Shusho Itto

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything and thought it would be a good idea to begin by re-introducing myself.

Two years ago, transitioning back to the United States from India, the town I grew up in provided gentlest path home I could have dreamed. Nourishing my being and cultivating my voice in a different way, writing took a back seat to developing as a Yoga teacher. Six months ago, transition complete, the doors of the Yoga studio closed and I moved into residency at a Zen monastery further downstate.

For those who know me, this shift in direction poses very little in terms of shock value. However, the decision has brought with it a mixture of sincere curiosity and skeptical speculation, depending on who’s doing the inquiring. On either side the question is the same.

What are you doing?

In order to understand what one would be doing at a Buddhist monastery, first requires an understanding as to why. To better explain, allow me to introduce Japanese Zen Master, Dōgen. Among his many gifts, 13th century Buddhist monk, Master Dōgen left us with the phrase, shūshō ittō (修証一等). It’s an expression that translates as: all that we are to become, we already are.

Far from implying a pre-ordained destiny, this also differs from the mere possession of a seed or trait that we are attempting to cultivate. This idea instead indicates full possession of our pure, natural essence, in all its brilliance. The challenge of the human experience however, is that we often lose sight of this radiance because of all the important stuff that commands our immediate attention. 

This is both the why and what of spiritual practice and is true regardless of what century we live in. It’s at the core of the dissatisfaction the Buddha himself realized and is just as applicable, if not more so, today. Simply moving within the fullness of the present moment with nothing to be added or removed, is the practice. Over twenty-five hundred years, and it hasn’t changed.

As I’ve stated elsewhere in this body of work, the realization of this path is referred to as many things and although the practices vary within each tradition, at its heart, it’s none other than complete awareness. Although my understanding has changed throughout the years, the term that has resonated deepest for me is, enlightenment. The practice is simple and it doesn’t require monasteries, India, a Buddha or yoga mat and is not a lofty objective reserved solely for the pious.

What it does require is a human body, a human mind and a question. It also calls for faith; faith that there is an answer to this question — the question of life and death. Some are born with this faith. For others, myself included, trust must be developed. Like much of this path, this leads to a paradox: at least a little faith is required to begin practicing, but it is the practice itself that is paramount in developing faith. Fortunately, bridging this gap doesn’t require a blind leap. It’s simply good sense; where else would we find the answers to life’s questions, but within?   

This unfolding of wisdom is what arises as we place one foot in front of the other, simultaneously taking a step and arriving, further deepening our faith and understanding. It’s a road with no end and as one may imagine, it often requires a touch of patience and one hell of a sense of humor.

Joining other year-long residents as well as a group of monastics, there are about twenty-five of us living full-time at the monastery. The numbers fluctuate as monthly residents come to immerse themselves in the experience and with weekend and week-long retreatants that are here for support, guidance or a bit of head space. Swelling close to one hundred is where current capacities max out, usually during the six-day meditation, sesshins. This doesn’t include the hundred or so day guests that come for the Sunday morning service and lunch which is open to the public.

And so we practice. Since my arrival, there is no getting away from the fact that this is no longer a game of me; it is indeed a game of we. We work together —  a lot , we eat together, we meditate together and we offer thanks together. As one body we move, with as much awareness as we are individually and collectively able to offer at any given moment. 

Authenticity however, comes at a price and the only way to plumb greater depths of compassion, equanimity, patience and joy is through penetrating the layers covering it up. These layers are possible to observe as they arise when we are practicing awareness. They show up as anger, jealousy and greed. As we practice compassion with ourselves in working with these emotions, we develop compassion. As we practice equanimity when working with others, we develop equanimity. Patience arises from practicing patience. And joy arises when these hindrances begin fading away.

Supported by clear reminders, we are holding this space not only for each other, but for every individual who comes through the door. The lessons run deep and everyone is a teacher. With every breath and in every moment, surrounded by all that which has been placed along our way. It is because of these circumstances, not despite them, that we are moving together on this path of enlightenment.

It doesn’t require chanting, although we do. It doesn’t necessitate the burning of incense, although there is. Getting to the bottom of who we are does however, require awareness – awareness of body, awareness of breath, awareness of being. When the mind wanders, bringing it back to the present moment. When the mind wanders again, bringing it back. This is the practice.

