Mind and soul nourishment – after retreat

It’s been almost a week since I’ve detached physically from last weekend’s retreat in Ein Habsor with Ven Rita Riniker. This weekend she’s holding another retreat in the north. My friend called me as she was making the northward journey and I mentally re-visted the energy she’d be re-joining.

After last weekend’s retreat

It’s a gentle process, the disengagement from the task of sitting quietly, looking within. First to show up are the smiles of appreciation to those who joined the activity, to my friends, to my family for driving me to and from the sangha and to myself, for appreciating the importance of such a weekend and showing up.

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This week has reinforced that lesson. Showing up is at least half of the work.

No sliding into automatic habits, no ignoring the needs of the inner mind, but showing up. Sitting in meditation. Listening with an open ear to others. Being available to answer those who need me. Being ready to say yes to a new challenge.

The tendency to list all the tasks that I’ve taken upon myself and then feel overwhelmed is an easy thing to do. But this week, I was quite focused on taking it one thing at a time, organizing the steps into manageable items. This created the necessary space for relaxation, much more enjoyment and pleasant anticipation.

Note: The fact that we had changed our clocks over to winter time and that the entire week was characterized by jet lag and inconvenient body clock demands added one more interesting hurdle to the mix.

Another take-away from the retreat

If I’ve had good experiences, and I know that I ultimately enjoy what I’ve chosen to do, then why add anxiety into the mix? A calm mind adds space, adds ease.  With a brief body scan, I can discover the scrunch of my shoulders or the wringing of hands when anxious thoughts pop into the mind. That little bit of attention  often works like a gentle caress, enough to neutralize the physical manifestations, and smooth the mind.

Body, mind, emotions – yes, they’re connected. The stories that take over the mind roll into physical tensions and emotional concerns. Is it difficult to notice a tense neck? Nope! How about a nervous voice? or a wrinkled brow? no and no!

Noticing is a wonderful ally.

This week in school, I was worried. What? I need to prepare so much! I must meet with so many! Yet, I also promised myself to insert fun into my days. (What? yet another promise to keep? Fun?!)

Yet, the to-do lists were completed. And by the week’s end I received a lovely surprise. A student approached me to ask if I could teach a meditation workshop to 9th graders. Right now I’m slated to work with 8th graders – which has turned out to be a poor fit, not many are interested. So, I started the wheels turning towards making this happen. It only needs a Principal’s okay and a slight dollop of creativity and we’ll be on our way!

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the inner mind

warms with expansion

and a huge smile

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Weekend retreat

Fall hasn’t seemed like fall. Warm weather. Sandy paths.

This weekend is a change of season for me. A re-connection to roots that seem to be deeper than my memory. A renewal of feelings that have been dormant these past months.

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Our retreat is with Ven Rita Riniker, who is here in Israel sponsored by the Israeli Friends of Dharma. We’re meeting in the Eshkol Council Moshav, Ein Habsor.

Friday morning group: More than 20 men and women from this Western Negev area have gathered ready to listen to new information, to renew our motivation, to share a common experience.

We ask questions, we practice.

Rita is charming, and funny. Translation is provided by Irit Lahav and others, and the bilingual messages sneak into our consciousness (and subconsciousness, no doubt) and when the message lands, we smile. Some laugh.

She spoke of karma. “It’s like ordering something over the internet. We see, we like, we click, we buy. Then months later we receive the item. Like it or not, we ordered it. And it’s very, very difficult to cancel!”

What we have done in the past becomes part of us and we attract the energy that we put out. Our thoughts, our deeds, our past experience create our karma.

“We cannot always be happy. Even I am sad sometimes.”

Meditation is not an instant remedy or secret formula.

Anger is present, but through meditation, we can address the situation with a clear, calm mind.

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(to be continued)

off to a hilltop

My friend, C, used to tell me that in her bedside nightstand, she keeps a little kit. Inside there’s a good book she’s dying to read, suntan lotion, a bathing suit, flip flops and a towel.

