30 December 2010

My first laptop

I took this screen photo today with my new AppleMac Pro.
My very own laptop...and my first smile for nearly two weeks.

Up til now, I’ve only had computer access at work and have never wanted to have a computer at home.

Mark had an AppleMac Pro which he’d left at my house; it was still on when I returned home from the retreat. His death was a tragic accident, it shouldn’t have happened.
I finally returned Mark’s laptop to his dad yesterday after buying my own, exactly the same model, and only after transferring all Mark’s files and photos onto mine.

The image on my desktop screen is the one of Mark sitting at my table working on his laptop.
I sit here now, in the same chair, working on the same laptop, the image on the screen a direct portal between the dimensions that separate us.
Past, present and future collapse into Now.
We are one, bound together through time by this image. We sit within each other on this chair, in front of these windows, and he watches over my shoulder.
Soft morning light filters in with the warm breeze.

Not only do I have a new toy to explore, I also have all of Mark’s photos and videos on it to watch over and over again. Having my own laptop means I can write and blog whenever I want, instead of staying back after work to write up blog notes and access the internet.

Yoga practice

Thursday 30 December 2010

My first yoga practice for three weeks was a beautiful experience, rich and nourishing.
I felt deeply connected to my body.

The sun salutes flowed effortlessly, joyously, softly. The standing poses were deep and connected. I was amazed at the strength, balance and beauty expressed through them all, especially Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana.

After the full set of standing poses, I went to the wall for a Handstand, it was effortless. I stayed up for a couple of minutes, came down, then placed my hands about two feet away from the wall and went up again into a perfect free balance, motionless, suspended, perfectly aligned. Pincha Mayurasana followed, not quite so effortlessly but still a light and easy free balance.
How lovely to feel all this again.

After that pose my mind started wandering. I sat on the mat in Dandasana thinking of Mark for a minute, then folded forward into Paschimottanasana. Five breaths in each of the three hand clasp variations gave me time to sink deeply into the folds of the pose. A gentle vinyasa took me to Purvottanasana. No more vinyasas after that pose, just a quiet entry and exit through Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and Tiriang Mukha.

Softness had come, but so had sadness.
That was enough forward bending.

I laid on my back, bent up my knees for Setu Bandha and just looked at the ceiling thinking of Mark. No specific memories or images, just a muted feeling of his essence and the sadness of the loss. I pulled myself back to the moment and pressed up into Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose). Then without any other preparation, straight into Urdhva Dhanurasana. Resting in between I did three full backbends.
Paschimottanasana settled me down again.

I laid on my back thinking about what came next in the sequence - my Ashtanga practice has been so irregular over the last two years, the sequence is not automatic any more. I remembered Chakrasana. It’s been years since I’ve attempted it - how I’ve missed that pose. How I’ve missed my practice...
I felt my way slowly from Halasana, stretching my feet further away from my head, pressing my hands down into the floor. I rolled over smoothly and easily, coming out into Dog Pose.
What an innocent joy I felt, like a child doing a somersault.

The finishing poses were glorious. I stayed in Urdhva Padmasana (full lotus in shoulderstand wiht hands supporting the knees) for over 10 minutes. It was the most nourishing yoga experience I’ve had for years. Every part of my body, my bones, my glands, my arteries, my organs bathed in the soothing warmth of this inverted pose. It imparts not only extraordinary physiological effects but also mystical energetic effects when held for a long time.
Headstand was interrupted after 5 minutes by a phone call from Ebony. No matter. After the call I sat in Padmasana for a few minutes then did a Dog Pose and a short Savasana.

Re-entry into yoga practice, one barrier overcome...

My body has changed. It is lighter both physically and energetically, and there is less restriction in my lower back than there was a few months ago. Once I’d decided to break off the 4 year relationship in August/September my lower back quickly stopped aching and morning stiffness disappeared completely...coincidence? I don’t think so. Perhaps I’d been emotionally ‘stuck’ in a wrong relationship which was manifesting in my lower back, or perhaps the love flowing through me for Mark was opening all the channels, physical, etheric, energetic, divine...
There is still bone on bone restriction in my lumbar spine, but not the agony and nerve pain that has stifled me these past two years.

Yesterday I noticed for the first time some slight contraction and closing up of my body so I put off doing yoga for yet another day and went for a two hour solitary hike up the mountain instead.
Well...not quite so solitary because it was early evening and there were lots of koalas, kookaburras, yellow tailed black cockatoos and lizards around. This nonchalant koala was perched in a eucalyptus tree about shoulder height. Further up the same branch clinging perilously to the tip was her baby.

26 December 2010

One week on...

As the shock subsides, peace arises. Last night I read some chapters from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. If we are to believe the extensive labyrinth of the afterlife according to the Buddhist tradition, you are somewhere in the Bardo for the next 39 days Mark.

Your presence is fading from my house. I don't even want to try to summon you back. How selfish to try to keep you tied to me. I've set you free now to dance over the sparkling treetops, young, agile and carefree again.
Sadly our time together feels like a dream, a beautiful romantic dream that I had; it doesn't seem real. If I didn't have the evidence, your clothes and shoes still strewn over my floor, I'd swear I'd fantasized this entire episode of my life.

The photos I've framed help me to remember you, to sanctify our love, to preserve and cherish it forever. Looking at your photos I smile and feel warm. I talk softly to you as I pass each one, my soul touching yours as our eyes meet again. My heart feels tender and sweet now. It is truly exquisite.
There are no more What Ifs.... no more If Onlys.....
Mourning is over and I will move on with life, keeping you safely caressed in my heartspace forever.

There will never be another like you in my life Mark. And to have loved each other like that was a rare and precious gift for us both. But you've moved on and I am still here, cursed with the affliction of that gift. I'll never settle for less than that pure, powerful, ecstatic and mutual love again.
The fire in my heart is burning brighter than ever now.
Beware whoever dares to come close, you will be set alight.

In "The Psychology of Romantic Love" Dr Robert Johnson explains the fallacy of our romantic notion that there is another person on this earth who can fulfil us beyond our wildest dreams, a person with whom we can experience this wild and ecstatic love for which we yearn. But real people are damaged human beings and will never be able to provide or live up to that ideal for us.

We are continually being disappointed if we seek divine love in our human relationships.

The ecstatic love we deeply yearn for can only be found in our ultimate connection with the Divine.

"I tear at my shirt with every breath
for the extent of joy and ecstasy of being in love
Now he has become all my being and I am only a shirt."

Yoga and meditation practice will settle back into my life soon, perhaps when I return to work on 4th January. I am even considering doing a three day yoga workshop with Glenn Ceresoli in mid January. Not sure why...not thinking very clearly...will investigate my motivation before I decide if it might be useful.

These past few months had spun me out of the orbit of my spiritual practices and into a tangential dimension of ecstatic love and union with another soul. The mystical aspect of this union was evident from the moment we met.

What isn't evident yet is the impact of your death on the rest of my life, the lesson to be learned and the reason it had to happen...

Waiting For You

Going through the files in Mark's computer, I found an absolute gem.
He'd started experimenting with digital media on his computer recently , and had done a test video run of himself shaving on 29 October 2010.

Playing in the background is 'Waiting For You' by the Basement Birds.

"We think of yesterdays like they were holidays, bathed in the warmth of the sun
we don't feel because
after today you'll be farther away and I'll cry."

I know how happy and excited Mark was to be in love - he was getting ready to visit me at work that morning.

Now every morning I sit with my coffee and play this video over and over, remembering his face, his hands, his lips and his smile. How lucky I am to have found a video that brings him to life for me every day (Youtube has truncated the ending off)

This song and those words are etched into my heart forever.

Here is the original video clip by the Basement Birds.

On Fire

People who seek to uncover the Truth through practices such as yoga, meditation, mysticism, must live, knowing that a flame has been lit within them.

We burn intensely in search of that Truth, our hearts are on fire. We know it is close, not out of our reach, we passionately pursue it for nothing else matters. Anyone who comes into our lives should be warned that if they get close to us, they too will catch on fire, they too will feel the unease of a mediocre life and begin to yearn for Ultimate Truth.
If you're on fire you'll attract people of substance, people drawn to authenticity, to the conviction that there is more to life than TV, work and entertaining distractions.
Those who have settled for an easy life of denial and comfort will not feel at ease in your presence, their conscience will prick them, they don't want to see that they're lost, that they've chosen the darkness instead of the light.
You'll burn away all the lies and cover ups that stand in the way of divine Truth, you'll search in earnest for your connection to it, to transcending the boundaries of physical reality and living within the unfolding realms of an extraordinary universe.

Mark, you were one of the seekers, and all your problems came from not understanding that you were on fire. Confused and unsettled, your life ended before I could help you uncover the beauty and truth of your soul searching.

Your spark recognised the divine power that plugs me into life's ultimate purpose and you loved me intensely, not quite knowing why. With time it would have become clearer for you. I became your lifeline, the one you thought could teach you, love you, care for you and ultimately save you from a life of suffering. If only we'd had a little more time to turn your destructive path around...and steer you towards the light. We'd be living out that extraordinary life together.

