The Journey by: Mary Oliver

Just wanted to share one of my favorite poems =)

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began, 

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice-

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen 

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.

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 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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Absolutes

There are no absolutes. As one of my teachers said,

Suffering ensues when we do not recognize our boundless nature.

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