It can be awkward, clumsy and ridiculously frustrating as the obstructions to clarity are intimately personal and involve lifetimes of habit patterns, repeated. Understanding that another person’s suffering is our own suffering, in the most literal sense imaginable, and amidst this cloud, developing the softness to be with all of it. Inviting others to show up exactly as they are.

We are not impure and the path is not leading anywhere. All we need to do is open our eyes and choose to see. And when we forget, making that choice again. And again.

Each time we do this, practicing that which we already are. Shūshō ittō

This is what I am doing here. For the first time in my practice, I’m doing it surrounded by the support of others doing the same thing. And for this, I am grateful beyond words.

 

~ by Christine Fowle (Mt. Tremper, NY)

Ball & Chain...Remixed

What if there were no clocks? Not in your car, on the walls, computer or phone. There are no watches or timepieces either. Only skyward approximations illuminating from the universe’s originating source; the faithful rising and setting of the sun.

While we’re at it, let’s also remove calendars. Birthdays, holiday celebrations and election years are no longer. We’ve merely the rotation of the planet and seasonal metamorphosis of climate and foliage reminding us of the fragile impermanence of all that is.

Work still exists and life still goes on, albeit at a more leisurely pace and gracious, forgiving speed. There are still 24 hours in a day and 52 weeks in a year. However, without the conventional tools to tell us so, this tasty morsel of conversational minutiae is reduced to party faire.

What exactly is time?

Ultimately speaking, it is a concept. Much like a country’s borders, it was contrived by man to provide mutually held beliefs by which we may organize our lives. Certainly, there's usefulness in this design. However, as a planetary population, it seems we’ve taken this tool of convenience and premeditated our world around it, losing sight of the fact that at its core, time is an intangible illusion.

Janis Joplin, at the end of this live performance of Ball & Chain, imparts to us, a gift of insightful commentary. It’s an impassioned plea to begin living a life of love and compassion today because, “…it’s all the same fucking day, man.

She plucks an intriguing cord.

By removing the rigidity of calculation, the x number of years we’ve each spent roaming the planet, have been nothing but a single continuum, broken up by fitful nights of sleep. Without fretting over age related accomplishments, milestones, aspirations or projections, we awaken to each new day and what has changed? Everything? Nothing?

The imagery of the past does not truly exist. Neither do our fantasies of the future. These two insoluble states of our existence are poised in constant culmination at the present moment (see fig. 1a). These guideposts have however, instead of providing direction, been mistaken for our destination.

Missing the signs due to our focus on the past and future, something has been lost. Don’t you feel it? In the pursuit of chasing of our dreams, what many of us have traded, in addition to our present, is our ability to give freely. Pragmatic generosity and compassion, on a global scale, are missing on levels that rise above quotes passed through social media.

The late mystic, Osho, is of the belief that compassion cannot be forced; that it may be derived only through the process of mental purification. Because of this, we’ve only a superficial grasp of what it means to love.

This is far too bleak for those of us taking baby steps toward our altruistic ideals. As prosaic as the social trend of quoting sagely wisdom may appear, at least it demonstrates hope. And even the largest of blazing infernos begins with a single spark.

But hope is not a strategy.

If we are the hero in this epic novel of Life, what's the plot? To pay off the mortgage? Take a nice holiday? If the predictability of security replaces our need for raw spontaneity we risk losing interest in our own story. And if absorption within our own pursuits misplaces our ability to freely care about others, we’ve lost something even more valuable.

Hope may not be a strategy but if it sparks desire and this desire ignites action, this is a formula for change. Humanity as a whole is in dire need. We’re losing our ability to see past our own desires and into the lives of the millions that suffer, truly suffer, on a daily basis.

I happen to be of the belief that Osho is misguided in his assertion. It isn’t purity that begets generosity and compassion; it is repeated acts of compassion and generosity that contribute to mental purity. Ultimately though, it is Janis that truly has it figured out:

…if you gotta care for one day…that one day man, better be your life…because that’s all you got. If you got a today you don’t wear it tomorrow, man. Cause you don’t need it… tomorrow never happens.

The only mastery we will ever truly gain over the passage of time is in continually re-discovering this very moment. The long, dreamy stretch of days, nights and seasonal transformation, merely provides a stage upon which our temporal existence is acted out. It is not the dawning of each new day, but along every point of life’s continuum that provides an opportunity to choose. This infinite string of tomorrows, will only ever arrive in concept, making it forever, one day too late to make a difference.

How does this chapter of your story read?

