11 Lessons I Learned from a Silent Meditation Retreat

silence

I just spent four days on a silent meditation retreat with http://www.triplegem.org. Here are 11 lessons that I learned from the retreat:

  1. Be a noble friend to yourself. Take good care of yourself. Remember you are the only doorway to the existence for yourself. During the retreat, I realized that I am too critical with myself. I need to let go of things and be my own best friend.
  2. If you find value in something, continue to pursue it. There are many times that I want to give up on something that’s good for me. For example, sometimes I will find excuses not to go to meditation class.
  3. Watch how your thoughts can cause suffering. Do not be mislead by unguided thoughts or false views. Wisdom comes by seeing the whole picture or the whole story (endowed with insight).
  4. Find commonality among other people. Most people want to improve their lives. We are more alike than different.
  5. Decide to lead a spiritual life, even if that means going through it alone. I realized that most of my family members do not accept that I am Buddhist. My family members are Catholic and they do not understand the Buddhist way of living. Sometimes I feel like I am estranged from my family. However, I know that the Buddhist path is right for me, so I will walk alone if I have to.
  6. Renunciate. In Buddhism, the Pali word for “renunciation” is nekkhamma, conveying more specifically “giving up the world and leading a holy life.” My holy life includes daily practice of yoga and meditation, serving humanity through hospice work, attending a weekly meditation group (sangha) with my Buddhist teacher, sharing metta (loving-kindness) with everyone that I meet, and continuing self-study. I want to increase mindfulness.
  7. Spiritual practices like meditation, yoga, prayer, and reading spiritual literature can help keep you on the right path.
  8. It is important to forgive and move on. “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  9. Gratitude creates a joyful heart. “Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.” – Pema Chodron
  10. Use your time wisely. We all have 24-hours in a day. You can create a spiritual life with the right choices.
  11. Never do anything that the wise would reprove (reprimand). We are never alone. There are always celestial beings around us.

Namaste, world.

Dark Cloud

 

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I have something I want to share. I feel uncomfortable sharing this information, but I am ready to face the situation. Here it goes: My 26-year-old daughter, Brenna, is an alcoholic. It’s hard for me to share this information because of my feelings of sadness and helplessness. I express my love to my daughter as much as I can. I hope that she will get treatment soon and recover. Her dad and I gave her a lot of treatment options. Now she needs to take the next step.

One is addicted…many are affected.

The whole family is affected by alcoholism. It’s a dark cloud, but there’s hope. Behind the dark cloud is a blue sky.

Buddhist monk, Ajahn Chah, says, “Whatever is pleasurable, delicious, exciting, good, is just that much; it has its limit, it is not as if it is anything outstanding.” The monk, obviously, did not have any children. Having a child is truly an outstanding experience. A mother and her child have a strong connection that lasts a lifetime.

When I look at my daughter, I see beauty. Even though she has a severe problem, I still see my beautiful child. It’s easy to judge someone, but as a spiritual person, I honor the spirit within.

I acknowledge that it’s very hard to see my daughter struggle with alcoholism. As a parent, I have so many emotions, dreams, wishes, and hopes for my child.

 I want to see the blue sky.

(The photo below is a painting by my daughter, Brenna.)
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What can we do when life becomes challenging?

  • Talk to a friend or a counselor or join a support group.
  • Understand the impermanence of everything. “Life is changing, it is a bundle of elements and energies which are always changing.” – Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
  • Remember, “This too shall pass.”
  • Meditate to become calm in all situations. Practice deep breathing.
  • Use your energy to serve (volunteer or support something that is meaningful to you).
  • Become a your own problem solver. Cultivate perseverance. Don’t give up.
  • Remember “wisdom comes through understanding.” – Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
  • Remember you are not alone.
  • Increase your self-care.
  • Eat chocolate – at least that’s what I do. 🙂
  • Time will heal our wounds.
  • Find a sangha or a spiritual community. “Spiritual backing is absolutely necessary for man’s spiritual upliftment, leading to tranquility of mind and everlasting happiness.” – Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda’

When life is challenging, that is when I learn the most. Can I breathe into the discomfort? Can I be present? Can I allow the discomfort of the situation transform me?

