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 :-)

Learning from aditthana

Every Vipassana meditator has a different technique to enduring aditthana. Also in life everyone has different techniques to being able to endure difficult situations, where they feel they might explode. This short piece invites you to consider the sitting of aditthana, a key requisite of sitting a 10 day course, and what insight it can give to the individual meditator.

“A good friend told me a story about a dedicated student of Vipassana, like my friend he had diligently maintained a daily practice and sat and served on courses for over 10 years. Being able to sit without opening his eyes, nor moving his arms or legs for the duration of the multiple group sittings, although never easy, was one part of the course this long term meditator was always able to adhere to. But when he sat his last course, something changed, and what he had become accustomed to being able to do, he could not. It caused him great agitation. He spoke to the AT about this who advised him to keep a balanced mind, to observe his reality as it is, not how he wants it to be. He tried, but could not do what he had been able to do anymore.Rather than being equanimous and compassionate to himself, he was not able to stay the duration of the course and left.”

“I was told this story as a soothing balm, after sharing my frustration of sitting my fifth course and still not being able to sit without moving during the group sits. Despite five years of regular practice, the sitting of aditthana still reduces me to a child unable to bear the physical discomfort prompted by not being able to move for a whole hour, and the mental reactions subsequent to it. After a course I always spend time reflecting on what I think I learnt and how it may apply to my day-to-day life. Thinking about my aversion to aditthana and what insight it may offer me, I have been reflecting on my past, particularly over difficult episodes where I have reacted in a negative way. It is possible to see many of the episodes that come to mind being due to my inability to step out of my comfort zone, or remain in a difficult, uncomfortable place. Maybe my inability to sitting aditthana relates to this. Could this be the one of the missing pieces in my jigsaw?”

Can you see a parallel between your ability to maintain aditthana and what you have been able to overcome or not, in your day to day life?

How can Therapy and Dhamma Best Complement Each Other?

I’ve worked on myself in so many different ways; through art, dream work, various kinds of yoga, meditation; presently, vipassana meditation, but never have I gone to therapy. I’m now seriously considering therapy as a future line of work, and I want to be sure I understand the value of the service, and how it can really help others.

Recently, I decided to use my school benefit plan to see a psychologist (for a consultation). I found one who seemed a good fit for me; a female elder, previously a professor, and also a meditator; however, just picking up phone was a hard choice to make because part of me was saying no. In the past 18 months I’d become very accustom to receiving perceptual changes through the safety of dhamma. Letting someone else in to help would mean running the risk of suggestibility. Not that a therapist would intentionally lead me astray but I am not immune to influence, it could happen.

The consultation certainly made my head spin. She probed me with just the right medley of questions to extract my life story in a single hour, and for the next few days I found my mind was filled with more chatter than it had been after my first year of academic studies. Such an experience indicates that meditation time would be optimal right after therapy sessions or the end of a therapist’s workday.

The Psychologist I saw advised me:

“To work with people, you do your own work, and everyone has blind spots, even meditators.”  

Buddhist teacher and Psychologist Jack Kornfield holds a similar point of view:

“For most people meditation practice doesn’t do it all. At best, it’s one important piece of a complex path of opening and awakening.”

He explains that blind spots could be due to…

“A lack of parental role modeling, communication practice and maturing of relationships, sexuality and intimacy, career and work issues..ect. Meditation can help in these areas, but if, after sitting for a while, you discover that you still have work to do, find a good therapist or some other way to effectively address these issues.”

…and also states:

“…the best therapy, like the best meditation practice, uses awareness to heal the heart and is concerned not so much with our stories, as with fear and attachment and their release, and with bringing mindfulness to areas of delusion, grasping and unnecessary suffering. One can, at times, find the deepest realizations of selflessness and non-attachment through some of the methods of transpersonal psychology.”

I agree with Kornfield, as does this excerpt from my first impression of vipassana:

“There’s a big difference between intellectually knowing all suffering starts internally, and actually feeling it. Being more based in the heart, I really value authenticity. So feeling different, then analyzing why, is a welcome change. I have always found it hard to conjure up the feelings to match a new mentality. Of course often, a new philosophy will cause me to resonate, but if not, I feel absolutely creepy and dishonest about trying to fake the body language, or vocal tone.”

I won’t be in one location long enough to start therapy sessions immediately, but when I am I plan to seek therapy that includes the feeling/sensation component as described above. I still have a long time to refine on my career direction so I may try more than one kind, as I’m also drawn to expressive, as well as group therapy. If anyone reading has done self-work through both Vipassana and therapy, would like to share about the type of therapy, the areas it helped you in, or how it compliments your practice. Your opinions and experiences would be much appreciated!

The joys of meditation

Why do people come to a Vipassana course?

In talking with people who come to our Center in the Southeast on registration day and Metta day, I find there are almost as many reasons as there are people.