She keeps the kit for that one moment when there’s no choice; when there’s no hesitation. That moment is when she’ll grab her kit and head out to the beach. For a day or two. If she has her charge card in her wallet, the required stay is open-ended.

That little bedside ‘get out of jail free’ option has been my vicarious secret for many years. When I would exercise that option was an inside joke, within the firm belief that I was still doing some good where I was and that the sun and the beach could live without me for a while.

Something’s shifted. I’m looking at my own escape plan.  A retreat. A permanent retreat in Ein Dor with Tovana, in Plum Village with the Tibetan Buddhists. In my room with my meditation application. In my puppet workshop shed with my contact cement, paint and foam rubber.

Making a dignified run for it. Away from work. Away from teaching. Away from the bureaucracy that surrounds everything I do. The receipts, the accounts, the checking in and out. The computer programs, the bells that tell me when I can rest, walk, eat, pee.

An elegant tip of the hat as I blow a silent kiss to a machine that cranks out papers to sign while I am trying to connect my inner chi to the chi of countless pupils or teachers who are unaware of the changes of chi, or the empathy that is there for the taking.

The photo of the monastery on a hilltop. The snapshot of a pristine cell with bed and window. A place to meditate. Silent small meals. Early rising, early retiring. Others who also search for something inside that longs to grow in a separate daily routine.

A shift from a clock. A shift into a real flow of time.

This world that begins with a bedside kit – to grab and to go. My kit: a collection of books. My skin cream, my water bottle, some fruit and vegetables for the way.

Then it gets tricky. My phone. My charger. I need to be in touch. My partner. I love him. My children? My grand-child? This kit isn’t large enough.

Do I take the train or a bus? Do I need a ride to the station?

Maybe just my bike. I’ll get as far as I get and then breathe.

On the hilltop in my mind.

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Are there less desirable side effects to Meditation?

As the mindfulness movement becomes more and more trendy, there are studies focusing on possible concerns.

What happens when a person sits in silence for hours at a time, when that person sticks to it no matter what emotional state s/he might be experiencing? What happens when an ‘unstable’ personality is faced with the idea of noticing mental activity or unwanted emotions. What happens when that person is unsupervised or offers no hint that there might be some kind of danger when participating in a retreat that continues for days on end?

There are studies being conducted and studies show that not everyone is equipped to deal with vypassana retreats.

Reminds me of the studies that showed that not everyone can deal with intense walkathons, fasts, or the intensity of high achievement in academics. Not everyone can slide through a new experience and come out shining.

Should there be a disclaimer when a meditator registers for a Silent Retreat? Eventually, there will be. A registrant will have to know that just like in yoga when the instructor reminds us to pay attention to our body, not to over-extend, so will the facilitators at a retreat. One will need to be aware that the mental and emotional stretch of hours upon hours of meditation might bring about side effects. One will need to be ready and able to judge if it’s cool to continue or if a short break is needed.

You might be interested in listening to this podcast given by Dr. Willoughby Britton on The Dark Side of Dharma about research being conducted.

Dr. Willoughby Britton

Thanks, Dr. Britton. The more we engage in an activity, the more facets we will encounter.

 

 

Passover Thoughts

A break from classes. No class relax last Monday, this coming Monday and perhaps only half a session the Monday after that.

I’ve had time to step back, pick up some books for my own practice, and note down a few observations.

Here’s my list of Spring Cleaning of the Mind Post-its

  1. Wish students well and then step back. Contact should be positive and easy.This is no time to keep a tight leash.

  2. Wish myself well and repeat often – Lovingkindness meditation. More than ever, self-kindness is a well-needed nutrient

  3. Clean my space and throw out what I don’t need and check the inventory of what I’ve so diligently collected

  4. Allow new connections to form. Get a step away from old traditional routines emphasizing others, allow for the chance to vibrate to a new beat. Top suggestion – open the book Search Inside Yourself and let Meng provide some inspiration.

