Lately I've been thinking a lot about the difference between desire and attachment...
When I was on a ten day silent meditation retreat over the holidays, I began to see how my mind would obsess over the same desires over and over again. (Mostly about achieving more, doing more, having more...)
It became crystal clear that those desires - that had once been born out of pure innocence - had become attachments and they were causing me suffering.
In a moment of realization in meditation, on Christmas Day, when I had been feeling quite a lot of pain in my body, I broke down in tears, realizing I had been creating the cause of my own suffering by focusing so much on what I didn't have, and what was not in my present moment reality.
So I did what I could to clear those attachments away. I focused on what was happening in my body and breath and released the need for anything to be different than it already was.
An image flashed in my mind of myself being completely stripped down to simple clothes and a shaved head, meditating - settling into a state of stillness and total presence.
From this state of complete patience, self-lessness and letting go, a ground zero of sorts, I asked myself what was really important to me - and the answer was so simple: time in beautiful natural environments with my beloved, singing and being a teacher and mentor, walks in the back field with my cat, Quan Yin, and going out to dinner with friends. That was it...
From that day forward in the retreat, meditation became so much easier. Pain began to lift on my body, and in the times when it came back, my relationship to it was completely different. I had developed a patience that hadn't been there before. I allowed the sensations to be there, the thoughts to be there, witnessing, knowing at some point they would pass, and they always did.
Carrying these insights into my life, I've found a state of more ease and gentleness.
But what about our desires? Isn't it good to have goals and ambitions? I think it is good to have desires, goals and ambitions, but when we find ourselves suffering from those desires, it's time to ask if we have become attached.
It has been a great relief for me to enjoy life (and all that I already have) from a place of nonattachment - allowing everything to just be as it is.
I can't say I've figured it all out, and sometimes those old attachments linger back into my mind, but that's when I come back to my meditation practice, noticing the sensations and breath, and remembering all that is real and perfect in this moment.
To hear more about this topic, listen to my latest podcast where I share the introduction of my book due to release this summer. If you missed my last email, you'll hear all about the new title, Just Be: A Search for Self-Love in India. And, if this message resonates with you, I'd love to hear in the comments.
This week I have been revisiting the valuable tools I learned through Vipassana Meditation. Vipassana is considered the form of meditation Buddha used to attain enlightenment. It is a simple, but profound practice of focusing on the breath and sensations of the body.
The practice was lost for hundreds of years, eventually reintroduced on a global scale by a man from Burma, Goenka. He began 10-day Vipassana meditation courses for sentient beings to learn the practice. The amazing thing is: it is all run by donation.
When you arrive, you are treated exactly the same way as every other person there. You are given a simple bed and 3 meals a day. Without the thought, "I paid for this, therefore everything should be a certain way," we dampen the ego and use the time on retreat as if we were a monk - with all our food and lodging provided.
I sat my Vipassana course in Dharamkot, India, a village just north of the Dalai Lama's temple 2 years ago. The first few days of the retreat solely focused on the breath.
The breath is considered the vehicle to better understand the voluntary and involuntary functions of the body. By tuning into the breath we come in closer connection to all the functions of the involuntary body (our heartbeat and other organs that continue to work without our mind consciously telling them to).
After focusing the mind through the breath to a single pointed focus, awareness is then brought to sensations. The idea is, as humans, we experience craving to pleasurable sensations and aversion to painful sensations. However, there is no way around experiencing both. Our job through the practice is to become a witness to both of them, and simply watch.
Whether a painful or pleasurable sensation arises, we learn through the body, it eventually passes away. By having a direct experience of this impermanence on a physical and cellular level, we can have a greater understanding of the nature of life.
Everything is impermanent, especially the body. The body is continually dying and renewing itself on a cellular level. When we understand impermanence within ourselves, we let go of our strong attachments to the things and people around us and eventually to the strongest attachment of all: life itself.