In the grit…

This past month has been a rollercoaster of very intense negative mental states, namely great waves of fear, irrational guilt and doubt. Regularly, I’ve woken up in the early hours of the morning with my heart pounding and my mind racing. I lie there, trying to ground into my body trying not to get swept awake by the pervasive and persistent trains of thoughts, racing over and over again in my mind. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

So I get up. Shower. Drink a cup of herbal tea and look at the sky peeking out above the buildings ahead of me. I notice the sounds. How silent it can be even in zone 2, just 15 minutes from the bustling consumer bombardment of Oxford Street. As Spring advances, the rumbling of the occasional train is joined by the chirrups of bird song. I try to make myself bigger and connect with this boundless spaciousness which is right there, if only I can direct my attention.

Sometimes it feels like the fizziness of this emotional viparka gets trapped in my body: my neck, jaw,shoulders,upper back, chest,eyebrows,head. It hurts. It prickles. It burns. It feels like a dead-end, where something in me blocks and resists, that I am somehow too afraid to really feel what is going on. I stretch, twist, turn and open with yoga, trying to unlock.

Then I sit in meditation. What do I need today? How can I be loving and kind to myself through meditation? Often it seems that just watching and being with the breath,paying attention to its detail, is the right medicine. My muscles and back click and pop as something releases itself. I am trying to remember to turn towards what is pleasurable in my experience, not focus on what hurts, but I often forget. This tendency manifests itself right out into my wider life, my tendency to see all the problems that often I forget to see what is beautiful and positive and already there. It’s shifted so much, but still my meditation shows me the depths of its habitual presence.

Sometimes I can drop, drop,drop or expand,expand,expand to connect with a deep beauty. A sense of ever-widening connection and spaciousness, where these emotional viparkas become a much smaller part of my experience. A lot of the time right now, I can just see how my mind will do anything and everything to distract itself from staying present.

And even though these viparkas are so strong, I don’t feel nearly as overwhelmed by them as I used to. I don’t quite believe them or take them so seriously. I generally feel quite well and happy, although quite tired. I can create some space around them, although I can also see the limitations of my practice.

Something in me is shifting again and I wonder what it is and why Mara is getting out the big guns…

 I am seeing impermanence more, and my ego finds this hard to bear. And the many facets of my delusions.What I thought was true about me, about my past, just feels very limited, like seeing only through one prism of a kaleidoscope. I am remembering more and is shifting the sands of who I think I was/am. It feels like I can let go more easily (although with my big samskaras I wish it was so easy…)and I am becoming more uncertain yet more robust. It’s hard to explain or put a finger on it…and maybe I don’t need to know.

All I know is that I am content to be in the grit, because from the grit a pearl may be born.

Landing

just before I go to India, there is often this sense of clarity around my own mortality, and a fear of dying most probably in a grisly car accident. If you’ve been on the roads there, you’ll know why…I take myself away from the hyper risk adverse safety of the UK into…well…slightly more chaotic surroundings when the British farewell of “Have a safe journey”becomes the Indian farewell of “happy journey” But I am back. And very much alive. And each time it gets harder to leave.

There is something of my self/my ego that does die on each trip. Each time I comea back a little more Indian, a little less British. Not quite the same as before. There’s a loss that I need to accept and adapt into this slightly shifted new being.

I feel it keenly this time. Somehow it seems like I have been away a whole year. Maybe it is the shift from summer back to winter. Maybe it is the unexpected arising of conditions which made me feel like I was on shifting sand in my last week, and the only thing that I could do was surrender, turn up and be authentic.

Today I walked along the canal in the grey wintry light, past colourful narrowboats, lovers old and young holding hands, testing unused muscles more adapted to sitting over the last few months. It was quiet. People walked their glamorous dogs. Fathers pushed buggies. I saw faces from all over the world in the course of a few miles. It felt comfortable. And safe.

But I missed the wide open smiles of strangers, the colours of saris,the chaos. I was shocked to see people openly drinking in the park in the early afternoon, swigging from beer cans, downing wine from a bottle. Noticing the smell of marijuana. It’s rare to see these sights in India, yet it is so normalised here. But, it doesn’t feel normal to me anymore. I find it painful. 

I smiled when I saw all the commuters on their bikes, lit up with dayglo clothing and lights. I thought about how deeply deeply fortunate I am to live in such a prosperous and liberal city, where there is so much freedom to be whoever you want. And I wondered, how well am I using this freedom? Does my gratitude reach deep enough? 

