After my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course

On Wednesday, August 9, I got up early, loaded my car, made a home visit to massage one of my regular clients, and drove from Austin to Kaufman, Texas, a 3.5 hour drive.

BTW, my client commented afterwards that it was really a great massage. He even had a waking lucid dream toward the end of the session. I attribute that to his learned ability to relax deeply while staying awake and to me having more presence and being more tuned into him and myself. I knew that for the next 10 days, I’d be stepping out of my everyday life and meditating quite a lot without distractions. I didn’t have my normal everyday thoughts about logistics (travel, meals, timing, errands), which made a huge difference in my ability to really be present. So it started before I even left town.

IMG_0175I arrived at the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center near Kaufman mid-afternoon. I registered, was assigned a room in the women’s dorm, and surrendered my wallet and cell phone. I had left books, computer, and writing materials at home.

I unloaded my stuff and set up my room, which was small, furnished with an extra-long twin bed and a plastic chair and small table, with open shelves and a place to hang clothing, and a bathroom with a shower. And a big window looking out on trees and clothesline. Very simple and adequate, and yet this particular Vipassana center is considered one of the more luxurious centers worldwide. Continue reading

New Year blessings for you from The Well

May you breathe fully and easily.

May you fully inhabit your body with your awareness.

May you discern the difference between stress and relaxation.

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May you experience more and deeper relaxation.

May you experience just enough stress to keep you aware and safe.

May you delight in exploring how good you can feel.

 

May the relation between your diet and well-being become clear.

May the relation between your conscious and unconscious minds become clear.

May you soften to yourself and others.

 

May you seek help when needed.

May you feel gratitude for all the resources you have.

May you move toward happiness.

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May you notice shine, wherever it appears.

May inspiration find you frequently.

May you have compassion for yourself and others.

 

May you set boundaries and manage conflicts with love.

May you experience breakthroughs in maturity and insight.

May you be present in every possible moment.

Day 9 of The Work: Who would you be without the thought?

The fourth question to ask when you are doing inquiry (i.e., “The Work” of Byron Katie) about a situation that is emotionally painful is this:

Who would I be without the thought?

Applying this question to my statement that my father didn’t care about me is astonishing.

Without the thought, I am free of these painful feelings. When the thought leaves, the feelings leave.

What’s left is an empty openness. I feel it in my chest. There’s a freedom there that wasn’t there before. It’s as if that thought never existed.

Who would I be? Well, I experience myself as more expansive, more open, lighter.

“Who I am” is my identity, composed of my thoughts, emotions, sensations, and emptiness or spaciousness. Who I am is pretty much how I experience myself in each moment. (Everything else is about me, not me.)

What are you experiencing this very moment as you read this?

It’s so easy to think that who I am is my story: “the woman whose father didn’t care about her” or “the woman whose father had Asperger’s” and so many more stories I’ve bought into and perpetuated about myself. Whenever I think a thought that’s accompanied by emotional pain, I can do inquiry, starting with question #1.

Who I am is not my story.

My father is also not who I formerly believed him to be. When I think of him without this thought, a series of images comes into my mind. Without my story and its emotional baggage, they are neutral snapshots: my father sitting on the sofa, my father at the dinner table, my father driving, my father standing outside his office building waiting for his ride home, my father kissing my mother.

These are much kinder images than those of a father who didn’t care about his daughter.

Man, where did that thought ever even come from? Never mind. Who cares? I’m just glad to have busted this painful, limiting story.

To recap, I’ve already asked:

  1. Is is true? (if no, skip to #3)
  2. Can I absolutely know it’s true?
  3. What happens when I believe the thought?

“Who would you be without the thought” can also be asked “What would you be without the thought?” And whatever your answer is, you can ask again, “What would you be without that thought?”

See where that takes you! (It takes me into a vast experience of empty presence where anything can happen.)

Next: the first turnaround.

How to create inner peace

This morning I woke early and sensed a shift in my energy.

Without thinking about it, I started happily organizing some accumulated clutter in my bedroom that I’d been procrastinating on. I even fixed a couple of broken things. I cleared some space, found good places for stuff, and created more visual order.

I found a business card I’d been looking for, someone who asked me to contact her once I got my massage license, which I did about a month ago. I’ll call her today. Yay.

I do care about having an orderly home, and yet managing stuff (even living in a trailer!) often gets the better of me.  I make it a low priority. It’s not that I’m a terrible slob, although I’m sure I am in someone’s eyes. I pile things up to deal with later. I start doing things and get distracted and don’t finish. I leave stuff out to remind me that it’s not “done”. Then I notice I have a lot of piles, and clearing them seems like drudgery of the worst kind.

Today I created order and completion without thinking about it, because something opened up. I felt more upbeat. I was observing myself, thinking, “Wow, I am behaving differently. I like this. I feel energized and productive. Something has shifted. What happened?”

