Monday, November 27, 2006

I may not believe in astrology, but…

In the early part of the decade I spent a lot more time out in the late night dance scene. At one point, I was actually out there working at parties, including working the door of one party for a little bit of cash. I had been there a short while – it was early in the night – and I had gotten into a great conversation with the bouncer. We had been talking for about 10 minutes when he asked me what my astrology was. I said to him I was an Aires. Then he asked me my Chinese astrology and I told him I was year of the Rooster.

I don’t really believe in astrology – how can a bunch of stars actually predict who I am and what I’ll be? And, I often find the lessons presented in astrology have powerful parables which we humans can gain from, if we look for how the messages are true for us in that moment.

Given my beliefs, I was surprised when the bouncer spoke the most accurate one sentence summary of me based on those two piece of information. He said, “Oh, so you’re a ram-cock: a strong yet squishy forward moving object that likes to get into stuff.”

My haircut is in honor of those traits.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Start Again

What I got out of this silence was a gift I never could have gotten had I gone to North Fork: anchors in my own home to my own unrelenting ability to sit with myself and ignore soooooo many distractions. For me, breaking the silence began first when Hunter called me and I answered the phone. Hearing my own voice was bizarre – I hardly recognized the sound outside my head, but more than that, using my vocal cords felt funny.

I think coming back into my voice took a good 1.5 days. Food, on the other hand, took quite a bit less time and I found myself eating chicken soup on the first day. Eating was in fact weird for quite a few days and I was grateful to have taken the 10 days to reset my relationship to food.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Day 10: Because Evolution is What Separates us from the Monkeys

For years I’ve been hearing about Ken Wilber’s work, integral thinking and his AQAL model. During the last 3 days of my sit I listened to his Kosmic Consciousness audio product which I highly recommend. It was as if, for me, years of things I sort of understood all clicked into place and suddenly the world made a whole lot more sense. More than that, it was as if I was suddenly able to see myself in ways I had never understood before and my whole journey took on more meaning as I began to see my own evolutionary process unfold within the context of his model and those he cited. It was a beautiful experience and a fine way to end the 10 days of silence.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Day 9: The Unexpected: Part II

On Monday, I had one of the best opportunities to notice my sensations as fear arises. As I was sitting, I heard noises at my front door. After living at my residence for nearly 3 years, I’m fairly familiar with the sounds made on the front steps of the house, so when the sound of the front gate opening during the day happened, I wasn’t really particularly surprised as I have 3 neighbors downstairs. What followed were the sounds of noises that sounded a lot like a key in my front door and scratches on the glass of the door. As I was sitting, a bevy of thoughts ran through my head: Is this a friend who is simply messing with my head, knowing I’m doing a sit at home? Is this someone breaking in? Would I just sit and be with my experience or get up if a burglar really came into my home?

I actually thought perhaps the most empowering thing I could do was remain unmoved, simply noticing my sensations if in fact someone was in my home to steal. I tried to imagine what they might feel like watching someone sitting there all zen’d out while they were trying to rob the place. I had fantasies of them turning around and leaving without touching anything after noticing me sitting there. I also had visions of them killing me while I was sitting noticing my sensations. I wondered if in fact that would be an enlightened moment.

As it turned out, the noises and person went away, the gate slammed closed and no one came in, though there was a repeat of the sounds about 15 minutes later with the same outcome.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Day 8: The Unexpected: Part I

Relieved to have access to my email – amazing my attachment to it, really – I found myself really moved on Thanksgiving day by all the people who decided to contact me and send me wonderful messages of gratitude. Having my original time piece stop working and having to use my phone to time my sits, it was perhaps the hardest day of all to remain silent since I received so many text pages and calls.

