Standing on the street, surrounded by some children playing some sort of game - catch, perhaps or dodge-ball, that part didn't register very well. Suddenly the air started twirling violently, I could feel it, sense it. In retrospect, I realize this is what a tornado must feel like. When you're caught somewhere outside of the eye, where there's no calm, just the intense, chaotic (or what seems to be), movement of air. But none of us got hurled around, or touched even, by this movement of everything outside of us. We just looked up in wonder. There were white clouds above and to the left of us. Funny - that they were white - and not a dark gray. And they took the shape of two hands. Palms down, as if they were blessing us, or Reiki'ing us. I looked at the children looking up and said 'Look - they look like hands'. They said, yes, hands, but each one with more than five fingers. I looked up again, trying to count the fingers. Definitely more than five. Seven, maybe - on each hand. They just hovered there, unaffected, like us, by the tumult around us - as if they were blessing us, healing us. Then they disappeared, and an open jeep/van appeared. Looking for passengers. Like a phat-phati in Delhi, wanting to pick up anyone who wanted to travel in the general direction it was headed and willing to pay the shared fare. The kids wanted to get in and go wherever they were going. Suddenly they had instruments in their hands - I guess I'd imagined them playing something. They'd actually been holding musical instruments. I took one look at the driver and something didn't seem right. He didn't seem like a nice person. Something was off. One of the kids put his guitar on the first seat in the passenger section and was about to get in. I asked him not to, but it looked like he wasn't about to heed my warning. I looked at him and asked him to please listen to me. The driver looked at him menacingly and said his baggage/guitar was already in there, so he already owed him the fare - 95 (rupees, dollars, I don't know what it was). I looked at the kid, thinking and hoping that he would realize that this driver really wasn't up to any good. It should be obvious that someone wanting to charge someone just because they had set their stuff in their vehicle, without giving them a chance to change their mind wasn't someone up-front and straightforward. I felt like it was my job to make sure these kids were okay and no harm came to them. And then I woke up.
I lay in my room. It felt like it was a room up in the attic of a house. I was about to fall asleep. It was daytime. Suddenly, someone walked in. He looked very purposeful. It was a former boss, only, he'd gained a few inches, looked much taller than he is in real life. He was looking for something next to me. It felt like he was looking for a weapon, a dagger, a hammer or something, I'm not sure how I knew that's what he was looking for. It looked like he meant me harm. Like he was going to pick it up and clobber me or stab me with it. I let out a scream. It came out a groan, as I woke up.
I thought about this psychic I'd seen not long ago. One of the first things she'd said to me was that I'm a person who has intense and vivid dreams.
I recently re-read an email my nephew had forwarded me a couple of years ago - one of those chain 'send to everyone you know/love/hate/think needs this' type of emails - a little story about a woman and her two pots. She carried these two pots every day to a stream to fill them with water (on a pole on her shoulders) and one of these pots, being cracked, would leak water all the way back home, bringing back much less than its full share. The pot fretted over the fact that its performance wasn't up to par, but the old woman assured it that it was doing its job. She said she'd seeded the sides of the path with flowering plants, knowing that one of her pots was cracked, and the cracked pot had been watering the plants along her path all this while. Those beautiful flowers she got to pick adorned her table every day.
This winter was the freezingest ever I've experienced in these United States. The bone-chilling cold all but froze my blood and often made me wonder why I was willingly subjecting myself to it. Days with a high of 32F felt like we were in the middle of a balmy summer, given that most days the highs were in the low 20s. December saw my electricity bill (and my home is all 'electric' as they say here) shoot up to the highest I'd ever paid. Luckily I didn't have a job (at the time) and wasn't even inclined to look for one since I was spending all my energy trying to warm up my insides. And the snow that got dumped here on a few occasions was not something to wish for. The federal government was closed for a week! The best purchase I ever made in my life was a pair of boots I bought in Seattle. If it wasn't for those I'd have been home-bound and hungry for large parts of the season!.
And then the spring - and everything was beautiful and not too hot and not too cold and everything was blooming - the magnolias, the cherry blossoms, the dogwoods and those whitish pink flowers on those trees I don't know the name of, hanging off of the branches like they're suspended in air, nothing ostensible connecting them to the trees. And no time to dwell on how gorgeous they are. By the time I remembered to take my camera out so I could snap some pictures, the miserable heat has started up and all the flowers are withering away. O'h spring, where art thou?
Anyway, I'll try to get a few pictures, albeit the flowers will have withered away by the time I get down to it. And now that I work, as far as I'm concerned, in one of the most fabulous, beautiful spots in DC, with flowering trees everywhere you look, I have no excuse.
Next installment on job and spring, if it hasn't sprung and leapt away by the time I look.
