Category Archives: prayer

BLISS IN SILENCE

I recently spent 9 days at a Buddhist Retreat in a magnificent part of New Zealand. It was hours and hours every day in meditation and listening to teachings. It was a fairly gruelling schedule that pulled me right out of my comfort zone. Sitting in lotus or half lotus for so many hours every day proved to be my biggest challenge. My knees, neck and back shouted at me pretty consistently, but I had set the goal to remain on the cushion throughout the entire retreat. It wasn’t because the cushion is the fast-track to enlightenment or anything. I could have meditated and received teachings in a comfy chair, but I was determined to achieve my goal.

The primary purpose of my goal was to sit with the discomfort and use it as an anchor for mindfulness… to keep me alert and present. Pain of any kind is the best tool for awareness that I know of. When we’re in pain, whether physical or mental, we are highly present and, usually, single-pointedly focused on it. So, I decided to use it as a meditation tool.

I sat dutifully on my cushion for too many hours to count over the course of 9 days. While I outwardly appeared to be peaceful and content, providing a source of strength and inspiration for a couple of my fellow retreatants, who were kind enough to tell me this, on the inside I was suffering. I felt obligated to let them know the extent of my pain, not to complain, but merely to let them know that looks can be deceiving.

And then came the instruction from Venerable Robina that we were to remain in strict silence for 2 full days. I actually welcomed this as I often engage in pointless chatter to fill the silence instead of embracing it. This proved to be so incredibly beneficial that I found coming back to my normal life difficult. I never fully realised how loud it is.

For a while before the retreat, I was feeling the pull to move toward peace and quiet and away from negativity and drama. I was finding the constant noise of others and my own mind to be too much and needed to reach inward to my monastic nature for refuge.

In silence I more easily find my bliss. Creating a protective bubble of serenity was enabling me to move through the difficult changes I have been going through with much more grace and acceptance. Trying to tackle the bigger issues with so much negative energy swirling around me proved too hard. I had become increasingly discontent. My experience reminded me that I am much more effective in solving my problems, as well as being there for others, when I am in a peaceful and more balanced place. Joining others in their negativity and suffering doesn’t benefit anyone. It only creates more negativity and suffering. Working towards creating a stable mind became my calling, knowing it will bring innumerable benefits.

So, I continue to observe my mind and endeavour to embrace all its crazy story telling and habitual negative patterns so I may one day create a state of equanimity. I’m already feeling the benefits of moving away from negativity with an increased spaciousness and sense of peace. I feel more openness to and appreciation for all the profound gifts in my life. These past few months have given me a deepening gratitude for the abundance and joy all around me when I choose the higher vibration of blissful awareness.

I have a long way to go to remove my habitual responses, as I can still so easily be drawn back into my negative patterns. However, I already feel so empowered by the changes I have made so far this year, that I’m dedicated to continuing to study the Dharma, along with my mind in meditation, and to strive to repair my karmic debts, which block me from enjoying a long-lasting happiness. After all, I believe that finding sustainable joy, loving kindness and compassion is the whole point of our existence.

In the words of John Lennon:

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

Namaste 🕉🙏🏻💖

Thank you Jeff.

weddingPic

“I fell in love with you because of the million things you never knew you were doing.”   ~ Unknown ~

To my love….

Thank you for your eternal patience,

while I shift, shed, rage and morph into my true essence.

Thank you for your encouragement,

while I struggle to wash away ancient blood and wrong ideas about myself.

Thank you for your warm embrace,

while I cry and grieve the loss of my ego-self.

Thank you for your support,

while I repeatedly and powerfully crash-land trying out my new wings.

Thank you for your tireless efforts to hold it all together,

while I anxiously search for a new life’s purpose beyond motherhood.

Thank you for your stability,

while I move between anger and bliss like a toddler.

Thank you for your generosity,

even when I’m wallowing in self-cherishing.

Thank you for your brilliance,

while I grope in the darkness before my dawning.

Thank you for staying diligently with me on this journey toward awakening,

even when we sometimes lose sight of each other along the way.

Thank you for having faith in my strength and courage,

even when I doubt myself.

Your extraordinary greatness inspires me to grow into my own greatness.

The strength of your love breaks opens my fearful heart.

The equanimity of your being quells my restless and anxious spirit.

I’m filled with deep gratitude to have found my greatest love and teacher in you.

To be able to spend my life living and growing old with you is a most precious gift.

Thank you.

