The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Saturday, September 29, 2007

For Cassiopeia

(This is for Cassiopeia, who is trying to stay frozen while at the same time hoping that someone will strike a match. And this is for all of you who are punishing yourself for being alive.)

"I must learn to love the fool in me - the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool." - Theodore I. Rubin -

Friday, September 28, 2007

Introducing My Ignorance

The first Yoga Sutra class hadn't even begun, and already my ignorance had exposed itself in its full glory.

The 6-day workshop was to be conducted by Swami Chaitanya from Rishikesh. What immediately struck me upon meeting him was the spiralling lock of hair at the back of his head, neatly twisted at the end and barely grazing his saffron-coloured collar.

(Now I will explain the reason behind my ignorance in an attempt to salvage a smidgen of my dignity which will no doubt suffer after this confession.)

All the swamis who have crossed my path so far have had either full heads of hair or none at all. This solitary lock was a new phenomenon to me. So I concluded that it signified a subtle dig at religion's stiff upper lip. And for that, I liked him instantly.

The Seer couldn't decide whether I was moronic or merely naive when I told her this. Giving me the benefit of the doubt, she kindly explained (between rolled eyes and snorts of laughter) that that was ABSOLUTELY NOT what it represented. I was a little disappointed, but as the classes progressed I found more reasons to like him. So apart from a flash of sheepishness and a slight dent in my intellectual pride, all's well that ends well. Athough Swami Svaswaroopananda and Swami Parameswariananda would have probably sighed deeply and said, "Perhaps we made a mistake in bestowing the name Vidya (meaning knowledge) on her." *grin*

Oh well, every bit of ignorance uncovered is one step closer to enlightenment.

Or is that my ignorance talking again?

Note: I will blog about the Yoga Sutra classes in upcoming posts. Just give me a little time to do justice to Swami Chaitanya's teachings!

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tan Kheng Hua Refuses To Be Caged

There's a lovely little snippet on the Hallmark channel featuring Singaporean actress, Tan Kheng Hua (better known as Margaret Phua in Phua Chu Kang). Her latest film, Cages, will be screened on the same channel soon, which makes the snippet a subtle promotional piece. But what makes it delightfully subtle is the fact that she only mentions the movie in one sentence and spends the rest of the three minute piece sharing insights from her recent midlife crisis.

Kheng recalls hitting 40 and feeling like a raft in the Atlantic. But instead of paddling frantically in any direction hoping that it would lead to an unseen shore, or flinging herself dramatically onto a therapist's couch, she did the bravest thing possible - nothing.

"So I said to myself, Kheng, since you don’t know what you want why not not do anything at all."

I was busy replying an email and listening with only one ear pricked, but that line -uttered with such firmness - whipped my head around. And I felt a sigh of relief escape from within me.

While stumbling through my tunnel, I sometimes felt I couldn't do anything at all. I didn't WANT to do anything at all! There were too many raging thoughts and emotions and all I wanted to do was step back and let them calm down. Yet when I did that, I felt guilty at my 'passiveness'. I should be doing something, I thought. Anything! I felt I was being a coward by being still. And there were friends who also felt the same way.

Why aren't you doing anything, they cried. You can't expect things to just work themselves out. You have to do something!

But each time I succumbed, I messed up. So I finally decided to sit with my guilt and do nothing. And that's when I found out that both my well-meaning friends and I were absolutely wrong. Things do work themselves out when you stop trying to control them. They may not work out in the way you want them to, but they will work out in a way that's best for you.

"My friend put it succintly when he said, you're creating white space in your life. In hindsight, I realised I was allowing new things to happen, in a large sense I was allowing change to happen in my life."

I want to meet this woman and shake her hand.

"II think a midlife crisis is a way of pushing us to live our lives better, fuller...Only through the discovery of what else you can be and how else you can contribute can we make our lives the lives of other people around us more complete."