Early Mornings

You love the early mornings. You rise before the birds, 5am, often 4am.
As you climb out of bed, semi conscious, I watch secretly, lovingly taking in your shape, your movements. Your upper back is so rounded, bent over like an old man when you get up. I imagine you in 20 years time at the age of 76, fully bent over permanently. For now it is only an early morning affliction.
By the time I get up that protective hunch has internalised and you stand tall and straight. I watch with half an eye open as you hobble to the bedroom door, your ankle has stiffened overnight, the injury giving you pain.

After the retreat and after Christmas we 'll work together to get your physical health and vitality back. Some regular yoga will gradually realign your body and steer you gently towards a more balanced psychology. There is so much I want to share with you. I care so deeply for you Mark; for the rest of my life I just want to ease your pain and suffering, to bring light and joy and love into your life.

I fall back peacefully into sleep with a smile as you potter in the kitchen, knowing you will kiss me before you leave or be at the table on your computer when I wake later. You always do the dishes in these early hours, its your meditation you said. I stir in the half darkness as you approach the bed, sit next to me, and gently kiss my face. My arms reach for you from under the covers. I love you so much. How sweet to touch your face so tenderly. Do you really have to leave early again this morning? A few words are said - you are off to your studio. What's the time Mark? 4.30am. It's dark outside and the first bird sings a solitary song. Already I miss you as you leave quietly into your morning. I imagine you skipping lightly along the dark streets, in love with the day, in love with the moment, in love with me.

Other days I wake to find you at work on the computer. You've been up for hours, working on your art assignments, your research, your obsessions. I wander out, bleary eyed but grateful to see you still here. You kiss me awake.
I make coffee, carefully and with love. Just before it is ready you close your computer and move the two chairs around at the table so they are close and facing each other. We haven't tired of gazing deeply into each others' eyes, spellbound, we transcend this dimension. This love of ours envelopes our souls, binds us as one, it protects us within a warm cocoon. We know it is a rare, mystical and timeless union.
"I love you Sally Jane, SO much."
"I love you Mark Abbott."
Our eyes are ablaze with the magnitude and power of this love, we shake our heads in ecstatic disbelief at what we are feeling and sharing.

23 December 2010

Photos of you

This yoga blog suddenly got real personal.
Yoga and meditation practices will return in time but right now I am submerged in the grieving process and retreating into the dark sweet solitude of my house.
Aloneness with the memories is crucial.
I write this without editing, it is raw and unpolished...

Wednesday 22 December 2010 - PHOTOS

It has been just over 3 days since that Saturday evening when I was told of your death.

You died 9 days ago.

I've spent the last 2 days combing through your Apple Mac Pro files, collecting all of your images and printing them out. You will adorn my walls soon Mark. I'm so grateful to you for taking these photos; you've captured and saved so many Mark moments and left me an invaluable gift to help me preserve and treasure your memory. Time will too quickly dilute those memories, I cannot stop that, but your photos will surround me and support me. You and I swam and frolicked in each other's love for a brief moment in time, now my house will become a temple, where I'll continue to swim in the sea of our memories.

On the table next to my bed is an image of you. You're looking down your nose a little with an air of superiority. I love this photo. It has strength. It excites me. At night I lay in bed, dim the light, and enter your soul through this photo. Sweet sweet honey love fills my heart and floods into my body. You have physically gone but your presence is tangible, you are here inside of me. I smile, and feel you laying next to me.
"I love you Mark Abbott". How many times a day did I say this to you Mark?
No container could hold the enormity of that love. We were overwhelmed by it's power and magnitude.
We were bursting.
You'd never felt such powerful emotion before, neither had I.
Every night now I hold your photo and say those words out loud, three times like a mantra.
"I love you Mark Abbott."
Wherever you are, I know you can hear me and know that love will never fade.

When I open my eyes in the morning, I look over and greet you. Yes you're still here.
I make coffee in my little kitchen. You loved that espresso coffee in the mornings, even though you'd rise before the birds, sometimes at 4pm and would have had at least one, maybe two ghastly instant coffees before mine. Waiting today for the slow drip of the coffee to come, I gaze at your photo on the shelf in my kitchen. You gaze right back at me from this one and we are together again somewhere deep beyond the space in my kitchen.

"I love you Mark Abbott". The words travel through time to wherever you are.

The love I feel for you gives me strength. But as I say it over and over, that changes and the unbearable sense of loss returns. Tears well up and flood my eyes again.

Yesterday I bought 6 photo frames, chose my favourite photos of you, put them lovingly in the frames and placed them carefully around the house; you smile cheekily at me in the bathroom; you talk to me in the kitchen; you are contemplating and thinking in front of the window where I am now sitting, a place you spent many hours at each day; on the mantle above the open fireplace your sweet sadness fills the frame.

In the hallway I've placed my favourite image, one of only two photos that I took of you; your eyes reveal the longing and the desperation of a man overwhelmed by his love and you are smiling your gentle smile. You were at my table, and we were so in love in each other's presence. The look on your face could only have been captured in my presence, in the fullness of that feeling we shared. I've placed a candle on either side of this photo.

The photo by my bed accompanies me into each dreamy night. Your penetrating gaze pierces through time into my heart. As I lay there and drift I dim my conscious mind and become receptive to your presence Mark Abbott. You move into my body and it tingles and shimmers as your soul caresses me from behind. Your arms are around me and I feel protected by your eternal love. I fall asleep under your gaze and in your embrace, and wake to find you still by my side.
Good morning Mark Abbott.
Across the room I see your shoes. Somehow they give me comfort and make me smile. You are still here in spirit. Your shoes, your clothes will remain where you left them for as long as I need to be seeing and feeling your presence. Perhaps months, perhaps years, perhaps the rest of my life.

Today I'll buy more photo frames and begin transforming the walls of my house into a gallery of your images. The essence of our love will be held tenderly in my heart and nourished daily by your photos until we meet up again Mark...

My final retreat

Over these past few days I've been dealing with the great loss of my love by writing about what has happened, about the retreat experience, about the love of my life, and about our time together.
He left his laptop on at my place so I've been sitting at the table, just as he used to do for hours on end, remembering and writing.
I don't want to lose the details or the memories.

And I don't want his essence to fade away.

As I packed the final items into my bag, he came in and sat on my bed.
"Would you leave me if I didn't do the retreat?"
Of course I wouldn't leave him but that wasn't my answer. I thought about what to say in that moment. He'd seemed genuinely committed to doing the retreat, knowing it would be traumatic, and I felt encouraged by his decision. We were about to leave.
"I'd be disappointed if you changed your mind now."

We left home just before 5pm on Wednesday evening. The drive is one and a half hours south of Adelaide.
Immersed in our private thoughts about what we were about to embark on the mood in the car was sombre. As I remembered things I thought would inform or help him to settle in more quickly, I mentioned them.
"They will ask you to give up your phone, keys and wallet tonight for the duration of the course" I said.
He blew up instantly and launched into an angry diatribe about Nazi concentration camps. It had set fire to the uneasy ember smouldering under the surface.
"Stop the car!"
I pulled over. He stormed off down the road, lighting a cigarette on the way.
When he returned 10 minutes later, I tried to soothe his worries but I could tell he'd become quite agitated.
His capacity to cope disintegrated slowly from there.

We reached the site and registered, but he insisted on staying by the car, chain smoking. I wish I could have read these danger signs more accurately. Half an hour later I watched as the male manager gave the 15 or so men a tour of the men’s area, showing them the dormitories, toilets, meditation hall and the boundaries of their section. Mark wasn't with them. I searched and found him lost and wandering, so I pointed him to the tour. He'd missed most of it. 15 minutes later we were sitting together overlooking the sea waiting for the gong to signal the first mediation session. He was in the women's section illegally but I felt it best not to leave him yet. On these retreats, after the introductory meditation session from 8-9pm, noble silence is enforced. No speaking, no eye contact. Also enforced is the absolute separation of men and women for the duration of the 10 day retreat. But it was only 7.45pm, the sun was setting and a soft breeze momentarily caressed our separation anxieties.
He looked longingly and lovingly into my eyes and said "You look 17 years old".
Looking into his eyes, he too looked 17 years old. The love we'd experienced so intensely for 3 months had given us radiant countenances, we loved each other deeply, unconditionally, passionately, and our hearts were wide open, vulnerable and alive to each other.
Love filled us with the innocence of youth.
Finding my place in the hall in the front row of female meditators, I sat and enveloped my body in my blanket. Mark had entered from the side men’s door and found his designated place in the back row of the men’s section.
Goenka's introductory talk and chanting must have unhinged him. About 15 minutes into the silent meditation, I heard someone leave by the women's door. He'd walked out. The manager followed.
I found out later that he'd been allowed to retire to bed, but what ensued that night will be etched into my memory forever.
I was woken from a deep sleep by someone desperately calling my name. He'd come into the women's dormitory, I don’t know what time, and was searching for me in the dark. I sprang out of bed. He was panicky.
"I've got to get out of here, give me your keys"
I couldn't. I'd handed them up, and they were locked away.
He was swearing, out of control, sleep deprived and ranting something about the men turning on the light.
It didn't take long for the female manager to arrive and remove him from the women's dormitory.
I wish I'd known that this was the last moment I'd have with my one and only true love in this lifetime.
Oh how I'd give anything to have that night back again, to change the course of destiny that has separated us now.
5 days later he would be dead.

