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

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

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

Ball and Chain

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 the present moment. This seemingly long stretch of days, nights and seasonal transformation, simply provides a vivid 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 presents an opportunity to choose. An infinite string of tomorrows, only ever arriving in concept, will always remain one day too late to make a difference.

How will the next chapter of your story read?

Live. Learn. Most importantly: Lend your voice.

~ by Christine Fowle, Pokhara 2014

Box of Secrets

This unpredictable journey began with a seed that was planted almost three years ago. It was an e-mail received, a newsletter designed to develop motivations for the upcoming New Year. The simple yet powerful questions prompted responses that within moments, pointed to the truth — my life choices were not congruent with who it was I wanted to be. The decision became clear and so I took a deep breath and a running leap, in hopes that the Universe would throw out a net to catch me.

The difficulty in discerning whether or not this gilded net has been tossed, is due to the innate holes in the question. As I continue following breadcrumb trails through India and Nepal, instead of transpiring as a graceful skip down a golden path, the experience has often unrolled with clumsy trips through potholes of garish sludge. On the flip side, shining through the clouds, beam brilliant rays of clarity, placing self-doubt where it belongs, leaving nowhere on the planet I should rather be. However, it is the stillness that balances where these two dichotomies meet, that the true lessons are discovered.

Traveling no further than the human experience, evidence of these psychological extremes is found within every new frame [of mind] we enter. Through observation of our moods, we can witness this morphing between the roles we play, the people we interact with and locations we occupy, each with a defining structure and corresponding behavior. From devoted spouse, to loyal employee, sympathetic friend and engaged parent, the thousands of characters we portray in the theater of our lives become the medium through which we experience the world.

Enter suffering.

Referred to throughout Buddhist texts, the term suffering is often misunderstood. From the rich languages of Pali and Sanskrit, we’ve inherited a translation that in English suggests hardship, misery or physical anguish. Because of this misinterpretation, suffering is often dismissed as a condition applicable to someone not me.

Within the Western culture, the foundations for suffering begin forming before we even have the ability to speak. Our early training includes learning to evaluate situations and ascertaining whether we like or dislike what is happening. Our first words include good and bad and soon after, to the degree to which they may be applied. As we get older this pattern is reinforced and the physical responses associated with our preferences strengthens. Our emotions become intertwined within this process. By the time we’ve reached adulthood the majority of events entering our periphery are tied to this YoYo string of likes and dislikes, which in turn pulls in tandem, their corresponding sensation.

This is however not what suffering refers to.

The essence of suffering lies within the conditioned desire to experience only the pleasant sensations. Clarity on the Temple Steps, examines the difficult aspects of sitting with these painful emotions. Pushing away uncomfortable feelings is a culturally accepted norm and avoiding or masking our discomfort is endorsed, encouraged and supported by the billion dollar industries selling the cure.

Simply being with ourselves when we feel less than perky, is not what we are conditioned to do, and have even been led to believe that not only is our primary goal to feel good but we are entitled to it. This unrealistic expectation places us into a chair of self-diagnosis in attempts to either reason ourselves into feeling better or write personal prescriptions for external remedies (food, alcohol, retail therapy etc.).

We are not our thoughts.

There is, in reality a separation between mind and senses. The senses merely transmit data, which the brain receives and the mind evaluates.  Because our waking moments involve a consistent stream of sensory input and our tendencies link our thoughts to these bodily sensations, we identify with them. Our emotions in turn trigger our responses.

Like slowing down the frames in a movie, identifying the precise moments of perception, or thought, allows us to distinguish it from the subsequent sensations. It takes a little practice and over time the break between the two becomes clear. Not only this, but the emotional reaction to the sensation becomes evident. We begin to understand the relationship between thoughts and emotions — the link being our physical reaction. If we can identify the reaction we can better manage the response.

The chain looks something like this:

Stimuli —> Perception —> Physical Reaction —> Emotive Response

Enter meditation.

