Hatching a Sangha – continued!

Kibbutz Nir-Oz

Kibbutz Nir-Oz

Kibbutz Nir-Oz this past week: 

At the Col-bo (our little store): “When are you going to start doing meditation?”

At the Communa  (our communal laundry service): “Judih, when is the meditation going to start?”

Text message: “I want to come to meditate. Where is it?”

During the past week, various people approached me and asked when the meditation sessions were beginning. “We’ve begun. Come join us this time. Welcome!”, I said to one and all.

Some asked if they needed to pay. No, of course not, I said. We’re kibbutzniks. As an old-fashioned communal kibbutz, we pool our various incomes and receive a set budget, and so I wouldn’t dream of asking for payment.

* Note: these next few paragraphs are an aside.

As usual, my mind started in on the idea of how people pay for meditation sessions, especially in light of my participation in the Vipassana Retreat.  We were told that the usual method of support is called “dana“, Pali for “charity” or a freely given donation, indicating one’s appreciation and wish to support someone offering a valued service. In my case, I thought I had understood the philosophy and I arrived at the Retreat with a certain amount of cash in a sealed envelope. At the end of the session, however, we were directed to look at  a printed page outlining the costs involved per person for the retreat (to give us an indication of  a reasonable ‘dana’ amount). That sum was more than I had brought. In addition, we were told, the teachers would be receiving none of that. We, the students, were therefore invited to offer “dana” to the teachers, as well, and again the amount we gave would be based on our heart’s wishes and wallet.

This is a system that seems optimistic but also misleading. If my presence costs a certain amount, then I would like to be able to pay for my stay. If the teachers require payment, I would like to make sure they receive it. I, however, as a kibbutznik, have no private income and live on a modest monthly allowance. The principal of ‘dana’ seems like a good set-up for those who are in the position to give freely, but for those of us who aren’t, it’s an exercise in confrontation with capitalism. It’s a heart-shrinking act for those who are not economically fluid. Now, that I know the approximate score, I will be on the lookout for ways to save money so that I can come prepared to offer the expected ‘dana’.

But that’s another story, and luckily, one that is irrelevant to opening the door to meditation sessions on a kibbutz.

Back to Sangha Hatching

Thursday evening, just before 7:30, I opened the doors to the Open Center, removed my shoes and readied our room. Air conditioner and fans were turned on, lighting was adjusted and I brought in a few extra mattresses for any latecomers.

I arranged my meditation cushion close to the breeze of the wall fan, and my Tibetan singing bowl at arm’s reach, and then greeted a few new meditators.

I explained that we were practicing Mindfulness meditation, paying attention to the breath and the body. There’d be no mantras and no religious ties. Our task was simply to notice what went on in our bodies and minds, any thoughts, emotions or sensations. Our job wasn’t to try to stop thought and  emotion, only to notice them, set them aside and then return to noticing our breathing.

We began in a prone position and as I watched people settle into their spaces, I used minimal guidance to help them scan their bodies – from their heels on the mattress to the tops of their heads, to noticing sensations such as a passing breeze, or change of temperature. I prompted them to check for tension or relaxation, if the sensations were pleasant or unpleasant. Not to change anything, but to merely notice.

We placed our hands on our bellies to notice the rising and falling of our stomachs, the mind on the ‘in’ and ‘out’ of our breathing.

We transitioned to sitting meditation. My guidance was minimal at the beginning and I set the timer for 15 minutes.

Here was my first experiment. How would these dear people deal with 16 minutes of sitting, 15 of them in near-silence.

After about 10 minutes, I could hear sighs and shifting, but still people were upright and conscious!

At the end of the time, we returned to ‘reality’ through some stretches. Then I asked if there were comments or questions. One woman said she barely made it to five minutes. Another said she’d lost patience after 10 minutes. These were very good efforts for first-timers. I was pleased!

S said that she had to shift positions. I suggested that next time, perhaps she could wait and notice the discomfort for a little while  before she allowed herself to move.

“What? Why suffer?” she asked. I agreed, that there’s no need to suffer, but that there was something else we were working on, something like a muscle within our brain, that if developed would allow us to override responses that are automatic.

This particular idea rings even truer to me now when I am fortunate enough to listen to others ask the question: Why suffer?

Why, indeed.

*Another aside.

Simi Levi-Yeshuvi, my wonderful teacher and creator of the curriculum called the ‘Language of Attentiveness’, told us of her experience as a nun in a monastery for 4 years. At the beginning, there was no instruction other than to sit. She had no idea of what was expected of her but, she said, long hours of sitting day after day. Eventually she dared to approach the Master and asked why she had to sit and suffer all day. The monk looked at her and said, “What, do you imagine that if you were not here, you would not be suffering?”