How easy it can be to assume that the rest of the world is like the country I grew up in, whereas in fact, it is us that is the anomoly. And how much of this beautiful, easy life is build on the back of other’s suffering which we have outsourced to where we can’t see it? The trendy jeans that have been made in the sweatshops I witnessed again in Ulhasnagar, the cheap electronic devices….
I am a jumble of emotions today, slowly grounding with sadness and longing and a deep felt sense of dukkha.

So, I sit on my cushion…

It’s been a long time…

So long since I last posted, I don’t know where to start or begin. But today, sitting in my hotel room in Pune, India I feel inspired to write something,anything.

I feel like such a different person to who I was this time last year. Internally, something has shifted deeply. There is new depth, new confidence. My going for refuge has expanded so much through a year of intense practice – beautiful and challenging retreats, the privilege of intimate friendships, and a few trips to India. There’s so much I could say about my experiences in India, the sangha in India, suffering, love, generosity. It is a humbling privilege where I receive so much more than I can ever give.  I am going to try to write more about this.

All this whilst integrating the impact of the Dharma Life Course. Somehow, and it’s not always been straightforward, the horizontal has caught up with the vertical system of practice.

There is still plenty to work on, plenty to unfold, plenty to be broken open and integrated, but I feel clearer, more contented and confident that if I “just get on with it”that I will be deepening my going for refuge. 

I cried in November when an old family friend told me how happy he was that I was more and more like the child he remembered. This is true, so much fear has dropped away and that loving, open hearted child who just wants to connect and give to others, feels like she has re emerged. Hopefully with a little more wisdom! And a little less ego…

Somehow, I seem to even look different. My good friend Vidyadharini told me my whole face has changed, softened. I don’t know how or why…maybe it’s all the photos with my beloved Indian friends…

It’s almost two years since I walked out of my front door weeping rushing for the train to Adhisthana, knowing that my old life was ending, that I was going into the unknown and not being sure what would be on the other side. A leap of faith that has brought so much beauty and depth beyond my wildest imagination two years ago.

I have so much gratitude towards all the people and all the experiences that have brought me to here, right now. I still have so much to learn from those further ahead of me on the path. I mess up. Often. The ever-unfolding nuances of the precepts show me how I limit myself, block my going for refuge, hinder others. But, the arya sangha is there reminding me of unconditional love and support.

I have everything I will ever need. I just need to use it with wisdom, compassion, metta, patience and generosity.

May my whole life be a prostration to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Landing…

Reflections on possibilities and freedom, today I:

  • walked freely on clean pavements breathing in (reasonably) fresh air
  • chose what I wanted to wear and saw women wearing whatever they wanted to wear in this sunny weather (shorts, hijabs, pink hair, dresses, trousers…)
  • hugged a male friend without it meaning anything more than it did
  • saw same-sex couples holding hands and an ordinary public bus decorated in rainbow flags celebrating LGBT Pride
  • experienced a public landscape where the gender balance was evenly split between men and women
  • didn’t see a single man pee wherever he felt like!
  • felt completely safe
  • saw many women wandering freely and happily on their own
  • spent time with three amazing, inspiring close female friends who have been able to use their unique talents to benefit the world
  • basked in the sun in a beautiful park
  • watched children freely splashing and playing carefree in the fountains outside the Southbank Centre
  • relished the (relative) peace and quiet of London
  • walked without concern for my personal safety along a canal in the evening light
  • brushed my teeth and drank water from the tap
  • had a daily water and electricity supply
  • put my dishes in a dishwasher, washed my clothes in a washing machine giving me more time for other things
  • connected to the internet on my smartphone
  • had space and time to meditate
  • talked to my friends about love and romance, and noticed that we have the choice about who/what/when/how
  • felt boundless grateful for the life I have here, for the freedoms I have, just by the fact of my birth to my particular family, at this particular time, and in this particular place
  • felt so sad about the wasted potential of so many girls and women who do not have the opportunities that I have, just by the fact of their birth at a particular time and a particular place that is so different to my own yet just 9 hours away by plane.
  • have felt my heart break…and wonders if I could have survived the lives they lead…I don’t think I am strong enough…
  • thought about my friends doing amazing work to give women and girls choices, courage and skills, and how strong, and how resilient, and how compassionate and how awe-inspiring they are
  • remembered the amazing dignified young women and girls they are working with, and whose lives they are transforming, and how much I hope that they can fulfil their dreams and their potential which shines through their eyes and smiles.

May the tears of Green Tara’s boundless compassion that sees things so clearly as they are, rain down their light on us all.