There can be no rainbow without a cloud and a storm. Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda

Namaste, world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attachment

 

petsIt’s wonderful to be on vacation. I just spent two and a half weeks in Europe (London, Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome). Just because I was on vacation, doesn’t mean that I can let go of my daily meditation and spiritual development. I realized that this time away from home taught me some valuable lessons about attachment.

About three days before my vacation was over, I noticed that I missed my house, my dog (Liam), and my kitten (Kira). I know that it’s normal for me to miss my home and pets. But as I laid in bed thousands of miles away from my home, fear crept up inside me. I thought maybe the universe will not allow me to go home. I also thought about refugees who leave their homes behind and I thought about death. When I die, I have to leave my home, pets, and family behind. I realized that I have some very strong attachments.

How can I walk on this earth and not have attachments? Attachments are one of the five causes of suffering called, “kleshas.” Buddhist texts encourage us to cultivate neutrality and equanimity. It’s important to achieve a state called, “chitta-prasadana” – a state of the mind being in a pleased condition. (Swami Veda Bharati, 2015). Even though I was thousands of miles away (4,869 miles to be exact), I needed to be in the present moment – and not “longing” for things; which I found to be a difficult task.

Since I was experiencing fear and attachment, I connected with my breath to help me gain perspective and neutrality. I felt my breath and silently chanted om on the in-breath and shanti on the out-breath. I need to develop my sankalpa – spiritual willpower. A strong mind and spiritual wisdom will open new doors of reality.

Here are some ways to stay on the path according to Swami Veda Bharati (2015):

  • Keep daily meditation. It will grant you insight.
  • Keep your forehead relaxed – free of the wrinkles of worry and repetitive thought – in all situations.
  • Every two to three hours, do two to three minutes of breath awareness with a mantra. (Do this sitting, standing, even with your eyes open while in a meeting, if you need to.) Just keep doing it – it will change your temperament.
  • Observe yourself constantly. Take note every time you have not quite managed to remain true to your principles of speech and behavior. (Ask yourself: Was there a touch of unnecessary harshness in my tone? Did I neglect to practice non-anger or humility?)
  • Use your sankalpa – your spiritual willpower. Resolve to do better next time, but do not indulge in self-condemnation. Never give up on yourself; just renew your sankalpa.
  • Select one principle you find it easiest to practice and also one you find it most difficult to practice. Start practicing.
  • Devise your own methods to apply these principles.

Om Shanti Om

Namaste, world.

Reference:

Bharati, S.V. (2015). Whole hearted: Applied spirituality for everyday life. Minneapolis, MN: Dhyana Mandiram, Inc. (I highly recommend this book.)

Dharma Name

 

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About a year ago, Buddhist monk Bhante Mihintala Kamalasiri gave me a Dharma name. As a Westerner, I do not know the significance of a Dharma name. I know that names are very significant all over the world. A Dharma or Dhamma name is traditionally given by a Buddhist monastic, and is given to newly ordained monks, nuns, and laity. A Dharma name is used to identify oneself as a practitioner of Buddhism.

My Dharma name is: Jinani (Daughter of Rishi). Jinani is also an Arabic name for girls that means “heavenly.” A Rishi is a Hindu sage or saint. A Rishi can also be a yogi.

Just like Native American names, I ponder the meaning of my Dharma name. What does it mean to be a Daughter of Rishi? I am ready to explore this name and its meaning. I realize that the universe has bestowed a new name for me. I am ready to accept the name.

I know that as Buddhist Monks progress in their development, they receive new names. Therefore, there is no need to become attached to a certain name. Therefore, I know that I received the name Jinani for where I am today in my development.