I hadn’t accounted for the response I might have and my own desire to contact people. I had no idea how so many messages of gratitude would impact my experience, though I was, in fact, quite grateful for my own experience at that point. Perhaps the most unexpected communication came from my friend Dan who sent me an email (it was simple but effective) articulating that he was grateful for me in his life. Given that Dan and I had rarely spent any time together socially I was pretty moved by the experience. What a gift…

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Day 7: I just want to eat a big red steak

After not chewing for 7 days, I simply wanted to chew on a big steak. Nothing else really seemed interesting -- just a nice, juicy, rare, steak. An interesting craving to sit with. Excellent practice. And that was the point of doing them both together for me -- to notice my own cravings around what I put into my body so I could change my relationship to them.

Of course, my craving to write emails was something I just decided to give up on Day 7. From a time perspective, it seemed to just make more sense to write the emails and simply put them into my draft folder. I was also presented with interesting dilemmas about that. One of my students had to miss a rehearsal for family reasons and I wanted to assure her we’d work it out. I assured myself, had I actually gone to North Fork, she would not have gotten a response so really it was okay.

It was like the day someone came and rang my bell. It was actually a little scary because it sounded like someone had gotten in my front gate and was playing with my doorknob. I was in a sit at the time so I got to sit and notice my fear. It happened a second time maybe 15 minutes later. I made up a fun story in my head that one of my friends who knew I was sitting in my home did it to test me. :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Day 6: I'm sleeping in

My sleep schedule got dramatically off Goenka's plan. I tossed and turned for hours. Shortly after midnight the senna tea was working and I found myself up late on and off the toilet for a few hours. The subsequent burning sensitive being... Invigorating... inspired me to do a 1 hour sit at 2 am. The idea of waking up at 4 am after only going to sleep at 3 am seemed both unhealthy and silly.

I decided I was simply going to sleep in, and sleep in I did -- to 8 am, a time that is still earlier than the time I normally awake at. I sat again, and again and then, at 11 am, I simply decided I was more interested in getting the class I had designed a few days prior out of my head than continuing to just meditate for the second 5 days of my retreat.

So I wrote. 14 pages of 12 point non formatted text to be used as part of the handouts for the new class.

Of course, Vladlen's words were in my head again about wimping out. If I was silent for 10 days and meditated every day, even if I only maintained most of the rigor of Goenka's plan for the first 5 days, was I wimping out? I decided not. I realized at some point early on day 6 that I was being attached to the idea of what the 10 days should look like rather than surrendering and simply letting them arise and pass away naturally. Ah, what relief this was.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Day 5: Walk 100 Laps in my Socks

Solitary confinement is starting to make sense. I'm making a break for it today when I go and move the car - ah, the great outdoors. I haven't been outside since Wednesday and here it is Monday of the following week. Hmmm.

Had I gone to North Fork, I would have been forced to walk from my dorm to the meditation hall to the food hall to my dorm and back and forth between these places a few times. I didn't realize when I set out to do this how much of a break that bit of walking provides. Even if all I did was the necessary walks from one building to another, I would have doubtlessly walked a good 30-45 minutes a day - I'm sure at least a mile a day.

With the lack of exercise this journey afforded, I decided to recreate the walking experience. Determining a lap around my apartment (down the hall, through my bedroom, around the corner of the sunroom, through the kitchen, through the living room and back out into the hall) was approximately 52 feet and vaguely recalling a mile was something in the 5200 feet range, I figured 100 laps would do a mile pretty well. I had to laugh at that though... is it really in the spirit of this journey?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Day 4 (Part II): I Love My Mom

One of my sits this afternoon was dedicated to one of the most amazing people I've ever known: Mom. I love my Mom. It's not that I don't love my Dad, merely that it's beside the point (and, to be clear, I love him deeply). Dad's the kind of guy who mostly doesn't care about these sorts of acknowledgments. Weather through Zen mastery or social conditioning birthed from off-the-charts-cognitive-genius unmatched by another, I can't say, but I can say his heartfelt desire to serve and support his family and the selflessness through which he has demonstrated that through the decades is a trait I have long admired.

