Healing and Transformation


Blue Mountains, Australia, 2010, I was enrolled in the most dreaded thing on my bucket list—my first Vipassana.

Vipassana is a 10-day retreat in which participants take a vow of silence and are strongly encouraged to follow the program’s strict laws which include meditating for at least 10 hours per day, abandoning all communication devices including all electronic devices, relinquishing reading/writing/exercising/touching or even eye contact. Any religious practice or symbol is strictly forbidden, even including yoga. Even jewellery is forbade. Participants sit on the floor, and are expected to be especially vigilant in not moving (unless overcome by discomfort) whilst exploring sensations in their bodies.

Hung up on every empty wall, the schedule stares you in the face. It’s more like a glare really.

4:00 Wake up gong. I found it almost impossible to abandon my warm bed in the cold and dark of 4am. Isn’t the darkness best left for sleeping? If I made it to the toilets, it was an enlivening experience showering under the stars.

4:30-6:30 Meditation time. I would usually wander around in my mind, and courageously gather myself in a heap in the hall, covered by blankets and a scarf. Shivering, I would grab some quality meditation, before slumber usually gripped my so strongly that a nap was the inevitable result — yet I would hold on for as long as possible, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t snore and embarrass myself.

6:30-8:00 Breakfast. Usually huddled around the food, warming my hands on the toaster and kettle, I would gather some warm food, usually the same options — oatmeal topped with seeds and stewed fruit, toast with peanut butter and a warm tea. Most participants looked like they were exiting a bomb-shelter having not slept much, exhaustion and cold written on their faces, yet relieved to see the light emerging.

There was always some time after breakfast for another nap, or toilet visit.

8:00-9:00 Mandatory meditation in the hall. Three times a day, group meditation sittings were held, where the energy was focused and steadfast, and there was a real drive to have the best meditation. In these “strong determination,” sessions, any movement was discouraged. Disturbances were generally kept to a minimum during these times. The sun was beginning to warm the hall by now, and with the shivering dampened, and a full stomach, there was a renewed sense of vigour and hope about me. My best meditations were always during this timeslot, as I was physically comfortable and still relatively fresh at these times.

9:10-11:00 Meditation. This time would drift away slowly, with meditators soldiering on in the rooms or listening to an audio recording of Goenka’s instructions in the hall. He would conclude these sessions with chanting, which to untrained ears sounds peculiar at best.

11:00-1:00 Lunch break. Lunch was usually tasty and all-vegetarian. There was a basic salad and an interesting vegetarian dish. Usually a generous portion of cheese available, and even dessert. Lunch was enjoyed in silence (like everything else), it seemed to be a worldly pleasure that took on increasing importance to meditators as other pleasures were reduced or taken away completely. There was also a trend of mindful (slow) eating, and some curious and eccentric behaviour from participants, from praying over their food, to eating in slow-motion. Everyone developed noticeable habits and most people liked to sit in the same place every day. The most sought-after positions were taken outside, with the mountain views popular.

After eating, I would always go exploring the property and finding ways to stretch and exercise my body, even though all practices (even stretching) were illegal according to Vipasanna-laws. A quick sprint here or there, or a couple of press-ups kept me sane! The body is severely depleted and in-constant pain sitting all day, and one has to steal stretches whenever one can get away with not being detected by the Vipasanna police force.

Capturing the energy of the sun was a real god-send at a place like this. Participants were desperate to feel some rays on their meditation-parched skin.

1:00-2:30 pm Meditation in the hall or room. This was often a below-average time for me. When not meditating, I would take a nap or do some stretching. This time was set aside for meeting with the teacher, if you had a question. All questions would be answered with the same understanding, compassionate tone and essentially the same answer: “Just observe it. Keep practising.”My questions ranged from how to deal with sexual thoughts (or frustration), how to manage bodily pain, distracted thoughts, or repeated thoughts about past experiences and making plans for the future.

