Heading to Meditation Bootcamp: Vipassana Meditation Retreat; Pahoa, Hawaii

Unicorn with Calm Mind:  2 Fantastical Creatures

“But WHY are you doing this?” K asks. “I just don’t get it.”

“I’m doing it because when I wake up in the morning, there is a song playing in my head.  In addition to the song, I plan all of my meals right after I open my eyes.  Sometimes, I actually go through the motions of cooking those meals.  Then, I think about what physical activity I will do for the day.  Will I run?  If so, how far will I go?  Will I practice yoga?  If the answer is no, I silently berate myself.  Should I write?  What orders will be available for me to work on?  Will I have any revision requests?  The list goes on and on.  I want to be able to sit in bed and just wake up.  I simply want to hear the birds chirping and watch the sky go from purple to pink to blue.”

Like most people, I have a busy mind.  Like or unlike most, I am a planner.  I mentally masturbate on who, what, when, where and the never-ending WHY.  The word “should” comes up over and over again.  Should have, should do, the list goes on and on.

On Monday, I begin an intense training in Vipassana mediation.  The training will last 10 days.  I will meditate for 10 hours per day.  I am not permitted to read, write, run, practice yoga, drink caffeine, consume alcohol or possess snacks.

According to the Dharmma Foundation, this style of meditation was practiced by Indian sages and rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago.  Vipassana meditation is a silent meditation designed to help free one from the unbridled thoughts, desires and judgments of the mind.  In essence, the goal of this style of meditation, like most others, is to help a people bring awareness into the present moment.  It is an “art of living.”

Sounds like a perfect fit for me.

When I tell people I am participating in this retreat, most ask why.  Many of them ask with intonations of astonishment and a tiny hint of abhorrence in their voice.  Those that know me best say reassuring comments like, “I think this will be really good for you.”

The code of conduct at the retreat is strict.  For example:

  • No reading
  • No journals or writing instruments
  • No speaking
  • No outside contact
  • No physical exercise, including yoga
  • No eating after midday
  • No religious objects
  • No bodily decorations
  • No shorts, tight clothing or sleeveless shirts

The daily schedule is:

  • 4:30-6:30 a.m. Meditation
  • 6:30-8:00 a.m. Breakfast and Morning Break
  • 8:00-9:00 a.m. Group Meditation
  • 9:00-11:00 a.m.  Meditation
  • 11:00-Noon Lunch Break
  • Noon-1:00 p.m. Rest and Interview with Teacher
  • 1:00-5:00  p.m. Meditation
  • 5:00-6:00 p.m. Tea Break
  • 6:00-7:00 Meditation
  • 7:00-8:15 p.m. Lecture
  • 8:15-9:00 p.m. Meditation
  • 9:00-9:30 p.m. Quiet Time in Meditation Hall

Merely typing the schedule gives me dah chicken skin.  Yes, I am nervous.  Yes, being nervous about an event in the future is just the sort of mind chatter I hope to begin to tame by attending this retreat.  At my most optimistic moments, I refer to this retreat as “meditation bootcamp.”  In my fraidy cat moments, I call it “meditation jail.”

On Monday morning, I will meet with my rideshare on the Honokoa coast and head to Pahoa.  The retreat is held on a farm there.  I will camp in my own tent.  I will pack my own meditation cushions, eating utensils, dishes and ablution bag.  I will not speak for 10 days.

I am currently living in a van on the Big Island.  I have one pair of long pants, one long dress and a few shirts that have sleeves.  (It’s nice here, folks. I wear a bikini most of the time).  In an act of aloha, I recently gave away my good towel.  My meditation cushions consist of a yoga mat and sleeping pad.  My remaining towel has a colorful unicorn on it.  I am a little self-conscious of that unicorn, but not enough to drive 100 miles to buy another one.  Driving that far to buy a towel is an extravagance that is very un-Simple Life Good Life.

A unicorn is a fantastical creature.  At this point, a mind without endless chatter is the same.  Wish me luck (but only with full awareness and presence) .

Inspiration from Thoreau*

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. “He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. “In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. ”

*I saw this quote as is posted on Simple Life Good Life on Paulo Coelho’s blog: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2012/09/27/thoreau-and-dreams/

Don’t Forget Your Superpowers: Guest Blog for Hanuman Yoga & Music Festival

Photo by Becca Caldwell


Only in Colorado do I have to cue yogis to come down from arm balances.”  ~Noah Maze

Well, what can I say, Noah?  Your statement filled me with pride as I pushed my body through your exceptional LEAP! Class on day 2 of Hanuman.  As my ego filled, I noticed how attached I was to accomplishing the postures you cued.

I heard a running dialogue in my mind:

“This class is great.  My arms are getting pumped.  I am going to be so much stronger.  I have never been able to contort myself into Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) and here I am holding it like a champ.

I should practice these arm balances everyday.  Maybe I should add some pull ups into the mix.  I could be ripped by the end of the summer.  I am going to gain so much muscle.  I could probably lose a couple of pounds too.”

And then, I fell right on my behind.  I tried to get back in the pose, but I couldn’t stick it.

My eyes flashed on the temporary tattoo I picked up at Yoganonymous’ booth that morning:

“Exhale only love.”

Kaci, Kaci, Kaci, where is the love?  Where is the breath?

I strive for excellence by both my own and others’ standards, but what I was doing in that moment was not excellent.  I was allowing my ego to grasp for power by standards that are fleeting.  My arm strength and the length of time I can hold Tittibhasana are merely surface level measures of self worth.

