Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Long awaited photos

Hey folks! I had a really scary moment! I thought I lost all of my photos from an 8 GB memory card! This is the second time a memory card was infected by an Indian computer and my photos were seemingly erased! My friend Dave was able to recover most of them from this recent card! Shwewh! I'll have to deal with one of the cards when I get home... But for now, I am going to have to share my photos in a new way... So if you are interested in seeing photos from my time at the silent meditation retreat in Tiruvannamalai check out this link below! I hope to do an update on my time in Varanassi VERY soon as it was a mind blowing experience!!!! I am now in Rishikesh and will be heading to volunteer at the orphanage soon! Much love to you all! Hugs, Jen

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's a bumpy road to Nirvana

"It is not a an intellectual affair but when the heart enters into the mind, the mind has quite a different quality. It is  really, then limitless, not only in its capacity to think, to act efficiently, but also in its sense of living in a vast space where you are part of everything." J. Krishnamurti

Most people would assume signing on for a 30 day silent meditation retreat is about the pursuit of a peaceful experience.... but what you may not realize, is that along with the possibilities of observing and experiencing pleasant, comfortable, and joy filled mind states, comes the likelihood of  facing more difficult emotions and habitual patterns that we have employed since we were little. 

The type or practice that I do is considered Vipassana or insight meditation where one observes thought patterns with the hopes that in watching them, you will come to notice their grip on you and begin to question their truth and in turn lead you to deeper realizations that can bring more peace and happiness. For me, I can sometimes see the neurotic patterns and even laugh at myself, which, seems to ease the attachment I originally had on them. It is quite remarkable to catch sight of the stories our minds create and the knee jerk reactions or emotions and let it be just that without actually responding and then seeing if there are other possibilities that arise. 

While "meditating," I like to dub the roles I play in my personal drama the victim, the villain and the hero as I watch the stories I create and recreate.  It is always a welcomed relief when bliss and peace decide to make a  guest appearance. I am often convinced that while sitting, I have the busiest and most boring mind of anyone in the meditation hall! I mean really, if you are going to repeat the same type of narrative over and over like a 3 year old wanting to watch the same exact section of a Disney film or have you read them the same bed time story book over and over again, couldn't it at least be thinking about quantum physics or how to solve the world's hunger problem? Then someone next of me starts to snore and I think, "Well, at least I am not sleeping!" Because comparing ourselves to others always brings us peace! Not!!!! 

Some enlightening moments: While lying in the meditation hall one evening early in the trip, I heard the beeping of a watch alarm go off a few times. My mind went to, "Wow, why won't that person turn off their alarm?" And when it happened again feeling a little more agitated I thought, "Maybe they don't know how to turn it off." The next time it was going non stop and I was feeling more anger and judged, "How rude! You would think that if they didn't know how to turn it off they would just leave the hall!!!!" After perseverating on that for a while, I think I then ignored it and went on to ruminate about something else. The next night during a "peaceful" meditation I heard the beep again and noticed that it actually was pretty sporadic and that it was coming from multiple directions which led me to the realization that the sound was actually coming from a watch alarm sounding insect of some sort. I really had to laugh at myself every time I tuned into it over the next 28 days or so! 

Another example was reading a post on the bulletin board where notes and replies could be privately posted  to teachers or the managers. Someone wrote an anonymous inquiry asking, "Can someone explain why it sounds like we are living in a war zone?" Remember the peaceful description I wrote in my last blog post? Well there were occasional dynamite blastings that I hardly noticed from someone breaking up rocks down the way. My first reaction was, "Well that seems like a bit aggressive! And why wouldn't someone post it directly to a teacher and sign it instead of needing to make sure we all got and merged with how annoyed he or she was?" Then I thought about it for another minute and considered, if someone was in the military service they would likely be much more tuned into the sound of an explosion and could actually find it quite traumatizing.  Now I don't know if that story was accurate or not either, but considering it allowed me to notice my immediate judgement and drop it and the need to know more about the story. 