~ originally written by Christine Fowle in Pokhara, Nepal 2014

Beyond the Mat

To know the truth we have to deepen ourselves, and not merely widen the surface.

~ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

From the sidelines of a yoga class it may appear that touching the crown of the head with the pinkie toe is the pinnacle of practice. After all, how is yoga different from any other type of fitness regime? The two elements on which this answer depends are the teacher and the student — and their intention. Okay, maybe this makes four elements, but regardless, it’s this mojo that determines the direction of the experience and it’s the individual that brings it.

The process of Yoga has the potential to move the body in a different way but this is only the beginning. Asanas (postures) are designed to influence the expansion of space, not just in the body but also within our thoughts. In this way, how we experience life also begins shifting in a new direction.

When we first begin a mat practice it’s all we can do to find our feet when instructed. However, as confidence and comfort (yes, this does develop over time) begin to expand as does our ability to concentrate on the nuances within each pose. Deepening into a particular stretch does not refer merely to increasing mobility or strengthening muscles but our ability to focus as we develop the freedom to explore the subtle fluctuations within the body and mind.

Our practice becomes juicy when our experience on the mat begins taking on the rhythm of a guided meditation. Flowing with a bit more assurance, our initial feelings of uncertainty evaporate into something different. Postures that once generated inklings of mild loathing become an opportunity to observe our bodies and minds from a place of relative ease.

The mat becomes our safe place. Creating the unwavering foundation beneath us to continue expanding beyond our boundaries, each session uncoils a fresh opportunity to open to our true selves without judgment or fear. Supported in this journey, gradually, we begin penetrating deep pockets of clarity from within.

These gentle openings establish healthy, grounded connections with our bodies and beliefs. It can only happen gradually, with patience and loving acceptance that no matter what we find, it’s going to be okay. Over time this process is what equips us with the authentic stability we need to move with life’s challenges, not merely cope with them.

We discover our true selves.

Together on a planet with billions of other people, we are engaged in a singular game. Our shared experiences are truly known from only one perspective and Yoga is one method of discovering the depth of these perceptions. With the guidance of those who have walked this path before us, there is a clear direction.

It begins with taking the first step. If we believe we are walking into an exercise class, this is the benefit we reap. If we believe we are stepping into something more, this is also what we experience. No right or wrong; merely a difference of perception — a perception that morphs and changes with every breath. 

~ by Christine Fowle (Lewiston, NY)

~ Photo: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 2014

Angry on the Mat

Hi. My name is Christine and Utkatasana makes me angry.

You may be wondering what an Utkatasana is. In English, it’s chair pose, a Yoga asana (posture) that has us bending the knees, shins perpendicular to the ground, butt dropped down and the arms straight up in the air. Sound like fun?

Why on earth would someone put us into this pose? Ever?

Let’s approach this with another question: If our experiences on the mat and the [meditation] pillow are considered preparatory for the tests of the outside world, what types of emotions should we feel?

At first glance, it may not seem fathomable that a sequence of stretching, reaching, breath-work and bending could actually prepare us to better handle the situations in our lives. That’s because this isn’t Yoga, at least not in its entirety. Better described, Yoga is discovered within the degree of awareness and intention applied, not just to the performance of asana, but in all that we do.

These elements of intention and awareness not only bridge the chasm separating asana from exercise, but also tap into an inner wellspring of wisdom and insight, heightening the engagement we experience within our own lives. Beyond the movements, touching this power is where we begin the exploration of this depth of perception. For those of us that still believe the poses are the ultimate goal, all it takes is a subtle adjustment — and voila, we find Yoga.

Shifting the focus from body to mind may not always manifest as a delightful scent of jasmine in full bloom. But this is the challenge we accept every time we place a foot upon the mat. This is the practice — developing fortitude, strength, acceptance and forgiveness. It all happens here.

Ultimately, the anger experienced in Utkatasana does not come from the pose. It doesn’t come from the teacher and it isn’t emanating from the space surrounding my body. It comes from inside of me. And solely, it is my decision what to do with it.

This art of living deliberately unfolds as we merge the lessons from the mat and the pillow into our daily lives. Stepping into a space that awakens us to our highest nature we discover — it’s the outside world that provides the most difficult tests. The mat and pillow are merely where we study.

