Posted on September 13, 2014
These days when speed is glorified and we love to jump straight from one activity to the other, taking time to do nothing seems to be a luxury or a very lame idea. Taking five precious days to sit all day long “just being” seems daunting and scary. After all we are only one click away from each other, and from our favorite song or TV show.
But, how often do we click to get closer to ourselves?
That is what a silent retreat is for. Complete days full of sitting, breathing, hearing our surroundings and being still with the stream of thoughts in our head, getting comfortable with ourselves and our environment.
No speaking. No eye contact. No music. No reading. No sexual activities. And no texting or sending smoke signs for someone to rescue you. For a kinetic learner social being, this sounds like self imposed solitary confinement.
Well, this is exactly what I treated myself to weeks before my birthday, five days of full NOTHINGNESS.
I attended what is known as a “sesshin”, a retreat in the Zen tradition intended to “touch the heart-mind”. Even though my meditation practice is influenced by Vipassana and Mindfulness I decided to give this retreat a try. After all, one of the main reasons I practice is to remain open, and both types of meditation aim for the same thing in different ways.
I did my research about the center and attended one of the sitting periods before signing up. As much as it is good to remain open, it is also wise to take care of yourself. It was listening to the teachers dharma talk at the Zen Center Of San Diego that gave me the courage to sign up. I knew there was a lot for me to learn there.
An extensive talk with my dear friend and teacher Karen K Redding, who has been in oh so many silent retreats, gave me an idea of what to do the days before and what to expect while on retreat.
I found out on day one of the retreat that it wasn’t all sitting in silence. There were daily mindful movement morning routines, interviews with the teachers, dharma talks, walking meditations and work practice.
My days in silence were filled with pretty much every emotion and feeling you can find in the dictionary and other ones that we can’t even name. The first days were definitely the hardest, the “settling in”. I wanted to get out of there immediately and it felt like I had a straight jacket on. I had all kinds of cramps, body pain and even my nails were itching. My thoughts were going like a roller coaster and my breath was my only anchor. I wanted to “fit in” and didn’t want to bother or offend anyone. I was so caught up in following the rules and regulations that I was missing the whole experience.
The days that followed I experienced many insightful moments and openness states. The judge in my head decided to take a break and calm and peace took over. I became more aware of all the people that were in the room with me and connected with them from my silent spot. Of course these insightful moments weren’t constant, they came and went like waves in the ocean. Realizing that I can access those places is to me what’s important, now that I know they are there I can get to them easier.
After all those hours of sitting, I’m still far from enlightenment. I didn’t find the holy grail and I didn’t have a life changing breakthrough. I did though, face suffering, pain, joy, happiness and many other states in new ways, paying kind attention.
It might be the same old me here, but now I relate to myself and others from a different place: with compassion and boundless love for this life and our shared humanity. It’s amazing what can be done with a change of view, loving guidance and a little help from my friends.
If you have a daily meditation practice and are looking into doing your first silent retreat I would encourage you to do it and see what you find there, I’m sure you’ll surprise yourself.
Posted on July 10, 2014
I like to write about and share my mindfulness practice because it helps me understand it better. These past weeks I have had a great opportunity to practice being mindful of my emotions. What triggered this: The World Cup…oh yes… sounds silly right? The funny thing is that I don’t understand football very much and I rarely can watch a full match. Despite this, the world cup brings an overwhelming amount of feelings and emotions. I am sure I am not the only one out there having this issue right now. Anger, frustration, joy, anxiety, happiness, compassion, hate and many other nasty feelings that can feel embarrassing.
In these moments, the mindfulness tool we can use is : RAIN . This is an acronym for a step process that goes like this:
To RECOGNIZE is to realize what is going on inside you, is it anxiety, sadness or an outburst of happiness? We tend to go through our feelings in such a mindless way that it can be challenging to stop and see what’s going on inside us. Practicing with an event like the world cup can be an easy start because those feelings are not directed to anyone in particular. After all, it’s just a game.
Now you’ll need to ALLOW the feelings, this means you should not push them away, stay with them and let them be what they are. With happiness its easy…yes, more please, but… it can lead us to clinging. Sadness on the other hand is overlooked and many times pushed away because nowadays there is such an ode to happiness that sadness became some kind of swear word. The goal is to stay with whatever comes and accept it for what it is. Don’t judge the feelings as “good” or “bad” they are just feelings.
From there we go to INVESTIGATE. We need now to go a little deeper into our emotions: how does this feel? Is my chest heavier? What is triggering this? why do I need to devour a full bag of chips while those guys hit the ball from one side to the other? I don’t even understand football! The world cup is not about the game. It’s about having a full country rooting for the same thing despite religion, race, political preferences and all the other things that keep us apart. Its about being part of a common conversation. The feelings of “belonging” and “connection” are what create these other feelings. And those are felt physically and psychologically in different ways.
And lastly, NON-IDENTIFICATION. You are not your feelings. This emotion is what it is, it will come and go away, but it doesn’t define you. We all hate, feel sad and helpless from time to time, but it’s up to us not to get caught up and let these feelings define us.
So let those feelings come, greet them, observe them but don’t get attached to any of them, and keep cheering because the world cup is almost over!
For a more in depth analysis about RAIN visit this article from Tara Brach .
Posted on June 14, 2014
Have you ever been able to create an image that looks exactly like the one you envisioned in your head? I haven’t, not even once. Some of my finished images are a little closer to what originate it but many others are a far cry. This used to make me feel bad because I felt I wasn’t reaching my expectations.
I had the idea for the picture you’ll see below this post long time ago. I drew it on stick figures many different ways. Alex got it after I explained it with words.
“Ahhh, I see now, that’s supposed to be a brush!”
The drawing stayed in my notebook for almost 6 months. I stopped thinking about it. I didn’t find the right ladder. Till one day she found me, in the alleyway dumpster, waiting to be trashed or picked up by the next hoarder…me. It was the perfect ladder: rustic and vintage, or should I say, beat up and very, very old. I saved her from becoming ashes and she saved me time and money. A once forgotten idea was back in motion.
There was no need to explain the idea again. When Alex saw the ladder finding its way into our home he said.
- Wanna do it today? There are clouds out.
Stairs, paint brush and paint bucket in hand and off we go to the cliffs.
20 min after that we were done and enjoying the sunset. The sun sneak thought the clouds last minute before hitting the water. Everything turner red for a couple of minutes.
Is this image as I imagined it in my head? Not really, not at all but it doesn’t matter. It’s the story behind it that matters. It’s the ladder coming my way, the almost forgotten idea, the sunset after the shoot, it is knowing I have someone always game to go out and have fun taking pictures.
So here you have the finished image…tadaaa!!! and yes…I painted the birds myself, guess I can do some kind of drawing.