Author Archives: ajjrichmond

Vipassana Meditation: Days 8 – 11

The Home Stretch

On Day 7 we were told that Days 8 and 9 would be slightly different. Usually during our breaks we were left to our own devices; free to think and feel as we wished. On Days 8 and 9 we were instructed to spend our breaks paying close attention to the sensations of our bodies, as we did during meditation.

Naturally my mind was not pleased. It wanted to daydream during breaks. Create new plot ideas and characters for novels I had yet to write. It wanted to replay TV shows or movies. It wanted to be entertained. It DID NOT want to spend more time noticing and ignoring itches. (My mind was quite snarky by this time.)

I fought long and hard with my brain. Sometimes it won and I’d find myself focused on worlds that don’t exist. Other times I won and my mind yielded to my wishes. Now combine that with the anticipation of seeing my husband and going home to sleep in my comfy bed. They were difficult days but I survived.

Day 10 – Let There be Noise

I woke up on Day 10 with the anticipation of a child waking up to Christmas morning. Today I would be allowed to talk! I could finally discuss my experiences with my friend. I could tell her how my Sankhara always seemed to leave my butt, or when I had caught her eye once I nearly burst out laughing. Or how on the very first day when Goenka started chanting I had this strange urge to either laugh or cry but not really sure which.

I wanted to tell her how much I struggled on the first three days and that sitting beside her at lunch was the only thing that made me feel calm. I wanted to tell her how much I missed Brandon and sleeping in my comfy bed and that one of my roommates talked in her sleep…in Russian.

I had a never-ending list of things I wanted to talk about and yet when it came time to speak after our morning meditation it felt strange to use my voice. In fact my voice literally wasn’t there. It was all croaky like I had been sick but without the pain. I had to work my way back to talking.

There were two types of people on this course: the ones that left the meditation hall still unsure how to use their voice. Still wanting to keep it quiet. These people wanted to seek out the company of perhaps another person or two and have a quiet discussion on how they were feeling. I fell into this group.

The other group left the meditation hall like they had just entered a huge rowdy party. They were hooting and hollering. Jumping around and laughing and letting everyone know that they had no trouble using their voice. These people caused me great anxiety.

It felt strange to hear all the noise. I felt my anxiety rise and my back immediately started to hurt. I was tense and uncomfortable. Those of us that were in the ‘lets-keep-it-quiet’ group fled. We scurried back to our rooms or bolted outside away from the noise. It felt too crowded with everyone talking. All I could think was How did we ever all fit in this place?

Our schedule for the day had changed. Day 10 is transition day and incredibly important day to find your way back to “normal” life. Without the routine I wandered aimlessly around the centre like a lost puppy. I didn’t know what to do. I was so used to spending 11 hours meditating that free time just felt so foreign. Almost kinda wrong.

Speaking of wrong…when we began speaking again I found all those social niceties – saying excuse me, smiling, making eye contact etc – came rushing back. And with that came the burden of other people’s opinions. Let me explain. 

When we weren’t talking I didn’t care what others thought of me. No that’s not the right word. It’s not that I didn’t care, it’s that it never crossed my mind to think about it. I was indifferent to how I appeared on the outside. Obviously others were forming their own opinions of me in silence. I know this because a couple people came up to me to make comments about how I dressed or how I carried myself. But it’s like it never crossed my mind to be self conscious of it. 

Speaking brought that back and I felt overly aware of it. I started wondering what others thought of me. I paid attention to what I looked like. It was a subtle change but I felt it. It’s not like I normally spend my life wondering or worrying about what others think of me. But I realized that at some level we all do that. That’s why we pick out clothes that we think we look nice in. We do our hair. We bathe. We brush our teeth etc. We are wanting to making a good impression. It was just interesting for me how it’s attached to our voice.

Day 11 – Going Home

The course ended first thing in the morning and Brandon was due to pick us up at 9:30 am. I was excited to see him. Okay I was ecstatic to see him. We packed up our gear, helped clean up the centre and waited to leave. My friend and I talked about the experience and how we’d apply it to our daily life. Our teacher recommended that we keep up our practice with two hours of meditation a day. An hour in the morning and another at night. Like most people at the course we talked about how that would play out in the ‘real world’. The value in being away for ten days is that you aren’t distracted by daily life. You’re able to get some serious work done and it’s really amazing.

