Mini self-meditation retreat (and more): conclusion

Mini self-meditation retreat is finished. Day 3 began with a good meditation session, followed by not following my intended schedule as I had an important decision to make: fly or not fly to Italy over the weekend. It took several phone calls with people from different camps of the current Corona craze, but in the end I listened to my gut which said: don’t fly. There are still too many unknowns and even though you are not flying to any of the hot spots, the risk is too high (my workplace plays a factor too). I then had a good talk with myself about not being insecure about the decision I made and accepting the financial loss.

A few hours after the time of the flight that I didn’t take, I received an email from the airline apologizing for the cancellation of the flight… blah blah blah… go to our site to chose between flying two days later or, ready? receiving a full refund. And there you have it. A good laugh was had by me and everyone who knew my story.

I decided to stay at my mother’s for a few days, returned home yesterday and today is officially my last day of vacation. How do I now feel about my mini retreat, my spending most of my time in solitude? Right now, I find it difficult to give a clear summary of what I experienced, so I will simply attempt to list in stream of consciousness some of my impressions:

  • I wrote a lot in my journal. Random thoughts, feelings, questions, ideas. Did this help me? Yes, I believe so. But these too were not structured and I did not reach too many conclusions, thus a rather neutral state.
  • I was a lot less restless than I know myself to be when I am alone at home, than I was the last time I did a mini self retreat.
  • It is much harder to do this at home than under the guidance of a teacher.
  • There was no AHA moment. Rather, things were “slower”, more accepting of what occurred moment by moment.
  • At the same time, there were a few moments of self-criticism, doubt, frustration as to where this is going, what I want out of this.
  • I wondered if I needed to be more serious about this, i.e. go on proper retreat, follow one path/teacher instead of jumping from teacher to teacher (you should see my youtube “history”!!)
  • I have a strong desire to understand the theory of buddhism, meditation, mindfulness. Why? Because I want to share it with others and help people who want to learn. I want to know how to answer questions without having to research first out of fear of saying something stupid or wrong or just not know how to answer. Some things I understand, but ask me to repeat or explain it, I will generally fail (see my post about the topic of remembering). On the other hand, I find that my daily practice is slowly changing me in my experiences, my reactions, my understandings. This I can talk about without hesitation.
  • I have blogged more than usual. One of my reader friends commented in my previous post about the goal of writing and sharing:
    A question that I set myself was “what am I seeking?”… and I came up with the scary answer that my child-me was seeking attention, permission, and reassurance – as in “attention-seeking” etc…
    I copy this because of the raw and authentic truth in these words. There is no doubt that writing/blogging is, in some way, a longing for approval, a “well done” pat on the shoulder. I have shared my blog with some family and friends, but fewer than I would have 10 or 20 years ago. Reactions have been mixed and I realize that we all have our preferences in what we like to write and read. Those who are pulled to what I write are those who relate to what I write. A good stand-up comedian is one who finds stories and jokes that people can relate to. A great stand-up comedian doesn’t try to satisfy ALL people. He does his thing and those who relate will follow him. The same with art and books and music and blogging. It gives me joy to find that a few people relate to what I write and it affects me less if MY people (friends and family) don’t say anything or comment on my blog. This is an example of the change I mentioned above.
  • Today I have been thinking a lot about all the suffering (first noble truth) or unsatisfactoriness or pain/stress that exists around us, near and far. Beginning with my own and expanding the circle to include all beings. I imagined a little 4-year old boy in a war torn village who is forced to live in a refugee camp because his street was bombed and his parents were killed. He was “lucky” that his aunt, a friend, a stranger took him under their wing. I was thinking about a child in a first world peaceful home who whines because he is not allowed to play his nintendo after dinner. I was thinking about the woman who cries at night because she found out that her husband no longer wants to live with her, about the man who just found out that he has terminal cancer. I was thinking about the man who suffers because he doesn’t know how to overcome his anxieties, his depression, his fears. The girl who suffers because her best friend is going away to study in a different city. And my own suffering because I don’t want all this to be real and yet it is. And I have to accept it without being able to help.
  • Last (for today), I listened to this talk by Joseph Goldstein about Mindfulness: what it is and what it is not. Enjoy:

Mini self-meditation (and more) retreat – Day 2

Doing the best you can is good enough
Pema Chödron

It is 10:15am and I have two meditation sessions behind me. The first one was silent (1 hour), the second was 45 minutes. For this one, I decided to (re)listen to a guided meditation session by another one of my favorites, Pema Chödron.

