The floors were dusty and covered in random piles of salamander dung, as they were each morning. It was my turn to clean the shala floors before class began. Our group of 25 rotated cleaning chores (we called them ‘karma cleanings’) on a daily basis, but the cleaning of the shala floors was my favorite activity. It gave me a sense of purpose that felt both productive and methodic. When it was my turn, I’d get to the shala at 6:30AM (30m before our weekly session of sanskrit history began) and would stand in the mosquito net-wrapped shala, looking out to the seemingly infinite Koh Pha-ngan rainforest that surrounded us. As a practicing yogini in training, it was now my time to participate in the temporary purification of our training space, the cleansing of our physical foundation. Sweeping and mopping the cement shala floor made turned those 30 minutes into a meditative movement and enabled me to enter a state of stillness unparalleled by the other days I’d not cleaned the floors and then meditated.
perhaps purposeful, energy-driven movement brought me to deeper states of stillness
That was my takeaway from last summer. I was able to sit and meditate for upwards of 20 minutes without fidgeting. Throughout the day, I felt calmer. My foundation felt stronger. I was nibbling at the bandwidth of my first encounter with the physical + emotional + mental + spiritual aspects of self-awareness. I came closer to understanding how people come to yearn to live life in a monastery.
7 months later, I live in a 525 square ft apartment with my partner and I *may* work on my practice for 30 minutes once or twice a week - a stark contrast to my 4hr daily practice last summer. I’ve also been trying to practice a “more still” sitting meditation. Usually, my partner and I roll ourselves out of the bed around 5AM and find a comfortable sitting position on a cushion full of rice grain. I fidget and try so hard not to move. I barely make it to 6 minutes before I have to open my eyes: every thought that enters my mind acts like data entering a stack that slowly overflows. The bits are everywhere in a puddle and it’s overwhelming. Last summer I found meditation much more enjoyable after I had done a day of Sun Salutations, Warrior sequences and Asanas.
“I want to foster a movement-driven meditative practice that would help me proceed into a deeper state of sitting stillness” - main thought as I submitted the application for this class…
Awareness interwoven in the fabric of the day…
These are moments I hope to continue to explore (+ reflect about in this journal) that I find myself yearning for more awareness:
Morning 🌅 I’m guilty of inconsistent sleep patterns, even when I know (and have felt!) with every fiber of my being, that waking up early and at the same time everyday makes me a happier human. Last semester, 5am wake-up times were a necessary evil for a couple courses I was taking. This semester, I’m thinking a 7am wake-up time is more reasonable.
Reading through some previous student’s posts (shout out to Ariel!) I’ve realized a standard physical routine each morning would help with consistent wake-up. From my previous experiences, waking up and rolling straight into sitting on the floor for meditating is too tempting for my drowsy brain to slip back into sleep. Instead, I wake up, ground my feet into the earth (via carpet), and try to center myself for a few minutes before I jump into the day.
Afternoon 🌆 By noon, I’m usually knee-deep into a series of emails or meetings and I feel the first spikes of the white noise stress that builds in the back of my brain throughout the day. This is when I become aware that I’m juggling many things without realizing why or how, and I don’t usually do anything with this thoughtful awareness trail, so it often slips away.
During this semester I want to explore hyper-awareness of this juggling momentum. I will use that time to take a moment. An intentional moment, away from immediate human contact, eyes closed and mind released, possibly mentally repeating one of the few mantras I learned last summer.
Evening 🌃 When I walk through the door after the day, I’m bombarded with anxiety. I imagine the majority of it is self-imposed (yay perfectionist tendencies) because I always feel that more could be done, and I’m almost frustrated that the day has dried up before I’ve found the cure for cancer, written that blog post and baked that banana bread I’ve been telling myself I had to bake. Some days I am more aware of this than on other days, but what I’ve found is always extremely helpful is a quiet moment to myself (before I jump back into marathon-juggling mode).
