The Poetry of Retreat

Wake up well before dawn.

Set an alarm, just in case. I don’t want to miss a moment of the five a.m. sadhana.

Under the veil of darkness, stroll along the starlit, lapping lake to the candlelit temple where White Tara beams down upon us all every day and night.

Location: Sumaya, which means “a long awaited dream come true”; a.k.a. paradise found.

Akasha shares his personal practice with us, in such a down-to-earth, accessible and friendly way. Casually imparts the wisdom of years and decades of practice. So humbly, with the authenticity of actions and the nebulous precision of words. The time flies by.

Breathing, chanting, moving, holding, listening. Paying attention.

Sun rises, pastels paint the sky. We invite the morning light. The lake’s daily awakening. All the sounds, the water, the boat motors, voices, birdsong.

And now, a series of seven-minute chants. I read from the sheet and marvel at all the people in the room who has these long strings of Sanskrit syllables memorized.

Mid-morning Ashtanga practice. Powerful. Right effort. Knowing boundaries, challenging limits. Mountain men and women gaining strength, vitality. Soaking up inspiration from our teacher and his teacher’s teachers.

Just one week, and yet we go so deep, transforming energy on all levels. Strangers swiftly become sangha, friendships are forged over meals and spirit animal tarot cards.

Healing circle, full moon, New Year’s Eve evening; glowing hearts, positive energy, splendid synergy. Giving and receiving.

Inner transformation, outward evolution. Deep bow of gratitude, dream come true. The closing of one chapter leads to the opening of the next.

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Thank you. I love you. Please forgive me. I’m sorry. Namaste.

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Dedicating the Merit of our Practice

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(Read the original on elephant journal)

The other day, I stood alone in the temple in front of an altar full of a stunningly beautiful and potent mandala of crystals, Tibetan singing bowls, and Buddhas.

As I breathed with my palms together in prayer in front of my heart and wished that the journey my family and I are about to embark upon be safe, peaceful, and joyous, for one brief second my mind was clear and radiant.

I realized that this wish for myself and the two beings closest to me (my husband and daughter) was simultaneously a wish for all beings without exception. The pure and simple aspiration, “May the journey of all beings be safe, peaceful, healthy, and happy” welled up from that indescribable source that lies within each of us and is ever surrounding us all.

Dedicating the merit is fundamental to all meditation. It is absolutely essential and not to be overlooked. Here is an example of a dedication of merit you can recite at the end of your practice:

May the earth be wholesome everywhere
The world blessed with prosperity
May the poor and destitute find wealth
And the stooping animals be freed

May every being ailing with illness
Find relief at once from suffering
May all the sickness that afflict the living
Be instantly and permanently healed

May those who go in dread, have no more fear,
May captives be unchained and set free,
And may the weak now become strong,
May living beings help each other in kindness.

May travelers upon the road,
Find happiness no matter where they go,
And may they gain, without hardship,
The goals on which their hearts are set.

From the songs of birds and the sighing of trees,
From the shafts of light and from the sky itself,
May living beings, each and every one,
Perceive the constant sound of Dharma.

~ Shantideva

Airplane Meditation

{original post on elephant journal}

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I’ve always loved flying.

As a girl, I would have dreams of flying, floating above the earth, having been gifted the ability to lift myself and defy gravity, slowly levitating further and further up into the treetops—and higher, looking down upon the earth below without fear.

My first plane trip was as a toddler when my mom took me to California. I don’t remember it consciously, but perhaps that experience lent itself to my lifelong fascination with air travel.

At age 14, I boarded a plane alone for the first time—again to California—to visit a close friend who had moved there. I remember looking down upon the land, so in awe of the shades of green, the yellow and brown patterns of the fields, the tiny cars on city highways, and the hills and mountains we passed over. I remember the amazing feeling of being in the fluffy white clouds, careening as if magically through the vast blue sky.

I’ve taken countless plane trips since then, and I’m always awed by the experience—especially the liftoff and ascension into the sky.

I recently came across this intriguing “meditation for the jet-set,” in a book by Osho. Whether you love flying or feel anxiety around it, may this guided technique be of benefit!

“When gravitation is less, and the earth is very far away, many pulls of the earth are far away. You are far away from the corrupted society that man has built. You are surrounded by clouds and the stars and the moon and the sun and the vast space. So do one thing: start feeling one with that vastness and do it in three steps.

The first step is: for a few minutes just think that you are becoming bigger…you are filling the whole plane. Then, the second step: start feeling that you are becoming even bigger, bigger than the plane—in fact, the plane is now inside you.

