The Path To Bodhichitta

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

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's A Dark Night Again and I Can't Find My Flashlight

Basically the challenge is to be genuine - to feel our pounding heart or shaking knees or whatever it is - and stick with it. In a nutshell, very few of us ever allow ourselves to be in a situation that doesn't have at least a teensy-weensy little exit, a place where we can get out if we have to.

So observed Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart.

Two days ago, The Thinker painted me a picture. In that picture, I was a person who has always sought out life's highways. Always chosen what was most convenient, rather than what was right for me. The Seer had told me this before, but at a time when I was not ready to hear it. The Thinker was harder on me. He asked the brutal questions to which I didn't yet have answers. And yesterday, I made the decision to abandon the highway and walk (or crawl?) on the road less travelled.

This is the scariest place I have ever been. My heart is pounding, my knees are shaking and I keep falling apart just when I think I've got it together. And it's only the beginning! Sigh. Part of me berates myself for taking on this foolish act of terror-stricken bravery. But the other part says to have faith that only good can come from this. Because although my mind and heart shouts 'No!', the voice within whispers a quiet 'yes'. And I have learnt to listen to that voice.

Don't be fooled into believing that I'm approaching all this with Yoda-like serenity. I feel like Scooby Doo more than anything else.

The Pole Dancer used to say "when you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will learn to fly."

If I had it my way, there would be a bungee cord attached to my foot so I can pop rght back up. But so be it.

To both The Seer and The Thinker, thank you. You know what I want, what I need and the difference between the two. It hurts and I'm scared to death, but I acknowledge and I accept.

We don't experience the world fully unless we are willing to give something away. Samaya means not holding anything back, not preparing our escape route, not looking for alternatives, not thinking there is ample time to do things later. When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One Picture, Two Views

Last night I sat on my living room floor, watching the shadows dance across the timber and letting my eyes travel unseeingly across my beloved city skyline. I lost myself in my thoughts until Sarah McLaughlan sang the last note on her Afterglow album. And very slowly, the answers came. But still, I had to know for sure. So I reached back into my past.

I was looking for validation. I wanted confirmation that the same issues I saw in myself today were the same issues that caused me heartache before. I needed an insight into how my behaviour impacted another so I would know what to do now. What I got instead was a completely different version of my story. A kinder version. A version that I had never seen before.

At that moment, I realised how important a check and balance is in our lives. Because when we're standing too close to the mirror, everything is magnified and we can't help but shrivel in our own eyes. And that is a horrible feeling. Touching base with my past pulled me back from my mirror just far enough for me to understand that I was seeing too much in too little.

I've chosen to write this post in the hope that if any of you are struggling with your version of the truth, you will try checking in with someone else who bore witness to that truth and see if both versions match. You'd be surprised at how the mind is able to play tricks on the heart,and vice versa.

The real truth is a tricky thing, especially when it's about yourself. It's slippery, it's painful, it's baffling. But when you find it, you will know. Because it is also freeing.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Aftermath

No, I didn't succumb to that luscious bottle of Chardonnay. *grin*

Instead I told my inner child that Chardonnay has not been summoned to babysit her that night and made her a hot cup of roasted green tea with spices. I told her that there would be no banshee screams and to stop prodding the lion. Then I let her write to express herself frustration, allowed her read on the balcony till way past a decent hour and tucked her into bed with a big hug and a promise that the sun would rise again tomorrow.

Gradually, her angry trantrum wound down into exhausted hiccups and today, she's back on her feet and eager to meet life head-on again.

The Perfect Storm

Today I write not as a yoga practitioner with insights and breakthroughs, but a woman who is trying to sift through splinters without pricking herself too badly. Today I write as a person who has momentarily abandoned all attempts to transcend the madness that is life.

I have been doing everything ‘right’ these past few weeks. I have opened myself up to my emotions and told myself to ride out its peaks and dips. I have honoured it volatility by offering it an outlet of soft tears. I have diligently unfurled my purple mat each evening, enjoyed monologues with Pema Chodron and made personal breakthroughs of which I am very proud. And after a hard night, I have made myself a soothing cup of tea and encouraged myself to take one more step forward, because I am doing ok. I am Androcles asking the great and hungry lion to have a ‘velvet paw’ and treat me gently.