Have you ever sat down with the objective of listening to your mind? Neither did I. Until I did. Prior to this, there was never any reason to consider what suffering wasor whether or not I was afflicted. However, that first experience of eavesdropping on my thoughts changed the course of my life. It was seven years ago and for the fist time, I simply sat quietly and listened.

Our mind is with us throughout the extent of our entire lives. Yet, the majority of us will live an entire lifetime without developing an understanding of it. And unless you are both subject and author, the true nature of yourmind cannot be discovered in between the lines of a book. It involves learning to practice.

The most fascinating aspects of self-discovery involve developing a relationship with ourselves at the deepest levels of our being. The moment we begin to quiet the space around us and examine what cannot be seen with our own eyes it becomes clear; we have the power to change. Peace is attainable.

The benefits of meditation are as far reaching as the energy we put forth — and the potential, infinite. The time commitment can be as minimal as ten minutes a day; the most important piece being the commitment. It’s like learning a new language, the language of self-exploration, and in order for progress to be made, regular practice is vital.

At the onset of this trip the methods for achieving my own objectives were not yet clear — because my objectives weren’t clear. I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to live my values. I wanted to make a difference.

I wanted to be a better me.

Each and every day I am faced with a choice and it is only because each and every day I (mostly) choose wisely that I have discovered the truth. The perseverance however, of developing a regular mediation practice has not shown me who this better version of me is. It has stripped away the illusion of who she is not.

The process of liberating the purest expression of myself began the very first day I sat down on a meditation pillow. But this journey is no longer about me. You are the hero of this story. Behind a door of silence awaits a box of secrets only you can open. I may be pointing at the lock. But it is you who holds the key.

~ by Christine Fowle
~ Photo Credit:  Rebecca Ioannou

Stillness... A Ticket to the Circus

“Stillness (begins piece),” I scrawl at the top of my scant meditation journal.  Taking the most miniscule of mental detours, I mark the beginning of what I feel pulled to reflect on once this seemingly endless continuum of morning to night mental engagement is complete.  It is day six out of a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat: Lumbini, Nepal; Thanksgiving day.

— I am suddenly struck with an eerie realization. It was four years ago, also Thanksgiving day, at a retreat center in Elbert, Colorado that I too was seated amongst kindred strangers, consciously and quietly eating my savory vegetarian lunch. Freshly divorced and seeking solace, I dove into my first and last retreat of this intensity, understanding very little of what I was getting into.  Inspired by the intriguing description…an invaluable atmosphere of silence, meditation and self-transformation with peace as the ultimate prize, it was just what I craved.

Flash forward.

Bong….Bong....Bonnggg… The first gong sounds its vibratory song at 4am, signaling it is now time to rise and prepare for the first navel gazing session. The remainder of the day unfolds slowly, with moment-to-moment mindfulness, alternating between hourly sitting and walking meditations until the final session coolly fades into the night at 10pm (psst, I fade sooner — no tellie!). Sleep. Darkness blankets the sky upon retiring and a misty fog envelops the center upon awakening. In the pre-dawn stillness, this thick haze settles over the long, narrow pathway, as it softly disappears into the distance. The echoing backdrop of mystical chanting from distant monasteries permeates the air, furthering the enchantment amidst this continually elapsing landscape.

Inside the tranquil darkness of the meditation hall, mosquito nets, dropped from hooks in the sky, form pod-like cocoons, protecting yogis from all outside trivialities. While there are few mosquitoes in the hall to speak of (they all seem to be hiding under my dining table), this thinnest of veils comes to evoke in me a warm sense of comfort. In the cozy seclusion provided by this personal nest, I can almost invisibly climb in and let go amongst this roomful of consciousness pilgrims.

The first few days feel like a shedding; layers of built up residual thoughts and tension from the external world clear and fall away. Then the real work begins — maintaining the balance and self-discipline to hold a vigilant yet soft focus on the rising and falling of the breath.  Contrary to what I once believed, the primary aim of Vipassana is not to sustain a pinprick concentration but to impartially witness the thought formations as they arrive and depart without actively participating in their illusory nature.

