I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

So it’s probably time for an update on the big plan to change my life.

day 29 - international kiki day

I’ve heard back from Austria and, all being well, I should be fine for staying on there after my TTC (Teacher Training Course). I’ve sent the application anyway, so now it’s just a question of seeing how both sides feel during the TTC. I want to stay for 8 weeks, doing 8 hours of karma yoga (work) a day. That shouldn’t change, I don’t anticipate any problems, but you never know. I’ll be booking my flight back for the 25th of November anyway.

After that I’m going to start making my way round the world. I think maybe 3 weeks in California (San Francisco), with one of those weeks on silent meditative retreat at a cabin in the woods.

Then it’s off to Oz on about the 19th/20th December to spend Christmas at my boyo’s place near Perth. Stick around there until the new year, then head east. See some friends, chill out a bit, find some retreat to go to. 2013 is where the plan gets ultra vague.

the warlock of firetop mountain

I’m not getting too stressed about organising the after Austria part of the plan. That’s just stuff I can book, so there’s nothing needs doing on that apart from laying down the cash. I might not even book it until I come back from Austria. In fact I won’t unless there’s significant savings to be had. That’s something I need to check out this week.

Been delayed in my planning because of work. On the last of my night shifts this week and, man, is it tiring! I mean they were hard enough before, but now I know I’m leaving I can barely keep my eyes open. I just want them over with.

Got just two more to do, then 2 weeks of mid shifts (7 shifts, 11am-11pm), and that’s me done. I finish on the 23rd of August, which gives me 1 week to pack, move, dispose of my car oop norf, before jetting off to the Alps for 3 months. Crazy huh? Been planning this Brand New Life for ages and now it’s finally happening!

I don’t know what the future will bring (who does) but I look forward to finding out. Just 27 days to go and the adventure begins! Wish me luck. πŸ˜€

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Vipassana Meditation Retreat : The Aftermath

Ok, so I was going to do this big detailed review of the Dhamma Dipa meditation retreat, what happened when, how, etc. But then I thought maybe it’s best not to give away too much of the experience, and rob people of the chance to find out for themselves. Plus, I’m not sure how I feel about it right now, so anything I write would be a little unbalanced to say the least. If you’re interested in doing it you should just go do it. It’s free, you can leave whenever you want, and you’re big enough to make your own decisions about the whole thing.

That being said, here’s some points from the few notes I jotted down when I got back. They should go some way to defining my experience there, and maybe give you an idea what to expect. And for those that need it I’ll just say it right now – **SPOILER ALERT**

my 'cell'

For one thing it was tough! Ten days of getting up at 4am, meditating for ten hours a day, no food after noon (though some fruit at 5pm); no talking, no touching, no eye contact; isolation, hard work, and a lot to comprehend. That about sums it up. It’s an emotional experience, but not a social one. They take it very very very seriously, and there’s very little let up. You’re there to work, and work you must.

I almost left a few times, sometimes because I wasn’t getting anything out of it, sometimes out of frustration, and sometimes because I was just sick of all the rules. But I stuck it out, and I at least gained a good grounding in Vipassana meditation (though I also got that from reading Mindfulness in Plain English: 20th Anniversary Edition).

the old farmhouse courtyard

I practiced when I was meant to practice, but I didn’t always do it very well. If I tell you that I came away from there with a new recipe for vegan calzone, an almost complete film script, and the business plan for a new retreat centre in the Lake District, you will see that my mind wasn’t always on the job.

Though I could see the value in the no contact rules (to experience the technique for yourself without other opinions getting in the way) they were frustrating. At times I wanted to scream, just to make a loud noise (NB: when we were finally able to speak on the 10th day my voice was so croaky from lack of use); not knowing anyone’s names I ended up making nicknames for them just to have a point of reference – Zippy, the Wizard of Space and Time, Mr Swishy Pants – (not all of them were entirely complimentary); and I didn’t get to meet any girls which, to be honest, is part of the reason I go to these damn things. But anyway…

leaving dhamma dipa

So it was hard. At one point I almost went to look at my car just to check it was still there (and maybe to gain some psychological support from it’s presence) but I caught myself and decided not to be so stupid. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. One guy even got in his van, and would have left if the gates had been locked, but they weren’t so he stayed (it made sense somehow). And someone even heard a car leaving it 3:30am, though who it was and why he didn’t know. Heck, my own roommate left on the second day!

