Zen, Dogs, and Donkeys

“Meditation is enlightenment. Just being in that moment is enlightenment. It’s not about getting somewhere. It is about being here. That is what life is about.”

What a beautiful video! Extra points for all the dogs and donkeys (and cats, he says).

In the Middle of Now

I’ve read so many things so I do not know where the idea below came from. It feels very intuitive and kicks in when the conditions are right for it.

Lately, this instruction comes during meditation once things are relatively settled. It usually happens when I cruise on “resting awareness on the breath”. The instruction / intention is to “get in the middle of now”. At this point, breath sensations strangely get mixed up with color sensations, so that I experience breathing as various shades of black interacting. When I do the “middle of now”, it almost feels like top of the breath is a little black arrowhead that dives into the sea of blackness.

I did this today, and it turns out, that the middle of now has quite a lot in store for me. First, I started breathing as if I just completed the NYC marathon. I can’t make myself breathe like that if you would ask me to try it now. Then, tears came, then, sadness. I find it very interesting that tears would be before the actual emotion and even more interesting, to experience emotion without knowing the underlying cause – just pure raw emotion. The sadness stops suddenly – that is also very cool, as if someone is pressing “emotion” buttons to see what each one does. Some more unusual breathing followed, and a bit of moaning as if experiencing low-grade pain, and a weird guttural sound almost like very quite growl.

It felt good to get all of this stuff out. Afterwards, there was a feeling of nice calm. So, I will definitely explore diving into the middle of experience again. It is pretty cool. I also see how it can be applied off the cushion – to everything.

My Teachers

“You are your own teacher. Looking for teachers can’t solve your own doubts. Investigate yourself to find the truth - inside, not outside. Knowing yourself is most important.” - Ajahn Chah
I thought that I need a teacher. It has always been in the back of my mind - to keep my eyes open for a teacher, a real flesh and bones teacher that is accessible. I’ve been evaluating possible candidates but there has never been a good match. From time to time I would see this clearly written (like in a very well-known book that I am currently reading, that has a whole chapter on the subject of teachers) - “one must have a teacher, one would be lost without one”. So, when I saw a chance to go on a retreat and meet with a an esteemed teacher, I took it. Everything about him seemed like he could be the one.

So, I went. Very far away. I had a few technical questions for him but not much beyond that. I thought that with my “right teacher”, this would not be a problem - we would just connect. And I met with him, and I asked my technical questions (which I seemed to know the right answers to myself). Our meeting was not one-on-one and I felt awkward and I felt that I am bothering this private person who is not feeling well. He was courteous and very kind but there was no connection. At the end, I thanked him for something he did in the past that I learned from his bio, something that I really connected to about him, and as I was explaining to him the reasons why this connected with me, I started crying. So weird! Not just a few tears - I could not stop crying and it was just getting worse!

When I left the meeting, I was in a vortex of feeling awkward and embarrassed and stupid and as a failure for travelling so far for such experience. I was in this vortex for about two days - my first two days of a silent self-retreat. I cried a lot and tried to work it out, tried to see what was happening, get to the bottom of it. I could see that this was a silly problem, made up entirely by my mind, but emotions and storm clouds of thinking, they just would not let up. I thought about it thousands of times. I paced restlessly on beautiful nature paths that surround this retreat location and I could barely pay attention to beauty. I came to a few conclusions in the process:
  • I have greedy striving for special experiences and I am ready to let it go.
  • I do not need a teacher. Or, more precisely, teachings and teachers are all around. Take nature and Earth, for example. Just connecting with those is so powerful.
  • I intuitively know what I need to do on my path - it is silly to expect that someone would have magical powers to understand me completely. I am sure such people exist, but is it so bad if I do not encounter one? (Plus, I’ve met a lot of amazing people (see below), even if in passing, that have so much light about them, it still shines in my mind).
  • Assuming, my intuitive knowledge is not the best guidance - is that so horrible? Is this a competition - to be most spiritually developed? I want out of this competition. I am ready to let go of striving for jhanas, stages, etc. I now know what works for me in meditation and off-cushion - things that tend to result in a smile magically appearing on its own. I will stick with those things, which I enjoy, and if I never develop further, so be it.
  • There is just one "goal" and question to work with gently - "Have I caused less suffering today to myself and others?"
On the third day, I had a chance to meet with someone, who lives on the retreat grounds. I did not ask for this meeting - this person suggested it herself. All her prior brief interactions with me were kind of magical - so full of love, so I looked forward to this meeting. However, I was hesitant - afraid to open up and get hurt after the emotional storm that has just barely passed. I’ve decided that I will be very careful and will not say much, but will just observe and ask questions about her. When we met, all my guards fell away and I told her everything. I was met with kindness and love and compassion and lots of wise advice. I guess, I got to be with “my” teacher after all. :)

On the photo: I kept finding crystals on the path where I meditated often and took this one with me. Flawed like myself.

Birds on My Mind

I spent the last week of October in Arizona, surrounded by hundreds of birds. And this one was my favorite - Gambel's Quail.

I love the sounds they make and the way they move around and their funny hairdo. I always prefer the underdog, so I drew the less flashy-colored female.

My Problems With Vegans

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Happy World Vegan Day! Actually, I do not have any problems with vegans. :) I am "dating" one and veganism is growing like fire. So, cheers to that!

Even Men's Health is covering veganism - something I would not have foreseen just a few years ago for such a mainstream macho publication. :)

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

I am so freaking lucky that I was able to score these tickets to sold out performances by Martha Argerich and Daniil Trifonov. (Argerich was sold out on the day box office opened!) I only learned about her recently - she is rated as #1 pianist! My mom, a piano teacher, did not know about her either but after I sent her some videos, she asked that I clap extra for her tonight. :) She will be playing with an Italian orchestra - which is extra fun for me. And it looks like there will be a live transmission of the concert.

I first saw Trifonov after he won the Tchaikovsky competition and also really looking forward to his performance.

P.S.: Look at this photo of Martha Argerich from 1971. She is such a feline!

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Speaking of Dogs

I admire how some people are very observant. To notice little things requires presence. And when such people are artistic and can share what they notice, their creations are the most wonderful thing. These dogs looking over their shoulder, for example - how cool to be able to notice and capture that look. My favorites are #2 and #5, but I love them all.

All Aboard

Excited about going on Greenpeace ship tomorrow! Above is my photo from 2011 when I noticed it floating by. Also, it is Open House New York time. I have a few places I want to see, so it will be a busy weekend.

P.S.: I updated my meditation journal here.

Ready to Forgive Wes Anderson

I've had a beef with Wes Anderson. His movies are great but several times I got burned on scenes where something bad happens to the dogs. Jokingly bad, but still bad. But with the Isle of Dogs, I might forgive him after all.


Sufjan posted this today. Love the sad lyrics about his Mom and a lake monster and a Native American chief. This is especially timely as I am about to travel to the area where another famed chief is buried.