I thought about what I would say to someone that asked me if I’d sit the course again. During those first few days I would have said no. In fact I probably would have shouted it. By the end my answered had changed from no to yes. Yes, I would sit the ten day course again but no it wouldn’t be any time soon. Would I recommend the course to others? Absolutely! Everyone would benefit from an experience such as this. Everyone would benefit from learning how to be more patient, kinder and forgiving. I wish this teaching was mandatory for everyone. The world would be a much better place to live.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve struggled to keep my practice up. I make excuses just like everyone else. I focus attention in areas that aren’t nearly as beneficial. I’m not perfect. Ten days of meditation doesn’t do that. But I can say that I see life differently. I’m more understanding. I’m catching myself quicker when I fall into old habits. I have a long way to go. Long, long way. But bettering yourself isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon and we all need to remember that.

So that’s it folks; my ten days learning and practicing Vipassana. I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts. Thank you to everyone who has been commenting and giving me feedback. I love hearing from you! I wish you all the very best and hope that these post have inspired you in some way.

I’m off to Winnipeg for a visit next week so I’ll be going silent for awhile. When I return I’ll have lots of art news for you including classes and new pieces!

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Vipassana Meditation: Days 4 – 7

Days 4, 5, 6 & 7 – The real work begins.

These four days sort of meld into one for me. They mark the real work of the course. During these days I found hope and became hooked on Vipassana. I can only say that overall I really enjoyed being there. I no longer felt the anxiety and panic of Days 0 to 3. Even the pain had dissipated. That’s not to say I didn’t experience any sort of discomfort or pain – I did – but during these days I was able to move past it. I appreciated every moment.

Up until the fourth day of meditation we had practiced Anapana. Anapana involves keeping your attention on your natural breath as it flows in and out through the nostrils. It’s not about changing the breath to make it deeper or shallower, it’s just observing how it flows and the sensations you feel while it’s occurring. It’s fantastic for calming yourself and your mind.

On the fourth day we began practicing Vipassana; a technique where you move your attention systematically from head to feet (and feet to head) observing all the sensations of your body. But it’s not just about observing; it’s also about being objective. Vipassana is about observing the sensation and not reacting to it. For example, if you were moving your attention down your arm and a spot suddenly became itchy your normal reaction would be to scratch it. Not during Vipassana. Instead you would observe the itchy sensation without reacting. The principle is that everything changes and soon that itch will disappear.

I know you’re probably thinking are you serious? But yes, yes I am. Same goes for pain, you observe it and move on to the next part. Whatever the sensation: hot, cold, itchy, pain, numbness, tingling etc. you just observe without reacting and then move on to the next body part. It takes practice and that’s exactly why we spent nearly 11 hours a day meditating – PRACTICE!

I’m not about to get into all the details of the practice or the theory behind it because, well, that took me 10 days to learn and I have no desire to make this blog post into a book but I will say this:

It’s believed that the source of all our misery in life is two things: craving and aversion. Vipassana teaches not reacting to sensations therefore not giving into these two things. If you are in pain then you are trying to avoid reacting adversely. If you are experiencing a wonderful feeling of vibration (and trust me it happens while you are mediating) then you are trying not to react by craving more of that pleasant feeling. Get it?

Now are you ready for the biggie? I say this with a warning because I KNOW that this statement will cause a wide variety of emotions – including negative – when I say it but please remember that Vipassana was taught by Buddha as a way to reach enlightenment. Still with me? Okay here it is….

All of our misery in life is self generated. It’s no one’s fault that we are unhappy except ours. Why is this? Because although someone might hurt us (therefore making us feel unhappy) it’s how we react to this that causes the actual misery. A person might hurt us once and yet we stew over and over and over again upon it therefore it is US that continues to cause the misery. Same goes for craving. We want something so bad that we end up becoming miserable.

Now I know this is a heavy statement because we all like to blame someone else for our misery. I do it too. We ALL DO IT! But if you think of it in this way then really that’s kind of awesome. If I’m in charge of how I react to a situation then I hold the power. But again it takes a lifetime of practice. Not just a 10 day course – believe me. The key is recognizing this before you react.

