Open Dharma Fundraising Retreat
My partner Paul Wooden and I discussed ways we could raise money for the Open Centre. Perhaps, we mused, a night of music and chanting at Paul’s yoga centre, followed by chai and a showing of the Open Centre video? Or possibly a Saturday or Sunday community practice of yoga and meditation? Yet somehow these ideas didn’t feel ‘big,’ or ‘full,’ enough. We did not feel that they would not have as much impact as we wanted. We wanted to somehow give people a taste of what Open Dharma has been offering different groups of individuals, world wide, for the past nine years. We wanted people to see how essential and important the birth of the Open Centre would be; that people could give donations through being deeply touched.
What about a retreat? offered Paul one day. We looked at each other, raised eyes, and nodded. We felt that by giving a retreat we could offer our skills and passion for the dharma, along with giving people the experience of deeply resting. I had just returned from debut teaching with Open Dharma in Rishikesh, and Paul has long been teaching yoga and meditation retreats in Australia. We both love Open Dharma’s heartfelt way of practicing; whilst harnessing the insight of various traditions, teachers Gemma, Ajay and Jaya, offer fresh guidance to meet individuals temperaments and needs. This seems precious, natural and vital to me.
We both love the way Open Dharma empowers individuals’ capacity to trust themselves, their own unique inner heart and wisdom. As the Indian poet Tagore says, ‘the divine wants to make love to the world through our own uniqueness.’
We decided to offer a seven day retreat in the Open Dharma format.
There was something exciting and empowering about offering this retreat to the Open Centre; a way of connecting with this wider global movement of looking into ways we can become more fully human. There is something about self less service that is in no way diminishing but instead, enhancing. I found myself gleefully working on the flier, a lyrical ink dark blue bird slowly stretching out its wings. Through plugging into a deeper cause I lost some shyness and self consciousness in advertising and then teaching on the retreat. I felt bouyed by something greater. Friends and family came on board with Hazel managing and my Mum, Holly, and sister, Amy, cooking. In the evening chanting sessions I would sit at the front and my mum, still in apron, would be waving her spoon at me from the back of the room, occassionaly giving me the thumbs up!
There was also a powerful feeling of Paul and I offering a retreat like this in Australia, our home country. Paul’s quiet and unassuming depth, consistency and experience, created steady ground. Speaking about intimate matters of the heart in the place I was born felt rich. Occassionaly I felt myself using metaphors or images that I had previously heard spring out of Gemma or Jayas’s mouths. ‘Silence,’ we established early on, ‘is not really about denying ourselves of speaking, but opening to see what is often hidden, allowing something else to rise up.’ I used Gemma’s image of submerging yourself in sea water and at first not being able to see clearly but then how slowly a whole`other world opens up.
The retreatants, ranging from botanists, teachers, cooks, activists and artists all spoke of being touched by that capacity inside to live deep, heartfelt lives. A woman experienced inside herself a wide warm space she had not known before. A young man who sometimes bursted out of the hall, experienced himself as something other than the usual onslaught of self harrasing thoughts. ‘Those thoughts are not what I am!’ he said. He cried in a way he had not for a very long time. People rested deeply, faces brightened and bodies moved about more naturally. The anethesia of self counciousness sometimes lifted, the knawing feeling of not feeling like you are enough softened, and people, little by little, settled back into their own seat. I saw one woman lying in the middle of a green valley with a look of shameless delight.
Sometimes, we all took our ‘Royal Seat,’ as the Tibetans would say.
On the last night there was a gentle yet bold, triumphant air. I sat with my mother and sister in front of the sweet golden Buddhas. We thought of Ajay and Gemma and Jaya and what they live for and not only their courage to live ‘it’ but their endevour to create a place where others can come and be nourished.
Paul and I glanced across at each other from where we sat and nodded. Providing a space where people can touch something gold is worth doing anything for.
If a new human life depends on so much care, attention, energy, and skillfulness, then what may be needed for awakening in spiritual life?
