Writing and Publishing a Book on Amazon.

So, I published a little book on Amazon.

Part memoir, part educational text,  Mindfulness Journey in Africa follows my journey while living in a Vipassana meditation center. I share some of my most memorable moments, experiences, and take-aways.

During my time there, or shall I say, as a result of my time there, I concluded that sometimes we follow the bright light of enlightenment to find an even brighter light when we acknowledge our place in the world.

Having a meditation practice does give a person so much insight into their interactions, relationships and engagement with life. Yet, we practice meditation to enhance our lives, and for a while there I was obsessed with having the perfect life to support my meditation.

Writing this book has given me so much clarity on my own spirituality and while there is so much to be figured out every day, I am wondering what in your life can benefit from some clarity. Perhaps you can write your own memoir on some aspect of your life.

My transformative journey  has taught me great lessons – lessons I hopes to share with others. What I have learnt most though is that while we all have our personal challenges, experiences and lessons, when we share it with the world, we learn and benefit most from it.

For many, mindfulness is something mysterious and unattainable, but if you follow the teachings, embrace what it has to teach you, and commit to making a conscious effort to try, you just might be pleasantly surprised. In Mindfulness Journey in Africa, I invite readers to explore the nuances, immerse themselves in a journey and lessons, and consider taking a spiritual adventure of your own.

With this book, you’ll be able to:

  • See the life-changing events as I experienced them.
  • Ponder meaningful questions about your life and the world around you.
  • Put together a plan to begin your own journey
  • And more!

Even if you’re never considered Vipassana meditation before or you’ve tried to embrace it and failed, I hope that my journey and the lessons I learned will inspire you to try again or to go on a spiritual adventure of your own.

Much love and blessings to you all.

My year at a vipassana center epilogue

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goad in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
“If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,”
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.

The Tao Te Ching verse 22, by Lao-Tzu translation by S. Mitchell

My year at a Vipassana Center: Part 18. How to be a kind and loving human being.

Loving oneself has always been a bit of an abstract concept for me. What exactly does it mean, and why is it relevant to being a kind and loving human being?

Loving oneself is everything! The relationship you have with yourself is the relationship you have with everyone and the process of learning to love oneself has everything to do with a accepting all parts of yourself.

In our efforts to progress in our lives, we sometimes overemphasize “changing what no-longer serves,” “getting rid of limiting beliefs to move forward,” “stepping into the new,” “reframing the past,” and “releasing our fears.” The danger in this is that we continually become aware of what doesn’t work and how we’d like for it to look and feel.

People’s success stories often seem like marching forward against all odds and believing in some future goal. Being constantly dissatisfied with the present can lead one to accomplish great things, and quite often at cost of self-love, self-appreciation and self-celebration.

To love yourself, means to accept every single part of yourself. That teenager who were told to shut up, that little girl who was to afraid to ask, that champion who flourished in the sports game and that suave socialite, together with the part that struggles with grief, depression or social anxiety. Every single part needs to be welcomed, and this is done through sitting in silence.

The practice of sitting in silence is so brilliantly designed, that any resistance to accepting and loving a certain part of yourself does result in restlessness and movement.

Thus, through the practice of meditation, sitting in silence and observing every single part of ourselves we cultivate calmness, compassion, grace and humility, and we offer this to every other relationship we partake in.

Then before we get up from our mediation cushion, we engage en metta mediation:

May you be happy and peaceful and your mind be free. May you have health and wholesome means of providing for yourself, may your creativity be nurtured and expressed and your individuality be appreciated. May you belong and be supported and have harmonious relationships. May you have direction, vision and godliness in your life. May all the people in your life be happy and peaceful and their minds be free. May all the people in your life have health and wholesome means of providing for themselves, may their creativity be nurtured and expressed, and their individuality  be appreciated. May they belong and be supported and have harmonious relationships. may they have direction, vision and godliness their lives. May all the people in the world, all the beings in the world, all of existence be happy and peaceful. May love be known in all that is.

My year at a Vipassana Center: Part 13 Relationship and Vipassana

It is easy to write about wonderful uplifting experiences, which were so many during my stay on dhamma land, while those that are not as comfortable takes more focus to write about.

Some difficulties during my time with Vipassana, never really got resolved. I had pending questions, which disappeared when I sat in the presence of an experienced teacher. Then, in the solitude of a young mind in training, those questions came back, ever as strong.

One of these questions was about which kind of partner would be suitable for a dedicated meditator.