~ Namaste

Pull Up Your Big Boy Pants — It's Time For Change

Have you ever given yourself two weeks before beginning a new job to transform into a brand new you? As my sister says, it’s an overzealous attempt at mind-bending. Two-week vacation anyone? Powering through the workload required just to make leaving your desk even possible is a feat unto itself. Let alone, attempting to cram a year’s worth of decompression into less time than it takes to read a good book.

Retrospect makes the perfect guide and it’s only after taking a look back, that I can appreciate how a five-month trip to reinvent my life has almost completed its third and final year. Stepping away from my career, this was certainly not what I imagined. The vision in my head was more like a short, albeit enchanting, sabbatical to India and then gracefully gliding into a new role, donning a new persona fashioned by Zen, or something of the like.

It’s now clear that transformation was not what I craved; it was the basketful of goodies at the end of the road I was after. The efforts and patience involved in authentic change don’t ever sound nearly as sexy as the results.

Each of us possesses wisdom stronger and more powerful than we could ever imagine. But even the most altruistic of ambitions when layered overtop conditioned mentality, cannot possibly create an ideal environment for authentic transformation. Please read this again — slowly.

What does this mean? It means that if we attempt to dye an already colored cloth, the results will never be pure. Ever. But for most of us wishing to embark on a new chapter in our lives it’s not a matter of purity. We’d merely like to shake the stuff that’s holding us back and feel confident about the direction we’re heading.

Wherever you go, there you are.

A change of scenery — a holiday, or even a new start in a different city may present a sparkling and sometimes necessary means to break out of our normal routines. But unless we are using these opportunities to begin imparting lasting changes, have we not merely modified the backdrop?

Habitual patterning will eventually surface. So how is it that we go about removing these colors from our mental fabric? There are numerous methods. However, just as important as understanding how — is understanding what, we’re trying to accomplish?

We’re attempting to discover the structure and foundation of our belief systems. It’s the basis for our actions, feelings and emotions and it’s the reason we don't feel fulfilled. The situations in our lives merely create the catalyst for our reactions, which are solely based on how we view ourselves and the world around us. If we can learn to understand these views and to some extent, their origination, we can then determine whether we choose to accept their validity within our lives.

This sounds very clinical so I’ll provide a very personal example. Please keep in mind I did things backwards, beginning the practice of mindfulness and meditation without first understanding why. Almost a decade ago I began listening to my thoughts and quickly discovered a common thread throughout — namely me. What am I going to get; what am I going to do; what am I going to buy. Me, me, me, me, me.

What I began to slowly comprehend is that I was self-centered. I was arrogant. I was angry and I would have rather been envied than loved. It was pretty ugly and I was appalled, humbled and distraught. I was also relieved. For this at least meant I was no longer ignoring these aspects of who I'd become and habitually acting upon them.

So when I talk about developing traits like forgiveness, love, caring and compassion it’s only because I have been there and know we are all capable. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy, but it is possible — if this is what we wish.

There are also very important reasons why I continue shaking the mindfulness tambourine and it’s not because I think we should all hold hands singing rounds of Kumbaya together. It’s because we, as a society, are a mess. We’re taught to look outside of ourselves for solutions and the mass marketing machine of which we are a part, plays on our ego ensuring this doesn’t change.

It’s exhausting. Life is exhausting. We want (most of us anyway) more peace, less blah, blah, blah and a more grounded sense of being and purpose. But we’re continually going at it with the same set of mental constructs. We dress it up a little differently, color it a different brand and viola ~ instant lifelong happiness.

Bullshit.

If we want to move past our neuroses and develop better mental and physical habits it’s up to us, individually, to make the choice to do so. It’s time we pull up our big-boy pants and move on. We’ve got no choice but to use life’s lessons if we wish to become a better version of ourselves. If we continue decorating our issues with the latest fad in fashionable quick-fixes, accepting our inability to change or assigning blame to others it’s never going to happen.

BUT — If day by day, we move with the intention of developing ourselves, guess what happens?

But, we have to move, we have to breathe and we have to step — with this intention. Simple as it sounds, if we wake up, read ten to fifteen minutes of something we’ve pre-determined is our roadmap, follow it up with a ten minute meditation and then get on with our day, this is almost enough. It’s then up to us to be mindful of our thoughts, feelings, speech and actions.

Daily practice.

If we do this with intention, every day, we’re bound to change. It doesn’t involve chanting, incense, prayer or standing on our head. It involves the desire to relax into ourselves. Wishing to become a better person isn’t spiritual; it’s human. Following through on this desire, is however divine.

