Sharon Salzberg and the 28 day Meditation Challenge (getting your ass on the cushion!)

                                                                                                                                                Source: vi.sualize.us via Chandi on Pinterest

 
It’s now the weekend and we have no choice but to wait until Monday to work on M’s passport application which means we can’t go to Chiang Mai yet.  Further to that, we need M’s parents to send a scan of his birth certificate from the passport office back home and they won’t do that until there is a case number, which we can’t get until Monday!
We are definitely moving into Southeast Asia’s hot and dry season.  I can’t remember the last time it’s rained although I was woken up by thunder this morning.  It’s becoming quite difficult the past couple of days to just do our daily wandering around where we stay outside for the whole day.  Either that, or we’ve become slightly de-acclimitized from our time in Vietnam having air-con all the time.  Now we have fan only and no hot water in the most basic of rooms for 290B.  At night, there is a slight breeze so we must keep our curtain open till daylight or you can’t get any of it.  Since one must sleep completely ‘au naturel’, I only hope that while I’m asleep, someone doesn’t check in across the way, but I’m usually too hot to care: “Meh, they’ll be European-they’ve seen boobies before!”

                                                                                                                                                    Source: google.com via Christie on Pinterest

Anyway, ahem…a little over one week ago I responded to a Tweet by Kimberly Wilson of fabulous Tranquility du Jour fame, calling out for book club suggestions.  While travelling, I haven’t always been able to get my hands on her book club selections so I’m not always “present” but I love the idea of an online book club-great for people who travel and I love that it brings people from all over the world together for a common purpose!  Admittedly, I also like it because, believe it or not, I’m a bit of an introvert and public speaking (even if a book club circle) is nerve-wracking for me! (I’m aiming to conquer this within the next five years-Toastmasters or something…)  So I was thrilled when Kimberly Wilson chose my suggestion for Sharon Salzberg’s book “Real Happiness“, her 28-day meditation “training manual”.  A follower of Sharon Salzberg for a while, keeping tabs on her Twitter and website and whatnot, I have been travelling with this book on my Kindle for a while now and I have yet, despite several attempts, been able to get past the one week mark.  I thought that having this book as a club selection, I would be presented with a bit more accountability.  I began March 2nd and I am officially past the one week mark.  Yay me!
I don’t want to make it sound like meditation is a chore but I do believe it is definitely something you must practice to the point of habit in order to make it stick or see any results.  This book is not my first foray into meditation.  I’ve been interested in Buddhism since high school or so.  My early interest in alternative philosophies and religions at the age of 14 or 15 or so lead me to Wicca and occult type books (my mom had a Wiccan friend that lent me some books and my mom had a pretty wide library herself!)  It was from my Mom and Dad’s book collection that I then read Carlos Castenada and from there, because of my love of Beat literature, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, the Beatles, TM which finally lead me to seek out Buddhism.
By university, I was using most of my elective courses for philosophy and eastern religion, delving into Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam philosophy as well as a bit of art and architecture of Asia and the Middle East.  By this time I was also attending the odd day-long meditation retreat and lectures by prominent Buddhists (Tenzin Palmo!) and I then discovered Pema Chodron and devoured all her books.  So I have read a lot on the subject, but through the course of all of this, I have learned that it all amounts to nothing if your ass is not on that cushion! I have since had breakthrough moments on the cushion, usually in day long retreats where I’ve sat there long enough to finally ease the incessant chatter in my brain.  At home, before leaving for travel, I was, on occasion, getting up before work 30 minutes earlier for a pre-work sit.  But travelling has presented itself with a new list of challenges that has thus far, prevented me from getting a daily habit down. 

                                                                                                                                                     Source: kweeper.com via Mary on Pinterest

 
However, for me, I also realize that no excuse is good enough and it’s precisely these challenges that make a daily practice worthwhile and now a perfect time to really get into it! These excuses include such things as: not much alone time (M and I sharing one room in a hotel or guesthouse) so I’ve been meditating when he is sleeping in the morning or when he is having breakfast.  the heat (oooh! the HEAT! ) Such a lame excuse seeing as this whole thing started in Asia-land of oppressive heat, before the time of electric fans!, our ever-changing locale (all the better to overcome since peace comes from within, right?)
Anyway, so here goes nothing again! I will be doing my best to check in weekly to let you know all of my observations and any progress.  In the first week, my mind has been all over the place.  I probably got about four “sits” accomplished but my first couple were 15 minutes, not 20 as the book suggests.  After the first couple of times, I realized I needed at least 20 minutes to get those moments of stillness, so I upped it.  Such topics in my money mind this week have included:  my mom, friends, the plane journey I had to take that day, M, crafts, design ideas, my blog, breakfast, etc., etc., etc…
Practicality wise, I usually sit on the bed these days but I do find that a pillow just under my tailbone works best so my knees are lower than my spine.  Otherwise my back gets tired and I start to slouch.  Counting my breath has been extremely useful when I can’t otherwise  focus, as is labelling my thoughts as “thinking” when I need to pop the thought bubbles!
So I accept all of this as being totally normal progress and I look forward to more sitting this week with the hopes of even better results! I’m a work in progress! I would love to hear other ‘learning to meditate’ experiences with this book.  Head over to Kimberly Wilson’s website to check out her book club, there is always a great book recommended there each month, usually on the subject of yoga and well-being. 
Thanks for reading!

