HeartEdu

Matters of the Heart in Story Format – Tales of a Vancouver Girl

Category: Meditation

Broken Mala – Embodying the Lesson of Impermanence

I was sitting there at my desk at work, typing away at my computer, when suddenly, I hear the sound of pitter-patter and rolling. I look over to my left wrist, and my mala had broke and the beads were making a break for it.

I hadn’t snagged it on anything. The knot by the lotus had inexplicably unravelled, and now beads were rolling away from me, bouncing off my desk, and hiding behind boxes and cabinets.

Broken Mala.

Broken Mala. Sad and freeing.

I was flood with emotion. First, I felt sad. Then, I felt free. Then, I felt a mixture of all that with happiness. My trusty meditation tool embodies the lesson of impermanence.

I looked over at Teegan (who sits a few feet away), and announced, “My mala broke!” She looked concerned, “Oh NO!” Then she gauged the look on my face for the emotions that I may be feeling and asks, “Wait, are you even sad?” “I suppose? No. I guess I am not.”

A month before this event, I had meditated and communicated my wish to bring another into this world but that this should only happen if it were for the right reasons. I gave my reasons and braced myself.

Weeks after, I meditated and asked for signs: signs that my life will soon transition into another period and that I’d be bringing another into this world. My mala breaking was just one of the many signs the universe had given me.

Later on, I took the more scientific approach and bought a home pregnancy test. It confirmed what I already knew, spiritually-speaking.

My broken mala: a sign of my transition.

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Detaching from detachment

I’ve been meditating more recently. Not just everyday, but multiple times a day. Sometimes in the middle of the work day, when I feel frenzied, I’ll sneak into the First Aid room, sit on the floor with my mala beads and count my breaths.

Trying not to grow attached to these mala beads is difficult.

Trying not to grow attached to these mala beads is difficult.

What’s really funny is that there is no light switch in the First Aid room. The light switch is actually in an adjacent room, the supply room. Long story as to why this is, but that’s how it is. This one time, I was sitting there meditating, and I guess someone went into the supply room to get something and flipped the switch. The light went on in the First Aid room, and I chuckled to myself, “Whaaa? Am I enlightened now?”

I’m typically very ritualistic when I meditate at home. I prefer to meditate at night, in the dark by the light of a single tea candle in the corner. The first thing I typically do is light  incense.

The only kind that doesn't smoke me out of the room is from Nippon Kodo. The entire stick is incense, there is no wood stick in the middle so it burns more cleanly.

The only kind that doesn’t smoke me out of the room is from Nippon Kodo. The entire stick is incense, there is no wood stick in the middle so it burns more cleanly.

Next, I ring the singing bowl, clap the tingshaws, or hit the gong. It depends on how I feel that day.

Sometimes I can hear my singing bowl when I'm no where near it.

Sometimes I can hear my singing bowl when I’m no where near it.

Then, I sit and meditate. Sometimes I can get deeply into it. Sometimes I stay on the surface. I try not to control where it goes. Then I end my meditation session with the singing bowl, tingshaw, or gong (it depends on what I started with).

These tingshaws produce a clear crisp sound.

These tingshaws produce a clear crisp sound.

The most recent thing I’ve noticed about myself in meditation is that I have trouble letting go. Just before I head into that space where I am detached, I feel myself get anxious, unwilling to go. I feel myself fight it. The feeling of anxiety bubbles up into my chest. I wonder if being so ritualistic is related to this inability to let go. I’m sure the reason will reveal itself with time.

Growing my hair to give up vanity – A Spiritual Journey

Long hair is often associated with vanity, and I’m not sure why. It confuses me because I am a short-haired girl and am thinking that short hair in itself might be a reason for my own gleaming moments of vanity.

long hair vanity

Strangers, friends, and family are known to comment about how great my chopped locks are and how it really suits me. It suits my lifestyle too. I can’t be bothered to blowdry,or have it in my face while I’m running or yoga’ing.

I have only had long hair three times in my entire life before I promptly chopped it all off. If you’re wondering how short I typically go, I am known to bring photos of Halle Berry, Michelle Williams, Ginnifer Goodwin to my stylist.

How short? This short.

How short? This short.

I’ve tried a few times to grow it long, but I couldn’t stand the awkward in-between stage and promptly had it cut back to pixie short.

Well, I’m on the road again to growing it long. It will be a commitment of two years at least given how short my hair is. The reason? I want to donate it.