But there were also spooky moments that kept you interested. Like the discourse on day 7, when the teacher, Goenka, via the medium of badly shot video, told the ‘This Too Shall Pass’ story. The weird thing for me is I had been thinking of that story that very day. My head was full of film and TV clips most of the time, and the story appears in My Best Friends Wedding, with Paul Giamatta telling it to a defeated Julia Roberts in a hotel corridor. It’s not a story I think of often, and maybe it was just a coincidence, but it certainly caught me by surprise, and helped keep me interested on days 8 and 9 when all I wanted to do was go home (or at the very least have a lie in).

undoing all the good work

So I survived, just! Come the end of it I was glad to go home. And what did I do when I got back? Had some curry sauce and chips, watched back to back episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and ordered a bunch of stuff off Amazon. I haven’t done any meditating since (though I did pretty much go into a load of night shifts, so I’m kinda knackered at the moment) and I don’t know when I’ll be sitting again. My leg still hurts like hell (that made for a fun 10 days let me tell you!) and so I’m less than enthusiastic to get down on the floor again.

And if I’m honest I’m a little dubious of the whole experience too. All the discourses and instruction were off tape, with just an assistant teacher to offer clarification if you were to ask. The tapes were shot in 1991. Are you telling me that no one in 20+ years has learnt or benefitted enough from the technique to be able to teach it on the organisations behalf? That puts doubts in my mind. And the final discourse, where they insist that they are the correct way to do Vipassana like Buddha used to do, and other meditation techniques have lost his teachings along the way, left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

All in all I’d have expected my mind to be alive with what I’ve learnt, but in fact it’s not. I’m glad I went, but I was equally as glad to get home, and I’m keen now to just crack on with the rest of my life, planning what I’m going to do next and how I’m going to get there (the subject of my next blog post).

Like I said, give it a go and make your own mind up. These are just my thoughts/memories on the matter. And here’s one final one to be going on with. I’ve heard it said that you should seek enlightenment like a drowning man seeks air. Now that’s all well and good, but if you live your entire life like you’re drowning, well what kind of life would that be?

Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow…

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

It’s so easy to think about tomorrow, and forget about today. To look to the future for satisfaction, and ignore the here and now. So many things we strive for are based on delayed gratification, and the promise of what is to come, but if what we desire is always in the future, how will we ever truly be happy?

They say ‘Tomorrow never comes’. True, from a linguistic/philosophical point of view, though always a saying that annoys me somehow with it’s clever smugness. I used to have a saying, ‘Never put of ’til tomorrow what you can get away with never doing’, but that was just me trying to be funny. Besides, if it doesn’t need doing, why is it on your To Do List in the first place?

ohmmm...

Tomorrow I head out to the Dhamma Dipa Centre near Hereford for my 10 day introduction to Vipassana meditation course. I’ll be honest, I’m a little apprehensive, as 10 days is a long time, especially with all the rules they impose on your staying there.

But also I’m looking forward to a chance to practice properly for the first time. No distractions, just you and the cushion. What I’m less enthusiastic about is dealing with my leg while I’m there. Thanks to a litany of injuries my right leg hurts in oh so many different positions, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to sit for hours at a time without a great deal of pain. I just did a Tai Chi weekend and by the end of it I was really in a lot of pain.

But hopefully it’ll calm down over the next 10 days. I have exercises to do and I won’t be doing any work so nothing should aggravate it. And there are a number of positions you can meditate in, so I’m sure I’ll find something I can do that’ll work for me.

the big buddha

For my last bit of visual entertainment for a while I just finished watching a great documentary about the Apollo missions called In The Shadow Of The Moon. Not only is it fascinating to watch, but it is inspiring to hear the revelations each astronaut went through in seeing the Earth from so far away. Some found their spirituality (very specifically saying not religion, but spirituality), some came to realise how unimportant the many things we find to complain about day to day really are, some came to understand the interconnectedness of each and every thing in the Universe, but not one of them came away thinking that this fractious, warring, polluting system we’ve set in motion is the way to be.

And it made me think too. Neil Armstrong was 38 when he went on his mission into space. I’m 38, and tomorrow I embark on my mission to become a space cadet. How alike we truly are, lol. πŸ™‚ Ok, I’m just messing. but it is interesting to see what others before you have done by the same age you are.

However, that being said, you can’t get caught up in measuring yourself by the standards of others of course. Each of us has their own path to follow, and we must find our own ways of measuring our success (otherwise we’ll always be unsuccessful, and ultimately always unhappy). But more importantly we have to enjoy the victories of today, for if we always look to the future for validation we will never truly feel we have achieved anything.

day 21 - peace

Ok, that’s enough philosiphising for now. See you in 2 weeks when I’ll report on my 10 days of meditative seclusion, and hopefully I’ll finally be able to make some decisions about my upcoming sabbatical, and progress forward in my quest for a Brand New Life.

The Universe Is On Your Side

This is something that I’ve believed in for a long time, that the Universe is on your side; that it does everything it can to help you get where you need to be (note: need to be, not want to be!) and even if you ignore it or fight it or give it the proverbial finger, it still does what it can to help you along The Way.

infinity road

Some quick notes first:

One, I’ve capitalised the word Universe as I, like Buckminster Fuller, consider it an entity rather than a thing. If you want to substitute God, Allah, the Tao or anything else to better understand what I’m saying that’s fine (and entirely up to you).

