Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Journey Into Silence and Through the Looking Glass. Vipassana Meditation.

Thinking about recounting my experience for the last two weeks seems like I would have to write a small novella. And so, I will just let the words flow and see what feels right.



So, I have been wanting to do this Vipassana 10 day silent meditation retreat for a strong two years now. Two years - and a bit ago - back I was really struggling with some personal foundational issues in my life. Yoga had opened me up where I had been comfortably closing myself off a little bit at a time. Even to myself. We all do this. At one point, or in one way or another.

I thought I would go to India to a Vipassana retreat but the more I considered the idea of being a woman traveling by myself to India for the first time and being already in need of reprieve, not a be on your toes and best awareness adventure... I rethought India at the time and I headed off instead to beautiful and peaceful Bali. Two years later, Vipassana has indeed happened, although in California instead of India. I will get to India one day. I think it is a place I need to see and experience.


Bali Rice Fields

But back to the meditation experience. I will tell you that Vipassana meditation is it's own kind of thing. It's not the meditation that you do when you listen to guided meditations, it's not thinking of a mantra, it's not imagining your personal God or Goddess, it's not even body scanning exactly, although it is. You don't exactly know what it is going in. At least I didn't. And you might not even fully understand it by day 4 of your time into the retreat. At least I didn't. It was night 4 that it started to sink in for me.

Going in, I knew that I was going to have to wake up before dawn at 4 am. This was issue number one for me. I am not an early riser.


ah, bed. 

I knew that I was going to have to be silent for the entire 10 day period. I thought that I could handle this pretty well, I do talk a lot but I don't have a problem being silent either.



I knew that I was only going to be able to eat only when they fed me and what they wanted to feed me. This was a huge issue number two for me as I like to eat when and what I want and do so all day long normally. And admittedly, being without food can make mama a bit cranky.

I knew that this meditation would require me to sit, and to sit still for long periods of time. This was issue number four for me as I am a girl who likes to move, fidget, do vinyasa yoga for God's sake, dance around the house, etc...For example, one of the main things that I used to hear from teachers in school is "Erin, sit in your chair, please."




I packed ultra lightly for the trip. I figured what did it really matter if I wore the same pants, tee shirts, etc... so I packed five pants, two flip flops, one pair of sneakers, and 8 tee shirts for the two week period along with a pair of jean shorts to wear after I left. (Dress code is very modest, no showing shoulders or above the knee and no super tight stuff...so no yoga pants?!).

And so, I went in on the afternoon of July 2nd with some fear and hesitation, along with excitement and hope for clarity, focus and peace. When I walked in, I only just for a moment had the thought of, "oh my god...what if these are a bunch of crazy people and I'm the only normal one? Wait, what if I'm not normal? Why am I here? Why am I so into self exploration and growth? Will I ever stop wanting to grow?" And then I laughed at myself for being such a fear monger and told myself that no, I won't ever stop wanting to grow (and thank God) and walked in. 

I started talking to some of the girls filling out their forms (you know stating that we knew all the rules and agreed to stay the full 10 days) to enter and they were awesome people. For example, I shortly spoke with a beautiful Mexican woman who was a mother, a late twenties girl who works for the Smithsonian in Washington, and a model/actress who lives in Topenga Canyon, California. So, no worries. (And my friend in Ohio asked me immediately after I exited the retreat, on the phone if they were crazy people so it made me laugh. If you're thinking that....it's not like that at all).

You only have a very short time to speak on the afternoon that you arrive as you then get your bags and take them to your residence and settle in before dinner and then, quickly after, attend a meeting where you begin your Noble Silence that you will maintain until you release Noble Silence on Day 10.

And so it begins. Walking up the path after the meeting, the immense peace of the place settled upon me. The natural beauty of California is breathtaking, but this place seems to have soaked up the extra healing of the people that come there with their good intentions and hard work. The subtle shades of brown and green and pops of wildflower color in the fields around you catch your eye every day as if for the first time. The wildlife abounds, as I was daily reminded of and sometimes caught off guard with, (those stories will be on another post) but mostly just thoroughly enjoyed. The property that I went to is in North Fork, California and there are walking paths on both the men's and the women's sides, respectively, as men and women remain separate for the entirety of their stay there (until the last day when you are allowed to mingle).


Woodpeckers were everywhere on property, which was so cool. Their symbolic meaning is awakening. 