We suffer. In our daily life, we live and suffer. Someone looks at us and we imagine that they don’t like us, that we did something wrong, or that they knew something about us and that they disapproved. Just like that we create our own suffering.  We chide ourselves based on someone else’s chance glance in our direction. Chance, indeed. Who knows what was in their minds when their eyes happened to meet ours. It could have been that they had forgotten to do something, or that they were passing gas at that very moment! It could have been a breeze or a noise disturbing them from their own daydreams. A million circumstances could have lead to that second when those eyes met  mine, but I choose to interpret a glance in a way that causes me suffering!

Who suffers? Which part of my brain is causing me to suffer? The chance act of seeing someone’s look at me? Or hearing a chance word? Or the stories I make up, the elaborate hyper-linked fictions I create to explain the look, or word.

And would I suffer less if I were walking the streets and while choosing peaches, I would suddenly recall past injustices or possible future problems?

The fact is that when I sit, when I practice noticing my breathing, I deal with my own body, my own thoughts. I disturb myself. I invent reasons to suffer but if I’m lucky, I begin to notice that I’m writing fictions and then, through a moment of clarity, I allow myself to disengage, before I get caught up again in some other brain talk (often referred to as the Monkey Brain – that active little rascal that just waits to pounce and grab my attention).

I must say “Thank you, Simi, for offering your own tale to help me understand my own experience. Thus, I have a chance to answer S, when she asks, Why suffer?

Back to Sangha, Nir Oz

I like to end our kibbutz sessions with an opening of our hearts. This is the time for the Lovingkindness meditation or metta, a chance to offer ourselves safety, health, happiness and the wish that we may live in peace. Five minutes is not a long time for such an exercise but it serves to enrich our experience.

As we say goodnight, and head out into the darkness of evening beyond the doors of the Open Center, each one may choose to hang on to an element of self-respect and self-compassion and, who knows, perhaps remember to use the anchor of noticing the breath in daily life.

Next week might be time to assign homework!

Planting the seeds of a Sangha

*Sangha – means ‘assembly’

I live in the Western Negev, on Kibbutz Nir-Oz. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this location is  remote, far from most cities,  public transportation infrequent and early final buses back to the kibbutz. Also, I don’t drive, I bike.

I also meditate, daily. And I have learned that the more meditation in my day, the better. How especially true this feels – this first week home, after doing a Vipassana retreat. 

The wish to maintain that inner silent place and keep it alive is very strong.

In general, it is suggested that the meditative way begins at home with daily practice. It’s important to augment this by going on retreats whenever possible. But the third branch of the work is equally important and that includes regular meditation practice with others.  The mutual support is empowering. One’s personal group is called a Sangha

So, because I don’t have ready access to a group of meditators, I took a walk to investigate our Open Centre, the building that houses alternative therapies and some sedentary exercise. I opened the doors to the wonderful experience of the smell of brand new parquet flooring and the quietness of the space. Here was a room where in the past I had done some meditation of various sorts with various people.

However, now it’s all brand new. The space has been carefully restored after having taken a direct hit during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. A rocket had crashed through the roof and devastated the entire building. Fortunately, no one had been inside at the time! And that which had been gutted and destroyed, is  completely fixed. The room is  ready for new meditative activity.

On a whim, I walked into our communal laundry facility, and there I spotted C, the one responsible for who does what in the Open Center.

I shared my thoughts about wanting to meditate in the space and she helped me decide to open up a meditation practice and invite those who wanted to sit with me. We decided on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m and she agreed to publicize the practice, giving her own number and mine for those interested in making contact. 

A day later, she announced that one person had called her and was planning on coming. One was fine! My plan was to sit for 45 minutes and meditate and hopefully that one would sit with me!

Thursday came along and surprisingly enough, the Tel Aviv bus brought a visit from my beloved son and his girlfriend. She’s an avid Vipassana goer and was happy to see the Meditation invitation  posted on the Kibbutz Dining Room bulletin board. She was in. So we would be 3. My son wanted to come as well! 4.

At 7:20, I gathered a Tibetan singing bowl, a mallet and my meditation cushion. Off we went, me, my son and his girlfriend.

singingBowl-1433769513

When we arrived at the center, I saw the one who had indicated interest and then I saw S! S is someone who, in my wildest dreams, I’d have never imagined showing up! But there she was. My heart opened. I invited them in, to take mattresses and to get comfortable in the meditation room. I turned on the air conditioner. Someone else turned on the fan and we readied ourselves.

The One told me that 40 years previously, he and another kibbutznik had begun meditation sessions. But that had fizzled out and he, himself, hadn’t been practising. S had never practiced in her life . Okay, I thought, 45 minutes of silence would not really cut it.

I decided to work along the lines of how I teach children – dividing the session into 3 –  meditation lying down, sitting and then standing.