After I left the center, some of the men I got involved with strongly criticized my practice. It was called “overmeditating,” “not spiritual enough,” “wrong practice,” and some just got purely jealous of my alone time with myself…. even to the point of following me one day, to see if I was having a secret love affair. Another, due to his strong spiritual dedication (attractive,) self-proclaimed himself as ambition-less (unattractive.)  These were clearly not the right men to be with, but that I had to find out by going through the process. This did, however accentuate my notion that once you open this tiger’s mouth and live a lifestyle of spiritual values, it is better to find someone to share your time with who does the same.

I longed for guidance from a teacher about real life practical stuff. A few attempts at finding answers were met with the same, perhaps oversimplified, explanations that discomfort that comes into our field of experience are saṅkhāras, coming to awareness to be cleared

From a spiritual perspective and based on this ultimate understanding, there are no wrong choices in life. If we go through whatever life provides us with, and if we do so with grace, we move towards liberation.

From a self-improvement/empowerment point of view, we repeat our traumas and addictions, until we find courage to face them, create boundaries and show them the other way. Somewhere these two meet, but as far as everyday life is concerned, there is a strong discernment and separation to be made in how we approach our spiritual development and how we approach the practicalities of life…… or is there?

I longed for someone to tell me to choose people, friends work, life, based on similar values, be strongly discerning, rather than view life as a game of clearing out saṅkhāras.

I longed for teachers, Western teachers, male AND female who have not sacrificed their western lifestyle for the sake of the practice… although living an Eastern lifestyle for a while is super fun, I must confess. More so, I longed for a suitable platform to approach these teachers.

Each course starts with a little initiation of taking refuge in the triple gem:

  • The Buddha, the fully enlightened one, or as I see it, the inner wisdom.
  • The Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha, the guidelines for practice, or the natural order as taught by the Buddha.
  • The Sangha, those who have walked the path of Dhamma before you, the elders if you may.

Even today I am a bit unclear about the Sangha of the Vipassana organization. I felt disappointment for having to divide my mentors for spiritual practice and everyday life challenges.

Now, there was this really sweet Indian female teacher. I loved listening to her stories. One day she called me and decided to write a letter to one of the younger male, unmarried, teachers. I can’t remember what was written, but I signed both her and my name at the bottom, as requested by her. Was she trying to set me up!? However inappropriate, the intention was honorable, but really I just needed someone mature and open enough to have an open honest dialogue with.

 

Yet, sometimes the teaching comes in different ways, as stated at the ending of the movie, “Kama Sutra” by Mira Nair: “Knowing love, I will allow all things to come and go, to be as supple as the wind and take everything that comes, with great courage. As Rasa (her teacher) would say to me: ‘Life is right in any case.'”

 

 

 

 

 

My year at a Vipassana Center: Part 12 Community

I have found it challenging to find active Vipassana communities outside of the actual Vipassana centers. During the 10-day retreats talking is permitted only for a select few hours and thus connections made are precious, but few, and I confess, the lack of community outside of the centers has made me doubt my commitment to the practice at times.

Whenever I meet a Vipassana meditator my face lights up and I know I can trust them. No-one finishes a ten day retreat without the real desire for self-improvement. Those who make it through has a level of integrity and self-responsibility, a willingness at the very least,that you know you can trust. Yet even with courses fully booked, the social aspect of the organization has been lacking for me personally.

Perhaps because of the strict guidelines for lifestyle and practice it is that sometimes people shy away from other Vipassana meditators in their everyday lives, in order to have the freedom to express themselves in various ways. I don’t know, but I feel that vipassana communities outside of the centers would be helpful for various reasons.

  1. With a suggested 2 hours of daily practice, this commitment very much becomes a lifestyle, and without opportunity to share our experiences, there is definitely a danger of becoming isolated.
  2. Simply integrating a ten-day retreat needs support from an understanding community. The practice is strong, life-changing. Many people call it “the most challenging thing they have ever done” and, as with any great experience, can be disorientating if not given some avenues of safely held expression with others who share it.
  3. Then, having discovered something great and wonderful, you naturally want to share the joy. Without a community to share and celebrate with, you will turn to those who have no context to place your words. You may even turn them off, looking like you want to convert them or that you think you are better than them because of your experience.
  4. Meditation is a very accepted practice in the East, in the West the world is still warming up to the idea. Challenges on how to maintain a daily practice without looking like a weirdo are plentiful! No, I’m not talking about the instagram kind of practice. It is actually super challenging to maintain a daily practice whilst sharing living spaces with others who don’t.

