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Posts Tagged ‘vipassana’

 

Meditation Hall

 

I’m heading off to a Vipassana retreat, and I won’t be able to make phone calls, check email, write, read, or otherwise speak for a week.  And I am so thrilled!  The problem is in the leaving.  I’m trying to finish off a big work project (procrastinating until the final second), and clean the house, and be kind to my pets (as I’m leaving them alone for almost two days until my sister flies home).  Money.  Do you remember the days of not having to worry about it?  And why did that thought come out?  Probably because September is a slow moneymaking month (holidays), I’m owed some money, and I’m taking a whole week off that I could be working, thus making September less painful.  And as I’m an independent, the amount I make every month varies.  Oh goodness.  I just hope I can unwind quickly enough.  At moments like these I’m embarrassed for myself, as I don’t feel like a self-sufficient productive member of society.  Who are you and what good are your degrees and diplomas and accomplishments if you worry like mad about bills?  And yet, I’m going to Vipassana.  Buddhist teachings have changed my life, but it is so much harder to release and let go than one could possibly imagine.  How do you live every day, consciously, with insight, with grace, kindness, and compassion…and work like a maniac, plan for the future, wash the dishes, date, write, go to school, work, meditate, work, meditate, cook, work, etc, etc, etc?  This is why retreats exist.  To get away.  Refresh.  Relax.  Focus.  Gear up to go back.

 

Sangha

 

OK.  So back to work.  To procrastinating.  To cooking up yet more of the greens in my fridge (yes, I have succeeded in eating nothing but greens and tahini and a few nuts for 4 days now).  To packing.  To not being in the moment so that tomorrow I will receive an even bigger shock when I get to meditate 24/7.  Yippee!

A wonderful Sukkot holiday to all!

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An "art-short-story" I adore, created by Brian Andreas. I keep this above my bed.

‘Twas yesterday.  My birthday.  31 on the 31st.  My golden birthday, gone in a flash.  Shared another birthday with Harry Potter (and his creator JK Rowling), and now an anniversary with Chelsea Clinton, apparently.  Went swimming in the sea, had a lovely Italian breakfast with my mother at Rustico Basel, a leisurely soy ice coffee with my sister at Loveat, and had a little wine and cheese night up on the roof garden with dear friends and family (some of the best Camembert on record!).  Besides the detour of picking up party supplies, cleaning house, and baking my own cake, it was very relaxing.

Harry turned 30 yesterday

I am absolutely thrilled that I had a wonderful birthday – and that it was like almost any other good day. What I mean by that is for the first time in my life, I didn’t put my birthday up on a pedestal.  I didn’t stress out.  I didn’t have high hopes or low hopes.  I didn’t have hopes.  And it was marvelous.  Not too different than other marvelous days, but just a little more special.  I am looking forward to future birthdays just like this.  Fun, but without grandiose expectations.

Birthdays are always a good chance to take stock.  In recent years I feel like I haven’t accomplished much.  When you’re young, in school, working your first jobs, achieving demonstrable things is what’s expected.  School plays, good grades, choir concerts, varsity letters, diplomas, certificates of honor, promotions, etc, etc.  Now, it’s not so noticeable; life seems to grind on. A lot.  And it’s not so clear what you or the world would consider an accomplishment.  So, without further ado, an attempt at listing this years’ (potential) accomplishments, in no particular order:

  • Forging a new career as a freelance virtual assistant , writing/blogging consultant, and editor.
  • A trip to Provence with good friends for good food, good wine, good culture, good Scrabble, and good conversation.
  • Lots of organic veg, lots of cooking and eating, and lots of blogging about it.
  • Wine work – huge expos, weekend wine tastings, a couple trips to wineries, and my first actual (I guess, professional, ee gad!) presentation.
  • Yoga! Lots and lots of Yoga. Every Thursday. Come rain or shine.
  • Sommelier course – or the closest you can get to it in Israel. So much fun, for so many reasons.
  • Got into grad school (MA in Creative Writing). Starting in 2 weeks. We’ll see how that goes…
  • Buddhist meditation – life-changing practice. It’s saved me, for so many reasons.
  • Vipassana retreat – silence and meditation 24/7 for 7
  • Leadership, again – helped form a Sangha (meditation community), 10th college reunion committee recruitment chair (12 new members in less than 2 weeks!), and potentially volunteering to organize an alumni event for the U of C Israel Alumni Club.
  • Reality TV show – my sister and I (and our lovely apartment) starred in a house hunting show.
  • Almost a month in the States – spent quality time with old friends and family by way of an east coast whistle-stop tour, a mid-west road trip blasting Hemingway on the speakers, and an Iowa wedding. The best of times.
  • Read some good books, made a couple good friends, drank some good wine, and at brief moments, felt good and knew it.