Example: You’re driving your car and there’s a ton of traffic. You’re basically at a stand still and your blood pressure is rising. If you are practicing Vipassana that means you are attuned to the sensations of your body. You feel your breath quicken, your heart is beating faster and you’re clenching your fists. You’re beginning to react – to get angry.

This is when you need to remind yourself that everything in life changes. Yes, you might be stuck in traffic now, but soon it will pass. This is when you need to focus on your breathing and the sensations of your body and remember that every time you react negatively you are adding misery into your life. You need to catch it before you react.

Highlights 

During these four days there was two very distinct moments that I remember, both involving intense sensations.

As some of you may know I hurt my back/shoulder back in November. After seeing a chiropractor I learned that one of my ribs was out of place. I’d been seeking treatment for this right up until I left for the course. On the fourth day during our first Vipassana session (two hours long) as I moved through my body I could actually feel my rib out of place. ACTUALLY FEEL IT! As I sat there I was certain that it would quite literally break through the skin on my back and pop out. Like I was sprouting wings – or maybe something much more gruesome. At the end of the session I spoke with my teacher and asked her how was I to deal with something as permanent as an out of place rib. She smiled at me and reminded me that nothing is permanent. She asked if when I move to a different position did the pain go away? I agreed that it did and she smiled again. She instructed that I continue the practice as objectively as I could.

Of course I left the meditation hall a bit skeptical. I had been suffering this pain since November. Granted it was off and on but now it felt like it was going to burst out of my back. Objective? Ha!

This is where I eat crow. I woke up the next day pain free. No rib jetting through my back. Not even a twinge. It was completely gone and stayed gone.

The second moment involves a little thing called Sankhara. Sankhara refers to our reactions. There are three types of Sankhara. The first is like drawing a line in water – it disappears instantly. The second is like drawing a line in sand – it’s there in the morning and gone by the afternoon. The third is like etching a line with chisel and hammer in stone – it takes a really long time for it to wear away. They are also the types of reactions you want to avoid. The ones that are deep and lasting. Practicing Vipassana helps you avoid these deep Sankharas. It also helps you “get rid” of your past ones. Like cleansing yourself from misery. During meditation you may experience gross sensations – the ones that are much harder to remain objective about. These are your past Sankharas leaving your body.

In my case it was burning pain that seemed localized in my …errr… *cough* butt region. Yes, I was quite literally getting rid of all my negative crap from my butt. Go ahead, laugh now. I’ll wait. ;) During one session the pain was so intense that afterwards I felt a bit light-headed. It’s not uncommon for people to experience overwhelming sensations. The staff at the centre are wonderful about making sure you are well looked after. when I spoke with the teacher and the women’s manager, they both insisted I eat a bit more at supper and take more rest. I did and later that evening felt much better. Although it was the only time I really felt such intense sensations, I felt pretty awesome knowing that I had rid my body of some pretty negative stuff. From my butt.

Stay tuned for the final post – Days 8, 9, 10 and 11.

Missed Days 0 – 3? Check it out here.

Vipassana Meditation: Days 0, 1, 2 & 3

Or as I like to call them Day Anxiety, Day Panic, Day Caution and Day Pain. These are the days that make or break you.

Day 0 – Anxiety

I arrived at the centre around 4:00 pm with my friend Kerry. We were assigned rooms, settled in and chatted with the other students. Dinner was served – salad and cornbread – yum yum! After dinner I sat in the dinning hall with 59 other students – men and women of all ages – getting debriefed on our upcoming journey. Once the meeting was over we entered the meditation hall and gave up our voices. The course had started and I was anxious. In a good way.

Of course that would change. By the time I reached my (hard) bed at 9:30 pm I was feeling overwhelmed. No talking, no making eye contact, no reading, no writing, no communication. For the next 10 days I was instructed to move about the centre as though I was there by myself. I lay in bed thinking about Brandon – missing him already. I slept that night off and on; I know this because I dreamt. The seeds of panic were taking root.

Day 1 – Panic

Good morning Day 1. Hello, Panic.

I moved about the first day in a thick fog of madness. My thoughts jumped and lurched each time I sat on my meditation cushion (okay and in between those times too). My brain turned on me quickly. It attacked the part of my heart that was soft – Brandon.