I set my timer and began with a few instructions guiding them through a body scan and then how to notice their breathing. Hoping to keep them relaxed but still aware, I eased them from lying down to sitting. Then someone else showed up at the door and came in to join us noticing the breath. After about 12 minutes of sitting, we transitioned to standing, first checking our balance, and then noticing the breath.

To wrap up, I included some metta towards ourselves, repeating the phrases “May I be safe, be healthy, be happy and live in peace.”

My own meditation had to be carefully included between checking to see if they were breathing, or sleeping, or with me. Instructing is not exactly meditating and that was not what I’d hoped for. But people were there. They wanted to know what meditation was. This was good!

We finished. It was pleasant.

The next day I was approached by 2 others who also have never meditatedbut who wanted to try.

This sangha will be slow in the making. It’s clear that first steps will be to learn about noticing the breath, and how to be aware of thoughts that  come how to allow them to do so and release them.

And how sensations will come and go. And emotions as well.

Letting go. Setting them aside, and coming back to noticing the breath. As Shuli from the Vipassana at Ein Dor had said- when these things fly into our awareness, I offer them a seat in my ‘house’. A good image – noticing them, recognizing them and setting them someplace else while going back to the business of noticing the breath.

I like that. May the house be filled with enough seating!

rumi house

Offline, Off-phone, off book, off-pen for One Week

So I’m about to go on a Vipassana Retreat

First time.

You might have heard of Vipassana*  I had vaguely been introduced to it when every April during School Break and each summer during the vacation, a group of birkenstocked or barefoot walkers would appear on our school campus.

They were at a Vipassana Retreat, I was told. This apparently entailed walking in silence around the campus, around the library, the English room, the Science building and after a while, disappearing and then doing some more walking. I thought it odd that no one spoke. Then one day, as I was moving books from the Bomb Shelter to our new library, I noticed one of the silent walkers talking on his cellphone and periodically looking furtively upwards. I averted my gaze and then went back to staring when he wasn’t aware of my presence.

What kind of retreat thing was this? And how serious a Vipassana could this thing have been if it allowed this kind of blatant shirking of its principles.

Vipassana

Well, fast forward several years – perhaps 15? And here I am, signed up and waiting for my chance to silently walk. No birkenstocks, but I have acquired some comfortable Crocs and that, surely, is acceptable. And I will silently sit. And I will silently eat my meals. And in silence, I will pass my mornings, even with roommates. And I will surrender my phone and therefore live without internet or what’s app or facebook, or my haiku site.

This is all most unusual for me. I don’t have any buffalo hide Indian sandals or Indian cotton shirts that might actually stand me well for next week’s superhot weather predictions. I can only bring what I have, non-Asian tourist garb – jeans shorts and a few t-shirts.

I guess that’ll do. I don’t wear my hair in an upsweep. I don’t have dredlocks. I don’t wear a turban. But I do have natural hair colour and I am willing to go a week without make-up. Who will care if I have or don’t have accentuated brows? And I have scarves that can double as hats when the sun or wind requires such garb.

I have a new meditation pillow, ready to break in. All outer gear is ready.

meditation cushion

meditation cushion

What I must reckon with, however, and this is very difficult, is that for one week plus a day, I am not to write.  or read!

This is a killer situation. I’ve been known to give up perfectly useful courses for tapping into my creativity, when they demanded such gestures of non-attachment.

No phone. Ok. No computer. Fine!

But no write, no read?

This is, well, I’d like to know what you all think. Can it be done?

I wonder.

Wish me luck! If I’m still capable of doing so, I’ll update my experience next week.

*”Vipassana’ as a word comes from the Pali stem for ‘Clear Thinking’. Sounds good, no?

Meditation – solo style

For the past almost 3 years, I’ve been lucky enough to supplement my morning at-home meditation sessions with class relax sessions at school with pupils and teachers.

judih in dance of meditation
judih

This has provided me with a kickstart in focus – so badly needed these days. As I interact more and more with others, I find my output of energy increasing. To keep a reserve, I need reminders to halt, to center on my breath. I enjoy the sound of the tibetan singing bowl, a call to come back to my body and my rhythm. So what happens when we go on a Passover break?

Where do I get my built-in reinforcement time when the routine changes?

This is a question that needs addressing. Whether flying overseas with the shifting clock or simply slipping out of regular, trusted schedules, the opportunities for meditation show up in different guises. One needs to recognize the need and grab the chance.

While I transition back to Israeli time, I find myself awake at all kinds of strange hours and then sleepy when I’d normally sit.

My heart races in the early a.m. and it dozes off mid-afternoon. So, when do I choose to meditate?

I’m beginning to see that anytime I think of it, I need to do it! simple! the more, the better.

Will this help me ease jet-lag? Perhaps. Will this help me cope with my fuzzy brain waves? It can’t hurt!

