Be Happy

I’ve been debating whether to write about this for a while now. On the one hand, I feel it was a pretty private, inner experience, which may be better unshared and given an untampered space to live in within me. On the other hand, I figure, if I’ve found something good, why not share it?

Two weeks ago I came back from a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat south of Manila here in the Philippines. It was a silent retreat wherein participants were not allowed to communicate with one another, even through eye contact or gestures, and were not allowed to engage in any activities that could serve as distractions from our morning to evening meditation. This included cellphone use, reading, writing, any musical activity, dancing, physical exercise.

I know what you’re thinking. The same thing my mom said when I told her I was going on the retreat. Why would anyone in their right mind decide to put themself through this?

Well, I actually had wanted to experience this kind of retreat since I took up Buddhism in college, and learned about silent retreats. Something about them intrigued me. To take away the distractions and unnecessary mental wanderings that come from chit chatting and an overstimulation of our senses in everyday life … something about that spoke to me.

dhamma phala

Set in a humble space in Tiaong, Quezon is the Dhamma Phala, Philippines’ Vipassana center. Vipassana is an age-old meditation technique taught by Gautama Buddha. It means “to see things in a new way”. Since 2500 years ago, it was taught and handed down from teacher to pupil, teacher to pupil, and unfortunately got lost until it was revived in Burma earlier in the 20th century. A man by the name of S.N. Goenka fortunately learned it, later bringing it to India and throughout the world.

More about the retreat – for ten days, 40 or so of us meditators sat from morning til evening, meditating and becoming intimate with all the sounds of nature. The morning roosters, the birds, the geckos or tukos, the evening crickets. The gentle breeze, the roaring wind, the thundering rain. Living in the sweltering heat, relishing the cool evenings after the rain. There was a beauty surrounding all our fear and confusion, our questions of why am I here?, our pains and aches from sitting for hours on end. The beauty lay in the simplicity of communicating through politeness; of savoring meals in silence; of appreciating butterflies, flowers, plants, trees, views that may have easily gone unnoticed.

What did I learn from the retreat? I don’t want to go too much into it, lest any of you may one day become intrigued and decide to join one yourself. However, this “new way of seeing things” is proving to be a true game changer for me. My largest learning is equanimity – to not react to things just because they are good or bad in any way. Learning to remain an observer and accepting things as they are. Reacting and clinging only generates misery. It’s true.

Grateful to those who came before me, who donated or served in order for me to partake in the retreat. The spirit of giving lives within each of us and shines a light when we embrace it. This is one small way for me to give back, by spreading the word.

Here is the link to the center’s website in case anyone is interested: https://www.phala.dhamma.org/

Tread lightly. Remain aware. Spread love. Be happy.

 

xo

J

On Raising Children

A week ago, I attended a weeklong training on child development. It was a convergence of doctors, teachers, students, farmers, parents, and like-minded individuals interested in learning about the different stages of childhood and adolescence according to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophic movement (Anthropo = human, Sophia = wisdom). The gathering was called IPMT, for International Postgraduate Medical Training.

Even though I was a bit hesitant to join at first, given it was technically a medical training and I have no medical background, what I found ultimately was a community of open-hearted seekers who together created a safe space for all present to learn, share, and grow. The mix of attendees – from fields of medicine, education, and other forms of healing – added to the cornucopia of wisdom, and daily exchanges enriched the minds, bodies and souls of all.