  5. Do something I love. Do it. Sing, make puppets, practice.

  6. Eat loquats.

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  7. Investigate location of sense of humour and encourage it to reappear. This is a challenging one. Where has my humour gone? On-going search

  8. Do not take everything personally. Not everything is an assassin hit. Not everything is intentionally pointed at my sore spot. Probably not anything. Listen and detach.

  9. Do not take, but notice and appreciate. It is not necessary to own a moment or a comment. Appreciate it as it appears.

  10. Drink water, walk and listen to body. The physical form needs attention. My own schedule, no need to postpone food or rest because of an externally imposed agenda. Listen to what I need.

  11. Old habits? Are they still around? Notice. Who said that the thing I once worked on to conquer forever is truly gone. When I least expect it, that thing might just be leading me into past paths.

11. Meditate. A lot. Whenever and however. Investigate new guided meditations from new voices. Find the sounds that inspire me to focus.

Read. Eat. Walk. Hug. Drink. Laugh! Smell the blossome. Listen to the birds. Move on. Offer what can be given. Do not hold back.

Spring is the time for affirming what it is I’m doing on this planet. My time.

So, what about my Grape Fast?

Background

School breaks for the Sukkot holiday in the fall, sometimes in September, sometimes October. The Hebrew Calendar works on a movable system. And that makes it seem new each year. The weather can be horribly hot or pleasantly cool. You never know what you’ll get.

Also, it’s a delicious respite from the heavy load of schedules and testing pupils. There’s no fear of authority figures in Government ministry jobs suddenly demanding something of me. They’re working half-days, no time for a small civilian like me.

It’s a true time for replenishing all sides and dimensions of the self.

So I had a choice to make.

There was a vipassana retreat during the break. Should I go and leave my mate and children in order to meditate with a sangha of others?  A noble option.  But, I wanted to be home. I wanted to wake up when I wished. I wanted to enjoy being in my own environment. Perhaps, I’d actually do work to prepare my puppetry workshop, get a literary piece ready to be taught. I wanted to study Tibetan Buddhist Meditation  on Coursera and participate in the online Mindfulness Summit.

I wanted to flow. Choice made. I would stay home.I could study and prepare and meditate and take walks!  

Decision to do our annual Grape Fast!

Mmm grapes
Mmm grapes

Gadi went to the kibbutz store, bought grapes and then he went on a further trek to buy more grapes. We would be eating only grapes and drinking water for how long? Five days or so.

It works like this: every 3 hours, we’d eat a portion of grapes, chewing the seeds well.  If hungry, we’d snack on grapes. No problem. We drink water.

It’s a de-tox diet. Because of the nature of grape sugar, it doesn’t require effort by the liver to break it down. Hence, this respite allows the liver to detoxify.

Day 1

Usually the first day, I’m ravenous. I was! I had a huge appetite in the morning and hunger levelled off in the evening.

That night, lying down, I noticed some weakness in my calves. It was strange to feel. I hadn’t done any unusual forms of exercise, just my usual routine and a usual walk of 6 kms or so. Nothing unusually strenuous. Was it the first sign of flu? To be seen…

Day 2

My calves were so uncomfortable that I couldn’t find a sitting position to ease the feeling. And worse…the ache was slowly working its way up to my thighs. This was worrisome.

I felt tired. I didn’t feel like making puppets, though I tried. I didn’t feel like talking to people. I wondered if I had a fever. I tried to rest, but couldn’t seem to get comfortable.

Only walking really felt good.

I was a lot less hungry, but ate grapes, choosing between concord (super sweet), red (slightly less) and green (more watery). I also found that when I got up from sitting or lying down, I’d get dizzy.  Hmmm, low blood pressure.  Could this be cause I was un-caffeinated? In fact, what was going on?

