For Ryan, the raisin was the beginning of a transformation. The retreat, conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, led Ryan on a search into how the practice of mindfulness — sitting in silence, losing oneself in the present moment — could be a tonic for what ails the body politic.
I’ve noticed that it’s getting a lot harder to fit in all the components of the 40-day challenge, especially the 20-minute meditation twice a day. It’s just harder to bite off that slice of time and block out all other activities until I come out of it. The 20-minute length is also pumping against the limits of my attention span.
The other issue is that I’ve found that I’ve been putting some tasks on the back-burner to meet my challenge targets. The first couple of weeks, I let things slide. Now I find that the backlog is demanding for my attention. And then, there are the unforeseen emergencies that throw everything out the window (too many of those have been happening recently) — but that precisely when I need a mindfulness practice.
I am currently in St. Petersburg, FL, at a reunion of my wife’s family. We met “half-way” between Ottawa (the farthest north that one of my wife’s sisters reside) and Lima (where her mother lives). A week in the sun, sand and wave never did any harm, even during the Christmas holidays.
Although my lodgings has WiFi and Internet access, it seems to be spotty for doing anything more ambitious than checking e-mail. I had to make several tries just to load the WordPress admin page. I can’t promise that I will be posting beyond this because there always seems to be a busy agenda.
Before I left on vacation, I had my hands full of end-of-year activities at work so I did not have much time or energy for posting.
After a scare last week (bloody nose), I have restarted doing my pranayama, fitting in sudarshan kriya every day, followed by meditation. I just have to make sure that I don’t get too carried away with the exhales. As I knew from five years ago, sudarshan kriya and meditation make a compact fit, require modest amounts of time and really purge a lot of mental and emotional toxins. I don’t practice Sahaj Samadhi meditation because I tend to need a technique that allows me to pin my mind to something and return to it frequently, but it allowed me to start a structured meditation practice.
Over the past six months, with multiple demands on my time and energy, I’ve had to strip my practice down to the bare minimum — or less, which is when I start noticing that my personal gyroscope starts wobbling. The essential factor is daily practice. Sure, it would be great to push my meditation to an hour a day (not in one sitting, my monkey mind can be lured into stillness for short lapses), but I’ve got to keep this practice manageable; otherwise, I will just talk myself out of doing it.
This blog has also been cut back to a minimal expression because I am in survival mode.
I have been trying to do some personal healing over this extended weekend: pranayama and meditation daily, without fail. I returned to my practice of sudarshan kriya, after having left it dormant for several years. I do my yin yoga practice in the evenings.
This year has been a real grind, and over the past few weeks, I’ve felt as if I had depleted all my reserves. I get home in the evening and have no desire to do anything, much less go to a yoga class or the gym or do any of the necessary chores that crowd my desk and spill over into my workspace. I can’t bring myself to read or I want to pull back from the world. I have refrained from writing about it here because it seems to lend itself to self-referential rumination.
I am not expecting miracles because pranayama and meditation do not suddenly make life sunny and bright. They do not put an end to my mourning for the loss of my parents and this chill of solitude that saps the joy out of life.
The Heart of Peace: An Evening of Chant and Meditation with Krishna Das and Sharon Salzberg, at Sixth & I on at 7:30 pm, Sunday, July 10. Tickets are $35 each purchased online or $40 at the door. They are making a special joint appearance in honor of the Kalachakra for World Peace. Their chance meeting in 1971 in Bodhgaya, India, where the Buddha found enlightenment, was the beginning of their individual spiritual journeys and their life-long friendship. Krisha Das is a leading practitioner of kirtan. Salzberg is a prominent voice that brought mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism into the American mainstream.
This event honors the Kalachakra for World Peace Empowerment in Washington, DC offered by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, July 6 – 16, 2011. Kalachakra is a Tibetan Buddhist ceremony that stretches over 11 days. “The Kalachakra, open to all who wish to participate, has the power to benefit all beings on this planet. The Capital Area Tibetan Association welcomes you to join in this historic event, offered with the heartfelt motivation to inspire harmonious relationships and abiding peace in our hearts and in our world.”
Buddhafest, the film and Dharma celebration, will return on June 16-19. The venue is the Spectrum Theater at Artisphere, 1611 N. Kent Street, at the corner of Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro station. Last year it was held at American University campus. Nice campus setting then, but now it will be much more accessible and concentrated in one locale.
I love my Manduka Eko mat because it’s big (71″ x 26″ ), thick (almost a quarter inch) and resilient. It cushions my knees and other pointed edges. It’s like a solid foundation that does not budge when I sink into pigeon pose. But it must weigh seven pounds, but that’s dead weight. I decided that I wanted to take it to the Buddha and the Body meditation retreat, along with my zafu and a blanket. I obviously wanted my yoga equivalent of a “security blanket.” I slung it over the shoulder in a bag that my daughter loaned me for the day.
What a mistake! Talk about taking my personal baggage to meditation!
Carrying it around on the Metro, to and from the venue, then back home, it turned into an unwieldy anchor hung around my neck. By the end of the day, I staggered to the pickup site at Rockville Metro station so that I could just unload it.
I’ve hauled it to my classes at Thrive for four years and never thought about it twice. But I was throwing it in the back seat of the car, not lugging it around. I will definitely need to find an alternative to it if I no longer have the benefit of driving to my class, workshop or retreat.
Just so you know, I am a Manduka affiliate and would get a small commission if you follow the Manduka link and buy something. Consider it a symbolic effort to recover some of the costs of this site.
Yesterday, I went to Buddha and the Body retreat organized by Jonathan Foust from the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) in a rented basement of a Northern Virginia church. Life has been so hectic over the past six-nine months, I’ve stopped attending the Wednesday evening IMCW session with Tara Brach, and not been able to find a more convenient time slot to engage in group meditation. I figured that I could cram my meditation requirement into an intensive day-long session (9:30-5:00, with several breaks).
What I did not count on was the physical beating that my body would take from being seated in easy pose for much of the day. Because my hips have opened up over the past year, I decided to bring my zafu cushion and sit on a yoga mat, rather than be a wimp stilling on a chair. What was deceptive was that I felt extremely comfortable seated in easy pose, propped up on a folded blanket and my cushion, and could keep my spine poised vertically over my hips with ease. Both legs (thighs, knees and calves) were resting on the ground (my right left tends to rise). But I did not realize how grueling the experience would be. My muscles were not used to sustaining the pose for hour after hour (with breaks, of course), especially in the deepest reaches of my core muscles. In previous extended sessions of easy pose, I found myself slumping over and tilting the hips back, being unable to hold the arch in the small of my back, which was a clear alert to shift to a different posture or seating arrangement.
All this fatigue crept up on me. After the lunch break, I noticed that it became harder and harder to keep my mind focused on meditation. I was so numb and fatigued that I could not identify where the problem was. Even when we were laying down, I could not keep my mind on target. I felt as if I was just skimming over the surface of my mind. If there had been symptoms, such as leg cramps or going to sleep, I could have identified it and changed my sitting posture.
After the retreat finished, I took the long Metro ride home from Ballston, Virginia. It seemed to take ages (more like 90 minutes, with a transfer at Metro Center, thanks to the slower Saturday train schedule). I had dinner, took the dogs for a walk, and then took stock of my body: I realized that I was extremely exhausted, even though I did not have any sore muscles,. I hit the bed and did not regain consciousness until 7:00 the next morning. Once I was back on my feet, I could tell that my hips and associated muscles had the post-exertion ache of being pushed beyond standard limits.
Of course, I should really be talking about Jonathan Foust’s dynamic meditation method and the impact of the meditation itself, but it will have to come in another entry.