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Ko Lanta…

In Ko Lanta now, a great change from Ao Nang and Railay…in a way it’s a shame that the place that once held such a huge place in my heart has changed and I wanted to remember it in a different way, but if it wasn’t for our desire to find something else, we wouldn’t have gone to Ko Lanta.  Hard to say what it will be like here in another five years but for now it’s our new Railay…what follows are some journal excerpts from the past little while…

(journal excerpt-November 16, 2011-Railay Beach, Thailand)-Our plans have changed a bit and we are leaving for Ko Lanta tomorrow.  Originally we were planning on going to the islands off Trang, particularly Ko Muk which is famous for its beautiful Emerald Cave (a cave you enter at low tide that opens up into what sounds like an amazing lagoon with crystal clear water) but it seems like a bit of a fuckaround to get to from here.  I know that that is how it is and how one gets to the more isolated, less touristy beach but the cost of all the transport from here to there has also dissuaded us for the moment.  From here we can get to Ko Lanta fairly easily as the package ticket we can buy here is under $15 for us to get all the way there.  We are really hoping to be free from all the Canadian 20-somethings and Russians as Ko Lanta is a much larger area with 9 or 10 beaches=more spread out.  I know its wrong to be irritated by whole nationalities, one of which I am a part but really I am just irritated by large groups of people from anywhere that impose themselves upon you and dominate a whole area without respect for the people around them.  The Canadian idiots came home at 4am again last night and had full on yelling conversation with each other on their veranda.  I think the German woman who is next to us and seems to be alone must have come out and told them to be quiet because today they apologized to her…anyway, I am excited to be going to a new beach tomorrow and even the challenge of finding a new place to stay doesn’t bother me-this is the only real Thai beach I’ve been to and I’m ready to check out some more…Ko Lanta!

(journal excerpt-November 19, 2011-Ko Lanta, Thailand)-We have spent two nights in Ko Lanta and so far it has been a refreshing change from Railay.  The poeple here are so much more laid back and friendly and there is a lost more space for the tourists to be spread out in.  We are in Kong Khlong Beach which is rocky and not the best for swimming but known more for its snorkelling and backpacker crowd.  Lots of Bhang Lassi’s and Mushroom Shakes to be had although I am abstaining! Our guesthouse is called Blue Andaman Lanta esport and has a nice swimming pool.  Our room is much larger, newer and cleaner than what we had in Railay and has Cable TV but it is also 100B more.  The price upgrade has been worth it.  We are right on the beach and we have free wifi in the restaurant.  The area we are in is not very developed compared to the other beaches but if you walk about 15 minutes there is a 7-11 and another convenience store is just 2 minutes away.  Rood is somewhat cheaper here than Railay, as well we’ve found a great family restaurant with the sweetest couple and baby we have been eating at since arriving.  We also met an older man from Georgia wo has been good company and he also travels often for months at a time so he has some good travelling stories, many from years and years back before backpacking was as common…

(November 20, 2011-Ko Lanta, Thailand)-Very strenuous day of laying by the pool and beach har har.  Took some laundry this morning…)

(November 24, 2011-Ko Lanta, Thailand)-We have been in Ko Lanta now for one week and it feels like we’ve been here forever.  Time has come to a standstill and we rarely know which day it is.  Unfortunately it has rained most of the time we have been here and when it rains there is very little to do, which is still better than a day back at home at work! We visit our little restaurant every day with Pen, Pon and Pheat (that’s Pete, not Feet) and M and I play with him while his parents help the customers and cook.  The other day after we ate dinner they had no more customers and Pen asked me if we’d like to go with them to the main village for a festival.  For 10 days there was a huge market with food stalls, a stage for bands and about a million people.  I didn’t buy anything but Pen and Pon bought several shirts for their baby and some toys for him which broke the next day.  Pen needed new shoes so bad that her flip-flops broke on the way to the festival grounds meaning she had to walk barefoot in the mud till she bought some new ones for 120B.  They are a sweet family and they really seem to have very little but it’s clear how much they love their Kid.  Pen is 26 and Pon only 22.  Pen told me when she found out she was pregnant she wasnt happy because she and Pon had hoped they would have had money for everything for a baby before they had one.  She wanted an abortion but Pon refused and now she said she feels bad when she thinks of that and sees Pheat.  They struggle, their restaurant being only one month old but its clear they are happier than most people I know.  As for our Georgia friend it looks like he is skipping Malaysia for now and moving on to Vietnam instead.  Malaysia is likely going to be wet and he has never been to Vietnam…so with the Rain we mostly swim a bit until it starts, read and write and talk to the people in the restaurant or Georgia.  So far I have read:

Dead Souls-Nikolai Gogol

Eating Animals-J. Safran Foer

The Marriage Plot-Jeffrey Eugenides

A Visit from the Goon Squad-Jennifer Egan

The Cats Table-Michael Ondaatje

Our next adventure will likely be to attempt to get to KL by my birthday in one week.  From here we will go to Satun and spend one night, and then one or two nights max in Langkawi (not our favourite place) and then on to KL.  Our Visa expires in about 8 or 9 days and its hard to believe we’ve been in Thailand almost one month.  I’m looking forward to being in another big city for my birthday and I’m also looking forward to those amazing 1$ indian thalis Malaysia is so famous for! Thanks for reading…

xo

 

things i’m loving…

la couverture du magazine N°86, de Marie Claire Idées, automne, septembre-octobre 2011

Marie Claire Idees: Alright, so I can only understand every third word or so, but this magazine is one that I will buy occasionally just for the eye candy.  Beautiful European focused design, crafts and shopping, not to mention the photography-this magazine is just beautiful to look at  (and practice your French :P)

Flourent Chavouet: I came across this guy at the local bookstore (chain, not locally owned).  They had one copy of “Tokyo on Foot” which I did not buy but obsessed over for a couple of weeks until I ordered it on Amazon for half the price.  He does amazing pencil crayon illustrations of Tokyo, particularly crazy accurate depictions of the people and neighbourhoods he obviously spent a lot of time in.  It brought me back to being right in those neighbourhoods and I could spend hours pouring over the details of each page.  I wish I could find some proper images of the inside of the book.  It’s hard to find them of the neighbourhoods themselves, but maybe when it arrives, I’ll scan some to show you.

Koreless: Just discovered this guy-maybe I’m a bit late, but he’s only 19 years old so I guess I’m alright.  Pretty hard to find individual tracks by him online so I’ve been converting them off of YouTube.  Anyway, I’ve been playing the four songs I have by him over and over again.

My new camera! There are cheaper cameras out there, there are more expensive, but for a newbie like me, this camera is challenging enough so that I have a lot to learn but simple enough so that in playing with the Auto settings, I’m guaranteed a perfect photo every time.  I love it.  So why no new photos on my blog? I am waiting for the memory card to come that we ordered online! So far I’ve just been practicing without saving the photos, getting used to the various settings etc.  My next recipe, that hopefully will be posted soon also contains a dismal photo taken by the old, now retired camera.  But it will be one of the last! The travel photos will all be taken by the new camera! Not looking forward to lugging it around everywhere though.  Inside the case, it takes up a considerable amount of space in my daypack.  We’ll be looking to downsize the case once we get to those fantastic Kuala Lumpur night markets.  The one we are using was just kicking around here…yay!

Laundry Soap Sheets TL787Travel laundry soap:  Okay, how cool are these? I just picked these up the other day.  No more travelling with that clunky bar of Sunlight that wore my hands raw last time.  I do send most of my laundry out while travelling but there are always the few things you don’t want to go missing, your unmentionable delicates and odds and ends that you end up doing yourself.  These are so cool and they are even mildly scented!