~ by Christine Fowle (Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India)

Oh, Yes it is!

It’s indeed that time of year once again
But where’s my sister, where's my friend?

She left me in Baharat all on my own
I miss her sweet face; ponder how has she grown?

Cherishing her smile, the sadhus agree
India isn’t the same since she's decided to flee

The walas the Yogis, the pups and the cows
Don’t listen to reason, we want her here now!

But placing self-serving motivations aside
Loneliness in check, no choice but abide

Her gifts, more important must be shared with the world
There’s good to be done, community unfurled

She returned home what feels so long ago
To alter the landscape and boy, what a show

Monks, murals and mayhem; a circus divine
Children galore all you need is a mime

Creepy as clowns, that’s a really bad plan
How about instead we invite Superman!

Oh wait there he is, right there by your side
I’ve got pictures to prove it; his cape is his ride

What a pair, lookie lookie, here’s a candid of you!
Decked out as Supergirl in a red underoo

By leaps and by bounds watching both of you fly
The wind beneath you, touching the sky

‘Eat dust baby’; oh wait, that’s not nice
That’s what you get without editing advice

This rhyme’s getting weird, so I’ll get to the point
Oh crap that’s no good; all I’ve got’s the word joint

Ahh…yes

It’s time once again to rejoice the day of your birth
You’re managing quite well; despite this fast-spinning earth

Steadying peace with chaos and fun
It’s not always easy to balance life’s run

And so you’ve inspired me to do just the same
Bring home some OM, in more that just name

So it’s off to our hometown to see what’s the fuss
I hope it’s okay, even Zen I still cuss

Dropping the F-bomb for fun and for play
I hope you'll enjoy; happy fucking birthday!

See you soon Lovebug!

p.s.

If my words don’t rhyme and the reason makes no sense
It’s the element of surprise, keeping Mimi in suspense

All OM that is published, dear sis deserves credit
She’s the only one I will dare allow edit

This poem may need help without her keen eye
Apologies abound, I gave it a try…

~ by Christine Fowle

Peace, Love & Om

 If the mind is pure in nature, does it not follow that, as is the mind, as are we? After all, what are we, if not the mind?

Indeed. Yogis, philosophers, scientists and scholars have, for centuries, been investigating the implications of this epic question — Who am I?

There are countless ideas surrounding this enigma. In almost all Eastern philosophical circles however, the answers point back to the mind, and therefore back at us. Ah, but this wasn’t established — what are we, if not the mind? This is the question.

The keys unlocking these answers reside inside us and we alone are capable of unhinging these unmarked doors. However, the societal relevance placed on such endeavors often takes a back seat to more lucrative pursuits, with our sense of self-worth often a direct correlation. But once this gateway is opened, even just a crack, something magical happens...

Invitations to discover inner harmony are not messages designed for an elite few. The increasingly fast pace at which the world is moving is impacting all of us, converting our mental and physical balance into little more than pleasant buzzwords for many. Learning to direct our attention, whether in pursuit of philosophical insight, business rationale or personal wellness, is likely the only thing that will save us — from ourselves.

Committing to be mindful prompts us to look at both the physical and non-physical aspects of our behaviors (i.e. thoughts and feelings). Using these observations to develop an alert sense of reality, with this silent eye, we become both observer and the observed, grounding our focus and centering our balance.

Patanjali, in his brilliantly expounded Yoga Sutra’s, explains enlightenment as the ceasing of the mental modifications. This includes understanding the colored lens, or veil, which is obscuring our perception of what is real. Immersed in this giant cosmic soup, our societal, educational, cultural and familial past provides each of us with a uniquely singular view of the world. It’s this view that often spurns the judgment that results in emotional fluctuations. As peace, acceptance and freedom are developed, these reelings of a wily mind are gradually released.

This is important. These modifications are often mistaken as the barriers to mindfulness and therefore considered objects of elimination. If instead, thoughts, feelings and emotions are engaged as the objects of mindfulness, this deepening awareness of self provides the method of expanding our personal introspection.

Cultivating this objective awareness is the art and science of Yoga.

Not only do we have the ability to connect with ourselves beyond what we currently comprehend, we also have the ability to live the life of our dreams. But in order to do this we’ve got to agree to do the heavy lifting.