Sleep was impossible, I worried about Mark and my car all night. Did he get home safely in that state?
He'd now have my car for 10 days, and I know he'd be drinking, I had a very bad feeling about it.
The female manager was sympathetic the next morning and arranged for me to see the teacher. I wanted to get a lift back to the city to get my car then return to the retreat.
The meeting with the teacher was arranged, I entered, sat politely on the cushion at his feet, and spoke of my concerns. He said a lift back to the city was not available today, no-one was driving back. After a few more words I decided to stay at the retreat, let go of all worries about Mark and my car, and deal with any consequences in 10 days time. It was then the teacher notified me that Mark had been calling the retreat emergency phone number all night wanting to speak to me. Despair and frustration had set in, he'd become abusive over the phone.
The teacher asked me again if I wanted to stay or leave. I had decided to stay. I thought Mark would settle down and anyway we'd be reunited after the retreat. Oh how beautiful and emotional that reunion would be.
On the teacher's request I rang Mark from the retreat phone in the dining hall. The teacher stayed nearby, perhaps wanting to judge the tone of the conversation. The call had to be short. My love, my love, my love, my darling Mark desperately wanted to pick me up. He said I could do a retreat anytime but he needed me now. I tried to stay calm and reassure him that 10 days would go quickly. The call had to be cut short. I said I had to go.
"I love you." he said
"I love you too."
They would be the last words spoken between us in this lifetime.

From that point on I tried to focus on the meditation. It wasn't easy. My passionate love and concern for Mark flooded every mind moment.

Here I must reveal that I'd brought two contraband items to the retreat that I'd kept in my bag and not handed up to the management: my mobile phone and a small pad and pencil.
The Phone
From experience I knew how disruptive to the fragile ecological mind state a phone can be on retreat. A conversation or message while immersed in a meditative mind state immediately rips you out of the one pointed focus required for effective mental training. My strategy was to leave the phone turned off but to check for any messages late at night. The only person who knew this was my daughter Ebony who would only contact me in an emergency. As planned, I checked for messages each night. What wasn't planned was sending Mark a daily text message - this act of subversion distracted me from meditation; I spent entire 2 hour sessions planning what I'd say in the next message or trying to remember what I'd said the day before. I knew it was inhibiting my ability to stay with the technical instructions and progressively deepen into meditation. But I sensed it was critical - he needed my lifeline.
The Pad and Pencil
Again a pad and pencil is a distraction on retreat. To formulate words for the purpose of writing about experiences, one must step outside of that experience, assume the role of the observer and recorder. I tried to keep the daily notes brief, just a sentence or two scribbled once a day, so they really don't give much of an insight into the processes of my mind over those ten days.
But they did leave me with a valuable record of when particular experiences happened over the course of those 10 long days.
For the purpose of covering the next 9 days on retreat, all I can do is record the daily text messages I sent to Mark and the meditation notes from my pad.

DAY 1 (Thursday 9 Dec)
NOTES - Had to overcome toxic shock from last night, almost no focus.

DAY 2 (Friday 10 Dec)
NOTES - Occasional glimpses of sustaining focus on breath. Wandering mind.
MESSAGE 1 - Thinking of you, all is well, take care of your self, my home and my car while I'm away. Can't talk, but will check msg when safe. Love you. xS
MESSAGE 2 - PS...no need to reply if u got no credit : ) just know that i love you. xS

DAY 3 (Saturday 11 Dec)
NOTES - Better - more sustained focus. thinking a lot about Mark.
MESSAGE - Day 3 - Holding you tenderly in my heart, and still loving you. xS

DAY 4 (Sunday 12 Dec)
NOTES - More focus, delighted when I find the intimacy with the breath. Lay down at night and feel the breath.
MESSAGE - Day 4 - Hearts on Fire is playing over and over in my head, it must be our song : ) love to you mark abbott...xS

DAY 5 (Monday 13 Dec)
NOTES - 5.30am morning session nearly passed out.*
Battling resistance to the hard work of putting awareness in body. Need willpower, motivation, its there but must strengthen it. Must resolve to work, to cut through the lazy mind, discipline it. Day 5 evening session had a physical anxiety attack, fast breath, heart palpitation, terrified of passing out.
* This was a terrifying experience. first came uncontrollable yawning, then I was overcome by a wave of nausea, wanting to run to the toilet and vomit out of both ends as if I had to expel a writhing mass of expanding demons from my body. Then came the deathly ice-cold sweat, my body went completely limp and a pressure wave of terror filled me up, exploded in my head then overflowed. I exhaled involuntarily, it could have been my last breath in this life. Falling forward, I narrowly avoided passing out.
I wonder now if this was the moment that Mark passed from life to death. Perhaps he tried to take me with him.
MESSAGE - Day 5 - and the meditation is now intense hard work. At night you and i lay together in our Dreaming. xS

DAY 6 (Tuesday 14 Dec)
NOTES - Slept in, no morning meditation. A better day, more stable. One girl passed out in the late morning session, I felt less scared about this happening to me after that. Focus still hazy, awareness moving easily through body but not receiving sensation s so its not precise and engaged enough. Need precision for this mind surgery.
Experienced all over body sparkles this morning.
Trying to penetrate to the reality of sensations is like trying to comb through blutak.
Main challenge is to get awareness out of the visualisation of sensations and into the reality of them.
MESSAGE - Day 6 - focus and determination better 2day, deeper meditation. Hoping this separation will strengthen, not weaken our bond. Wish i knew how u r going. Love U, xS

DAY 7 (Wednesday 15 Dec)
NOTES - Breakthrough in the 4.30am session, not an 'ah ha' insight but a genuine shift from ignorance and fog to a perfect clarity. Mind was really in and moving through each part of my body. Deep subtle shift, realignment, no longer obsessed with Mark.
Afternoon session mind suddenly quiet.
I am first to the dining hall and last to finish eating. Tipping out half my cup of tea, no longer need it. All activities, walking, showering, dressing, moving, are easy, smooth, continuous.
The meditation process is now exciting. I'm curious, receptive, not resistant. The technique is not always coming, still lots of blind, blank areas in my body that need penetrating.
MESSAGE - Day 7 - deep subtle shifts today, but a little flame is still burning for you Mark. xxxS

DAY 8 (Thursday 16 Dec)
NOTES - Morning unfocussed, afternoon much better, worked hard at it.
Experienced an angelic event, the space above my head opened up to reveal another dimension and I was given enormous white feathery but solid wings and made an angel in some sort of etheric ceremony. Beatitude. I am now officially an angel.
MESSAGE - feels like time is running out fast now. Are u using our time apart wisely? 3 sleeps to go...love u...see u soon. xS

DAY 9 (Friday 17 Dec)
NOTES - Ring of Fire. Experienced the downward movement of a ring of consciousness over my body, purifying my body as it travelled down. Like metal purification where a heated ring passes over impure metal to magnetise out every impure molecule.
Overall dedicated work at the technique for a change, committed this time. No resistance. No laziness, but often mind got tired of working and got stubborn then turned off. This was different to my 'ego' or 'self' resisting the process. The will just needed more juice to motivate the mind into action. The WILL was the voice telling the MIND what to do, where to focus and where to go.
Need 20 days to work more on this.
MESSAGE - disciplined mind training needed to stay with inner work 2day, love the challenge. Will be hard 2 return to life on the surface. Are you still with me? Can u pik me up 9-9.30am sunday? Will ph you late 2moro 2 confirn. xxxS

DAY 10 (Saturday 18 Dec)
NOTES - None written today
MESSAGE - None sent today.
At 4.30am on the final day I checked my mobile phone for any messages. I hadn't received any while I'd been away but this morning there was one:
Hi Sally, can u pls ring Mount Barker police re message 1079 or attend the Victor Harbour police station asap. Sergeant Aussie, Mt Barker.

I went into an immediate spinout. My mind exploded. I imagined Mark had been in an accident. My car was either damaged or completely written off. Was Mark OK? Funny how the very worst scenario never even entered my mind.
I couldn't ring the Mt Barker police at 4.30am, and besides, there was no phone number with the sergeant's message. I went to the 4.30am meditation session and somehow managed to sit for 2 hours with my head burning in panic.
What to do? How to proceed? I didn't want management to know I'd received a message on my phone. I wasn't supposed to have a phone. I wasn't thinking straight.

