Form is Empty

The last time I went home to visit my mother, I realized how much I miss her.  I miss how she was always there for me in company and in friendship. I miss her old form. Then all these practices on non-attachment just hit me – form is empty.

Things, people, experiences – they come and go, and we don’t really understand what that means until someone so dear to us has changed so drastically even before you can say, “wait a minute;  not yet!” But the deed is done and there’s nothing you can do, except live with what is here now. Truly practicing living in the present moment.

And in living in the present moment, practicing compassion towards oneself and others who are also affected by the experience.

May we all be well.

May we all be at peace.

May we all feel connected.

May we be willing to face fear and relinquish self-harm.

May we all be held in compassion.

May we be free from suffering and the roots of suffering.

The Yinside

In 2009, due to much frustration with my ashtanga practice, I learned about yin yoga. I liked it almost instantly due to the fact that it appealed to my kapha side, which likes matters to have a more gentle approach.

I remember the first few times I practiced it – my pitta brain was on fire! Not only was it an asana practice, but also a practice on patience, which at that time, was not one of my best traits. Even now, it’s still a work in progress. =)

Through the years and with patience, I learned to enjoy it. It was a love that unfolded slowly as I tested my limits in the shape of an asana; as I resolved to stay still; as I slowly increased my time in a pose.

All I can say is, yin yoga has its own benefits to the practitioner. But one has to go through it to experience it for one’s self. Just like any practice – asana, meditation, pranayama.

A Journey in Yoga

Around this time, 9 years ago, I went to my first yoga class. It was a Bikram Yoga class in Manila, where I’m from and where I lived for 34+ years before moving on to other cities. I told myself that day that I’m not buying a mat until I’ve gone to 2 classes and still like it. Well, I bought my first mat before I went to my second class. And so I knew that there’s no arguing with the fact that I fell in love with the practice of yoga from then on.

Several mats, yoga clothes, cities, shalas, countries, teachers, yoga postures, philosophies, teacher trainings and practices later, here I am.

I remember in one of the weekend yoga workshops/ trainings that I went to, I was asked, “what does yoga mean to you?” To which my answer was, “mastering the self.”

At this point, I know enough to know that I don’t know anything. All I know is that I’m really good at self-sabotage and suffering always arises when I’m craving for something that’s not there yet or that’s not yet available to me in its full form. And in the process of learning (or unlearning), that can take a very long time in some cases, I have realized that I’m capable of healing as much as I’m capable of destroying. I have been through days when I’m in full denial of what’s going on to the point of ignorance. However, I’ve also had days when the light comes in and the truth is in full view and there’s nothing else to do but to be honest about (or with) what is.

In working with yoga postures, a lot of patience really helps. Whether it be with the posture that I’m persevering to express fully with my very stiff body or my ego that’s constantly getting annihilated, patience is key. Not only patience, but also kindness – compassion towards self goes a long way. This stiff body may be considered a blessing or a curse, depending on my momentary state of mind.

My current practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga have a lot of poses that entail flexibility and strength. Some poses look pretzel-like, and with a body like mine that refuses to turn into a pretzel overnight or even a year or three or eight, I am more and more aware that this stiffness is a part of the evolution that I have put myself through to be a better human being. ashtanga yoga primary series yoga teacher training chart The Primary Series in this system is otherwise known as Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy. In the 8 years (and counting) that I’ve been practicing it, I have gone through many ups and downs. And as such, I’ve had terrible relapses when self-sabotage fully takes over. It’s like a dance of cha-cha. One step forward, one step back. Two steps forward, two steps back. One step forward, two steps back. Two steps forward, one step back. Side steps too.

With this developing awareness of my conditionality, I realized that this is why practice is very important. Practice as a verb, not a noun. In response to a co-practitioner’s post in one of the Facebook groups I’m shamelessly a part of, I wrote:

I’ve let go of all expectations on self. I’ve learned to be kinder and more patient to myself and my practice. I’ve learned to see what’s in front of me, rather than what I do not and cannot have at the moment. And whenever I’m feeling inadequate with my perceived shortcomings, I remind myself: practice, practice…all is coming.

The continuous work to break the developed conditions that are detrimental to my wellbeing is a work in progress. There is a misconception that if you’re a yogi or a Buddhist or even a person who is spiritually inclined, you are a”nice person”. Well, I beg to differ. Everyone and anyone who knows me well know this is untrue and not applicable. I believe there is little value in being nice, but a lot in being truthful and compassionate. Compassion is not necessarily nice. And in my case, nice-ness is an effect, not a personality trait.

Whenever I’m engaged in my asana practice, there’s a lot of inner chatter that’s also present. There’s the very loud voices of defeat, envy, pain, laziness and so on. There’s also a range of emotions that go through my mind and body – anger, tension, frustration, pride, pleasure, etc. And because of a practice that strengthens and matures as time goes by, I now know that these conditions are all impermanent.

Impermanence…a very important concept in this learning process. The silent knowing that nothing is permanent. The permanence of impermanence. The impermanence of permanence. (A paradox of our existence.) And this knowing…this helps me stay present; to be with what’s available to me in a given moment. My endlessly shifting experience of the physical and subtle aspects of my practice is evident of this truth.

So, for now, I’ll just keep moving along; realizing my own power as I come across new things in this path. And of course, part of this journey is the community that helps lift me up when everything is falling apart. I am very grateful to find one wherever I am.