Like I mentioned, I received this name a year ago. And actually, I forgot all about the name until recently. Lately, I’ve become more rooted in Buddhism and in my spirituality. So, maybe it is time for me to recognize the name.

Namaste, world.

*I will be in Europe June 20 to July 6. I will have limited access to a computer, therefore, I will blog after I return.

Pain – By Ven. Kittisaro

paintingBuddhism swings you right out – the First Noble Truth – to look right at pain or unhappiness. It is the same thing as when Jesus said, “Pick up your cross.” We’ve got to bear the cross: the whole symbol of surrendering, rather than using his powers to fly up into the sky. We turn to pain and look right at it, feel it and investigate it: “What is it?” Notice how thoughts say, “This is pain – this is horrible. I can’t take this anymore.” We begin to watch the nature of these ideas that we tack onto the pain: making it my pain, and unendurable.

Mysteriously, once we start to look at pain it changes too, because it’s not a solid thing. So, this is what the physicists are learning: just the act of observing something is actually participating in changing it. By looking at suffering, we’re actually part of the transformation of it. Understanding it, standing under it, bearing with it, we become free from false notions of pain and pleasure. By investigating it, already we see it as something that appears to us, and then dispassion arises. – Venerable Kittisaro

*Painting by Brenna Garens

GOD

Gina meditating

God be with me.

This week I brought the concept of God back into my life. I think that there can be a middle road. Even the Buddha teaches us to follow the Middle Way. The belief in God is a personal decision. In India, they say there are thousands of Gods (millions now). That’s because everyone has their own personal God.

I remember the quote, “We are living proof that God exists.” Human beings are amazing.  We are intelligent and creative. We are too good to be true, so there must be a God. We have a beautiful, mystical world, so there must be a God.

Every day I silently say to myself, “God be with me.” I seek support and guidance. I feel secure when I know that a master being exists. This week I tried to substitute different words instead of God. I said, “Universal energy be with me,” “May the force be with me,” and “May Reiki energy be with me.” Nothing could substitute for the word God. Like I said in my previous blog post, the concept of God is hard-wired in my brain.

I hear a lot of people say, “Whatever God wants” or “God will lead me.” We tend to put our lives in God’s hands. But then we are not taking responsibility for our own lives. We are always looking for someone to tell us what to do instead of following our own heart and mind. Going forward, I want to find the middle ground with my concept of God. I want to embrace the mystery of God and yet empower myself.

I have one hospice patient who is 88-years-old. She has bright blue eyes like the sky. When I was visiting with her, she kept looking out the window saying how beautiful the trees looked. I asked her about God. She said, “If we don’t trust God, then who can we trust?” Who can we trust? Who is in our corner? Who cares about us? Again, I want to take the middle road. We can trust what is in the present moment. We can trust ourselves, the people around us, the sun, the trees, and the animals. God is all around us.

Human beings have consciousness. We are creators of our own lives. Therefore, God lives within us. God can be the universal field, too, because God can be anything and can be anywhere.

I plan to keep an open mind and an open heart. I plant these seeds of thoughts in my mind. My thoughts will grow and evolve as my life travels down the path of wisdom.

Namaste, world.

 

 

 

My Salvation

image of woman in a white dressFor the past week, I lived every day without the concept of God in my mind. I am a Buddhist, and most Buddhists do not believe there is a God somewhere in heaven or up in the sky. They believe we are truly on our own. Buddhist monk K. Sri Dhammananda says, “Salvation in Buddhism is an individual affair. You have to save yourself just as you eat, drink, and sleep by yourself.” You are responsible for your mind, body, actions, speech, and energy.

The concept of God is hard-wired in my brain. I was raised Catholic and taught that God created everything. So, what do you mean there is no God? It seems impossible. But for the past week, I took God out of my mind and out of my life. I wanted to see how I would feel when I was responsible for my salvation.