I missed Brandon. I had clearly made I HUGE mistake. I couldn’t be away from him for 10 days! It was too long. I’d never make it. Plus I had all that work to do back home. I couldn’t be away so long. Think of all the emails I’ll be getting!

By lunch my brain was on a loop. Brandon, Home, Run. RUN. RUN. RUN. Leave now. Call him to come pick you up NOW.

I can’t even describe the panic I felt. The pain – emotional pain – I was feeling. I NEEDED to leave. Didn’t they understand? I shouldn’t be there. I had made a terrible mistake.

I’d like to say that my almost 11 hours of mediation helped calm me. It didn’t. What did offer some comfort was the evening discourse. The calming voice of Goenka streamed from the TV and he spoke of the panic we were sure to be feeling. He understood because he had felt it the first day he sat to practice Vipassana…in the 1950s.

That night I slept…like the dead.

Day 2 – Caution

I found some peace on Day 2. My head cleared enough to have a nice little chat with myself. Slowly it became clear that I was split four ways: Mind, Body, Soul, Mediator. My Mediator sat the other three parts of me down. It went something like this:

Mediator: Guys, we’re really losing it here. Let’s keep it together. Do we want to be here?

Soul: YES!

Body: Hell, NO!

Mind: Maybe? I’m not sure yet…ooohhh shiny! *runs away*

Mediator: *sigh* Mind can you pay attention please?

Mind: Huh? Wha? Sorry.

Mediator: Thank you. Now Mind and Body, let’s keep it together for Soul, okay? She really needs this – deserves it even.

Body: But it hurts, like in my butt and stuff.

Mediator: I know but it’s only like…11 hours. You can do it.

Body: Do you realize how many hours that is over 10 days?

Mediator: Well…

Mind: It’s a lot. I’m not good at math but Dude, that’s like tons.

Soul: *whimpers* Are we giving up?

Mediator: No! We’re doing this. Mind, Body?

Body: UGH, okay.

Mind: Sure. *skips around singing*

Mediator: Mind you’ll have to focus.

Mind: Awwww! Really? I’m not sure about this. Can I daydream?

Mediator: No, not really.

Body: *smirks*

Mind: Shut up Body, we’ll both be suffering.

Body: Truth.

Soul: YAY!

And that was Day 2.

Day 3 – Pain

Who knew that sitting for 11 hours a day would be painful?

This girl right here.

My knees hurt. My back hurt. My butt hurt. I shifted from sitting cross-legged to a kneeling bench. I added another cushion to rest and prop myself with. I shifted again. By the evening group session I was exhausted and crying. During the five minute break I sought out the women’s manager – the only person I could speak to (other then the teacher) and begged her for a chair. When she said I couldn’t have one due to the space I nearly collapsed. It was Day 3 and I was in so much pain. How would I ever last? anywhereChair_zps779e4948Thankfully she offered me something called a back jack to use. It’s basically like a chair without legs. This saved me.

9:30 pm arrived with exhaustion and a tiny bit of hope. And very little sleep unfortunately.

Stay tuned for Days 4 – 7.

10 Days of Vipassana Meditation – Quick Summary

There’s so much to say…and yet the words seem unwilling to flow.

These are the thoughts that run through my head as I sit here contemplating what to write about my 10 day experience of silent meditation.

Too much for a single post. Instead I’ll give you a quick summary followed by three separate posts.

The bell rang each morning at 4:00 am to pull me from my warm bed. It was dark and cold in the mountains of Merritt, BC and this is when I found myself missing Vancouver and Brandon the most.

By 4:30 am I was in the meditation hall wrapped in blankets, calming my mind for a 2 hour mediation session.

At 6:30 am we moved to the dining hall for breakfast of oatmeal, stewed prunes, fruit, yogurt and tea. Breakfast break included rest until 8:00 am. It became a goal of mine to eat quickly and run back to my bed.

At 8:00 am it was back in the meditation hall for a group sit till 9:00 am followed by another session till 11:00 am.

Lunch break was from 11:00 am till 1:00pm. The food was delicious and vegetarian – easily my favourite meal. I would eat, walk outside around the centre then crawl back into my bed for rest.

