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

As one gets older…

It’s really a strange thing. I have never been the kind that freaks out about getting older. And I am still not that kind of person. BUT… When I turned 50 i did my simple calculations in order to figure out how much time I still had to get it right. Assuming i don’t get sick or hit by a bus or have to say bye bye early of one of 8 million ways to die, I theoretically could have 30 to 40 more years to go. That’s generous, of course. Of those 40 years, 10 to 15 could be quieter and more challenging (you get the picture, I don’t need to describe any of them, just look around you for plenty of examples). So let’s say 20 to 25 really “good” years? Wow, that sounds like a lot!

Right. We are already at the end March of 2017! January 01st feels like 3 days ago.

The more I think about it, the more confused I am. What exactly do I even mean when I say I want to “get it right”? Continue reading