The schedule: You wake up at 4 am. They ring a gong (three times to make sure that you heard it) and then you meditate from 4:30 until 6:30 in your room or in the meditation hall. Then at 6:30 you eat breakfast and have a break until 8 am. This is a nice time to go for a walk on the grounds. You meditate as a group from 8 until 9 and then on your own again from 9 until 11. Lunch comes at 11 and it is the meal of the day, really. All vegetarian, of course, and quite delicious and sufficient. You then have a break until 1pm and then you meditate on your own until 2:30. Meditate with the group from 2:30 to 3:30. On your own until 5 when you have tea break with some fruit and are free until 6. 6-7 brings another group meditation, which is followed by a discourse by Goenka via video and then we end with a group meditation until 9 pm. For 10 days.


S.N. Goenka who revived Vipassana meditation, bringing it back to India and to the larger world.

So, to clear it up. It is not really "fun." It is not a vacation. It is work and, in fact, that is the number one word used by Goenka in the videos that you watch. Work. Number two would probably be patiently. Number three would probably be persistently. The fact that you are diligently (number four word consistently used) working does not mean that it is not without it's moments of bliss and enjoyment.

The first day, the second day, the third day... I felt great. Small issues came up that I thought about but on those days you are not yet doing Vipassana meditation. You are doing a technique called Anapana which is a form of breath awareness where you continually narrow your focus to a smaller and smaller point just under the nose and above the upper lip. The smaller your focus the more aware the mind.

By the end of day 3, I swear to you, during break I was sitting on the patio of the cabin and there was this California ground squirrel sitting right under the tree in front of me about 7 or 8 feet away. My vision seemed like that of a hunter cat, narrowly focused in on him with the surrounding area falling away. It was incredible. I can't explain it better than that. I realized it was happening and I was like, whoa focus. (I know, very spiritual reaction). And no worries, I didn't actually want to eat the little squirrel (despite the limited diet), I was just enjoying watching him eat his little acorns.



Moving on to Day 4. I left the Vipassana instruction, which was given to us in the afternoon session. Angry. Wanting to leave. Not believing that I could possibly do this for another 6 days of my life. I made up stories in my head that this is the same stuff that I do during Yoga Nidra. Body scanning and you have got to be kidding me that this is what I was waiting for.

I assure you, I soon realized that my mind was just very uncomfortable with the intense inspection it was receiving through slowly exploring in a systemized matter, the sensations of the body but not allowing myself to react to them. Why you may ask? Well, you would have to experience it to truly understand. (and I do fully recommend that everyone experiences it for themselves if they have the slightest inclination). But, also I am a girl who makes sure she's comfortable. I bring a sweater wherever I go in case I'm cold. I have snacks in my bag. Why suffer, I've always thought? My mind was saying...NOT REACT?? SURELY YOU JEST. And then it promptly proceeded to freak out. 

The thing is, by dealing with the discomfort and the pleasure as equals, having equanimity, it brings up your bodily memories and emotions, where they may wreak havoc for a bit and this is a process of helping to release them. Feeling them but not reacting in a way such as, oh my god, this is the worst thing ever, poor me, it's always me, God hates me, and on and on. The theory is that with wanting things to be different, we create craving which turns into clinging. With aversion to what is happening or at hand, we create hatred. And with both of these we create misery for ourselves and for others.

Besides Day 4, for me Day 7 was the next hardest day to get through. Anxiety welled up within me like a water balloon about to burst... Talking to the other ladies on Day 10, you realize that although everyone seems quite peaceful on the outside, on the inside there is a lot going on for all at one point or another. Everyone had different days that their "stuff" seemed to float up to the surface and demand attention. Sharing on Day 10 was amazing and we could hardly stop ourselves by the time we had to leave on the morning of Day 11.

Touching back on my issues, none of them seemed bad at all in the moment. Except sometimes the continual sitting.The food was actually delicious and all I ever needed. I got some of the best sleep of my life and I napped on the regular, which until now has been a very uncommon occurrence in my life.



I felt clear as day when I drove away. And I have noticed a difference in myself. Of course, I am not some saint that has no reactions now. But I react less often...and with less intensity. I feel generally lighter and happier. I intend on keeping meditation in my life although I have not yet been able to incorporate their twice a day one hour meditation recommendation.


I plan on attending another one someday. Although...not anytime soon. They have a 20 day and a 45 day. I can't even imagine. But maybe one day I could. Who knows? That's what makes life such a magical adventure. 

One last thing I want to mention is that these centers (all over the world, www.dhamma.org) are totally donation based. So, very accessible for anyone to experience.

I hope this post was helpful for anyone who had questions. Feel free to post questions below if you have any. 

Namaste and much love. 

Erin

Friday, July 18, 2014

Moment of Golden.