I plan to insert my Qigong practice during this time space of the day. Where I will (hopefully) spend those 20 minutes allowing my body to tell me where to go next, whether that’s to the squash courts for some fast release of built-up energy or back to work, where I can complete a couple more of those to-do’s before calling it a night. I’d like to foster a better reading routine, preferably starting a candle-mode around 10 or 11pm that involves progressing through some of the following reads I wish to complete by the end of this semester (I’m flexible with this of course, as the semester’s expectations are yet to be %100 clear on their time demands)…
In the spirit of hyper-awareness this semester, I’m interested in building on my (already running) efforts to record dreams. I don’t expect to find correlations or specific patterns, but am very interested to see if my daily awareness practice affects my active sleeping brain.
I have some fun ideas for a final project that would help me record my dreams + explore my sleep chatter, as I’ve tended to be a very conversational sleeper. I’m inspired by Object Based Media’s PillowTalk project and by this project that aims to connect long-distance lovers.
Study of Meditative Movement
I’ve begun a standing meditative practice after talking a bit with Ariel and Joi about standing practices. I’d not heard of Qigong before this course, so I looked up videos of some folks who practice Qigong to get a sense of how movements flow.
I started this week, holding these poses for 5 minutes. Since I am still exploring this new practice, I allow my body to direct what energy it feels and what movement should be made next. It’s calming and empowering. Energy flows from my gut-brain to my fingertips, and I’m always amazed 5 minutes have gone by when my alarm wakes me from this breathing, tingling trance.
I’m spending this initial week figuring out at what time of day I’d prefer to practice Qigong for upwards of 20 minutes (update: I’ve decided this will be the evening practice for the semester). I’m also thinking that with the hackathon next week in Denver, my sleep schedule will certainly be affected and I will begin my regular routine of standing meditation in the evening.
Thoughts on the first week of meditative practice! ^^
Over the past week I’ve been at a conference, and although I’ve been stubbornly getting 7hrs of sleep, daily meditation in my morning routine has been difficult to sustain. Instead, I found moments throughout the conference (usually around lunchtime), where I would find a dark corner on the 6th floor of the hackerspace and do a 20m session of breathing and standing, knees usually bent, chin slightly tilted forward, chest open and arms/hands out in front of me as if I was holding a beach ball.
Moving from the busy (and usually noisy) hacking spaces to the dead quiet of a dark room was too stark of a transition. My brain had been running in a million different directions seconds before, and I needed to something to transition into a different headspace. I find music to be a useful tool on this front. This song in particular never fails to immediately orchestrate my breathe from short to deep rhythmic inhales and exhales. I invite you to try it. Eyes closed, breathing deeply, ears sipping the the electric guitar fretted with a piece of metal (or whatever Shlohmo is using in this track)…
I look forward to getting back to Cambridge and getting back into the swing of things!
Squash as a meditative movement (not explicitly part of my practice, but just something I’ve noticed brings me to a calmer state of mind)
Thoughts on “I and Thou”
“ Extended, the lines of relationship intersect in the eternal You. ” - I and Thou
We are beings of connectedness. Our neural pathways are optimized for relating this thing to that thing. We, as a species, are best at survival when we can relate patterns to each other. We have tribal instincts that drive us into group formations in order better our chances of succeeding in plural versus the singular. In the piece I and Thou, Martin Buber explores three key concepts:
human condition in the individual
human condition in society
human condition in relation to God
I really enjoyed reading and discussing the responsibilities humans have to other humans and the world we flourish in. The concept of relationships that abound in everything - other humans, nature, objects - is a beautiful reminder that we are more than ourselves when we acknowledge this aspect of ourselves.
Thoughts on conventional sports as a meditative movement
Being from south Florida, I miss coming home after a long day and not having to think about the strategy of layering for a quick de-stress run outside. Running was my mental escape route, where the humidity and warmth made me feel more like I was running in a lukewarm bath. Not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but I miss it regardless. Running with no electronics was the way I physically processed the mental efforts of the day. After a run, I feel like someone pulled the drain out of a tub with muddy water - thirst and clarity usually ensues.