But I digress.

When I was a little girl, I thought my Mom was the most beautiful woman in the world. . Sure, she had a few extra pounds on her for as long as I can remember, but with her mile long legs, calf development to die for, high cheek bones, pouty lips and killer smile, who was I to think anything but how beautiful she was?

Did I mention she always - and I mean always - had the best collection of coolest shoes a girl playing dress up could want to choose from? (Assuming Mom didn't catch me in her closet with the shoes, that is.) Fortunately for my pocketbook and chiropractic bill, though perhaps less fortunately for my sense of aesthetics, I developed my Dad's sensibilities around my shoes... though I remember the best pair of spiked pumps I ever owned was a pair of black Andrew Geller net and suede shoes I somehow convinced Mom to give me over a decade ago. I nearly cried when I discovered they were worn out.

I wanted to grow up and look and be exactly like my Mom. She has always carried herself with grace and power and for as long as I can remember, there was something about my mom that was alluring in her physical form. I think that's why I'm so comfortable having a few extra pounds on me. It might be her swagger when she walks... or maybe it is her ample decolletage, or as Mark might say, maybe it is a both/and.

Mom was my hero for many years - how many girls my age can boast a Mom who is still married, has 5 healthy, well-adjusted kids and still managed to have a successful career? Well, perhaps a few. I imagine though there are not so many who can laud their Mom as a woman who successfully navigated the politics of the New York City School System such that they landed a job as Superintendent of Schools. Mom was one of the first women to do that sort of thing. It may be she was the first in her district - I can't rightly recall.

Sure, I could say something things about how I wish my Mom were this or that or blah blah blah. When it comes right down to it, my sister-in-law Ilona (thanks girl - you got this right!) pointed out the fact that as different as we are, we are very similar women in some life-shaping ways. We are women with committed work ethics whose passion and fire show through in all we do and, at the end of the day, if there were a battle to be fought, I'd rather my mother were at my side than on anyone else's team. She may be the most fiercely loyal, loving and passionate woman I've known... well, save her middle daughter (yeah, that's me) whose grateful for the gifts we share, even if there are some we don't.

Day 4: Holy Colon Blow, Batman!

Everything changed on Day 4. Before sleeping on day 3, I had profuse thoughts which kept arising and would not pass away that were of a sensual nature - something about showers and my lover. I finally indulged these thoughts so, there it was, precept 7 out the door. That of course led to precept 3 following 7 out the door. Now, technically, precept 1 was already violated - I was killing bacteria in my colon by the uncountable multitudes alone and let us not forget the stray ants getting killed in the refrigerator door jam every time I opened and closed the door. Beyond that, I'd already noticed myself actually say, "Ok" at some point on day 1, so, what was I left with?

A very humorous situation, I tell you. As part of the master cleanse, in addition to taking laxative tea in the evening, you do a colon flush in the morning. This consists of drinking 32 ounces of water with 2 teaspoons of non-iodized salt in it. I assume that the salt water ratio is exactly perfect that it simply passes through your digestive system without the water being absorbed through osmosis (or the salt through diffusion) into the rest of the body. If you've never done this, let me share, it is quite effective.

Having gone back to taking tea on the third day (see, the tea loosens everything up and the salt water flushes it out), and getting up sluggishly before light on day 4, I waited to drink the salt water until after sitting a bit. After sitting and taking the 10 minutes or so to prepare the days "food" (if, as V suggested, you could call subsisting on 600-1200 calories of maple syrup a day (while cloistered in your home) "food") I took my salt water solution and then sat to meditate again.

There are certain sensations which arise and do pass away. I'm familiar with many of them. Pain, itching, sneezing, dry mouth, running nose, aching guts, and even, to my great relief, my burning butt -- at least to some degree, though, as I stated, it was tender all week. However, there are some sensations that simply do not "pass away" without some action, including peeing and pooping. (Remember: Poop spelled backwards is poop!)