The carefully crafted conditions give retreatants a safe environment, free from distraction of the modern world which to explore the link between thought, emotion and sensation. Moreover the center provides a non-judgmental space to perform the turtle-like slow motion movements we are all meticulously executing. The meals are unsweetened vegetarian faire, rooms are stark and the water cold; no electronic devices allowed. One could question the sanity in volunteering for such an endeavor. Yet I have come to appreciate the rare existence of such a setting, created solely for the purpose of developing purity of body and clarity of mind.

Here’s where it gets interesting. One might speculate that with the removal of sensory pleasures and freely roaming thoughts we would instantly implode. Instead, like a snow globe settling after a good shake, the water gets calm, the flakes come to rest and finally, we just are’ — no inner or outer disturbances.  Ahhh, sweet peace.  Until... Step right up! You have just won a front row seat to the Cerebral Circus — an unobstructed view of the sensory instability and erratic thought parade, swinging mental monkeys, and emotional tightrope walking.  Doot doot doo doo doo doot doot doo doo …

“What are you still doing here?” I silently cry at old, haunting, and random players as they spontaneously spring and sprout in my mind. Aches, pains, and mysterious tingles arise and then pass as I non-reactively observe their individual qualities and nature.  The good news is that it does get better and there are secrets and strategies to successfully dealing with such distractions. AND THEN THEY STOP WORKING. Nonetheless, observing these transparent swings from divine bliss to the pits of fiery discord is precisely the magnification of the human condition rooted at the core of self-awareness leading to personal growth.

Upon emerging from the experience, it’s as if a vacuum has removed the unnecessary debris from my being, leaving a clear mind, calm presence, and joyfulness of spirit I can’t explain.  Vipassana, translated as, seeing things as they are, is an explicit technique perfected to guide aspirants toward boundless clarity and wisdom. When experienced, if only for moments at a time, this sacred luminescence stirs an unquestionable desire to further explore the intricacies of this doorway to nirvana.

Four years ago and emotionally raw with only 22 minutes of meditation experience, I set out to find serenity. What I’ve discovered is that there are no shortcuts on the road to self-discovery; developing a steady practice takes time.  It is only through patience and purposeful resolve that we may meet with lasting truth, clarity, and ultimate bliss. While just beginning to traverse this deeply transformative practice, it is evident — the efforts may be many but the rewards are immeasurable.

And yes, stillness begins peace.

~ by Amy King

Symmetry

For the first time in sixteen months family matters have beckoned a return from India, back to the United States. Perhaps the contrast would appear less dramatic if the destination were a place other than that which I spent my childhood. Perhaps it is the perfect location for a homecoming.

Scores of densely clustered villages dance along the distance from Varanasi to Delhi by train with the scheduled four stops developing into four times that, delaying the arrival by two and a half hours. Dropped at the airport and walking through the check-in process leaves just enough time to step up to the back of the line upon reaching the gate. Thus continues a perfectly succinct succession of events set into perpetual motion.

Landing gear deploys and in a striking contrast to the multihued Eastern disarray just left behind are groomed monochrome towns gaining in size through the portals of rapid descent. Roads cross and cul-de-sacs loop, with rows of orderly homes, carefully manicured lawns and automobiles, pulled into uniform driveways. Street lamps poised to light the night sky and signposts at each intersection mark the transition into an organized world of symmetrical proportion.

The enduring appeal of my charming hometown juxtaposed against the assorted carnival of the city I’ve departed only days ago, presents the most extreme of contrasting landscapes and a nonplusing question. Is the surreal dream revealed within the erratic and vibrant mayhem of India or is it found in the comforts and measured security within the luxuries of the country I grew up? Perhaps the answer is neither. Just as the two can never simultaneously face the sun, the same is true of a mutually exclusive answer. It is time that serves as the veritable dream.