Radiance Sutras, translated by Lorin Roche

There is a place in the heart where everything meets.
Go there if you want to find me.
Mind,senses,soul,eternity,all are there.
Are you there?
Enter the bowl of vastness that is the heart.
Give yourself to it with total abandon….
Once you know the way
The nature of attention will call you
To return,again and again,
And be saturated with knowing,
“I belong here, I am at home here.”

On what would have been your 104th birthday

Every time a shopkeeper passed you a shiny new coin, you kept it aside in your knitted purse. Coming home, you took down the jar in the glass – fronted cupboard and dropped it in. One by one or two by two, slowly the mountain of sparkling silver and fiery copper grew. Until, it came to Easter or Christmas time. Then, you slowly brought down the jar and poured the coins onto the table. Sorting them, separating them into piles of pennies, tuppences, 5ps, 10ps,20ps. These stacks were then divided into seven equally distributed plastic money bags. One for each of your beloved grandchildren. We loved to receive these shiny coins. £2.83. £3.61.£1.92. It wasn’t really about the value but the thought. The thought that each time you saw a shiny coin, you thought of us. You chose not to spend the money on yourself but save it for us, when you just had your state pension to live on.

This was so typical of your generosity. You were always doing things for others, using your amazing knitting and crocheting skills to make gifts, even for people you didn’t know. You knitted blankets for people in India and Africa. You made scarves for my friends at university who you never met. You gave what you could to charity. Helped friends when they needed it.

You taught all your grandchildren many lessons just through being you. And you were missed this weekend, when the first of your grandchildren got married. But we remembered the coins, your kindness, unconditional love and strength. And, how, on occasion, we each still buy summer fruits squash as that’s what we used to drink with you.

You lived until you were just over 90. Loving us unconditionally. We miss you. Happy 104th!

Back on the saddle

Today I cycled to work for the first time in a very long time…since September I think. I’ve got many excuses – I’ve been out of the country a lot, I am not a fan of dark winter nights with rain and cold and the times I did try to cycle to work, something always seemed to go wrong…so my cycling became weekend potters around my neighbourhood rather than proper distances across London.

But, I’ve missed it so, missed it more than I realised. Sitting here on my sofa I feel like I’ve been on a day retreat, just because I’ve cycled to and from work.

The fizzy energy that has felt stuck in my head for the last week has melted into a feeling of earthy connection through all of my body. I feel balanced. And I didn’t quite realise how out of balance I was. I do yoga and walk every day, but there is something about doing enough exercise which makes your body properly settle.

The tight contracted chest, where my heart and lungs felt like someone was standing on them, has just softened out. The release makes me almost cry. It has been so painful for the last few weeks. No yoga asanas have been able to shift it, but it seems an hour of cycling uphill and getting properly out of breath has loosened the tight muscles. Amazing!

Today has also been beautiful and bright and it feels like such a spacious treat to meander through parks, quiet roads, beautiful squares listening to the birds catching each other’s ears, feeling the air chill my face and catching glimpses of beautiful spring flowers. It reminds me of my daily walks at Adhisthana where each day I saw Spring unfold as different plants took their turn to emerge. I deeply miss the intimate connection to nature I had there, somehow by cycling I get a little taste of it amongst the concrete, tarmac and bricks.

And there is just something great about getting somewhere on your own steam, that engages you intimately with how neighbourhoods connect. It’s like I am writing the geography of London into my muscles.

There’s also the added benefit of saving money!

I just love it!

So, I am going to commit to cycling to work three times a week whilst we are on British Summer Time. I’m publishing this so my friends can hold me to account!

Returning

Discombobulated, I’ve arrived back home after  5 weeks in India for my job. It feels very strange, disconcerting, unsettling:

  • My body is adjusting to a 30C temperature difference. Where your house is a place you go to get warm rather than to get cool
  • The skies are grey and my pupils contracted-so-often-by-blazing-sun are struggling to adjust. It takes more effort just to see
  • I have heard one car horn in the last 48 hours (yes, Indian friends, this is one singular beep)
  • The quiet is unsettling. The only noise distracting me is the rattle and rush of my own thoughts. I no longer am a temple of stillness, my world is the temple of stillness around me
  • At night, the air remains still and clear, with no fogs of smoke from home fires burning wood, cow-dung or whatever else can be found
  • It is perfectly possible to walk on a pavement and the traffic is orderly. There is no unexpected rut or 10ft hole in the road that the auto has to navigate around
  • There are rules and signs everywhere telling you what you can and cannot do
  • Where have the smiles gone? And the colour?
  • The trees are bare and colour comes from the crocuses and daffodils bearing their heads against the icy breeze
  • My bones ache from the damp cold
  • I am still sweating out spices although the food is so plain. I haven’t had rice or dahl or chapatti or curd for days.
  • I automatically want to eat with my right hand
  • There is toilet paper
  • No one else knows or has enquired about the state of my bowel movements
  • I can walk peacefully alone by a beautiful canal dotted with colourful boats
  • Every dog has an owner, a lead and a little coat on to keep warm
  • I miss the spontaneity of my Indian friends where a passing hello turns into a spontaneous hangout
  • My head is full of my own financial issues, trying to organise my mortgage and feeling anxious. I take a breath. And remember just a few days ago I visited a home which was half the size of my bedroom where 6 people lived. With no running water and great ingenuity. Perspective.
  • I have a whole apartment, with stuff. Not just a suitcase…admittedly a rather full and heavy suitcase, and a bag and a rucksack…but still I have a whole apartment of stuff that I had completely forgotten about/do I really need?
  • It’s so much easier to meditate in this environment
  • I’m anonymous again.
  • People complain a lot here, when we have so much.
  • I’ve forgotten how to be on my own, after so long with others. But, I am deeply and unavoidably interconnected with other beings in a way that I cannot grasp
  • I cannot wait to dance with wild abandon on Saturday night
  • I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to experience India again and deepen friendships. I am so happy when I am there (with moments of complete exhaustion), India has stolen some of my heart and I’m not going to get it back
  • I finally will be in one place for more than 6 weeks, after 7 months of unsettledness.
  • Adhisthana feels like a surreal and distant dream although everything I do is entwined with its legacy
  • I’m home. But there’s no such thing as ‘home’ anymore, more ‘homes’.

Winter ramblings

I’m sitting writing this looking out at a sky that’s never lifted above a wintry grey. The promise of snow has yet to deliver and I’m tucked under my green woollen blanket trying to defrost my toes. It’s strange to imagine that in a few weeks, I’ll be sitting looking at a different sky, my toes perspiring in 35C. I’m feeling unsettled at the moment, my life feels restless. I’m never in one place for long, always visiting different places which also feel like home. It’s such a contrast to last year where my world narrowed to anywhere I could walk to within an hour from the grounds of Adhisthana, where I revelled in the minutia of change, the unfolding buds, leaves and birdsong as Spring arrived and left. Since then, my life has continued to be out of a suitcase, but one that gets packed and unpacked in more places and for shorter periods of time in each place. And this is what my life will be like for the foreseeable future, so I look to find my grounding, my centre point inside myself. Home is where the heart is after all.

I was on retreat for most of the festive break. A gloriously silent, spacious and doing-nothing adventure into my mind. After so much, it was so lovely to just have so little to do, and to just be. Relieving. Relaxing.  It was interesting to see very clearly the limitations of my reactive mind and also the expansive boundless possibilities of my creative mind – and to oscillate between them. To see how much I can hold myself back. To see how much rumination and unwise thought stop me from being present, and how strong a habit they are for me. And to see if I just softly, softly, softly allow something else to arise and emerge, what beauty can manifest itself.

Just letting all the pieces of the puzzle that were put together at Adhisthana just fall into place through meditation, long walks and doing nothing. It’s the first retreat where I didn’t read beyond the first day. Not a jot. And I had no inclination to do it either. I just felt quite deeply that I had all the resources in me to deal with whatever might arise, I knew how to look after myself and that there was just so so much around me to take in and be present with, particularly the beautiful natural surroundings. I just needed nothing else, except to be in dialogue with that which arose.

I felt deeply connected to gratitude and loving-kindness. I am so grateful (beyond words) for the opportunities that I had in 2015, and everything in my life that happened before which led to me being there. I also just felt so very deeply connected to others – over the last year I’ve just met so many remarkable human beings, doing the very best they can – and many of their faces popped into my meditation. It made me reflect on how many lives, how many people have I had contact with in my life so far, it’s impossible to imagine or count…and how deeply interconnected we all are to one another.

I’m not sure whether I have any major “resolutions” for 2016 except to continue to let life unfold, to work with what is present in my experience and be kind to myself and others. There will still be adventure but I don’t have this big “oh my gosh, what I am letting myself in for” experience of a course. Just, to let all that emerge integrate within myself. I’ve changed so much. I couldn’t have imagined it or how I am now one year ago, and I can hardly imagine or remember how I was a year ago. It’s quite strange. But good. Very good.