There are some common themes, including life crisis, emotional trauma, and long-term need for ‘something more’ in life.

In general, it seems most people who come to meditation are hoping to find stress relief, increased calmness, and help in dealing with both the situations life presents as well as their own internal demons – notably anger, grief, depression, addiction, and existential angst.

Usually people find the help they need, if they don’t give up before the process has had time to work. Whatever the mechanisms involved are – and there are lots of theories and understandings of that – meditation does bring greater peace of mind and even better physical health.  Although most of these things are, from the point of view of Buddhist teachings, side effects of meditation, they are what keep most of us in the practice in the early years.

Another effect of meditation is the development of a more open-minded attitude, both towards one’s own life and towards other people. Although this effect is not perhaps as widely appreciated or promoted, to me it’s one of the best things to come from practice, because it makes life more fun!

A fellow blogger friend, ‘Ramblingrosemaryanne’ on the WordPress blog “almostdroppedout,” talks about how we are programmed by our evolutionary past to be a bit suspicious of new things:

“On familiar territory, when encountering something or someone new, our brains trawl, computer-like, through the archives of our past looking for similarities so we can make a judgment. It happens in seconds and we don’t even realise we’re doing it most of the time.  So when meeting a new person, we look at their clothes, their hairstyle, listen to their accent and bestow them with a range of values and beliefs that may or may not be theirs, so we can decide if we like them or not. When we’ve done that we ignore any future evidence that goes against our decision and only seek information that supports it.”

Clearly this limits one’s potential for growth and could also be seen as one of the prime factors in much of the social malaise of our times.

“Since I’ve been practicing Mindfulness I’ve noticed myself becoming less resistant to new experiences and regaining a sense of fun,” RamblingRosie says. “When I catch myself thinking things like not wanting to ride the quad-bike, I ask myself ‘why not.’ As a result I’ve been trying to be more open to new ideas and experiences and it’s fun. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, like the cake that wouldn’t rise and a new yoga pose that gave me a nosebleed. Other times it’s great, and either way life is much more colourful.”

Being more open to what life brings is as sure a path to gradually increasing happiness as you’re likely to find in this world.

And indeed, if we go on to discover the deeper aspects of meditation, the truly life-changing insights that come from longer, more intense practice, I understand that this aspect grows. We will come to realize that each moment is perfect in and of itself, regardless of how it may be evaluated by the “survivor brain” – and we’ll become more able to abide in that understanding so that happiness becomes the default mode.

If we make it on into the deeper insights, we will realize – on a truly experiential level and not just as an intellectual understanding – that every other person is really me and so, no negative thoughts toward them will arise. I’m still waiting for that one to happen! But I have great faith that it will.

In the meantime, I am happy experiencing the daily joys of meditation, feeling a bit more peaceful, and having fun with the new things that come along.

How do you do it?

Yesterday I got inquiries about Vipassana from an unexpected quarter.

My eye doctor’s receptionist/assistant was using a machine to measure various aspects of my eyes. The process requires that I stare at a lighted green cross that moves around in the viewer, while holding my head very still, and this goes on with each eye for several minutes. As we were nearing the end of the somewhat trying process, the assistant said something like, “Wow, you’re really good at this, you’re a professional… most people have trouble staying still and focused!”

“Years of meditation!” I quipped. We laughed, and the exam went on. The assistant and I have a close relationship – we meet like this once a year, as well as speaking on the phone twice for each yearly appointment! Seriously, she is a very nice, friendly person, she knew my mother for years as a patient, and we’ve had a number of friendly conversations in the office, so I feel free to joke around with her.

As I was leaving following the visit with the doctor, the receptionist began asking me about meditation, saying something about needing to learn to meditate to cope with stress, which is usually what gets folks interested in meditation. I made a few comments, and then she asked me what kind of meditation I do, so I said Vipassana.

“What is that?” she asked.

My doctor, who is Indian, was nearby and said she knew of it. I paused a moment to see if she would continue, and then tried to explain simply by saying it means ‘insight’ or ‘seeing into the reality of things.’

“Oh, how do you do it?” the receptionist asked. I laughed, and the doctor laughed… and the the doctor said, “Ah, Americans! In one sentence, they want to know how to meditate!” We all laughed over the comment and things were very relaxed, but the receptionist persisted, so I thought for a moment.

How do you explain Vipassana in one sentence?

Sharing the news

“Speak of Zen only after the third request.”

So say the Zen masters regarding telling others about the wonders of Zen meditation. In the Vipassana world, there’s no clear rule such as suggested by the ‘third request,’ but there is a similar feeling that it’s best to be circumspect about sharing your experience – a topic which seems to arise frequently here, I suppose because we are compassionate people who want to help others.

Years ago, a young high school student of mine asked me to ‘teach him about Zen,’ so I asked my teacher what I should do. He explained that the ‘three requests’ rule is just Zen’s way of suggesting that one be sure of the serious interest on the part of the questioner, rather than a numerical index.