How many toxins did I have in my body that were starting to make themselves heard?

That Night

Calves hurt. Thighs hurt. Pelvic bones hurt!  What? Me? You must be kidding. And a slight fever!  Was it just a little flu, unrelated to the grapes?  In my heart, I didn’t think so.

Day 3

Not having slept, I woke up confused. I did my usual routines, meditation and exercise and then went searching on the net for possible confirmation that I was simply feeling the side effects of the grape diet. Sure enough,  there was mention of muscle pain and mild fever. Okay. That seemed to be in the right direction. But, on the other hand, what if all the calcium in my hips was breaking down and turning to powder? The non-caffeinated mind has no limits.

We continued to eat grapes. No real appetite but still we continued. We took our long walk. I felt fine walking. I guess my bones were still in place and functional. But I couldn’t sit, or lie down without discomfort.  Gadi was fine. A short headache that passed quite quickly. A momentary twinge in his lower back, which soon was gone.

Surprise Visitor

We suddenly got a visit from our son, just back from Canada. He was coming home for a visit. Gadi warned him that we didn’t have any food. We were grape-ing.  The wheels of my mind began to turn. Hmmmmm.

Dare I stop the fast?  That little thought attracted some inner smiles.

Ahl showed up. Gadi made him coffee. I got to smell it.

And a decision was made. I announced that I was seriously considering stopping the fast. Gadi was amazed. But we said we’d do it for 5 days at least!  I told him he could continue but I wanted to stop. He told me that as a team, he’d stop too. We would go shopping. Pick up some vegetables and eat a real meal that night.

We did. Huge salad with Gadi’s incredible vinaigrette and his amazing vegetables.

That night.

I felt good. Pelvis felt fine. Legs felt much better. I slept.

What if?

The Day after,  Gadi read to me: The results of a grape fast can only be felt after 3 days.

He went on: “Next time, we will continue. You’ll see that things will get better. This was a sign that you have toxins to expel.”

Ah, grapes. I guess it’s true. I’m toxinated! I drink coffee. I sometimes use a fake powder to lighten the coffee. I eat rice crackers.

Other than that, I’m pure as pure can be. I breathe the air – no choice there. I eat the vegetables that grow in our soil. There’s no real way to conquer that until our own vegetables sprout from our own soil, shielded from the spraying of the kibbutz gardener.

Lessons learned

It’s amazing what physical pain does to the mind. It depresses. It makes life seem harsh.

When pain disappears, optimism returns. Everything is effortless or at least can be after a little meditation or reading a heart-warming story.

With pain, nothing seems to help. The will to be creative might be there, but it hurts to dredge it up.

Without pain, oops, it’s back! Or if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter. Look at that face. How wonderful. Or listen to that child’s voice! How miraculous.

Pain. How many people carry themselves painfully. How many people deal with a  chronic suppression of all that’s joyful because of physical suffering?

Note to self: be kind to all. Perhaps they’re suffering and don’t realize how it’s affecting their outlook on life.

Grape Fast. I thank you.

Till the next time.

Ramble on Brambles – this week’s mindfulness reflection

Brambles! Those intertwined dry snappy branches that challenged Prince Charming in his quest to get to Sleeping Beauty. You know the type, not only ever-present but also there to slap you in the face, sometimes with green leaves, sometimes with thorns.

They all need my attention! Breathe!

It all needs my attention! Breathe!

Brambles are also how I’ve decided to represent those ubiquitous happenings  that invade my daily dealings and/or also occupy space in the brain as I replay past events, past feelings or future worries.  Brambles, those ever-present distractions that I must overcome. (I could list a hundred and I know you can, too!)

Of course, they are there, constantly. And so the struggle to deal with them and get back to what I intended to do is also constant. But it’s not hopeless. A path can be created, if my intention is clear and if my will is able to withstand distraction. (Just remember the Prince! He managed to slice his way to his prize.)

How can I manage to clear away the brambling distractions from my path?