After breakfast the teacher summoned me to the hall. Perhaps he was going to break the news to me first. I went nervously and sat before him. He said Mark had been calling the retreat phone number for three days after he left, he was drunk and abusive. The teacher didn't want him to pick me up tomorrow. He didn't want Mark anywhere near the retreat. He had arranged for one of the helpers to take me home tomorrow and asked me to call Mark from the retreat phone to let him know this.
He obviously had no idea about any car accidents or tragedy so I didn't mention the police message.
Excited at the prospect of finally speaking with my love, I rang Mark, but there was no answer.
A few minutes later, I messaged Ebony to send me the police phone number. Hiding in one of the toilets I rang the police. The sergeant who had to speak to me wouldn't be there until 3pm. I had to wait all day not knowing what had happened, and even then when I finally spoke to him, he would give me no information.
"I'll send out an officer from the Victor Harbour station within the next half hour to speak with you."

I knew then that it was serious, but still couldn't face the ultimate scenario.
The police were due to arrive at the retreat very soon so I notified the teacher of what had been happening.
I met the police in the carpark.
The news that Mark had passed away came as a white cold shock.
James had found his body in his bed on Friday but he'd been dead for possibly four days. James had been the last person to see him in the early hours of Monday morning when he'd rescued him blind drunk from somewhere. James had put him to bed and left him to recover. He never did.

I immediately rang my friend to pick me up, then notified the teacher of the outcome.
In those first moments I took it well, but half an hour later I was sobbing uncontrollably.
The teacher summoned me to the meditation hall and for the last time I sat politely at his feet, emotion and tears rising in waves. He asked to meditate together and spoke of observing all the sensations. To be honest I wanted to throttle him for such insensitivity but remained respectfully silent amidst the millions of confused thoughts and feelings howling through me. I'd just been informed that the love of my life had been found dead and he wants me to observe sensations? I was in shock - it was not the time to be observing sensations.
The teacher honestly thought it was the most appropriate action to take for a Vipassana meditator. But I'm not one of them. I may do retreats but it's not my path or my practice.
After 10 minutes he released me from the hall and I packed up my belongings and waited in the carpark, a deep, deep sadness engulfing me.
All the 'what ifs' started flooding in...what if Mark hadn't come?...what if I'd left the retreat and gone home to him when he needed me? what if I'd taken heed of the warning signs earlier, changed my mind and stayed home with my love instead of insisting on going to the retreat?
He'd still be alive now and we'd be continuing to explore the profound love that we'd stumbled across with each other.

I will never do a Vipassana retreat again. That I know for sure.
And the tragedy of this retreat will stay with me forever.

In the following days I couldn't sleep, or eat. Mark was still around me, I felt him.
I didn't go back to work as planned and spent the immediate days stumbling about in a sad sad dreamstate, crying, and alternating between the feeling of profound loss and the feeling of profound love.
The brief meeting of our two souls will remain as a real life legend of mythical proportions.

21 December 2010

He's gone

James found him dead in his bed last Friday.
He’d been dead for at least 4 days.
I’d been away on retreat for less than a week, but the separation was too much for him.
He slipped deeper and deeper with each passing day, unable to contact his love and his lifeline.
My soul mate, the love of my life, Wandering Angus has gone.

Our union was extraordinary.
We loved each other intensely, passionately, unconditionally, eternally.
Separation was unbearable, we spent every night together, embraced in each other’s love.
But now the separation is final, severed.
He’s not coming back.
The tragedy of losing him is overwhelming.
Grief stricken, I have not eaten and hardly slept for three days.
His clothes, his shoes, his bags are strewn over my floor, he is everywhere around me but I’ll never see him or hold him or laugh with him again.
Why did this cruel accident happen?
We were reunited in this lifetime to experience a profound love beyond time, but for such a brief moment…WHY? WHY?

He will live on in my every breath, and every thought.
And I will hold the memory of our time together tightly inside my broken heart.

I love you forever Wandering Angus. And I vow to find you again in the next lifetime.

“It’s amazing Molly, the love inside…you take it with you”
final scene, final line, from Ghost)


Wandering Angus

I went out to the hazelwood
Because a fire was in my head
I cut and peeled a hazel wand
And hooked a berry to a thread

And when white moths were on the wing
And moth-like stars were flickering out
I dropped a berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout

When I had laid it on the floor
And went to blow the fire aflame
And something rustled on the floor
And something called me by my name
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossoms in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And vanished in the brightening air

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hand

And walk through long green dappled grass
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon
And the golden apples of the sun

W.B. Yeats

2 December 2010


Next week I am off on another 10 day Vipassana retreat.
Out of curiosity I searched my old blog for the entry I wrote about one of my retreat experiences (I'd sneaked in a small notepad and pen and took down a few notes).
It was April 2005 and I was on my fourth ten day retreat
Here are the notes:

# posted by nobodhi : 10:27 PM
Sunday 1st May 2005

10 day Vipassana Retreat

Day 1
I had such noble intentions of serving at this Vipassana retreat helping out behind the scenes with things like peeling vegetables, stirring enormous pots of oatmeal, cleaning toilets and filling up water containers, but when we all arrived on the first evening and I checked into the kitchen I was made ‘Female Manager’. This is a primary role, caretaker of all the female meditators. You have to observe them, be available to them 24 hours around the clock to deal with any problems, taking them to the ‘Assistant Teacher’ when necessary, care for their immediate needs and basically keep them in line and on track, ensuring they’re all present and accounted for at the three group sittings each day.

The first 24 hours were pretty hectic as they settled in to their strange new environment and routines. I pretended to know what I was doing so they felt looked after even though I had no idea of protocols.
The Assistant Teacher on this retreat (Mr Goenka is the Teacher) was a lovely woman called Trish. After a short conversation with her on the first morning, she summoned me to a private interview and we determined that I actually shouldn’t be serving as I hadn’t kept up a regular Vipassana practice since the last retreat (hardly ever actually, but I didn’t quite say that).

I hadn’t known that servers are supposed to be fully committed Vipassana meditators, and although I have great respect for this technique and recognise the benefits, I haven’t been able to incorporate the practice into my life despite having done 3 of these retreats over the last few years.
So half way through Day 1 the Assistant Teacher suggested I sit the course instead of serving. I was more than ecstatic to sit and meditate in total silence for 10 days instead of doing 10 days of unpaid work. Oh Bliss.

So from 2pm on Day 1 I once again set out on the long and difficult road to Samadhi.

This is the daily schedule:
4:00 a.m.-------------Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 a.m.-------Meditate in the hall
6:30-8:00 a.m.-------Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 a.m.-------GROUP MEDITATION IN THE HALL
9:00-11:00 a.m.-----Meditate in the hall
11:00-12:00 noon---Lunch break
12noon-1:00 p.m.----Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 p.m.--------Meditate in the hall or your own room
2:30-3:30 p.m.--------GROUP MEDITATION IN THE HALL
3:30-5:00 p.m.--------Meditate in the hall or your own room
5:00-6:00 p.m.--------Tea break
6:00-7:00 p.m.--------GROUP MEDITATION IN THE HALL
7:00-8:15 p.m.--------Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 p.m.--------GROUP MEDITATION IN THE HALL
9:00-9:30 p.m.--------Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m.--------------Retire to your own room--Lights out

Day 2
Glimpses of silence.
The first three and a half days of the 10 day retreat are devoted to Anapana meditation which is simply observing the sensations of the breath within a very small area beneath the nostrils. It initiates the journey towards a profound internal silence, a journey which is fascinating. It starts out as a tug of war, the mind wanting to go exploring in all directions as it usually does, chasing fantasies, plans, worries… The slow, deliberate process of strengthening the remembering faculty that reels the wandering mind back in, back to the breath, back to the task at hand, back to silence. Remembering to catch the elusive mind – that’s the trick. It’s easy and fun to get lost in your stories and fantasies, following them along wherever they take you. Then bingo!. You remember that you’re supposed to be focussing on the breath and what is happening right here and now as you’re sitting on the cushion. You drag the mind back to this task – it doesn’t want to come. It wants to play. You drag it back again. It runs off and you elope with it, following blindly along. You’ve forgotten again. After a long while bingo! You remember what you have to do…bring the mind back to the breath and the present. And so it continues on and on. But gradually, slowly, painstakingly, it gets easier. This is mind training. This is a real workout, but the reward for now, in the early stages, is a progressively silent and peaceful mind that is soft and malleable, a mind that is finally under some semblance of control and ready to obey further instructions with precision.

I came to the conclusion that a Vipassana retreat very closely resembles having brain surgery with no anaesthetic.

The late afternoon meditation sessions were a nightmare. Having less than 5 hours sleep for 2 nights in a row meant I was susceptible to the onset of sleep deprivation. I was bordering on insanity (which is normal in the first few days of retreat anyway). My usual straight sitting posture kept spilling backwards and catching myself falling backwards would electrocute me momentarily back into consciousness. Each time I closed my eyes a delirium took over; strange images flashing and filling my mind, coming and going at great speed. There were no coherent thoughts, just a wild uncontrollable continuum of gaudy, disconnected, unfamiliar scenes, like a larger than life reel of film gone out of control.

So I quietly walked out of the meditation hall before the end of the 3.30-5pm session, put myself to bed and fell asleep instantly, missing the tea break. I got woken up by the new female manager because they couldn’t start the compulsory 6pm group meditation session until I was in my spot in the hall. Not a good start.