What changed for me on day 4 was what I'm grateful to relate as a humorous situation, though, I'm sure there would have been a time in my life when it was embarrassing. There I was, sitting for my first sit of strong determination (the first official one of the 10 day vipassana) doing my best to have at least some moment of noticing my sensations in between my rather creative monkey mind experiences. Mind you, I had already sat on the toilet 2 times, so I thought everything would be okay.

Oh no... it was not to be. Do you know what happens when you have a bowel full of salt water solution and you cough? In my case, you're really grateful you happened to have put on shorts under your pants to address your concerns about anal leakage because, in fact, they had come true.

Now Buddha might have thought it enlightened to sit in a puddle of that nature; I did not. And left with nothing else but a really long laugh at myself, I had to reassess what I was actually going to do with the rest of my 10 day retreat.

The urge to throw in the towel was certainly pretty profound at this point - I'd broken half the commitments, I was sneezing, snotting, coughing and having great colon blows. And V had said to me as only he could, "If you're going to wimp out, you might as well wimp out big." He clarified this by saying wimping out on day 2 made sense; on day 8 it did not. This, of course, was in an effort to get me to go to his Birthday Party which coincides with day 6 of this 10 day journey.

I decided I'd call my 10 day a success if I didn't:
- call or email anyone
- do any work
- make anything
- not kill any ants intentionally (they are still committing mass suicide in my freezer)
- actually sit for 10 hours a day (3 full hours as sits of strong determination)

I thought I'd get the laugh out of my system and I resisted the urge to call 10 people who I thought would laugh hysterically at what had just happened to me. Instead, I got on my laptop which doesn't connect to the internet, typed up the whole thing and then I would get back to work.

This of course made me get back to the real question: What was my outcome? For what reason had I actually chosen to do this 10 day retreat?

The answers were clear: to get centered (check), to take some time for myself (check), to stop working (check), to take a vacation (check), to change some habits and develop new ones (hmmm.... We'd have to see about that), to do something which would help me grow (check), to develop my witnessing skills more (check) and to go deeper into myself (check). While I could say, on some level, I'd achieved all these things, I knew there was more to be had. So off with the computer and back to the sitting.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Day 3: Sneezing Snot

As if to reaffirm my choice to stay at home, I was in the middle of a sit where I just kept sneezing. I projected myself into the meditation hall and decided the person who would have been sitting in front of me was grateful.

Even though it was only day 3, I had decided to attempt each sit as an hour long sit of strong determination. For those who do not know, this is a sit where you intend to remain still and unmoved. For me, the sitting still and not moving can sometimes make me have visions, literally, of jumping up and screaming. It's a great practice to sit through that because it is so challenging. I think that's the point. ;)

During one of these sits, snot was dripping down my face - the very thing I had said to Travis I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with. His voice in my head reminded me that he had done it during one of his sits in India alternating with Mike's voice saying, "How's your health?" It seemed I had duel voices in my mind distracting me.

When snot started out the second nostril, I burst into laughter, as it reminded me of a rather funny moment I shared with Vatra at Fire Drums this fall. He somehow managed to maintain his sense of humor after burning his cornea during an amazing set he was spinning and was cracking jokes with me behind the DJ booth, one of which involved a hysterical visual you'll have to ask him to show you some time. (Not for the faint of heart, I assure you...)

I think that sit was the most intense of the day. It ran from fun, to funny, to hysterical and even included deep crying -- partly prompted by my tender butt, something that persisted to varying degrees all week. That led me to remember how one night, Jim and Frank were home and offered me some fat free Pringles which have this fat alternative called, I believe, olestra. This "fat alternative" apparently goes right through your digestive system and has this interesting side effect called anal leakage. Given the tenderness of my butt, I was constantly noticing sensation there and was concerned about anal leakage for non-olestra reasons -- simply that I was eliminating with great force.