For three months I have had the privilege of letting love come through in ways that I could not have imagined:
Three months of broken sleep, wide smiles, aching back, and continual stretching of the heart, continual revelation of resourcefulness. Wrapping my son in a hand-knit blanket; meeting his shocking, Rinpoche eyes; meeting those same eyes when they wear the veils of hunger, pain, or sleep. Dancing and singing more than I have ever done before, even in the dance-a-thons I participated in 20 years ago. Feeding love to love. For weeks, limping on a numb leg after a long birth; leaking blood and milk.
Delighting in being willing and welcomed to love completely.
Love as feeling, and love as action—one action after another—but especially love as power that continually inspires, knows, moves, and fulfills. Even in unforeseen circumstances. Even beyond the personal power to keep going.
Three months of serious wondering about basic human questions.
Wondering about babies, about all of us. All of us once that urgent, absorbent immediate, and delicate.
What a wonder: Even with plenty of support, I have never felt more stretched or more at home than in these three months of giving everything that is needed when it is needed. At 2 in the morning and again at 3 in the morning, if necessary.
Wonderful questions about the power of touch, voice, and food to unburden a whole life. My son’s life, and perhaps my life. Perhaps my mother’s and my mother’s mother’s lives.
What a wonder: Doctors, psychologists, shamans prescribe three months of simple touch and gaze and voice and milk. They measure fewer infections and allergies, greater flexibility and intelligence. More dependence now giving more independence later.
I see also: immeasurable potential, unstoppable unfolding. Already, I see a child whose face shines with the joy of being held, being loved. With the fundamental knowing we are made of love, were born to be loved and to love.
Taking seriously the wonder that our first hours, days, and months shape the rest of our lives. Wondering about the shape of a life starved of touch in the early months. Seriously questioning the shape of a culture built of starved lives. Wondering about a culture, currently at the service of adults who travel business class.
Wondering about a culture that could embrace the ones who most need hugs, a culture that is a home we want to belong to.
Wondering about a world with more bright, adaptable, grounded, heartful people.
I knew this before, but now I feel qualified to speak about a question that is basic for all of us—whether we like or want or have children, or not: how can we help more people have the care they need especially in these first challenging months? Meals, massages, laundry, skills, encouragement. Stretching our public spaces and policies. A bodhisattva’s challenge—just giving, knowing the gift will be unremembered.
Urgently wondering about spiritual birth, about making a home for spiritual life inside us.
Wondering how spiritual practice can access some of the stamina and delight that pulls parents and babies through the first months of life.
What would make us unstoppable; what would deliver that twenty-four-hour dedication? How might we fall out of our tiny willpower and be stretched into willingness, be willing to be stretched?
What would help us to cry out, what would help us to embrace “spiritual needs” in ourselves and others?
The two months after the birth stretched me as much as the birth itself did. What might help us accept that a breakthrough is just the beginning of the challenge in an awakened life? How will we learn the potential inherent in being an “unfinished project”? When will we ask to stay home with our vulnerability? When will we let ourselves love freedom of the spirit “like a mother loves a child, her only child”?
What helps us rest into a natural alignment that stretches urgently and openly towards expansiveness and fulfillment?
Let’s find ways to help babies and parents nurture a fragile and powerful birthright. And meanwhile, perhaps they can also teach us how natural it is to let the power of love stretch us into the fullness of life.
Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor
This talk can be seen when you follow this link http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/229
I grew up to study the brain because I have a brother who has been diagnosed with a brain disorder, schizophrenia. And as a sister and as a scientist, I wanted to understand, why is it that I can take my dreams, I can connect them to my reality, and I can make my dreams come true -- what is it about my brother's brain and his schizophrenia that he cannot connect his dreams to a common, shared reality, so they instead become delusions?
So I dedicated my career to research into the severe mental illnesses. And I moved from my home state of Indiana to Boston where I was working in the lab of Dr. Francine Benes, in the Harvard Department of Psychiatry. And in the lab, we were asking the question, What are the biological differences between the brains of individuals who would be diagnosed as normal control, as compared to the brains of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective, or bipolar disorder?
