Breaking the silence

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It has been seven months since my last blog. Writing this blog reminds me of the moment when we broke the silence on the 10th day of a Vipassana silent retreat that I attended recently. At the retreat noble silence is maintained for ten days which means that you don’t speak to anyone (vocally or through body language). Any distractions that can possibly divert your attention are taken away (such as phone, books, writing material, exercise). You use the time to learn a meditation technique that enables you to quiet the mind, be in the moment and connect with yourself.

The first three days of silence is difficult because you feel the need to express yourself but may not. You want to check with others if what is happening to you is ‘normal’, whether they are also struggling. If you are making progress and being a good student. Instead of getting the external confirmation and recognition that you seek you are faced with your own habits of avoidance and fears of failure.

You realize that you tend to live your life from the outside in, instead of inside out. Before making a decision you first look outside of yourself to gather information, test the opinion of others and seek their approval. Rather than starting at the sensational level, your inner body of knowledge, and feel how the decision sits with you. Does it create sensations of craving or aversion within you? Can you look at it from a place of equanimity and respond objectively rather than reacting from your default pattern?

After the fourth day you start to settle in your body. Your eyes are not looking frantically around, they start to calm down and rest in the eye sockets. This enables you to begin to feel the sensations in your body from a physical level and not look at the sensations from the outside in. You start to come home to yourself. You come home to the moment as it is and not as you want it to be. In doing that you begin to accept and love yourself.

For me the journey back home was 5 cm inward, 10 degrees to the left and between 4 to 12 hours long. I realized I tend to live 5cm outside of my physical body. When we had to feel the sensations in our bodies I tried to look at it from a 5cm distance. The retreat enabled me to feel comfortable within my body so that I could feel the sensation as it arose and passed by. When you sit for 12 hours and meditate you become aware of your body posture. My head was tilted to the right side at an angle of 10 degrees. I was not looking straight ahead and facing reality as it was. At the beginning of the retreat my mind was always thinking ahead. I became aware that I was thinking about what I was going to do 4 to 12 hours ahead of time. I was not present at all. When you are not present you can’t be with life as it is in the moment. You miss out on the fullness of life and yourself.

When you start to speak after 10-days of silence you realise that you are engaging with others from a different place. A more loving and centred space. You are more aware whether you are connected to your truth or not. I stopped blogging for a while because I realised that my blogs became more about sharing other people’s opinions and insights than my own. The initial purpose of my blogs was to share my truth and how I experience the world with the hope that it will inspire others to do the same and just be themselves. As with the retreat I needed some time in silence to reconnect so that when I do speak up it comes from a place of love and authenticity.

We can’t always go on silent retreats to reconnect with ourselves. What we can do is to create pockets of silence during the day or week. Even if it is just to focus on your breath for a minute. Doing that brings you back to the universal truth that everything in life arises and passes away. We can’t control life more than we can control our breath. The act of trying to control life contributes to our suffering. When we let go of the need to control and accept the moment as it is and not how we want it to be, we set ourselves and others free.

I know it is easier said than done and probably a lifetime practice,  but we can start with this breath…

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Make time to be

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Are you afraid to slow down? What will happen if I slow down or sit quiet for a few minutes and just be? No, the thought of that is just too scary I’ll keep on doing.

Keeping busy allows us to avoid things we don’t want to face. We know if we slow down one of two things may happen:

  1. The critical voice in our heads will say things like – How can you sit still you must be working? People don’t like people who are lazy. If I don’t do something you’re not productive or competent…
  2. The calling voice will start to speak up. It’s the voice that you are trying to avoid. The one you are saying to ‘I just want to do this first then I will listen to you…’.The one that you keep busy in order to distract from it. According to Jennifer Louden a calling is:‘That which is so alive, so urgent, so blissful, you must shield your eyes from it… It is that which you may think you do not deserve and certainly are not capable of giving birth to.’

Whatever voice it is that you are trying to avoid by keeping busy. Know that with everything we do in the world there is a doing and a being state. Check in with yourself. What state are you mostly operating in? Who will you need to be for the desired things to happen in your life?

Even though the thought of just being might be scary. The good news, according to Rick Hansen, is that the more we practise to just be with ourselves. We develop new neural pathways. Over time we create a felt sense of a core being that is intact.

So, how does one do it?

  • First find out what ‘activity’ allows you to connect with the ‘being’ part of you. It can be meditating, praying, walking early in the morning, yoga, being in nature, and breathing deeply…
  • Then make time for ‘being’ in your life. It does not need to be long – it can be 1 minute a day.
  • Practise regularly. Don’t underestimate the power of little things. It builds over time.