Also, I want to travel that difficult road and commit to growing it long and going through very awkward hair stages and give up vanity and convenience for awhile.

This idea came about from meditation and focusing on my inner versus my outer. Don’t worry, I won’t stop bathing. I still believe in cleanliness.

So here I am, putting it out there that this is something I’m doing. I am committed and am determined to not cut it off at first signs of hair awkwardness. Funny: spiritual lessons in material world.

Take a chance: Put that toilet paper roll in backwards

I was in a three-day managerial course this past week and one of the bigger lessons was that every person has a threshold of what they consider to be an acceptable level of risk. My instructor recommends increasing our risk tolerance via baby steps. If we make a intentional choice to take a chance on something in life, it’ll make us a little more bold and vulnerable (in a good way). Don’t be afraid to fail. Clearly, don’t do anything that would harm yourself.

Change it up. Change my route home.

Change it up. Changed my route home and snapped this lovely pic.

Well, I can identify with this lesson. I am the type of person that will rip apart inches and inches of knitting just because I’ve twisted a stitch. Nathan has left the house with me quietly knitting on the couch, only to return to me with unravelled work in my laps and an explosion of ramen-like yarn all over the living room.

When I was knitting Nathan a sweater a few years back, he and I decided that I should put in an intentional mistake in the sweater. It made me crazy knowing that an intentional mistake was there, but you know what? I have no idea where it is now.

So go out there and increase your risk tolerance. Put your toilet paper roll in backwards, change your route home, buy a coffee for the next person in line…who knows what it may bring. Meditate on that.

House Elephants are only allowed to Play on the Carpet

Nathan meditates in the morning, so typically, while he’s going to his Zen place, I am in my pre-work frantic mode. I am running around the house like a mad woman looking for my keys or some other much-needed-item…like the nacho chip I found shaped like Jesus. Hey, it’s good for work show-and-tell.

Sometimes I am doing a marathon between two floors, and there is no carpeting in our place. As you can imagine, there is a lot of thumping about.

This morning, Nathan lamented from the meditation room, “Are there ELEPHANTS in the HOUSE?!”

Next thing Nathan saw was this…

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Wood elephants on parade

A little wooden elephant squeezing its way into the meditation room, “I was just playing. Brrrraaaaarrrr (<- elephant noise).” To which Nathan replied, “Well, go play on the carpet (i.e. rug)!”

Yeah, that made me a little late for work.

**Little wooden elephant was a gift from Teegan. It’s from an Antique Shop in Delaware.

Stop and hear the birds sing, and smell the soap!

I tore down the stairs to leave this house to get to work. I was hurrying. When I got outside, I stopped dead in my tracks. The sound! The birds are back. It is Spring! I recorded them singing. This is a must-hear. It’s like white-noise. Perhaps, that’s what the license plates in British Columbia should say, “The place where white noise is made!”

[audio http://yourlisten.com/channel/content/16964453/birds_in_spring]

(if the player doesn’t show, it’s just a link to the site of where I’ve uploaded the sound clip)

I stood very still by the front door and watched them sing and flutter about in my Japanese Maple tree. They looked and sounded so joyous that my heart began to soar. They sang, I called to them, they called back. I looked up in the tree and one of them looked at me curiously and continue to sing its little song. He was the most adorable black-capped chickadee.

maple in fall

This is my Japanese Maple tree in the Fall. So for this blog entry, imagine it completely naked. Keep it PG, people.

Didn’t take very  much for me to stop and smell the roses…or in my case, stop and listen to the birds sing.

When I got into work, I saw a little package on my keyboard from Teegan. So lovely! At first I thought it was a cookie, which excited me. Then, I found out it was lavender soap, which actually excited me more. If you know me, you know I have a lavender and soap obsession.

Lavender Soap from Teegan

Lavender Soap from Teegan. I love surprises…the good kind and not the bad kind like “Surprise, your goldfish died”

Teegan had stopped by Whole Foods on the way to work and somehow ended up in the soap aisle talking to a guy who uses the lemongrass-scented version. He works at the liquor store and often overhears, “That dude? Yeah, he smells good!” Teegan apparently started to lose track of time. She was getting sucked into the allure of Whole Foods until she snapped out it, “What am I doing? I have to go to work!” I’m glad she got to stop and smell the soap this morning though.

