The laughter of a
Setting sun behind mountains:
I belong to you.
The laughter of a
The laughter of a
Setting sun behind mountains:
I belong to you.
Noooooooooooo. Of course not.
Happiness—or a consistent state of contentment—is very much something we can enjoy striving for. I believe that it is an achievable state, but there are absolutely no direct routes there. And if anyone tells you there are, I’d suggest carving yourself a beautiful, elaborate path in the opposite direction from their advice.
There’s something really lovely and fragile about knowing we can’t have instant happiness, that we get to wade into the many rides that our emotions take us on daily (even hourly), so that we can experience the fullness and richness of life.
But there are some things we can do to encourage ourselves down the long and winding road toward happiness, and it’s often the little things, done with mindfulness and persistence, that accumulate and train or minds (and brains) to think happy.
You know the drill: train the body to like running, and at first it will laugh and maybe spit at you—but eventually it will cave to your iron will, and a runner you (and your body) will be!
Why should the brain and mind be any different?
Okay, you’re snuggled into bed, comfortable and warm and cozy. Check. Now …
First things first: gratitude. Take a moment to say thank you – for the day you had, for the privilege and honour of having lived another glorious day, and for your own efforts at making a go of this crazy, powerful thing called life.
On to the review: don’t labour over this unnecessarily and absolutely don’t be full of regret for things left undone. Try to assume a slightly detached point of view, as though you were going over a friend’s activities, and try to observe, without judgement, one or two things you are proud of doing that day, and one or two things you might have done differently.
This will help you foster an ongoing awareness of your goals and behaviours, and this will help guide you toward your ideals.
As a last part of this review, you can make a mental note to yourself that for the next 24 hours (until your next nightly check in), you will aim, through your words and actions, to do and be exactly as you would like, using as a measure your highest aspirations for yourself.
“Sankalpa” is a Sanskrit word, and is something close to an intention or resolution. It’s actually more of an idea for something we are very determined about, with the goal of making positive changes in our lives.
It is suggested that you decide on only one sankalpa, and that it be quite short and phrased in a positive and not negative way. It should also be phrased to indicate that success has already been achieved. So we should try to get at the root of our deepest desires and goals, rather than focus on more superficial ones.
Examples of sankalpa might be, “I am strong and healthy” or “My life is exactly as I desire it to be” or, if this has been an issue, “I am free from addiction.”
In achieving a firm resolve about the positive direction we want our life to take, we train our brains and minds to become more flexible for accommodating these changes in our lives. In this way, it helps to bridge the mind and body, and get them working in sync for the better.
I love this one. As we know, our minds are very powerful and trainable tools. We meditate to gain control of our minds, tame our thoughts and live in active harmony with the world around us. We can effectively guide the mind to work to our benefit, and one way to do this is to have access to our dream world.
Some people remember their dreams easily and naturally. I am not one of those people. There are several ways to cultivate this ability, and one easy and effective way is to actually think about it before bed. As you’re lying in the dark, you can bring to your attention the desire to remember your dreams, and even tell yourself, “I am falling asleep now, and dreams will come. I will be aware of these dreams, and remember them when I wake up.”
When you start remembering your dreams in the morning, you will have a feeling of accomplishment—you have guided your mind into working for you!
You can then work with your dreams in any number of ways.
All this reviewing and intention-setting may have inadvertently made your mind over-active, and now is a good time to prepare body and mind for relaxation and sleep.
It’s simple! Take a few long, deep breaths, letting go of the thoughts and actions of the day. Then, at your own pace, bring your attention from the toes all the way up the legs and torso, front and back, followed by the hand, arms, shoulders, neck and head.
As you’re doing this, try not to judge any sensations you’re experiencing, or condemn yourself for having thoughts or distractions. And if you fall asleep, that’s okay! You have become rested, and that’s great! Just go along with the scan for as long as you can, and this objective, gentle attention will have a dramatically calming effect.
If you are still awake now, notice if any source of pain came up during your body scan or even your memories of the day, and gently place your hands on that area, if you are able, and let the love flow. Do what you would do for your own child, or lover, if they were in pain. Touch, hold, fold in warm embrace.
You can also use your breath to fill this part of you with calm and peace. And if the pain was more psychological or emotional, place your hands on your heart, or chest area (or somewhere else, if your instinct guides you there), and do the same.
Remember that the love you give yourself is also love that extends out to the whole world, and by nurturing yourself, your surroundings become filled with light. In treating yourself with kindness, you are actually showing how grateful you are to be part of the magical unfolding of life.
*This article was published in elephant journal, here.
I came across a book, almost lost among Japanese recipe and travel books, with the words “Death Poems” written on its spine. I was immediately intrigued.
