4am Is A Special Time

I just watched this TED video about 4am.

It was poignant for me because last night at 4am I was lying awake in bed, wondering when sleep would come.

4am is touted as an auspicious time for meditation. The world is quiet, your life is quiet, there are fewer distractions, both internal and external, to hamper you in achieveing your goal.

I like 4am for precisely those reasons. I used to write late at night (not 4am, I’m not crazy) because everyone else was asleep, and all the good ideas were mine for the taking.

I’m often awake at 4am due to work. To be there because of choice is exhilarating. To be there because of money is not.

4ams are special, because they’re few and far between. They should be savoured as much as possible, because they don’t come very often. Make them good, make them interesting, make them worthy of The Museum Of Four In The Morning.

Make the best of them, and all the opportunity they embody. Don’t lie in bed watching youTube videos like I did.

Four in the Morning, by Wislawa Szymborska

The hour from night to day.
The hour from side to side.
The hour for those past thirty.

The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks.
The hour when earth betrays us.
The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars.
The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us.

The hollow hour.
Blank, empty.
The very pit of all other hours.

No one feels good at four in the morning.
If ants feel good at four in the morning
–three cheers for the ants. And let five o’clock come
if we’re to go on living.

Preparations And Considerations

16 days to go, and its all starting to feel a bit more real now.

I’m starting to book things. Flights to and from Munich. Shuttle transfer to the Ashram in Austria (crazy to fly to Germany to get to Austria, but there you go!). I’ve got a guy getting together a cost/itinerary for me for the round the world leg of the trip. I couldn’t give him all the details, as I don’t know them myself, but I gave him what I’ve got so far… (which is this)

planning

Everything up to the 26th of November is booked. Everything from then until the start of next year is planned, but not booked. And after the new year who knows? It’s all still a bit up in the air!

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to a trip like this. I mean you’ve got the obvious stuff – flights, accommodation, trips, etc. – but there’s plenty of other bits and bobs that are just as important but don’t spring immediately to mind.

Like getting online.

“Ha,” I hear you say, “Internet cafes!”

Well, yes, you’re right. But what I mean is the logistics of maintaining an online presence, like a blog, without carting around a laptop or external hard drive everywhere you go. I’ve been looking into it and the answer is simple… The Cloud.

little fluffy clouds

Online data storage is the way to go (just ’til you get back home anyway). I’ve already got a Dropbox account (3GB of free storage). Now that might be enough to keep me going, but I plan on taking a lot of pictures, so what else? Well, Flickr not withstanding (I’ll be uploading to there as usual, but I’m talking back-ups here), did you know you get 7GB of free online storage with Hotmail’s SkyDrive feature.

That’s right, sign up for a free e-mail account and get 7GB of online storage FREE! And even better, it’s backed up Microsoft Office, so if you store documents on there you can update them online, no muss, no fuss. I’ve already put some stuff on there to help me log in to my many online accounts that my computer automatically logs into at home (as I’ve forgotten all the passwords, lol). In fact I spent a good few hours the other day checking and changing all my logins just so I’d know what they all were.

I’ll also be storing flight and travel information on there too, as well as scans of my passport, visas, etc. just in case they go awol. No more crumpled, damp, degrading photocopies in the bottom of your backpack (though I’ll have those with me too) now everything you need can be backed up online and kept handy. I’m telling you, The Cloud is an absolute God-send.

But that’s just one aspect of it all. What about before I go away?

The past few weeks I’ve been eyeing up everything in my flat deciding what I need, what gets packed, and what goes in the bin. Most of it’s fairly straight forward. But then I thought the other day, what about the food?

a vast array of 'meats' and 'cheeses'

I mean perishables, ok, they get eaten or go in the bin. But is it ok to pack and store spices? Or do storage companies frown on that? Will I have to get loads of sealed plastic containers to put them in? And will that work? I’m telling you, it’s the details that do your head in. All I know is, I’m not giving up my spices without a fight!

