Why remembering matters

Free yourself from the destructive loop!
At that moment, ask yourself:
How am I getting caught in this anger (or fear, or jealousy, etc…)
How am I getting hooked by it?

The purpose of just asking this question is to help us change perspective, to take responsibility for what arises in our mind. In the moment of asking “How am I getting hooked?” we have already moved outside the anger and are looking at the way we are relating to it. It is possible in that moment for the whole mass of anger to dissolve, without our denying it, repressing it, or shoving it away.
Joseph Goldstein, Insight Medidation

Again: We move, or can move, at that moment, outside the anger (or fear, or rage, or jealousy…) and look at the way we relate to it.

It helps me to read books on meditation, spiritual growth, Buddhism by teachers who themselves have lived through their own turmoil and emotional bondage. These teachers don’t claim to be in that state all the time and everything is now “perfect”. They know that they have not (yet, if ever) reached “enlightenment”, but they have already done a great deal of hard work on themselves and grown internally to be able to help other seekers along their path. We, the seekers, have experienced less, are at a stage in our inner growth that needs external help, or perhaps we don’t trust our inner wisdom that already knows the answers to our questions.
So we seek teachers we admire and trust to give us the answers, to remind us again and again and again.

Continue reading

in the simplicity of a smile

This morning, in passing by one of our mirrors at home, I had a brief glance at myself, something I have been doing all my life. As I kept walking, the image lingered in my mind and for the first time, I was taken aback and returned to the mirror. “Who’s this?” I thought. After a few quiet moments I realized that IT was beginning to happen. Youth and “beauty” are getting lost behind the passing of years. It surprises me that I am surprised about it, as though no one had ever told me that this was going to happen. But there is a difference between knowing/hearing and experiencing it.

Hold it!

I immediately mentally pick myself up and begin to transform that somber, flesh-hanging stranger looking at me with that familiar smile. Again, I am surprised at how simple it is, in that moment, to change my attitude. “You’re at that threshold where it still doesn’t take too much to transform yourself into the face that you know so well, that you expected to see this morning: that familiar body you’ve been living with and inside for over fifty years.”

A smile is the most natural facelift. It refreshes and brightens the eyes, the cheeks, the mouth. A smile is a door that opens and through it flows lightness, trust, connection. It brings down barriers, even within oneself. It not only expresses the obvious: joy, happiness, love, but it also creates a ripple of energy that turns coal into gold.

Try this simple experiment: When sitting in a bus, a train, waiting in line or walking in the street, look into a person’s eyes for a split second longer than is the norm and smile at them and witness a phenomenon arise. See as protective layer upon layer fall off in an instant. I do this often and am always so pleased with this brief connection with a total stranger. In a split moment, they can go from frightened, angry, sad, pensive, sleepy, nervous into bright, friendly, trusting, thankful. It is as though a window into the common denominator of true self, innocence and familiarity is opened. A moment which strips away all that we have built to separate and protect us from what is unknown. It is not necessary for me to know anything else about this person because at its core we are all the same, and this is what we recognize in this moment of magic. The hard exterior no longer exists.

And so, I take this reflective opportunity to practice self-compassion and return to the mirror with a smile on my face. “Wonderful!”. I am thankful that I have always been a smiling person. Now more than ever I realize how good it is for me to keep smiling. And for you. Unless you choose to fall into the trap that sells you a false image through the knife, the suction or the syringe, practice smiling more and look at yourself. Forget fighting the truth that you are aging and practice accepting every weakness, wrinkle, flabbiness. Because inside you are still as young as you ever were and it lies in your hands to open that window. It does take a lot of practice, acceptance and patience. We will fall back over and over. I do and I will. But really, we have no choice so why not give up the fight and ride the wave?

One of the things I found for myself is that the greatest learning and wisdom that I often have been privileged to be present with is actually the transition of a person, their death, and not being afraid of death. And I think the other aspect is, at least for me, to appreciate that every day, I have the capacity to, through my actions, improve the life of at least one person. What we forget sometimes is, even smiling at another person, which takes very little effort — for that person who receives that, it can mean an immense amount. And not to forget that these small, little actions, these little ripples, can actually end up creating a tsunami if each of us engage in them. Remember — and we know this from the science — when a person sees another person engage in a positive behavior, they’re many, many times more likely to engage in that behavior themselves. When they see another person act with kindness and with generosity and with gratitude, it becomes infectious.