Signing over a check for the goodies is not an option and Patanjali, Jesus and the Buddha cannot accomplish the work for us. Symbols and guides for what is possible, these individuals are pointing at the moon and although I may get in trouble in the afore mentioned circles for this, these men are also dead. If you want to taste the moon you have to reach out and take a bite.

These spiritual icons have said their peace and are not going to bestow a single, additional thread of brilliance. We can read their wisdom in sutras, scriptures, psalms and quotations; their words will never change. Our perception is the only thing that we are capable of changing. This means learning to understand your veil.

Getting to know our veil is something like adjusting the eyes to see an image within a 3D picture. We’re not attempting to remove our colorful background, but relax our vision to more readily observe what’s right in front of us — thus gradually perceiving through a lens of increasing clarity.

Self-mastery begins with intention and life provides a beeeeaauuutiful opportunity to experience the fullest expression of our emotions. Carefully watching feelings, actions and thoughts, our role is simply to notice without judging.

No one can claim responsibility for understanding who you are and no one individual’s word for reality is sacred. Saints, prophets, seekers and finders — each of us must walk the path for ourselves. The questions and illusions of who we are and who we are not were never designed to be answered for us.

Highly realized Yogis of the past, carried with them, a message. Richly hued strings of clues, instructions and wisdom, spread before us, woven into the vibrant tapestry upon which we now sit. The answers are discovered, not by looking down, but within — for it is you who possesses the whole of the moon.

May this blessed life be filled with peace, love & Om.

~ Christine ~ Varanasi, December 2014

I am You

It’s time to break from the program and get a little personal; it’s been a while since my skeletons were brought out for a dance. For those unfamiliar with the steps, it may be assumed that seeking OM has been the obvious direction since the beginning of my world. However, as it can be undeniably attested to, up until seven years ago I was running an undeviating path towards far more conventional pursuits.

Until this time, both the freedom of expression through the written word and any spiritual inklings were both buried deep. It was the simultaneous igniting of this dormant union that fused an insatiable desire to drum out the beats of this quest to the tune of life’s great enigmas. Scrappy and disjointed, this fire 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 life. 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 to be discovered, so did I. As the façade dropped, both the job and city, began taking relentless whacks at my psyche. Darkness covered light and with repeated with waves of intensity, each surge thrust me deeper into the mire until suffocating, I was dragged toward the answers.

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.

As the shadows began to dissipate, the determination to express myself 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 to explore what this meant. However, months flew past and still, I had not yet discovered my voice.

078-Nanaki___Mirror_Image_by_SchizoCheese-196x150.jpg

In the search for my voice, 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. Values, ethics and beliefs were challenged, dissected and smacked against the wall. Penetrating layers of emotion, the 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.

The reason I've shared this is actually quite simple; it's because I am you. At odds within my own self, my search for OM began long before Paris and quite possibly, long before I was born. It’s only been in the last several years that gradually, the process of change has taken root and flourished. It’s not been easy but the value has proved immeasurable.

Know you are not alone. The desire for fulfillment isn’t spiritual. It’s human. In the words of the time-honored, Loving Kindness Meditation: May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.

May you find peace on this glorious path towards your OM.

~ by Christine Fowle

~ Mirror Image by Schizo Cheese

Namaskar

After one year of traversing India in a solo Search for OM, something happened that forever changed my experience. My sister Amy joined me. Her arrival on the scene, and subsequent thirteen months, could not have been predicted in one thousand lifetimes — precisely what it feels we’ve been privileged enough to behold.

Impermanence however, is the Universal law and our paths are again moving in two unique directions. It is with tremendous joy that I look back at the last year. And it is with the utmost love and respect that I wish you Amy, a heartfelt Namaskar and safe journey home.

Our time together so precious and surreal
With dreamlike images to touch and to feel

But just like illusions embody the past
My dear sister’s visit, like dreams, didn’t last

Mother India she swooned, like any good daughter should
Her siblings as well, the bad and the good

As for myself, my psyche she’s lifted
Wholesome and pure, the girl was born gifted

Leaving much stronger with directions in hand
Home is now calling, another strange land

With purpose and might, moving down a new road
Reaching firm ground, her plans will unfold

With work to be started and fresh souls to heal
All efforts put forth she’ll accomplish with zeal

Friends who are missing her love so divine
Await with arms open as she too soon will find

There’s nothing to say, no words to express
How our time together was so surely blessed

A puff of white smoke, a new light of dawn
How fragile life is; the experience is gone

Magical it was, but no words to lament
It’s a rule of the game: what came has now went

The impermanence of all, a good lesson to know
Riding the wave, getting lost in the flow

Take with you dear sister, the wisdom you’ve gained
And your light will shine on, come wind or down rain

With a tear in my eye I must let you go
It’s your time now. The next role. A new show.

