Thursday, April 30, 2009

First day in Paris

It's been a long 39 hour day, but we've landed safely in Paris. Oversea flights are nothing like domestic Air Canada flights, and we all loved the food and non-stop entertainment options. We arrived in Parid at 6 am, made our way to our hotel near Montparnasse, and headed out to explore Paris for the day. We must have walked 20 km exploring the Champs Elisses (sp), the Arc de Triumph, and eventually the Eiffel Tower. Adrian was quite the trooper, provided I kept him supplied with a steady supply of chocolate croissants and baguettes. My brother-in-law David not only provided excellent translation services for us, but also provided in depth historical accounts of everything we were looking at, having visited Paris before on numerous occasions and being a natural history buff. The archetecture here is inspiring, the green space refreshing, and the people generally quite friendly. Everything is extremely expensive of course, but we are loving the European charm. My only complaint is this French keyboard that takes forever to master, so pqrdon any ,istakes;

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Plans for Asia

Unbelievable! In less than 24 hours we'll be on the plane heading for Paris. We, that is, myself, Richard, and Adrian. This constantly evolving journey has us planning to spend 4 days in Paris on a layover to Delhi. The European part of this trip was the last vestage of our original plan to spend 2 months in Europe. Adrian didn't want to give up his dream of seeing the Eiffel Tower and speaking French for his parents, so we kept 4 days in Paris. We'll be flying over and spending those days with Richard's brother, David, who is enroute to his own "vacation". He'll be spending a month walking the "Camino de Compostella de Santiago" pilgrimage between France and Spain.

After this brief resting spot, we'll carry on to India. We have nearly 2 months to travel throughout Asia. We have some bones of the trip set with flights and hotel reservations, but there's lots of room to wander at will. We plan to spend a week in the mountains north of Delhi near Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives. Then we fly to Burma (our second family trip there) for 2 weeks. Surprisingly, we have a lot of contacts here, and anticipate seeing some old friends from our last trip, in particular the 100 year old teacher of my Buddhist teacher's teacher. From here, we fly to Kathmandu and decide which treks to take. We're still debating between treks in Tibet, Nepal and India, so stay tuned for which ones we choose. (If you've been there yourself and you have some advice or suggestions, please comment, and quickly!). Adrian's keen to to see some real mountains, and we're all curious how we'll be as the altitude quickly climbs up, up, up.

We need to be back by June 20, so Adrian can graduate grade 6 with the rest of his class a few days later. So with backpacks small enough that we're hoping to be able to carry on with us onto planes, off we go tomorrow towards our great adventure. We anticipate having internet access along the way, except for within Burma, so stay tuned for updates.

What was it Like for my Family???

So it's all good and well that I went off for 2 months and had an interesting mind experience of my own. But what was it like for my family I left behind? How did they cope?

Well it took Richard 2 weeks to realize that Adrian hadn't had a shower, despite the fact that it was hockey season and Adrian was skating nearly every day and getting plenty sweaty. So he gently suggested one. Adrian thought about it for a bit, apparently, and then, miracle of miracles, he decided that he'd better not wait for anyone else's suggestions anymore, and would start taking a shower every other day, even without a reminder. Now I have been waiting for this moment for about 1 years, and I never suspected that I needed to get totally out of the way to make it happen. But the moment has passed, and he's not going back, so now I have an independently clean and sweet smelling young man, in addition to being the warm and wonderful kid that I used to love him for beeling.

As for the cooking and cleaning while I was gone, well, the house didn't quite look like it does when I'm around, but really it wasn't too bad. The 2 bachelors did quite well together. They split the added chores. Adrian learned how to wash his own laundry (he's since forgotten again how to do it). Richard managed the hockey chaufeuring duties with the dishes and lunch making and school note signing and the grocery shopping. He says his bass guitar playing was a lot less during these 2 months, but other than that, he got along quite fine. Perhaps he just used the time he usually spends listening to me talk about my job or my friends' love lives to be more productive.

Any way, when I got home, I realized that Adrian had grown another inch while I was gone and was clearly being well fed by someone. He had even had a couple of mornings where he had to wake himself up by alarm clock, eat his breakfast alone, and then walk himself to school on his own on mornings when Richard had to work early. And Richard had managed to find a fantastic AAA hockey team for Adrian.

So all in all, I was thrilled to come home, listen to their stories, and realize that they don't really need me as much as I thought they did. They did very well indeed without me. It was good for everyone. This is a good lesson for me!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Meditate?

I've been asked by many people why I took 2 months to do a meditation retreat. In fact, why do I spend time meditating at all? The answer is pretty clear to me. Meditation is a great way to get to know myself. And the more I know myself, the closer to my potential that I can reach. Meditation is really about slowing down the external influences to the point where I can see who I am. Remove the contact with my family, and I see who I am in the roles I play with my family. I see how I play "mommy" and "partner". You can't see something when you're so close to it and constanting acting in the role. So with meditation, you don't set out to make changes, but when you see yourself as you really, you do make changes, but that happens naturally when you see things.