Standing by the magnificence 
Struck still by the song
coming from beyond my comprehension
Coming from beyond man's existence

I could not see
And I walked away awhile
Until the crash came to my ears, the fall
Coming from where I had been

Sometimes it takes a shake
for us humans to truly look
And I did because I was told to 
absorb all the beauty I could take

There she was, right there, in all of her splendor
Golden as a beam of light
Golden falling on her from the afternoon
Golden was the moment as it stopped there

Magnificence stood and was aware
Staring right into my eyes
And the honesty of it made me blank
Made me lose words and just wonder

There was nothing to do but gaze
And I did, because I was told to
Until I woke up. still in her stare
And my instinct, though amazed, took foot.

I felt blessed. 
I felt touched by grace. 
I felt fear.
And it was all good. Because it was.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Pre-Vipassana.

Hello world!

What a wild and crazy world, you are.

Question: You know how when we were little and your parents would say something seemingly dramatic because you couldn't believe it, like...I don't feel such and such age, I still feel 25. And you were thinking, wow, no way, how could you be so out of touch with reality? You're so much older than that!!?

Haha, yes...here I am at 37 years old. Amused at my former self. I don't know that I can quantify what age I feel, but I certainly don't feel like I've gotten it figured out enough to be 37 years old. I still feel like I'm on a voyage of discovery. Why do we think when we are younger that at this age, or that one, you will feel certain of everything and have nothing to figure out but just live. I certainly don't want to be that person who thinks they know everything anymore because I'm so curious about the world and there would be nowhere to grow.

Next stop. 10 day meditation in California. It's intense, even hard core yogis I know say, "that's intense"...when I tell them I'm going. 
I don't know if I should be preparing for it but I am actually not trying to overthink it. I'm just imagining that my adaptable self will be just fine. I will definitely be letting you know after the fact as there is no technology, no talking, no writing, no yoga, see where I'm going here? Just meditation and a few breaks for eating lightly and asking your teacher a few questions if you need.

Here's the typical daily schedule...

Vipassana Meditation Course – Typical Daily Schedule

4:00 a.m. ————————- Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 a.m. —————- Meditate in Dharma Hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 a.m. —————- Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 a.m. —————- Group meditation in Dharma Hall
9:00-11:00 a.m. ————— Meditate in Dharma Hall or in your room according to teacher’s instruction
11:00 -12 noon —————- Lunch break
12 noon – 1:00 p.m. ——— Rest, private Q&A session with teacher
1:00-2:30 p.m. —————– Meditate in Dharma Hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 p.m. —————– Group meditation in Dharma Hall
3:30-5:00 p.m. —————– Meditate in Dharma Hall or in your room according to teacher’s instruction
5:00-6:00 p.m. —————– Tea break
6:00-7:00 p.m. —————– Group meditation in Dharma Hall
7:00-8:15 p.m. ——————Teacher’s Discourse in Dharma Hall
8:15-9:00 p.m. —————— Group meditation in Dharma Hall
9:00-9:30 p.m. —————– Open Q&A session in Dharma Hall
10:00 p.m. ———————— Light out

Whew! I'm looking to be crystal clear after this amount of meditation. They say that you get so clear and focused and nonreactive, little things just roll right off of you... I'll fill you in on the flip side.  I've been wanting to do this for two years now. It's time. 
If you're interested, there's a lot of information online about these courses. They're run completely on donations and you're actually not allowed to pay until after you have completed your first one. That's how much they believe in them.  So, if you're thinking about it, you only have to have the funds to get there..and then give what you can and what you believe is fitting for what you have gained from the process.
I really don't know what will come of this. Maybe I will love it. Maybe I will be back on the 17th of July and say, it's total bunk for me...but go and make up your own mind about it. Either way, I'm excited and I'll check back in with you about it after. 

Their website: http://www.dhamma.org/en-US/about/vipassana
Some other websites with info and perspectives:
http://biohackyourself.com/the-10-day-goenka-vipassana-meditation-retreat/
http://misscaelabailey.tumblr.com/post/62653484024/my-experience-at-a-10-day-vipassana-meditation-retreat
http://mybrandnewlife.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/vipassana-meditation-retreat-the-aftermath/


Friday, June 13, 2014

Adventures and Soundtracks.

Meant to drive down to Wilmington last night just so I could spend a half a day there this morning. I've always wanted to see it. Ended up in Richmond, Virginia after three big old traffic back ups. Luckily, they didn't seem to be on account of car accidents as much as nonsense, which makes sense, because there is full moon trickery going on. So, I guess I will see Wilmington on Monday.

