A lovely hug

Even before Joely or JJ, my daughter, was born nearly two years ago, I struggled with  prioritising making two hours available for meditation every day. But most days, first thing before the day had begun, I would make sure I got onto my mat for an hour. In addition, blessed to be living in a neighborhood with an active Vipassana community, I was able to regularly sit with others; and for five important years, annually I sat or served on a ten day course. In short it was a big part of my life.

My experience of becoming a parent has been that everything that I once held sacred and essential to being me just fell away, and in its place became the need and desire to use every spare shred of energy and second of time on being there for my family.

Recently, I was able to meditate properly for the first time since JJ was born. Thanks to the Dhamma Shed which has begun to host monthly one day Vipassana courses, I was able to meditate from 9am-5:30pm, with a lovely lunch in-between. Although my time on the mat was challenging, the time flew by.

When I got home we had a Skype call with a dear friend who lives far away. As to be expected, speaking was difficult. All I wanted to do was to close my eyes and go to that place deep inside I re-discovered during my day of mediation. But something happened that has never happened before: JJ climbed onto me and held me tight, as if in an embrace for the duration of the Skype call that lasted an hour. As you can imagine all of my sensations exploded.

Since this experience, I have been trying to understand ‘it’ in the context of my difficulties in being able to prioritise my time and energy to get back to my mat and meditate regularly again.

On one level it gives validation – I could easily use this ‘story’ to justify why I should meditate rather than enjoy a beautiful sunny day with my wife and daughter.

On another level, with my understanding of equanimity, a way of being I only know of because of Vipassana, I understand that this thinking can lead to disappointment and ‘misery’ if it does not happen again. I loved JJ hugging me for a whole hour, I was able to be fully aware how wonderful it was, not only for me and my ego, but for us as a family growing together. I also understand that for me one of the big reasons I must find a way to keep up a daily practice is to help me keep a balanced mind. My goal as a parent is to love her as much when she decides to throw a pot of yogurt over me as I did when she hugged me for an hour.

Not easy, neither is Vipassana.

In Celebration, in Contemplation

October has been the month of festivities here, from where I am writing right now. I have been caught up in frenzied action, not quite sure how much of it was actually required for my being. I planned to not take leave during the festivities and only availed public holidays to enjoy my time with friends and family. Yet, my plate is brimeth over! There were festivals, family time, your own personal time, yoga classes, walking circuits, pending work (argh!), travel plans, teaching plans, and then there are things that get added on a daily basis.

My plate is full. My plate is actually spilling over. Wait, it’s all over, all messed up!

Sometimes, I tell myself ‘just go with the flow and it will balance it out’. Sometimes, while reflecting before my bedtime I tell myself ‘may be its better to prioritize and not to add more things on the list’. Yet, I am not quite sure what should be the ‘right’ modus operandi.

I like to be normal and NOT work like a robot with an instruction guide. I want to feel, I want to enjoy, I want to breathe easy. Yes, I want to go with the flow and not stress about things in life. If things are to happen they will happen with whatever little work I am doing. I do not want to over-work and end up being a burn out. I am being very aware about my threshold, my own ‘sweet’ limits. And I want to work within that being my normal self. My bottom line is very simple – whatever I get to do I should be able to do it mindfully, I should be able to engage myself, be present and feel happy about that engagement. In life, you do not need to do more, often we make this mistake of running like a horse and end up being nowhere. While we are at it, it feels we are doing great, there’s certain trill in ‘running’ but often we forget there is a certain depth and joy in ‘walking’, in slowing down, in reflecting and being present. It’s an illusion and often we don’t want to see through it. But the moment we get aware and see through the maze or the haze, there is that bewitching smile on your face realizing what a fool we are making out of us. And sitting in the garden it’s such a joy to watch that flower bloom in front of your eyes 🙂

Wait, I am not at all saying not to work and just to sit still and laugh at the world around you! No! I am just saying, it becomes a totally different ball game if we reflect a bit and see through our actions and that vicious circle we often don’t wish to break and remain in that ‘comfort zone’.