All my love, forever and ever,

Jana

Healing the Hungry Ghost

When I am triggered to engage in an activity that is harmful to myself or others, to do the habitual thing that always leads to suffering, how do I refrain?

First, I need to identify the trigger. For me, it’s usually an impulse, a thought with a juicy, seductive nature that lures me in. I call her my hungry ghost. She wants poisonous foods, or to be angry, to be perfect, or to engage in a loop of negative self-talk and toxic judgement.

First, I need to pause and breathe; be an unattached witness; bring mindfulness in….turn to my star.

Where is my star?

My star is within.

What will bring me toward my star?

Being fully present.

What is my real need that’s not being met? What do I really want in this moment?

Be a witness…. What am I really feeling underneath the impulse?

I’m feeling bored, lonely, tired, overwhelmed, sad or angry.

Will engaging in this harmful activity really satisfy my underlying needs?

No, it never does.

What will satisfy my needs?

To feel connected, loved, purposeful, engaged, worthy.

How is feeding my ghost going to bring that about?

It won’t.

What is the inevitable result when I feed her?

The continuing loop of shame and self-loathing.

How do I break the loop, the habit?

Embrace my hungry ghost. Meet her with loving-kindness and compassion. Hating my hungry ghost only strengthens her power over me.

Be a witness. Be present. Take a moment to breathe and ask myself the questions above.

Then go do something else.

Take a walk, meditate, tell someone I love them, eat something alive with nutrients, get off social media and pick up that book I’ve been wanting to read, take a nap. Do anything that truly feeds my soul.

This is the practice to heal my hungry ghost. I vow to nurture myself this year and to find balance.

What is your vow for the year to come?

Blessings. 🌈🕉

Strong Back, Soft Front

“All too often our so-called strength comes from fear not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet – strong back and soft front – is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply.” ~ Joan Halifax ~

A Change of Scenery


“The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.” ~ Anais Nin ~

For me, the dream is always travel. I have a wicked case of wanderlust that never seems to be fully satisfied.  I’m always in the process of planning another trip.  It makes the day-to-day stuff easier to manage.  How to create magic in the mundane is the key….

Most of my time is spent being pulled in a million directions by all the things I want to do, both personally and professionally.  My husband and I are very ambitious and have a highly successful professional life.  We invest and manage our portfolio well. We give as much of our time and money as we can spare to various charitable organisations. We spend a lot of time on our individual pursuits, which include recreation, personal and professional development and at least twice a week we go on dates to make sure we stay connected as a couple. We ensure we hang out with our kids as much as they will allow (they’re teenagers after all) and we make time for play. 

My life is extraordinarily abundant, yet I always manage to get way off balance somewhere along the way, and then find I’m breaking apart.  Then, when I’m travelling, I’m able to put it all back together again.  How do I go about bringing the “holiday” spirit into my day-to-day life to prevent the break down altogether?  I know it’s all about balance, but boy, do I struggle with this! What exactly happens while on holiday that enables the reconstruction process, seemingly without effort? The obvious answer is that no one is asking much of me. I get to meander through my day, no minute by minute schedule, no issues I need to address, no problems I need to solve, other than what do I feel like doing today?  Don’t get me wrong… I’m grateful for the ability to be able to handle as much as I do and be of benefit wherever I can, but I get worn out. In my most grouchy place, I feel like the more I give, the more gets asked of me. I think sometimes if others know someone is there to handle it, they don’t bother doing it themselves. This is especially true of my kids. Left to their own devices and they’re quite capable.  But when I’m around, they can’t remember their phone number….

My beloved teacher, Geshe-la, says that if my motivation is correct, I won’t run out of loving kindness and compassion.  I guess the trick is to look deeper into why I am doing whatever it is I’m doing on a day-to-day basis and see where I’m getting off track.  Where am I being self-cherishing (motivated by ego), fearful or dishonest? If I can uncover this and correct my motivation, this should enable me to keep my balance better.  Also, I need to be sure I’m setting good boundaries and saying no when I need to. Sounds like a piece of cake, eh?  Mmmmmm…. cake.

Over the years my husband and I have repeatedly found that when we “help” too much, we enable and cripple others. We need to be diligent on when to offer guidance and support and when to allow others the space to figure out and manage their own problems. It’s the process of trial and error that leads to good problem solving skills. We don’t need to be super heros in anyone’s lives. And this is where checking our motivation is helpful… ensuring we’re not feeding our egos and calling it help. 