I am definitely not saying that once you have found your community of like-minded individuals, that this is all you should stick with. However knowing those you share values with helps your own being access the safe space I mentioned in a previous post. Your focus can thus be more on the giving aspect of your life, and so you can be more fulfilled more of the time.

It is my wish and vision that outside of the centers, dynamic communities and meetups progressively form where individuals, who are active in the practice, socially engage with others who aspire to dhamma values within their own lives.

My year at a Vipassana Center: Part 11 Trust & Discernment

Many lessons I learnt at the center I was able to carry with me out in the world, and others less so. It was hard to adjust after such a strong experience. In many ways I am still adjusting. There were a few individuals I met through the Vipassana Organization who strongly supported me through this transition, individuals who will always stay dear to my heart and of whom a single thought, sparks instant gratitude in my heart.

In the previous post I mentioned the issue of trust. How easy it is to forgive someone when you know that they are doing their best. In the world out there though, many people are driven by values far different that being the best human being they can be.

I do believe that at the core of every person they are doing their best, yet only a small number of people have woken up to the idea of facing their conscience, of living to values which benefit their peace of mind and thus the whole.

Many people do live in greed and don’t really care how their self-importance affects others.

Again, on a deep level, even these people are simply doing their best. Greed is only the result of severe desperation, deeply ingrained beliefs of lack and isolation. To have nothing but compassion towards greedy, self-centered, manipulating people is the best remedy for such people and this is a very noble approach… which can be effective in a therapeutic setting, but it is hardly a practically viable approach to life. Having to learn strong discernment about who and what to allow into your world is a lesson I think we all continue to learn.

I have had to learn these strong lessons of discernment. I got myself into various kinds of messy situations, situations that invited strong judgements. The worst part is that on a conscious level, I was almost entirely motivated by a strong urge to be dedicated to my spiritual growth and practice, motivated by doing good and being the best I knew how to, but if you’re going to approach life from a spiritual basis, you either need to know that those who are in it with you, are doing the same. Or else, you need to resume a greater level of self-responsibility in trusting it ALL.

It seemed that in some areas I trusted too much and didn’t have enough discernment, and then those very situations turned around to portray the idea that I didn’t trust enough and was too discerning. What a confusion!

In a sense it is much like the Kundalini Tree of Life which is depicted upside down.

topsy-turvy-tree
Picture from “Kundalini Tantra” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati

At any given time you may meet anyone one the way and you may not know whether they are pruning their leaves or strengthening their roots, but non-judgment and discernment are both qualities that equally gets to be cultivated. Sometimes it happens gracefully, but mostly not.

We sometimes have to exclude people, groups or organizations from our lives, usually because it doesn’t seem that our deeper values, ideas and happiness are supported by them, or our interaction with them. However, we don’t have to create a feeling of mistrust closing ourselves off (to them.) This is wisdom that comes from the lesson of trust. We learn to shift the focus of trust inward, and it is no-longer dependent on outside people or circumstance.

There is no bad feeling, no feeling of blame or victimhood in this discerning. There is only respect. Respect for the differences in us all, but mostly respect towards ourselves and the process of growth as we continually learn to define our boundaries by losing them and then strengthening them.

Perhaps there is a time when all aspects of our humanness have adjusted well enough to stay in the openness of oneness anywhere, anytime. I don’t know.

 

 

Photo credit: Alex Schettler

 

 

 

My year at a Vipassana Center: Part 10. What meditation did for me, and what it didn’t.

My time at the Dhamma Center was filled with so much sensitivity and magical subtlety.

The slow approach of mindful living with the effectiveness of what it accomplishes, is just such an ideal way of existence, that it is almost unthinkable to not be in all the time. Yet, we live in a world of paradox, and the little effort it takes to live a mindful life compared to the alchemy it gives back is somehow still not enough to hold us there in our daily lives. We are so addicted to our thoughts and suffering.

At the center it is easy. You are removed from your work life where constantly problem-solving, decision making and “figuring it out” is nagging you. Unless you are the person preparing the food, you don’t have to think about what you will eat and how it will reach you. Walking up and down on a beautiful property out in nature, breathing in fresh air and drinking clean water keeps your body feeling like a super star and then too, everyone has similar values. Everyone lives with a high degree of respect and mindfulness, the highest degree they know how to, which makes it really easy to forgive someone when they do something that doesn’t resonate with you.