I want to close with one of my favourite mindfulness phrases by Mark Williams:May you have ease of being. Allow yourself to be just as you are: complete and whole.

Letting go

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How easy is it for you to let go? To let go of how you think things should work out? How your career should unfold? How you think your family should behave?

This past year I became more aware how difficult it is for others and me to let go of things. We tend to hold on to our plans, ideas, thoughts, and ways. It is usually the holding on that causes us the most suffering and keeps us stuck. A trapeze artist cannot swing from one bar to another without letting go

An important part of preparing for the New Year is to review the past year—to let it go—and to learn from it. In order to embrace the new, we must release the old. When you let go of something it does not mean that you give up. It only means that you are not attached to the outcome.

I want to challenge you to take some time during the holiday season and reflect on the following questions:

  1. What causes me to hold onto things?
  2. What might change if I let go more often?

Decide to let go of one thing that does not serve you any more (e.g. letting you feel joy, ease and true happiness). Do something practical as a symbol of this letting go. You can write it on a stone and throw it into the water or write it on a piece of paper and tear the paper up. After you have done( this exercise open your hand, look at your palm and see that there is nothing, the stone or paper is gone. You let go of something that you can’t control or change.

In the end, only three things matter:

How much you loved,

How gently you lived,

And how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. (Buddha)

 

 

Open up to the moment as it is

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How much do you allow yourself to open up to life? Do you ever allow yourself to experience intimacy within the moment?

Lately I’ve become more aware of how we tend to put conditions on our experiences. We unconditionally put conditions of satisfaction on life. For example, if I can retire without being financially dependent on someone I will be satisfied with my life. Or if we are diagnosed with a disorder, we tend to wonder why is my life so difficult. As if there is a specific way how life should be. Instead of accepting it for what it is we review it based on our pre-set expectations. In doing that we are judging it. This way of thinking can cause a lot of suffering.

In her book ‘Getting our bodies back’, Christene Caldwell writes that

When we relate in an unconditional way to our experience, we become accepting of it. And we can enjoy an open attitude towards it. When I accept my experience I can tolerate its intensity, I can learn from it. I can even find joy in it. In fact, I become nourished and joyful at the process of acceptance, more than at its actual content. It is that act of being with my experience that is satisfying, not the content of what is happening. When I accept myself, love is reborn. 

When we judge our experiences we can’t be fully open to what it may offer. We also can’t experience any form of intimacy. Not being able to experience forms of intimacy whether it is with yourself, with God, with the moment or life can lead to various addictions. As humans it is very difficult for us not to judge or label. The brain and Ego like to label and structure things in order to protect us. However, it is possible to learn to let go a bit more. To let go of our ‘conditions of satisfaction’ and to open up to the raw experience of the moment.

The good news is that you can start small. Try to strip yourself from your expectation and open yourself up to a moment each day. It can be a sip of coffee, a hug from a friend, a smile from a stranger, etc. As Caroline Myss said ‘The most meaningful events that have shaped our lives have, by far, been the smallest and most subtle’.

Trail running in Yosemite

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This week my husband and I did some trail running and hiking in the Yosemite National Park and the mountains of South Lake Tahoe. We camped at Curry Village in Yosemite for three nights and spent two days running and hiking in the mountain and in the meadows of Sierra Nevada. After that we drove to South Lake Tahoe to run a section of the Tahoe rim trail. It was an amazing and fulfilling experience!

California is currently experiencing a severe drought. In the park one could see that the water levels were low and the rivers were not flowing as strongly as it is customary. Nevertheless, the view of the soaring cliffs remained spectacular. As I took in the beauty of nature I could understand why John Muir stated that;

‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.’

The first day of our trail run we climbed 3 200 feet to Glacier Point. The higher I ran up the mountain, the deeper I connected with my body and the calmer my mind became. I tried to be mindful of what nature had to offer every step of the way. From the smallest ground squirrel, autumn coloured leaves, moss on the trees, different bird species and the granite boulders. There were wildfires burning near Yosemite Village that influenced the air quality. When we reached the summit we could not take the postcard picture photo due to poor visibility. I was surprised that it did not upset me, even after I had had to put in hard work to get to the summit. It made me wonder what was different? I realized that it was because I was appreciating the journey.

It reminded me of life. We tend to focus on the big goal, the peak of the mountain. But when you get there you usually don’t feel as content or happy as you thought you would feel. However, if you are mindful on the journey and allow yourself to experience the beauty of the small and mundane things, even the parts where you get bored or impatient when the road becomes long or tough, then reaching the summit of the mountain is just another step.

Life is not about racing from one breath-taking moment to another but about breathing and taking in the moment, every moment.