Healing and Transformation

Via FondoxDo you call yourself “spiritual?”

Is that a religion? What does it mean?

Does it mean you judge people because they don’t understand how elevated you are—because that’s what you are now, elevated—above other people?

Swami Satyananda taught (regarding the uncertain concept of the immaterial):

“Spiritual life begins with a question: Who am I? Where have I come from? What is my path of arrival? What will be the dock of my departure?”

This seems a more authentic way of being spiritual in that it merely acknowledges the important existential questions.

We need to keep coming back to our origin: where have we come from? Honour that part of our journey, and then see the expanse of our lives in terms of where we are going to end up. How will we depart this earthly venture?

Basically, ambition and success have become the new “en vogue” spiritual movement. This is spiritual materialism, and bypasses the essential question, “Who am I?” Yet, the ego self says: “It’s just a creation anyway, so who cares; I’m going to play this game!”
We also need to acknowledge our identity is made up by the conditioning of our parents and society, and finally, us—until we kill our ego, and kill who we thought we were. Or, simply, recreate ourselves. Superficiality and ceaseless spiritual shopping sprees avoid the real work.

It seems spiritual notions are causing a great deal of judgement and confusion in our modern world. People who have studied yoga, become yoga teachers, meditate, visit ashrams in India, study religions, become teachers, or devotees, or who simply read a few spiritual books are still wracked by judgements and insecurities, and their woundedness continues. Their shadows grow longer, their darkness ever more repressed.

They want to escape themselves—but they can’t. They fail, and they’re angry.

They divert their anger at people who are “not as spiritual” as them, who have not suffered like they have—the people who have had less tragedy, who can’t relate to their lofty status.

I’ve often been told, “You can’t understand me as you haven’t been (fill in the gap) like I have been, so your opinion is meaningless.”

The woundedness has become a reason to push people away, so we don’t have to face the awkward truth of being so uncomfortable with our wounds that we can’t bring another close. When we feel unlovable, we push people away. It’s like we don’t want to be reminded of this feeling of being unloved, even though the more we push people away, the more unloved we are.

Toko-pa Turner writes in ‘Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home’:

“While the New Age has awakened many to the power of creative intention, it has simultaneously pathologized the so-called ‘negative emotions’ and stricken them from our social palette of acceptability. We live under a kind of hegemony of positivity which emphasizes pleasure over pain, gain over loss, happiness over sadness, and the creative over the destructive. We are taught to ‘rise above’ things like anger, anxiety, sadness—and by whatever means necessary, stay in bliss and light. This kind of bypassing is dangerous because it teaches us to not only dissociate from the multiplicity of ourselves but from the magnificent spectrum of life itself.”

There is a bypassing of conscience here. I have felt judged because I ate fish, that I’m not spiritual enough. A conscious person would never eat flesh after all. One day everyone will be raw vegan as that’s the most spiritual path—or breatharian, because we can live off air and sunshine.

Maybe I’m not on your level, I’m sorry.

I do breathe the same air, walk on the same earth, and drink the same water. Sometimes I don’t even meditate at all. Some days I do no yoga or stretching. Some days I’m just bone lazy. I’ll admit it, I am not perfect (surprise, surprise).

I am just so tired of all the judgement and hypocrisy from so-called “spiritual” people or “conscious” people who go around telling people they are looking for a “conscious” man or woman. Run away.

The worst judgement I’ve experienced lately was at the hands of a “conscious woman” who on repeated occasions got mad at me (no apologies if she’s reading this). One time because I said “Come to India” on my Facebook feed and she thought that meant I wanted to travel with her. When I admitted that wasn’t my plan, she become furious. I wasn’t on her level.

Another time she asked me about her profile picture on Facebook—what did I think? I told her it looked a bit serious, “I would love to see your beautiful smile.” She was so angry—seething. I wasn’t appreciating her radiant light. She admitted to me that it was her “spiritual ego”—and urged me to appreciate her spiritual ego—because I needed to honour that part of her.

All I got from the exchange was that she is above reproach and can throw her fury around because it’s just her “spiritual ego.” Who could be worthy of such a towering spiritual being?