The first step in any good path creation is wanting to do something: wanting to begin, follow through and get it done. Then comes recognizing the brambles. Noticing that they exist. Noticing that they pop up. Noticing that they keep popping up.  Noticing when.  Then, noticing that they prevent me from getting to where I want to be.

Take a typical morning. I wake up and set off on a course of a number of deeds and tasks to be done before I can open my front door and be on my way. Every morning I do the same things – sometimes in a different order just to keep me alert to what works best. So, here I go again. A new morning. I wake up early and begin my string of activities when, suddenly, an urgent phone message. My help is needed! I must photocopy a document and immediately send it to my son. He’s overseas and needs it right now! His 7 hour time-zone difference can’t wait for me to complete my 5 a.m. rituals.

No choice. I’ve been called to act.

Fight or flight: There’s no immediate danger to my being. Go ahead! My brain wants to break out of the gate and run full-speed ahead. Quick! Where is this document? It could be in any number of locations.

Emotions join the mix: a conversation.

One small voice:  Hmm, what about my own schedule?

Another voice: How selfish! He needs you!

A third voice: Just get on with it – all this discussion is wasting time!

Overall voice: I love him, I want to help. I will manage this!

  • So, first step: A path.

  • Next: noticing the intrusion.

  • Then: assessing if I can meet the request.

  • Follow-through: I step up to the plate.

  • Bonus: While searching for what he needs, I can mindfully focus and search. I can do the task. I can recognize what needs to be done, be mindful of expending only the amount of energy required – no need for panic or excess drama. No real need for all those inner voices – who are all those people, anyway? Do they always chime in? Another thing to notice!

The whole time, I have my own intention on hold, waiting for the all-clear signal. Once I’ve completed the task, found the document, photocopied it and sent it, I can resume.

One conquered bramble! And in taking self-inventory: no wounds, no slapped face. Only a sense that there’s been a gentle meeting of ‘Task’ and my effort.

Sometimes, the noticing is not so clear-cut. It can be very difficult. As I move through my day, it’s one distraction after another and all occur quite naturally. Someone needs to talk, urgently. Someone needs advice, at that very second. Someone needs help. Someone else needs to hug. Someone on the phone. Someone on the way home. Lots of  ‘someones needing something from me’. This is often called living in a society. Okay, I can deal. I know that people constitute a part of my day and I can learn to differentiate between the sweet green leaves and the thorns.

What about all the events that occur? Spontaneous situations? I need to arrange a room, a class list, an appointment. My filling falls out, my laundry needs folding. There are things in life that happen that require attention.

Often the needs of others or the events that crop up offer a chance for positive sharing and good feelings. This is why it’s all so confusing. If it feels good and positive, then how can I see it as a distraction? Life is flow, is it not?

Sometimes it takes distancing from the scene. When my immediate environment is devoid of others or immediate tasks, only then, can I breathe fully, hear myself breathe, and notice that I haven’t been doing that simple yet essential exercise for most of my day. When someone else wants my attention, how automatic it is to offer it on the spot, without that initial breath or being present in my own body, aware enough to take a meditative moment before I leap.

So, this is the time to notice the ‘brambles’, the surprise pop-ups that unfailingly appear. As pleasant as a hug or as threatening as a projectile headed my way, all oncomings are better met with mindfulness.

Meeting the unknown mindfully, aware of my breath, my feet on the ground or my body on a chair, I can better offer what is required of me, or deflect that which is best avoided.

Formal practice in the form of meditation sessions, whether sitting, walking or lying down, all slowly build up my ability to sustain a more awakened presence. And if there’s only enough time for 3 mindful breaths, those breaths have the power to take me to a more mindful place.

Make no mistake, chronological age does very little to make the work easy – it all requires effort. Practice is the key. And so very worth it.

May I learn how to clear away the brambles from outside and from within and carry on to meet my own intention.

ramble on brambles