Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘insight’

A Golden Process

The Dream Alchemist: A Woman’s Search for Love, Bliss, and Freedom Across India, Time and Dreams – A Memoir by Anna-Karin Bjorklund. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51yhA4S1y4LThere’s a lot of insight, love, clarity, visions, and bliss in The Dream Alchemist, and it all feels genuine. This journey, by Ms. Bjorklund, isn’t always a piece of cake. It takes courage to be with oneself and see what is present. She never turns away, gives up, or blames others. Whenever in conflict, confusion, or difficulty, the author turns within.

“This book,” Anna-Karin says, “is a memoir of my own adventure at a small ashram in India, and the philosophical remnants that followed – a golden process of soul growth, the majestic journey of stepping into my own power, and finding the path of self-love.” Thus, she describes her stay at Brahman Sanctuary in southern India.

She describes the people she meets, what she learns, and the experiences that stayed with her. Most of the retreat is done in silence, accept for meeting with her Dassas (guru’s helpers). The guru’s (teacher) name is Brahman, though they only see him briefly on the last day. Fellow followers include Nicolita, Richard, and Ananda.

“Every day in our sessions with the dassas we’re reminded to observe our thoughts, breath, and emotions. This is a good exercise. After all, the most profound insight came to Buddha just from observing and being in this in-between state where he was simply not trying anything to hard. Every now and then I manage to float away and just observe, which is an amazing feeling. Sometimes I struggle more – thoughts swirl around in my head. At the end of the day, this meditation technique is all about being in a state of observation and being aware of our perception. This applies to suffering as well!”

How Ms. Bjorklund lives, and adapts, to her life in the “outer world”, when she returns from her time in India, is just as interesting as the original retreat. Job, immigrant status, relationships, school, and pregnancy, all play big parts in her new found awareness. The Dream Alchemist takes readers’ on a reflective journey inside and outside our selves, and a part of the world we may never personally visit.

Living With What Is

Purpose – Volume I: Meditation On Love, Relationship, Fear, Death, Intuition, and Power – Uncovering Our Resistance To Life by Noura. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51N-HDlr0mLPurpose is a brilliant artistic exploration of our hearts and minds, what we see, and what we tell ourselves about our experience. Noura looks at, and investigates, major principles and subjects within meditation, psychology and philosophy, with clear vision and insight. Her descriptions of words and phrases (awareness, belief, conflict, content, energy, form, ideas, illusions, intelligence, reality, sacrifice, selflessness, truth, etc.) are spot on and all inclusive. She simplifies what can seem complicated.

This is a book about asking questions. She says, “Is it possible to have clarity about ourselves that enables us to understand ourselves totally, so we never have to rely on any belief? If we can look and see clearly for ourselves, are beliefs necessary?” The author asks readers’ to look in the mirror. “What is purpose? What is our purpose? How do we find it? Where do we look? What gets in the way of seeing it?” We seldom stop to ask ourselves such questions, let alone inquire deeply into what these questions mean.

How does one do this? “The only tools we use to investigate into our minds are the following: 1) Looking without judgment and without excluding anything in particular 2) Inquiring into the purpose of everything in our lives, including the obvious 3) Being open to hearing an interpretation of life that’s different from ours, not accept or reject, only listen.” She explains how to pay attention. “Meditation is the art of living with what is, without condemnation, judgments, fragmentation, or covering it up with ideals.”

Noura also looks at projection, magical thinking, darkness/fear/unknown, and duality, with a section about mental health. She says, Psychological Hygiene is the habit of building awareness through observation, self-inquiry, and self-contemplation…” “Very often, we focus on what’s going on externally at the detriment of what’s going on in the inside.” The stories and tales told in Purpose, lend further credence and understanding to the concepts and inquiry provided in this engaging and insightful volume.

It Has Its Own Shape

Good Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss by Dipti Tait.
Review by Gabriel Constans.

411Up78mHJLGood Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss is rich with personal insight, and emotional intelligence. The following quote alone is worth the book’s weight in gold. “It’s a natural process, like the tides that come in and out on the shore of the ocean of your consciousness. Some are high; some are low. It’s about learning how to surf the waves of grief and not drown in the intense sorrow of loss.” Ms. Tait shares the story of her experiences and reactions to her mother and father’s deaths, and how she has learned to not only ride the waves, but to help others stand up on their own board.