Projecting hallucinations into the peripheral distance, blurring vision and obscuring sight, time reflects a tomorrow that never arrives and a yesterday that will forever remain in the shadow of today. Stretching the reverie of past and future over the current moment, this shrouding continuum casts layers of tinted imagery, further deluding the truth. Only now may be inspired by our attention and only effort will bring this about. No matter how often we retrace the steps of yesteryear we cannot touch the experiences and no matter how we plan a more fruitful forthcoming, our minds cannot grasp beyond what is in directly front of us. All else is an illusory notion.

So, which is the dream? Decidedly, whichever is outside of my direct sphere of engagement.

In two weeks time, a swirling mirrored  déjà vu finds me on the same train, traveling the direction opposite. The same four scheduled stops have developed into four times that, and the same inverted scenery is every bit as enigmatic viewed through an eastbound looking glass. Loosely hanging nostalgic threads of tasks left unfinished have, upon returning, morphed into a trimmed sense of remaining purpose in this country.

It’s good to be back; but then again, it could be said I never left.

~ by Christine Fowle

Clarity on the Temple Steps

As is bound to happen when leaving a normal life behind to discover what makes you tick; you find out. Admittedly, the post Flashback? may have been a bit misleading. Certainly, there are aspects of India that are akin to a raving party, such as the festivals or even tooling through a local bazaar, however, much of the country is focused on making a living and passing the days. My reasons for being here are also not to whoop it up, shriek like a banshee and swing from the rafters. Well, not any more than usual.

In fact, since May I’ve been calling Himachel Pradesh home. It is here, against the mountainous scenery of the Himalayas, tucked away in a monastery amidst a six-week retreat, that I fell into a rut. Nothing happened per se, or perhaps it was a handful of not-so-little-but-not-really-big, things. Either way, something’s been tossing me off a beat making everything difficult including my focus, eating habits, meditation and desire to write. Motivation flows smoothly when solid rhythms are tapping out, but maintaining the tempo when the music stops can be a test of will. It requires focus and at times, doing things I don’t feel like doing or not doing the things I do.

Whatever the trigger was, I cannot be certain but the result was swift and acute; I got scared. It’s not the first time. Grasping for the safety and security I left behind, the voice of my psyche began pumping the tactical fuel necessary to light the fire. Thoughts like, “What was I thinking?” “I can’t continue to do this?” “What is it I’m doing anyway?” raced through my head. Personal growth set in firm opposition to the obstacles necessary to achieve it; I stood mesmerized in the heated conflict, paying no attention to the rainwater I was sweeping from the temple steps. Until I looked down.

I noticed the curled green leaves floating amidst the puddles and the sun barely spreading first light from beyond the mountain peaks and rice paddies. I felt the hard broom handle in my hands and heard the sounds of tweeting birds waking. It is in this brief space that I made a choice. In lieu of the options that could potentially make me feel better, I would act on a different alternative, and do nothing. It’s not really nothing though. It’s the active process of watching the stream of thoughts without giving into the urge to do something, to make them go away. To make the feeling go away.

This can be a tricky prospect. Although intrinsically aware that frolicking through a rainbow of happy is simply not a sustainable high just as wallowing in murky puddles of sorrow will not last indefinitely, it’s challenging to avoid grasping at one and pushing away the other. These instinctual byproducts of environmental conditioning are reactions to the ever-so-ample social encouragement that we should feel good all the time. If we don’t, it’s a problem that should immediately be remedied.

The difficulty is we’ve never been taught to manage our emotions; instead, cultural programming has trained us to manually alter our moods. From food and drugs to alcohol and retail therapy, there’s a flavor of self-avoidance for everyone. Because we’ve no practice, it is not easy to hang with a funk sporting an attitude of Okay…it’s you and me today Funk…I hope you like Yoga, particularly when habitual tendencies present a copious array of colorful, escapism-based alternatives.

