Traveling Nowhere – Creating a Personal Retreat at Home

“Where ever you go…there you are.” Enlightenment is not found in some exotic temple on the other side of the world. It’s found in the daily mundane practices of life that slip by often unnoticed. Often purposefully ignored. Often pushed away. Traveling is great because it does help to open up a range of perspectives, as well as get us outside of routines so we can SEE our life. However, the true magic happens when you wake up in the same bed that you wake up in every morning. It happens when you go to work, when you laugh with your loved ones, when you move through arguments – and when you experience the inevitable suffering of loss,  sickness, and death that is simply a part of living for all sentient beings. It happens when you go grocery shopping, when you eat your lunch at your desk, and when you watch your kids play soccer. It happens on the inhale and it happens on the exhale. Sometimes, however, we need some distance to see what is right in front of us.

Though travel is a wonderful gift to be able to experience, you don’t have to break out your credit cards to go on a much needed personal retreat. It’s takes some commitment to practice a zendo/ashram/temple style retreat at home, but it’s doable and the benefits will be felt immediately. I recommend starting out with just one day the first time around, and then you can decided how a single day, weekend, or week long home retreat will fit into your life.

Follow these steps:

1. Pick a day when you can be alone. I know this can be a big challenge for some people, so you may really need to enlist some help in the endeavor.

2. Decide what your goal is, if any, and what forms you are interested in practicing, whether it is a certain kind of meditation, yoga, creative expression, or some blend there of.

3. Pick out any books, videos, podcasts, or supplies you will want to incorporate into you retreat day. (Meditation cushions, yoga mats, books, a journal, painting supplies, etc.)

4. Do as much as you can to create a peaceful environment before hand. Clean up a bit so you at least have room to move around or even one small area for minimal distractions.

5. Shop for and prepare clean, healthy food the day before.

6. Set up a fairly rigid schedule for the day like the one below. This will help you keep a flow, limit your decision making, and allow you to focus your attention fully on each part of the day. Note: Make sure you add in mundane activities such as household chores. This will help you bridge the connection between a calm, inward awareness during your retreat, and your regular daily life where you need it the most – the place where practice turns into to being. This is a practice that is typically incorporated into spiritual retreat centers.

 

Example schedule:

5:30 Wake up, quick shower, get ready

6 – 6:30 Meditation **

6:30 – 7pm Yin Yoga***

7 – 7:30 Eat

7:30 – 8:30 Clean

8:30 – 9 Rest and journal

9-10 Listen to Dharma Talk*

10-12 Read and rest, eat

12 – 2 Clean house, work outside in the yard or garden, etc.

3 – 4 Vinyasa Yoga***

4 – 4:30 Journal

4:30 – 5 Rest

5 – 5:30 Eat

5:30 – 6:30 Listen to Dharma Talk*

6:30 7:00 Journal

7:00 – 7:30 Meditation**

7:30 – 8:30 Yoga Nidra***

8:30 – 9:00 Prepare for sleep

9:00 Get to bed early

 

*Example: Free dharma talk podcasts from the SF Zen Center

**Free meditation timers (Bottom of page)

***Example: Yoga Videos from Yoga Glo

Note: You may find yourself using technology as part of your retreat. Avoid the urge for outside communications via social media. Keep the inward focus except for the knowledge of experienced teachers via, books, blogs, videos and podcasts (preferably ones that are ad free). Since there is no one else around to keep your daily schedule flowing, I recommend using a to do list app like Wunderlist, which you can utilize to setup your schedule with time reminders.

 

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The Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra

Because sometimes you need a shift in perception…

This translation comes from a handout I got some years back while staying at the San Francisco Zen Center.

Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajña paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering. Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this. Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are either defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease. Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight … no realm of mind consciousness. There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance… neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment. With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajña paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views, one realizes nirvana. All buddhas of past, present, and future rely on prajña paramita and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment. Therefore, know the prajña paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false. Therefore we proclaim the prajña paramita mantra, the mantra that says: “Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha.”

Buy The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutraby Thich Nhat Hanh

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Free Zen Bells Silent Meditation Timers

I have been on a search for a simple, beautiful meditation timer through out the years, but was never able to find one that I resonated with. Over the weekend a good friend was kind of enough to take the time to help me build a set of mp3 meditation timers to my specifications!

Below you will find 7 timers for 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 minute silent meditations. There is a single bell that chimes about 8 seconds after starting play, then the specified period of silence and then a single bell that chimes at the end.

Since you can download these to your computer, phone, mp3 player etc, they are perfect for use at home and the office as well as on your travels! They are also perfect for yoga and meditation teachers to use while teaching and holding space for practice.

If you enjoy these as much as I do, please feel free to donate so we can share the love with my friend for her valuable time! 