I realised that the questions were pretty much irrelevant as the answer would always be the same – just keep observing your breath, be steadfast, be diligent in your practice.

2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall. The second group session of the day. All would be in attendance.

3:30-5:00 pm. Meditate in the hall or in your own room. This session was always the hardest, fighting fatigue, excruciating body pain and never able to find a comfortable position.

5:00-6:00 pm Tea break. A pleasant break from the routine. New students were allowed a pleasant snack of chocolate, fruit, cheese and tea. Repeat students were allowed just tea. This was a great time to be outside walking, stretching and enjoying the setting sun. If I could fit in a shower, this was a great time to freshen up.

By about the second day, one’s body would already be adjusting to having one main meal early at 11am. The problem would be that one would naturally over-indulge to get through the day.

6:00-7:00 Group meditation in the hall.

Another mandatory setting, usually I had a little bit of resolve if I had had a decent walk and/or shower, yet energy levels were dropping as well as motivation to keep going. My mind would start to wonder over all the things in life I wished (or fantasised) about doing.

7:15-8:30 Discourses. Each evening, we would sit down to watch a video by the teacher, Goenka. Although a little out of synch with modern life, the age-old Buddhist teachings are still helpful and inspiring. Goenka’s unconventional oration in parts, was entertaining and a fresh break from the meditation routine. His usual message (take-away), again, was, “If anything arise, just observe. Keep practising diligently.”

8:30-9:00 Meditation. There would be an audio explaining the technique for the following day, and then practice for about 1/2 an hour.

9:00-9:30 Question-and-answer session. By this stage, most people trundled off to bed.

9:30 Bed time. My body was always aching by this stage, and Goenka’s characteristic words were usually echoing in my head, like the phrases he particularly enjoyed repeating, like “perfect equanimity.” Eventually fatigue would take over, and I would sleep deeply.

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Oh Serena – where have you gone – what depths have you fallen to?

Who are you?

A woman. First and foremost a tennis player. African-American.

And now claiming to be a spokesperson for women’s rights, and racial equality?

Will the real Serena Williams please stand up.

A quick backtrack:

Serena had repeated tantrums and attacked the umpire, Carlos Ramos, for being a “thief” when her coach was caught coaching her (technically cheating) and she got penalised.

She objected by calling in the tournament referee to interject, stating to him, “There are men out here who do a lot worse than me, but because I’m a woman you are going to take this away from me? That is not right.”

Firstly, is this actually true – Are women penalised more than men?

The data says categorically no.

By a landslide (1517 penalties for men versus 535 by women from 1998 to 2018 at the four Grand Slams) – data published by the New York Times.

That’s hardly insignificant.

Serena is wrong. Dead wrong.

The umpire, Carlos Ramos was perfectly within his jurisdiction to penalise her for a code-of-conduct violation her for verbal abuse. She should really apologise unconditionally for calling him a “thief” and “liar.”

The rulebook is clear on why Serena was guilty of an offence. It states that an infringement occurs when an athlete: “implies dishonesty or is derogatory, insulting or otherwise abusive.”

For Serena, it’s not about being more of a brat than superbrat. It’s not being allowed to get away with bad behaviour and cheating. It’s not about men at all in fact.

It’s about you.

The Women’s liberation movement was not about being free to cheat. Or to have the freedom to demonstrate equal (or worse) behaviour than men. It held itself to a higher standard. The goal was not to be equally bad as the worst of men, but to be free to aspire to and achieve as much as men do.

Role models like Serena Williams need to be held to a higher standard.

There are more ways to go to remove subtle and overt prejudices against women particularly psychological and in the way women are portrayed in the media and society.

A mature perspective requires that we see people as souls, and treat them with equal respect, yet also the equality of demonstrating that their deeds have equal consequences. Real justice can never be held to a double standard.

An immature, narcissistic feminine voice doesn’t bring the conversation forward – nor offer solutions to the very real problems that exist.