In the 8.30pm meditation session following Goenka’s evening discourse things hadn’t improved despite my late afternoon nap. I spent the hour trying desperately to keep my eyes open to avoid losing consciousness altogether.

Day 3
I gave myself permission to be lazy and lay in bed between all meditation sessions. No yoga, no exercise, not even a walk around the retreat centre. I’d settled completely into extreme meditation mode. Apart from the 11 hours a day of sitting in the meditation hall, I was either in the dining room eating breakfast or lunch (one of the precepts is that you take no food after 12 o’clock midday until breakfast the next morning), or I was in bed. Showering only every second day meant I could spend more time in bed.

An interesting observation I made while laying in bed after lunch was how laboured and urgent my breath was after eating a meal. I laid there watching it, my diaphragm following neural instructions to work double time to supply my body with the extra oxygen it needed to digest the food. I’d never noticed that before so it was a small, experiential insight into the physiology of my digestion.

Day 4
By Day 4 it was getting physically easier to sit for these long hours. The aches and pains were subsiding. This happens naturally as the mind begins to sink into the deeper dimensions of meditation. An agitated mind is reflected in an agitated body so as the mind calms, the body begins to experience a more natural ease.

Mr Goenkas’s discourses are punctuated with lots of simple stories that illustrate important points. This is how Gautama the Buddha taught, explaining difficult concepts by telling simple human stories that are easy to relate to. In one of the discourses he emphasised how you MUST walk the path yourself if you wish to reach the final goal of liberation/enlightenment. You don’t get far just reading about it, intellectualising, forming opinions. Many teachers have come along throughout the ages like Buddha and Jesus and have shown the way, but few people are prepared to actually put in the effort and commitment, place it above all else and actually walk the path. It is one step after the other. That is all it is, and the ones who walk this path will eventually reach the final goal.

Day 5
Didn’t take any notes. Under normal retreat circumstances, students are not allowed to bring any reading or writing material, and this is for good reason. It really does distract you from the meditation and prevents you from immersing your mind fully in the process.
But I came thinking I’d be in a serving capacity and servers are allowed reading and writing material because they are not partaking in the course. Servers are only required to attend the group sittings (unless they want to sit in their spare time) so they barely get the chance to enter deeper states of consciousness. But since I was now sitting the course, pen and paper were technically illegal. I couldn’t resist recording my experiences on paper, but it did interfere with the process during the first half of the retreat and I knew it.

Day 6
The 3 hours of sitting after breakfast were always by best. I could feel my mind was sharper, fresher, more willing, and my effort and enthusiasm were at their peak. During the morning meditation I found myself at one point in an ecstatic state of bliss, all the cells of my body buzzing at a high frequency. It was rapturous, seductive. I sat in this state for maybe 10-15 minutes, loving it. One tiny voice was saying “maintain this rapture, let it overwhelm you, let it be absorbed and imprinted into every cell so that they’ll never be the same again, so they’ll always remember”. Another tiny voice was saying “this ecstatic state is very alluring, but there is other work to be done, let it go and move on”.
I stayed with it, knowing it would fade in its own time. My edges had completely dissolved into the space around me and everything was buzzing. My mind was elevated way above and beyond my usual consciousness as if it was being drawn upwards towards light. I reflected on how easy it is to fall prey to the allure of ecstasy, to stray from working with the Vipassana method of observing sensations in order from head to toe. It was only a sweet by-product of meditation and not an end to itself.
It could easily be mistaken for Samadhi by those unfamiliar with the Buddhist jnanas (or jhanas in some texts) These are the states of absorption one passes through as one progresses in meditative practices. This particular state I think Goenka called Bunga Jnana. He describes it as a landmark on the path.
Samadhi in the Buddhist Vipassana tradition has a different connotation to the Samadhi of the yoga tradition. Samadhi in the yoga tradition is union with God where all notion of self disappears and this is the highest bliss one can attain.

Mr Goenka speaks constantly of the three ingredients for liberation: Sila, Samadhi and Panna:
“The path of Dhamma is called the Noble Eightfold Path, noble in the sense that anyone who walks on it is bound to become a noble-hearted, saintly person. The path is divided into three sections: sila, samadhi, and panna. Sila is morality--abstaining from unwholesome deeds of body and speech. Samadhi is the wholesome action of developing mastery over one's mind. Practising both is helpful, but neither sila nor samadhi can eradicate all the defilernents accumulated in the mind. For this purpose the third section of the path must be practised: panna, the development of wisdom, of insight, which totally purifies the mind.”

So the term Samadhi can be a bit confusing to yogis at first.

I think it was about Day 6 when I started to work out how to be on retreat: how much to eat, how much to sleep, when to shower etc. You’d think that I would have worked this out by now, being my 4th retreat.
One example: for the first few days I was having for breakfast a bowl of muesli with milk, plus stewed prunes and apricots, plus two pieces of toast and jam, plus weak tea. On Day 6 I had a cup of weak tea plus one piece of toast with homemade peanut paste, and every mouthful was superb.

Day 7
Things that are OK to do on retreat:
- lay in bed whenever you’re not meditating
- not have a shower so you can get extra time in bed
- not watch the magnificent sunsets over the ocean so you can get extra time in bed
- sleep in once and miss the 4.30-6.30am session
- miss your dog and your boyfriend
- plan the rest of your life

Things that are not OK to do on retreat
- write notes for your blog
- smile

Day 8
Instead of going to the 4.30am session I slept. But tiredness was not a valid excuse. At breakfast I felt great regret for sleeping in. This was not guilt, but real regret because I really missed those 2 precious hours. There’s something quite sacred about sitting in the stillness of meditation before the sun rises (which would be the same for any kind of spiritual practice I guess).
The Assistant Teacher sent me a message that she wanted to see me for an interview at lunchtime. I had so many convincing excuses prepared for missing the early morning meditation, but she didn’t even mention it. She was just concerned that I might be practicing “other” forms of meditation (a severe no-no here) and was just checking that I was staying with the Vipassana technique.

On Day 8 I finally got bold enough during one of the sessions to try the opposite half Padmasana position, the stiff knee one. I crossed my stiff right knee on top for the first time on this retreat and was able to sit for about 20 minutes before the unpleasant sensations started to arise (much longer than expected). Hip, knee, ankle, toes, the shooting nerves, the heat, the daggers…it all started. But I was able to sit with the intensifying pain without reacting, just watching them arise, dissolve, change and reappear in a different guise. I kept thinking that I must have a big, fat sankhara buried in this knee and if I sit with it, not reacting, just observing, perfectly equanimous, the sankhara might just bubble up to the surface and be released and my knee would be cured – a miracle. Who needs TV when you can get this sort of entertainment for free.
At the end of the session I unfolded by leg and got up and couldn’t walk.

Day 9
I woke up long before the 4am gong, very wide awake, alert and ready. My body light and clear, my mind peaceful but open and curious, willing to continue exploring the potential of Vipassana meditation for another day. Despite this willingness, my mind was still running astray quite often. Thoughts arising and running along their heavily laid tracks like freight trains. Controlling my planning mind seemed an insurmountable task. It never seems to stop and my analysing mind is always trying to make sense of every experience, placing them all in context so they add up tidily in the equation of life. I was surprised and a bit disappointed that becoming fully present in the Now was proving to be so difficult. It should be simple. It used to come easily. This is the price I pay for trading off a daily meditation practice for a full and busy life.
I vowed then and there to give it equal priority to my Ashtanga practice when I get home.

Part of the brief instructions for Day 8 onwards was not to have any interval between meditation sessions – meaning that every moment one should remain aware, attentive and equanimous. When eating, bathing, walking etc we were instructed to remain vigilantly aware of our breath, our movement and the arising sensations throughout the body. This is not just awareness of action and being fully present in what you are doing, but additionally watching the body’s subtle responses to all stimuli.
Eating breakfast on Day 9 I watched my hand pick up the toast and move it towards my mouth, the action of my teeth biting in and the hand pulling the toast away from my teeth, the muscular action of the tongue like a washing machine agitator, the unctuous saliva coming to the party, the changing texture of the toast from grainy to liquid, the hidden tension in a muscle or involuntary stretch of an ankle, the smooth satisfying flow of feeling throughout my body as it responded to the pleasure.

Picking up my cup of tea…observing how my fingers hooked around the handle of the mug…my hand readying itself for the weight of the full cup. The cup took off from the runway and approached my mouth, tea slid in. It got checked in by the tongue, the body was waiting expectantly. Tea slid down the throat and I felt the warmth in my stomach. The body was satisfied, smiling, relaxed.

I remember looking around at the other women, eating, moving unconsciously and thinking of other things. Did they miss the instruction about mindfulness? Had they forgotten? It is so rewarding, so rich and fulfilling to be immersed in the moment. I wanted to remind them of this so they wouldn’t miss out. Continuous mindfulness is a practice that is always available, but when you’ve been on retreat for 9 days, the mind and body are so thickly enmeshed that the quality of this experience is awesome and penetrating. It’s also beautiful to watch someone moving with complete mindfulness. Being fully in the moment is an act of love. On my first retreat I was mesmerised watching a particular girl walking. Every part of her body was charged with awareness, and it really showed. She walked particularly slowly and each step touched the earth like a cloud.