Two, I capitalised The Way as it specifically refers to Taoism.

Three, These are just my thoughts. πŸ™‚

thames path, Richmond

So let’s see… so far this year I’ve had two car accidents and I’ve twisted my ankle. That to me is the Universe telling me something. It’s telling me to slow down. And I must really need to do it because the message was a persistent one. When I didn’t do it mentally – the accidents – I had to do it physically – the ankle.

But that’s not all. I’ve also ended up with next week off work thanks to someone who wanted to do what seems to me a very random shift swap. Now I won’t go into detail (the machinations of our shift system are many, myriad, and ultimately highly tedious) and I can’t say I understand it, but again I just took the message and went along with it.

And it’s good that I did, because only now that I’ve slowed down, created some head space, and finally released myself from all my commitments – both physically and mentally – for a while, do I realise just how frantic I was getting. I mean, not only were all my days pretty full, but the few days I had off I was making myself feel bad for not doing more on my own personal projects. And the worse I felt the more inclined I was not to do anything. It was really getting a bit messed up.

vanishing point - holland park, kensington, london

But now, check this out: Now I’ve let go of the idea that I should be working on my book, I’m suddenly more inclined to do it. It’s no longer a chore, and the ideas are starting to flow again. Of course if I do anything right now is up to me, I’ve got the week off and I’m not pressuring myself. But I can if I want and that’s what matters.

But even if I do write, I also need to make space to get my head right. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been rushing along on autopilot for a while now, and it was getting a little hazardous. Hell, I didn’t even realise I was doing it until I mentally started clipping trees as I headed toward the ground. Thankfully the Universe has given me the chance to pull up (enjoying the plane metaphor? ..hehe..), pull myself together, and get back to level before I hit the ground. Nice huh? πŸ™‚

And the best thing about the Universe is no matter how much you ignore it, or fight it, or simply let the opportunities pass you by, it’s always there with another chance to get where you need to go. There’s no judgement or prejudice, it has no ego or memory, it’s help is unending, unconditional, and there for the taking; all you need to do is listen.

And best of all, the more you listen, the more you hear, and the easier it all becomes. πŸ™‚

But remember…

“I know the Universe won’t give me anything I can’t handle,Β I just wish it didn’t trust me so much.”

– Mother Theresa of Calcutta

A Spiritual Life?

There’s this idea that following a more spiritual path in life, becoming a monk or a priest or something, is somehow easier than getting married, having kids, and buying a house.

prayer flags

This came up recently in a conversation, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard the idea. In fact it’s something I used to think myself, that those who follow an alternative, more spiritual, path are somehow taking the easy option. But when I look into it further I don’t see why I thought that way.

I suppose it’s the idea that they’re giving up their free will somehow. That they’re allowing some unseen force to provide for them, making their decisions based upon ‘God’s will’ or ‘the Tao’.

But in my experience that’s not what they’re doing at all. They’re living their life according to a set of values, values that restrict their activities somehow (often making it hard to live a ‘normal’ life) and are often difficult to live up to. And the decision making is still there, more than ever in fact, as each day they have to choose to turn to the path moment by moment rather than allow themselves to drift away from it (which would be a much easier thing to do).

beginning buddhism

Yes it’s true, not having to work 60 hours a week to pay the mortgage and keep your kids in sneakers seems like a great life. But imagine giving up the security that having your own home, savings, and someone to share the burden with brings you: No back up plan, no assets you can sell, just you and the clothes on your back and the road ahead, wherever it may lead. Put like that doesn’t the spiritual life seem a little more daunting?

I know I couldn’t do it, not yet anyway. I still like the security of money in the bank. And I want to have kids some day. But I like the idea of giving up material possessions, and the worry they bring you, and instead spending my time meditating and seeking the path to enlightenment. And maybe I will some day. I just have a few things I need to do first.

And how’s this for a final thought; if following a spiritual path is so much easier how come everybody isn’t doing it? Do we choose the ‘harder’ life? And if so, why?

A New Life In 30 Days?

I once heard somewhere that if you wanted to make a change in your life it took 30 repetitions – turning down 30 cigarettes, exercising 30 days in a row – for that change to stick.

Now I actually don’t believe that – I managed to give up smoking overnight, and I’ve had long standing exercise routines go by the wayside – but! it is true to say, I think, that if you do something for 30 days and you’re not interested in carrying it on then it’s definitely not for you.

I’ve enjoyed the few 30 Day Challenges I’ve done on this blog – from the original 30 Day challenge, to the moustache for cash, to the 30 Haiku in 30 Days thing I just completed – I think it’s true to say that 30 days is a good period of time to try something out.