This is what I attribute the shift to. (Or perhaps the stars had something to do with it.)

On Tuesday evening, I went to bed aware of how much I mentally obsess about problems. By obsess, I mean they occupy my attention during times when I am not actually communicating with the person I have issues with, or I am imagining how I will handle something in the future. I do this often, usually not making much progress.

This ruminating helps me get clearer about my feelings and what I want, but it also distracts me from being fully present. I’m “in my head”. I’m feeling tense and anxious. I’ve become a slave to my thoughts, especially my fears. I get stuck and then don’t know how to stop. And then I become aware of my state.

It’s a way that I create my own suffering. I’d like to get out of my own way.

I vowed to myself that night that since this habit doesn’t really serve me all that well (except when it does give me insight and direction), that I was going to do something different yesterday.

I decided to dissolve my preoccupation. That is, when I realized that I was not feeling happy and present and content because my mind was rehashing some issue and I was feeling lack of joy in my body, I would take an impression, a snapshot, of my full experience—the images and words in my mind and the feelings in my body representing the person or the problem—and imagine that whatever power gave it substance (Higgs boson?) simply withdrew from it.

I saw, heard, and felt it fall apart. Images of faces and places, my own internal dialogue about it, and the worries, fears, and stuckness I felt in my body all lost coherence, dimensionality, reality. They fell apart into a pile of atoms that were swept away by the solar winds.

If it’s all illusion anyway, you might as well make it work for you. You can dissolve the illusions that don’t bring inner peace, joy, and freedom. It’s like dissolving whatever is within that keeps me from fully occupying and experiencing myself in this moment.

Mind you, I’ve just been doing this for one day, and I only did it a handful of times, but that was enough to create the energy shift I felt this morning.

If you’d like to try this, here you go:

  1. Think of something that’s been worrying, preoccupying, or troubling you, something you feel anxious or disturbed about.
  2. Take a snapshot of your whole internal state, and notice how you represent it. Is it a memory or something you imagine happening in the future? What does it look like? Are you telling yourself about it in an internal dialogue or monologue? What sensation are you feeling and where is it in your body?
  3. Just like a movie scene dissolves or fades so another scene can begin, allow the images to dissolve into pixels, dust, atoms. Turn down the volume of the sounds and words until you hear silence. Tune into your body and the sensations you are actually feeling. Let the feelings drain down into the ground. Note: It’s important to really take your time with this step. First you acknowledge your internal visions, words, and sensations. Then you allow each one to exit in a way that works for you.
  4. Notice the absence of the preoccupation. What are you experiencing? If there’s anything else related to the original state, allow it to fully exit.
  5. Bring back the images, words, and/or feelings. How is this experience different from the first time?
  6. Dissolve them again. How is this different from the first time?
  7. Imagine that any time in the future, when you notice you are not being present/feeling happy/being preoccupied, you have this powerful tool to create inner peace at your disposal.

The price of busy-ness. If you need a massage, call me. I’m good.

I just encountered this great article, an opinion piece from the New York Times, about busy-ness and thought I’d share my thoughts.

Not only am I a recovering serious person, I’m also a recovering busy person. For several years, I worked full-time and went to graduate school while raising a child as a single mother. In hindsight, that was insane.

This downtime after my last contract job in the technology world ended about six weeks ago has been lovely. I’m recovering from adrenal exhaustion, and then, just when I was starting a running practice that I felt joyful about and ready for, I pulled a calf muscle and have had to lay low for longer while it heals. (It’s healing very nicely, with self-care and other healing hands working on it. Thanks, Brigitte and Pauline!)

The universe is telling me to slow down, and I’m listening. I’ve been letting a lot of stuff slide, trusting that the important things will rise to the top of the list and the rest will get done when and if they get to the top. One day at a time. I’m loving my daily Tarot readings, the cards that influence my awareness and development and trust in the universe. My favorite deck is the Osho Zen deck.

During this period I’ve also attended several trainings in Somatic Experiencing, which is based on the truly great trauma recovery research and writing of Peter Levine. (I’m currently reading In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.) I fell in love with it. The main premise is that trauma deregulates the nervous system (into freeze or fight or flight), and that the body can heal itself, with loving attention and guidance.

I’ve been practicing body awareness as well as writing about grounding, centering, and having boundaries. You can expect more posts along those lines.

I also seem to be developing an organic vision for my bodywork and changework practice that involves more teaching and writing. And—I am available now! Call me if you need a massage. I am really good, my rate is reasonable ($1 per minute), and I give discounts for regular customers and referrals.

Who knew that all this time, throughout the history of the human species with all of its atrocities and traumas, that the secret to trauma recovery was right there all along, being ignored by the mind, which in order to “be civilized” began to believe itself superior to the body?

