Tādāsana: on integrity and mountains

integrity

Some days it happens to me that I naively navigate into waters too deep. Or I open the wrong can, the can of worms. Or even worse – take that bite, just little too big. In all those cases nobody really dies, so did I. One morning while cross-legged on the cushion the thought of integrity came to my mind. Yeah, right! Where do thoughts like that come from at all?! I let it go as I do with any other thought. After that, a quick body scan and couple rounds of deep and satisfying breath. As I was done, I sat there and let the thought of integrity return. The meaning of the word was not clear to me at all. The more I thought about it, the further I drifted..

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Coussin de méditation: on cushions and spiritual materialism

To sit or not to sit is not a question. I wake up unnecessary early and sit still. Technically it is morning, but it would be pitch black if the city lights went off. No bird chirping, only a street sweeper chipping ice from sidewalks. Light snoring sounds from bedroom.

The dark and early mornings remind me of my first silent retreat in a Thailand monastery. On the first morning the large bell rang, I woke up and fell asleep again. 4:00 in the morning definitely is unnecessary early especially if all you do is meditate all day long. A few minutes later I jumped up again and started to talk in a panic attack to my neighbour next door because I thought they are going to lock the gates before I get out of the dorm. Short after that I remembered that this is a silent retreat. Embarrassed I dressed up and hurried to my cushion.

Now I have trained myself to get out of the bed promptly when the alarm goes on. As if someone would lock the gates soon. To wake up or not is not a question. I stretch and exchange my fluffy pillow for my meditation cushion and sit still. Breathing in, breathing out, count to one. Breathing in, breathing out, count to two. Just sitting still and being with the breath.

Beginning of a daily practice

Starting a daily practice and continuing it is a matter of overall organisation. And dedication. Mornings are extremely sleepy moments, but it is a time frame before the thoughts and to do lists have taken over. And morning cushion is always there. For starters I woke up every day and just sat on the cushion for few long breaths. Someone would call it no practice at all, but with the right intention any simple activity can be your practice. Chögyam Trungpa in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism tells that even lightning a candle and blowing it out every day with the intention of that being your practice can be good enough to develop a good daily routine. Just sit down on your cushion every day with the confidence that this is all you need to walk your spiritual path. Most importantly, it works. One step at a time.


“Simply stopping, just allowing a gap, is the first step in the practice of meditation..”

– Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Take a look at your busy planner and decide which time of the day is more likely to be repeatedly emptier and book a gap session for yourself. When my kid was an infant, for a continuous period I used his second nap-time as the gap-time. Promptly at two o’clock I would sit on the cushion. It worked. And kept my sanity. Find the right timing and grab a cushion.

How to choose the perfect cushion

Actually, the cushion might be not needed unless you decide to anchor your intention of the daily practice that way. But I must admit that it helps your sitting even if you do only five long breaths. Unless you are a flexible yogi. The slightly elevated hip position improves your back alignment and lets the blood circulate down to your legs. Sounds trivial, but the impact is profound. I have made the zafu cushion myself and filled it with buckwheat hull. If you really want, I can make one for you too. But you can simply order yours through Amazon Prime, it will do the same trick. The cushion will be there. And you might even start sitting daily.

The REEHUT meditation cushion has 80% positive five star reviews and the other 20% reviewers seem really needing the meditation to work on their fault finding mind. REEHUT cushion is simple cotton fabric filled with buckwheat like mine. Three sizes are available – measure your butt before ordering so you don’t have to complain it is too small or big. Actually, you do not sit on the whole cushion, better create an incline and only support your tail bone. They are supposed to adjust to your body form so add (you can buy extra hulls) or remove the hulls if you need more modification, it has zippers. Empty the cushion and dry out the hulls if any moisture got inside.

Do not freak out if the color is slightly different from what you thought, your monitor might be not properly calibrated. Don’t be so attached to the material fabrications, you are about to enter mediation practice, the world is not perfect. If the color fades and the hulls sink after a while, rejoice – everything is impermanent, that is the only truth and you have already witnessed that. Now sit.

Ok, ok, you have some quality standards and aesthetic preferences as well, I feel you. Get the Dharma Crafts handmade pillow, they know what they are doing. I love their story, how it all started with 10$ for a fabric and a first flyer on a pole in Harward Square. Dyan Eagles started making meditation supplies after a solo meditation retreat back in 1979. And there must be a reason why countless mediation centers in America since that have chosen Dharma Crafts meditation cushions – they are durable, visually appealing and made by meditators serving their own community. Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama has sat on their pillows. I know, it does not matter. A pillow is just a pillow. Your concentration and wisdom matters.

More important than cushion

Feeling like McMindfulness has fogged your clear seeing? You can ditch the whole idea of a meditation cushion. Get a chair or fold a blanket and sit. No need to be rebellious. Ditch that also. But if you ever consider a cushion again, make it yourself – leave a comment if you need a pattern!

My little monkey on a tree stump. Why not?

My review of book “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel A. van der Kolk

body keeps the score

It was a late July day and the clocks were striking noon again and again. That was the right time of summer – sun was high, waters deep and warm. Ripened wild raspberries and blueberries were abundant in the forests. The labyrinths of cemented sidewalks and melting asphalts of overcrowded cities were forcing into early death the ones who did not find a way out and flee. I got a ride to a faraway town on countryside and settled down for few days with my friends.

I had no expectations for my visit, so we just sat in the garden and talked for hours. Made some lunch and talked more. In the summer the twilight dwells almost till midnight and by the time it started to get dark, our stories got deeper and shadier as well. Facing the statistics of trauma in everyday so-called normal lives we had a lot of stories to get into.  A lot of my friends are fixing their anxieties, depressions and other conditions, and going through various therapies as well as books.