So, going forward, my path is a little clearer now. I will slow down and create more space between my words and actions and ensure I have enough quiet time to meditate, reflect and recharge my batteries. I will allow myself and others the space to make mistakes and learn from them. I will cultivate emotional maturity and intelligence. I will diligently shut down my inner critic as soon as she pipes up. I will practise patience (I say practise because I’m no damn good at this).  I will monitor my motivation to ensure it’s pure and I will make more time for spirit-enhancing activities.  All the busy work manages to somehow get done. I don’t need to stress about it. The questions I need to ask myself often are, “Will this matter in a year, 3 years, 10 years? Will I regret doing this, or not having done this when I’m on my deathbed? If the answers are NO, then why worry about it? His Holiness, the Dalai Lama says, “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

Good advice.

Om mani padme hum 🕉

ARE YOU AN ADDICT TOO?

Definition of Addict (transitive verb):  to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively.

Does this sound like you or anyone you know?  How about everyone you know? I’ve been clean and sober for over 24 years and throughout my sobriety I’m often asked about addiction. What I mostly hear from people is that they just don’t have an addictive personality so they can’t understand how addicts think or why they just can’t stop doing whatever it is they do that is destroying their lives. 

Now, this comes from people (assuming they’re people I know fairly well) who I watch on a consistent basis obsess about this or that.  I watch them give in to cravings, worry compulsively, constantly look at their phones instead of engaging the person in front of them, desperately cling to old, wrong ideas despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, or repeatedly read news flashes that appear on their phones, even though it’s invariably negative and upsets them (with the excuse that they should be well informed). They spend enormous amounts of time making excuses, rationalising their behaviour by trying to blame it on someone else, they create drama, gossip, smoke, berate themselves and bite their nails or other fidgety, compulsive habits.  So this is what it looks like to not have an addictive personality?

As a self-confessed addict, let me share some of my addictive tendencies with you….  I repeat arguments in my head over and over and over again until I prove to myself I’m right, which includes negative self talk about my mistakes and failures. I will spend an hour looking for the smallest accounting error even though it doesn’t matter in the least.  Once I get started on lollies and biscuits, there is no stopping me.  In fact, you might lose a hand if it gets in my way.  Then comes the self-loathing when I’m feeling sick to my stomach after. Why did I do this to myself yet again??  I pick my nail cuticles and obsessively write to do lists and even include things I’ve already done so I can feel the satisfaction of ticking them off. I run, even when I’m injured or sick. Sometimes I imagine horrible things happening to my husband and kids and am wracked with all the suffering and fear those dark imaginings bring, even though it didn’t happen.  And I’m only scratching the surface, but I won’t bore you with all my crazy in one blog post.

I’ve spent the better part of my life researching, contemplating and meditating on why I do what I do.  It all comes down to one simple reason. I want to move away from whatever stress, pain or fear I’m feeling in that moment.  Not that I’m always conscious of any particular feelings, as I’m often on auto-pilot and just doing the habitual thing. But if I pause for a moment, after I’ve caught myself in any of the aforementioned habits, I invariably find that I am in a negative mindset. When I’m conscious, mindful and happy none of this behaviour surfaces. Simple as that.  The irony is, in our attempts to move away from our discomfort, our habitual tendencies only enhance it. 

I believe all human beings are addicts. We believe we are different than those “addicts” in the street because our habitual patterns play out differently, but we are all the same… seeking relief from suffering.  That is all addiction is: the desire for something that will help us move away from an uncomfortable feeling, wherein the attainment of that something increases, rather than decreases the discomfort, leading to more craving for something to bring relief.  It’s a vicious cycle. Pema Chodron, the Tibetan Buddhist nun defines addiction as, “Addicted to a firm and fixed view of ourselves (ego) and the world.” Whenever this fixed view is challenged, we cling tighter to our viewpoint, which only leads to more suffering.  And in that suffering, we engage in our addictions, whatever they are.

I’ve found that creating space in my life makes me more aware of my negative patterns, or addictions if you like. This space allows me to do something different than my habitual thing. By choosing a new way of addressing my discomfort, I create new positive habits.  It’s like the saying goes…. “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.” 