Why did I make that decision?

The morning has been going well. I feel calmer, slower, connected to myself in a kind and open way. I slept well and enough. Everything is peaceful. I have no need or desire to do anything else but be here and do what I have set out to do during these three days. But. I feel like I am lacking direction. The mere fact of feeling this way may be part of yet another habit. I am not sure. All I can say is that as soon as I began to listen to Pema Chödron, I felt like this was the guidance I needed at this moment:

Later in the day: The need for guidance also comes from a questioning mind about the value of doing this. As I sit here, alone, in silence, I keep asking myself why I am doing this instead of, say, being creative (which I like to be), traveling, spending more time with family or friends, going on a hike…

The fact of doing this at home IS more difficult (as Jeremy commented – thank you 🙂 ) as one is more often prone to being pulled towards “ah, I should work in the garden” or “call a friend” or “work out” or “do land activities – pay bills, sort through paperwork, etc.” or “watch TV / 3 movies / read / listen to all sorts of talks” and the list goes on. Sticking to the schedule is hard and so far I am still at it.

But this sudden NEED for guidance is something for me to investigate. It has brought up feelings of insecurity. I find the search for guidance to be a longing for approval. And then I notice another familiar habit: the spiraling into self-analysis and attachment to problem-solving. The internal dialogue, the back and forth, the need to find answers. A jumble of narratives that only confuse me more. And then I remember what Pema said in a talk about learning to just STAY. Here is an excerpt from her book “The places that scare you”:

….There is no guarantee that sitting meditation will be of benefit. We can practice for years without it penetrating our hearts and minds. We can use meditation to reinforce our false beliefs: it will protect us from discomfort; it will fix us; it will fulfill our hopes and remove our fears. This happens because we don’t properly understand why we are practicing.

Why do we meditate? This is a question we’d be wise to ask. Why would we even bother to spend time alone with ourselves?

First of all, it is helpful to understand that meditation is not just about feeling good. To think that this is why we meditate is to set ourselves up for failure. We’ll assume we are doing it wrong almost every time we sit down: even the most settled meditator experiences psychological and physical pain. Meditation takes us just as we are, with our confusion and our sanity. This complete acceptance of ourselves as we are is called maitri, a simple, direct relationship with our being.

…….

So whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.

for more, go here

STAY

This answers a bigger question. Spiraling and trying to answer the smaller questions of my psychology / finding my place, purpose, meaning in life / what my “goals” are / how to fix my damaged parts … all that, which I have spent half of my life doing (thank you, journal, books and Gloria!) is no longer necessary. Now it is about diligently sitting in silence and opening to all that appears. And staying with it. Sitting with fear and love and uncertainty and longing and anger and jealousy and ecstasy. Staying with it without pushing or pulling.

On a slightly different note, yesterday I also watched a very detailed (long) description of a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat by a young guy. His description is so interesting, well-described and really funny! If anyone has been thinking about doing one of these retreats but still unsure, this will definitely help, either way, with your decision:

Mini self-meditation (and more) retreat – Day 1

Day 1 is complete. It is 6am and I am about to begin day two of my retreat. But first, here is my schedule:

Day 1 (Tuesday, 03.03.20)

Drink 2 Liters of water

  • 5:30 – 6:30: Wake up, shower, get ready mindfully. Prepare and drink coffee.
  • 6:30 – 7:30: Guided meditation: from Insight timer bookmark (30 minutes guided, 30 minutes silent)
  • 7:30 – 8:15: Writing / journaling / reflecting
  • 8:15 – 8:45: Free time
  • 8:45 – 9:15: Exercise/Yoga/stretch
  • 9:15 – 10:00: Sitting silent meditation
  • 10:00 – 10:30: Writing / journaling / reflecting
  • 10:30 – 11:30: Mindful cleaning and chores
  • 11:30 – 12:00: Light lunch
  • 12:00 – 14:00: Nap – Free time
  • 14:00 – 14:45: Guided or sitting silent meditation
  • The afternoon is dedicated to more writing – reading – studying
  • 17:30 – 18:00: Dinner
  • 18:00 – 18:45: Dharma talk
  • Free time

Believe it or not, I diligently pulled it through and this is already a great accomplishment for me. As I had mentioned in my last post, I had my doubts that I would manage to be this disciplined. Already, however, I can say that part of the reason for following through lies in the preparation / planning. Had I been at a retreat center, I would have just had to follow instructions and been fed. So I knew I had to create my own structure. This I did, along with setting my alarm for every new activity (13 in all).