Similarly in Vipassana, the advice from experienced assistant teachers is that you should use good judgment about talking of the course, and of your own experience. It is clear that proselytizing and aggressive promotion of the practice is not in keeping with the teachings or the practice. Certainly we are encouraged to be open about the fact that we are practicing Vipassana – and indeed, since there is no advertising or promotion by the organization, and very little in the way of books or magazine articles circulating, word of mouth is the way nearly everyone finds their way to Vipassana. And a lot of people are finding their way here!

But what to say and how to say it is sometimes a difficult question to answer.

I don’t have official advice on that, only my own experience of what seems to work well.

In a word, equanimity is the key.

When I arrived home after my first course, I discovered that my wife had made plans for us to attend a gathering of friends that very afternoon. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for socializing, especially as there were to be new friends there, and quite a few of them, but I wanted to re-integrate into my life easily, so I went.

I suppose some of the people at the party knew I had just come from this strange course thing, but most of them did not. During the evening, most of my friends noticed something different about me, and asked what was going on. I found that simple, calm answers usually satisfied people. (I probably used the word ‘wonderful’ a lot.)

Over the years since, this has continued to be the case. People seem to notice something different, and often ask about Buddhism or Vipassana, and simple answers seem best.

I have not actively recruited anyone to the practice. My wife, one son, his girlfriend, my daughter, and another son’s wife have all come to do courses, however. I hope because my example has been encouraging. To be fair, they all had met others who are in the practice, so there have been enough examples beyond me to take the pressure off!

I make it a rule never to say to someone, “You should do a ten-day course!” Even though I often think it! Usually I don’t even say that I think it would be good for them. Maybe I’ll say, “You might like this.” Usually I stick to saying how good it’s been for me, and – when someone says they could never do ten days of silence – that I think anyone could do the course if they really want to.

There are, of course, lots of reasons not to talk too much about Vipassana. The first is that it is best to come to the course without too many expectations, so you don’t want to talk about the details of the practice or your experience because that may create expectations in others that will hinder rather than help them in the course.

A second is simply that everyone’s experience is different, so how it seems to you may not even be relevant to another person. A third reason is that too much excitement about sharing can in fact become a difficulty for you in your own practice.

It’s always a good idea to refer people who seem serious to the website for descriptions of Vipassana and the course, and there are a few media presentations available now to share with others, as well as a metta practice video to give them a taste of it. Most are available through Pariyatti.

As with most questions regarding the practice, it’s always good to talk to an assistant teacher if you’re not sure how to tell others about what you’re doing.

And – Be Happy!

Purifying the Creative Process

Some say art has no place in Dhamma, and others say the path lessens the desire to alter artistic visions. I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to mean for me and my art yet because I haven’t gone into a heavy production phase since I’ve been on the path.

My “personal art” creation process, (not to be confused with “commercial art” -making the art of others) has been a life-long therapeutic activity for me…the pure expression of my ego observing, exploring and working on itself, interlaced with insights and visions that may come before and during the process. It has also been a life-long method to access periods of joyful rapture, best described as psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s “flow state;” a state that occurs while a good balance of perceived challenge and skill level is maintained.

A close artist friend who grew up in Sri Lanka (where becoming a monk is a bit more common) warned me that on this path my love for art and music will vanish. Another artist told me she had encountered the same message when speaking with vipassana A. T.’s. However, vipassana meditator and visual artist Johnnie Lawson has had a very different experience; he describes vipassana as actually purifying his creative process. He explains that after he began to practice vipassana he has received clearer visions, and the will to create them in their pure form, rather than adding so much of “himself” to them. He says before his process felt laborious, tedious and draining, but now he simply observes the “finished image” equanimously, and produces it exactly as it is. Through this process, he is free of attachment to the finished image, and he is able to meditate as he produces it. He has become a clear channel. This is completely on par with what my gnostic teachers had told me about creativity. They even said the master Samael Aun Weor wrote all his books this way; he sat at the typewriter, in a state of meditation, typed them out in a linear fashion, never did he change nor edited a thing.

So it seems the art that has no place in Dhamma, is the art designed by a judgmental mind, rather than the art that is received, and unchanged by a mind that simply discerns. I am humbled by such knowledge, and know I still have a long way to go. Usually when I receive a vision it is complex and detailed but not crystal clear, sometimes I feel it more than I see it, and receiving words is usually very fragmented for me. If what I received was completely finished so I didn’t have to think would this mean there would be no more fun challenge?…and no more marvellous flow states?…would it mean I would show art to the world that I couldn’t explain, and would make very little sense to anyone?…Well only time on the path will tell. Here’s some images that came to me while sitting at Dhamma Surabhi, I tried to stay true to how they appeared while producing them:

This one was crystal clear.


This one I felt and saw, but it wasn’t as clear.