And just to warm up your blood, here's sunset over Puget Sound (Seattle).
What a great Thanksgiving. It's usually miserable if one is alone in this country during the holidays and blue at the same time. That's not a good recipe for giving thanks. But this time I chose to be alone - mostly because today is no different for me from any other day these last couple of months - almost 3, actually, since I've been back here. I guess I could have gone somewhere to avoid that - if not have flown or taken the train to somewhere where there are relatives - or driven a little bit (or taken metro - given that I had gotten rid of car when I left here - and seeing no need for one at the moment given that there's such a great public transit system here) to go be with family I have fairly locally (and possibly ruin their plans). The handful of friends that I have are all away for today and I never checked with the one or two that may not have been. I could have volunteered somewhere and did look for last minute opportunities, but decided that I really didn't feel like it (and I feel very strongly that there's no point volunteering at anything if it doesn't really come from good feelings inside - and definitely not if the only purpose is to spend your time or avoid your misery, though I guess when one has some sort of real inclination to help, then it's okay to use a distaste for being alone to someone else's advantage and volunteer then - I guess I say this because in the past I've known people who would 'volunteer' if there was something in it for them - like the chance of meeting a guy, or just to avoid being alone and other things like that - and that just doesn't appeal to me - but that's just me).
But today was great anyway. I woke up and read a little bit, then did the bathing thing and sat and meditated for a while. Then I cooked - no turkey on my plate - spoke to someone on the phone for two hours (and ate my feast at the same time) - the 3-hour time difference made sure that their lunch plans wouldn't suffer, and then I did a MAP session and drifted off to a great nap (I'll post on MAP sessions one day - I'm sure it will make for interesting reading).
I had this really weird dream just before I woke up (and I was just watching 'The Science of Dreaming' (I may have the title wrong) on NOVA the other day). It seemed to have so much symbolism and meaning. I'd climbed up the side of a building - somehow - and when I'd gotten up top, I was hanging up there, alongside a wall, with my hands gripping the top of the parapet wall that blocked off the terrace, my feet digging into some crevasses on the wall. Next to me was this person who was once a friend and she too was gripping tightly on to somewhere or something, but seemed much more nonchalant than me. I was terrified, it felt like if I shifted my weight even the slightest, I was going to fall. I had no idea how I had climbed up there and I asked her how she was planning on getting down. She just said something inane and seemed to indicate that I was stupid not to know how to get off. I figured I wasn't going to get any real or considerate answers from her. I knew that if I let go with my hands I would fall. And moving my feet any didn't seem an option. It felt like even the slightest movement of either foot would result in a slip and plunge. I just hung there wondering what to do and then suddenly, without thinking, I used every ounce of strength I had and hoisted myself up high, kicking my legs up and fell on to the terrace. And a few seconds later, the friend did the same. Once on the terrace, there were these weird people there and tables and tables piled up with chocolates (not that I'm particularly fond of those) and someone held a sign up to me that said something profound, though I couldn't recall when I woke up what exactly it had been. Someone else picked a bar of chocolate and handed it to me, their expression indicating it was some kind of reward. And then I woke up.
So I tried to analyze the dream. What did it mean? Did it mean that you didn't look for a safe way down, but gathered all your courage and pulled yourself up? Did it mean that if you did that, you'd have chocolate waiting for you :-). Did it mean you'd have a reward waiting for you? Just that it may not be what you wanted or liked? I couldn't help thinking it definitely had some meaning - you got yourself out of a rut by pulling yourself up, not down :-) - genius - I think any idiot can figure that out without a dream. I'm not sure what that friend was doing up there, other than perhaps being of no help, regardless of what she thought.
Or maybe, as one of the theories on that segment on Dreams went, it was just random noise - dreams were nothing but various parts of the brain trying to make sense of various physiological signals sent by other parts of the spine and brain, random chemicals pumped up to do some sort of house-cleaning (I don't think they said house-cleaning - I just don't recall the reason they said these signals were emitted, just that they said they had, unlike what Freud had thought, no meaning - that dreams weren't our subconscious rising to the surface, just random sparks flying around, with a brain trying to assign some meaning to them - and us mistakenly assuming that these were deep-buried fears and desires). O'h well.