So we were essentially mapping the microcircuitry of the brain, which cells are communicating with which cells, with which chemicals, and then with what quantities of those chemicals. So there was a lot of meaning in my life because I was performing this kind of research during the day. But then in the evenings and on the weekends I traveled as an advocate for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
But on the morning of December 10 1996 I woke up to discover that I had a brain disorder of my own. A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain. And in the course of four hours I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information. On the morning of the hemorrhage I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life. I essentially became an infant in a woman's body.
If you've ever seen a human brain, it's obvious that the two hemispheres are completely separate from one another. And I have brought for you a real human brain. [Thanks.] So, this is a real human brain. This is the front of the brain, the back of the brain with a spinal cord hanging down, and this is how it would be positioned inside of my head. And when you look at the brain, it's obvious that the two cerebral cortices are completely separate from one another. For those of you who understand computers, our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor. While our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. The two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus collosum, which is made up of some 300 million axonal fibers. But other than that, the two hemispheres are completely separate. Because they process information differently, each hemisphere thinks about different things, they care about different things, and dare I say, they have very different personalities. [Excuse me. Thank you. It's been a joy.]
Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment. It's all about right here right now. Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like. What this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.
My left hemisphere is a very different place. Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. Our left hemisphere is all about the past, and it's all about the future. Our left hemisphere is designed to take that enormous collage of the present moment. And start picking details and more details and more details about those details. It then categorizes and organizes all that information. Associates it with everything in the past we've ever learned and projects into the future all of our possibilities. And our left hemisphere thinks in language. It's that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world. It's that little voice that says to me, "Hey, you gotta remember to pick up bananas on your way home, and eat 'em in the morning." It's that calculating intelligence that reminds me when I have to do my laundry. But perhaps most important, it's that little voice that says to me, "I am. I am." And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me "I am," I become separate. I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.
And this was the portion of my brain that I lost on the morning of my stroke.
On the morning of the stroke, I woke up to a pounding pain behind my left eye. And it was the kind of pain, caustic pain, that you get when you bite into ice cream. And it just gripped me and then it released me. Then it just gripped me and then released me. And it was very unusual for me to experience any kind of pain, so I thought OK, I'll just start my normal routine. So I got up and I jumped onto my cardio glider, which is a full-body exercise machine. And I'm jamming away on this thing, and I'm realizing that my hands looked like primitive claws grasping onto the bar. I thought "that's very peculiar" and I looked down at my body and I thought, "whoa, I'm a weird-looking thing." And it was as though my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality, where I'm the person on the machine having the experience, to some esoteric space where I'm witnessing myself having this experience.
And it was all every peculiar and my headache was just getting worse, so I get off the machine, and I'm walking across my living room floor, and I realize that everything inside of my body has slowed way down. And every step is very rigid and very deliberate. There's no fluidity to my pace, and there's this constriction in my area of perceptions so I'm just focused on internal systems. And I'm standing in my bathroom getting ready to step into the shower and I could actually hear the dialog inside of my body. I heard a little voice saying, "OK, you muscles, you gotta contract, you muscles you relax."
And I lost my balance and I'm propped up against the wall. And I look down at my arm and I realize that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can't define where I begin and where I end. Because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy. Energy. And I'm asking myself, "What is wrong with me, what is going on?" And in that moment, my brain chatter, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button and -- total silence.
And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.
Then all of a sudden my left hemisphere comes back online and it says to me, "Hey! we got a problem, we got a problem, we gotta get some help." So it's like, OK, OK, I got a problem, but then I immediately drifted right back out into the consciousness, and I affectionately referred to this space as La La Land. But it was beautiful there. Imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter that connects you to the external world. So here I am in this space and any stress related to my, to my job, it was gone. And I felt lighter in my body. And imagine all of the relationships in the external world and the many stressors related to any of those, they were gone. I felt a sense of peacefulness. And imagine what it would feel like to lose 37 years of emotional baggage! I felt euphoria. Euphoria was beautiful -- and then my left hemisphere comes online and it says "Hey! you've got to pay attention, we've got to get help," and I'm thinking, "I got to get help, I gotta focus." So I get out of the shower and I mechanically dress and I'm walking around my apartment, and I'm thinking, "I gotta get to work, I gotta get to work, can I drive? can I drive?"
