This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Just sit

morskieoko“Just sit”, the late meditation teacher Michael Stone used to say. “Just sit, once a day, every day. That is all it takes”. But what if there are early morning flights? I am not good at sitting at 4.30 am. And what if when I get home and sit, the cats sit all over me – or alternatively break into mutiny on the other side of the door? What if, when I finally sit, I almost fall asleep? There are days when just sitting is fine. And then there are those other kind of days.

Thank goodness for the Headspace app. I now just sit in the airplane, unbothered by announcements. And I just sit in the solitude of my office, before that last teleconference or before leaving. Not because I could not sit without a mobile app. But because it reminds me with a little quote at any random time. And because it is a guiding voice when just sitting in silence does not work. And for those moments when there is no ocean or mountain lake in the vicinity.

(Photo from Morskie Oko lake, Poland; summer 2015)

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Interlude: from the Land of Snows

wordsLama Patrul Rinpoche says many wise things. But he also says that the reader should get rid of all his/her belongings, move into a cave, and eat leaves. That warm clothes will be found, and that no saddhu has ever died of starvation. Maybe so, but this is hardly an egalitarian view, as it does not promise everybody the possibility to follow the right path in this lifetime. Otherwise we had nobody to rely on food or clothes.  Tibetan Buddhism is tough stuff.

According to Patrul Rinpoche, living a good life and striving for good deeds is not sufficient. Instead, one must actively choose (every day) to strive to leave this level of existence, not for a higher level of existence but for an exit from samsara (the cycle of life) altogether. One’s most heartfelt wish must be to check out and to fuse one’s individual soul with the world-soul. Tough stuff, indeed.

I got the Words Of My Perfect Teacher because I walked into Pilgrim’s in Kathmandu and asked for a book that would help explain why so many people are attracted to Buddhism. I was told this one was popular. I can understand why, as it is full of little pearls of wisdom. But it is also a demanding teacher. Patrul Rinpoche tells a story of an enlightened being who, without knowing it, stepped on a little bug. He went to hell in afterlife.

I am still not sure I understand why Buddhism feels right to so many. But I am not giving up yet (to be continued).

(Helsinki, Finland; January 2017)

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Om mani padme hum

mani-1Beautiful, painted stone carvings. “Om mani padme hum”, over and over, for those who can read the script. Mani stones are scattered along popular travel routes in the mountains near the Tibetan border. Near mani stones one can often find a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, as it is the sadhana (devotional practice) of monks to carve and paint them.
mani-2Circling clockwise around the mani stones and prayer wheel rooms, I could imagine worse ways to spend my life than up here, in the clear, quiet air, on the roof of the world, meditating while creating things of beauty. Back home the trend is KonMari, downshifting, and general minimalism. Up here minimalism is a given, and the aim is for the next level: to spend one’s life creating a beautiful mind through creating a more beautiful world.mani-3

(Everest Base Camp Trail, Nepal; November 2016)

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About trauma, in stillness

Processed with Snapseed.After the first 5 days of work I was glad to take refuge in Michael Stone’s workshop. Three days of reflecting on how yoga and meditation dance with consciousness was the perfect soft landing from a journey of discovery in Southeast Asia.

The sun shone on our lunch group as I sipped on my golden milk and thought about our discussion about trauma, damage of the mind. We were guided to understand that the definition of an experience is when an event makes our senses have contact with the self. Something happens and we feel it through a web of the story we create around it. It gains context. But trauma is the opposite of an experience: our senses store something that has never had contact with the self. A trauma is the big elephant that stands in the spare bedroom of our brain, the one we never made contact with. The one we never experienced. The one that was never processed so that it belonged to the furniture. The one that, instead, drove us rearrange the rest of the rooms, or even to move to another house.

Trauma happens when something too humongous happens for us to be able to be Here and Now. We go on autopilot to survive. Diving deep to make contact with the self is not an option. We sometimes hurt people in the process (or rather, lack-of-process). Trauma creates karma for ourselves, and it is usually not positive karma. Sometimes the people we hurt end up with bad karma, too. The elephant casts a surprisingly large shadow.

Is it possible to make contact with the self, to connect the dots, years later? I would like to hope so. Will it fix what happened, years ago? Probably not. But opening the door to greet the elephant is a good first step. mstone-2(Helsinki, Finland; September 2016)

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Yogi toes

Nobody spends so much time staring on his or her toes as do those who practise yoga asana. How sad it is, then, that we tend to neglect these parts of our body that patiently carry us all day, every day. Usually in shoes that demand the impossible. And feet are the ones that ground us – or lift us up. They are just too far from our nose for us to acknowledge and respect them properly. Which is often closer than another person.

It is only when one spends a good hour staring at one’s feet several times a week, that one discovers how they really are doing and feeling. And even if they are doing fine, isn’t it nice to stare at something pretty and green? Or interesting – I have been entertaining the thought of having someone draw a miniature comic strip on my toes, for that extra drishti concentration.

(Helsinki, Finland; August 2016)

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Interlude: tolerance

rinpoche“Before, the city center was marked by the cathedral. Now, down-town is identified as the place where the banks are”, said Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche as he sat down, removed his shoes, crossed his legs, and commenced his lecture at a major school of economics in Helsinki. I do not think any leader ever sat on that stage without shoes, cross-legged. Or without a suit.

“If nobody wears shoes in Africa, does it mean there is no business for selling shoes, or that there is a great opportunity to ensure that everybody does wear shoes?” asked Rinpoche. “Is your mind closed, or is it open?” The mind does play funny tricks on us, because it is never a thought or a thing that is right or wrong – only our perception of it is.

He spoke of conflicts, and about how tolerance is actually space inside. “All conflicts, whether they are between people, countries, or religions, are conflicts of identity. We can never be one because we are different people. Any negotiation is about viewpoints, or rather, our differing identities.” And I realized that only if we are better with dealing with our own identities, can we become tolerant. And only if we create space inside for another person’s discomfort, pain, or differing opinion, can we became open enough to be tolerant.

He told us stories. He made us laugh. He made us feel good about ourselves, and foolish. But in the end, he made us aware of the compassion we have for each other, deep inside. And how much easier it is to accept those things that pick on and irritate us when we are open and appreciative of each other.

And I could not help but think that while Rinpoche is Tibetan Bön-buddhist, the Hindus have the most suitable expression for his message of loving-kindness to each other: “namaste”. The divinity in me greets the divinity in you. And how could we not tolerate that which is a part of us?

(Helsinki, Finland; May 2016)