The realizations of grief’s depth and width within our lives is written with clarity, honesty, and compassion. The author’s realization that loss is variable and unique to each individual, based on a myriad of factors and conditioning, is vital for acceptance and healing. “A grieving period is individual to the person who grieves. It has its own shape, form and identity based on belief systems, personal experiences and our own unique programming.” This is so true, and yet we often want a cookie-cutter method of how to proceed and navigate loss, without taking our uniqueness into consideration.

This book shares many aspects of grief that we may feel, or think about, but often do not acknowledge, let alone process. There are chapters on loneliness, guilt, shock, stress, and the reality of loss in our daily lives, as well as the possibility for growth. Ms. Tait provides a number of ways to work with our emotions and thoughts that surround grief. These include journaling, the Three P’s (Positive thought, Positive Actions, Positive Activity), moving into emotional intelligence, and the “No/Yes Principle”. “The self-healing process begins when a person can recognize that they want to change.”

There is little doubt that Good Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss is well worth your time and attention. You may also find that it helps you live with the pain of loss with a little more understanding, and acceptance, and provides that bit of support that perhaps you had not have realized was needed, or available. In addition to getting a copy of Good Grief, by Ms. Dipti Tait, you may also wish to take a look at my book Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter. It is similar to Ms. Tait’s, but told through the eyes of a number of people experiencing the death of a loved one, as well as my interactions with them.

Dying and Living Zen

41CcmYmNunLJewel in the Mud: Zen Musings by Harmony Kent
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Jewel in the Mud is a laywoman’s guide to living life like a nun, as a householder living in the world. It is laid out beautifully, in fifty-two week increments, for anyone who chooses to practice being more aware of what is taking place with their inner and outer world. The author speaks from experience, having lived in both worlds. Ms. Kent resided in a Zen Temple for 13 years, and in mid-life decided to leave that environment, and began a new vocation, meeting a loving partner, and getting her own home.

Many of the weeks thoughts and words were previously conveyed on Ms. Kent’s blog. Luckily, for all who read Jewel in the Mud, she expanded her “Monday Musings” into book form. The weeks include titles such as, Nobility of Silence”, “No Strings”, “First, Breathe”, “Dying to Live”, and “It’s Okay. Have a Meltdown”. The illustration of the lotus flower for each week is lovely, and the caption summing up that section always fits perfectly. For example, in a talk about appreciation, she concludes with, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

Here is a brief excerpt from Week Eighteen, called “Life Before Death”.

“Mindfulness is simply about seeing what we have right here, right now, in this moment. It’s about noticing the myriad of small things that make our lives whole. And about catching the stories we tell ourselves. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way right in the present moment. The easiest way to notice as much as possible is to live each moment of your life as though it were the last moment of your life. Or, the first.”

In many ways, Jewel in the Mud, reminds me of the classes Stephen Gaskin held each week in San Francisco, California, in 1969 and 1970, which were later turned into a book called Monday Night Class. He spoke about life, death, community, love, and awareness, in a way that was easily relatable and personable. Ms. Kent’s work has the same vibe. Like Stephen, she does not come off as preachy, egotistical, or superior. Jewel in the Mud has gifts of compassionate and experienced insight for one and all.

Singing to the Choir

A lyrical excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Sister Melody sang from the moment she awoke until she closed her eyes to sleep. She sang ballads, love songs, sonnets, marches, folk, traditional, blues, and spirituals throughout the day and night. She couldn’t help herself. It was her nature.

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Though she had a beautiful voice, her singing could be annoying during times of quiet meditation. Nobody had the heart to ask her to stop, but many of the Sisters approached the Abbott and asked her to do something. “I’ll see what I can do,” the Abbott always replied, but did nothing.

After a few years of inaction, the Sisters took matters into their own hands. They told Sister Melody that the Abbott had asked her to sustain from singing another song.

Sister Melody was heartbroken, but complied. She became increasingly depressed and morose. Eventually, the Abbott noticed and asked her what had brought on such a state in one who had previously been so joyful.

“You surely know,” Sister Melody replied. “Without song, there is no life. I am dying.”

“Why aren’t you singing?”

“I was told that you forbade me to do so.”

“I did no such thing.”

“You didn’t?”

The Abbott shook her head. Sister Melody immediately broke into song. Her face beamed with delight.

“As a result of their lies, I will have the sisters who told you I’d asked you to stop singing join you every day and have you start a choir. You will practice from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon, daily. You are the director.”

“Thank you Abbott,” Sister Melody sang. “You are the sunshine of my life.”

“Tell me,” the Abbott frowned. “Who is it that told you I’d forbid you to sing?”

