A MISSION BEGINS....
It's fair to say that while I had no fixed plans returning back to Australia I was still on a mission, a mission to get everything sorted as quickly as possible so I could begin to settle somewhere and find some routine. I was really impatient, racing my way up the coast making plans to move all my belongings into a place I hadn't even found yet.
This pushing went on for a few weeks and it was wearing me down, I was feeling really flat and frequently overwhelmed. Looking back now I see that it was largely driven from feeling un-grounded, having nothing solid to attach to, pure fear of all the uncertainty. This was being physically reflected back to me in my yoga practice, I was scattered and was really struggling with balancing. The intense yoga practices that I was choosing (Power Flow at 30+ deg) were not making it any better, this sort of practice for me personally, fuels my intensity.
It was after taking a slower more mindful, grounding class on the coast that I started to feel at ease again and began to see things as they truly were. I was trying to force things, I hadn't surrendered to the unknown at all, I was attempting to force everything into my neat little box that I'd created in my mind.
From this point I began to open my mind to more possibility, maybe I didn't need to immediately move all my things, maybe I didn't have to live right on the beach, maybe I didn't need to rush into moving, perhaps I wouldn't even live on the Sunshine Coast.
At this point I truly began to surrender to what will be, I let go of all the fear and the need to have everything under control. I started to spend less time planning and more time doing what I love, paddling in the ocean and immersing deeper in my yoga practice. I started to see that everything is perfect exactly as it is and began to feel really deeply connected to my yoga practice, truly seeing that it is no longer separate from me or something that I just do, it's inherently within me.
The basis of your life is freedom, the purpose of your life is joy. ~ Abraham Hicks
AND THEN THE MAGIC STARTED TO RISE....
I felt lighter, deeply content and things started to fall into place in ways that I never would have dreamed were possible. You know those times where you are in a flow? everything just seems to be going your way?? you get that perfect car park in peak hour, the song you are thinking about comes on the radio, the things you need/want seemingly arrive out of nowhere with little to no effort, you manifest the purchase of avocados with your bread in the local bakery.
It's even gone as far as things that I clearly described 6+ months ago in some Law of Attraction exercises (we described our future lives and key events as if they'd already happened) have actually played out exactly how I described them! At times I've been so gob-smacked that I can't help but laugh at the synchronicity.
In reality nothing has changed, only my attitude and thought patterns. I still have no idea what I'm doing, how I will make a living, if I will settle and stay on the Sunshine Coast. At this point though I'm so blissfully happy and content with not having the answers, I feel that I don't need them. I truly believe that they will come when the time is right. Over the last month or so I've come to see forcing and pushing things doesn't make them happen any faster, in fact for me it's been counter productive.
That's not to say that we should just sit by and watch life passively happen to us, I think a higher intention/goal is critical. I think Sadhguru put it perfectly when he said:
"Whether it is love, or flowers in your garden, or success in your life, or enlightenment, unless you create the necessary conditions, it will not happen. Whatever we do, it is not to make the flower, but only to create the conditions, so that flowers will happen".
This was the whole premise behind my move to QLD, to create conditions that I felt would facilitate my greater vision of a blissful life. It's taken a few mental shifts along the way, but without a doubt the flowers are starting to bloom.
It's said that when your energy, thoughts, and emotions are aligned with the flow of the universe, it begins to work in your favour. What if the purpose of our life truly is to be joyous, to align with the natural flow of the universe where there is no pushing or forcing, only blissful ease?
Then I guess the next question would be what brings you joy, and what conditions do you need to bring more of that into your life?
This is the most intense experience I've ever had being in that effortless flow, but as I look back it's very clear to me that it's always the same conditions that create it, my magic formula of sunshine, ocean, yoga and feeling deeply connected.
I'm so very grateful for this present experience and will continue to enjoy every minute of it while being mindful that everything comes to pass. At least now it's even clearer to me what needs to be done to find this beautiful space, I hope that you also find it and linger here for a while too. If so I'd love to hear about those gob-smacking moments where your left wondering 'did that really just happen?'.
I'm constantly learning from nature and so often when spending time in the outdoors I have those ah ha moments, only today it was more like, 'shit Mandy and you trying to get yourself hurt, where on earth is your head???'....then a few minutes later came the ah ha.
I came back to running around six weeks ago, after pretty much stopping for around a year. When I came back to running (after practicing yoga consistently for that year) I was feeling it in a way I'd never felt it before. I wasn't listening to big beats matching my rhythm to the sound coming through my headphones, I was running to the beat of my own internal drum noticing the little subtleties like how my feet would make contact with the earth, the sounds this made as the little rocks were squashed and pushed back with my weight/momentum, how the wind would create ripples on the river and how it felt on my skin and how the muscles in my legs were engaging, I was very much running in the present moment.
During my last few runs I've just come to realise that I've started to stray away from running in the moment. Today I went out for a run with the primary goal of stopping the millions of thoughts racing through my mind, this was a strategy I used for many years, run really fast so I can't physically think about anything other than breathing and keeping the forward momentum going.
But then mother nature decided to send me a nice little lesson and ah ha moment, as she always does when I need it most.