The cheating I described was that the retreats were actually designed to be 3 nine day retreats with a day and a 1/2 off in between. I had every intention of staying in silence in between.... but not everyone did.... So during the transition interesting people were connecting and meeting each other and I caved each time. Actually, I was really pleased with my decision each time.... there was plenty of time to stay inward and reflect the other 27 days of retreat! Trust me! 

Well, that is just a little glimpse into the almost impossible to explain, diverse, remarkable, challenging, delightful experience I had on retreat. The retreat I am on now is very different and involves inquiries, where someone has a question, poses it to the teacher and they explore it together until an understanding is reached, along side of small group discussions about other dharma teachings. I am much more in my head here but am enjoying this as well!

Sorry, still no time for photos, but hopefully the next time will do a blog with just that! 

Happy Valentines Day! Sending heart filled love all of your ways! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Heat Retreat and Menopause

This is going to be my own personal sequel to Elizabeth Gilbert's books Eat Pray Love and Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. Well, I am out of retreat and still in Tiruvannamali for another day. I am about to do a 3-4 hour full moon hike around Mt Arunachala, an extinct volcano which is one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage sites in India because Shiva was said to have appeared as a column of of light to form it. Sri Ramana Maharishi was said to reach enlightenment in a cave, which is now a temple on the mountan. I will be heading to Chennai tomorrow in order to fly to Varanasi the next day to attend another meditation retreat with the teacher Christopher Titmuss. I will be travelling with my friend Dave and several new friends met on this previous retreat.

I know I will not have the time or energy to fill you in on everything right now, but wanted to be sure to make some contact. And let you know I am well and continuing to love this journey.

I will start by trying to describe the environment I was in at Anantha Niketan Ashram in Tiruvannamalai. The ashram is on a small farm outside of the city with iridescent green rice paddy fields, beautiful trees to provide well needed shade,  hammocks hung perfectly for napping, papaya and coconut trees to provide fruit, lotus ponds with sublime purple and pink flowers, bright green parrots flying above, cawing crows, an open meditation hall under a tin roof against the rocks, a laundry washing area with stone slabs to beat your clothes against while listening to sheep "baaa" in the farm beyond the fence, stunning nature walks with views of Mt Arunachala and passing smiling local villagers herding their cows, sheep, and goats, brightly painted houses, and flower farms, an echophony (I am of making up my own word here to describe the symphony of crickets, frogs and other insects in the environment serenading you to sleep) of music impossible to ignore, delicious food (well, until the end, where 30 days of eating any similar food will make you crave eating at McDonalds... a gross exageration, but you get the point!), dragon flies and lovely butterflies hovering above, sunny days, light winds billowing to appease the suffering from the heat which was magnified by "fricken" hot flashes that my roommate helped me reframe as power surges, a thatched roof cottage shared with beautiful Jane, who if she was casted in my movie, she would be played by a slightly more elegant, sexy instead of cutesie Meg Ryan with a British accent as the role of Marry Poppins because of her magic bag of potions and lotions for my every need, metal cots with the same material a checkered woven beach lounge is made of with a very thin cotton mattress to sleep on, bucket baths for showers and shared bathrooms with scary giant black ants that hung out on the toilet at night, a small silver snake that I made into a cartoon character in my mind so that it wouldn't freak me out that would drop down from the tin roof of the meditation hall to make her way back up to the tree she lived in just outside the hall, cows with brightly painted horns adorned with fake flowers and bells, children on one size fits all bikes riding past the ashram on their way to and from  school, nemesis mosquitoes that laughed at our insect repellent and buzzing flies challenging your practice, and a few children of workers and visiting from the village to help out in exchange for food that provided constant joy.

If you thought that staying in silence for 30 days was an amazing accomlishment.... (I cheated a little... will explain later)... get a load of the schedule I withheld!!!! 6:00 wake up.... 6:30 gentle yoga.... 3 meals a day, sitting/lying and walking meditations scattered throughout the day/eve, with a daily dharma talk and evening chanting ending at 8:15 and often bed by 9:30! Now THAT'S amazing! I know right? Who am I? But I did it! And it was wonderful. I have to meet someone to go to dinner and then do this walk in 10 minutes so will end here for now with pictures and more to follow as soon as possible!!!! And will reply to individual emails as soon as possible!

Much love to you all!