I will try my best now to describe what day 1 was like:
– First of all, I have mixed feelings about blogging/writing while I am doing the retreat, especially the blogging part, which takes a lot of time. Were I at a retreat center (at least that is what I hear), this would probably not be allowed. And I can understand why. Even though I have decided to make this part of my schedule, I feel how writing, thinking about what I want to share takes me out of the inner circle of concentration and “being in the present”. Having said that, I made that decision and am sticking to it.
– “Being mindful” is not to be understated. In other words, it is HARD to do! Most of us, by now, know what it means. To do it as much as possible, however, is quite the challenge. In trying to be mindful, I notice how much my mind is all over the place most of the time. When I eat, I love to observe the birds outside eating the grains I give them. Even though they are right in my visual field and it is happening now, I am pulled into their world and away from mindful eating. Then I had to reread what exactly it means to mindfully eat, mindfully do your chores, mindfully take a shower etc… It’s about noticing sensations (physical, emotional), in eating it’s about noticing the texture, the smell, the shape, the taste of your food. It’s about bringing the wandering thoughts back to what you are doing in the present moment. It forces you to slow down as the input is otherwise hard to keep up with. Simple, right? HA!
– After my first meditation session, which was one hour long, I wrote in my journal. The meditation itself was not difficult. Distractions? Absolutely, but I managed to notice them and return to my anchor. There was no extraordinary moment to talk about except that (and this is something I experience quite regularly) at a certain point, there is a very pointed concentration that occurs between my eyes. People describe it as “the third eye”, there is movement and color. It would be easy to get over excited about that, but I decide not place too much value to it. What is good about it is that, in this moment, I am very present and in deep meditation.

In my writing afterwards, however, I began to harp on myself. This was interesting (from my journal):

You’re wasting your time with this! What the hell do you hope to achieve? And then you don’t even do it right. You should’ve had the courage to go to a retreat center. All you needed was to plan it and it’s not like you haven’t been wanting to do this for a few years now. Instead you stay in the comfort of your home where it’s easy and safe. I know that you are still afraid to be a big girl. And then you are too lenient, allowing for distractions. It is still too easy for you. Grow up!

Sounds a bit harsh, I know, but I allowed that voice to speak. It is a habitual and familiar voice which creeps up every once in a while. When it was done, I internally said thank you and lead it out the door, waved good bye, and returned to my schedule. THIS was different.

The rest of the day flew by.
My anxiety about time passing came up every now and then. As soon as I noticed these thoughts, I returned to my anchor.
I checked emails more than I needed or should have.
Except for Mr. Critic earlier on, I generally felt ok the whole day.
In my second meditation session, I let Sam Harris guide me for a while. Even though I still don’t really understand it when he asks us to look at who is looking at an object (in this case with eyes open), I generally appreciate, no, LOVE his style. The question of the self / no self became a topic for me in the afternoon. So I brought out a “few” of my books in order to see what they all say about it. I need to delve into this and understand what it means.

Of course I didn’t read each and every one of these books, but they are good resources for questions one might have about a specific subject. Each of them has something to say about the self / no self / ego etc. I will write about this topic at a later date, but for now, I found that Joseph Goldstein‘s example of the Big Dipper hit a spot. I leave you, therefore, with Joseph:

On some clear night, go outside, look up at the sky, and see if you can find the Big Dipper. For most people that is a familiar constellation, easy to pick out from all the other stars. But is there really a Big Dipper up there in the sky?
There is no Big Dipper up there. “Big Dipper” is a concept. Humans looked, saw a certain pattern, and then created a concept in our collective mind to describe it. That concept is useful because it helps us recognize the constellation. But it also has another, less useful effect. By creating the concept “Big Dipper”, we separate out those stars from all the rest, and then, if we become attached to the idea of that separation, we lose the sense of the night sky’s wholeness, its oneness. Does the separation actually exist in the sky? No. We created it through the use of a concept.
Does anything change in the sky when we understand that there is no Big Dipper? No. the stars in the sky remain just the same, and the pattern of the stars remains the same. We simply see that the concept that names the pattern of stars, and that separates those particular ones from all the others, does not have any independent existence.
Likewise, realizing that “self” is a concept revolutionizes our understanding by revealing how things have always been. Each one of us is a constellation of mental-physical processes. We recognize the familiar pattern, name it, and then become so identified with the concept that we fall into the great illusion of believing that some being is ultimately there. “Joseph” is just the same as “Big Dipper”. “Joseph” is just a concept, a name given to a certain pattern of elements, just as Big Dipper is a name given to a pattern of stars.
Our practice is to awaken from the illusion of taking concepts to be the reality, so that we can live in a clear awareness of how things actually are. It should be easy to free ourselves from attachment to concepts,.. but it is not. On some clear and starry night, quietly look up at the sky and observe whether it is possible not to see the Big Dipper. We have a hard time not seeing it because of strong, conditioned habits of recognition.
Meditation helps us see with bare attention just what is there. We may still use concepts when appropriate, but we do not lose touch with the reality behind them. We learn to look at the sky with a clear and silent mind; we learn to look at ourself with the same clarity and stillness.

From Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein

Mini self-meditation (and more) retreat – preparation

I just meditated for 45 minutes. This was the opening session for my upcoming mini self meditation retreat at home. The circumstances are perfect:
I have the next week off
My partner is away for two weeks
I was not able to find a proper retreat in my area at short notice so I decided to create a custom made “retreat” at home, which is comfortable, inexpensive, quiet and no one will disturb me. Since I will first spend the weekend at my mother’s home, the retreat will begin on Monday afternoon and go until Thursday evening. It’s not long, I know, but it will be enough of a challenge for me to do this. I am not the most disciplined person, especially when left alone. I am spontaneous and allow for one distraction after the other with all the interests I have. This is why over the weekend I will prepare myself for these days. I will write down a schedule and decide on a timeline, what I want to do and how. This will NOT be a purely meditation only silent retreat. It will entail meditation, writing/journaling, learning/studying/thinking, conscious and healthy eating, drinking enough water and perhaps some form of exercise or mindful walking. I have planned two meetings with friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I will communicate, but I want to still set a schedule for all these things. I will NOT do one thing when my schedule says it’s not the time for that. Just this time I want to adhere to that “rule”. There will be enough time for that “in between”. As I write this, I am already doubting myself (and laughing about it), but this is all part of the process. And my sharing this here is a way to test how serious I want to be about this. Transparency allows for vulnerability and challenges responsibility. In doing this little retreat, I see how much of a beginner I still am even though I have been meditating regularly for years.

I had already done something similar in 2018 and even though I called it a retreat, it was the exact opposite of what I want to do next week. I gave myself all the freedom within a range of “being alone” most of the time, and I tried my best to document it. I will, here too, try my best to document it, but the schedule is an important aspect.

In researching the net to find other people who have done this, I came across a few videos (here’s an example) and a blog called A life of Productivity where Chris Bailey offers a detailed schedule template. I might use this and readjust it.

There are many more thoughts and questions I already have regarding this endeavor, but for now I will leave it as is and return soon.

Now it is time to visit my mother.

Riding the wave

She knew it was going to return. She knew the equanimous state she’d been in for the past month or more was going to transition into old habits again. She became lazy – looking, perhaps, for new/old challenges.

Why?

Don’t blame the triggers. He’d been mean to her at the butcher shop. Or rather annoyed. And this was the moment that had gotten the ball rolling. Something had changed inside: turn off the trust button. Set in motion a series of defense mechanisms. Suddenly she was treading in murky waters and opened the floodgates to vulnerability, insecurity, fear, threat, mistrust. In other words “these ‘ol pals”. And then, that was it.

Two days later, the all too familiar culmination, triggered (again, it doesn’t really matter what the trigger is, but why not go for the bombastic one?) by two posted photos of people who represent unfinished business. She meditates on it. Thoughts and emotions trample into consciousness and refuse to leave, causing a rumble that wakes up the seismograph. She is sad, upset, annoyed that still, after all these years, this triangular mess is still at a primitive place.