After contemplation, I know how I feel. When there is no God, I feel like there is no one watching me. I am free to be myself. I no longer look to God, I look to myself. My life belongs to me, not to God. My thoughts and actions are my responsibility, and I am the judge of my own life. There is a shift in my consciousness.

The concept of God is fuzzy. Who is God? I have held this concept in my mind, but nothing to show for it except for my imagination. Most Catholics believe God is our father and looks just like a human being. According to K. Sri Dhammananda, “For more than 2,500 years, all over the world, Buddhists have practiced and introduced Buddhism very peacefully without the necessity of sustaining the concept of a creator God.”

This past week I felt a lot of gratitude for my life. Since I am the only one who can save myself, it puts everything into perspective. I want to live my life! I want to be kind, loving, calm, and wise. I want to meditate every day to make my mind strong.

Going forward, I want to enjoy my life…with or without God.

Namaste, world.

 

 

 

 

Buddha’s Wisdom

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The Buddha’s wisdom is knowing the right amount. It doesn’t mean knowing everything about everything, but knowing impermanence, knowing suffering, knowing selflessness. The reason we get caught up in seeing things as other than they really are is our lack of wisdom. With wisdom we know how to let go; to let go of craving, let go of clinging, let go of beliefs. We let go of the tendency to always see things in relation to a self.

What we call ‘Me’ is merely a convention; we were born without names. Then somebody gave us a name, and after being called it for a while, we start to think that a thing called ‘me and mine’ actually exists. Then we feel we have to spend our lives looking after it. The wisdom of the Buddha knows how to let go of this ‘self’ and all that pertains to it; possessions, attitudes, views, and opinions. It means letting go of the opportunity for suffering (dukkha) to arise. It means giving occasion for seeing the true nature of things.  – Ven. Pasanno

The Lived Life

butterfly girlI have been thinking a lot about the quality of life and death. My Buddhist teacher, Bhante Sathi, asked me one simple question that will not get out of my head. He asked me, “Are you satisfied with your life?” And I replied, “Yes.” When I look at my life, I am satisfied with everything that I did. I have a few things that I would do differently, but, all in all, I am satisfied.

An unlived life causes the fear of death. If you are happy with your life, then you can let go. But if you feel that you did not live your life, then fear can appear. Are YOU satisfied with your life?

Almost every day, I sit with the dying. I see my patients mortality and my mortality and the brief span of time that we call life. The Buddhists believe, just like in nature, there are two events: birth and death. I, too, believe that we are part of a cycle of birth and death (reincarnation). I do not fear death. However, I am curious.

Do you sleep at night? Sleep is the twin of death (Yalom, 2008). We experience a taste of death every night. Death is part of us, part of nature. And every morning is a symbol of rebirth. All things begin and end and then start again.

Most of my hospice patients decline until they are in a sleep-like coma. Also, they hold their breath. Some hospice practitioner’s call this, “Fish out of the water.” They retain their breath like a fish out of water, opening and closing its mouth. After they hold their breath, then they need to catch their breath. So it’s a cycle of retention (holding the breath) and fast breathing.

When I watch my patients breathe, I understand the importance of learning pranayama (regulation of the breath through specific techniques and exercises). Pranayama exercises help us to prepare for death. As a yoga practitioner, I understand the value of training the prana (breath/life-giving force). According to B. K. S. Iyengar (yoga master), it is best to practice pranayama with an experienced Guru or a skilled teacher.

Meditation also helps us prepare for death. Again, we watch the breath. In life, the breath is always with us.

When you are satisfied with your life, there is no fear of death. You lived your life to the fullest! No regrets. The essence of who you are stays with you. You go to sleep as you, and you wake up as you. It is through wisdom that we see the truth.

Namaste, world.

Reference:

Yalom, I. D. (2008). Staring at the sun: Overcoming the dread of death. London, Great Britain: Piatkus.