As I practiced this level of mindfulness I realised how much I’d strayed from my Buddhist training. The qualities I developed from 5 years of serious Buddhist study and practice such as mindfulness, detachment, equanimity etc have been absorbed deep into my psyche to shape my character and my journey, but the potency of their initial application has waned. Those years of Buddhist practice served to initiate the deconstruction of my Ego Self.
Realising intellectually that there is no Self was the prerequisite for my awakening experience and the ACTUAL experience of no Self. To awaken fully can be devastating because all sense of identity is blown apart. You don’t exist as you anymore. You are actually God. Without the preparation of exploring this concept, entertaining the possibility in our limited capacity to do so, the experience of awakening would be mind shattering. When the bolt of enlightening strikes, that limited capacity to understand such a mind blowing possibility becomes limitless.

Sitting from 8am-11am. I was again drawn easily into what Mr Goenka described as the landmark Bunga Jnana. This is the semi ecstatic state of dissolution where the solidity of the body feels no longer solid. What he calls the “kalepas” (atoms?) spin faster and at a higher frequency and start to separate. I experienced myself first as if buzzing, then it quickly refined to a higher, lighter state, and I could feel every atom arising and passing away at light speed. What must this do to one’s physical constitution I mused…I think I look the same, except perhaps for my eyes. They were like explosive embers, glowing with the inner fire of divine immanence.
When one experiences this jnana, the instructions are to sweep a penetrating awareness through the entire body from left to right, then from right to left, then from front to back, then from back to front. When this can be done with no areas of gross sensations, no pain or dull, blind areas, then the final instructions are to move the awareness through the spinal cord from top to bottom, bottom to top. I probably need a few more years of intensive sitting to ever reach this level of inner work.

Not long after this sitting, I dwelled upon the grace of my awakening experience 2 years ago when The Source of all Life/God/The Divine descended upon me and then arose from within me. It was overwhelmingly huge and magnificent, the mind/body hardly able to bear the brightness and massive loving force of this energy. It’s like you’re filled out so full with Love in all directions that you will burst. Your little mind/body container has to expand, like a belly instantaneously ripening and exploding to give birth. You expand to your ultimate to allow as much of this Love to fill you, then your limits dissolve and you merge as one with The Source. Like the wave powered by the surging energy of the ocean that has risen up in a crescendo to find that the entire ocean has risen up to engulf it.
Then the intensity fades away, the connection to the Source of life weakens and the veil of unconsciousness descends, though from now on it is a transparent veil. To be consciously connected and in communication with the Source is my goal and it will take daily reminding and consistent effort to remain in touch with this noblest of intentions.

After 9 days of meditation, this is where I was at, not far really, but it was a powerful reminder that all is not lost – that I have a lot of work to do on myself if I am to reach a state where I can live constantly in awareness of my divine inheritance and to be one of the light sources through which Love can flow.

Day 10
Awoke again long before the 4am gong, eager to get up and meditate. Being the final retreat day, after 9.30am noble silence is broken, so for the rest of the day meditation is punctuated by disturbing inner chatter as interactions and conversations agitate back and forth and get played over and over in the mind.
My 2 hour sitting session before sunrise was as spectacular s the sunrise itself. Once I sat down in the hall, folded in my legs, placed my hands and elevated my spine, I was off in the starting lane of the express highway to Samadhi. Within about 10 minutes every dimension of my mind/body had moved into one unified body of higher consciousness. I could feel the elevation of my mental state. It felt like the mind had physically risen above the body, slowly drawing up with it all the layers of my being like a vacuum. Everything was perfectly aligned. My mental state was pure and I felt like a saint, a great yogi, an angel, Christ-like. There was great love and tears of joy. I was being drawn upwards into an expanded, limitless, highly refined and evolved state. I got halfway. This was good. This was progress. I reminded myself that I am He, not me so there is no meeting to be had between two separate entities. We are one and the same.
For a while I sat with the pure experience of divine saturation then slowly it faded, I don’t know why. I think it takes time to acclimatise to such experiences. I am resolved now to visit this space more often, carry it with me in daily life, and notice when it’s being overridden by my previous patterns of thinking that are less noble, less loving..

The Assistant Teacher entered the meditation hall at 5.45am and set going the tape of Goenka chanting for the last 30 minutes of this shorter session. It was too loud. My state was immediately altered by this. I went back to the Vipassana technique of feeling sensations systematically through my body, part by part from head to toe, but the chanting was distracting. I tried Anapana (mindfully watching the breath), but it just wasn’t working.

Breakfast was divine. I ate slowly and finished last. I marvelled at the intersected pattern of a halved banana – it is flower like, quite a beautiful work of art really.

At 9.30am, after our morning meditation session noble silence ended. One woman walked out of the hall and burst into uncontrollable tears. I stepped out into the sun for a few minutes but wasn’t ready for chatter. I stepped back into the hall and resumed sitting. I could hear the women chattering and laughing. That’s good, I thought, they need to share their experiences with each other. When they get back to their families and their lives and try to describe their 10 days on retreat, nobody will understand what they’ve been through.

Mr Goenka says that upon leaving a 10 day Vipassana course and going back to the outside world, people will seem quite shocking. He calls Day 10 the “shock absorber”. The meditation schedule is cut back slightly and you start to interact with the other people as you are ready.

I was highly sensitised after the intense period of silence. My sense of hearing was acute and my own voice thundered through my skull even though I was whispering. Speaking with others engaged my entire body and I could feel it draining energy from my eyes.

Aaaah the final day. I know many people were truly relieved that it was over, but for me, real progress was only just starting to kick in. I needed 20 days. I felt great sorrow at having to leave, having to cut short the journey when I’d barely started. I hadn’t finished. It wasn’t complete. There was so much more I wanted and needed to do. As the day progressed and I came to accept the inevitable return home, these thoughts and feelings subsided. The deep peace found in continual silence, the accelerated progress and spiritual leap gained through this work was now over. I know it won’t be possible to get to this level until the next retreat, even with the recommended 2 x 1 hour meditation sessions at home.

Over and over Mr Goenka reinforces that “continuation of practice is the secret to success”. But will I continue to practice the Vipassana technique? Will I forego my strong commitment to yoga practice to accommodate a renewed passion for Buddhist meditation?
I view meditation as an integral part of the yoga path and in fact it’s actually the most important part for real growth and transformation. This period of intense meditation has convinced me of the urgency to practice meditation daily. It provides me with the little space where I can go back to the Source, plug in, reconnect and receive spiritual nourishment. Here I can objectively observe and remove any traces of negativity accumulated unconsciously and emerge recharged with a more purified mind, filled with divine aspiration and love.

29 November 2010

An Ashtanga coffee practice

Pure espresso-yoga heaven this morning.

I was amazed at how many poses I could do, and actually DID do.
Energy, strength and flexibility all came together for an amazing Ashtanga practice today.

Thank you and namaste to whoever discovered coffee beans and to all the hard working third world farmers, western scientists and baristas who have perfected the art of growing, roasting and brewing those magical beans.

Rarely would I practice straight after a coffee.
Coffee and breakfast come well deserved AFTER early morning yoga practice.
Evening yoga practices are devoid of artificial stimulation because I don’t drink coffee after lunchtimes.

Today was the exception to the rule for reasons too boring to go into.

Rocket fuel propelled me into practice and provided starry eyed bravado to go where I hadn’t been for a very long time.

There are still a few poses I have to modify in the sequence – mostly the bent knee to chest twists such as Parivritta Parsvakonasana, Marichy ABC.
And there are still a few poses I won’t even attempt (Marichy D and Bhuja through to Supta K), but apart from those exceptions I did the entire sequence from beginning to end with correct breath count and vinyasas between sides. I was flying on a lovely light caffeine breeze.

Don’t get me wrong - it wasn’t easy - with only 5 breaths in each pose a sense of urgency presses me forward into the depth of the pose much earlier than what is comfortable. That’s one of the reasons the Ashtanga practice is so intense, there’s no time to relax, hang out and allow the body to open in its own time. I reach my natural flexibility limit in each pose by about the second breath then forge ahead into new territory, feeling and working every resistant muscle, tendon and joint within that short space of five breaths - then suddenly…it’s time to move on, ready or not, whether it felt long enough or not. Most often I’d like to stay longer, just another breath or two to explore the intricate nuances more seductively, but no, that would defeat the purpose amd the context. Ashtanga is about moving and breathing, soaring up to the heavens on an uplifting breeze (and am extra shot of caffeine). Extended deep sea exploration is not conducive to this practice…save it for a quiet evening.

Utkatasana done properly in tandem with Ujjiya breath and an authentic Mula Bandha, dramatically and instantly changes the sound and quality of my breath - it becomes a fierce wind blowing through an enormous tunnel. Today this occurred in a few other poses as well giving testament to the energetic quality of the entire practice.