“I heard it through the grapevine. I can’t name names.”

“In that case, the entire community will join you. We will bring the same vigor and insight we bring to our meditation practice.”

“Oh happy day!”

Many tuneful stories at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Your Mind’s Skillet

Taking Stalk of Your Life as told to Sister Jean. Written in 769 A.D. From Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

If you want to find grace, then be grace. If your name is already Grace, then you have no need to seek.

If you want harmony, then be harmony. No, not you Harmony, I’m referring to everyone else.

If you desire peace, love, and happiness, then become that which you seek.

“How?” you may ask.

It’s as easy as making a pie. First, you must have the right ingredients. In this case, the ingredients are peace, love, and happiness (in no particular order).

“How do we find these ingredients?”

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They are everywhere. Look all around you. People are trying to sell it to you every day. Find the best market and pick some up, but make sure it’s fresh.

After you have the ingredients, wash them with insight, chop them up with intention, place them in your mind’s skillet, and marinate them with clarity.

“How do you know when it’s done?”

It’s done when you feel the vapors of peace, love, and happiness clinging to your bones and seeping from your pores. It’s done when all those you meet can smell your goodness and know that you are the embodiment of what everyone desires.

Of course, one can over or under cook, and find that they are too mushy or too raw. In this case, you must go shopping once again and seek what it is you wish to be within without.

There is no other way. It can take minutes, hours, days, or years to be an example of peace, love, and happiness. Don’t ever stop searching, otherwise you’ll have no ingredients and there will be nothing to eat.

More life recipes at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

The Shining Fire Hydrant

Insight-Out: Leaving Prison Before You Get Out
From Hard-Knock Wisdom, Winter, 2014
Stories From Prison

fire_hydrant_brass077bddMy night was like any other night. It was 8PM, time for “close custody count”(All prisons have ‘institutional counts’ wherein they count each prisoner’s body to ensure no one is missing or has escaped. Not being there for count is considered a serious violation). The officer came to our cell and called my bunkie’s name after which he gave him the last two digits of his CDCR number. The same went for me. Half an hour passed and a neighbor comes to my cell and said they were paging me downstairs. I had not heard them calling for me. I went down to the podium and the cops said to me: “Why were you not in your cell for count!?” and I told them: “I was in my cell for count – as I have been every day and night for 12 years, and I have numerous neighbors that can verify that.”

It did not matter what I said. The cops told me to not do it again, and I am like, “Whatever.” Two days go by and I find out that the sergeant gave me a write up (a violation). I’m thinking, “Okay, I truly am not guilty of this and I have many witnesses who will say the same.” However, at the hearing the cop that counted said he looked in the cell two times and I was not there. It did not matter what I said or how many people I had who would say the same because I was found guilty and given forty hours of extra duty. I said to myself, “Screw this. I am not going to do the work. This is so unfair! I did nothing wrong and these guys are wrong about this.” I watched that count-cop count me and he did not look up from his count board once. His eyes never left that board. I filed a complaint against the officer. That is the last thing I wanted to do, but I was not wrong about this, they were!

I felt bitter about being ordered to do those forty hours of extra duty. In a phone call, I spoke to my mother about it and she wondered if I could perhaps just take it and, regardless of the circumstance and the injustice of it, see if I could do what would ultimately be best for me. She said she would accept what I would decide, but if I could, to act respectfully.

I reckoned if I refused to do the work, even though it came about unjustly, I would be guilty in their eyes. I chose to do the work anyway. I have always prided myself with doing exceptional work and I was desperately looking to find my pride in this situation, somewhere, no matter what. So, not only did I do the work, I did the best possible job I could do.

I was asked to shine up this brass fire hydrant. Though I still felt resentful about those forty hours of extra duty, I set off to shine up this hydrant and I really got into the job. As a result, this hydrant started shining very brightly. As the sun caught it, I could see my face in it and I noticed I was smiling from ear to ear. I began to laugh out loud for no reason other than enjoying that moment and seeing the result of my work. By putting all my conscious effort into shining up that fire hydrant, I had become bigger than the unfairness that led me to my assignment. I do not know how long I was at it but when I was done that hydrant it looked like the prettiest thing in the whole prison. Kinda like a small lighthouse standing proudly in an ocean of concrete, calling out on how to steer, on how to move through this place.

I realized I was shining too and it hasn’t left me. Many people commented on that hydrant all week; wondering how come that thing gives off so much light all of a sudden. I just smiled.

~ Birdman

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