I create space by being quiet.  I meditate every morning, which helps me develop the habit of stopping the mental chatter and just listening. This is my sacred time to touch base with my mind and cultivate a loving kindness toward myself and others.  I don’t look at my phone first thing in the morning.  In fact, it goes on “do not disturb” every night at 7 pm until 7 am the next morning.  Other people’s emergencies do not have to be my own.  Believe me, if there is a true emergency, somehow I always find out. Setting boundaries is another way I create space.  I don’t allow other people to fill my life with their drama. I take time to nurture myself by exercising, getting regular massages, meditating, doing yoga, eating nutrient dense foods and engaging in activities that fill my soul, like hanging with my family and friends, attending teachings, travelling, writing, reading, running and hiking, to name a few.  When I get too busy for self-care, which I confess is far too often, I’m a big grump!  Surprise, surprise. 

So, go forth and get in touch with your own inner addict and see what he/she has to teach you about yourself and the universe.  

Namaste. 

BOUNCE – Cultivating Resiliency

resilience

“Don’t Take Anything Personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”  

~ Don Miguel Ruiz, author of ‘The Four Agreements’ ~

When I was a child, and I fell and hurt myself, my mom just put me back on my feet (after ascertaining I wasn’t critically injured), gave me a hug and sent me on my way with the words, “You’ll be alright.”  When I came home from school and cried to my dad about some bully who was mean to me, he taught me how to stand up for myself.  I really believe these early experiences were the seeds that would later blossom into the emotional resiliency I enjoy today.

It seems in this age of social media, we’re exposed to a seemingly infinite stream of harsh words and negativity.  In my day, the bullies were “out there” and my home was a sanctuary.  Now the bullies come into our lives from every angle with no where to hide.

Add to that the idea that we need to protect our kids from any real or perceived discomfort by rushing in to remove every bad feeling the moment they have them.  How are they to develop any kind of resilience to negativity?  We mean well, as parents, and want to prevent our children from feeling pain, but in all this intervention, we’ve robbed them of the opportunity to learn how to move through discomfort, instead of always running away from it or making it someone else’s problem to solve.

The pharmaceutical companies tells us that every negative emotion is a “syndrome” or “disorder” that’s not our fault and easily fixable with a pill.  And as we’ve become a culture of instant gratification, we want instant symptom relief, which these pills promise.  If not pills, we turn to food, narcotics, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. (which are just different variations of the same pill).  Why spend all that time and energy addressing the cause of our discomfort when we can just remove the symptoms and forget about it for a while?

Here’s why… we now have a society of non-resilient and entitled people completely unprepared for a world that isn’t going to shield them from all forms of emotional pain (Political Correctness Police aside); that doesn’t think that every little thing they do is amazing and cause for celebration; that isn’t going to validate their worthiness and solve their self-esteem issues; that isn’t going to reward them just for showing up and doing the bare minimum; and that will hold them accountable for their actions.

Is it any wonder that depression, obesity, disease of all kinds and global anger is sweeping the planet in epidemic proportions?

So, what’s the solution?  It’s simple…. but certainly not easy.  Stop blaming others and decide to take responsibility for your current emotional state and develop resiliency in whatever way resonates with you. The following is a list of all the things I’ve personally done that have helped me enormously:  Seek a counselor, wellness coach or spiritual teacher to help you become more empowered and emotionally stable, which will make you less vulnerable to the negative words and actions of others; go to rehab or a 12 Step programme if you suffer from addictions; train for and run a marathon or half marathon (one of my faves for learning to move through pain and persevere), eat nutrient dense food and exercise (two of the best, and most underused, antidepressants out there), and meditate, meditate, meditate.

If all of these suggestions seem way too overwhelming or hard, just start with taking a single deep breath, then another, and another. Just breathe.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  ~Lao Tzu ~

Namaste.

Anger… my greatest teacher.

For the last few months I’ve been dealing with a very angry old man who has been terrorising my 14 year old son, who occasionally rides past his house to ride his motorbike in a large flat paddock in our community. I won’t go into very much detail except to say that it’s been bringing out the vicious mama bear in me.  As a Buddhist, I’m taught to practise loving-kindness and compassion toward all beings, but dealing with this man makes me want to kill!

My one small vindication (ok… let’s call it a rationalisation), is that my super patient, calm and reasonable husband has the same reaction to this person. We’ve tried to figure out how we’ve allowed this man to hijack our serenity and infect us with his misery. It feels as though he has some kind of super power, that when fuelled with alcohol, turns him into some kind of impenetrable demon. Trying to reason with him is like to trying to reason with a 2 year old mid-tantrum…. totally pointless.