Meditation is a lot like therapy, except with therapy there's a starting point that things are wrong. In meditation, you start out in a neutral place of just wanting to see what is, and then from there you decide whether it's helpful to be a certain way or not, and adjust if you want to. And you give yourself the space to break out of patterns which often feel so set in stone that you think you'll never be able to change, but then you do. You can only do this by slowing everything down to a speed that allows you time to look at it. Hence, the silence rule. No talking except in class or with the teacher. In the silence, the mind slows down to a peaceful pace, just right for observing thoughts and feelings. For big-time talkers like myself, I get fast results from closing my mouth and listening more. Listening to my repetetive thoughts and feeling my repetetive feelings. 2 months is a long time. Plenty of time to watch cycles of thoughts and feelings. I realized that I truly am a moody person, who cycles through feelings and moods, even when I'm having no contact with anybody. Just me, and still there's moods. They're fun to watch from a point of equinimity. Like old friends.

Back in the city, I'm trying to find time to stay connected to this pace. To spend some time each day just chilling. Just sitting, not waiting, but listening. Listening to whatever is going on in this rich imaginiation of mine we call "my mind". Try it!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Personal Insight

Many of you may be wondering what my greatest personal insight was during my 2 months of personal introspection. Really, it wasn't exactly exactly brilliant. Just that I'm not really a very good listener. I like to talk. Now everyone knows that. What I didn't realize was that if you talk, you tend to focus on yourself, and less on the listener. So I'm committing to trying to listen better in the future. You'll have to let me know how I'm doing. I sometimes get so caught up in telling you about my interesting life that I forget about you and only see myself. It's really very selfish and arrogant. Many of you have interesting lives too. And just because you may not be as fast a talker as me, you may not get a chance to tell me. So in the future, if I start to talk too much, let me know. And if you notice me listening better, also let me know. Meditation is not an excuse to be hard on yourself, but it is an opportunity to see yourself as you really are. I want to become a good listener. I hope that as I gradually slow down throughout this year, I'll eventually also slow down my speech and thoughts, and have more time for the beauty around me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Emotions and Smells

I never realized how much personal smells are the result of emotions, rather than exercize. The whole 2 months at my meditation retreat, I had the interesting experience of having very few real emotional exposions. I learned that emotions follow particular thoughts, and that if you don't cling to the emotions, they will pass away on their own in a couple of minutes, leaving no smells or thoughts. As a result, the body stays clean on its own, and you really don't need to shower often, wash clothes, and you lose your own general smell. Almost like you lose your person-ness when you don't get lost in your emotions, which is what I generally do in the city. You don't need to cover up emotions, but rather you just ride them out and develop an awareness of them as they move through you.

Now that I'm back in the city, I notice smells again. Even in this simplistic life of no work and no worries, the smells are back. Not as much as usual when life is a whirlwind of emotions, but enough to notice.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back from Silence

How exactly does one return to the talking world after spending 2 full months in silence at a meditation retreat? Well, you just open your mouth and start talking again. Just like 2 months ago, to everyone's amazement, I simply shut it. For those of you who had your doubts, yes, I really was quiet for 2 whole months. Not only not talking, but trying to move quietly. For me, the moving quietly was harder than just not talking. I realize that I walk loudly and with greater presence than is necessary, and with a lot of thrashing about. So I did settle down as best as I could and tried to be more mindful of my movements.

But the reward of all this was how quickly I was able to move into the present moment. Within a couple of days, even my thoughts were about things that relative to that 24 hour period. Like the weather and when it was my turn to cook dinner, and even when I had my last shower. I stopped thinking about Richard and Adrian, trusting that they would carry on as planned until I saw them again. Thoughts about work took a bit longer to stop flowing, but when they did, there was even greater peace and restfulness. Not that thinking about work and my family are troublesome necessarily, just that when I stopped thinking about these main areas of my life, I found a lot of spaciousness.

Time to look out the window and enjoy watching the deer and elks munching on the grasses out front the lodge. Or time to sit with no words or thoughts popping up to disrupt the peace. Just sit. I can't remember when I've last done that. And for hours on end.

So back in Toronto, I'm spending time with my family again. I'm just in time to appreciate the Easter long weekend with everyone home, including Josh and Jeremy (my 18 and 20 year old step-sons). We took our first family snapshopt in close to 4 years. I'll try to upload it soon. I'm trying to keep that sense of spaciousness with me. Not so much computer work!!! And with that, I'm going to sign off and play a board game (Careers) with Adrian.