As I started to build up a rhythm my mind racing off to a far away place, I very nearly stepped on a rather large snake, one that I absolutely should have seen well before my foot was anywhere near it!!! The funny thing is this has happened twice in two days!! Last night on a cruisy ride with a friend out in the bush we did the exact same thing, got caught up in conversation and then as her foot pretty much passed over the top of a snake we realised what had happened.
After the snake scared the crap out of me today my next reaction was fear, I was thinking about how I could avoid it from happening again, I would run home along the road I thought...then logic kicked in...what a stupid idea the road surface is hard, there is lots of traffic and it's nowhere near as pretty....would I never run along the river again in the chance that I come across a snake???
Then came the ahh ha moment, what if I simply focus on being in the moment, take the headphones out and re-connect with all that is around me, that surely would minimise the chance of scaring the crap out of a poor unsuspecting snake again?
So that's the strategy I took for the remainder of my run, I began to notice the many really small reptilian like creatures along the trail basking in the sun, how unusually green the grass is for this time of year, the marks that bikes (or snakes) have made in the gravel, and then the mind got quiet..
Today that beautiful snake reminded that there is so much beauty in the present moment and very little to be gained from trying to escape it....it can in fact be dangerous. Running hard doesn't stop my mind from racing, it just temporarily silences it, then when the run is over the busy mind returns. Becoming truly present, living in the moment is what brings clarity and peace.
A great lesson learned from a reptile I once feared more than any other, somehow the fear seems to have subsided, perhaps because I now see that it was me crashing through their home without warning..
What is Vipassana?
A buddhist meditation technique to assist with seeing things as they really are. The aim is to remove mental impurities, this in turn provides full liberation (a state of Nirvana) and the highest levels of happiness.
Its remarkable that the technique still remains in its purest form as taught by Buddha more than 2500 years ago, this has resulted from an uninterrupted chain of teachers. The teachings of today are still provided by the late S.N. Goenka (the man who took vipassana to the world) using video and audio tapes.
I don't think any of my friends were suprised when I told them that I was going to undertake a 10 day vipassana course, it's not uncommon for me to take things to more extreme end of the spectrum.
While I'd read a few books on buddhism and the technique of vipassana the concept of a 10 day immersion was completely foreign to me. It was during my recent yoga teacher training that I'd come to learn about the presence of these Vipassana centres and the introductory 10 day course. After chatting to a few who had undertaken the course previously I was left with the feeling that I couldn't not go and experience this for myself, after all I certainly had time on my hands.
South India was my next step and coincidently (or not) a course was on offer at a small centre called Dhamma Ketana around 10km from Chengannur. After discovering this I filled out the application and it was a done deal. It would be a significant increase in my daily meditation which was 30mins a day at best, but at least with meditation the risk of physical injury due to poor preparation is virtually non existent, therefore no excuses.
The Daily Agenda looks like this:
4am Wake Up
4.30 - 6.30am Meditation
6.30 - 7.15am Breakfast
8.00 - 9.00am Group sitting (sounds lovely, but its code for seated meditation)
9.00 - 11.00am Meditation
11.00 - 11.45am Lunch
12.00 - 12.30pm Question Time
1.00 - 2.30pm Meditation
2.30 - 3.30pm Group sitting
3.30 - 5.00pm Meditation
5.00 - 6.00pm Dinner (generally milk tea and fruit)
6.00 - 7.00pm Group sitting
7.00 - 8.30pm Discourse (lecture on technique - again seated)
8.30 - 9.00pm Meditation
9.00 - 9.30pm Question time
9.30pm Lights out
Repeat x 10
In summary thats 10.5 hrs of seated meditation per day with an average sit time of 1.3hrs per session, plus the 1.5hrs of sitting for the discourse. The 3 x 1hr group sittings were like challenge sets from Day 4 - one of the primary goals was to stay completely still despite the discomfort.
It was apparent from the moment I arrived that I was in rural India, the centre is however located in the state of Kerala which is comparatively wealthy when compared to the rest of the country, I was suprised by the nice houses on large blocks with fancy cars. The facility itself was very basic, we were in dorm style accomodation with very thin mattresses to sleep on. Toilet paper was a luxury item that needed to be purchased and there was no laundry service - ordering take out obviously wasn't going to be an option.
All our phones, computers, books and other valuables were surrendered. Its also requested that all physical activity be suspended for the 10 days other than short walks on the goat track which totalled around 100m. Noble silence is observed for the first 9.5 days which essentially means no talking or communication of non verbal means. Males and females are completely seperated for the duration with the exception of sharing the meditation hall. All thats required is to eat, sleep and meditate with some occasional clothes washing.
The first three days are about observing respiration focusing attention on a small area between the nose and upper lip to sharpen the mind (called apana). It was pretty clear from Day 1 that focusing my easily distracted, over active monkey mind was going to be a significant challenge.
For a few months now I've been pretty aware of my strong attachment to food, this was one of the attractions of Vipassana for me, all control over what and when I ate would be surrended.
I was so amazed to observe the sheer depth of this craving and attachment to food that I've been carrying for a really long time now, for the first 2-3 days my mind sounded alot like this...