From an interview on “On Being with Krista Tippett” with James Doty who is a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University and founding director of CCARE, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

A new door

Today I will stand in front of a new door. I will open it because I have already made it possible to search, find and reach this door. I will meet a woman who, from what I have so far read, could have been me if I had followed my heart, if I had trusted my inner voice, if I had been courageous. She is a woman who has studied, traveled, intensified, taught/teaches, accompanies, learned from teachers I have been pulled by, that I admire, that I learn from. In this little town is a woman who has studied and knows Jon Kabat Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Ayya Khema and more…

She has reached so many goals and helps so many people. She lives it. She lives the life I could have had, had I not been so afraid, mistrusting, restless, distracted, confused, lazy. I have managed to convince her to meet me. I don’t know what I will say to her, what I will ask of her. But I know this: I want to meet a woman who has had the courage, the fearlessness, the trust and the drive to keep going in a direction that has a heart. As I write this last sentence, I have a lump in my belly because I mourn the woman I have never become. I have dreamt to be that woman all my life, yet have managed to resist her every time I got close. I have sighted and been her in hidden corners, in my morning hours, in the words I write here, in my meditations and musings. She is there, but she is not living in this world. The woman who lives in this world has chosen safety and ordinariness. She has not trusted her own abilities. Every time she had the chance to take a leap, she turned around and ran because it got too hot for her.

Poor thing.

Is it too late? It is too late to take a big leap (and perhaps it was never even supposed to be a big leap). The thing that is true is that that woman inside of me hasn’t given up. The fact that she is always there and keeps knocking tells me it is not too late.

Some people find their voice later in life.

Today I will stand in front of that door and I will open it. I will walk in and look around. I promise myself that I will not go in with expectations, but with curious eyes and an open heart. I will tell this woman what I feel and I will see what our energies do.

I am already thankful for having found the door.

Being smart(er)

I know that deep inside I am “intelligent” and have the potential for writing a book, being a lecturer, teaching, guiding, explaining the mysteries of our universe, debating, explaining.

Again: I have the potential.

Try again. Replace “know” with “wish”.

I spend every day studying, listening, researching, learning. With all that enters my brain, I should be all of the above. But the people who are all of the above can retain the information that enters their brains through their senses and, when needed, let it flow out again, through their mouths or on paper. I cannot do that. Or I haven’t learned how to, or I am too afraid or insecure or…

The memory/cupboard system in my brain doesn’t function as I would like it to. I want to say that I am getting old, perhaps even having the first signs of Alzheimer’s. But then I remember (HA!) that it was like that when I was 12 or 16 or 25. In school, I could not learn poems by heart. It just didn’t work. Well, not quite true. It did work, but only after practicing over and over and over again. Just like the short monologue I had to learn in my 30s when I took my one and only acting class. I managed to stand in front of a class and perform it only because I had spent many more hours than normal repeating it over and over. Good for me, but how frustrating that it was so much work!

Is the answer then that I should repeat what I listen to and read over and over? I don’t have enough time for that! And I jump from one topic to another, return to a similar one at a later date. It is all within a realm of interest, but there are so many doors to walk into and discover that I can’t just remain in one room. To give you a picture, here are some of the things I have been listening to or reading recently:

  • Subscribing to a few new podcasts.
  • Listening to Jack Kornfield’s podcast.
  • Sam Harris podcast interview Yuval Noah Harari.
  • Sam Harris podcast and his interviews with Jordan Peterson (I am only at the first one).
  • Watching videos about the debate between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson.
  • Reading people’s opinions.
  • Watching a few videos from a youtuber called “Mouthy Buddha”
  • Listening to Ethan Nichtern interview Miles Neale
  • Reading Miles Neale’s book “gradual awakening”.
  • Listening to an interview with Miles Neale on the Sounds True podcast.
  • Read about the planets and stars.
  • Watch tutorials about them and about using a telescope which I have but don’t yet know how to use.
  • Listen to audiobooks about Buddhism and meditation.
  • Occasionally read fiction.

And these are just a few. In between all of this, I meditate (almost) every morning and go to work full time, I do sports and share my life with my partner. I visit my mother every 2 to 3 weekends. I try to keep up with chores in the house and garden. I look at the stars and planets, or the IIS when it passes above. I think about all the craft projects I want to do. I think about the fact that I want to find a way to teach meditation to beginners. But before that I need to have a stable foundation and learn how to be able to answer questions and have the confidence to do all of the above.

And I need more time.

And perhaps I need to commit to my path.

So the question I ask myself is: should I continue to allow my fear of not retaining information hold me back as it has for years? Do I not have abilities that go beyond having to know facts? Could it only lie on the fact that I am not studying all the time, but only when I can squeeze it in between my day to day life? Could my isolation in this realm be a problem?