Naomi Osaka deserved better. The first Japanese woman to win a major title – at just 20 years old. She deserved to be treated with dignity, honour and respect. She deserved to have her achievement recognised. What Serena did in stealing the limelight was narcissistic abuse at its worst. Even in defeat, she stole all the headlines.

Osaka, the half Japanese, half Haitian American-educated rising star, is changing perspectives and the concept of identity. When interviewed in the New York Times magazine in an article entitled, Naomi Osaka’s Breakthrough Game:

“Maybe it’s because they can’t really pinpoint what I am…so it’s like anybody can cheer for me.”

In being American, Japanese, Haitian, Osaka recalls Barack Obama’s multi-national and multi-ethnic background. Yet in representing Japan, Osaka confronts Japanese history of racial homogeneity. She is a bright spark and step forward into multiculturalism.

The Time’s Motoko Rich writes in ‘In U.S. Open Victory, Naomi Osaka Pushes Japan to Redefine Japanese’

“In becoming the first Japanese-born tennis player to win a Grand Slam championship, Ms. Osaka, 20, is helping to challenge Japan’s longstanding sense of racial purity and cultural identity.”

The documentary “Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan,” directed, produced and shot by Megumi Nishikura & Lara Perez Takagi examines long-held racial prejudices in Japan and the new plurality being headlined by the likes of Nishikura herself (born to an Irish-American mother and Japanese father) and Osaka.

Megumi Nishikura: “We live in a world where people have a limited view on nationality and race and ethnicity and say that you can only be one, you can’t be more. I think Naomi Osaka really presents a very interesting challenge for people who are still attached to these antiquated ideas that you can only be one.” 

So why was Serena’s behaviour really interesting in the context of this matchup?

These two share a deeper bond.

First, Serena is Osaka’s childhood idol. Second, Osaka is also coached by Serena’s former hitting partner, who has honed her metronomic hitting game.

In playing against arguably the greatest tennis player, Osaka emerged the victor against her hero, and Serena was left to languish in controversy.

Brook Larmer writes perhaps telepathically:

“For her part, Osaka, shy and quirky, with a penchant for unexpected candor, seems focused solely on becoming the next Serena.”

Perhaps we don’t need the next Serena, we need new role models that are example of feminine integrity, honesty, dignity and honour. So far, the young Naomi Osaka has shown these qualities and carried herself with humility and nobility. Long may that continue. As a newly crowned multi-cultural icon, she can soon take the mantle of the deposed Serena Williams. May she lead with kindness. That’s the future female role-model I yearn for. That’s the future female role-model we deserve.

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Wake me up!

“Please stop this suffering.

I’m feeling blue. Depressed. Sad. Disappointed. Downcast. I’m losing hope. I’m starved of oxygen.”

The all-too familiar cry for help.

Has it happened to you before – or someone close to you?

I am certain if it hasn’t already happened, it will happen. For me, it doesn’t all come at once, it can come and go – as in life there are always disappointments. It’s impossible for there not to be peaks and troughs, for the process not to be pure ascension, yet more like the Rocky mountains, ups and downs, valleys and peaks.

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What is important is to find a sense of hope and courage to face obstacles and when fears come up, to be able to process them in a healthy way so we may find our equilibrium quickly.

How do we face our suffering and feel it without removing ourselves in drugs (alcohol, television or other entertainment, mind-numbing foods, etc.)? There is an array of options available to help us escape.

When we look at it, examine it closely, allow ourselves to feel without judgement, it is just like a little child that asks us to hug it, not question it, not condemn it, and certainly not judge it.

Our suffering is like a child.

If we are unkind to it, it only gets worse.

The mind is an illusion. It is not real. Our thoughts and feelings feel real to us. We must be patient with our minds, and have compassion for ourselves. Compassion is the kind space that lets us feel – let’s us cry, scream, curse – without questioning.