How cut off are we from our own lives? Have you ever had something like this happen to you?

I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

Self-importance is a joy killer, and that’s all most busy-ness is, when you get right down to it. If you are swept away in a current of busy-ness, why, then you must be somebody important! Or at least somebody.

It’s the opposite of being here now, of being present and grounded/centered/boundaried/etc. in your own body. It’s dissociation.

Here’s more, about a New York artist who moved to a village in the south of France:

What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

How do we collectively force one another to be too busy to be real? It’s as I suspected:

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

I’m listening, feeling, and letting each day unfold while not losing myself in breathless busy-ness. Isn’t that what summer is for?

The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

Well, it’s almost noon, and I’m still in bed on this Monday morning, in bed with my laptop, tarot cards, book. Actually, my butt is getting numb, and I feel thirsty. I believe I’ll get up, stretch, drink some green tea, and mosey over to the yoga mat. I hear a down-ward facing dog calling my name.

Meeting Tom Best, who became my teacher

Whew. I can tell this is going to be some blogging that will take a few days to write, as my experience sifts itself into lasting words, and I’ll probably reread and retouch it a few times after posting as the clarifying process continues its magic. I don’t know now how it will come out, but it’s time to start writing.

Someone who has been important in my life, a teacher primarily and also a friend, since 2007 died, shuffled off his mortal coil, transitioned to a higher plane, passed away, left the planet, shed his body, entered the clear light, or however you like to put it.

I like how my friend Katie broke the news to me:

MaryAnn, I have some sad news to share, but not really.

She told me that our teacher, Tom Best, had had a brain hemorrhage on Monday afternoon. He took a nap, and when his wife Bobbi went to wake him up, he was breathing but didn’t wake up. Their dogs licked him, and he still didn’t wake up.

It sort of gets garbled here but he was taken to two hospitals because the first one couldn’t do a brain scan or something like that, and he looked like he was just sleeping and could just wake up at any moment, and with his wife and dearest friends gathered around him, the doctor didn’t hold out much hope but agreed to leave him on a ventilator overnight to see if his condition changed (it didn’t), and on Tuesday afternoon, he left his earthly body surrounded by loved ones.

People who were there said that as they stood around his bed as he was leaving his body, it was as if they sensed someone entering the room, and that energy seemed to be above them, and then it was gone.

I really want to thank Katie for telling me like that. This has been a really different experience of processing a death/absorbing a loss than I’ve experienced before, and much of it has to do with the person who died, and some of it has to do with me.

I first met Tom Best in 1998 or 1999, when I went to visit my friend Linda in Prescott, Arizona. She was close friends with Tom and Bobbi Best. We went to their place to borrow their new adorable white German Shepherd puppy Dakota and take him for a frolic in the forest. Linda introduced me to Tom, and I remember meeting a slight, wiry man with gray hair, kind of average in beauty, greeting me with a gaze that was really different from what I’d experienced before.

His eyes were very blue, a warm blue, and his attention was totally on me for those few moments of introduction with the best eye contact I’d experienced. I felt that he was genuinely interested in me. I felt an openness, a curiosity, a direct energetic connection, and a feeling of caring emanating from him in those few moments of the typical greeting ritual we all know so well in which names are exchanged and hands shaken.

I felt seen. I felt engaged. I felt cared for. Wow, all that in just a few seconds!

As I would later learn from him, I had just experienced news of difference.

I am pretty sure that was the first time I met anyone who transmitted his presence so clearly and directly to me, and I could not have described our first meeting like I just did had I not had him for a teacher later on.

I tucked that memory away, and in 2007, I was dating a man, Norm Sternfeld, who had studied NLP, and I thought of Linda who had studied NLP, and I thought to myself,

Hmm. People who study NLP use their minds well. I want to study NLP.

So I enrolled in practitioner training here in Austin, Texas, and when I showed up the first day, there was that same guy, Tom Best, whom I’d met in Arizona eight or so years earlier, at the front of the classroom, and in a very short time, I knew I was in the right place.

to be continued…

Moving through a loss

This is just a short post to say that a dear teacher whose trainings and workshops I have been attending and assisting at for the past five years left this earthly life behind on Tuesday. I had just spent Saturday with him, and he was in the finest form I’ve ever seen him.

His name was Tom Best. He taught Neuro-Linguistic Programming officially, but really, he taught love, congruence, presence, playfulness, communication both verbal and nonverbal, life skills, trance, healing, and shamanic practices. He did it clearly and cleanly, with a lot of elegance and very little ego.

He lived his life fully and deeply and from what I can tell, left nothing undone. And so it’s not as sad as some deaths.

I will post more about Tom later after this process of integrating the loss and the gifts has cooked some more.

Love to you all.