But while I’m away from classroom support systems, I can use my insight timer for spot sessions or listen to the guided meditations of Sharon Salzberg, for example, or any of the other meditations offered. I can chant to Snatam Kaur to keep focus on my voice. I can draw mandalas to engage my sense of colour.

Solo style allows for experimentation. It’s a gift. And it’s a pleasure.

What’s a little Stress?

Yes! I’m happy and grateful that I’ve incorporated meditation into my school time as well as into my morning at home.

Yes! I’m pleased that I’m more able to notice when I’m stressed and able to breathe out when I feel it!

and uh huh! I’m better off knowing than not.

However…

when things start to pile up, and to do lists birth new lists

and other missions get added onto the already bulging lists

then…

stress happens.

sleep is less available

and meditation time is more devoted to getting back to base line.

And so my question: what do you do?

Do you grab the time to dance? To let loose. Let your body respond to the music? Take me with you!

Do you take a short jog in open green fields? Let the breeze accompany you. Your body and breath together in a rhythmic beat? Send me a postcard!

Do you wander orange groves, smelling blossoms and fresh earth, contemplating the basic truth of how life includes doing nothing in particular but being? That’s my choice. That’s what I need more of. That’s what I’ll do today.

orange blossoms with thanks to the photographer
orange blossoms with thanks to the photographer

All this before tomorrow sneaks in to offer more of the  afore-mentioned to do lists (of which I shall not think)

Wishing us all a delicious present moment and a joyful spring.

May the orange blossoms call one and all to pause and drink in the beauty of the present moment.

Unconference, Sheffayim Nov 14/14

What is an Unconference?

Receiving an invitation asking if they are interested in contributing to a given theme, would be participants apply, get approval and then show up at a designated venue on the prescribed day. There, they select a time-slot, sign up and prepare to present their project for 25 minutes or so.

The white-board of time-slots and locations gets quickly filled up with topics and presenters.

Attendees gather round and fill out their own schedule according to what looks good.

A bell is sounded and it begins.

November 14, 2014 Unconference at Sheffayim Bank Hapoalim  8:30 – 2:30 pm. This year’s theme:  School as a way to close social gaps

We were told to get there early to sign up!

So it was that on November 13th, I travelled north to Petah Tikvah to stay the night. My daughter and her fiancee drove me up to Sheffayim and I checked in, got my name tag and waited for the go-ahead to pick a time slot and sign up.

I took a look at an already rapidly filling board. Apparently some speakers knew that they could ask via facebook to pre-register. I hadn’t known that. There’d been no such offer in my email correspondence with the organizers. Oh well. Next time.

I picked the ‘Iris’ room, first thing. Class Relax, my project, is a morning focus technique. What could be better, I thought,  than offering such refreshment at the beginning of what was going to be a stimulating day. I set up my Class Relax powerpoint. Got the sound and picture adjusted and waited for an audience. Who knew that Miznah, a member of the Knesset, was speaking at the same time. Oops. My naivete was showing. I thought that morning meditation would take precedence over anything else!

I gave my talk to two fine individuals, who enjoyed it, and introduced me to others who could possibly help me continue development.

Handheld-XylophoneAt the time signal, I packed up and headed out to my next chosen talk: Listening from the Heart.

This was the brainchild of Ronen Arbel and Efrat, who have taken the principle of Native American listening circles and developed games to promote attentive listening to others and oneself.

Listening from the Heart

Listening from the Heart

I then headed to Batiya, who is offering Dance and movement at Kiryat Ono. The current class is doing their Bagrut work on the subject. It was fabulous. Also done in a circle, one is attentive to the leader’s movements and variations. Attention to style, rhythm, intent and energy all make for a wonderful holistic movement experience.

Movement

Movement

At the sound, I headed into the main lobby  to join others taking a break to mingle, share, drink water and coffee.And then off to the next session.

The idea of the Unconference is to publicize one’s project and make connections with others doing similar work or able to offer support. I networked with possible future connections. The work is ahead of me.

What else did I attend?

The Technical School in Ofakim, which offers real education for students who simply don’t fit  into the normal academic stream. The school accepts students in Grade 9, offers them special tutoring to get them up to grade level and then they are ready in Grade 10 to begin a vocational stream: in Electronics, Mechanics, etc. working closely with industry such as the Airforce and other industries in the Ofakim area.  The school sees them to graduation with a diploma and then into life with skills and often job placement.

I attended Daniel Landau’s talk on Information and Mind, his foundation devoted to creating a better, more centered human being who is able to recognize the constant stream of information that floods us. We are always at the job, hooked in to our social and professional life via our cellphones. We forget to step away. His foundation is also supporting Class Relax in its goal to teach us to detach from past and future and build ourselves an anchor from within.

Fascinating. I hope to see you there next time!

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Unconference, Tovanet in Education School as a way to close social gaps