I’ve been looking for a replacement of sorts that can be done during all seasons, and I found a super fun candidate called squash! I’ll surely chat more about this newly found past time in future reflections, but in short, squash has been a very powerful tool thus far. When I play squash, the only thing I can think about is this small lump of pressurized air and rubber.
Thoughts on Qigong post-Peter’s class and update on my personal practice
Peter Wayne is a wicked cool dude. His Tai Chi studio is decorated with internationally originating bobble heads given to him by students. There’s a sitting Yoda in the window and to the corners of the luminous wooden floor are patches of cacti and reaching plants. He led us through a little over an hour of Qigong basics - movements that did not feel entirely foreign to maneuvering in the shallow end of a pool. Peter is a bright-eyed soul full of energy and compassion. I could tell by his eyes when we shook hands that he is a belle âme.
In the first half hour, I felt heavy in my lower half and distracted in my upper half. It was 8:30AM and my legs were cold. As we progressed through the movements, I began closing my eyes to minimize external input (which worked very well!) and my vascular system started to wake up. This short session with Peter made me realize how different I feel after 1h of Qigong versus my usual 20m sprint through the ‘holding a ballon’ -> ‘become a tree’ -> ‘pulling the arrow through the bow’ etc…
On a side note, while looking for Qigong beginner positions I found this quirky article that compared the practice of Qigong to Yoga:
…yoga asanas tend to be more linear, focusing on stretching and extending the limbs and trunk in two directions….In Qigong, there is a stronger emphasis on soft, round, circular movements that are like wind and water. Joint spaces are always relaxed, and the movements are often simple, slow and rhythmic.
I realize now that Qigong is really a “thinking” practice. Without mental activity and visceral intention, my movements often get lost in the sauce. This experience is unlike my yoga practice - when working through an asana, I never have this issue. I am physically engaged, therefore also mentally engaged (a bit like Squash). This indicates to me that I need more physical Qigong practice, where I am engaged with a guide or mentor a few times before I go off on my own.
Thoughts on readings from “Destructive emotions: how can we overcome them?”
In this scientific dialogue with the Dalai Lama, a room of neuroscientists and philosophers probe traditional Buddhist meditative practices with measuring tools of modern science. The goal is to “…demonstrate that awareness-training strategies such as meditation strengthen emotional stability--and greatly enhance our positive moods1...”
They build a list of hypotheses with input from the Dalai Lama and other gurus, and set out to answer these very grey and hairy (human) questions with science (!!). So far, I’m at Chapter 2, where we’ve covered basic brain chemistry and the power of meditation when developing one’s brain function, and the questions around such implications.
I am really enjoying this listen (woo Audible!). More thoughts/updates to come as I progress through the read 📙
Personal renderings post-class on Thought Formation
Tenzin asked us to generate a “matrix” of our values, drivers and emotions. No structure was suggested, so I felt that a flowy chart with 3 of the most common emotions I feel on a daily basis and their derivatives (ie. enthusiasm as a derivative of passion) would help me process why + how I get to the emotional state I find myself in. Throughout the day, I usually only think about the driver and the emotion and rarely process why the value is present or the origin of the value. Drawing this in my journal forced me to confront the genesis of these drivers and emotions, which I appreciated. I used last week (3/4-3/11) to doodle the emotional landscape of the week with all of its peaks, valleys and plateaus. This past weekend was the MIT Bitcoin Expo, where I helped lead logistics for the event. The conference was an incredible success (although, I’m a bit biased…) and I had a blast connecting with dear friends in the crypto space. I noticed that my emotional states fluctuated quite heavily towards the end of the week around when the conference began, but in the beginning of the week, random life-things also put me in a bit of a flurry. I noticed that these fluctuations are an energy vacuum, but should the goal be to remain at a constant safe-zone…should the goal in this life be to hang out on an emotional plateau?
I read this on a Dove chocolate wrapper once.
“in a world full of temporary things you are a perpetual feeling.” - Sanober Khan
This quote resonates with me. I am a wave of feelings, thoughts, emotions. That understanding comes with choices I make every second of the day to create situations where I am sustainable and - do I dare say it - optimized.