It used to be, long ago, that I thought meditation was something that I, personally, just couldn't get into. It didn't help that all the people I knew who meditated seemed like people who were rather mean to begin with (till someone put things in perspective for me saying they may have been even worse if it wasn't for stuff like this). And then, over the years, everywhere you looked, people were touting the benefits of meditation. It seemed to be the panacea for all ills - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual (though the spiritual aspect I didn't really care for at the time). And the more I read about it over the years, the more I knew that this was probably most helpful thing that one could do for oneself. So, one day, in the midst of what seemed to be a period that was the nadir of my life (even though I thought I had experienced that many times before - it seemed that every successive low point seemed to be further and further below the previous one - though this one seemed to have something special about it - like I had finally hit rock bottom - and I felt that if I made it out of here, nothing would be able to shove me back in again) I decided to just sit. Making sure I had the ambiance all right - with new age music playing in the background and the scent of organic lavender wafting about), I just sat for about half an hour, listening to the music - but not intently, and not really paying attention to anything. Sure enough, as I went on with the rest of my day, I felt like I had just a little more energy and wasn't as tense as I normally was. That feeling was enough to keep me at it for the next few months. Sometimes I'd hate to have to get up, and just wanted to sit there forever. I'm sure my choice of music (Temple in the Forest - David Naegele) had something (if not everything) to do with it. And slowly but surely, over the weeks and months that followed, I felt all kinds of changes. For one, I could just not cry anymore. Nor feel down or sad. That had always been my state of being, so this was a new experience. I even deliberately tried to, just to see if I had been willing myself into that state all these years - but it just wouldn't come. Great! But then I started thinking that perhaps this was the manic side of bipolar disorder, and that that's what I'd had all my life (except that the manic side had never reared its head before) :-). But it wasn't really manic - it was just calm and peace and really a feling of everything being okay and that it would never be wrong again - so I was probably off with the diagnosis. Thus began my first real foray into meditation and things spiritual - and after that things just started happening.
Fast forward to two or three years later, back down there again. Not as far down, so at least the thought I'd had before, long ago, had been right, but still far enough down that it was keeping me from reaching my full potential (as they say). (Then the sneaky suspicion - maybe all this was deliberate, if only at a subconscious level - if I didn't feel this way, then maybe I would get to my full potential - and then feel even more down in the dumps - realizing that it wasn't really very much). Or who knows, sometimes some angst seems necessary to be able to achieve anything. But the long and the short of it was, that now that I had experienced the upside, this was not very attractive. So, in search of 'finding' myself (or 'losing' myself?) again (I had lost both the desire and the tools (my David Naegele CD was scratched to death) to meditate and only one of those things could be easily fixed) - I signed up for a 10-day Vipassana session. And since more than a couple of people wanted to know what it was like - here's the lowdown on it:
Day 0: Got there much ahead of the deadline. Turned in cellphone, passport, writing instruments etc. etc. etc. and went to rest in the room allotted. Thank you God, a room to myself. Wandered around after a bit (and strayed onto pathways meant for the other sex - but no one was around to notice, so no one to come running after me to tell me so). Then orientation and a snack and that was pretty much it for the day. Discovered that most people were here for the nth time and I was one of the newbies. A very disparate crowd - folks from villages, cities and towns. At least this wasn't one of those things that only the elite seemed to get into. Went to the room and tried to sit and meditate in preparation.
Day 1: Managed to get up when alarm went off at 4 am. Got ready and found my way to the pagoda where the group meditation was to happen. Spent the rest of the day breathing in and breathing out. Realized that the breath in the nostrils (not in throat, chest or anywhere else) is barely perceptible when one is breathing normally. Worked hard the whole day trying to feel its presence there. SN Goenkaji's charisma came through in his voice over the speakers. Other than the fact that my mind was really agitated thanks to a little conversation I'd had with someone who usually rubbed me up the wrong way (just by their being, even if they didn't do or say anything wrong), I managed to make it through the day - 10.5 hours of meditation with little breaks in between. By the time the evening lecture rolled around (on DVD), was ready to lap up whatever was said, thanks to a day of doing nothing.
Day 2: Even though I thought I'd go crazy the previous night with thoughts of my little tiff buzzing in and out of my head, I resolved to work on letting today be different and told myself I'd really get into the watching of my breath. Managed to do it all morning long. Eventually, I got good at being able to feel the breath inside my nostrils. It was a much better day.
Day 3. Halfway through the day - intent on my breath, I suddenly felt as if I was light and dissociated from my body - as if I'd dissolved actually. I thought I must be hallucinating, didn't one have to go through at least 10 days to feel like that? But it lasted for at least a few seconds, 10 or so. It was very real. I was excited - though one's not supposed to be - since the whole idea behind Vipassana of being equanimous through pleasure and pain is then defeated. But hey, I'm human and this was a big experience.
Day 4: This day (or perhaps the previous one, I don't recall), we had to sit still for hour long sessions, not moving in the least bit. Though I managed to do this - I realized exactly how many seconds went into making an hour. I realized that it's fine to sit in one position with absolutely no movement for 30 minutes and even maybe 45. But beyond that, the pain that accompanied the sitting was so excruciating that people needed to be handed medals just for achieving this little feat. After that, day in and day out, there were at least three sessions during the day when one was asked to sit still like that.