I think the best way to sum it up is to share the top lessons I’m taking away from the conference. Here they are:

  1. Children choose their parents. They come into this life with karmic histories and this life will present them with challenges they have previewed and chosen in advance that they will need to overcome to move onto their next stage of evolution.
  2. Infants are so very sensitive and intuitive. They can feel everything their parents feel. They sense when something is off. For example, when they don’t feel safe – which may be due to a quarrel between their parents – they can’t sleep. They imitate everything, so parents need to establish good habits for themselves and set good examples because children WILL follow everything you do.
  3. If possible, a natural birth (through the vaginal canal) and breastfeeding are super beneficial and irreplaceable. The life / death situation of birth is symbolic of all living processes around us, and babies will be stronger if they struggle to enter this life. Babies also want to enter this life when they are ready. Breastfeeding provides the baby with bacteria and antibodies that will help them develop a healthy microbiome, which will lead to healthy digestion and a strong immune system.
  4. The feeling of warmth in the home is so important. Only through experiences of love, hugs, and touch will children be able to feel (sometimes literally!) the boundary between themselves and another, which will later on help them develop healthy boundaries with others and the ability to confidently say yes or no.
  5. Children do not only need loving, present parents but a community of caregivers and role models, whether it be comprised of extended family, friends, or teachers. It truly takes a village to raise a child – especially a healthy, sociable, compassionate, well-developed child.
  6. Schooling is NOT necessary or beneficial for a child under the age of seven. This one is hard for me to accept as I went to school young and feel I turned out fine. But, the brain does not fully develop for academic learning, on average, until a child reaches the age of seven. What is more appropriate and engaging for a child is outdoor play and exploration. To give a child the gift of curiosity and wonder for the world is priceless and far outweighs early mastery of the ABCs. One exception is music – a child who learns an instrument and practices music from a young age will experience enhanced brain development and intelligence of many sorts.
  7. Do not interrupt a child at play. Children need to feel they are able to explore to their heart’s content. A child who experiences this kind of interruption may grow accustomed to it, to expect it, and later on may potentially develop attention challenges. If you are worried they will miss meal time, fret not: when children feel hungry, they will naturally come to you.
  8. If a child does not want to eat, do NOT force feed. The mouth is the body’s most sensitive region. Instead, entice the child’s appetite through the smell of aromatic food.
  9. Fever and other illnesses are actually a means for the child to fully incarnate and develop his or her strength and immunity. Do not suppress fever with conventional medicines. “Support” the fever – allow it to take its course while of course making sure your child is as comfortable as possible, remaining well-hydrated, rested, and cool with lemon water towels. Often fever and other illnesses are followed by a newly developed ability in the child, whether it be enhanced ability to talk or move.
  10. As a child grows into adolescence, it is crucial for the child to feel the opposing forces and energies of mother and father. The mother will especially feel challenged by this period. It may be good for the child to experience being away from home for a while, to gain some independence. Eventually, through a gap between the mother and father (not physical, but may be engendered through slightly different perspectives on how to deal with certain situations, for example), the adolescent will emerge as his or her own person.
  11. It is only at the age of 21 that a young adult’s brain is fully developed and that his or her “ego” fully descends. This is when the young adult can make decisions clearly and confidently, according to his or her own morals and values. It can be dangerous for adults under this age to be put in situations that contain a moderate element of risk and people in position of unchallenged command (e.g. the military). Young adults under this age are not yet able to make full use of their decision making capabilities.
  12. Lastly, INTENTION is everything. As a doctor, as a teacher, as a parent, if you hold good intentions toward a child, they can feel it. Even if you are unable to carry out your duties perfectly, positive intention will carry you forward. According to Steiner, “if the patient, simply through the individuality of the physician, is brought to a point where he feels the physician’s will-to-heal, the reflex action in him is that he will be filled with the will to become healthy. This interplay of the will-to-heal and the will to be healthy plays a tremendous part in the therapeutic process.”

I’m hoping any of the above can prove useful to anyone who is raising a child, thinking of raising a child, or has loved ones or friends raising children. I believe it is crucial to be aware of how our children are being raised, and the potential effects of our decisions, because, as cheesy as it sounds, children really are the ones who will carry the torch of humanity into the future.

