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. 😀

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. 🙂 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.

Where To’s That Then?

(brace yourselves, this is a long ‘un – oo-err missus! :P)

Oh Spring, where have you been? Away for so long, I thought you’d never get here!

tree flower

But now finally the equinox has come and gone, the days are longer, the nights shorter, the sun is out, and we’re about to go into summer time for 2012. Oh yes, things are looking up! That’s up as far as the weather is concerned anyway. Elsewhere the forecast is not so bright.

Work are humming and harring a little about giving me a sabbatical. They’ve sent me a list of questions, the general gist of which is “How will this effect the company?” and “What’s in it for us?” Now of course I’ll answer their questions in detail, but I just get the feeling they’re gearing themselves up to say no.

If they do though I’m pretty sure I’m going to take some time off work anyway (ie: hand in my notice). I mean if it’s a choice between that and my gravestone reading:

Here’s Lies Keith Dickinson
He Kept His Job

I know which one I’d prefer!
 
it's boring waiting for the sun to come out
 
Ok, so never mind spring, where the hell have I been? 2 weeks it’s been since my last post. I feel bad for neglecting my blog like that (don’t take it personally, it’s taking me a week just to respond to personal e-mails at the moment). I’ve just been working constantly, trying to make a bit of money to help pay for future shenanigans.

I have been doing other stuff too though, things more in line with My Brand New Life!

For one thing I met up with a friend of many years, Rakka, who I’ve actually never met before in real life. She’s a Flickr Friend, someone I’ve followed for 44 months (literally the third person I started following on there), and a very creative artist and photographer. It was her ‘My Name Is…’ Diego Montoya that caught my attention, and I’ve been an avid fan ever since.

She comes over to the UK once a year or so to get her fix of Britishness (a wee bit of an anglophile she is) and so we reckoned it was high time we met up. Actually we tried to meet last year but she was so ill we had to call it off.

Anyway, we met up in Islington where she and the guy she came over with, Leff, were going to be meeting a famous cat (?). Hey, who am I to judge, lol.

I took my friend Amanda along coz she works in the area and she was highly amused by the idea of meeting up with someone you only know through the online world. Rakka also invited along another online friend of hers, Nathalie, to meet for the first time, as well as another guy they know from the States, Chris, who just happened to be over here, so all told it was a pretty mixed bunch!

I have to say I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Who knows how you’ll get along when you know someone one way and then meet them in an entirely different context. But I needn’t have been worried. She’s lovely, her friends were lovely, my friend got on with her and her friends, and all in all we managed to prove that the world is indeed just a great big onion, lol.

We had a right laugh once we were comfortably ensconced in the pub (alcohol helps in these kinds of situations, though I’m glad to say the fact that I don’t drink anymore didn’t prove to be a hindrance). Topics of conversation included (but weren’t limited to):

* Which parts of the UK are like which parts of America? – The North of England is like the Deep South (apparently, though I contest this a little), London and Edinburgh are like New York and L.A., and Leicestershire is like Ohio (ie: boring, hehehe ;))

* Icelandic Emo Ponies (or Ice Po’s, as we called them) – check out this link if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

* Portlandia – “It’s true. It’s all true!! They think they’re making a joke but they’re not, that’s what it’s like!!!

And…

* Sexy Neaderthals – Which is just so (unintentionally) hilarious! You’ve got to check it out. Just be sure to stick with it to the end.


 
As you can tell, we had fun. It was so great meeting up with everyone, I’m so glad we did it, and it just goes to prove the old adage –

‘There’s no such thing as strangers, just friends you’ve not yet met.’

 
So, apart from that, what else is going on? I’ve been writing a bit, which is nice. Actually coming up with some good stuff at the moment. The hard part is finding the time to write. For example I haven’t had time to do anything yet today, it’s nearly midnight, and I’ve got work tomorrow. Not conducive to good output. But that’s just an excuse. I need to make the time, and come Monday I will! It’s all good. 🙂

I’ve got a 10 day residential meditation course coming up which I’m really looking forward to. It should be amazing. Very intensive, quite hardcore (up at 4:30am!), but definitely worth it. Can’t wait to see what I learn from it.

Between now and then it’s just work work work. Might get some cooking done, in fact I better! I’ve bought the domain name http://www.myveganlife.co.uk (which you can type into your browser but it just leads you back here at the moment, lol) and I’m going to start an all vegan blog which I’ll be launching in a month or two (haven’t even started building it yet!). It’ll be the public face for all my cooking shenanigans.

Don’t worry, I’ll keep this little baby going. This is where I come to share silly things, make dick jokes, and talk about all the weird stuff I got going on. I just need somewhere I can build into a ‘proper’ foody site that people can really enjoy (and that might lead somewhere in the future). Coz that’s the one thing all this faffing about with work has taught me, that not only does no one get rich working for other people, and if you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve already got, but if you don’t do it now, then when?