It was sunny in Vancouver, although, still a bit cold. I took a shot of the mountains from the office. You can see that it’s snowing up there. I was lucky enough to capture the birds flying across the water. They seem so happy to be back.

Snowing on the mountains. Cloudless evening sky.

Snowing on the mountains. Cloudless evening sky.

The weather remained clear into the evening, and I snapped a shot of the moon against the cloudless sky near Harbour Centre.

Daffodils: “Winter ain’t no thang!”

Beautiful day in Vancouver. Daffodils greeted me on my way to the skytrain station. Did you know that daffodils return each spring? They survive through winter, and then bloom into their bright happy selves as if winter ain’t no thang. There’s a spiritual lesson in that, I’m sure.

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Good morning, daffodils!

Nathan and I headed off to the yoga studio after work and my favourite teacher, Sveena, was teaching. Sveena is VERY technical. She’ll get as nitty gritty as down to the position of your fingers. You could be in down dog, and she’ll say, “You’re over-stretching your pinky.” Although, that may sound completely ridiculous to someone who does not do yoga, it makes a world of difference in releasing strain from one’s hands.

I’ve been under her tutelage for 4 years now. She rarely adjusts me anymore. She’ll tell me, “Your left elbow needs to..” and before she even gets to finish her sentence, I’ve already adjusted: unlocked and hugged in my arms. There are a lot of half-finished sentences for me in Sveena’s classes. If I could collect them all and make them into fridge magnets, I’m pretty sure I could arrange them in a way that would make a funny Mad-Libs type story.

I did have some troubles finding my core in plank today. Sveena came over, gently touched my back (where my core is), and I corrected myself.

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A time when my plank felt right and not so weird. This was taken during a hike a few years ago. I’m using it to drink out of a stream.

Funny thing is, I thought it was lower than where it really was. Even more odd, I went into a wall-less headstand and knew exactly where my core was and remained in this position for 10 long breaths. I typically have a hard time finding my core upside down, and no problems finding it right side up. Which in hindsight is interesting, since the core has to be engaged in the same way in whatever pose you’re in. Only difference is perspective. There has got to be a spiritual lesson in that that I can take off the mat.

So, two main spiritual lessons today…but I’m beginning to think that they’re the same lesson in different forms.

Staying out of the drama of my mind

Ever since I started blogging, I stopped meditating. I also haven’t been to yoga in three weeks. I think this has been the longest hiatus in 4 years. I am paying for it. Without yoga and meditation, I have been scatterbrained, and anxious…maybe even a little bit angry. My shoulders have started to curve forward and I am closing my heart and muting my voice from the world. My hips/quads/hammies/IT band are tight, storing anger and aggression. I’ve caught myself holding my breath.

Yes, I’ve been running, and I’ve been hiking…but these activities actually make me more aggressive and assertive. These characteristics aren’t negative, but I do need a balance to know that there is a time and place for all emotions.

I am now back at building up my foundation and am a ways away from forearm stand, hand stand, bird of paradise and other poses that make me feel exalted.

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This was last year. I don’t even know what this might feel like now.

I managed the peel myself off the couch today and went to not one yoga class, but two: 1) Vinyasa Flow, and 2) Yin for a whopping 2.5 hours of yoga. I kept slipping into a meditative state during the two classes. Although my muscles were tight, my body was hungry for the stretches. I did have some anger bubble up in Yin class, but I was observing the feeling and not getting myself worked up about it. Basically, I did not interact with the feeling and stayed out of its drama. The mind played interesting tricks on me but it eventually simmered down. I guess it was hungry for meditation.

While in corpse pose after the Yin practice, I felt a weird anxious energy in my palms and second chakra. It went away a few minutes later. Maybe I unlocked something.

I need more yoga. My mind and body are starving.

Ex-Monk in Vancouver – Part II

Read Ex-Monk in Vancouver – Part I here.

A week after we went to Year of the Snake Asian Expo at BC Place, Nathan and I met up with our friend, Ronaldo, to check out the Thrangu Monastery (Tibetan Buddhist Temple) in Richmond. I wanted to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, and also wanted to buy some mala beads for chanting in my meditation practice.

The monastery is beautiful with its golden roof, symbols of the 8 spoke wheel (to represent the eight-fold path), and rows of prayer wheels built into the outer walls.