I did get a little mixed up with the pose sequence after Baddha Konasana. It’s been quite a while since I’ve reached this later part of the practice - at least a year. So at Baddha Konasana I was caught by surprise when I couldn’t remember the sequence - did Upavista Konasana or Supta Padangusthasana come next? I got it wrong but it didn’t matter, I did both poses anyway.

And there was plenty of juice left for three Urdhva Dhanurasanas, with no warm up backbends, just a short stop in Bridge pose on my way up (no quad stretches or Dhanurasana or Ustrasana – flying strictly by the book today). Straightening my arms for the first backbend was sheer will power but after that my body softened and opened allowing me to stretch open all the muscles through the front of my body and work strongly in the backbend.

And the glorious finishing poses…sweet, rich icing on the cake with the delicious Urdhva Padmasana, Matsyasana, and Urdhva Paschimottanasana, somehow they satisfy the soul deeply and thoroughly when placed at the end of this exhilarating practice, much more so than when done in isolation in another (eg. Iyengar) context.

Amalgamated Sadness Rapture

Michael Luenig has just become my new hero...
Here is an excerpt from 'The Lot'...
'Christmas approaches and an unforseen sadness quite suddenly appears. How beautiful and astonishing it is. There you are, standing alone in the kitchen, paused between one ordinary thing and the next, when all at once this strange feeling enters the body like wine, gently flooding your veins with a mysterious sweet mixture of grief and yearning.
And there, intoxicated for a moment, we are able to stand clear of the world and stare like children into the life that was ours, the life that has slipped away so sadly and joyfully, beyond memory and into the blackness of space, without us having understood very much of it at all.
I hereby name this sweet pre-Christmas melancholy ‘amalgamated sadness rapture’, suspecting it is distilled form the dim memory of all life’s losses and all the deepest, dearest need s that were denied to us and others or never met or never known. ‘Beautiful but nevermore’ is the sense of it.
Yet in no way is it depressing, this elusive melancholy, particularly when held and savoured – for then it is recognised as the healing miracle of acceptance. Fortunate indeed are those who ever find even the briefest glimpses into this rare and gentle epiphany, and if I could wish all the world something for Christmas, I would certainly wish it some amalgamated sadness rapture – otherwise known as peace.

19 November 2010

Very tired today, I had no choice but to stay in bed, no guilt. I dragged my feet to work feeling the bones moving inside my joints, they needed oiling, but yoga was not possible. I was sill lethargic in the afternoon, looking out at the world through heavy eyes, my body didn’t want to expend any energy or move. A day in bed would have been nice.

Long ago I gave up trying to analyze the massive daily fluctuations in my energy levels, mood, flexibility, stamina, strength etc. I used to keep a journal and note down on a scale of 1 – 10 where I was at that day, thinking I’d crack the code and eventually work out what I needed to do to consistently rate a 10 out of 10 for everything – was it something simple, like cut out sugar, don’t eat after 6pm at night, more protein, less protein perhaps, or was it to do with my stress level on the previous day, some vitamin or mineral missing from my raw diet, the time of the month, the lunar cycle, biorhythms (what were they again?)…but after years of morning Ashtanga practice which served as a blank canvas for observing and recording the fluctuations, my final conclusion was there was no magic formula.

For sure I can be careful of my food intake, get enough sleep and just generally take good care of my health. If I don’t, my health and energy decline. It’s not rocket science.
And I know my energy is quite consistenly vibrant compared to the people around me.

But I’m no longer curious about why my body is flexible one day and feels like clay the next, why it’s lethargic in the morning and full of stamina in the early evening, or strong and vigorous one day then the muscles won’t grip the next day.
It doesn’t matter.
Its all just what it is.
Each day is unique, and each day I am reborn into this world with a new set of conditions and challenges.
There’s no final destination to get to where my body will perform smoothly and consistently like liquid gold and where life has no bumps and surprises – the fairy tale ending is what we are living right now in this moment - millions of fairy tale endings and beginnings, floating one on top of another, all woven into our beautiful daily life.

As the day progressed, my energy picked up.
I got home from work and felt the hole left in the day by no morning yoga practice.
My heart missed it.
So I had a quick shower, washed off the work day, then found my way to the yoga mat.
I did the full Iyengar week 26 – 30 sequence.

Headstand and variations – 9 minutes in total
Shoulderstand and variations – 18 minutes in total
I’m loving what Urdhva Padmasana in Shoulderstand does to the base of my spine, structurally and energetically.
I took full advantage of every twist tonight, from the complete body twist of Parsva Sirsasana, to the little neck twist in Jatara Parvatasana, and the fully spiraling spinal motions of Ardha Matsyendrasana and Marichyasana 3.
Cellular tension was squeezed out at every opportunity.
I limited the seated poses to 5 breaths on each side so I wouldn’t burn out before the end of the sequence. It was the right approach for tonight – it kept me focused and moving. I didn’t stop to rest between poses so finished the sequence in 75 minutes. My body was malleable, my mind engaged and there was a lovely feeling of fully inhabiting every inch of my body.
Intense and satisfying.
I haven’t been doing this practice as religiously or as regularly as I’d like, but I’m becoming quite fond of the sequence of poses, (except for Garudasana at the end which I do under sufferance). After 3 or 4 more evening practices (perhaps in a couple of weeks), I think I’ll be ready to move on to the next sequence in Mr Iyengar’s massive course and a new set of challenges.
Savasana with Buffy on top.

16 November 2010

Wednesday practice

The cool, crisp mornings are glorious, we are near the end of spring and heading towards summer, the days are getting warmer.

I rise at 5.15am.
The sun rises at 6am.

I walk Buffy through dark into light then shower and step on to the mat.

This morning’s practice started well. My body felt strong and pliable - the sun salutes were rich, challenging my body to open, demanding unwavering attention.
In Trikonasana I noticed my mind starting to wander from what I was doing. I stayed for 8 breaths on both sides, then moved into Parivritta Trikonasana, grounding deeply, squaring my hips, correcting alignment, extending the spine out of that elusive mula bandha, but again drifting in and out of my engagement with the pose. For those 16 breaths in PV Trikonasana my will to remain present flapped in the wind. My mind lost its anchor, I was adrift elsewhere.
It wasn’t monkey mind, it was dreamy, unfocussed mind, and my energy waned quickly, a potent reminder of how an unfocussed mind drains the body of its vitality.

I changed course abandoning the flowing Ashtanga practice, opting instead to fill out the yoga hour with inversions and forward bends:
8 minutes in Headstand, including some variations
4 minutes in Shoulderstand then Halasana
Straight legged Matsyasana
Supta Padangusthasana
Janu Sirsasana and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana
Upavista Konasana with a gentle twist over each leg
Baddha Konasana
Surely there were a few more poses in there somewhere - I just can’t remember them now. In that half attentive mindstate, what I was doing wasn't registering in my memory, the practice evolved moment by moment, with no coherent sequence. The end brought relief and another yawn.

Looking in the mirror afterwards I was taken by surprise at the peachy smoothness of my skin, and the colour!!!…my face was aglow with the sunrise of a yoga practice.


Ooops, I mustn't forget Ebony's 7 year old daughter Lily (my grand daughter).
She's obsessed with dinosaurs and magic and flying.

Last family photo, I promise.

15 November 2010


And just to be fair, here's a recent photo of my daughter...


My son (and teacher).

Miscellaneous thoughts

Tuesday - it was so easy to get up at 5.15am this morning
(probably because I slept in yesterday morning...shhh)

AND I had another good, solid practice.

Surya Namaskars, all the standing poses, handstands, Pincha Mayurasana (deliciously internal shoulder surgery), the usual backbends: Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana (more shoulder surgery), Supta something (alternate knees to chest), then the entire finishing sequence from Shoulderstand through to Baddha Padmasana.

The result...
My body feels gorgeous today, strong, clear, sensual and energetic.
My mental state is focused, positive and loving.
My emotions are balanced
My spirit refined and pure.

I’ve booked into another 10 day Vipassana retreat from 8 - 20 December. I’ve done one every year since the year 2000 except for last year – which makes 8 in total, so I’m definitely an ‘old student’, in fact I could qualify for ‘ancient student’ by now.
There’s a two year build up of messy, sticky thoughts to clean out, a thick layer of mental grime. Yuk.
It will take ten long days of meditation to slowly and painfully scrape the surfaces clean, and with some consistently focussed mental application, I might get down into some of the deeper stains as well.

Turning 50 a few months ago I remember posting about being completely lost.
I felt stuck - in my body, my practice, my relationship and my journey.
Ending a long term relationship was painful but necessary - it was long overdue but it has facilitated a new phase in my life.

Good yoga habit

HABITS – how to overcome bad ones, and how to replace them with good ones.
How to reprogram the mind.
That topic provoked some deep discussion with my son Nik last Sunday. He’d been listening to an audio book on personal transformation that had really impressed him and wanted to pass on some of the information to me.

His question to me: what positive habit would you like to create that would help you become the best person you can be?

My answer (without much thought): to get up at 5.15am Monday to Friday so I can do an early morning yoga practice before work..