Time to talk about an emotion that get’s really confusing for me: shame. As someone who grew up in a pretty polarizing environment*, I’ve had deeply rooted, yet conflicting definitions for what I should feel guilty for. We discussed in class that shame is not thee same as guilt, and is something you observe and let go.
After reading Carmelo’s post, I realized I’d been avoiding discussing my practice because I’m really not enjoying Qigong as much as I thought I would. I search for the thorny reason with questions…why do I have trouble standing and meditating? Am I searching for the same “sensation” that I find while meditating with my eyes closed? Should I even be searching for something [versus letting whatever come, come] in the movements…?
The sensation of shame behind the “failure” of not having a-super-fruitful practice makes me think I need to intentionally fail at something else this semester [quotations around the noun because, as someone who is self-critical, I’m aware that mistakes along the way are not failures, yet I categorize them as such by default anyway]. I appreciate this journal so much right now…I feel a tad lighter on the chest as I release my truth through the keys and into this journal…
*my parent’s split when I was 3, so I spent ~70% of my childhood in a more religiously orientated Christian environment with my Mum and the other 30% with my Pops in a home that challenged religion as a construct, where science was the main authority.
Thoughts post-class on non-violence
After reading through Stamped From the Beginning, I was struck by the evolutionary nature of racism, and seeing how ‘science’ was used so heavily to justify claims which placed people of color on the bottom floor of the societal hierarchy for centuries. One of my favorite (albeit incredibly sad) short narratives from the book discusses now plantation-owners in the south justified slavery on their land…
“In American Negro Slavery (1918), along with eight more books and a duffel bag of articles, Phillips erased the truth of slavery as a highly lucrative enterprise dominated by planters who incessantly forced a resisting people to labor through terror, manipulation, and racist ideas. Instead he dreamed up an unprofitable commerce dominated by benevolent, paternalistic planters civilizing and caring for a “robust, amiable, obedient and content” barbaric people. Phillips’s pioneering use of plantation documents legitimated his racist dreams and made them seem like objective realities. Phillips remained the most respected scholarly voice on slavery until the mid-twentieth century.”
I wish I could jump into a time machine and talk to Phillip. Was he sincerely the “paternalistic planter”? Did he really care about the people working his land? Did he go to lengths to care for the people who worked his land? Were they paid fairly (if at all?)? Of course, now sitting in 2019 and reading this book about the evolution of racial constructs, I can’t help but come to my own conclusions about the wealth I’m sure Phillip made from his “robust, amiable, obedient and content” workers, but perceptions of right and wrong are a construct of your environment. In a devastatingly naive way, I think Phillip would have genuinely said yes to my questions - and the Phillips of the world very much continue to exist, only molded now to our modern context. How do we talk to those people? I was told my Grandmother was born in Mexico City and grew up right across the border in El Paso. Being an incredibly loving human, she would never say she was a racist, but my Mum and her sister never learned Spanish or experienced their Mexican history in any way - it was almost considered taboo to talk about life ‘pre-El Paso’. Asked about it today, my Grandmother would say the decision to box away her past was intended for social protection. It was a loving gesture full of sincerity, but it propagated the idea that ‘non-white’ culture was a bad thing. I grapple with this thought and don’t know how to engineer a solution. I don’t think my Grandmother cares to change her mental framework, but that is not because she is a terrible human. On the contrary, she is a product of her generation and a loving mother, where she learned how to survive and be successful when immigrating to a new country - it makes sense should would pass that narrative down to her children.
thoughts around an evolving practice
Discipline and consistency are interesting aspects of a meditative practice. On one hand, I aim to be nimble and flexible with my schedule and ideas, and on the other hand I admire those who keep rigid structures in their daily routines. Everything is a balancing act. I find for myself, keeping wiggle room for spontaneity is important, and I tried building that into my schedule by placing 15m breaks in between classes and meetings instead of stacking them back to back as I’ve done in the past. So far, it’s worked well as long as I am vigilant about respecting those minimal breaks. In those intervals of time, sometimes I just run to the restroom, sometimes I sit and ponder the emotional states I went through while in the meeting or the spurts of inspiration I felt while listening to the lecture.