There is a tradition in Japan, I read, that upon one’s death, one would leave a will behind, but also a “farewell poem to life.” These death poems are called jisei, and the practice was long adhered to by Zen monks and haiku poets.
What might be contained in a few lines uttered by a spiritually advanced human at the time of death, to encapsulate a life in learning? What do the dying awakened ones want to leave behind for the rest of us?
The words ring like chime bells in autumn wind, and also cut like a blade. This, for me, is the paradoxical beauty and magic inherent in Japan’s ancient history.
Here are some of these last words, a death practice full of observation, contemplation and also humour, but also a gift to the living. So much to savour here!
Look straight ahead—what’s there?
If you see it as it is
You will never err.
A tune of non-being
Filling the void:
Here in the shadow of death it is hard
To utter the final word.
I’ll only say, then,
Arrows, let flown each to each
Meet midway and slice
The void in aimless flight—
Thus I return to the source.
Coming, all is clear, no doubt about it.
Going, all is clear, without a doubt.
What, then, is it all?
A drop of water freezes instantly—
My seven years and seventy
All changes at a blow
Springs of water welling from the fire.
Life is an ever—rolling wheel
And even day is the right one.
He who recites poems at his death,
Adds frost to snow.
The truth is never taken
One carries it always
I found more of these incredible poems here. Here are a couple of them:
The death poem of Matsuo Basho, one of the greatest haiku poets of all time:
On a journey, ill;
my dream goes wandering
over withered fields.
I pondered Buddha’s teaching
a full four and eighty years.
The gates are all now
locked about me.
No one was ever here—
Who then is he about to die,
and why lament for nothing?
The night is clear,
the moon shines calmly,
the wind in the pines
is like a lyre’s song.
With no I and no other
who hears the sound?
* This was originally published in elephant journal.
(Note: This newest addition to the Dialogue series is not done in interview format; it’s a piece co-written with Christine, as it emerging through a dialogue between her and I in India and Japan, respectively).
We met last year. Two women from North America who travelled halfway around the world and landed in India for a chance encounter and unlikely kinship. Our karmic collision transpired throughout a 10-day course called “What is the Mind?”, taught by Geshe Kelsang Wangmo, the first and currently only, Buddhist nun to hold this “Geshe” title, the PhD of the monastic world.
Against the backdrop of the Himalayas, the seeds of our personal friendship were planted; and also represent the culmination of the individual journeys presented here. The search for higher meaning often sparks the impetus for dramatic life-change. Maneuvering out of the self-limiting chains that bind us, is a trait shared by many of us on this path. Confusing, powerful and very, very personal, each of us has a tale to tell.
It is our hope that by sharing ours, those with similar aspirations will see themselves woven throughout the stories represented by these words.
It can be safely attested, that up until seven years ago I was running an undeviating path towards far more conventional pursuits. Until this time, both the freedom of expression and any spiritual inklings were deeply buried within the same seed. Scrappy and disjointed, both emerged, seemingly on cue, from the grit beneath the city streets of Paris.
It was 2006 and I’d stepped into a fairytale designed by Salvadore Dali.
From the moment the airplane touched ground, every cell in my body vibrated in anticipation. An irresistible job opportunity and subsequent relocation, it was a decision that would radically alter the trajectory of my future. Never having written anything personal before, ideas, instantly morphing into shapes, started composing what would later form a memoir.
However, enchantment had its limits and as soon was discovered, so did I. As the façade dropped, both the job and city began taking relentless whacks at my psyche. Darkness covered light and repeated with intensity more of the same, until suffocating, I was shoved toward the answers.
It was at this time I began to meditate. From where the idea first originated will forever remain a mystery, but it was in this space that I was led to Buddhism and Yoga — and the air to breathe was found.
As the shadows began to dissipate the determination to write grew more urgent. Direction unknown, the only certainty held was that I had something to say. The need to release the words finally overwhelmed my desire for safety and security; against the advice of many, I ended my career. However, months flew past and still, I had not yet discovered my voice.
In my search, the continuum of past and present exposed a gallery of raw imagery, fusing a fading history with recent impressions. Separated from the chain, these individual links revealed the pieces of a long-obscured puzzle. Established values, ethics and beliefs were challenged, dissected and smacked against the wall. Penetrating the layers of emotion — desire for validation and inhibiting judgment were slowly scraped away until all that was left was a naked reflection.
It was in this moment I realized precisely what Paris had lured me there to discover; I wasn’t proud of the woman I’d become.
So, I sat on the floor of my little Parisian flat and I cried. Not because I was upset or even sad. The overwhelming sea of tears was because I was so profoundly grateful. I’d finally figured it out. I could stop pretending — pretending that I was a sum of all the things I’d surrounded myself with. For in fact, I was none of these. But buried far beneath this truth, I discovered something even more precious; it was my voice.