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.

The Silence

Here’s a little something I was inspired to write while I was in my first month-long silent retreat. Please take it with a grain of salt and allow yourselves to be humored by this person’s attempt at lyrical writing. Lol.

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The silence helps me

be more aware of the quality of my thoughts.

The silence helps me

be more aware of the workings of the ego.

The silence helps me

in training the mind towards the stillpoint.

The silence helps me

cultivate emptiness.

The silence helps me

see AS IS.

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On diversity

Diversity – let it not be a means of power struggle, but a means to learn from one another and respect each other.

A line this person intuited while on a silent retreat last month. Easier said than done, of course.

I was reading the end of a chapter in this book called Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor when that thought came about. It was on the subject of sangha or community. And it was concluded with these words:

“… to imagine a community of friendships in which diversity is celebrated rather than censured. In which smallness of scale is regarded as success rather than failure. In which power is shared by all rather than invested in a minority of experts. In which women and men (and all other genders/ non-genders, says this writer) are treated as genuine equals. In which questions are valued more than answers.”

Sounds utopian, doesn’t it?

Part of my ego play is that I always felt different from the norm; hence, there is a bit of ulterior motive in that intuited line. What ought to be or not is one’s personal choice. We all have our shadows and light to play with or choose from. It’s all up to each one of us to decide which we prefer. We are all entitled to our views and opinions. However, I would like to point out that we are also capable to withstand differences. We all have the ability for tolerance. It takes a lot of compassion and courage to view our different qualities with calm abidance and without limitations; more so to learn about our individual selves in the process.

In my own practice, this process of understanding and being in the space of calmly abiding to whatever arises from my own limited human capacity, I am much more aware of my vulnerabilities as a human being. And as such, I am not really that different from the next person. We are all conditioned beings with our own response mechanisms programmed from when we were very young or as adults, and perhaps even in utero or before that. However, I would like to believe that we are also powerful beings. As much as we are capable of destruction, we are also very capable of loving and healing ourselves and others by acknowledging the diversity within and around us. I found that through the practice of patience and kindness towards oneself, we can have a deeper understanding of how incredibly interconnected we all are. We are one big sangha, one big community.

May all of us be well. May all of us be at peace. May all of us feel connected. May all of us be free from suffering and the root of suffering.

Om, shanti shanti shanti.

(If anyone is interested, the book is a very practical and simple guide to understanding Buddhism for practitioners at the beginner level like myself. I now consider it as one of my go-to books on this path of awakening.)

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-CHANGES

In my years of practice, so many changes have occurred. I am no longer the same person I was when I first started on this path. The unfolding continue to happen at different levels – physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, instinctually, intuitively. There are good days and there are bad days, and all I can say is, IT’S ALL GOOD.

As David Bowie wrote…

I still don’t know what I was waiting for

And my time was running wild

A million dead-end streets

And every time I thought I’d got it made

It seemed the taste was not so sweet

So I turned myself to face me

But I’ve never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see this faker

I’m much too fast to take that test

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)

Ch-ch-Changes

Don’t want to be a richer man

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)

Ch-ch-Changes

Just gonna have to be a better man

Time may change me

But I can’t trace time

I watch the ripples change their size

But never leave the stream

Of warm impermanence and

So the days float through my eyes

But still the days seem the same

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)

Ch-ch-Changes

Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)

Ch-ch-Changes

Where’s your shame

You’ve left us up to our necks in it

Time may change me

But you can’t trace time

Strange fascination, fascinating me

Changes are taking the pace

I’m going through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)

Ch-ch-Changes

Oh, look out you rock ‘n rollers

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)

Ch-ch-Changes

Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older

Time may change me

But I can’t trace time

I said that time may change me

But I can’t trace time

Isn’t he the coolest? Let’s sing it. =)

A Beginning

So, I’ve decided to start this by posting about my first ever month-long silent retreat. It was a very challenging time for this person, yet a very good opportunity to unfold into a deeper practice in the safety of amazing beings who held the space beautifully.

The retreat was called Being Dharma led by two former monastics, named Kittisaro and Thanissara, and the venue was at Dharmagiri Hermitage in Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa. It was mainly a meditation retreat with yoga. I usually go to retreats with a bigger focus on yoga, or just plain meditation. So, this was something truly different – a lot more integrated and one month long! It was a good way for me to start this year’s travels to deepen my practice.

The hermitage is a beautiful space and I’m glad it’s in the backyard of the country that I’m currently living in. I really appreciate what Kittisaro and Thanissara do as their life’s work, for it helps lost (or feeling lost) beings like myself to have more clarity in the ways things are.

Here are a few pictures I took to try and capture the serenity of that space where I committed to spend a month of this life.

angelic sunset

angelic sunset

the end of the walk

the end of the walk

a clear day

a clear day

the Castle

the Castle

upper shrine and Vulture's Peak

the upper shrine room and Vulture’s Peak

a sunrise

a sunrise

meditation room

where the work is done

outdoor dining, accommodation, shrine room/ meditation hall

outdoor dining, accommodation, shrine room/ meditation hall

shadow

shadow

bench with tea cup

a good spot to contemplate and drink tea

angelic sunrise

angelic sunrise

the view every time I exit the house and the road I walk up to the common area

the view every time I exit the house and the road I walk up to the common area

sign post on the road

sign post on the road

the house I stayed in for the month

the house I stayed in for the month