These days, I often try to see what all I need to do in life. I mean, there are things I am responsible for, there are things I cannot postpone, there are stuffs I love to do, there are activities that bring me immense joy, and then there are stuff I need not to do. End of the day, you can only do some and not do everything! End of the day, you can only do stuff to make yourself happy and not please everyone. Often we forget that and get into that rut of feeling miserable, being unhappy and constantly getting entangled with stuff not necessary.

Do I make sense?

I was very overwhelmed this weekend, trying to navigate through different things. I could see my proverbial ‘plate’ being overloaded and I was ‘brimming over’ as well. This evening, I sat still and tried to see through things so that I don’t blame it on the hormones or the current situation or the frustration due to delay in getting that visa, or that certain someone ignored me or that friend did not visit me during Diwali. To ride over all these waves and counter waves, I tried to do Vipassna and meditate a bit. Though I was not able to sit through long but it helped me calm down, helped me see through my actions, balancing my expectations and not ‘run’ through making judgements and decisions. It helped me sorting out topics for group work I will discuss tomorrow in the class. I ended up writing this piece to wipe clear my thoughts before I sleep tonight so that there can be a clear beginning tomorrow morning!

However much you know, however much you are aware, end of it you are just a human being, and no one is perfect. We ‘do’ things what we would not want to do at the first place. We ‘think’ things which we would not like to think in the first place. We ‘feel’ emotions which we would not like harbour in us. But such contemplations make us ‘see’ through things and help correct our course of actions and break that chain of thoughts. Such reflective moments work like cleansers and help us with clear vision, however momentary that may be!

End of the day, you can only choose to be honest with yourself and do what you feel right! Let the joy be with you always! Loads of Metta and Love to everyone :-)

Watching the show

It is raining cats and dogs here and as I write this I can hear thunderbolts as if some explosions are taking place up above. I am in Cochin,Kerala, and this is a work trip. I am writing this post after my dinner, before I go to sleep. I like to write in the evenings before I go to bed, this way I clear my head and it helps me as I deliberate on topics in the class next morning. Oh, I teach for a living.

Wait, who is this? What is she doing here?

Well, I just joined this blog as a contributor and I must thank Ryan for this. Actually, I need to tell you a story here as this ‘thank you’ should be extended to this teacher I met recently and he is the one who mentioned about this blog.

So, where was I and what was I doing?

The summer had been tough and I have been pretty much looking for an option to get away. I did take some short vacations and thought I would find balance. I did take some days off and did not do anything and I thought it would help me get in sync. And at the end, I really had to stop trying and register for my next Vipassna course.

It was the long weekend – that Independence Day-Janmashtami long weekend and it gave me almost a good five days with just one leave. Next thing I knew I was in Pushkar amidst all the tourists but not for any tourism! I just wanted to be away. And I indeed was away for some time, away from pretty much everything and it was planned. It is important not to do anything sometime. Yes, you read it correctly and I was in that kinda phase – a very frugal existence, cut off from everything, waking up on the lap of nature with chirping birds, watching moments pass by, feeling your breath, and being aware about the ‘you’, enjoyed looking at colorful flowers and dancing peacocks and looking at the sky and how cloud skirted around the mountains….yes, there was mountain and there was water – a lake and there was peace. There is PEACE still and I love the feeling! Its wonderful to get in sync and feel the balance, to feel the deepest core of your mind, your thoughts and not react by the mundane that happens around you……its such a fulfilling experience and I did it again…..yes, I meditated among the monks! Bliss it is 🙂

However much aware you are, it is important to practice. And this time, during this Vipassna course I really internalized it. I knew all the principles of Vipassna, I had taken it before. My first course was way back in 2008 on the lap of the Himalayas. But then we all move away from the practice and we get deviated.

I remember discussing my experiences from Vipassna with a close friend and I mentioned how this time I did not really ask any questions to the teacher during the course, how I understood the real meaning of looking inside, how it is to be in balance and to empty your mind. I am glad I realized that whatever be our life situations we need to be fixing them – we need to find the answers ourselves, no one can find it. Its only when you are clam, when you are in peace, you are centered that you think through and then all your actions are clear and effective.