We entered the monastery from the back, and came upon a hallway with photographs of the lama, and the temple during construction. We followed the hallway and ended up in the gift shop. Nathan was observing some artwork of the many forms of Buddha while Ronaldo and I perused the mala beads in the display case.

Suddenly, I hear someone calling Nathan’s name. Now it’s not uncommon for Nathan to know people in the most random places all about Vancouver. This includes restaurants, pubs, the skytrain, under bridges (kidding), etc. If he meets you, he will find a way in which he is connected to you…like some real life embodiment of Facebook. Seriously though, in a monastery?  Who on earth knows Nathan here.

I turn around, and it’s Ric adorned in monk garb. Ric hugged us both and introduced himself to Ronaldo. He taught us about the different Buddha forms in the artwork, and then in the distance, a gong began to ring.

“Do you have time to stay? The ceremony is about to begin!”

Before I knew it, Nathan, Ronaldo and I are ditching our shoes, and climbing the stairs into the Main Shrine Hall where we felt the eyes of a very large Buddha, 35 Buddhas of confession, and 500 smaller Medicine Buddhas.

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Thrangu Monastery – Main Shrine Hall. Photo taken from thrangumonastery.org

A very special ceremony (to end the past lunar year) was about to begin. We sat on cushions and chanted for two hours with the monks of the monastery while following along in a book. Nathan and I chanted in Tibetan which was us basically guessing what we thought the Tibetan words was going to sound like. Most times, I was way off. The chanting was very calming and it brought me great peace. The monks changed the rhythm, skillfully strung together words, and went full force on the biggest gong I have ever seen. You ever see those photos of monks with toned arms? I’m pretty sure it’s from gong’ing (no such word, but I now knight it with the meaning of “tone arms from hitting the gong”).

Ronaldo left part way through because of prior commitments. I had watched as he stood silently, bowed at Buddha and left the room. Just so you know, leaving is completely acceptable.

After two hours of chanting, it was officially break time. Ric took us on a tour of the monastery. He walked us around the outside, and encouraged me to spin the prayer wheels embossed with Om Mani Padmi Hum. By saying it aloud or in your mind, and spinning it on the wheel is equivalent to saying it 100 times.  I ran alongside the building, with my hand out and spun the row of prayer wheels in delight…with hopes that all sentient beings be freed from suffering.

When the break was over, we went back into the hall for another hour of chanting. When this hour was done, it was time for dinner. Ric’s wife and some of the other ladies have been in the kitchen this entire time creating a delicious feast. Nathan and I sat with strangers, and ate our meal. There was going to be a fire show, and another hour of chanting after dinner. However, Nathan and I had decided to go after dinner. On our way out, we met Lama Pema. He serenely smiled and nodded at us as we nodded and bowed at him. The only way I could describe this moment is that it felt very “namaste”.

What we thought was going to be a one hour visit turned out to be five hours of peace, calm, and friendship. Ric is more than just an ex-monk, he is a real-deal kind of friend.

Ex-Monk in Vancouver – Part I

Nathan and I have been wandering for hours now at the Year of the Snake Asian Expo at BC Place.

BC Place – photo taken from office window.

It’s all becoming a blur of colors — mostly many shades of red. Row after row of booths selling remote control cars, macaroons, stinky tofu, trinkets, lanterns, and more. The sound of children laughing on carnival rides, vendors hustling, and the crowd bustling echos distantly in my mind. This event is like a mishmash of Vancouver’s Chinatown, Playland, and Richmond Night Market — all conveniently under the roof of BC Place.

We are at the point where we’ve lost my brother, his fiancee, and mischievous little Luke to the bleachers. They are likely sprawled out on some chairs enjoying…well, the chairs.

Nathan and I dragged our feet to the edge of the earth. This is the last row of booths. To our delight, we saw a man and his wife selling Tibetan handicrafts and meditation tools. His name is Ric and he is an ex-monk. He told us tales of his brother (also a monk) who practiced silence for 3 years. Could you imagine? Anyhow, we became fast friends and exchanged contact information. We left that booth after an hour with a huge gong and a singing bowl under our arms. Ric’s wife had wrapped the gong up in a beautiful shawl. This is going to help us greatly in our meditation practice.

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The beautiful gong and singing bowl in our meditation room at home

I had nothing but good feelings about him. Nathan was skeptical. Was this man telling us wild monk (oxymoron?) stories to seal deals? He seemed too good (in the moral sense) to be true.

It is later confirmed that this was not the case.

To be continued…

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