But what I really want is a big fat bottle of Chardonnay and permission to snap, snap, SNAP my jaws.

I want to allow my inner child to leap out and perform a dance of wrath. A dance that is rich with the fury of tornadoes, the slashes of lightning, the screaming of banshees. A dance so wild with rage, it sears all those who witness it. I want to be Androcles who demands that the lion either fight me or eat me alive. I want to stuff bodhichitta in a box until I am ready to befriend it again.

I am angry. And it feels good to say it aloud. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go make myself a cup of tea.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Walk

I finished editing the script at 4.30pm yesterday, and like a puppy, my inner child perked up in barely concealed excitement. A walk in the park loomed on the horizon. I tidied up my writing space and glanced out the window to see dark clouds swirling ahead. Was it wise to be outdoors this evening? The instant I thought that, I felt the heavy stone of disappointment drop in me. A promise is a promise, I decided, and began packing my satchel. In went a thick sketchpad, new colour pencils and Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper.

I underestimated the evening traffic, and the extra fifteen minutes of bumper-to-bumper crawling was enough for the rain to catch up. By the time I swung into the parking lot, the fine drizzle had turned into sizeable drops.

“Will you melt?” my school athletic coach used to demand, when we tried using the rain as an excuse to loll around instead of train. I got out my umbrella, hoisted my satchel on my shoulders and began walking.

The park was almost empty except for a few joggers who didn’t see the point of seeking shelter when they were already soaking wet from their run. The familiar scent of damp, heavy sweetness hung in the air and I took a deep breath, remembering the days when Tinselbits and I used to run almost every evening. True, we talked more than we actually ran and I hated her for making me do the stairs, but a bond was formed over the huffing and puffing that has stood the test of time.

For 20 minutes I walked alone, accompanied only by the soft crunch of gravel beneath my feet, the whispering of leaves and the splash of raindrops on the lake. I passed a bench and looked wistfully at it. How I would have loved to sit there and sketch. Then a troop of monkeys scurried behind it and I changed my mind.

The rain grew heavier and my satchel was in danger of getting wet, so I surrendered and looked for appropriate place to shelter. Looking around, I spotted a gazebo-like structure perched on stilts, towering above all the other little gazebos. Perfect.

Settling down at the top, I could see the mountains in the distance and the voices of the trees were louder. For the next hour I read, I sketched and I just sat. I watched the joggers run past, the squirrels chase each other on a tree, the butterfly darting around the flowers and the leaves falling to the ground. For that one hour, I felt that rare sense of connection with myself and the world around me. And it felt really good.

I urge you to take a walk too. Just be with yourself and do the very things you feel are a ‘waste of time’ or ‘childish’. Yesterday, I realised that being a grown up is not much fun and I don’t know why I couldn’t wait to be one when I was a child. We forget the simple pleasures in life. We give so much time to others and starve ourselves on the leftovers of our day. When you spend time with yourself, be it an hour or ten minutes, you walk away knowing yourself just a little better and that makes life just a little easier.

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me feel less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
- Dawna Markova

My First Artist Date

I went on a date with my inner artist last Saturday. In her book, The Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron recommends an hour or longer weekly block of time spent on yourself and only with yourself, doing something festive that releases creative blocks and invokes inspiration. In other words, to romance ourselves.

I cheated a little on this Artist Date because I had been to this place once, though very briefly, and also because I went with The Healer. My cousin, an Anusara Yogi (a style I plan to try this year) introduced me to a place that I have always wished my city had - a new age bookstore.

This Wonderful Life is the creative genius of Tania Leong, an alternative therapist and energy healer. The first time I was there, I spent more time talking to Tania than poking around. She’s a lovely person, so warm and vibrant. I found out that Tania finally heeded her calling and packed her bags for London, which she called home for 5 years as she immersed herself in the new age lifestyle and honed her healing techniques. We chatted for a while and she generously gave me an impromptu card reading lesson. Then it was time to rush off, and I did so with some incense and a promise to return.