The afternoon, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, was all meditation. Each session was started and ended with a recorded explanation and chanting by S.N. Goenka – the teacher of Vipassana meditation.

Dinner was simple – fruit and tea from 5:00 pm till 6:00 pm. The evening kicked off with a session from 6:00 pm till 7:00 pm followed by a video discourse that summed up the teachings of the day and further exploring the Vipassana techniques and Dhamma. Our last session was the shortest – 8:15 pm till 9:00 pm before lights out at 9:30 pm.

So this made up the basic principles of my day. Nearly 11 hours of meditation. Sitting. Meditating. Feeling. Exploring.

Though the schedule remained the same my days were so very, very different. These are the details that I will explain in my next three posts.

Stay tuned. :)

10 Days in Noble Silence

indexOn March 12th I will be attending a 10-day meditation course in Merritt, BC. This is the first meditation course (of this length) I’ve ever taken and while I’m super excited, I’m also anxious. The course is not only 10 days away from home (and Brandon), staying in residence at the Vipassana Meditation Centre, it’s also carried out completely in silence.

Yup, no talking, no reading, no writing, no communication of any sort. This is 10 days of meditation and self-discipline.

Taken from their website:

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living.

My days will begin at 4:00am and end at 9:30pm. I will sit and mediate for the majority of the time. Meals and light walking will break up the sitting. The course is completely free; donations are accepted but only after you have completed the course. It’s run by the kindness of others (100% volunteers). These centers exist all over the world so if you’re interested I’m sure you can find one near you.

I’m not sure what else I can say at this point. I’ve thought about attending something like this for years but it wasn’t until I met my friend Kerry that this dream became a reality. She attended last year and had nothing but wonderful things to say about her experience. I know that at times I will struggle. I will wonder why I pledged to give up my voice for 10 days. I will fight against myself. It will most likely stir up deep emotions. I might even cry.

But I won’t be alone. I will be surrounded by 59 other people who chose to sit in a room and meditate in silence. There is something incredibly powerful about that.

I’m not sure what I’ll discover about myself. I have no idea how I will feel. But I know that it will change me. It will enable me to live in the moment and be mindful and in the end that’s really all I can ask for.

Arts Off Main Gallery is 10!

Happy Tuesday!

IMG_3404Hope you’re enjoying your day. It’s rainy and windy and cold here, but I’m tucked up under a blanket keeping warm and sharing some exciting news.

Arts Off Main Gallery is celebrating their 10th anniversary on Saturday. It’s an amazing milestone when you consider that the gallery is run exclusively by the artists without any grant funding from governments or foundations. The gallery has presented art from over 40 local (Vancouver) artists and artisans over the years.

As I mentioned this Saturday, February 22nd we’ll be celebrating with an exhibit of new work from the current partners (that includes me!) and the unveiling of a metal sculpture created for the gallery by one of the partners. The celebration will also mark the conclusion of the eighth annual, week long fundraiser for The Greater Vancouver Food Bank, “Artists With Heart”. The event includes the sale of heart-shaped cookies and the collection of food and monetary donations.

So if you’re in or around Vancouver on Saturday I’d LOVE to see you stop by. The gallery is open from 11:30 am till 5:30 pm and located at 216 East 28th St. in Vancouver. The sculpture unveiling will be at noon. Hope to see you there!

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DIY: Growing Your Own Food Update

Remember that bok choy I started? Remember how well it was doing? Well the transition to a pot full of soil did not go so well. In fact it went terrible wrong.

But I’m not discouraged! I’ve decided to try again. Here’s hoping batch two will fair better.

In the meantime I started romaine lettuce from scraps. In just a few days it began to sprout. The following pictures are only one week apart! Here’s hoping I can keep the lettuce alive. ;)

 

Impatience – Patience’s Evil Twin.

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Last week a wrote about how important Trust is. How it’s my new word for 2014. But as much as Trust is important, so is her friend Patience.

Now I realize I’m speaking of these little words like they’re human beings, but in someways that’s how I see them. So I’d like to share with you my journal entry from today in it’s purest form. You’ll forgive me if it sounds strange – that’s how my brain works.

A Tale Of Two Nouns.