Now I will just head on down to Easley, S.C. so that I can do this aerial training with Linda...who is one of my 500 hour yoga sisters. So cool that she's now doing aerial training and when we were meeting up in Asheville last year, she had just started experimenting with it. And I just finished my own 200 hour training with 8 beautiful graduates. Things can change fast. Or slow. As we all know by now. 

I had a great time shuffling between the music app Beats and my old iPod tracks, those of which survived the transfer to the Galaxy. (speaking of which, I can't wait to go back to the iPhone....just my personal experience. Not to sway anyone...it's a huge change if you're thinking of switching either way). 

Last night I kept listening to many things, of course. But, my number two favorite of the night, Phanotgram, You are the Ocean. The number one song of the 9 hours of car living was Steadfast sung by Shubha Mudgal and spoken by Ursula Rucker. 

Inspired by the poetry of 16th century poet, Kabir. It's a goodie. Here are the lyrics. You might want to check it out. xo ~ 


This love
This, love

This love,
Is not for sale,
Nor is it to be toyed with
It is delicate and humble,
But also, sturdy and grand,
So don’t be fooled

This love
This, love

And the true fullness, of this love
In all of its grace and charity, and imperfect perfection
Is meant veritably, for only one,
And most likely, too potent
In its highest form
For any other

This love is spoiled, and greedy
And highly expectant,
Like a coddled child,
Even in its maturity
Sometimes lashing out in defiant tantrum,
When assumed shunned
This love…
Is complicated

And even in the midst of confident revolt,
This love offers up contrition
For unpleasing, unworthiness
The human heart is so contrary
And wondrous,
And very easily broken
Both blessed
And cursed
Perfect house,
For so fickle a thing,
As

This love is content and comforted,
Most assuredly when the sacred object of its adulation,
Seems to find favor with
This love,
Is always challenged,
By the reality that,
The gift of sacred love takes patience,
And faith,
And effort,
and sacrifice,
And is ever changing
in its infinite and beautiful
Steadfastness

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The road unravels.

Images float past my fingertips
What can a word convey
What can a sound conjure
What can a vision mean

So much, so much, so much
Much more than the world can contain
Much more than the rain falling in my paper cup
The strum of a guitar string

The road that unravels in front of you
The river that flows beneath
the peace that settles within
and then gently leaves

Find it. You go find it and bring it back.
But we never float in the same place twice.
It's always new, now find that. and that.
I challenge you. To a meeting of the heart.

studies in movement.

Once there was a boy who lived in Yang Zi. He spent his days sowing the seeds in the fields.

Place the seed, cover with dirt…and move on to the next one. Place the seed, cover with dirt...and move on to the next one. There was no time to watch the seeds as they unfolded delicately in the golden light. There was work to be done. Things were either going to grow or they weren't.

This boy loved a girl. 

This girl lived in a castle. She spent her days reading books. Cultivating relationships with them. Getting lost inside and taking the time to have daydreams and see what could come of the ideas that had planted themselves in her brain.

This girl loved nature. She would stare outside of her window for hours and in her view was the boy who she would watch while he planted. And the boy would glance up at her, in her window, so still like a painting and he created stories in his mind about her.

One day this boy was fatefully sent to the castle to take some of his goods to sell. He there ran into the girl in the courtyard, which was in full bloom and filled the air with it's fragrance. They stared at each other for what seemed like eternity and shared what felt to be deep love. 

The boy, he had to move, unsure of the still and the waiting. The girl, she was left to wonder at the quickness with which he moved. Could it mean that he hadn't loved her at all? 

The river that flowed throughout the land flowed gracefully on. Except in the places where it flowed at different speeds and temperatures and in those places, it could pull you under with a force. 



Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bloom.

Excerpts from Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth…

"Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. 

When you don't cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to our life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought.

A depth returns to your life. Things regain their newness, their freshness. 

Words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp, which isn't very much. Do you believe some combination of such basic sounds could ever explain who you are, or the ultimate purpose of the universe, or even what a tree or stone is in its depth?"

I love words. I've played with them since I was a child. Copied them out of books, made them up, put stories together with them. But I want to use them to open the world up, not to close it off and make it something that I'm grasping in my tight little fists. 

Considering the words we use and the beliefs that they formulate within our minds and bodies, immediately closing us off to the infinite possibilities and miracles that surround us every day through those faces in our lives that the Universe assumes as our friends, family, lovers, nature, etc… 

Blooming like that flower out there in Spring. Sometimes blooming is scary, sometimes it's painful. But it's always worth it. Join the bloom.