Gratitude and blessings, I ever drift your way
e’ll awaken tomorrow, a brand new today.

Love, Light & OM

The Un-Acquisitional Quest

How many of us feel fulfilled?

Of your own accord, with no external attachments to muddle the equation: Do you feel complete? If your job were gone tomorrow, would you feel the same? What about your house and car? Now remove your family and friends. If the answer was yes to the first question and any of the subsequent queries triggered inklings of uncertainty or angst, the first question may warrant revisiting.

As we move from childhood through adulthood many of the habits we pick up over the years travel with us. This includes relying on external sources as the foundation for our happiness. Throughout the earliest developmental stages, our parents shower our world with love and affection, both creating and nurturing a desire for attention. As we mature, the nature of this game doesn’t change; the objects shaping our self-worth merely shift. The attention we crave in our youth transposes from “Mommy look at me…” to accolades, promotions, material acquisitions and Likes.

True fulfillment is possible. However, there isn’t anyone or any thing on this planet that can provide what it is we need to sustain it. Innately this is a collectively understood concept, but even so, our cravings for immediate satiation continue to overwhelm us, with contemporary commodities often serving as our go-to fix. Instant gratification and cycles of goal setting and achievement recreate momentary highs, only to discover we still want more.

We’re not alone.

As the mainstream profit machine for obvious reasons, doesn’t promote authentic methods of self-fulfillment, we’ve ample encouragement to take the acquisitional plunge over and over again. Washing over us in waves of temporary rapture, the enticing colors, tastes and textures we’re so frequently seduced by, only perpetuate these alluring cyclical diversions. Instead of reducing the complications in our lives, these tempting whispers mouthed from irresistible new bling, assure that happiness’ just-out-of-reach status will be secured indefinitely.

We all have a future and what that future brings is uncertain except we will all age and we all will die. Money, fame, power and prestige do not change this. Each of us wants happiness. We all wish to feel whole. But it isn’t until we tire of looking in all the wrong places, that we’re ready to begin an earnest search in the one place we haven’t tried.

Within each of us resides the keys to connect with our higher wisdom; satisfaction and contentment are merely byproducts of this quest. If we desire physical fitness we take up a workout regimen. Uncovering a deeper connection within ourselves requires a routine of a different sort.

The purpose of a routine is not to develop knowledge. This only amalgamates information within our existing belief systems. Establishing a practice is the spinning of the wheel removing these layers of conditioning that separate us from our natural insight. In other words, moving closer to the core of our being is not about learning who we are, it instead involves slowly stripping away who we are not.

We’ve spent our lifetimes accumulating layers of labels, judgment and habits, spreading a colored film over everything we view, separating us from our environment, each other and humanity as a whole. Personal perspective, based on a past that is no longer, leaves impressions in our minds, which we presume are valid due to the seemingly vivid nature of their appearance.

It isn’t real.

The ultimately intangible nature of our beliefs is also true of the perceptions we maintain of ourselves. Throughout the course of our lives we’ve adopted certain ideas of who we are, the things we like and what we stand for. But in any given circumstance these can, and do, change. What we’ve crafted as an image of ourselves is in reality, just that, a picture — no more real than a dream.

In order to reach a place where we may begin realizing this, it must be realized, in the truest sense of the word. This does not come from reading about it; it is derived from experience. Just as a new haircut doesn’t mean we’ve altered our way of thinking, neither does reading (or sharing) the acute understanding of others mean we’ve integrated these words into the center of our consciousness.

Recognition of the thought patterns comprising the view-world we’ve cultivated does not take place on the surface. Taking on the role of both observer and the observed, it is through increased momentary awareness that our habituated tendencies slowly become apparent. Personal practice is the bridge escorting us into this realm of lucidity.

Development of a practice is a very personal endeavor. It entails a desire for true fulfillment and the strength to open our eyes. It involves the courage to look upon aspects of ourselves we may not love with compassion and acceptance. It requires understanding that self-transformation is a life-long quest without a tangible beginning or end. It means giving up the safety and security of the habits that bind us, for the balance and peace that will set us free.

~ by Christine Fowle