From Day 3 the sharpening of the mind had really started to physically manifest, colours were brighter, I was noticing the finer details of trees, butterflys etc and was also feeling sensations I'm normally not tuned into. At one stage I'd registered that the slightest breeze on my face was keeping me awake as I tried to sleep. I also began to observe a shift in mindset in relation to food, I'd managed to convince myself that I wasn't going to starve to death and that just one serving per meal would be enough. It really helped having the older students around who were not eating after lunch and were clearly hungry but not dying......
I really started to slow down when I ate, after all this was the most exciting part of the day, you want to make it last. My food pinnacle occured on Day 8, not completely removed from attachment I woke up thinking about how much I'd love it if we were given chapati for breakfast and to my delight it arrived, I was filled with gratitude. Then at lunch, something new, a basic birayani with vegetables. I was so overwhelmed by how amazing this was that it took me a good 30mins to eat it, really savouring every small mouthful, this sensation alone brought with it tears of joy.
Food had always been a delight and comfort for me but I'd never experienced it like this before. If my changed perspective on food was the only learning I took from the course then this alone would be enough to justify it 1000 times over.
Day 4 (christmas eve) was a real highlight, this was when we commenced the technique of Vipassana, observing the sensations in the body. I was having a bit too much fun with it that evening, while scanning through the body my mind chatter went a bit like this....
Hello celestial head, I'm here to check in, any sightings of Santa and his reindeers yet? Nope, okay, how about sensations, are we experiencing any sensations up there?
Trapezius yep sensations, Rhomboids yes paining, Shoulder blades yes paining, Lats still paining...okay we clearly have some back discomfort going on, hold strong, anicca, anicca, anicca (impermanence), this is all temporary and will pass, do not move...
Hello pelvis, what have we got at your end of town...we got nothing, all systems down, just numbness all the way through to the toes...
Okay celestial head...
The fun pretty much ended there, after that hyperactive playful meditation, it all became hard serious work again.
From speaking to others, I understand that these courses are often undertaken in heavily controlled conditions (I.e. constant comfortable climate, virtually silent rooms/cells etc). This was certainly not the case in this small vipassana centre. The temperate variability was a real challenge, mornings were cold and the afternoons were really really hot, this was escalated as we were required to dress very conservatively. Over the Christmas period there was around 3 days where I could've sworn the nearby mosque was playing their top 100 prayer calls for the year on repeat, the hindi temple would also chime in a few times each day. We shared the grounds with huge cobras (thankfully I only came across the skin they'd left behind) and on occasions geckos crawling up the arm would be confused for bodily sensations. All of these external distractions made it that much harder to focus, but I love that this was part of the experience.
Day 6 was the lowest of lows, apparently its common for this day to be really hard. I could not get comfortable, I was tired and my right side rib area was really, really sore. I'd done some damage around 10 days earlier surfing in Bali but figured it would heal with rest, it seemed to be getting worse sleeping on the hard bed and sitting all day. My mind wouldn't focus and all I could think about was the discomfort and how hard everything was. That night I spoke to the teacher about the pain in my ribs, it was playing havock with my mind, I was hoping to source something to bring the swelling/inflammation down. While they were reluctant to provide any medicine (like voltaren) next morning they gave me some herbal oil and a pot of hot water for a heat pack. It didn't improve but my mindset did, just from the very act of applying some form of treatment. Day 7 was a much better day and at this point I began to realise that this whole experience was also going to pass.
On Day 9 just before lunch silence was broken and phones etc were returned. This was a real shock to the system, funnily enough I found myself really overwhelmed and instantly sought solitude by going on a short walk down the goat track. It was a feeling of such relief and achievement having made it through but I also sensed that I still had alot to process. It was great to finally meet all those people that I'd been with 24 hours a day for the last 9 days, it's a really strange feeling sharing such a journey with people you've never met, you sense the struggles of one another and somehow connect without having spoken a single word. We shared our experiences and had a great laugh joking about the forts that people had built up with cusions and those things that had happened during the course which we couldn't share previously.
While I probably spent only 50% of the time actually meditating and the rest of the time planning/contemplating my future it was such an incredibly rewarding experience, watching the mind for that duration of time can be really insightful. I certainly experienced moments and thoughts of absolute clarity and was able to obseve patterns in my mind which I could disect to gain further understanding. Even now a week later its funny to see how I clung so tightly to ideas (like this tattoo which I convinced myself that i really needed to get) which now have little to no place/importance. It's a nice little reminder that everything comes to pass.
I'd highly recommend anyone with the time and an interest to consider undertaking the 10 day intro course, they happen all over the world and it's donation based so you pay what you can afford on completion of the program. Further details can be seen here:
If I were to do it again (which I can see happening in the future) I wouldn't go without the following items, I suppose you could say that this was my survival kit:
I will close this blog with a quote from the great man himself (Goenka):
We cannot live in the past; it is gone. Nor can we live in the future; it is forever beyond our grasp. We can live only in the present. If we are unaware of our present actions, we are condemned to repeating the mistakes of the past and can never succeed in attaining our dreams for the future.