Kheng's monologue glows with quiet strength and serenity. I now keep the TV tuned to the Hallmark channel, so I can catch that little piece over and over again. It is simple beauty at its most powerful.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Compassion Begins At Home

He wasn't good for me. Not as a partner, not as a dangerous liaison and as much as it pained me to admit it, not even as a friend. Perhaps he could have found his way onto my Facebook if what happened never happened. But it was too late for that now. It was time for me to move on and to heal. And so, I decided it was finally time to let him go. There was only one problem - I didn't know how to do the dirty deed.

I'm a peace-loving person - ahem! - which essentially means that I'm a complete mess when it comes to confrontations and the like. If I took a polygraph test, the results would clearly show that I didn't really want to do this. I felt bad. I knew it would hurt him, wound his ego, spark bewilderment. I didn't want to be responsible for that. I wanted to act in a compassionate manner and at that time, the most compassionate act I could think of was to not make even a bleat.

If Chogyam Trungpa was still alive to hear me say this, he would have given me a good hard shake and said, "that's idiot compassion". According to him, idiot compassion is the idea that you want to do good. Of ocurse there's nothing wrong with this, but he points out that your gentleness should have heart and strength.

"In order that your compassion doesn't become idiot compassion, you have to use your intelligence. Otherwise, there could be self-indulgence of thinking that you are creating a compassionate situation when in fact you are feeding the other person's aggression. If you go to a shop and the shopkeeper cheats you and you go back and let him cheat you again, that doesn't seem to be a very healthy thing to do for others."

Would I be feeding his 'aggression' if I continued this friendship?

One of my favoruite spiritual teachers Thich Nhat Hanh, says that love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If we are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward ourself- if we are not capable of taking care of ourself, of nourishing ourself, of protecting ourself- it is very difficult to take care of another person.

Would I be taking care of, protecting and nourishing my inner self if I continued this friendship?

And just in case I still didn't get it, Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, explains that 'a big part of compassion is being honest with yourself, not shielding yourself from your mistakes as if nothing had happened. And the other big component is being gentle.'

Was I being honest with myself in seeing the mistakes I made in this friendship?

It was only then that I saw what others had seen all along. That this friendship wasn't much of a friendship after all. He couldn't give me what I valued in a friend and vice versa. To carry on as though we could would be akin to boiling a pot of water over the flame of a matchstick. In this case, the greatest act of compassion would be to save both of us from that long, painful process.

And so, last week I said goodbye. It was still difficult. He was angry. But today, I feel lighter, freer. Which tells me that I did the right thing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eating, Praying & Loving Every Bit Of It!

Every once in a while, you find in your hands, a book that you never planned on reading...perhaps never even heard of....but which you know, with the same certainty that your car will stall on the country's busiest highway if you continue ignoring that little flashing red light, that you are meant to immerse yourself in its pages. So when I found myself asking the salesgirl for Eat, Pray, Love, instead of the book I had originally come for, I knew the universe had something up its sleeve.

I adore a good book. Who doesn't! One that makes you forget time and space as you turn each page with great rapture. One that has you shedding your own identity and slipping on that of the main character. One that brings tears to your eyes and laughter to your lips. One that has you reading at one-tenth of your usual speed when there are only five pages left before the end. And one that has you closing the book and clasping it to your chest, feeling like your new best friend just died.

EPL unleashed those reactions and emotions...and more. Every few pages, I would close the book and my eyes and soak myself in Gilbert's words. Words that were stunning simple yet powerful enough to create miniature earthquakes in my core.

This exquisite book is Gilbert's memoir. Freshly bruised from a divorce, she seeks pleasure, spirituality and a balance between both in three different countries - Italy, India and Indonesia. And in each country, her experiences, self-reflection and willingness to surrender to a higher power leads her closer and closer to her essential self. What I love most about Gilbert's journey, is that she never once pretends that it was easy. Each time she falls on her face, she tells you exactly how, where and why. Her honesty is jarringly refreshing, her mistakes are oddly comforting and her view on life makes you want to rush out to buy the same pair of glasses - or contact lenses - she's wearing.

EPL found me exactly at the time when I was scrabbling around in my dark tunnel, trying to find the light at its end. And I found it in Gilbert's words. Within those pages were lightning flashes of illumination, thick warm blankets, icy cold showers, sturdy crutches, an irrepresible sense of humour and passports to each emotionally healing pitstop.