So it’s time to crack on! Who’s with me??? 🙂

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. 🙂

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? 🙂

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. 🙂

But remember…

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

– Mother Theresa of Calcutta

…and a Happy New Year

Start as you mean to go on they say. I started 2012 by sleeping til gone noon, then lazing about the flat playing online games and watching movies. So, a lot like 2011 then, lol. 😉

Ok, technically I started 2012 at the Sivananda Yoga Centre enjoying their new years eve celebrations. I went along early, did some cooking, some cleaning, a yoga class, then stayed for the puja, meal, and chanting for world peace into the new year.

It was a lovely evening, made all the more lovely by the company of good friends, the fine food, and just the all round happiness and positivity of the occasion. I’m really glad I went as it was an excellent start to the year, a year that hopefully holds a great deal of change for little ol’ me.

If all goes as planned, by this time next year I’ll be a trained yoga teacher with some experience, I’ll have visited Austria, Canada and Australia, and I’ll be contemplating a trip to Thailand to ride an elephant before heading back to Europe to see the northern lights. Then… well, who knows?

Of course, as they say, if you want to make God laugh tell her your plans. But still, you’ve got to give it a go because the alternative (same ol’ same ol’, day in, day out) just doesn’t bear thinking about does it.

last bit of christmas cake

I’ve made just 2 resolutions to kick off the new year. First is to meditate every day. That is the one area where I need most work. I want to do just half an hour a day. If I can manage to do that for 366 days (it’s a leap year this year, remember) I will consider it a significant victory.

My second is just for a month, but it’s to cook everything from scratch, and to not eat ready made overly processed foods all the time. I mean I don’t do too badly, but every day there’s a hash brown or Linda McCartney sausage in there somewhere (usually at the same time – oh Full English, how I love thee!). I’m going to make all my food myself for a while, thereby avoiding nasty stuff, convenience eating, and taking sandwiches to work every day.

Apart from all that my ongoing plans still revolve around writing, vegan cooking, and going out and having fun. Expect some developments on each one of these very soon!

And so there you go, that’s it from me for now. Actually, I think that’s enough to be going on with, don’t you? Happy New Year everyone. I hope you have a great and wonderful 2012!

Om Namah Shivaya. 🙂

Sivananda Meditation Retreat

Well, I’m back from my exotic yoga holiday to sunny Putney. 🙂

Might seem a bit weird going to stay for a week somewhere half an hour away from your own front door, but then again why not? You go where the teaching is, and when the day starts at 5:45am – with the ringing of a bell and an enthusiastic “Om namah Shivaya!” – what else can you do but pack your bags and go residential.

sivananda yoga vedanta centre, putney

I’d been looking forward to this. I was in dire need of a break from ‘real life’ (details of which I ain’t going into right now). A week stretching, chanting, meditating and everything else was just what the doctor ordered, and the Sivananda Yoga Centre is just the place to do it. They themselves call it “an oasis of calm in the centre of London” and they’re not wrong.

an oasis of calm

I’d not done their kind of meditation before, so I figured this course with Swami Kailasanada was just what I needed to get me started. Turned out to be quite different to the Vipassana Meditation I’ve been practicing up to now. For one thing there was more chanting than I’d expected.

shrine room

Now you know me, I’m not big on the whole chanting thing (though it kind of grows on you) but I gave it a go anyway. And I was doing alright ’til this weird head cold thing started kicking it. I spend several days with a nasty scratchy throat, occasional headaches (I gave up caffeine two days early just so I wouldn’t have withdrawal headaches while I was there, so they were doubly annoying) and so my chanting was a bit sub-par a lot of the time. Thankfully there were plenty of others there to drown me out, though not the two times I had to lead the chant myself (eek!).

shiva mural

The evening workshops themselves were excellent, and so full of information. I took copious amounts of notes and heard a lot of new and interesting stuff to think about. Often after a class I was so invigorated I couldn’t sleep. That’s where washing dishes helped. A little something to burn off excess energy works wonders sometimes.

We learnt about mantras and their use in meditation, and I was even fortunate enough to go through a mantra initiation at the end of it. Check me out in my white initiation outfit.

waiting for mantra initiation

Lookin’ good huh? And, I got given a spiritual name too: Keshava, which means one who is full inside apparently (among other things). Thankfully, I like it. I mean it’s short, it sounds nice, it begins with a K, and it’s not utterly unpronounceable which is always a bonus (some of them can be a right mouthful). But I digress…

sun salutation

The course was well run, as you would expect. Everyone at the centre was lovely, as were all my fellow residents. The food was great, and I was very grateful to everyone for the allowances they made for my veganism. Care and consideration for their students is something of a trademark for the Sivananda organisation I find. Just look at all the smiling faces;

a yogi breakfast

And that was at 8am on day seven! After seven early morning calls, seven full days, and thirteen (you heard me, thirteen) yoga classes. Just goes to show, they must be doing something right eh?

om

Highlight for me though had to be the lunch time where Swami Krishnadevananda decided to nick everybody’s cake. It was masterful the way he pointed out the pictures on the wall behind people, only to swipe their banana bread when their backs were turned (not once, but twice!). And they didn’t even realise he’d done it, or why everyone else was laughing. Priceless. 🙂

So if you do decide to go on a course there get ready for a full day, some great food, good company, but most of all keep your eye on your pudding coz Swamiji’s about! You have been warned.