And your plants. Who gets your plants? What do you do with your bike, leave it down here or take it with your car up to your brother’s place? There’s just so much to consider.

it's boring waiting for the sun to come out

Actually, I’m being a bit of a drama queen, lol. I’ve got it more or less figures out. Car, bike and computer go ‘oop norf’. Everything packable that’s not junk goes into storage. Everything in storage that’s not furniture goes in boxes, so if I’m overseas and I have to arrange to get it all moved and shipped it’s good to go. Likewise the car papers go with the car, so if I decide not to come back it’s all there ready to be sold.

Yup, you heard me, I might not come back!

I don’t know where all this is going to lead, but chances are once I leave London I won’t come back to live here again. And once I leave the UK, provided there’s things I want to do, I might not come back here to live again either. Anything could happen, so that’s what I’m planning for; anything and everything.

And finally, as a little aside, I’ve started another blog to detail my travels. It’s called the Yoga Bum but don’t go rushing over there just yet as it’s pretty empty (though if you’re interested you can go check out What a Yoga Bum is?).

And in fact it’s existence shouldn’t make any difference to you guys over here, as I’ll be re-posting anything I put on there here on My Brand New Life. It’s just a little yoga/travel based thing for the more ‘yogic’ (ie: innocent) of my friends to keep up with what I’m doing. And whereas there I have to be all polite and on topic, here I can write about all that and still post random stuff I find off t’inernet, come up with new recipes for you to try, post silly pics of silly things, cheeky vids of naughty things, and get away with saying words like ‘bollocks’ and ‘shlong’ and ‘boobs’. 😆

So you guys are getting the best of both worlds! How lucky are you?

(Answer: Very!) 😉

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.

Discombobulated!

There’s only one word for how I feel at the moment, discombobulated. Ok, maybe befuddled. Or possibly even confounded? Y’see, I’m even discombobulated about my discombobulation!

They say a picture paints a thousand words, so allow me to illustrate my situation thusly:

ice skating!

That’s my ankle after going over on it ice skating at Somerset House. It’s the perfect metaphor for 2012 so far. I was shaky in the beginning, got confident, stopped paying attention, and ultimately landed on my arse.

A few things have gone a little bit haywire this week, and I put it down to one thing and one thing only, the non-practice of mindfulness. I’ve been asleep at the wheel, mentally speaking that is, and so it was just a matter of time before I had an accident.

Yesterday I told a blatant lie, thereby breaking one of the five precepts for the lay Buddhist, and for no good reason either. It was someone else’s thing that they wanted me to cover for. Why, I don’t know? I’m just annoyed that without even thinking about it I agreed. It just highlighted for me how little attention I’ve been paying recently.

But what has passed is gone, we can only look to the future (or rather, the Now!). I need to put my meditation practice on a more solid footing (no pun intended) and really make sure it becomes a permanent aspect of my life (satori not withstanding). Only in that way will ‘accidents’ like those above be eradicated from my life.

Not that I will be without injury, but at least the ones that do occur won’t be because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. 🙂

Some General Reflections

What a weird week it’s been.

morning reflections

Back to work after the week of meditation. That was a bit of a shock. But, they did agree in principal to a sabbatical, which is good. I just need to decide when I want it (and ergo, what I want to do) and we can sort it out (hopefully).

Then I got ill, which was/is dry as a bone. I hate being stuck indoors not being able to go do stuff. I’m watching back to back Big Bang Theory but still… BORED! Thankfully my ears are sorting themselves out slowly. I’m still a bit trippy on my feet, but at least it’s to a lesser extent than it was when it started.

I had high hopes for the coming week. I’d finally cleared my To Do list, and I fully intended on spending as much time as possible writing as I haven’t done any work on my book in ages. But now I don’t feel up to it, which sucks, so I’m just trying not to go crazy in the meantime.

And I’m not doing any meditation for the same reasons. I’m just drained, lethargic, and utterly unmotivated. The change in weather (ie: less daylight hours) doesn’t help either. Winter and me don’t get on.

Anyway, in the meantime, I’ve done a wee playlist for you guys to download if you fancy. It’s called Dustbowl Americana, and I think the title speaks for itself. Hope you enjoy these slightly countrified haunting melodies. Makes me dream of faraway lands where the horizon goes on for miles and there ain’t no rush to go nowhere. 🙂