Feeling grateful for opportunities to share, exchange, learn, and uplift one another. Here’s to future IPMTs and other learning convergences.

xo

J

Bali Bliss

I’m still digesting the nearly two weeks I spent in Bali … it’s only been three days since I’ve been back home and it already seems a world away. Keeping a deep knowing, though, that things may end, but you can keep them alive in your heart.

I went to Bali initially for a yoga retreat with a dear yoga teacher friend, T. To be honest, I didn’t expect much more than days filled with yoga, fun, laughter, sun, and relaxation. I came away with so much more. How can I begin …

The setting of Bali is so beautiful. Words can hardly describe. Right as you arrive you sigh in relief as your eyes are flooded with fields of green, your nerves calm as you absorb the peace radiating from the locals, it doesn’t take long until everything in your body starts to slow down and stabilize. You’ve entered what may feel like an alternate universe.

 Green as far as the eye can see
Green as far as the eye can see

Of course more than the setting, what makes a trip are the people you spend your time with. Very thankful for T and the group she gathered together. Everyone diverse yet similar, each at different stages of our lives yet able to connect in spirit. Bali blew our hearts open, from experiencing sound healing in pyramids, marveling at majestic age-old temples, rejoicing in nature, sharing poetry and song, moving with intention, digging deep within and laying our souls bare. Thank you Bali beauties for an unforgettable time … until our paths cross next and we again commune under a full moon whispering our dreams, desires, and fears, to make way for growth.

A snippet from my diary on my last day:

“Thank you Bali for being so sacred. Your land, vegetation, people, beings .. all living in such harmony. Thank you for your lessons and beauty. The care with which everyone lives here … smiling at each other as they greet each other, speaking and acting humbly, praying for the smallest things … everything is sacred. Our homes, our workplaces, our possessions, ourselves, our cohabitants on this earth. Thank you Bali for your peace, blessings, wonder. I am in awe. Bowing down at your feet.”

 Daily prayer
Daily prayer
 Under a magnificent tree of life
Under a magnificent tree of life
 Finding magical nooks and spaces
Finding magical nooks and spaces
 Discovering new foods together (durian)
Discovering new foods together (durian)
 Lounging, sharing, pondering
Lounging, sharing, pondering
 Sacred circle
Sacred circle
 Memories that will last forever
Memories that will last forever

 

xo

J

Hope in Uncertainty

A series of countryside visits this month have renewed my faith in humanity and in life. There are so many opportunities out there for us to grab if we just open our eyes and minds enough to see them. I am learning day by day to let my mind wander and dream, not punishing myself to adhere to certain rules family or society have placed on me. My meditation today guided me to see everything as hope. Especially to see uncertainty as hope. Because uncertainty means there are boundless opportunities, which is the ultimate definition of hope.

Instead of thinking you are nervous, or anxious, can you replace that with excited? Can you be excited by the possibilities ahead that you either can see or don’t yet know exist?

If there’s one thing I have learned recently, it is that I am the master of my time. The past year I have been working with a much more flexible time schedule than I have been able to have in the past, and yet I still find myself beating myself up for not working long enough hours, for not putting enough in. For trying to work my schedule so that I have time to do things and attend gatherings I enjoy.

I am realizing that there is completely, one hundred percent, nothing wrong with that! We each have one life to live, and we should spend it doing whatever we wish, as long as it doesn’t hurt others and as long as we are still able to provide for ourselves. I am working to extinguish this guilt of not conforming enough to society’s standards.

How can you create space in your life for what you love? For what brings light into your heart? There are studies that actually show that working four days a week with deep concentration is much more effective than working five days a week AND checking e-mail over the weekend. There is nothing wrong with separating work and play with clear boundaries. There is also nothing wrong with mixing work with play – for the luckiest of us work feels like play.

Anyway, just wanted to share that little tidbit today. Do not feel guilty for making time to do things you love. You cannot work, or serve others, at your highest level without first nourishing and taking care of yourself.

xo

J

P.S. I’m starting #100DaysofGratitude on my Instagram. Feel free to follow me there!