That reminded me of a Robin Williams clip I saw on recently which contained a bit on anal leakage. (I couldn't find that clip, but I found this clip which Is just as funny -- perhaps funnier.) And, my monkey mind being what it was, well, I was reminded of the rest of the clip. The end of the clip is him imitating... shall we say... Intimate acts between a man and a woman.

Later in the afternoon, I had the most "productive" sit where I did anything but actually notice my sensations. "Productive" is not exactly the word I would ideally want to be considering in relation to sitting, but I designed (in great detail) an entire workshop during that sit. Torn between "should I let it go" or "should I write it down" I compromised and rather than get on my computer, I wrote down the salient points in my journal. It was my thought that perhaps in writing it down, I would quit obsessing over it and let it pass away. The next sit it had passed away, which was great. And, I had decided the entire 10 days time away from work was worth it simply for that course outline I'd completed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Day 2: Burning Butt, Aching Gut

When Sioux and I did the Master Cleanse 4 years ago, we made a huge pot of the stuff and we'd have afternoon tea. In the book we read, they suggested getting peppermint tea to use as a laxative to help facilitate additional elimination and to take it each afternoon. I had found that for me, that was not a particularly effective choice and during my first cleanse, I hadn't had nearly the quantity of bowel movements I thought one should expect for such a deep cleanse. I was happy to read about a different alternative this time, which is tea with senna leaf in it. I rather enjoyed the taste of it and was glad to discover in no way did it seem a chore to drink the tea. As a matter of fact, on day one, I had 2 cups of it.

Now one of the things they warn you about is that when you're eliminating, you'll experience any number of possible things which is a clear indication that the cleanse is in fact working. One of these things, while rare, does happen, This would be having burning bowel movements. After about the 6th shit in maybe 2 hours of this nature (I probably totaled 12 in the first 3.5 to 4 hours of the day), I was sure the cleanse was working. That, of course, and the extreme cramps and aches in my gut. It was wonderful to sit with the sensations and during my meditations on day two I got to some deep places of release and cried more than once what Mark would undoubtedly call healing tears.

And, I didn't take any tea that night because I was not ready for a repeat on day 3.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Day 1: Only 9 More Days

The 4 am wakeup bell was just as hard in the comfort of my own bed... perhaps harder. I mean, what was I doing? The mantra of the day on all the breaks from the meditation was, "only 9 more days"” and on the inside, I thought that didn'’t bode well for my success. I had thought, on some level, Damien and Kendra were correct in encouraging me to get my butt to North Fork and deal with being sick, but during the 5:30 AM sit, I unfortunately thought my intuition really was correct. Hacking up half a lung and some really gross stuff I'’m glad no longer resides in my body, I was grateful to just be at home, even if I thought 9 more days of this was a crazy idea.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

10 Days On the Inside

Waking up sick had me clear that going to the 10 day was a bad idea. Instead, after getting coaching from several people but mostly because of my conversation with Travis (wherein he pointed out that I seemed more juiced by the idea to stay home), I decided to stay at home and do the 10 day silent retreat at home while also doing the Master Cleanse. This basically consists of drinking 6-12 glasses of a special lemonade (8 oz water, 1 oz maple syrup, 1 oz, lemon juice and 1/10 a teaspoon of cayenne pepper) each day; drinking laxative tea before bed; and starting the morning off with a salt-water solution (32 ounces of water with 2 teaspoons of non-iodized salt in it) each morning. If you think about it like doing your laundry in a washing machine: the cayenne/lemon juice combination acts as the soap agent for the intestines, the laxative tea acts as an intestine agitator and the salt water solution is sort of like the rinse cycle. The maple syrup provides the vitamins and nutrients (and calories) to sustain you.

I did this cleanse 4 years ago before my 10 day meditation, so it seemed appropriate to do them both together, though a bit more challenging. Of course, everyone was quick to point out the whole set of challenges that obviously arises when you do a sit at home. I was a disbeliever and thought, "I will do this."