The level of trust that develops from knowing that everyone is doing their best, is absolutely wonderful  and the acknowledgement for generally unnoticeable actions puts you on a total high.

Of course, the many hours of meditation practice hugely contributes to, and is the basis for this experience of peace and love and harmony.

A lot of things changed for me at the center. I released my allergy to gluten. I realized that my body only reacted before, because I was eating too fast or too much, due to being stressed while I was eating. I realized that literally any negative reaction in my physical body is simply that, a reaction which, when approached with real calmness and sensitivity can be eliminated over time.

I experienced what it felt like to really feel safe, I mean switching off survival mode is a huge deal and for someone who hasn’t felt that experience before, it can and will change their lives forever.

The thing is , you just don’t know that you are operating from survival mode until you experience what it is like to be without it. Survival mode is the reactive way of living based in total fear, without knowing it. It can be called complex PTSD, but it can also just be called being stressed, burnt out, constantly hustling, or being in overdrive… and believe it or not, some of these terms people actually wear proudly, not inquiring to the underlying motivation.

A strong drive is needed to be successful in all areas of life, and I believe that it is our life purpose to creatively develop ways of transforming our individual self-centered survival drive to a drive of service and holism, directed at others and therefor including ourselves.

How rich we become when we have the feeling of safety, security and comfort and from that platform can broaden our purpose to the service of others. This is a model I continually aspire to and at the center I got an experiential glimpse of how this could feel. I had a frame of reference to take out into the world with me. However, in many ways, my experience at the center did not prepare me for the world outside.

The following posts will talk about these challenges of trust, community, prosperity and more.

 

photo credit: Jean Batiste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My year at a Vipassana Center: Part 9. Observations in Nature

One of the things that became pretty clear from course to course is the way the weather responded. It is almost certain to be stormy or windy on day 5 or 6, and often a light drizzle would be present on Mettā Day. This was true mostly when more new students were attending the course. When a higher concentration old students (students who have already completed a 10-day before) are present, day 7 is usually when the weather gets ramped up. From my own experience, day 7 is definitely where it gets more challenging as old student.

Can our minds affect the weather? It most certainly appear so. When a group of people use their minds together in such an intensely focused way, it seems that a lot more can be accomplished than we imagine.

The weather wasn’t the only natural phenomena that drew our attention. At times we had problems with mice. Since no killing or harming of another is part of the code of conduct, there was not too much we could do about this problem, other than directing mettā to the problem needing to be solved.

In the case of the mice solutions would present themselves, such as a visiting wild cat that appeared out of the blue. On several occasion we’d find a drowned mouse in some of the toilets. Did they sacrifice their mice lives in return for an auspicious reincarnation, I wonder? I know these examples are a little gory, but nature responds to solutions that are needed. Thousands of books are written about manifesting and the law of attraction. At the dhamma center, this was already a way of life that required no explanation.

The next few posts will explain what my Vipassana meditation experience did for me, and what it didn’t.

 

 

My year at a Vipassana Center. Part 8 Lessons from the practice.

Most of the lessons I learnt from Vipassana was through service. It is during the day to day activities that I could see the value of the practice. However, whatever was visible in the day to day life, came directly from the practice.

During the hours of silent focus and concentration, our subconscious intelligence surprises us with insight and detail we could never find by just sitting and thinking.

Albert Einstein says: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant…..(We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.)”

During the practice your life starts unfolding like a beautiful flower dropping old leaves, that are now making way for even more fragrant, fresh and vibrant new growth.

You find new truth in old beliefs, you drop your insecurities, you see your reactions and laugh at how dramatic your behavior is most of the time. You forgive, astounded at why forgiveness is even necessary. Why do we hold on to beliefs in the first place that needs forgiveness?

During the practice you find the connection that we all have with one another – all people, also all things. We find that we are not alone, that we are connected, that truly you love everyone and that everyone loves you…when you allow them to.

When I decided to join the center for an extended period of time, my relationship with my family was not great. I felt resentful towards my siblings. I was resentful towards my parents. I was called irresponsible, foolish and selfish for choosing this path, yet within just a short few months, and without much communication between us, all these relationships started to flourish. I have a very good relationship with my whole family and we often spend close time together. When you start allowing yourself to feel love and understanding, those around you do to. The honest truth is that most people aren’t conscious or interested enough to counteract your vibe, so we may as well make the best of it.