You are as powerful as the wind;

You are intelligent, illustrious & an inventor.

There is nothing in this world that’s too difficult for you;

Whenever stuck, you are the one who can help.

-as told to Hanuman by Jambavantha

Forest sages put a curse on Hanuman to punish his orneriness as a child.  He had many powers, superpowers if you will, but could not remember what they were unless someone told him.

Like Hanuman, I tend to forget the superpowers I possess until someone tells me about them.  No matter where I am at in life, I push for more, looking to acquire power/achievement/virtue without giving reverence to what I already possess.

Hanuman Festival helped me to remember some of the powers I possess but had forgotten.  These powers have nothing to do with the size of my biceps, but more with the size of my heart and the strength of my character.  As I interacted with teachers and fellow students, I remembered that I am kind.  I value people.  I give genuine, loving hugs-shining my heart wide open.  I have the ability to experience pure joy in watching a solar powered bubble machine or the swing of a hula hoop.

The more I know and love myself, the more I can help raise the vibration.

As I immerse myself back into my normal routine, I hold onto the knowledge of my capabilities.  I use the skills I learned from instructors to enhance and encourage the virtues I already have and to nurture those I am inviting into my life.  As I open and strengthen my body in asanas, my heart opens to others.  I hope to help them recognize the power of the unique superhero inside of themselves.

I am more relaxed.  I am more detached with those that interact with me in aggressive or uncaring ways.  Now, I view all of us as having the same curse the sages put on Hanuman when he was a little boy.  We all possess powers we do not remember.  Sometimes this forgetfulness causes us to act hostile or defensive in an attempt to hide our feelings of weakness.  With faith, love and the story of Hanuman, we know that we each possess inside of us something larger and more powerful than the strength of our arms, the shape of our hips or the success of our business.

As Jambavantha said to Hanuman, I say to you, me and everyone:

“No other living creature has your strength, wisdom and radiance.  Why are you sitting quiet, not knowing yourself?”

Namaste and Blessings.


Inspiration & Bravery: Everyday Examples of Authentic Existence

Photo by Rio Roman

I watch a friend love her little girl, born at 28 weeks, instinctively, fiercely and with an abandon unknown to her in the past.  I watch via text and email as this little girl fights bravely with every pore in her body to live-TO LIVE, to connect, to be here, to be with us and make her way into the arms of those that love her so much.

I talk with a friend who has known for years, that something is wrong-IT IS WRONG-though on paper she has everything she should dream of.  She knows that she must grow, bend and change into something, but she doesn’t know what.  She is not sure of the outcome.  She does not know who she will be without this cover of the normal life she has been conditioned to want.  I observe her struggle to find her voice.  Though she knows-SHE KNOWS-she must speak, must act.  She does not know what she will say.  She does not know what she will do, but she heads forward one clumsy, uncertain step at a time with determined courage.

A friend confides that she is dieting again.  Her weight has swung back and forth for the last 10 years.  At times, she has taken on this challenge by punishing herself fiercely, disassociating her mind from her body without consideration for her soul.  She knows that all of her old obsessions and demons will be there waiting for her to let down her guard for one minute-waiting for her to become too attached to her results, tempting her to punish herself with starvation in order to achieve her goal.  And here she is again, back at the plate with a bat in her hand, determined to walk a road of unknown outcomes, but certain fear.  She is here in order to live.  To truly be alive.

So many of us want to live authentically.  When we look at the price tag, living our true self seems expensive.  Truly living means we will most likely embarass ourselves one way or another.  We may sign up for one train of thought or philosophy, but then, in order to be true, we may have to recant those ideas at an inconvenient time.  We may extend our heart to someone who is not available to love us in return.  We may make a declaration of “I will never” or “I will always”  only to have change that statement to “I will sometimes.”

We are conditioned in life to believe that if we go to Place A we will next find the trail to Place B.  Then, we see that our baby was born 12 weeks early.  The trail is dark and the only light we can see is the light of an old soul emanating from her young eyes.  And now, there is no path.

We have followed the path from college to career, but we are inexplicably unhappy.  We followed the trail map we got at the gate, but this trail is filled with sadness.  The moment comes when we want to go back and get another map, but we recognize that all trails have been mapped by another hand.  We want to lay down in despair, but instead we take out our headlight and head into the forest.

We have walked and walked and walked.  We have eaten and not eaten.  We have loved ourselves and hated ourselves.  We have run.  We have walked slowly, examining the leaves and branches of every tree, trying to get it right.  We reach the end of the trail, only to realize there is a steep chasm between ourselves and the summit.  The chasm is filled with the leaves and branches we so carefully passed by.

More than likely, our authentic self this year will not look the same as our authentic self next year.  We will end up bushwhacking our way to what we believe is the top, only to find that we are on someone else’s mountain or have reached a false summit.

But in the end, we must all remember the struggles we have overcome in order to get to this place of demanding truth and authenticity of self.  The road, our road, has been leading us here all along.  Inspiration will be our food, water and shelter.  We must find it.  We must cultivate it.  Inspiration is here, everywhere.

Inspiration is in the eyes of a child born a few weeks too soon, fighting with her utmost strength TO LIVE. She heads boldly into the unknown. She does not escape into a television, bottle of beer or obsessive exercise. She LIVES because that what she is here to do. She LIVES because she must. We must too. Namastae and blessings.