Zen Bell Silent Meditation Timer 5 min

Zen Bell Silent Meditation Timer 10 min

Zen Bell Silent Meditation Timer 20 min

Zen Bell Silent Meditation Timer 30 min

Zen Bell Silent Meditation Timer 40 min

Zen Bell Silent Meditation Timer 50 min

Zen Bell Silent Meditation Timer 60 min

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Ask Stacy: Practicing Yoga With Insects

Dear Wandering Yogi,

I just came home from a yoga retreat. Much of the yoga retreat was outdoors and I often found myself dealing with flies and other insects landing on my body, including my FACE! I kept brushing them away and they just kept coming back. It was incredibly frustrating and I found myself getting very annoyed. Though I enjoyed the yoga retreat overall, I am hesitant about doing it again because of the flies! What should I do?

Thank you,
Bugged Out

Dear Bugged Out,

Once upon a time I was at the San Francisco Zen Center. I sat down for zazen (meditation practice) at 5:40am in the basement zendo (meditation hall) on a chilly November morning. I paid attention to my forms, sat on my cushion, straightened my spine and closed my eyes about 9/10 of the way. The meditation bell chimed to start practice and all was good in the world. A few minutes later I saw from the narrow opening of my eyes that a small, black spider had somehow made its way down from the ceiling on a single web and stopped directly in front of my face! My first reaction was the desire to scream and jump up. Needless to say, screaming and jumping up from my meditation was not exactly an appropriate response, especially when meditating with 40 other people!

So I just sat there. I made the decision to notice my reactions and to meditate with all sentient beings – including my new spider friend.

After stopping in front of my face as if to taunt me, the spider finally preceded to lower down out of my view. At this point I figured it had landed on my body. I continued to sit.

Then after more time passed I felt like I could feel it on my arm. Then more time passed and I finally felt like it was sitting directly above my left eyeball. I continued to sit.

Towards the end of meditation I saw the spider start to make his journey back up his web. The meditation bell rang to close the session, and I gratefully moved on towards the Heart Sutra service.

I spoke of the incident to a senior dharma teacher and they laughed. How lucky I was, they said, to have such an experience with Mara (delusion) during my meditation practice!

Whether it was a “real” spider or Mara, I have to admit  that I can’t help but feel like it was one of the best meditations I have ever had. It was a real learning experience of noticing what my initial reactions were and making the choice to allow them to flow instead of taking action.

As long as you feel you are not in danger from an insect I recommend you try viewing the occasional fly on the face as a blessing for strengthening your power of awareness and your ability to make choices versus allowing reactions to control your feelings and actions.

Do you have a question for the Wandering Yogi? Send your yoga and meditation questions to info@theyogaoftravel.com

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Cultivating Awareness Off the Yoga Mat

About 10 years ago, I read the book Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunyru Suzuki. It was a pivotal read in my early meditation practice. Not long after, I read Suzuki Roshi’s biography, Crooked Cucumber and in the book I first learned of the San Francisco Zen Center which Suzuki Roshi founded. Among many things, the book talks about how the dining hall, which has tile floors with heavy wooden tables and chairs, is located directly above the zendo, or meditation hall . Suzuki Roshi realized during meditation that one could hear loud noises above as people dragged the chairs across the tiles when they pulled them away from the tables in order to sit down for their meals. He taught that one should not drag the chairs across the tiles lazily, but gently and quietly move the chair with awareness. He taught that this should be done in order to not disturb the meditation going on below, and also because that is how one should treat all objects as well as ones actions – with quiet, gentle awareness.  

After reading the book, I went to stay at the Zen Center. Sure enough there was the dining room, directly above the Zendo, with it’s tile floor and it’s heavy wooden tables and chairs. Every time I went to sit in a chair I moved it away from the table gently and quietly. I found this simple task to be a profound practice in awareness. However it wasn’t just moving the chairs around where awareness was being practiced at the Zen Center. The awareness of how one moved and interacted with the environment and the people in it permeated the entire day. Walking up and down the stairs, cooking, cleaning the bathroom floors, opening and closing doors. Everything was done with awareness.  

At the yoga studio I teach at there are times when you can hear people talking outside on the side walk and trucks roaring by. I have always welcomed those noises, as they are a part of life, and I feel that practicing yoga and meditation in a room on a street corner versus a silent void helps us to learn how to strengthen our focus when distracted on the mat and therefore how to deal with distractions as they come up when we are off the mat.  

And yet…

I have invited my students to bring their awareness of how they interact with the world with them when they come to practice as I was finding the level of noise when they came into the studio was sometimes not very conducive to a practice of awareness. When you go to your yoga class, you can start your intention of awareness the moment you touch the entrance door handle. At my studio the entrance and bathroom door can be quite jarring when opened and shut in an unconscious manner – particularly when someone must arrive late, leave early or use the restroom during class. In fact, the doors can be opened and shut in almost perfect silence, and every time I open and shut the doors in silence, I am reminded of what it is like to be precisely aware of my actions. You can continue this same practice with how you take off your shoes, how you put your belongings down and even how you roll out your mat.

