my development, I seem prepared to give only one hour to a daily practice every morning. I’m not giving up on Vipassana. I’m not giving up on me. And smoked organic tofu ain’t half bad.

Superhumans, Sensations, and Supposed To

I’ve been doing Vipassana for just under a month now and it has changed my life. The most dramatic experiences occurred while I was at the meditation centre and in the first week or so after leaving; I felt like I had tapped into my superhuman side….for a bit. As an assistant teacher assured me would happen, the sharpness of my mind has indeed started to dull. While I’m not surprised by this (as I’m not focused on meditation 18 hours a day anymore), I do feel a pronounced desire to return to that state of clarity. Desire, not attachment.

In many ways, my practice at home feels like the first three days of the course all over again: my brain is full of chatter, songs, images, and never seems to tire of wandering. Again, this is no surprise as my short term memory banks are being loaded with information all day. The pins and needles sensations I felt during the course have transformed into barely tangible ones and the peace and calm that permeated my being have also begun to dissipate. All of this was to be expected. But despite expecting all of these events to happen, they are nonetheless difficult to accept. I truly loved the new state of being I had experienced.

During the course, the student in me was thirsting for evaluation. Am I doing it right? Am I progressing properly? What is supposed to be happening? The teacher seemed reluctant to be very specific with her answers and I found this immensely frustrating. However, after speaking with all the other meditators on the last day, it became clear why the teacher was not telling me what was supposed to be happening: everyone’s experience was decidedly different. While there were some commonalities, it was almost impossible to verbalize “what happened”. I’m grateful for the way things unfolded, but it wasn’t easy.

A major challenge during the course was self-evaluation. With no one to grade me, I suppose I thought of the one-hour sits (during which we would not change positions) as the quizzes of the course. On the first few of these sits, I leaned forward an inch or two on a few occasions to alleviate discomfort. The part of my mind that seeks to identify and interpret was particularly harsh with me. Q: “What is it?” A: “A ten degree bend forward.” Q: “What does it mean?” A: “You are a weak-minded fool!” As the course progressed, I learned the value of equanimity, the power there is in abandoning the addiction to evaluate everything as good and bad, right and wrong. The headwaters of peace flow from such places.

As I begin to practice at home, I am trying to take comfort in the realization that there is no “supposed to”. What’s happening is what’s happening. The practice changes from moment to moment. This almost made me laugh out loud because the course had already taught me (over and over again) that the moment is as it is – not as I would like it to be. It is always changing. This is comforting because it alleviates the need to have my performance evaluated. It simply is. My meditation is as it is from moment to moment. No check marks. No exes. No gold stars. Just the simple combination of awareness and equanimity.

For now, the goal is simple: practice daily and pay attention while doing so. The glimpse of my previously unexplored abilities is incentive enough to keep persisting through patches of frustration. The superhuman is still there. The sensations are still there. The moment is there, waiting patiently for my awareness to make contact. The screaming “supposed to” is beginning to become subtler and subtler. Soon, I think, it will have vanished.