But it is really the next step that causes the quake, the volcano of emotions and hurtful dialogue. She “shares” what she experienced in the morning, innocently believing that talking about it will release the tension and unify their bond. Instead she watches and listens to the reaction. She must have used the wrong words or facial expression… something went very wrong and shit streams out of his mouth while somewhere inside of her that little ‘ol pal jumps up and down and makes a victory dance. HA! And you really thought you were saved? You really thought that your work was done? Look at you falling apart – look at the rage and freakout mode you got yourself into! HAHAHAHA! You deserve it. You got too comfortable and weren’t careful all the time. You know that you alone are responsible for this carambolage.

Then, in the evening, after hours of self-reflection, they get on the rolercoaster ride, thinking that talking about it “like adults” will bring them closer.

Wrong.

It causes more harm.

………..

I wrote this months ago. I forgot to publish it. It surprises me to find the words and remember how much it pulled me down, rather, how much I pulled myself down in that moment. And how I forgot that this was just part of the steps I have had to take and will continue to take in order to become free. As I sit and write this now, all is well and we got through that one too. In the end, it wasn’t a rollercoaster I rode, but another wave. I fell off a few times, as I usually do, but eventually I relaxed into it and found myself at the other side, where my trust and belief in the work I do remains optimistic.

10% happier

I am currently reading and listening to a book by anchorman Dan Harris with the catchy title 10% happier. His book is the result of an on-camera panic attack followed by years of curiosity and full-on jumping on the mindfulness meditation bandwagon. The lesser reason I chose to read it is curiosity and interest. The bigger reason is that I want to see if perhaps it can help me convince my brother to make meditation part of his daily habit. So far I have failed in doing so. He would do it with me if we had that chance, but we live too far away from each other for me to hold his hand and drag him to the cushion (or comfy couch) every day. Side note: I also gave him the book Into the Magic Shop by neurosurgeon and meditator James Doty and he LOVED it (also gifted it to several people). Unfortunately, James also failed to get that one important point across to him.

The thing is that I know I can’t throw him some of the books and talks by teachers that have influenced and helped me (Pema Chödron, Joseph Goldstein, Tara Brach…).

The book, so far, is good. The audiobook is easy to listen to: Dan Harris himself narrates it in his clear and crisp anchorman voice. He has a good sense of humor and he is down to earth. Perfect for the skeptics, closeted meditators and “non-believers”. Even with all the hype and popularity, there are still many who consider meditation to be a weird new-age love fest from the 60s and 70s. Others are intimidated by the idea of just sitting and clearing the mind (this sentence alone needs a post of its own as that “clearing the mind” is a grand misconception by those whose curiosity has been peaked).

So… as I read and listen, I bookmark sections from it that I find worth sharing:

Buddhism’s secret sauce went by a hopelessly anodyne name: “mindfulness.” In a nutshell, mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now – anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever – without getting carried away by it.

According to the Buddha, we have three habitual responses to everything we experience. We want it, reject it, or we zone out. Cookies: I want. Mosquitoes: I reject. The safety instructions the flight attendants read aloud on an airplane: I zone out. Mindfulness is a fourth option, a way to view the contents of our mind with nonjudgmental remove. […] The idea is that, once you’ve mastered things like itches, eventually you’ll be able to apply mindfulness to thoughts and emotions. This nonjudgmental noting – oh, that’s a blast of self-pity… Oh, that’s me ruminating about work – is supposed to sap much of the power, the emotional charge, out of the contents of consciousness. — (10% Happier, page 104)

Just the other day, even before I read this, I understood that my thoughts were the exact same thing as an itch. In a longer meditation session, I tried not to scratch an itch I felt on my shoulder. Most of the time I ignore the challenge to stay with it just a little longer. Same thing with feeling an ache in my back or my foot falling asleep. I immediately move, adjust, scratch thinking there is no need to torture myself. This time, however, I stayed with the itch. At first, it was unbearable. The more I tried to ignore it, the bigger the urge to scratch it. My attention was no longer on the breath, but on this huge ß&%/-ing itch! Make THAT your anchor, lady! And then I got distracted and only later did I remember the itch I had. It was gone. It had passed. It was no longer huge. Something else had replaced it. And then something else replaced that. And every time, for a few minutes, I held on to that moment of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral sensation, emotion, thought. And then it was gone. This was when I understood that my huge thoughts were just a momentary itch.

They enter my consciousness and either I give them some importance and get lost in its narrative, or I note “thinking”, watch it, acknowledge it, and let it go. Enter, note, go.

This. is. mindfulness.

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?