It’s not to say there isn’t validity to some of what rolls through our minds. There are certainly nuggets of wisdom to glean and golden ideas to polish. But if in the throws of stuffing the uncomfortable feeling into a place where it can’t breathe, any brilliance that may have been panned, is likely to be smothered.

It was during this process of staring at the tauntings of inner-doubt that something shiny did catch my attention. Tiny, yet recognizable, it was the spark of an idea. Perhaps it won’t amount to anything. Perhaps it will. Having given this sabbatical a very fair shake, it may indeed betime for a little planning. But this pointed illumination could have easily been missed entirely had I already begun washing down the discomfort with a cup of tea and bag of chocolate cookies.

~ by Christine Fowle

Searching For OM

Why on earth this endeavor? The odds of winning the lottery are greater than the percentage of those who've attained Supreme Consciousness. It's not mainstream and a vastly foreign concept to the Christian based beliefs we're naturally exposed to in the West.

It didn't begin this way. Meditation became an option only because of exhausting every conceivable method of securing and sustaining true happiness. Because of closing my eyes on that fateful day, and because I continued to do so, the content of my thoughts was unavoidable. Although I chose to listen, truly, I didn't wish to hear.

The truth wasn't so much harsh as it was upsetting. The person I'd become, this woman who thought she was caring and giving, insightful and non-judgmental, in reality, wasn't. The thoughts running throughout my head were in direct contrast, primarily self-serving and opinionated. There was very little compassion to be found.

It's not that I was a horrible person. I took care of those in my immediate circle, rarely lied and took responsibility for my actions. But at the core of my humanity I truly cared for only one, me. I'm not looking for sympathy and our cultural conditioning certainly supports such behavior. This doesn't make it right.

When through continued meditation I came to the realization that this process, in it of itself, was a form of de-conditioning, the results encouraged moving forward.

The notion of Nirvana was just that, a notion. I no more thought of it as truly possible than spreading my wings and flying around the moon. Nor did I understand it. The idea of a permanent condition called bliss sounded groovy. I didn't look at it as finding God, transcending mind & matter, developing Pristine Awareness, Liberation — whatever you wish to call it.

A turning point in my understanding occurred when I came to realize what Buddhism refers to as suffering; the basis of our unsettled, unsatisfied, minds. Before I knew what to call it, I experienced it, profoundly. The depiction of suffering as the ceaseless internal commentary regarding how things should be and could be in an illusory world outside of here and now, consuming our thoughts and present moments, is apt.

Something else I understood was that meditation was changing this and bringing me into the present. But I fell into it backward, practicing the cure before diagnosing the affliction. This, however, was pivotal. Had I not already experienced myself, through practice, what The Buddha prescribed to liberate oneself, it is likely that it never would have happened. Suffering would have appeared as a melodramatic term and meditation would have looked like not a lot of fun.

It takes effort, and at times — it's not a lot of fun. I've fallen off the truth-wagon more times than I care to admit and even profound shifts in perspective have not always been strong enough to combat the powerful pull of denial. The life-choice I've made is not a popular one and faith has been very slow to build. But once the Truth is glimpsed it is very hard to ignore. It calls you back with reminders that all that glitters is not gold and reality & illusion are two sides of the same coin.

Searching for OM was not about finding myself; it was about creating myself. The merging of the spiritual being I felt myself becoming with a livelihood that supported it. It was also not about Enlightenment — until it was.

A line was crossed. And it suddenly became profoundly clear. Liberation is possible.

In the last post, What if?eluded to the tremendous power that lies latent within each one of us. This isn't referring to the intellectualized notion in the mundane sense. I am talking about earth-shaking, mountain-moving, power.

But this is the problem. It's only talk. Glimpses of the other shore, no matter how profound, do not qualify one as having reached the other side and the ocean has not yet been completely traversed.

And it is on this note that I thank you for reading. It is necessary for me to drop off the planet for a little while to continue working on what I came here to accomplish.

Love & OM-

Christine