The whole idea of equanimity that to remain unaffected by things around you, that there will be ups and downs, there will be sun and the gloom, there will be laughter and drama, there will be love and pain and we need to see different shades, acknowledge them, register them but not get affected. I realized it is important not to value judge any of these different shades in order to remain unperturbed. This is not to say ‘ignore the gloom’ or ‘avoid anger’ but being aware what is anger and yet not get affected by it. The moment we take the position of a bystander and watch things, we can remain unaffected. This practice of Vipassna literally makes you observe all these processes. I am glad, I like to watch the show. I know I am participating in the show that way but I am able to enjoy the show more than before :-)

Conversation 2, part 2

To assist Dhamma Projects’ focus in exploring how meditators integrate their practice of Vipassana out of the centre and into the world of the householder, we would like to share a recent conversation exploring this subject in the three parts. If you missed the first part of the conversation you can find it here.

Part 2

Interviewer: So sticking roughly to the same question,  is it possible to put the practice and principles of Vipassana we encounter during a course out of the centre and back into day-to-day life ?

Respondent: I think it is possible, and it depends on how willing we are to really have a deeper transformation than maybe we think we want.

Interviewer: What do you mean by that?

Respondent: I find some people, they practise, but they’re not willing to really look into those dark aspects of themselves. If we’re really willing to turn toward our pain, as some people might say. We can come to not only notice and observe those things in us that make us act in unwise ways, but we can accept them. Through that acceptance and self-love, they do soften, and the softer they get, the more easily recognisable they become when they arise. The more easily we recognise them, the less they can take the driver’s seat in our consciousness. Let’s say thoughts can still be there when we’re meditating, but they might not be bothering us anymore as they used to, instead of hoping them to disappear. Or having an aversion to thoughts. We’re just a lot more okay with the appearance of them.

Interviewer: Can you think of an example say in the last month, where you’ve been living your life out of a Vipassana centre and where something has happened to you and you have been able to navigate whatever came up in a way where you directly see the influence of Vipassana in your life?

Respondent: (Laughter) See, things really hit me nowadays, because there’s not much motivation to supress things anymore, because I’ve been training my mind in observing what’s happening. So things that arise are a lot more easily accepted into the consciousness. So I’m becoming very sensitive. When I get triggered by something, then I feel it a lot more strongly in my system, and I feel it all around my body as sensations.

Interviewer: Could you give me a specific example?

Respondent: Yeah, anger, let’s say anger. Let’s say my sister has done something again which I had very politely many times asked her not to, because that’s something that bothers me, maybe that’s something that makes the quality of our relationship a little less. So I’m trying to guard the relationship, I’m trying to set some clear, healthy boundaries, and she does it again after the fourth time of talking about it or something. And let’s say with this I get very angry, and anger is not aggression, anger is different, anger is trying to protect something. What I do with anger can be far from civilised, but anger itself is not a problem. So let’s say I feel a lot of anger and suddenly I’m shaking, and oh my God, I’m aware, here are the sensations, my body, I’m buzzing with this life energy, and there’s some hurt. And then I come to the sensations and I feel there’s not only anger, these fiery sensations all around and trembling or extreme life energy, and I bring my attention to my sensations, and I notice below the anger there’s hurt, there’s some sadness. And I stay with that. And if I hadn’t been witnessing my body sensations for such a long time – at least in my experience – I don’t think I would have…I would have just reacted blindly, and perhaps aggressively too. I would let my anger become aggression, and maybe swear, maybe hurt the relationship in many ways that I might regret later. Then here I am just watching the sensations and calming down – not fully perhaps, because there’s an action I’d like to take, for example I may well want to say, “Hey, we talked about this, why are you doing this again?” But I don’t do that before I’m aware of sensations, and before I’m aware of sensations until I find some clarity in what I want to address, and until I find some compassion for her too, and for the little child in me that’s actually hurt, and also for my sister so that I can bring an understanding into what’s happening instead of blindly reacting.

Interviewer: And what’s your understanding when Goenka talks about progressing on the path of dharma?