The mind is directly or indirectly always causing and manifesting our suffering. Hence the importance of an inward practice, where we can access at least for a short while, the no-mind. It is usually the reactive mind or thought-response to phenomena that bring forth a type of dissonance, where we are disconnected from our source. This disconnection can bring a profound disharmony and suffering, as we struggle to accept what is happening or what happened around us. It is not what happened – it is the time-lag to accept and integrate whatever the event/s.

Then for so many of us, it is the STORY that makes us suffer. If something happened, it is gone without the story. It is nothing. The story keeps our suffering alive.

It is the “whole” of becoming human that is often neglected, where the inner meets the outer. This “whole’ is in embracing all aspects to the self without running away from feeling by embracing numbness. Carl Jung writes, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”

The polarity parts of our nature call for attention. If light is the opposite of dark and we reject our darkness or wounds, we are not whole, we are merely numbing the truth of who we are. Our polarities call for liberation into the lightness of who we are, our consciousness. When we make a part ourselves conscious, we bring awareness to it, we bring it out into the open. It no longer hides away in a secret crevice of our mind, crouching in a tunnel of rejection, pain, humiliation, sadness. When out in the open, we can look at the cave from the outside with our harmony in tact. We can visit it and bring it flowers, make peace with it.

We walk through into the light knowing where we come from, and accepting and integrating those parts of ourselves we rejected before.

Beyond the separation of parts of our being, is unity consciousness or non-duality. Before we can ascend to greater wisdom and peace, we must first accept both lightness and dark. If we miss out on this step, then we are merely repressing or cutting off our true nature.

Is there a short-cut to harmony?

The best short-cut is a run on the beach as it releases any built-up or stagnant energy and pushes the mind into flux. Then when we are physically tired, we have less energy to distort, less energy to be troubled. The less frenetic our mind, the more calm. It will happen naturally, effortlessly, there is no need to force the mind.

When our body is healthy, our mind follows.

The levels we can reach via the inner process will be more profound as the foundation is natural and healthy. Not to say that we cannot reach deep states in an unhealthy body, as definitely this is possible. It is just easier when the body is healthy. This is why the Buddha sat comfortable under the shade of the Bodhi tree. He did not torture himself, starve himself or place his body in discomfort.

Then we can consider the silent knower, the ‘sAkShin’ that is beyond transformation, just stillness, that can simply witness all of consciousness without interference, with use acceptance. This ‘sAkShin’is truly our gateway to inner peace.

The Bhagavad Gita conceives of an immortal, unchangeable reality beyond what we consciously experience. We can tune into this eternal nature as a witness, and hence transmute momentarily our suffering. Within us is the capacity to access an eternal observer consciousness that is simply presence.

The ego is behind the STORY WE TELL OURSELVES (and others). The ego wants control and wants to know. The ego wants to possess. The ego is unbending will, glued to experiencing duality selfishly. It always wants to cling on to experience and experiencing as the experiencer. We are a slave to this master if we allow our unbending nature to control us.

Speak with kindness to your suffering. Say I LOVE YOU – I ACCEPT YOU. If you ignore suffering, it doesn’t go away, it just becomes sad, lonely and depressed (suppressed feelings).

Move in the body, through the body. The feeling-body needs to move, run, jump, laugh, swim, walk. Whatever you do, keep moving.

Stuck emotions can be like mud, they need sunshine (love), and tender care. They also need to move.

Nisargadatta: “Remember yourself – ‘I AM’ is enough to heal your mind and take you beyond. If you want to know your true nature, you must have yourself in mind all the time, until the secret of your being stands revealed.”

We have created a mechanical system that the more we partake in it, the more we go to sleep, forget our multi-dimensional self, and ignore aspects of who we are. How we talk to ourselves (self-talk) is the ground from which we create our lives. When you start a sentence by “I AM” – you are creating this reality of who you say you are. For instance, “I am fit, I am athletic, I am excited, I am lazy, I am stupid, I am clever, I am creative, I am boring, I am a good meditator, I am a bad meditator.”