My meditative practice has evolved into something that I need more often as my environment becomes busier - stillness. Sitting on the floor with eyes closed for a half hour has been incredibly rooting. I also realized how much I missed being in a yoga class when I sat in on one last week and teared up during a savasana. Since that class, I’ve attending weekly sessions and I appreciate it oh so much.
April 29-May 3
thoughts on my personal theory of practice
Why do I do what I do. What personal assets drive my motivations and my personal narrative that defines myself [for myself]? I didn’t ponder this enough (until this class, now I can’t stop thinking about it) because for most of my life, I’ve naturally been an external-energy person. I wear emotions on my sleeve, I’m enthused easily because I want to try everything at least once and love learning from other humans. I rarely asked myself why these are my tendencies those things and how I categorize these assets subconsciously. In a workshop last week I explored a lovely idea, a ‘theory of personal practice’.
The prerogative of the exercise was to list descriptive words that I self-identify with. This includes values I strive for, traits I appreciate in others etc. I had a list of *so many* words! It was really refreshing getting to think about these while I was choosing between certain words, and sometimes felt that I needed two words to describe how I felt (i.e Autonomy and Independence - Autonomy feels like ‘I’m off-grid and loving it’ and Independence feels like the stereotypical cat - ‘pet me, but I don’t need you to be happy’…both things that resonate with me in some way). I whittled it down and categorized items into 3 themes: Impact, Balance and Community.
We also talked a bit about a new term for me: “ikigai”. I appreciated this diagram, even if its a tad simple, because it helped me hone in on my personal theory of practice.
Ever go skiing? The day you don’t fall on the mountain is the day you don’t push yourself hard enough. This sounds unrelated, but we often view the fall as a failure. It’s not. It’s how we land AND how we pick ourselves back up. We cannot know whether something will resonate until we try it. And it would be wonderful to just click with a practice (or with whatever else we may be searching with in life). But! But, there’s so much out there. We can learn via negative (by what we don’t click with). And then move on to find something we do click with. Simply by writing this post, your Qigong practice and having these thoughts may have been more fruitful than fully clicking with Qigong. All to say, it sounds like you observed and let go and I wonder, do you feel that?
Fabulous analogy to skiing, although I admit I still haven’t fully embraced falling on the ice as a learning mechanism yet. To your question…I’d say definitely, yes. What’s nice about this class is that I’ve had a chance to analyze different approaches to my ‘ideal’ practice and eventually find a meditative zone where I don’t have to think as hard about the movements. Some days, I need the standing slow and intentional movement, but usually I just need to sit with closed eyes.
I feel like its important for us to be compassionate towards ourselves too. The reason that you are not enjoying your practice might not necessarily be because you are searching for something or doing something wrong. We are all different and there’s a possibility that certain practices suit us better than others. Though it can be tough, It’s good to acknowledge what works for us and what doesn’t, and you have already done that, so thumbs up!
Thanks Sugandha. I agree that self-compassion is a crucial (yet easily forgotten) aspect to this class and journaling process as we dig deeper into our practices.
Great to hear that journaling is helping :) I’ve been struggling a bit with my practice as well, but I enjoy writing/reading the blog posts.. having time to reflect and having the freedom to post my thoughts
There’s something really nice about a little white noise to help guide a silent meditation!
for real! it’s so lovely. I really enjoy the songs you suggest through ONTPD
Why do we yearn for stillness? A core assumption of this class is a strong normative claim that awareness and stillness are inherently good, and valuable. From an evolutionary perspective, modern stillness doesn’t increase fitness, so why seek it?
We yearn for stillness because it refuels us mentally (perhaps along the same reason that sensory deprivation baths and soundless rooms are therapeutic), and I think that in turn effects our physical fitness. Our minds control what we put in our bodies and how we choose to use the body throughout the day.