After falling back into the arms of a patiently waiting career, two years passed and in a twisted déjà vu, it was the call of Mother India who beckoned. In the space between Salvadore Dali and the plinking of sitars, rhythms of the universe provided nourishment to the seeds planted in the City of Light. Mantra and muse, Yoga and Buddhism provide both direction for my work and the beacon by which to guide.
What I’m working towards:
Ultimately, the desire for fulfillment isn’t spiritual. It’s human.
The Western labyrinth of behaviors and societal conditioning provides a complex playground, which we must all navigate. Each of us individually however, is responsible for discovering the way to self-fulfillment. It is my aim, through personal essay, to translate a very small portion of wisdom, developed by those who have long since made this journey.
I am fascinated by what is referred to in Zen Buddhism as “beginners’ mind.” As a cerebral young person who loved literature and the arts, I first came to into this idea with the French Impressionist painters’ “innocent eye” approach. They often developed their painting styles based on capturing objects, not as we are conditioned to see them, but as they are — out there, on that particular day, in that particular light. What they were meeting was new, and now.
Someplace deep inside, I instinctually possessed the dark feeling of being loaded down by an inordinate burden. From where this ancient depth of clutter, sadness and confusion originated is a mystery, but it fuelled a desire. I longed to experience the world unhinged from this weight and totally free.
The discord running through me was strong; my inner world was gulfed in and self-contained, devoid of harmonious ties with the outer. I felt alone and isolated despite fortunate life circumstances and a fountain of love surrounding me. I dreamed of things I didn’t or couldn’t know; these visions remained privately locked inside because I didn’t know they could be shared, that it was possible to engage in a world of genuine communion.
With maturity brings lucidity, and it is clear to me now I was begging to be connected to something larger than myself. Alluring and impossible, the deep-seated knowledge that there was something bigger emerged as something of an alien wisdom. The result was a deepening of the schism within, because my rational mind could only negate the wisdom confronting it.
During this time, several events I regard as synchronicities pointed me to the life-direction I would eventually take. A book about Buddha’s four noble truths, for example, made its way into my hands and I devoured it; this was one of many guideposts I met with curiosity. A movement was starting to unfurl, which would eventually lead to leaving behind a career and boarding a plane heading East.
I met a grandfatherly Indian man on that flight and we talked for hours. Close to landing, he told me we’d met before, that he was sent to ensure I was going to be alright. Upon hearing I was on my way to Southeast Asia and India to study yoga and mediation, he smiled and said he could see I’d averted a path full of pitfalls and was exactly where I needed to be.
Life flows in unexpected ways and our work is to observe, accept and receive the lessons offered. My desire to stop feeding old inhibiting patterns had started to subdue all resistance toward embracing a new way of being. It was shockingly easy, in the end, to begin the process of allowing intuition in. The prospect of harmonizing the rhythms of body and mind became an exciting challenge, profoundly changing my approach to life and wellbeing. Most importantly, I learned to follow the path of the heart.
I will fall often as I face the edifice of old habits. This is a natural and beautiful aspect of growth. Working with the tools of meditation, mindfulness and yoga to access my inner wisdom and achieve integration — of self with self, self with world – is allowing me to approach my “beginner’s mind,” every moment of every day. For this I will remain ever grateful.
What I’m working towards:
In three words, to be present.
The only way to access truth, and share what I learn through creative expression, is to be here and not a billion miles away on the joyride of my thoughts.
The mind is a powerful filter determined to keep me exactly where I am; this is no longer acceptable. Through the grace of amazing teachings and the gritty, gorgeous work of meditation, the process of discovery has ensued. I have a body; emotions are written on it; long-held beliefs are mere illusions. This process is the catalyst to let go of the iron-grip I have on my own, very limited perceptions and begin embracing the wisdom that sees that most mysterious endless space: the heart.
Sangha — Our story:
In Buddhism there is a concept called Sangha. Considered one of the three jewels, the term is loosely translated as spiritual friends. Not merely two individual stories, this piece is in intended to represent a living embodiment of Sangha.
Out of the innumerable beings interwoven throughout our lives, only a few are invited to remain. These are indeed precious jewels. Our shared paths revealed the potential of friendship only at the apex in which we met, with a mutual desire to understand the seemingly impossible to understand — the mind.
Breaking from the mainstream and embarking on, what is on many levels, an inward journey, takes courage. To support others finding their way is to support oneself. It is only a dualistic standpoint, which perceives that where I end, another begins. From the far broader universal perspective, oneness begins and ends with only one.
We are never truly alone.
Please take a look at Christine’s fascinating writing on her website, Searching For OM.