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S in the City

S in the City

Thursday, 27 October 2011 13:00

A Meditators Day in the City

I set my alarm for 7am hoping that'll give me a good 1/2 hour to practice before work. But I don't roll out of bed till 8:45, and barely have time to get dressed before running out the door. I resolve once again to "catch up" on my meditation tonight.

I attempt to bring presence to my speed-walk to the subway, which works until I descend into the hot windy tunnel to catch the F train. The homeless guy slumped over a bench stares at me and I try to meet his gaze, because I don't want to pretend he doesn't exist. I hope my look conveys empathy but it probably just looks like a bitchy New Yorker glare.

To tune out my thoughts I pull out my ipod and turn on Pema Chodron's audio collection as I squeeze into the train. By the time I’ve actually untangled my headphone wires we're at 14th street and pouring out onto the New York city sidewalks. I merge in with the pedestrian traffic and walk to my building. Pema is finally playing and I feel a greater sense of presence as I walk.


Dear Rinpoche,

When I first got here to Lerab Ling, I thought this retreat would be a cakewalk. I mean, so easy. I’d walk around in the sunshine, enjoy the beauty of the hills, get some meditation tips, slide into that peaceful zone, it’d be great.

I’d done a retreat that was really hard, a 10 day vipassana course in Pune, India. 10 days of silence, 10 hours per day of meditation, no airconditioning … that was hard. Compared to that, I thought this one would be Club Med.

But then I got here… and it wasn’t Club Med at all. I was having a really hard time! I was distracted, I was itchy, I didn’t feel happy, there was no peaceful zone … and I couldn’t understand what was going on.

I ran into a young girl today, who was part of the Rigpa Yeshe (a parallel program for the children of people attending the retreat). We bonded over my iPhone 4 and the Zen timer app I have on it – it has gongs to start a meditation session; interval bells to divide a session into segments; programmable presets for your morning and evening practice and a journal option to record your thoughts. All in all it’s pretty cool in a very nerdy way, and Noa Sussenbach thought so too.

Excited to find somebody on my wavelength (and to talk about something other than mindfulness, awareness and spaciousness) I asked her if she wouldn’t mind participating in my blog. I was curious about the experience of this retreat from the perspective of a teenager, and also pretty amazed that a teenager would even come to a meditation retreat. When I was in my teens, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know my rear end from my front. I was definitely ensnared in the ocean of samsara, and its pounding waves of high school, boy crushes, mean girls and adolescent acne (a fate worse than death).

Show me a bathroom without a hook on the door, and I’ll show you a bathroom designed by a man.

Here’s an exercise for you Ngöndro students - visualize holding a purse, a laptop case and a scarf in your arms while hovering 2 inches above a toilet seat for a couple minutes. Done? Now visualize reaching for the toilet paper.

At the morning teaching session I fantasized about fedexing Lerab Ling a bunch of stick-on hooks that I would get at Walmart for a dollar. Meanwhile, Rinpoche was telling us that the source of all fear was a mind untamed. As I tried to figure out whether my bathroom beef stemmed from my untamed mind, or did I just need to buy hooks, a man raised his hand. He wanted to learn how to handle the anger of his spouse. Rinpoche dug deeper into the matter, at which point the man told a shocking and very disturbing story.


Tuesday, 19 July 2011 16:33

Doubt (WMRI retreat, day 2)

Our first day of retreat coincided with the 49th day of the death of Khandro Tsering Chödron, Sogyal Rinpoche’s aunt.  This being an important day in the Tibetan tradition, the morning became a celebration of Khandro’s life through photos, video and by Rinpoche’s anecdotes about her. For me, as a woman stepping into a male dominated tradition, witnessing the importance and respect accorded Khandro as a supreme Vajrayanapractitioner was heartwarming. She appeared to be a woman just like any one of us attending the retreat, who, through following the dharma, became a great master. I wished I had the opportunity to meet her and sit in her presence.

Then however, we started chanting and reciting prayers, and I could feel my skepticism rise up at the rituals that followed. Granted, the full Vajrayana spectacle doesn’t usually occur on the first day of a meditation retreat for beginners - this was a special occasion. But it did give me a glimpse of what my future would be like if I stayed on this path : visualizing gods I don’t believe in, chanting mantras in a language I don’t speak, and praying for the long life of lamas who teach impermanence. Hmm.


I ponder this while chugging coffee at 6am at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, waiting for the train to Montpellier to start my meditation retreat.

It seemed like a really good idea on that freezing winter night in New York City, when I booked my spot. Warm, sunny, South of France, (sunny)! Sold! It was great for the next few months as I fantasized at my desk (and bragged to my co-workers) about the amazing retreat I was going on and all the inner peace I was gonna get.

However, now I am actually here, giving up a beach holiday and fruity drinks, for what I am now told is a NOT sunny, NOT warm retreat. So… what the hell am I doing here?