So, the rest of my lazy summer break I spent reading a book from my friend’s library – The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk. I would say that was an antipode to the chill lounging around the garden, eating sour cherries from the trees and opening the occasional bottle of beer. The opening passage of the book is inviting but already frightening: “Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body; and one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit.” The statistics in our post-soviet corner is as gloomy as that, if not worse as both World Wars stomped back and forth over this tiny piece of land. All our grandparents were involved in war and our parents grew up under occupation. We were thrown in the beautiful capitalism and globalization as if nothing had happened. Indeed, a lot did happen but not enough was shared and understood.

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How to do good without harm: on activism an inner peace

how to do good without harm

Winter wonderland and elves are gone, icy cold winds still blowing. Nativity scenes disassembled, fireworks vanished, the urban bats sink back in deeper torpor. Champagne corks and glitter cleaned up, a promising year has started. Shopping malls sober up from the buying and selling peak moment of holiday season. Introvert cats regain feelings of solitude after the marathon of family’s and friends’ visits.

I am breathing in and letting go the bewilderment of past weeks, pausing quietly. Re-centering and tuning into contentment, getting out of the wilderness of sights, touches, smells and tastes. There is a part in me that does not want to settle down for the mundane everyday tasks, waking up before the sun in the freezing winter mornings and following routines. But luckily there is part in me that finds peace and possibility to focus on here and now through the simple things. The nothing special mood is warm and peaceful. I recognized that I am feeling disconnected and not totally in control of my thoughts and actions in difficult times, frustrating situations and sights of injustice, long before I saw that being overly excited and obsessed by other positive strong emotions and events make me discombobulated as well.

It is the perception dominating me and pushing forward that bothers me in those situations. It happens also while reading books: the narrator takes the reader by hand and brings him places, makes him dive into feelings and finally captures his whole being leaving him either inspired, wrecked, crying his eyes out or whatever the intentions of the creator and the reader as co-creator were. I remember reading Jack London on school’s summer break, shivering under blankets while reading of huskies pulling the sled somewhere in Yukon. The novel “The Call of the Wild” just pulled me further into the suffering, exhaustion and rivalry of Buck, his fellow dogs and humans. The voices of my friends outside the window were inviting me to join but were unheard while I was perplexed by the encounter of wilderness and civilization, by the interplay of ignorance, ego, loyalty and love in such harsh environment somewhere far away. It is extremely good prose and it enchants my perception.

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Review of book “The Art Of Disappearing” by Ajahn Brahm

Sun disappearing at Angor Wat

Once one a forum thread there was a person asking a monastic whether he shouldn’t have read a book called The Art of Disappearing: Buddha’s Path to Lasting Joy written by Ajahn Brahm. The reader was looking for inspiration but now felt even more depressed and hopeless. The kind monk replied that Ajahn Brahm and also other masters have two kinds of talks and books – the ones that make you feel good and confident and the other ones – which are straight to the point and harder to digest. This book was of the second kind.

Interesting enough that it was a perfect sales pitch for me – a book that someone maybe should not have read. Surprising enough but it turned out it is an exciting book because it is so true, and it contradicts almost every aspect of average western consumerist life. I read the book as a tragicomedy, saving myself from immediate panic that happened to the guy in the forum. Applying aspects of comedy could be seen also as a kind and caring way, how to approach my own life, which for the most part has been driven 180 degree the opposite direction from what Ajahn Brahm describes as a way leading to happiness.

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When I wake up and the sky is not blue: on joyfulness

When I wake up, the sky is blue. The sky is blue like a rose is a rose is a rose. And on the grey days like this, when I wake up, I see clouds. I keep my mind joyful. Still – the sky is the sky. It is like a joke played upon me. And if I am at peace with myself, I laugh.

“Always maintain only a joyful mind” is part of 59 slogans in Lojong or mind training. That is a practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Studying the slogans is a method to transform mind. Although this slogan in the sequence of presentation is somewhere near the middle of this collection, I think it is very helpful even at the beginning of the training. I would even say it is a perfect starter for every new day, so that you can start with light-hearted attitude. 

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Autumn retreat: on ancestry, death and love

autumn retreat: on ancestry, death and love

autumn retreat: on ancestry, death and love

As horizontal sun beams exposed the veins of leaves and turned them into miniature translucent maps full of tiny forking paths that invited to the unknown yet welcoming and warm world of yellow shades, it was already weeks past the autumn equinox far up in North. Illusory warmth of the Indian-summer was about to leave us unprepared for the dead, cold months ahead.

Our steps softly sunk into fallen foliage. The medieval castle up the hill was unreachable and covered in shallow mist. Moments ago, we ashed a joint under a majestic ash tree, the axis mundi of our kin, where my grandfather’s ashes scattered years ago and now perhaps soaked up by the roots of this giant tree of trees or woven into humble petals of purple anemones growing in its generous shade. We were lost in our own thoughts as we walked, and the only sounds were rustling leaves and murmuring river.

I thought about my grandmother who had died years before my grandfather and had chosen the more traditional burial mode according to local trends in this century and was resting in peace at an unambitious rural graveyard among agricultural fields some three kilometers North East from the ash tree. It happened to be an area of most fertile soil and a body without a coffin buried six feet deep would have decomposed fairly soon, there might have been only a skeleton left by now. But we had a long history of burials in coffins that adds both veneration and time to our last rite of passage. So the molecules and the star-dust might still be trapped inside a neatly carved coffin as I was raking the leaves six feet above it some ten years later. Continue reading “Autumn retreat: on ancestry, death and love”