So with that in mind I announce my next 30 day challenge, and it’s a bit of a doozie (for me, anyway). Starting on the 12th I’m going to do 30 minutes of meditation and a full yoga routine every morning for 30 days.

ohmmm...

Might not sound like much, but it’s quite an undertaking for me. I include days I’m working in this, and I’ve worked out that along with getting a shower and having breakfast the whole thing is going to take me at least 3 hours. That means when I’m on a mid shift getting up at 7:30am so I can make it to work for 11am. And on nights going to bed at 7:30am to get up at 3:30pm to get in for 7pm. Thankfully I’ve no earlies to deal with (up at 3:30am? no thanks!).

The idea is to take me up to the start of the one week meditation course I’ll be doing in November, giving me a full 30 days of practice to build on when I go there, rather than nothing, which is what I’ve got at the moment.

Hopefully all this will mean the practice of regular meditation will stick. And if not, well… I’ll just have to try again. I know meditation is important for me to do, and I know it will become a permanent feature in my life eventually, I just need to find a way to kick start it that’s all.

I’ll be blogging the results every day as a sort of spiritual diary. Check back to see how it’s going, to see what revelations come about, and to see just how mindful my mindfulness gets (in just 30 days, lol).

A General Update

It’s been a long time since I did an all round update of my pursuit for a Brand New Life. The reason for that is simple, I’ve been out doing stuff. I’ve also been avoiding going on about things too much so as to avoid a false sense of achievement, as outlined in this video (check it out, it’s only a few minutes long).

My avid readers (all 3 of you) will know what I’ve been up to – yoga retreats, green man, a gig or two – and those who can will remember that I said I would be making some changes soon, but that I was putting off any final decisions until the end of September.

Well, the end of the month is fast approaching, and it’s decision time. And what conclusions have I come to? Not as many as I should (maybe).

I know I’m going to do the Sivananda Teacher Training Course, probably in Austria in August, and I’m very tempted to do the Buddhafield Festival set-up in July, but what about between now and then?

I could stay in work, get some cash together, then quit come the summer. Or I could quit, go traveling – Australia and Canada spring to mind – and maybe do 3 months karma yoga at an ashram. Or I could do the karma yoga after the TTC (my preferred choice), but then what after?

Of course I’m just spouting hypotheticals at the moment. I’m not looking for answers from you guys. When it’s the right time the solution will present itself. The Universe has a funny way of doing that when you’re on the right path. And I do feel like I’m on the right path, even if I have to hack through a few weeds for a while.

The quandary, if there is one, is giving up the job. Not only is it the security of a regular (and pretty decent) wage, but it’s nice to be able to just go out and get whatever I want. Like getting my car fixed – Β£518:06 – or buying a new camera – Β£203:67. Even being able to go get a haircut whenever I want and not have to choose between that and train fare (believe me, there have been times…!). But when I think of the alternative, to stay ‘secure’ and never go for it, a shiver runs down my spine.

Anyway, that’s where I am at the moment. Unclear I know, but that’s the way it is unfortunately. I’ll post my decision on Friday, in the meantime here’s a few observances and updates on what’s happened this week.

A Spiritual Test

It’s one of the 5 basic precepts of Buddhism that you never lie. Now, I was in work Thursday, when I really could have done with the day off. I had lots to do, and I knew that my being in work meant nothing to anyone (the nature of the shift that day was that there was nothing for me to do). I was very tempted to call in sick.

But I couldn’t do it. To do so would be a lie, and as a friend of mine is discovering at the moment, lies only cause you trouble. And what did I get for my diligence? 11 hours of pure tedium and a journey home that took an hour and a half and was full of drunks and dodgy situations. I’d have been better off if I’d chucked a sickie (or so it seems).

I guess if you’re going to try and live a more spiritual life sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth. Or better yet, find a way to see it all as smooth, no matter what. Now there’s an idea.

Tell you what though, I’m never getting the train to work again. It’s downright dangerous!

Making Choices

Our one freedom in life is choice. In fact it’s the ultimate freedom, that’s why people try and take it away from you all the time (don’t ever take it away from yourself!).

I was going to do a meditation retreat today. 6 hours just… meditating. I want to do more meditation. I feel that’s an important part of my path. But when it came right down to it I just didn’t want to go.

I’ve been in need of a proper day off for ages. A chance to stay in, read, drink tea, watch a DVD and eat pizza, and so that’s what I did. But I couldn’t do nothing, that would have been a waste, so after organazizing (sic) my life I planted some cherry trees.

cherry, tomatoes

Ok, so they’ve got a long way to go. More just pips than trees at the moment. But one day they’ll be big, beautiful, cherry trees, and I’ll plant them along the drive down to my gorgeous house in the countryside. And every spring, when I come home, I’ll drive down an avenue of tumbling cherry blossoms, and it will make me smile.

Heck, I’m smiling already. Om everyone.

πŸ™‚