Day 5: Up until this day (methinks, memory has made a hash of all these days) - only the old students had been assigned cells in a neighboring pagoda - where one could sit in isolation during non-group-meditation hours. This was less distracting (since there were people in the main pagoda who were constantly burping loudly or sniffling and sneezing) and allowed one to focus better. It also provided lots of sensations (mostly sweat trickling down everywhere - since the cells were super hot) to concentrate on - that being the heart and soul of vipassana - working with the sensations on the body and remaining equanimous throughout. Only some of the new ones got assigned these cells - perhaps those of us who seemed serious (as determined by a monitor sitting amongst us or by the two teachers who sat up front watching us, I suppose), I speculate. I liked going into the cell and determined to do it everytime we were free to do so. One could lean against the wall - big plus - because in the first few days one really got to intimately know every inch of one's back - not in a good way. But things were beginning to get unpleasant. With my mind as agitated as it was - about my feelings about myself in general - brought on by recent spat with friend, I felt like my thoughts were screaming vehicles careening around in my brain. And there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide - no distractions - no lighting up anything to take one's mind away etc. etc. This was not a good thing. Agitation - as mentioned in one of the evening lectures - was one of the chief enemies of the Vipassana practitioner (and here I thought I was trying to calm my mind down).
Day 6: Same old, same old.. - am able to remain equanimous (well I have been actually since the first day), through pain and more pain (and then some)... - but I have never doubted my ability to do that - just knew I didn't put it into practice.
Day 7: H'mm - finally, at 5 in the morning in my individual cell, felt something like static electricity repeatedly wash over my body. So these were the pleasant sensations they'd been talking about - talking about not getting too attached to etc. etc.. Well, they weren't that great, so I didn't see any problem here. But it was nice to finally experience something other than pain (and also find that one had the ability to remain equanimous through those as well). This technique of watching sensations over one's body intensely was really at war with the other agitation thing going on though. The days began to take on the quality of a battleground. Agitation vs. intense concentration. And the agitation seemed to be winning. I was sure I'd have to be carried out of here a blubbering mess - having turned totally insane. I really should not have come when I knew that my chief insecurity had been brought to the surface just a couple of days before the session and knowing myself should have known I would obsess about it throughout the 10 days. But I had thought it would be a test for the Vipassana - I didn't know that agitation could ruin this practice, rather than the practice help the agitation. My other way of meditation - listening to the music while pretending I was floating cross-legged alone in the middle of the Universe with a gigantic, ethereal image of the God Siva or some other God (not that I believed in any such thing - but just as the representation of a concept) floating along at a safe distance away from me was much more soothing - and actually always allayed these crazy little people in my head. This technique, I determined, was not really good for me.
Day 8-10: The evening lectures had been really nice. Entertaining (even though that was not the purpose they served apparently). After 10.5 gruelling hours of meditaiton, a little bit of walking for exercise and three light meals a day - they seemed to fill some giant void that desperately needed filling. Being locked up with only one's own mind for company which under any other circumstances I would have looked forward to was the one thing that was probably the unhealthiest for me at this time. Some of these days I just fled the cell or the hall at the end of the one or two hour sessions with tears streaming down my face (and desperately trying to hide them pretending like I had a cold or something). On many occasions I thought I was going quite mad. But I seemed to be making all the progress that they talked about - feeling this and feeling that - I felt everything at the expected times on the expected days - though they also said that that was not the measure of progress. I knew I was paying attention and concentrating (one-pointed concentration being what the Buddha advocated) to death - except that I seemed to be doing one better - two-pointed concentration. I was concentrating on my agitation and my sensations, both just as intensely - this was not a good thing. I decided that all this had happened for a reason. To show me that Vipassana was not my true path - though everyone said I was meditating like a pro (ha!) - they said that I was one of just a handful of people who sat absolutely still and never opened my eyes - what do they know about what goes on inside people's heads! Besides, if you want to practice Vipassana you're advised to give up Reiki (which does magical things for me and which I would never want to give up) - else you're not allowed to attend any more of these meditation sessions - they say it's for your safety - because people have gone insane doing both. And maybe that's what this was doing to me. Reiki I find gentler - this practice seemed to be putting me through some wringer and then leaving me worse off in the end (in this lifetime that is, regardless of what it was doing for my eternal well being). The tenth day provided some relief, when we could start talking to people - though I personally prefer to be quiet and not have dozens of people chattering away at me, it was nice to connect with a couple of people.
Day 11: A relief to leave. On reflection, it hadn't been too bad, and had I been in a calm state of mind going in, I may have felt very differently about it. But given the way it had really been, I decided this was not the thing for me (at least not for now) - I'm trying to calm myself down here, not work myself up to a tizzy and go nuts.