All these examples are incredibly powerful in saying who you would like to be, in claiming your identity.

“The words you speak become the house you live in.”~ Hafiz

May you awaken a million times from your slumber and create a million dreams from your “I AM” statements.

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meteorite-1060886_960_720As human vessels for Divine light, we are constantly inundated with information and wisdom that comes directly via our primary light-source, the sun. Revolutionaries have known the power of this for aeons.

It is the light of the sun that feeds our pineal gland – that harmonises with creative intelligence.

Yet, we are often disconnected from our inner light. The split happens between our adult self and our child self (that person who was closer to our origin). The sadness we often feel throughout our lifetime is this disconnection with our inner child who was wild and free (until being suppressed by our parents and society). The inner child is our inner sun. The more lost it is, the more hidden – the more neglected, the more suppressed.

The inner child is always yearning for freedom – always asking us for love and attention, for unconditional acceptance. If we can liberate our inner child, we will liberate our inner light, and allow it to shine upon the world.

Ravaged by conditioning (media and entertainment seem to be the primary transgressors), our inner light is shaded by these monoliths of escapism.

The simplicity we all seek is really only found in the “real world” (the one that lives if you remove all humans from the planet). Beyond the materialistic and consumeristic desires of our ego-driven economy, lie the simple truths. These are found within the ancient traditions. Ancient cultures were more connected to empiricism, base elements, the base foundations and structures of life on Earth. The classical elements created systems that described the basic energies of life. The Chinese Wu Xing system listed fire, wood, earth, metal and water as transformations of energy. These ancient philosophies had a cosmology that rooted them to these moving energies.

In Ayurveda, the panache mahabhuta, the five basic elements are 1. earth (bhūmi), 2. water (ap or jala), 3. fire(tejas or agni), 4. air or wind (vayu or pavan) and 5. space or zero (vyom or shunya), also known as the ether or void (akash).

I am curious how we as a society have removed ourselves from the Earth, have created a polemic of darkness and fear around nature, and structured human beings as above other creatures in the “food chain. We happily take on slaves of monoculture to serve our nefarious agendas. The primary global philosophy is growth. Not growth in kindness. Not growth in happiness. Not growth in humanity. It’s growth in the economy. That’s a very terse summary I would give to an alien arriving on this planet. We live in such a complex world, that one cannot live safely in one-dimensionalism.

Within plurality, I like to simplify.

Where is the “human” in humanity? Where is the “I” in human being?

Why did we forget who we are?

Custodians of this Divine planet of beings. Humans who care and love their world, create wondrous communities. There is no collective need to pollute destructively and without limits. Unencumbered by compassion, responsibility, care, kindness, wisdom, and without any long term goal or vision, we have ravaged the Earth, rapaciously taking from her every last ounce of her nutrients. Her heart is wounded not because of our endless hunger (greed), but because of her unfeeling plunder. If we act with love and kindness, that is the result. If we slaughter with love and compassion, we will live that way too.

I know it’s easy to disconnect from our humanity. As greed and confusion is so pervasive, and the economic parameters of society create a kind of collective sleep. We are all anaesthetised by media images, and the stories that are told to us.

It’s time to remember our inner light. It’s time to remember the basic forces of our cosmology that make up our world, appreciate and honour them – sun (fire), wind, rain (water), earth as well as wood and metal.

Go outside. Spend time on the Earth barefoot. Picnic under the shade of a tree. Feel the rays of the splendid sun on your skin. Enjoy the simple things innate to our nature that make life what it is on this planet. She is the ground of our world (nature is the fabric from which we live, dream, create). Honour her, love her, cherish her. And she will return that to you a thousandfold.

It’s time to take back our power – not our power to destroy – our power to remember who we are – and be who we are – kind and compassionate. To love our Mother earth, not just because she is our mother and loves us unconditionally, but because it is who we are. We are from love and of love.

You are a creation of God.
This is why you really are good enough.
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