And, the third step: feel that you have expanded into the whole sky. Now these clouds that are moving and the moon and the stars—they are moving in you. You are huge, unlimited. This feeling will become your meditation, and you will feel completely relaxed and non-tense.” ~ Osho, Meditation: The First and Last Freedom

4 Favorite Dynamic Dharma Teachings

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I met the Buddha in Mountain View, California, in the autumn of 2003.

I had achieved my dream of moving from the Lone Star State to the Golden State. I’d been practicing yoga on and off for a decade but had never really delved into meditation outside of my yoga practice.

Shortly after relocating to the Bay Area (also known as the land of endless holistic health opportunities), a simple flyer prompted me to show up to the Mountain View Zen Center group sit one evening with an authentic beginner’s mind.

I sat on a black cushion facing the wall in a quiet room with about 20 other people sitting on black cushions facing the wall. I had no idea what to do, other than sit there and breathe. There was no technique given, no guided meditation or direction, no incense or music.

I remember finding it exceedingly weird to be just sitting and breathing and staring at the white wall. I remember stifling the urge to giggle at times. I remember the near constant stream of thoughts: What am I doing here? How long has it been? How much longer? What if I fart? What am I going to eat for dinner after this? Am I doing this right?

Without further ado, here are a few of my most beloved and life-altering gems of dharma wisdom. May they be of benefit!

1. Life is suffering. Suffering results from clinging. There is a way out. Mindful awareness of the eternal now is the way to peace, wholeness, and bliss.

2. All we need is metta.

Metta is the practice of sending love, friendliness, and kindness to all beings without exception.

May we be safe. May we be happy. May we be healthy. May we live with ease. May we be free.

3. Let go like a warrior.

Spiritual practice is all about letting go of our tendency to constantly dwell in the past and/or the future—and instead, fully embracing the present moment (in which, sometimes, we are recalling memories of the past or making plans and projections for the future).

“Training yourself to be a warrior is learning to rest in basic goodness.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa

4. Reconnect with awareness in every step.

Gratitude is the strongest and most durable foundation for our lives—remembering that each breath is a gift. Life is not about eternal happiness. It is about being real, being here, witnessing and holding space for all that arises. Reflecting, growing, modeling health and genuine humanness. It’s doing the inner work each day so that our light can shine out and benefit others.

“You have to remember one life, one death—this one! To enter fully the day, the hour, the moment, whether it appears as life or death, whether we catch it on the in-breath or out-breath, requires only a moment, this moment. And along with it all the mindfulness we can muster, and each stage of our ongoing birth, and the confident joy of our inherent luminosity.” ~ Stephen Levine

Read the full version on elephant journal

Purification Practice Mantras

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One of the first formal meditation techniques I learned, at an Ananda Yoga center in Palo Alto in the autumn of 2003, was a simple mantra.

We were instructed to repeat silently—mentally—with each inhale, “I am,” and, with each exhale, “peace.”

Practicing this way even for just a few moments, I felt like peace was pervading my entire body and mind.

I have shared this method with countless yoga students over the years, but I’ve moved away from mantra meditation in my own personal practice, in favor of other techniques.

Recently, though, a dear teacher brought to my attention the value of purification practice. When I admitted that I don’t have a regular purification practice and asked her for a mantra, she suggested that I chant Gayatri mantras each morning for 20 minutes.

I dug up an old mala and diligently have begun to start each morning meditation with 108 repetitions of a sacred mantra, counting each one on a bead—sometimes aloud, sometimes internally.

I am an amateur again, reconnecting with my beginner’s mind.

Here are the classic mantras I’ve been working with, in case you’d like to incorporate this powerful method into your spiritual practice. May they be of benefit:

1. Om/Aum

“You are a cosmic flower. Om chanting is the process of opening the psychic petals of that flower.”  ~ Amit Ray

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6 Radical Spring Cleaning Suggestions

 

“I dedicate the merit of the occasion to all beings. This gesture of universal friendship has been likened to a drop of fresh spring water. If we put it on a rock in the sunshine, it will soon evaporate. If we put it in the ocean, however, it will never be lost. Thus the wish is made that we not keep the teachings to ourselves but to use them to benefit others.” ~ Pema Chodron

Mid-March is upon us, and in our household, it’s time for some serious spring cleaning. There’s much more to it than traditional chores like dusting, sweeping, washing, organizing, and rearranging….Here are six alternative ideas to spruce up our spring selves.