His response: What stops you?

I do ask myself this question every time I hit the snooze button.
I have lots of excuses.

Nik decided I was a good test case for his experiment on how to create good habits (why couldn’t he do this experiment on himself I pondered).
The experiment…how to set up the conditions that will get me out of bed at 5.15am every weekday. He gave me a plan...and then made me commit.

For years I’ve been setting my alarm before bed, feeling really enthusiastic about getting up for early morning practice, but when that alarm goes off, its groundhog day. The alarm injects my brain with a massive dose of amnesia, fog, and denial. A brick wall.
No amount of inspiration, enthusiasm or good intention the night before has been able to make it through the thick fog that sends me blissfully back to sleep. No amount of guilt either.

Not until last week.

You see my son has great power over me.
What he says, I do.
Retraining the mind and shattering mental habits is hard dirty work. You need as much help as you can get.
He made me write my intention on paper, list why I wanted to do this, and how it will make me feel. He then made me sign a contract to get up at 5.15am, walk the dog, have a shower and then do a yoga practice, Monday to Friday, every morning.

I couldn’t let him down.

Monday practice was mediochre – 1 hour.

Tuesday was great, strong internal focus on mula bandha: Sun Salutes, standing poses to Parsvottanasana then backbends (including a surprisingly open Urdhva Dhanurasana), Shoulderstand, Halasana Matsyasana, Sirsasana, childs Pose, Padmasana twist, Baddha Padmasana, Savasana. After my shower I did a few handstands.

Wednesday and Thursday mornings were lethargic. I had no vitality, couldn’t even engage my muscles so I had no choice but to do restorative poses. Either my body was fighting off a virus, or it was premenstrual, or the early mornings had caught up with me. My body and mind were in shut down so practice was minimal…and slow. I stayed in childs pose for an eternity. At work, I wanted only to go home and go to sleep, but my energy actually picked up on both afternoons.

Friday I had a fantastic practice: sun salutes and standing poses up to Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, then the full set of finishing poses, enjoying 5 minutes in Urdhva Padmasana. Not only that, it was the first of the five days when I stepped out of bed at 5.15am feeling bright eyed, focused and energetic.

Friday evening I did a second practice – sort of following the Iyengar week 26-30 sequence, picking out all the poses I could do and leaving out all the ones I couldn’t.
All Headstand and Shoulderstand variations, and I got into full Lotus in Headstand on one side
Jatara (but no Navasanas)
All the seated poses up to Gomukasana,
Padmasana and Parvatasana,
Then I sort of digressed and did Supta Virasana, Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Bridge pose and a long 5 minute Dog Pose.
Nothing outstanding, just a good solid practice.
The next day I noticed a lovely tickle-itch deep down in my sacral lumbar spine. I’m sure this is from the Lotus in Headstand and Shoulderstand poses, it feels like energy being unlocked and a chakra coming alive, a tiny uncurling of serpent energy.

A few weeks have passed since I did the full Week 26-30 Iyengar sequence - it needs to be worked on regularly – twice a week would be the minimum, three times would be ideal, but more than that might be overdoing it for me. My daily routine is settling down and more time is gradually returning for yoga practice.
Early mornings 5 times a week
Evenings 2-3 times a week

New habits…Nik said they take 3 months to form roots.
I am determined.

Dog Fence

Back in June I visited Central Australia. One of the art students asked me to tie a piece of wool around the Dog Fence and take photos of it, which I did. It was part of a project she was working on and others had done the same for her when travelling up north.

Last week she asked me to write something about the act of putting the wool on the fence which may end up in a booklet supporting her work.

The long journey home after 5 days in the outback
My spirit still immersed in the vast arid landscape, my mind still expanded
The dog fence – I’d missed it on the way up, I must find it on the way back
I’d promised Liz
Artists like to make stuff, to externalize their inner world, to leave their mark through their work on the outer world
Liz had given me no context for tying the gaudy blue and red wool around the dog fence
I couldn’t invent or impose artistic meaning upon this act of graffiti
Leaving this mark came not from my own creative impulse
I was simply an instrument writing Liz’s personal message upon a fence
I travel light, finding meaning in the mystical, the nameless, the subtle, the invisible
Leaving as little trace as possible, preferring silence, translucence…
Weaving artificial strands of wool around the iconic dog fence I felt the heaviness of layering another mark upon this pure, ancient landscape
The act would reverberate in my conscience, like the dark residue left on my psyche from speaking unkind words
But I’d promised Liz
I wove the red and blue wool around the wire, leaving the long ends free, intuitively needing to set them free, to fly, externalizing my own hidden compulsions
Without the wind they would have hung limp, but instead they rippled and danced, flying wildly in the wind, tugging at their shackles for freedom
My job was done
The dog fence…to Liz a symbol of division, separation and alienation, had come alive with colour and movement
I hear the wool is still there
Speeding past, you may catch an enigmatic bright flash of streaming colour as the wind whips the fence
The meaning, like life itself, is open to interpretation…

8 November 2010

Nature is a Lover

"Nature is entirely feminine. Whether you are a man or a woman, whether you are straight or gay, she does not mind. She will seduce you anyway. Nature is shy, and won’t reveal herself fully to you until she knows you come in sacredness; she has been raped by mankind for too long. If you respect her, if you visit her in the early morning when commerce is still asleep, or at night, or if you are willing to travel far into her interior, she will show you her secrets of sensual love.

You cannot have any connection with her through your mind. She never lives there; she cannot. She will sway and breathe and run from concepts. You cannot really know her very deeply through watching or listening to her. That is a kind of voyeurism that she will tolerate, but with disinterest. She might pose pretty for you, offer you a nice vista here and there, but she will be relieve when you drive away again in search of other entertainment.

She will meet you only in the physical. That is her m├ętier. Give her your naked feet, and she will open to you and reveal her gifts. When you see a moist and shadowy mossy place, throw your civilized habits to the winds and lie down on the moss. Touch her with your naked skin. Dive into her cool pools; be warmed by her boulders in the sun. Rub yourself against her bark. Then dance in the secret places of her forest and become One with her.
Nature is a lover. She will bring you home to yourself if you are willing to be washed clean of all that is not her."
from Leap Before You Look by Arjuna Ardagh
Above: taken at Gandy's Gully where I regularly walk
Below: Lily and me at Telowie Gorge, Flinders Ranges

4 November 2010

Wandering Angus

There’s not much to say about yoga practice in this post except that its been spasmodic over the last three weeks: a few short early morning practices (usually sun salutes, standing poses and some backbends) and I think I may have done two evening practices in that time – both of them half the week 26-30 Iyengar sequence.

So I shall digress from my comfortable routine of posting about yoga practice, and write a more personal entry because my life has been suddenly turned upside down.

For the past three weeks I’ve been sharing my very private home space with the person who sent me the poem.
He sent me the poem…the recognition of lifetimes spent together was instant…so he moved in.
It feels timeless and eternal, as if we've always known each other, as if we've been waiting.
He is there every day and every night now and the heady perfume of our romance fills every room.

I may be in love…I may be in shock.

How did this happen so quickly.

My carefully guarded solitude and my beloved yoga practice have been temporarily replaced with long evenings together in front of a computer, as I help him to catch up on a backlog of overdue art theory assignments - a sacrificial labour of love.
My simple green salad dinners have been replaced with gourmet vegetarian meals prepared for two.
His laundry hangs across my verandah.
Hauntingly sweet sounds from his guitar fill the quiet corners of my house late at night.
There is candle light, and smiles, and little notes left on the table signed with kisses.
I love you seems to flow from our lips like honey.
Sometimes I have to escape - I walk the dog alone to get some space and perspective on all of this.

When this intoxicating new situation settles down into a more grounded relationship, we’ll be able to re-establish our priorities and practices, and see clearly again, but for now the Divine is sweeping wildly through us both.

And that’s all I’m saying

Next post will hopefully be about yoga…

Smack bang in middle of ending my previous relationship and falling headlong into this one, I took a few days off work, packed the car, gathered up my son, daughter and granddaughter and whisked them away for our very first bush holiday together. I’d dreamed and wished and prayed for years for this little getaway and finally, all of our personal circumstances made it possible.

I cannot possibly convey the significance of the three days I spent in the bush with them.
And the love I feel for them now...

The four of us climbed Mount Remarkable together, almost to the top. It rained on and off. We took turns piggy-backing Lily when she sulkily refused to take another step up the mountain - it was Lily who sabotaged our valiant efforts to reach the peak.
Turning around for the downhill trek, we were all hungry, damp and a little disappointed, but invigorated by the climb, the mountain air and breathtaking views over the plains.
Trapped in suburban life we don’t realize how these surroundings restrict our gaze - wherever we look we are confronted with structures, walls, boxes and the hard straight lines of buildings - the few natural forms of trees and bushes in the cities are strangled and confined to neat rows and small park areas.

Rolling hills, open plains, the expanse of the ocean…they allow our eyes to longingly reach out over soft distances and rest in panoramic spaciousness. As our gaze filters into distance, that distance returns to fill out and expand our minds.