Respondent: You know, sometimes I find I have equanimity, let’s say I am peaceful, my mind is calm. But yet then I realise that’s like an ignorant equanimity. I wasn’t aware of so much. When I’m not aware of so much, it’s rather easier to be equanimous. But if I’m aware of a lot more things and then I’m equanimous with those, so let’s say I’m aware of what’s happening in my conversation with my girlfriend, I’m aware of my…I know about my past, I know about my conditionings, and I’m aware of the argument and what it’s bringing up in me. If I can then be equanimous with those sensations, if I’m aware of a lot of things and if I’m relatively equanimous with those, and especially when it comes to relationship, can we be compassionate towards the people we live with? It is extremely hard. Can I be compassionate consistently towards my girlfriend, especially when she triggers me, or when she acts as my mother had acted when I was growing up? Can I be compassionate to my male friends when they do remind me of my father, for example? It’s always I think…it comes down to how compassionate we are towards ourselves and others in our most intimate connections.

Interviewer: In living this way, is there a goal for you, enlightenment or liberation is that the goal? Or is it not to have a goal?

Respondent: This is how I feel. The more aware I am, the more alive I feel. And again, we can be aware of our conditioning and emotions and the roots of those things without having to think about the past, but by feeling. So it’s not too much of an intellectual going back to the past and thinking about the future. It’s a lot more, oh my God, this very moment is extremely deeper than I thought, and the deeper it gets, the more it becomes connected with my past. And in that moment I am feeling my past, all the little parts of me that have been living in my being. So it’s not –

Interviewer: So are you saying the goal is to be as present and alive as one can be in the present?

Respondent: Yes, exactly.

Interviewer:That’s it, yeah?

Respondent: And the more aware I am, the more alive I become.

The final part of this conversation will  be published in two weeks

Please get in touch if you would like to have a conversation either as a respondent or interviewer through dhammaprojects@gmail.com


Serving on a ten day course

I have half packed my bag. I have ticked off my ‘to do’ list, leaving only this post to do before I set off on another Vipassana adventure, my first on Living Vipassana.

Tomorrow I shall be serving at Dhamma Dipa, the main centre in the U.K, about four hours from where I live in London. I have no idea who I will be serving with, what I will be doing or how I will find it.

The first time I served I ran away. It was six months after I sat my first course. A combination of external factors contributed, but principally because I was unable to be equanimous. I remember how my mind could not settle, it would not allow me the possibility that the negative feelings and thoughts I was having could change. I was not able to objectify my emotions nor my unsettled mind. I did not see it as an opportunity to practice Vipassana, I allowed my aversion to everything I was experiencing run wild, and the craving for getting out and going back to ‘normality’ control me like a puppeteer.

Sankhara City 1, Tom 0.

The last time I served, about a year and a half a go, was very different. Thanks to daily practice my life had begun to change. The misery that seemed to cloak every direction had begun to lift. I began to see my life and the choices I had differently. Whereas before serving was an escape from my life, this time I saw it not about me, but about giving something back and being able to practice and better understand Vipassana.

At one point during service a fellow server complained to me about my heavy breathing when meditating. A couple of years ago before I started practicing Vipassana I would have taken this as a challenge, and I would have most likely reacted negatively. I remember how I was able to bottle the feelings inside, take them away and examine them like a scientist. I came to the concluesion that although I need to be more aware of my breathing, that the fellow server’s decision to bring it up was not about my breathing, it was about him and his difficulty in being equanimous. I moved my seat so as not to disturb him, working hard to feel only love for him rather than hatred or resentment. It was not easy. I remember shortly after this  looking around the kitchen at my fellow servers, all of whom I had had the honour of getting to know a bit, thinking what a wonderful mixture of nationalities and backgrounds we all were, everyone focused on the job at hand of cooking for over 250 people, all brought together by Vipassana. I felt like I was home.

Sankhara City 1, Tom 1.

Back to the present and the new adventure I am about to begin. I have no idea who I will be serving with, what I will be doing or how I will find it. Before I go I would like to share with you as a parting gift these wise words that I hope to put into practice while serving on another ten day course:

The Buddha was once asked what real welfare is. He replied that the highest welfare is the ability to keep the balance of one’s mind in spite of all vicissitudes, the ups and downs, of life. One may face pleasant or painful situations, victory or defeat, profit or loss, good name or bad name; everyone is bound to encounter all these. But can one smile in every situation, a real smile from the heart? If one has this equanimity at the deepest level within, one had true happiness.”   S.N Goenka