1. Sweep out the mental cobwebs.

Partake in morning, noon and night meditations. Just a few precious moments at sunrise, midday, and sunset can clear our minds. Gaze up at the sky. Connect with the breath. Resist the urge to check your phone or mentally compose your next email or status update.

Think of it as sweeping out the dusty corners of your mind, opening the windows and inviting in a refreshing breeze for tea. No matter what problems, joys, and dramas we are currently dealing with in life, we can choose to set them aside and just be for a little while, multiple times each day.

“I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.” ~ Anne Lamott

2. Do a spring cleanse.

Spend a day (or, better yet, a week) eating extra mindfully and lightly. We don’t have to go to the extreme of the master cleanse (the one that use lemonade, molasses, and cayenne pepper mix) in order to get the benefits of a detox. Cut out alcohol, coffee, dairy, cheese, white sugar, and enriched flours. Eat fresh fruits, raw salads, or lightly steamed veggies. Drink loads of natural juices, herbal teas, and pure water.

Resetting our diet is a powerful way to spring clean. Just be sure to ease out of it gradually by reintroducing foods like brown rice, potatoes, and whole grain breads, as opposed to diving back into eating meaty or fried dishes, right after your cleanse officially ends.

“I tried a juice cleanse, and it was a total disaster. For the eight hours that I lasted, I felt like I was on the brink of starvation. For me, it’s about making the right choices.” ~ Ivanka Trump

3. Practice “spring of consciousness” writing.

Keeping a diary costs nothing, is freeing, and can be extremely therapeutic. Use a new notebook or open a new document on your computer. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and just write your heart out. Whatever you’re thinking or feeling, let it spill out uncensored onto the page. No stopping, no editing, no planning. What comes out needn’t be legible, logical, or lovely. It doesn’t have to come out in perfect sentences or even make sense.

This is your sacred, private space for expression. Go back and reread it at the end of the day, month, or year. Take time for reflection, noting how you’re evolving, growing, and healing. Save the pages, or burn them in letting go ceremony.

“I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees.” ~ Pablo Neruda

 

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Birdwatching

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Good morning
Sunrise meditation
Sitting or standing
On the wooden planks of our little cabin’s balcony
Every morning the same yet different
Notice the pastels in the sky

Midday meditation
There is no one right way to sit
There is no one right way to practice
Isn’t everything practice, after all?
Isn’t everything life unfolding?
Suffering is to be accepted, not evaded
Difficulty, sadness and death are not optional
But neither are joy, celebration and beauty

Tune in to the birds’ heart songs
Gaze at the cloud formations billowing slowly
Contemplate the water, so blue and sparkly, rippling
Listen to the wind, the leaves, the trees
Watch the birds swoop, fly, flutter from branch to branch
Watch the thoughts swoop, fly, flutter, stutter, compete, judge, opine
and all the rest
Watch the sensations in the physical body and the energies in the subtle body
Watch the emotions come and go
Sunset meditation
Good night

Meditation on the 7 Sacred Directions

_Read the original post on Elephant Journal_

Sitting or standing tall, feel where your body meets the ground.

Face East. Inhale deeply, reaching your arms toward the heavens.

Exhale and sigh, a few times. Let go of tension, frustration, worries and storylines with each sacred breath.

Thank you, East, for bringing the sunrise.

We give thanks to the teachings, the teachers, the time and space to practice, the warmth of wisdom.

Thank you, South, for providing the harvest.

We give thanks for your comforting hospitality, hugs and heartfelt conversations.

Thank you, West, for the masterpiece of each evening’s sunset.

We cherish you for bringing the dark night and shimmering starlight and for enabling our destiny to manifest.

Thank you, North, for blowing the cold winds of change.

We appreciate you stoking the fire and reminding us to huddle together, to cuddle and cooperate.

We remember, again, to appreciate this moment, whatever joys and challenges it presents us with.

Look up. Thank you, sky, for the clouds, wind, sun and moon, for giving us height, for allowing us to stand tall, here now.

Look down. Feel your soles on the planet.

Thank you, Earth, for your infinite love and nurturing nature, for your nutrients and sacred waters, plains, mountains and stones.

Thank you for grounding us in reality, in gratitude, in the moment-to-moment experience of breath and the evolution of change and the promise of consistency that surrounds us.

Thank you, Heart, for breaking open, for melting, for feeling the vast prism of emotions, for accepting, for cultivating awareness and compassion, and for sparkling.

East, west, north, south, earth below, sky above.

Bring it all back to the center of the heart.