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.

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Meditation Can Heal Student Minds and Help Adults Fix Societal Issues

Nine more students killed by a shooter. This time at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Things need to change and I’m not just talking about politics. Our minds are constantly being lured away from reality and soothed by artificial stimulants. We spend much of our free time attached to a device that allows us to escape our reality by diving into artificial stimulants so we can avoid feeling discomfort. The more time we spend consumed by virtual reality, the less time we’re attending to our personal reality, and the more we’re contributing to the escalating mental crisis in our country.

Our world has been changing rapidly, and most feel helpless when considering the complexity of its dysfunction. When confronted by impossible problems, it’s logical to choose to escape reality for something more comfortable, but this becomes the norm, it’s like throwing in the towel on our world, and I’m not ready to do that. Eight years ago I found a solution that has helped me look directly at the problems of our world without being overwhelmed, and to start unpacking and correcting issues in my own life. The solution came from the 2600 year old teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama.

Eight years ago, my healthy father was unexpectedly diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor and died 7 months later. Several weeks after the funeral, I attended a silent 10-day meditation retreat offered free to the public at centers all over the world. I knew nothing about meditation at the time, but this emersion course provided experiential education that was clear and profound. My world had been turned upside down, and I was being given clear incremental instructions on how to purify my mind. Step 1 – Establish your morality by make 5 commitments: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie or use harsh words, don’t perform unwholesome sexual acts, and don’t use intoxicants. Step 2 – Quiet and concentrate your mind by focusing on the breath. Step 3 – Feel and accept the current sensations throughout your body and observe how these sensations change, knowing that there is a strong connection between physical sensations and mental health. In ten days, I learned that trying to force change or avoid truths in my mind only makes problems worse, but by simply observing without judgement, mental tensions start surfacing, unpacking, and evaporating. This purification process allowed me to feel a deeper connection to unconditional love in my life, and it has helped tens of thousands of people do the same.

This is not a quick fix and it’s not something you can simply purchase and passively integrate into your life. It is a slow and difficult process that requires you to feel and make peace with all of your mental and physical tensions. My tradition says that 2 hours of meditation a day is the right amount to stay connected to your mind. In American standards, this seems impossible, but if we’re entering a reality where students across our country are simply waiting for the day that a shooter will enter their school, maybe it’s time to try something new. Maybe all the hours we spend competing against one another in school and the workplace could be better utilized purifying our own minds and learning how to work together. Instead of allowing technology to up the ante in our rat race for success, maybe we can let technological advancement make life easier and create more free time so we can be more present in our lives and our relationships.

The mindfulness movement is spreading because a growing number of adults are desperately searching for solutions, and meditation works. One struggle I see is that many organizations are trying to use meditation as a tool to help people cope with the difficult realities of todays world rather than discovering that our current constructs are fundamentally flawed. Instead of adding meditation on top of our current dysfunctional systems, we should be using meditation to understand the fundamental flaws in our society so we can make appropriate changes. Siddhārtha Gautama didn’t teach meditation as a tool to cope with life. He taught a way of life that leads to peace, truth, and happiness based on his scientific understanding of the mind.

To be blunt, I’m not telling everyone to become Buddhist. After 8 years of studying and practicing meditation, I’m no closer to being Buddhist than when I started. Similar to Christianity, there are stories in the scriptures that don’t make sense to me, and I’m not interested in joining intellectual debates discussing why one sect is better than the next. We have enough division in our lives without squabbling over details that are beyond our own experiences. I’m simply sharing that meditation has helped me purify my mind so I can align my life more skillfully with peace, love, unity, compassion, truth, and optimism, and I think it can do the same for others.

Our society is heading in the wrong direction. Anger, fear, greed, and apathy are growing stronger in our world causing many people to feel that our future is doomed. I’m here to tell you that there is another way. Siddhārtha Gautama left the course manual sharing how to align our lives with love, and many experts from all walks of life are transmitting these same lessons today. As individuals, we can decide to follow these lessons and live a better life. If groups of individuals start adopting these core strategies, we can realign the foundation of our society. It won’t be easy, but I know we can do it, so why not try?

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…