I know that I am “smart” enough (strange way to word it) and have many other abilities, but I feel like not retaining information easily is detrimental to my growth and goals.

If I do have a few readers out there, what is your method? How do you take what you learn and manage to not forget it? Or am I going at this completely wrong?

3-day “retreat” – Day 2

I haven’t been alone like this in a long time and I longed for it. I am entering day 2 and, honestly, things are not looking too promising as of 10am on day 2. Last night I ended up watching an Austrian movie called Paradies: Liebe about a woman who spends a few weeks alone in a guarded hotel in Kenya. It was uncomfortable to watch because of the ignorance and expectations of this woman, Theresa, and her relationship with several Kenyan men who offer their “love” in search of “sugar mamas”.

I also watched a lot of videos about 10-day vipassana meditation and retreats.

This morning I woke up early and started with my morning meditation session. You’d think that having so much free time and no momentary obligations, I’d be focused and accomplish many long-awaited projects. Instead I am still all over the place, jumping from one interest to the other, reading one article after the other, watching videos, getting up, sitting down, planning the day, standing up and sitting down again. Restless, distracted and finally getting frustrated. This is where I am at right now. Frustrated with my self. Self judging? Absolutely: the critical voice has arrived. I am hesitant to take the next step and share with you what that voice is saying.



I finally managed to get myself out of the house, change of scenery, of scent, of sight, of feel, of sound. Did a few odds and ends and finally had lunch in a comfortable cafe downtown. During lunch there were not many people in the cafe, by the time I was having my coffee, almost every few minutes people entered, alone, in twos in threes… some people knew each other, even greeted people sitting at several tables. Hugs, smiles, how are you’s. I was sitting in a corner and felt like I was watching a national geographic episode called “interactions of the human species”. I was mesmerized and couldn’t stop observing every scene along with all the subtleties and nuances floating all over the room. And then the observing turned to what was going on inside of me, triggered by a sensation of tightness in my chest. What? Suddenly all these interactions I was observing brought up insecurities, even criticism. Here is what I wrote in my journal:

Feeling disconnected from strangers is a form of protection, perhaps fear? I feel like I have to decide, based on outside appearances, if this person is worth my attention. Criticism and arrogance (condescension) sometimes comes easy. Is it necessary? Helpful? As I sit here with my journal clutching my pen I realize that this too is a form of protection from the emptiness, fears and insecurities I feel inside. Does it matter what others do or say? Are they any different than me? I don’t know anything about them except what I see in the moment. I don’t know their stories, their sadness, their hurts, their insecurities. I guess what bothers me is the need to cover it all with identities…. I am feeling so distracted and confused. This reminds me of Stephen’s teachings on being pulled away by thinking from the breath, the anchor in meditation. The thought creates sensations in the body and we quickly are off-balance.

These thoughts and reactions are my habits and in that moment I was mindful of what was going on. My instinct was to write about it, analyze it, figure it out. I decided not to. Instead, for just a few minutes, I observed it and sat with it. It was uncomfortable and I didn’t like it. Had I been at home i would have perhaps meditated. Perhaps not. For the past 20+ years the habit has always been to run to my journal and write about it, to analyze it with myself, my therapist, a friend. It was not bad to do that, but I am seeing now that the mental chatter is also  a way to protect myself from feeling and being with the pain. I am beginning to understand that this method was good, but not enough. The wall is still there.

I came home and didn’t sit with it. I thought about it some more, but created more distraction and eventually forgot about the pain I had accessed. The MIDL training I am doing is encouraging me to challenge myself:
1. Notice and observe what is happening in my mind.
2. Look inside and get in touch with the sensations caused by the reaction.
3. When I am tempted to run away from it, don’t.
4. When I am tempted to journal, analyze, argue… don’t.
5. Sit. Close my eyes. Breathe.
6. Access the sensation, label it (tight, warm, cold, heavy…)
7. Soften into it, relax into it.
8. Repeat as often as necessary until it dissolves and the pain is gone.

Creating new habits. Slowly. Gently. Patiently.

3-day “retreat” – Day 1

I took today and tomorrow off (Thursday and Friday) and with my partner not being home, I have almost 4 days to myself, at home, alone. I have decided that I will focus my attention on creating my own personal “retreat”. I don’t have a specific plan except to write about it here, step by step, see what happens, what evolves, what I learn, how I feel. I will add to this post as the day/days pass.