Spend some time cultivating this practice of awareness before the you even begin your yoga practice. Then look around at how you move about in your daily life. Do you get home and just drop your things on the floor. Do you tap your pen on the desk noisily at work? How do you treat your possessions? Do you take care of them? Do you enter a room full of people and just start talking with out waiting to see what kind of situation you are entering into and possibly interrupting?

The more you start to cultivate awareness in your daily life, even when performing simple, everyday tasks, the more you will begin to cultivate awareness in other aspects of your life. If you can become aware of how you fold your laundry then you become aware of how you react to others emotionally, how you treat you body, how you interact with money and time etc. For every bit of awareness you cultivate, the universe opens up to you.

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As It Goes in Meditation, So It Goes in Business

Meditation and work is the same. Just sitting is just sitting and working is just working. There is no difference. No separation. Work in service the way you meditate in service – for the benefit of all things, for there is also no separation between you and all things. 

Work is work. It comes and it goes. Like the thoughts. Like the breath. It does not love you or hate you – there are no feelings to attach to work.

Be on time. 

Focus.

Stay true to your word.

Breath calmly.

And your work will flow undisturbed the way a river flows down the mountain.

I wrote the above letter to myself some months ago and taped it to the wall in my office when I was feeling stressed out over a particular web development project. I have a generally good habit of caring deeply about what I do in my work, but sometimes this puts me in a place where I find myself wrapping up too many emotions with it, which occasionally leaves me in a state of fear when things are not going super smoothly!

Whether you are practicing business or meditation (or anything!), I highly recommend you get comfortable with both right effort and non attachment!

Without right effort, many stresses will arise, as you will not be using the proper tools that can support you in your practice, such as being on time for deadlines and meetings or sitting up straight in meditation and practicing reguarly. 

And without non-attachment you will swing wildly with the inevitable fluctuations of practice. Sometimes meditation and business are a breeze: The mind stays calm, the legs don’t fall asleep, the new product launch was hit, the money is flowing in! And sometimes they are a painful struggle mentally, physically and emotionally. Give yourself some space to see the full picture and to embrace the fluctuations calmly. In business, as in meditation, there is really no outcome anyway…just a flow of experience.

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If Meditation Were a Contest, Then Today I Had a Victory

Even after a small amount of meditation practice, it begins to get easier. That is not to say that it becomes easy. It is also not to say that there aren’t times when, even after years of practice, that it is incredibly challenging.

Last night I set my alarm early in order to wake up and meditate.

In the morning my alarm goes off. A few minutes later my backup alarm goes off.

I continued to lay in bed thinking of all the reasons I should stay in bed. But I got up, sat down on my cushion and set my alarm once again for 20 minutes later.  

Last night I ate pizza and had a glass of wine, so I am particularly groggy this morning . Much of my time in meditation was spent struggling just to keep my eyes partly open and to not fall asleep. My thoughts continued to turn toward my dreams from the night before, and then around to things that I have to do later today and to many other thoughts. And because I woke up with allergies this morning the contents of my nose began to migrate down my face. And then I felt a tickle in my ear. Most likely from my hair, but the thought arises that another sentient being, probably in the form of an insect, is starting to take up residence inside my ear canal.

I continue to sit.

After a period of time I am really starting to feel like 20 minutes has passed. I tell myself that I am just being fidgity and to trust in the universe. I know I set my alarm.

I continue to sit.

More time goes by, and finally I know without a doubt (ok, some doubt) that 20 minutes has definately passed. After some battle in my mind, I finally decide to bow and check my alarm. I did set it. Just not for the right time. I ended up sitting for 40 minutes instead of 20, which in turn put some time contraint on the rest of my morning.

Now with all that said. None of it really matters. The victory occured the very moment I sat down on my cushion.

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“Just Sitting”

Powerful currents
and crashing waves
subtle ripples
and flowing streams
Breath in
Breath out

Listen
Be still
Be
Can you hear it?
Thump thump
goes the heart beat

Ahhh..

then a  hurricane
a crash
a sadness
an itch
a pain

Breath in
Breath out
Calmness.
Silence.
IMPATIENCE!
Is it time yet?
Can I get up now?

Just sit
Breath in
Breath out

Laundry
dinner
that asshole who cut me off on the freeway

Asshole.

Starighten the spine
relax the shoulders
tuck the chin

So many stories

Heartbreak
and then the legs fall asleep

WAKE UP!

Here I am!
oh wait…there I go…

Rinse
Repeat
Breath in
breath out