Spiritual bypassing happens when people can’t be real with each other—or themselves. It’s an escape from the self, an escape from being raw. Pretending is easier than facing the truth, that the person who stares back at you in the mirror is a human being like everyone else.

Perhaps for our real “spiritual life” to begin, we must first ask the questions:

“Who am I? Where have I come from? What is my path of arrival? What will be the dock of my departure?”

Maybe we need to just remove this “spiritual” concept from our vernacular and identify in a different way. The old religions seem unable to hold people to their narrow worldview.

So, the new age has taken people hostage—and these people are the new “spiritual.” Let’s just be human. Being human is more than enough for me!

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backlit_beach_dawn_dusk_landscape_light_ocean_outdoors-1052313.jpg!dVipassana is known internationally as a silent meditation retreat program. What is the philosophy behind this program?

In the Buddhist tradition, vipassanā (Pāli) or vipaśyanā (Sanskrit: विपश्यन) is to see into the nature of reality or as the official Vipassana website claims, it means to “see things as they really are.”

अत्तदीपा विहरथ अत्तसरणा अनञ्‍ञसरणा।
धम्मदीपा विहरथ धम्मसरणा अनञ्‍ञसरणा।।

“Make an island of yourself, make yourself your refuge; there is no other refuge. Make truth your island, make truth your refuge; there is no other refuge.”
— Mahā-Parinibbāna Sutta, Dīgha Nikāya, 16.

In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, vipassanā refers to insight into the trinity of understanding the nature of reality in Buddha’s discourses, known as the Three Universal Truths:

  1. annica (impermanence)
  2. dukkha (suffering or better translated as unsatisfying)
  3. anatto (no self or the realisation of agelessness or non-self)

Whether the retreat and program initiated by S.N Goenka in the tradition of his teacher, the Burmese Government Minister, Sayagyi U Ba Khinis strictly-speaking Buddhist is a moot point. Sayagyi U Ba Khin was the first Accountant General of Burma.

The process of Vipassana in this tradition, places the centre of awareness on bodily sensations. This consciousness of the rise and fall of the breath, and the changing nature of sensations, becomes a meditation on annica(impermanence).

This philosophy subscribes to a belief that inner harmony comes from the observation of somatic experiences, and the more one observes oneself (essentially sits with the self), the more the mind becomes still, pure and harmonious. And in turn, the more the mind stills, the more we become free from our suffering.

The Buddha taught Śamatha(calm abiding) in tandem with Vipassanāto reach Paññā(wisdom). These are required for a wholesome meditation practice. In the Pāli canon, both these mental qualities are the pathway to developing a still mind.

Śamatha is the practice of calming the mind and its ‘saṅkhāra’ (mental defilements, agitations or formations संस्कार). Śamatha is usually taught via single-pointed awareness or breath-mindfulness founded on śīla (morality).

In the modern Vipassana teaching, the philosophical focus always returns to annica(the changing nature of phenomena) as the gateway to nirvāṇa (Pali: nibbāna) — the liberation from suffering.

What did I learn from my Vipassana retreat?

How do we face our suffering and feel it without removing ourselves in drugs, alcohol, television, or mind-numbing foods?

Would I do it again?

I’ve subsequently sat two more retreats in this tradition. I regard it as a prelude to exploring authentic Buddhism, and finding a saṅgha (community). I feel like in many cases, because of its Draconian approach, it puts people off Buddhism for life, and often turns them off meditation too.

The focus on suffering in Vipassana seems more distinct than in other Buddhist traditions, with the exception of Zen Buddhism. I prefer a “softer” more Western approach for mushy people like me! I would also advocate the importance of having a writing pad or journal so you can write down your thoughts. Whilst sensory deprivation is helpful, writing things down is essential to clear the mind, otherwise, one constantly recycles or regurgitates the same thoughts for 10 days — often a shopping list of items, which can easily be written down. I also prefer having some reading matter.

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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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Via WikiMedia Commons
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.

Main Image via WikiCommons based on a composite image (2)

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