I wrote a blog post about Trust last week. Trusting in yourself, in the process and the Universe. But I think Trust has an absentee friend called Patience. It seems whenever I really embrace Trust, Patience hits the road and leaves behind her anxious twin, Impatience. Impatience drives me crazy. She pushes me to do more, more, more without letting things run their natural course. She pushes me to panic. She makes me feel like I’m always behind. She leads me into the comparison arena – measuring myself against others. She makes me forget how blessed I am. She makes me discount my success.

Impatience is a worrier. She thinks life is only worth living in the ultra-fast lane. She jacks up my anxiety with all her pushing and she makes me feel horrible. Unfortunately she’s also very persuasive. (She’s a bit of a bully too.)

Come on! You’re going to wait for that? Really? No way! Just do this…and this…and this…and this…Wait that’s not working fast enough.Try this instead! Hurry! Others are doing so much better than you.

And while she’s barking out orders, I’m scrambling to keep up and feeling lousy. She never lets me sit and see how something will progress. She’s on my case 24/7. When I try to protest she teams up with Self Doubt and they start calling me lazy and scared.

I beg Trust to help me, but our relationship is fragile as it is. She’s tentative to jump in and help. Patience is nowhere to be found. I suspect she’s vacationing somewhere warm. Or at the very least somewhere relaxing. So I’m left to my own devices to battle Impatience and her jerk friend Self Doubt. What a pair!

Truth be told, she wins out more that I care to admit. She’s always onto the next thing, dragging me along under the pretense of fun or success.

Do this and it will totally make your dreams come true!

I follow along because hey, who doesn’t want that? So I’m going along, working my butt off (she’s not much of a worker) and feeling all excited when Impatience storms in and says, Wait! Do this too! I try in vain to explain that I’m focusing on the first task but she doesn’t get it. That thing? Is it working yet? NO! So do this instead. She never gives anything a chance. If it’s not an instant success she’s onto something else lickety-split.

The problem is most things aren’t an instant success. They take time and…dare I say…Patience! But Impatience has me doubting this belief. She has me anxious and pushing harder to do more. Always more. She has a never ending appetite for doing more and not waiting to see the results.

The the worst part – the very worst part – is that even with success, Impatience is never satisfied. She always wants more. More, more, more. It’s exhausting. I dislike Impatience, but we are locked in the Love-Hate relationship and I can’t seem to break the cycle. She keeps me motivated, but at a cost.

I miss Patience. 

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Trust – It’s a Little Word with a BIG Meaning.

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I thought the word that would represent my 2014 would be COLLABORATION but now I realize that’s not it.

My word of 2014 is TRUST

Trust in myself, trust in the process and trust in the Universe (as hokey as that may sound).

I’ve found that following your dreams means you have to trust that what you are doing is for the best – despite what your inner critic might tell you (or those around you). Thankfully I have supportive people in my life. While they may worry or not understand my journey, they know me (& my determination/stubbornness) enough to support me anyway.

And it’s okay if no one understands my journey. After all it is MY journey, not theirs. And if my inner critic is determined to point out all my fears and shortcomings, then I’ll be just as determined to prove my critic wrong.

TRUST – it’s a little word with such a big meaning.

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Arts Off Main Gallery – My New Art Home

If you follow me on any social media site, you’ll have heard that I was accepted as a partner of an artist collective called Arts Off Main Gallery located here in Vancouver, BC. I’m one of nine partners who volunteer in the gallery and produce all the art featured and sold. Arts Off Main also provides a space for local artists to sell their work on consignment.

This is a dream come true for me! A space to show my art and be part of an artist collective. Dream. Come. True!

While my official start date is February 1st, I’ve been given the okey dokey to hang up my art. Last Thursday I stopped by and set up my display. Super happy!

IMG_2851Of course the picture doesn’t do the display justice. This will be my temporary home. March 1st I’ll be moving to a new wall space and I have tons of ideas on how to spruce up my display. But for now this will do. :)

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In the meantime I need to beef up my Etsy shop and I’m still accepting custom orders. If you see something you like just let me know!

IMG_2806Now to get a bit sappy…I just want to thank everyone that has supported me along my art journey. Back in Winnipeg I only dreamed of being able to sell my art in a gallery with other talented artists. This just proves that dreams can come true with faith, support and determination. So thank you! :) signature