Not a bad year if you look at it empirically.  I know that I diminish my accomplishments and experiences because the negative and what I perceive as missing, overshadow the good. Namely, the never-ending battle to achieve work-life balance, and the never-ending battle to get out of dodge (aka single-dom).  Luckily, I’m much less paranoid about both.

My hope is that I (and all of us) will continue to become grounded, perceive the here-and-now as much as possible, be in a position to recognize moments of happiness when they come, explore our world, explore the paradox, create beauty, and take some risks.  Some good big risks.  Onward and upward!

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I haven’t blogged in an eternity.  It has been difficult to share with people what I experienced a few weeks ago, and I’m still not sure I want to – or if this story will interest anyone.  I feel I’ve become some sort of missionary – but please know that that is the last of my intentions. Without further ado – here’s the blog post.

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Does sitting silently with 100+ strangers in the middle of nowhere for 7 days sound like a vacation to you?  I don’t know if I was nuts out of my mind when I signed up, but it did indeed sound like the perfect getaway for this stressed out Telavivian.

From March 31 to April 6 I attended a Vipassana Retreat – a living meditation immersion, where from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm all time was devoted to sitting, standing, and walking meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition – conducted completely in noble silence.

I can say with certainty that attending this retreat (hosted by the incredible Tovana organization and led by Dharma teacher Christopher Titmuss) was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

For those who don’t know anything about Buddhism, I don’t want to go into detail here and risk boring or alienating you.  What I would like to do is share with you even a small bit of what the experience was like.

Buddhism in 10 words:

There is suffering, and there is an end to suffering.

The Buddhist teachings, known as the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali), spoke so clearly to me.  To even touch upon them in such brevity would be fruitless here.   They tell of a “middle path,” not one of religion and not one of secular life – away from both the comforts of blind faith and competitive addictive materialism.  The smallest summary – Buddhism is the most peace-loving and logical philosophy and practice I have ever encountered.  And I stress philosophy and practice.  Buddhism did not begin as a religion – it became one – probably contrary to what the historical Buddha would have wanted.  This is not to say that all the religious Buddhists today are in the wrong.  But I do want to communicate here is that you can be a good Jew, Christian, Muslim, or anything else, and still practice meditation, live by Buddhist ways.  Never did we speak of God.

The meditations, difficult as it is to sit on your ass for 8+ hours every day, frustrating as it is to hear yourself silently repeating over and over, “why the fuck am I here,” eventually become incredibly beautiful experiences.  I don’t think I have ever experienced such complete calm as I did then.  After a few days, your senses become heightened.  Smells, sounds, tastes – both within your body and without – become acutely fine-tuned.  Silence, a scary concept for busy city dwellers, becomes a beautiful, no, a precious commodity.

Calmness – however – is not the goal of meditation. Vipassana means insight.  If we can quiet all our voices, focus our minds, practice mindfulness, we then are in a position to really examine ourselves.  Before I started meditating, I thought that it would be easy or boring or simply a tactic at reducing stress.  Now I know it’s a difficult lifelong process.  It is a process of learning how to end suffering. Because we all suffer in varying degrees – from the drudgery of work, to the annoyances of family, to the very fiber of our social structure of making it, making it big, buying it all, impressing the neighbors, becoming famous, seeking out the finest pleasures, and reviling all that is ugly and painful.

Coming back to Tel Aviv was not as difficult as I had expected.  I believe this is because I learned to process fear differently.  I wasn’t dreading the drudgery.  I wasn’t scared of life after the calm.  But I also didn’t know how to share what I experienced.  I still don’t.  I live with my sister, a beautiful human being, who I believe is governed by a lot of anger and self doubt.  It would be highly unlikely that she would even want to begin to understand.  Some friends gave me wide eyed, “oh my god she’s gone off the deep end and joined a cult,” expressions while politely nodding.  Luckily, I found several groups to study and meditate with.  I have meditated twice every day (or more, on days I have meetings and classes) for a month.  For related reasons, but not ones altogether decided upon, I have not been eating any meat.  I have been sleeping more, and I have found that the life I had found to be exceptionally dull, painful, and hopeless at times (time spent with yoga, wine, food, friends, good books being the exception), was all of a sudden not only tolerable, but beautiful.  I wash dishes.  I clean the cat box.  I work at the computer.  And I am fine.  I do not suffer. As much. It is a process, after all.  And boy oh boy, does it take time and learning.

I am stopping now.  If you’d like to know more, please email me.  If you’re in Tel Aviv and want to come with me to Dharma talks and/or learn how to meditate, email me.  In all, dear readers of mine, please know that I am actually happier than I was.  There are those few moments in our busy lives when we can stop and put a finger down and say, “here, now, I am happy.”  I’m having more of those now than I’ve had in a long time.

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