My intention at the outset was:

1. do the master cleanse for 10 days
2. meditate following the course schedule and precepts for 10 days
3. not hoop or poi dance for the full 10 days
4. not call anyone and speak with them
5. not email anyone

I bought the food and, off I went...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Palace, Goenka's 10 Day

In preparation for the December 11 Union Square show, I'm running a fire dancing performance class with 21 students. We're holding the class at The Palace of Fine Arts under this really beautiful dome. Seems like a good place to hold a practice, rain or shine, right? Well, it seems like it, but in reality, after 3 hours of practices there (the above class and another meeting with another group of fabulous performers), I found myself with a hoarse voice (even with the awesome megaphone Jim and Anne brought) and wet feet. This led to me getting the sniffles. So here I am, ready to leave tomorrow for my 10 day Vipassana retreat, wondering if I should go.

If you haven't done one of these retreats, here's the quick summary. All who attend a Vipassana course must conscientiously undertake the following five precepts for the duration of the course:

1. to abstain from killing any living creature;
2. to abstain from stealing;
3. to abstain from all sexual activity;
4. to abstain from telling lies;
5. to abstain from all intoxicants.

There are three additional precepts which old students -- of which I am one -- are expected to follow during the course:

6. to abstain from eating after midday;
7. to abstain from sensual entertainment and bodily decoration;
8. to abstain from using high or luxurious beds.

All students must observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day. Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow student, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited.

And you then follow this schedule:
4:00 a.m.----------------Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 a.m.-----------Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 a.m.-----------Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 a.m.-----------Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 a.m.----------Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon--------Lunch break
12noon-1:00 p.m.--------Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 p.m.-----------Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 p.m.-----------Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 p.m.-----------Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 p.m.-----------Tea break
6:00-7:00 p.m.-----------Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 p.m.-----------Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 p.m.-----------Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 p.m.-----------Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m.----------------Retire to your own room--Lights out

The thing is, while you sit during 3 of the 1 hour group sits, for 7 of the 10 days you are not supposed to move. As someone with a running nose, in close quarters to someone else, I question two things: 1. does this make sense for my health? 2. Does this make sense for everyone else's health?

I'll sleep on it and figure it out in the morning...

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Ants Go.... Marching Suicidally

Oh how weird the world is.

When I sent the email about the ants last week, it must have been some kind of weird foreshadowing.

A colony decided to invade my home when the rain hit. And, in the weirdest of experiences I've ever had with ants, they congregated in the most bizarre place I can think of: my freezer.

I guess with absence of anything on the counters and floors and surface tops that must have seemed like a good place to go.

So there a lots of dead ants on the top of the shelves on the door of the freezer with more attempting to get in. Very odd...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Ants Go Marching 1-by-1

We live in California so ants seem to a fairly common thing to come by in ones home.

I often consider them as I watch them march by -- are they really the more evolved ones? Their path is so clear and requires nothing more than the beingness of it. I recognize that to think this somehow denies the obvious evolutionary span humans have which ants do not... it is just that sometimes I wonder, are they really laughing at us and speaking to each other and since we don't speak ant we don't really know how evolved they are?

What I really question with much more seriousness: should I kill the ant or let it roam free. Generally I just let it go if there are only a few, but when it looks like they will congregate and create a mass encampment, I start with the genocide. (is that
the right word for exterminating in this context?)

Especially now that I'm getting ready for my (second) 10 day silent meditation retreat wherein you vow "to abstain from killing any living creature," I ask myself this question again and again: do I kill the ant or let it live?

And then I question my criteria.

To some extent, the vow is impossible to maintain -- my guts are constantly killing invasive organisms to sustain my life -- are they not creatures simply because I can't see them?

Is the underlying spirit of the rule to say, "have consciousness about those creatures whose life you snuff" rather than being about the strictness of the rule itself?