sitting with uncomfortability…

Well, I’m sick.  The first big sick I’ve had in a long time and definitely the strongest cold/illness I’ve had in the past two years.  It was kind of inevitable that I would catch it as the in-laws brought it back from Nova Scotia with them and let’s just say there was quite a bit of coughing without the covering of one’s mouth! What do you say when someone does that? Surely you can’t say anything when you are in someone else’s house!? Yet, now I wish I had. Har har.  Anyway, brutal sore throat, coughing which is keeping me up all night.  Can’t swallow, nothing working.  This is the first extended illness I’ve had in a while that has just made me want to stay in bed all day and I’m moving onto Day 5 of this now.  So since I’ve had a lot of time by myself (the husband is avoiding me like the plague seeing as he is the last man standing in the house), and because I can’t sleep due to the coughing and sore throat, I have been working at employing some mindfulness techniques to get me through the more “challenging” of evenings.  I have had some points in the night where I can’t stop coughing and can’t swallow and can’t sleep and more than any medicine, this is what has helped me the most and has even helped me to fall asleep: rather than try to evade the uncomfortability and the pain, I have been trying to sit with it, to get familiar with it and just become friends with it.  So often we are trying to escape bad feelings, pain etc.  We use many methods to distract ourselves from it or medicate ourselves so we don’t feel anything.  I have found what is working for me is to sit and really think about how it is feeling while I am trying to fall asleep.  To contemplate the nature of the pain in my throat and to practice some visualization and tonglen, breathing out the illness in the form of black smoke and breathing in refreshing health in the form of white light.  I guess this is kind of a self healing reverse tonglen.  Anyway, like I said, it seems to be the only thing that really makes me fall asleep or feel any better.  All I have is a simple cold/flu.  I know it will pass and this also makes me feel better.  I can imagine that using this technique gets a bit more difficult once you are a patient battling cancer or another terminal illness.  Yet still, people use it and it seems to have a lot of positive results.  You can read more about tonglen here: http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/tonglen1.php and a great article on sitting with uncomfortability can be found on this blog I just came across here: http://inthefootstepsofthebuddha.com/catching-a-cold-a-lesson-in-discovering-non-duality/.

In other news, I have just started reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin as part of an online book club I have been loosely following over the past few months.  There are lots of tips in this book and as I get further into it and clear my current brain fog, I will write a bit more about them here.  If you are interested in the book club, you can find it on Kimberly Wilson’s Tranquility Du Jour blog here: http://blog.kimberlywilson.com/2011/07/august-online-book-club-announcement.html.  There are always good recommendations for books here on a variety of topics and the comments are not always plentitful but usually insightful. 

Back to bed for me!

PS-Apparantly “uncomfortability” is not a word! Whatev’s!

I wonder…

…is it wrong to read about pastries while working out on the stationary bike at the gym? I am loving this book…

Speaking of..kind of.  I don’t think *some* people appreciated me donating my two years of Bon Appetit back issues to the gym magazine pile, as they mysteriously disappeared within a couple of days.  Am I the only one that wants to work out while looking at/reading about gorgeous food? I guess for some people it’s not a good idea…

Sarah Susankah-The Not So Big Life

Just finished a great book that I admittedly plowed through for an online book club I have been following.  The book came complete with exercises and some big questions, to really get your brain going but I haven’t had the time to get to those yet, so I think I’m going to have to purchase this one. I had a lot of what the author calls “Aha” moments while reading, but one quote stuck out for me in particular that I thought I would share here:

Once you make the unequivocal internal commitment to do something-when you absolutely know this is the time and place to act-the world around you will shift in all sorts of apparently miraculous ways to make it happen.  But they’re not really miracles.  This is the fluid nature of both life and consciousness.  When your intentions are clear, events move to support them and to expand the ripple effect of your efforts. 

(Sarah Susanka-The Not so Big Life)

Okay, it’s a bit hippy dippy, but it resonated with me as I am entering a new phase of my life, taking new risks and willing things to happen.  I don’t entirely know which path this next phase of my life will take me-but I do know that because I am getting out there and opening myself up to opportunity, I am inviting change and new circumstances, something I feel I was previously closed to out of fear of change, the fear of taking big risks or the fear of failure.  I have finally learned that “the worst that can happen” is not enough to make me stagnate and I have found that this new shift in view has opened the world up so much more.  It’s a nice perspective and I am excited about the future!

xoxo

Library Visit!

Oh bloggy, I’ve been tardy-I’m sorry for neglecting you! It’s been a busy week and it is sometimes hard to set aside the time to upload the ol photos and sit down for a minute or two! But now, here I am!

I wanted to share with you my books that I took out from the library:

Seriously, don’t laugh at the first one.  I don’t know if I could usually take out such a book without laughing at myself.  That’s the good thing about being able to check out your own books at the self-serve checkout! But when I picked up this book, it wasn’t actually cheesy at all, and I like how it basically breaks down exactly what a Life Coach would tell you for hundreds of dollars a session.  It’s got some cool checklists and what he calls “plans of attack” and well, I figure if I get one piece of useful information out of it, I’m happy.

The second book from the top is just little quotes and blurbs and to be honest I haven’t given it too much time yet.  I’ve picked it up and read a page here and there.  The cookbooks are all great, but I haven’t had a chance to make anything from it yet.  Of course La Dolce Vegan is pretty famous around these parts because the author is from Victoria.  A lot of her recipes sound awesome so I’m looking forward to trying them.

Serene Cuisine seems to focus more on an Ayurvedic diet and explains a bit about the different doshas and includes yoga poses with each meal..a lot of these dishes aren’t entirely practical for me in my every day, but some of the stuff looks good.

The last book is from the famous Kripalu retreat center in the US and there are a tonne of great sounding recipes in here.  I have a feeling I’ll need to renew a couple of these…