What to do? We’ve tried ignoring him, but when he actively tries to seriously harm our son, we have to intervene. We’ve talked to the police who are unable to do anything until something happens, like our son ends up in hospital. We demand that our son always wear his Go-Pro so we have every interaction with this man on video, which I’ve uploaded into our police file so there’s a history of the abuse. We’ve even met with our community Board to attempt a compromise wherein we will minimise our son’s bike riding in that particular area. Never mind the thousands of dollars we spent buying him a quieter motorbike. So far, to no avail….

I’ve been desperately trying to find compassion toward this man who is clearly in the jaws of a serious alcohol problem and has a long and distinguished reputation of being a miserable prick!  Let me be clear here… I’m doing this for myself. This isn’t about changing him, but changing my reaction to him.  There will always be people or situations that cross my path that are unpleasant or downright infuriating. While I must take appropriate action to stand up for my rights and the rights of others to be free from tyranny and abuse, it’s also essential that I don’t add more anger and hatred to the mix. If I do…. everyone loses.

I recently began my tonglen meditation practice again in order to get back to my happy place and my body’s first reaction has been a wicked sore throat and cold. I’m hopeful this means it’s working.

My practice begins with this prayer:

“Having recognised the futility of my selfishness and the great benefit of loving others, may I bring all beings joy.  May I send all my virtues and happiness to others through the strength of my practice, and may I receive the suffering, obstacles and defilements of all motherly beings in all realms.”

I start by visualising a person or group of people who are suffering. I imagine their suffering pouring out of them as hot, dark smoke, as I breathe it all in deeply. I accept the feelings of pain and discomfort as they come forward.  This part is tricky as my first inclination is to move away from pain, almost reflexively.  When I catch myself doing that, I bring myself back to the discomfort, repeating the mantra, “May I remove all your suffering by receiving it fully.”

I then look toward a group of my loved ones and generate all the feelings of love I feel for them. Children and pets are particularly easy in helping to generate this pure, unconditional love as we don’t tend to hold any resentment toward them. I imagine this feeling of love as a healing white light surrounding me and dissolving the dark smoke within.

Next, I go back to those who are suffering and visualise the pure white light of love and compassion surrounding and embracing them. I repeat the mantra:”May I send you all my virtues and happiness and bring you joy.”

This tonglen practice can be done in 5 minutes when I practise it everyday. But if I’ve gotten away from it, it usually takes me longer as my mind is very busy and rambunctious, like a wild elephant.

The results are amazing and instant. Unfortunately, anger and resentment are difficult habits to break, so it takes a lot of practise to gain control of them. It can be frustrating in the beginning as it feels as though you can’t hold any image for more than a second before you start thinking about how annoying some person is or what you need to get done that day, ad infinitum.

Be patient with yourself and push through the roadblocks. It’s worth it… I promise.

Namaste

BREATHE.

clouds

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~Thích Nhất Hạnh

Several years ago, when I was a smoker (I know….gross!), I used to believe that smoking relaxed me; never mind the fact that nicotine is a stimulant.  When I gained my freedom from that terrible addiction several years ago, I found that it was the act of conscious breathing that one engages in while smoking that leads the smoker to believe it’s relaxing.

Conscious breathing, as in meditation, right? Yeah.. kinda. But I don’t have to be on the pillow in meditation to consciously breathe.  Once I started to pay attention, I was surprised at how  often I found myself holding my breath or breathing in a shallow manner.  What usually caught my attention to this was that I would suddenly become anxious. I always thought anxiety brought about the shallow breathing but shallow breathing also brings about anxiety.

I once believed that breathing was automated and I didn’t have to think about it.  When I first began meditating many, many years ago, I learned that I didn’t know how to breathe at all and had to be re-taught.  It was hard in the beginning as the more I focussed on my breathing, the more I would hyperventilate.  Man, those early days were rough!

But over time, it became easier to control my breathing and feel the benefits of a regular meditation practice.  I highly recommend beginners join a meditation class or download some good guided meditations as I found it much easier to begin this way.

Now, whenever I feel uneasy, I check that I’m not holding my breath.  One deep, cleansing breath invariably removes, or at least reduces the anxiety.  My breathing tells the tale of my inner world.  It lets me know when I’m off balance, stressed, insecure or not in alignment with Source Energy.  It’s a great barometer that never fails to tell the truth.

So, Number 2 on my list of Divine Daily Practices is:  BREATHE.