And in that moment my right arm went totally paralyzed by my side. And I realized, "Oh my gosh! I'm having a stroke! I'm having a stroke!" And the next thing my brain says to me is, "Wow! This is so cool. This is so cool. How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?"
And then it crosses my mind: "But I'm a very busy woman. I don't have time for a stroke!" So I'm like, "OK, I can't stop the stroke from happening so I'll do this for a week or two, and then I'll get back to my routine, OK."
So I gotta call help, I gotta call work. I couldn't remember the number at work, so I remembered, in my office I had a business card with my number on it. So I go in my business room, I pull out a 3-inch stack of business cards. And I'm looking at the card on top, and even though I could see clearly in my mind's eye what my business card looked like, I couldn't tell if this was my card or not, because all I could see were pixels. And the pixels of the words blended with the pixels of the background and the pixels of the symbols, and I just couldn't tell. And I would wait for what I call a wave of clarity. And in that moment, I would be able to reattach to normal reality and I could tell, that's not the card, that's not the card, that's not the card. It took me 45 minutes to get one inch down inside of that stack of cards.
In the meantime, for 45 minutes the hemorrhage is getting bigger in my left hemisphere. I do not understand numbers, I do not understand the telephone, but it's the only plan I have. So I take the phone pad and I put it right here, I'd take the business card, I'd put it right here, and I'm matching the shape of the squiggles on the card to the shape of the squiggles on the phone pad. But then I would drift back out into La La Land, and not remember when I come back if I'd already dialed those numbers.
So I had to wield my paralyzed arm like a stump, and cover the numbers as I went along and pushed them, so that as I would come back to normal reality I'd be able to tell, yes, I've already dialed that number. Eventually the whole number gets dialed, and I'm listening to the phone, and my colleague picks up the phone and he says to me, "Whoo woo wooo woo woo." [laughter] And I think to myself, "Oh my gosh, he sounds like a golden retriever!" And so I say to him, clear in my mind I say to him. "This is Jill! I need help!" And what comes out of my voice is, "Whoo woo wooo woo woo." I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, I sound like a golden retriever." So I couldn't know, I didn't know that I couldn't speak or understand language until I tried.
So he recognizes that I need help, and he gets me help. And a little while later, I am riding in an ambulance from one hospital across Boston to Mass General Hospital. And I curl up into a little fetal ball. And just like a balloon with the last bit of air just, just right out of the balloon I felt my energy lift and I felt my spirit surrender. And in that moment I knew that I was no longer the choreographer of my life. And either the doctors rescue my body and give me a second chance at life or this was perhaps my moment of transition.
When I awoke later that afternoon I was shocked to discover that I was still alive. When I felt my spirit surrender, I said goodbye to my life, and my mind is now suspended between two very opposite planes of reality. Stimulation coming in through my sensory systems felt like pure pain. Light burned my brain like wildfire and sounds were so loud and chaotic that I could not pick a voice out from the background noise and I just wanted to escape. Because I could not identify the position of my body in space, I felt enormous and expensive, like a genie just liberated from her bottle. And my spirit soared free like a great whale gliding through the sea of silent euphoria. Harmonic. I remember thinking there's no way I would ever be able to squeeze the enormousness of myself back inside this tiny little body.
But I realized "But I'm still alive! I'm still alive and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I'm still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana." I picture a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives. And it motivated my to recover.
Two and a half weeks after the hemorrhage, the surgeons went in and they removed a blood clot the size of a golf ball that was pushing on my language centers. Here I am with my mama, who's a true angel in my life. It took me eight years to completely recover.
So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are -- I am -- the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the "we" inside of me.
Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.
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Good buy for now, with a warm heart from Iris and the OC newsletter team.
A short message for Alison Easter. Nadamo would like to get in contact with you in connection with your study with arthritis.
Please contact him at: nadamo(at)web.de
Nature - Interaction - Silence
If you are organizing a fund-raising event/activity, please email the fund-raising info coordinator (Benoit) at: fundraising (AT) opencentre.es with details of your event, so that we can happily share it with others.
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