So on Saturday, The Healer and I trotted to TWL in high spirits. When we pushed open the glass doors, we saw Tania and three others sitting on the floor in front of the yoga section. Around them were coloured paper, glue, scissors, magazines and other arts and crafts material.

“What are you doing?” we asked in great curiosity.

“Our vision charts!” came the reply. I was instantly intrigued and watched as Tania glued scanned pictures of her angel cards onto her red vision chart and decided how large to make each chakra for the huge angel that represented her. Julia Cameron had suggested the same activity, but I had been putting it off.

I eventually left the little group to their work and began browsing. One shelf held aromatherapy oils, soaps and salt scrubs. Another held an assortment of CDs from yoga and qi gong to meditation and dharma talks. There was a shelf of parenting books, which The Healer planted herself at and shelves where books on angels, general metaphysics and psychology nested. There were racks of incense, posters and stickers, as well as a corner table that housed various oracle cards. Next to the cashier were the crystals and precious stones in odd shapes and even angel-shaped.

I felt completely at home in this little place, and the energy was safe and clear. I spent the first ten minutes touching every item in wonder and feeling my excitement mount. Ever since I stepped into Whatever, a new age bookshop in Singapore, I have longed for one here. A place that doesn’t just sell items, but also acts as a gathering spot for like-minded people.

I enjoyed my little artist date…and of course, the coffee that came after! But it’s a place I will go back to again and again, if nothing more than for a chat with Tania. Did it rejuvenate my creative juices? For sure!

This Wonderful Life is located at M-0-7 Plaza Damas, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. 03-6201 1813

A New Year Dedication

Even at the cusp of the New Year, I still hadn’t decided on my resolutions. Many people I know had already given up on making any form of resolutions that required a continued effort beyond January 2nd. I didn’t want to conform to tradition, neither did I want to begin a new year on a cynical note. So I decided to dedicate the year to a broad area of personal growth instead of pinning it down to fixed ideas and ideals.

My new year is dedicated to openness and creativity.

What does that mean? It means I have vowed to remain open to all experiences without judgement. To accept impermanence as a part of life and learn not to cling to what I desperately want to remain unchanged. My new job as a story liner/senior writer for a miniseries is my first step in that direction. A six month contract and come July
1st, the world is my oyster once again.

It also means poking around in the forgotten nooks and crannies of my heart and mind, without fear of what I may find and with the faith that when I do find it, it will help me understand myself a little better. It means reconnecting with the creative child I left behind in order for me to become a ‘grown up’. It means experimenting with art, words, sounds and movement to tap into my inner creative self that has become so foreign to me.

As it usually happens, the minute I decided this, the path unfolded before me. This time, in the form of Julia Cameron and her book Vein of Gold. This extraordinary book contains teachings on the creative process and imaginative tasks, all designed to draw out your shy creative self. I’m only quarter way through the book and am completely blown away! My soul has come out to play and it is deliriously happy!

In my creative satchel are three tools that Cameron recommends be undertaken and continued for as long as possible:

Morning Pages. These are three pages of writing in LONGHAND each morning about anything and everything on your mind. Cameron says, “Morning pages prioritize our day. They render us present to the moment. They introduce us to an unsuspected strength and agility. They draw to our attention to those areas of our life that need our focus. Both our weaknesses and our strengths will be gently revealed. Problems will be exposed and solutions suggested.”

And why in longhand when we have come such a long way in techno-land? Because, “there is an energy of blood, of truth and knowledge that is deeper than skin. The blood remembers what the mind forgets, and when the blood remembers, it tells the hand. Writing by hand is like walking somewhere instead of whizzing there in car.”

I have begun my Morning Pages in an unassuming red diary gifted to me by my insurance agent. But its simplicity works, because it doesn’t intimidate me into writing something worthy of a Pulitzer. I can relax and the words can flow.

Artist Dates. A weekly date with yourself somewhere that will awaken all your senses. A sacred time of pleasure that nurtures the creative consciousness. And it has to be done solo, so you can hear your inner voice. I have just gone on my first Artist Date, which will be the topic of my next post.

Walks. Oh so easy, and yet so difficult. All of us have been there at one point or the other. But this time don’t think of it as exercise for your body but for your higher consciousness. Walk, take the leash off your mind and let your imagination romp wildly. The answers will come.

