The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama over 2,500 years ago to a royal family in what is known today as Nepal. On Siddhartha’s day of birth, an astrologer predicted that he would either become a great king, or a great spiritual teacher. Fearing that the latter would come true, the king kept his son locked in the palace and gave him every luxury and pleasure he could imagine, thinking that if he shielded his son from harsh realities of the world, Siddhartha wouldn’t question life, or seek for deeper meaning.
The young prince spent his whole life in the palace, until one day, in his late twenties, he ventured beyond the temple walls and was quickly confronted with the realities of human suffering.
I recently completed my 10 day Vipassana retreat, and am feeling full of peace and gratitude. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done, and also one of the most rewarding. I realized so many things about myself, and about the nature of life. I realized a lot of my thought patterns and what emotions they were rooted in. I realized a lot of the fears and egocentric motives that I still have. I realized that real wisdom comes from personal experience, and that intellectual knowledge can actually get in the way of developing one’s own wisdom.
Many people feel that they are victims in the world, that life is unfair, and everything seems to be working against them. They feel that life is happening to them, and they are at the mercy of this often cruel and unjust phenomenon called life. This is the victim mindset, and it is characterized by feelings of self-pity and blame.
If we are oriented to reality in this way, then we are certain to suffer mentally and emotionally. Simply because from this perspective everything is seen as an enemy, and we view ourselves as helpless victims. People feel this way because they resist taking responsibility for themselves. It is easier to blame others or blame life, than it is to acknowledge one’s excuses and put in the effort required for self-responsibility.
I recently had the privilege of spending 13 days at the Temple of the Way of Light, an ayahuasca healing center in the amazon rainforest. I am beyond grateful for the experience, for the temple, and for the profound lessons that I learned during my time there.
For those who are unaware of what ayahuasca (or Uni in Shipibo, which means “knowledge”) is, it is an Amazonian brew made from the Ayahuasca vine, and the Chakruna leaf. Together these two plants create a powerful medicine that, when consumed, give one profound visions, and help one purge or release harmful energies on a physical, mental, emotional, and energetic level. It is often a very intense and challenging experience that lasts several hours.
Zen master Dogen once said, "Enlightenment is intimacy with all things." I really love this quote because it captures the essence of how I feel in my most true moments. I am not always in this state, at times I am forgetful, or I allow the events in my life to distract me. But the moments when I am most true to my heart, I am relaxed, open, attentive, interested, and extraordinarily present to whatever it is that I am directly experiencing. My mind is not interfering with my experience, judging, labeling, or clouding my awareness with thoughts.
Instead, I am here, fully attentive to what is, and from this state of genuine presence, a tenderness in my heart arises. I am filled with care and compassion for every beings that I see--human, animal, insect, plant. I feel the presence of life within them--the same life presence that is within me. I feel for the suffering, the strength it takes to continue through life's obstacles, and for the personal experience that each being is having. I am filled with a love so vast that it holds within it the entirety of life itself. It makes me realize what is most important, and it inspires me to be of service, to help all beings be free, to do what I can so they can suffer less, and so they can experience more joy.
I recently finished a 5 day Vipassana meditation retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. While I have had a meditation practice for a couple years now, I have never participated in an intensive meditation retreat, nor have I ever meditated longer than an hour or so at a time.
At the retreat, we were in what was called "noble silence." There was no talking to fellow community members, verbally or non-verbally, and we did not have any phones, books, notebooks, or any of the regular distractions one might have. We simply had a room with a bed, lamp, and small shelf, and three times a day we sat in the dining hall together to eat our meals. The rest of the time was spent in meditation, with one hour of the day set aside for the teachings to be shared from our teacher.
I first discovered Breathwork a few years ago, and after one session I was immediately aware of the power that Breathwork has for emotional healing and spiritual growth. I was interested in learning more, but didn't really know where to start. Then I was reintroduced to it this summer when I went to the 2017 Oregon Eclipse Festival, where I attended a workshop with The Breath Center.
The Breathwork practice offered by Michael Brian Baker (the founder of The Breath Center) was different than any of the other practices I had done before, and in my experience it was also much more profound. Only a few minutes in and I could hear the space filled with people having huge emotional releases--crying, yelling, screaming, laughing. The breath was healing people and allowing them to let go of so much unnecessary pain and suffering.
We have been programmed since birth to perceive reality in a certain way. This was the purpose of education and the years of schooling most of us undergo. We were being trained to think and see the world as our culture does. We have been, and are being, culturally conditioned. We have been conditioned through school, through culture, through family upbringing, through social relationships, through television, music, books, and other media, through advertisements, through politics, and through nearly every experience we have. Everything from the language we speak, to the things that we like and dislike, to what we accept as normal, to the beliefs that we have, and the things we identify with, are all a product of our conditioning.
Prana is the Sanskrit term for universal life energy. Pranayama (“prana”, meaning life energy, and “yama” meaning to control) is an ancient practice that Hindus and Yogis perform to strengthen and increase the amount of prana within their bodies, and consequently the total health of their mind, body, and spirit.
For thousands of years healers have understood that our health greatly depends on the quality of energy that flows through and makes up our bodies. All things contribute to the flow of this energy, including the quality of our breath, the thoughts we think, emotions we feel, food we eat, and water we drink.