(Of course the topic on toxic relationships can be discussed further and in depth with regards to the above statement, but that is for another.)

The practice of Mettā – loving-kindness at the end of each meditation sitting is probably to most transformative healing tool that exists. Much of our lives are spent in worry or fear, but having just a few moments of projecting wholesome thoughts and wishes to all areas of your life, and the lives of others, in a very focused way, is simply the ultimate way of transformation for me.

One of the insights and experiences that has come directly from the practice, which has helped me over the years and still does, is that in a life with many choices and possibilities you only ever need to be sure of one thing. You simply need one thing to anchor and focus on, and the next step will reveal itself.

We don’t need to be able to have it all figured out. Life is a made up of moving particles, with so many different possibilities, but we need to make the commitment to one thing at any given moment. This one thing may be affirming your love to your dog, your parents, your home; it may be affirming your job title or your week-end plans, or which through road you’re going to turn off in. The firm grounding in just one thing will reveal the rest. At least, this is how it has always worked out for me.

Much love.

My year at a Vipassana Center: Part 7. We attract what we fear – Insect or Insight?

It has been more than 10 years since my year as long term server at a Vipassana Center. I still try to sit and serve 10-day courses when I can, however these days the centers are so booked that one has to book well in advance.

A few years ago I was visiting Bali and  there was a ten-day retreat during the time. I applied to serve. Upon arrival, I realized that it would not be the regular course I’m used to, for several reasons, one being that the center ground was independently rented for those ten days and came with its own management, cooks … and energetic vibrations different to the specific calmness and order of a Vipassana center

I was appointed “female manager,” which means  that the female students could speak to me about any practical needs they may have during their stay.

Now, by reading through the last several posts, by now you must be used to the theme of fantasy, projecting and disillusion. This is how we operate most of our lives. We believe a thought, or collection of thoughts. It becomes our experience, our reality.

If disillusion is a bit of a strong term for you, maybe you prefer thinking of it as limiting beliefs – beliefs that are not necessarily true, and that are not necessarily serving you. Well, sitting through a 10-day Vipassana retreat will bring those beliefs to the foreground of your experience. You’ll get to deal with them in a very visceral way. Once in a while a belief may be so deeply engrained in your psyche that it may seem to be real.

Then again, we all know what happens with strong beliefs, they manifest themselves, reinforcing the very belief that may or may not serve you.

Day 5 and 6 are known for shaking up these beliefs pretty hard. It was at one or two in the morning on one of these days that someone knocked on my bedroom door.

“Help” she said. “Im freaking out, there’s something in my ear!” She was freaking out. Her face signaled one message and one message only: PANIC!

I understood that she was truly panicking. Yet, it was 2am on day 5 or 6. We were in a foreign country, out of our comfort zone, surrounded by insects and creatures we are usually not used to seeing in our insulated city apartments. Here’s this girls sitting on my bed, freaking out because she once saw a horror movie in which some insect crawled into someone’s ear, where it proceeded to lay eggs and claimed the ear canal as its new home. Ok, hang on, I thought. Lets just be reasonable here.

“Are you sure there is something in your ear?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. “Tell me about this movie. Is it possible that somehow your mind recreated this sensation as you release the (slight traumatic) memory of the movie?” I had to ask, but she was sure that some creature was in her ear. Ok, well what to do. I grabbed the torch and flashed it down her ear. I could see nothing.

I had no idea even where the nearest hospital were. To be honest, I didn’t really know how to get out of the property we were on. The only person I could think of asking for advice was the male assistant teacher. How would that look, I wondered? Crossing over to the male area of the course, knocking on the teacher’s door in the middle of the night, breaking every code of conduct necessary to keep the course continuing to completion, and what if in the end there was nothing in her ear?

Panic never helps. In fact staying calm was the only solution I could come up with.

I had access to hot water and gathered that I could offer her a cup of sugar water to calm down and the rest we’d figure out afterwards, but then it hit me: Hot sugar water!

I had a plan. I ran downstairs and came back with a cup of hot sugar water. “Drink it really fast,” I said. “Drink it so fast that whatever creature is there in your ear cannot stand the heat and has to crawl out.”

It wasn’t long before the feelers of a long flat insect appeared, followed by the rest of its body, escaping the overbearing heat of her ear canal. We did it. I could hardly believe what I had seen that morning, but we did it.

The course finished as if nothing had happened and the rest of the students only found out about the insect-in-the-ear incident on Mettā-Day, when everything gets revealed.

 

Blessings