Try it. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. And now I have to stop because I have promised my inner child that if she allows me to finish editing a script this afternoon, I will take her to the park. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Duet Of Bodies

There's something to be said about using someone else's body to guide yours into a pose. And that something is that it feels really really good. I mean, really good!

Partner Yoga was one of the last sessions during On The Mat And Beyond. And it drew the most participants. Families, friends and of course, couples. Theresa formed us into a large circle as part of a five minute warm-up, which had the kids giggling uncontrollably and the adults cracking uncertain smiles. Then she shooed us back to our places and from then on, two became one.

“Partner yoga is about trust, communication and respect,” Theresa told us seriously. As we nodded back in equal seriousness, her face broke into a smile and she clapped her hands. “Let’s begin then!”

The first pose was a shoulder opener. Partners pressed their backs against each other, and took turns to stretch each other’s arms backwards.

“No doughnuts!” Theresa called, walking around. Translation: no sticking your bottoms out and leaving a space between your two backs.

Then she instructed us to sit, one person in butterfly and the other with his feet straight out and pressed against his partner’s shinbones. Clasp each other’s hands at the elbows and take turns moving forward and backwards.

“Match your breathing rhythms,” Theresa said, but that was easier said that done. Aside from counting aloud, we struggled to listen to each other’s breathing pattern.

The third pose was a variation of paschimottanasana. One partner with her legs outstretched, and the other sitting behind her with bent knees and his feet placed on her lower back. As she moves into the pose, he gradually straightens his legs to guide her deeper into it. It was one of my more effortless paschimottanasana! And it felt oddly reassuring to feel the warmth of someone feet on my back.

We laughed and melted into a couple more poses, when Theresa decided to give us a brief taste of her true passion – AcroYoga. For the purists, this is acrobatic yoga and it is fabulous! Imagine this…

Your partner is in downward dog. You stand in front of him, move into downward dog with your heels in front of his fingers, place one foot between both his hands and use it to balance while you put the balls of your other foot on his lower back. Then bring your other foot up alongside it and relish the feeling of being almost airborne. And no, your partner is not supporting your weight. Neither are your wrists bearing the brunt of it. The weight is evenly distributed, hence the delicious feeling of lightness.

The class ended too soon, to disappointed groans and appreciative applause. Later, Theresa told me that she is a dancer and thrives on movement, which makes hatha yoga understandably painful for her. Marrying dance and yoga made perfect sense, and eventually gave birth to AcroYoga.

Partner yoga is two bodies performing a duet, each one listening to the other’s melody and matching it in return. There is no rivalry and no moving to a different beat. There is no carelessness either because taking responsibility for another’s body requires you to smack in the moment. Best of all, there is no ego because it’s not just about you. And at the end, there is gratitude for the compassion and service your partner has gifted to you.

That appetizer of AcroYoga has awakened the daredevil within me, and it is roaring to get out. So now, I have to feed it. Luckily, Theresa will be holding her first AcroYoga workshop on February 22nd. Watch this space for further details!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

To The Very Core

It’s shameful, really. 5 years of yoga and still I’m a mess of sore muscles after Sunday's yoga event - On The Mat & Beyond.

I was meant to co-lead the session for those with excess weight, but since only five people showed up, I decided to participate instead. Unfortunately, none of the other five had any excess to lose, so instead of a gentle practice, Roslin unleashed her trademark core yoga sequence upon us.

Now Roslin is a great teacher and the routine was exactly what my lazybones needed, but boy, was it tough! After the second dhanurasana sequence, my body refused to do anything more than lie flat on the gound for a full ten seconds. I snuck a peek around and was greatly comforted to see that my counterparts were also on the verge of waving the white flag.

Having said that, it was a good class which once again underlined the fact that I really need to build up my core strength. And watching Roslin move through each sequence with such precision and ease was very inspiring to both my inner student and teacher. This is the reason why I keep seeking out new teachers, despite fellow yogis telling me that I should stick to just one.

It felt really good to be part of a group again. I have missed that. And the icing on the cake? Roslin teaches at the same place Gary does!