Day 1:

Waking up early as I do every day, my weekday routine is already different and it creates a slight uneasiness. Fear that I may “waste” this precious chosen time arises and I talk myself out of it. Already much chatter going on as I try to figure out what I will do during the next 3-4 days.
I postpone the shower.
I make my morning coffee.
I sit on the couch in the silence of the still dark morning.
I surf the net, email, facebook, youtube, news… my routine, this time extended. More chatter.
I search for a possible place to meditate with a group, a longing for community. I don’t find anything, but get distracted with different people’s websites about yoga/meditation/coaching. More chatter and different emotions arise.
I meditate with Insight Timer, with Stephen Procter, my most recent teacher. About forgiveness. I am very excited about having found him and wish I could learn with him in person (alas, he lives in Australia!).
I contact a woman who meditates and is a Zen teacher in my town (met on Insight Timer and indirectly through another acquaintance – yet we have never met in person) and ask if she has time to meet for coffee or tea. I am not sure what my goal is, but I want to be open and I do want to meet people who also meditate on a regular basis.
(not too exciting so far… 🙂 ) Continue reading


Flowing out of the tight seams
a liquid of painted images
dreamlike figures melting into the sidewalk
draining into the cracks that could not be fixed
Perhaps they were overseen?

So minuscule that they were missed
lucky – the liquid runs heavily over the surface
gently caressing the crevices of concrete void
teasing the cold and hungry subsurface
with its softness and color

Cries of desperation, barely heard
come from beneath
feed us, bathe us, fill us with your juice
so we can taste the microscopic reflection of your essence

Back and forth as though already writhing
the idea itself drives us wild
could it be? it must be our imagination
red, blue, yellow, green — aaah —

Breathe, pulse, beat, sing
what is this but a single note
a tune, a vibration rushing through the rivers of liquid
and concrete noise

The pull is unbearable
a tease so subtle it is hard not to explode and die
so simple, so fast
but wait

Why abandon the dream of tasting the liquid that is presented in honor of darkness?
a lifetime is but a spark worth every desire to catch the drop of color
drip drip drip
miracles do happen

up and down, round and round

I don’t know about you, but for me (here comes cliché # 1), my life is a series of ups and downs, round and rounds, leaving and returning… cycles, circles, mountains and rides.

In looking for more metaphors (in case you didn’t get the point), I googled “life is”, pressed “I feel lucky” and was brought to a page with an endless amount of “life is…” quotes by both famous and anonymous people (cliché #2). After reading about 6 (they are all very short, thank you!) my favorite one was not hard to choose:

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. Lao Tzu

Replace the word changes with the ones I’ve listed above: cycles, circles, mountains… the following advice still works: don’t resist. Continue reading

When I don’t meditate

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my meditation practice and its effect on my well-being. I have achieved a level of meditation which, at this point in my life, I feel good about: every morning I get up at 5:45am, take my shower, prepare breakfast and then sit on my cushion for 20, sometimes 30 minutes. This routine has been pretty consistent for about a year now. Before that it has been on and off for about 6 years. Even though this may seem to some like a long time, it is not, and those who are seasoned meditators know this. Perhaps I am not a complete beginner, but the more I meditate, the more I am amazed at how much I still have to and want to learn and how long the road is.

The other day I read a post by David Cain from Raptitude entitled “could I convince you to meditate in a single sentence”? In it he talks about the benefits of meditation and attempts to explain to his readers why he highly recommends meditation. The manner in which he explains it spoke to me and gave me relief as I have so often found myself trying to explain and share with others how meditation has allowed me to feel hopeful and encouraged to dredge on in my self-reflective quest. I don’t always succeed, and even if I do see a spark that says “oh yes, I know what you mean!”, it doesn’t mean they will try it, let alone become a regular cushion-sitter. Continue reading

Understanding Shenpa

Working with Shenpa

I have read and listened to a few of Pema Chödrön’s audio books, some are “When things fall apart” or “the places that scare you”. There are many more and as with many of the Buddhist / meditation teachers I like to listen to or read, I regularly return to Pema Chödron when the moment is ripe.

Pema Chödron is an American Buddhist nun, teacher, writer who has, for many years, been the director of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. When I first heard about her, I was immediately drawn to her style of writing, talking and bringing Buddhist ideas to a western audience with clarity, kindness and humor. Her storytelling encouraged me to consider her as one of my favorite teachers.

About two weeks ago I came across a youtube video of a retreat talk by Pema which I listened to in its entirety (see below). In this talk, Pema talks about Shenpa (go to minute 6 if you want to skip to that part), a word I had never heard of before. It is a Tibetan word that is usually translated as attachment. Pema, however, uses different words to describe it: “being hooked”, “getting stuck”. Here are a few things I jotted down while listening to her audiobook called “getting unstuck” as well as some of my thoughts: Continue reading