My favourite line is still, 'You gotta' stop wearing your wishbone where your back bone oughtta' be."

Even now, after the storm has passed, I still find myself reaching out to dip into it, knowing that a sentence that my eyes skipped over before could very well strike me like a hot poker this time round. EPL has become my spiritual bible for this year. As dramatic as it may sound, this book saved my life. It helped me look at my dark tunnel and laugh right in its face. Four of my girlfriends have picked it up already and have felt its magic too. So thank you Mentor, for first mentioning this book to me.

Read it if you have the chance. And tell me what you think.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Aqua Bliss

Meditation has been the bane of my yoga practice. By no means is it my sole bane, but it is one of the more significant ones, surpassed only by my chronic inability to joyfully kick up into a handstand and remain blissfully immobile for the next two minutes. Ah's a battlefield like no other. For me, at least. While others float out of their 'state of nothingness', I'm trying to stumble out of my state of grogginess. Every time - and I mean EVERY time - I attempt a spot of meditation, I fall asleep even before the last verbrations of OM fade away. Time, space and caffeine intake are irrelevant. As long as my mind knows it's about to be subjected to meditation, it does a quick cartwheel of glee and informs my body that it's time for savasana. As much as I would love to say that I have been serenely plodding away at it, the truth is that my frustration has successfully kept me far away from my meditation cushion.

Then, I moved into my new apartment. My balcony overlooks the pool and one afternoon, I cast an idle look at the shimmering sheet of blue and decided, 'I want to swim'. First time that thought has popped into my head in a decade. So I did. I could barely manage two laps that day without feeling like my lungs were about to disintegrate. My limbs felt like lead, my right ear was blocked for the rest of the day and my eyes stung from the chlorine. Yet I surprised myself by slipping underwater again the next day.

Two weeks later and I can now swim 15 laps without collapsing in mid-pool. And two days ago, in between lap 10 and 12, a sudden thought struck me. If walking meditation existed, then why not swimming meditation? After all, the purpose of meditation is not to empty the mind but to learn to be completely present in the moment.

Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh says that "walking meditation is one of the ways to contemplate peace. Bring your attention down from the level of the brain to the soles of your feet. Breathing in, we make three steps, and we may tell ourselves with each step, "I have arrived. I have arrived. I have arrived'. And breathing out, we make another three steps, always mindful of the contact between our feet and the ground, and we say, 'I am home. I am home. I am home'"

"Life is available only in the present moment, in the here and the now. And when you go back to the present moment, you have a chance to touch life, to encounter life, to become fully alive and fully present. That is why every step brings us back to the present moment, so that we can touch the wonders of life that are available. Therefore, when I say, "I have arrived," I mean I have arrived in the here and the now -- the only place, the only time where and when life is available, and that is my true home."

Committing that little mantra to memory, I pushed off in the breaststroke and with each parting of the water, repeated each line silently. When I reached the other end of the pool, I turned around to begin the freestyle, repeating each line with each arch of the arm in the air.

I drew awareness to how my feet moved, how my knees felt with each kick, how my arms sliced through the water and the steadiness of my breath. I tried to make each move as graceful and effortless as possible. Of course, that in itself took effort! Thoughts raced through my mind - what was I doing, how could I relax more, should I keep my neck straight or bent, how clean is this water, where is that wildly kicking child? I didn't come anywhere close to meditation that day.

Then the next day, something gave away. My mind finally grasped what I was trying to do and consented to giving its full cooperation. Suddenly, I was aware of exactly what each part of my body was doing and how it was doing it. And after some time, I realised how wonderfully quiet it was underwater. As my mind drew all this in, my body relaxed more. Each stroke became an expression of consciousness, of complete freedom. I felt like laughing in delight!

When I finally climbed out of the pool, I decided that for the timebeing, this would be my meditation. I had found a path my mind and body revelled in and that is more important that being able to sit in padmasana for hours, ignoring the shooting pain in my knees. And I was once again reminded that yoga isn't a one-size-fit-all practice. It is a practice that can be moulded in any way that brings your mind, body and soul one step closer to our destination.