Category Archives: meditation

From the Sketchbook: being here and now

Since I went to the Vipassana 10-day meditation retreat in June, I’ve been working on staying mindful and practice meditation daily.

It has helped me to lower my stress and anxiety about the work and the unknowns of the future. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed about what may happen, I can bring my focus back to my breathing and notice how I’m feeling in my body now.

It allows me to know on a very fundamental level that whatever I’m worried about isn’t actually happening right now. Even if it lasts only for a split second, it calms my mind.

I started making new drawings to express my appreciation and to encourage myself to continue with the practice.

Though it was not my intention to create a series at first, more ideas kept popping in my head. And creating these drawings is sort of meditative, too!

live like you have everything you need meditation watercolor drawing
Live like you have everything you need.
All-beings-be-happy-meditation watercolor illustration
May all beings be happy, peaceful, and liberated.
I'd rather be here and now meditation illustration
I’d rather be here and now.

Last year I had a lot of fun making a wall calendar, and perhaps this could be my new calendar design for 2017?

I personally would like to have this hanging on the wall to remind me to breathe 🙂 Wouldn’t you?

p.s. You can follow me on Instagram to see more works from my sketchbook!

xo Yuko

Yuko Miki Honeyberry Studios Headshot

 

 

My Vipassana 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat Reflections

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I was at a Vipassana 10-day silent meditation retreat from June 1 through 12 in Onalaska, Washington!

And let me tell you… It was super intense.

I did my first Vipassana course about 3 years ago (you can read my experience here) and was able to release and heal from so much pain and anger that I didn’t even know I had.

I just remembered how light I felt physically and mentally afterwards and had kind of forgotten how hard it was to get there!! 😀

During the 10-day retreat, you work very hard from 4:30 in the morning till 9 pm every day. It’s a “silent retreat” because you can’t have any verbal or non-verbal (no eye contact, gestures, or writing etc.) communications with your fellow students.

In case you’re wondering why I was gone for 12 days instead of just 10, it’s because the first and the last day and a half is not totally silent (= 10 days in the middle is the “silent” part). It’s a transition period so-to-speak, and I’m glad we had that time to transition to and from the retreat.

Here is what a typical day looks like:

4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out

Each day, you learn the technique and practice, practice, practice.

I found the first 3 days to be the most challenging because we just sit and practice the foundational breathing technique the whole time. Yup, sitting, breathing through your nose, and noticing your breath for like 10 hours a day…for 3 days.

I kept thinking “Wait, was it this hard last time?? Oh man, maybe I wasn’t ready for this… this is SO HARD!!! How many more days do I have to do this??”

And then on the 4th day you actually learn the Vipassana meditation techniques and start practicing them. And it starts to all make sense and becomes more engaging. It became more of a whole body experience, and all of a sudden, the time seemed to go by so quickly.

You build on the techniques every day, and at the end, you learn a slightly different meditation technique called Metta (= loving kindness, compassion) to close your practice, which is my favorite part!

During the 10+ days of sitting silently, I had many thoughts and reflections. Here are some of them:

1. It was not as earth-shattering as the first time.

Don’t get me wrong – it was still very challenging and amazing – but it didn’t feel as life-changing as I’d remembered my first retreat to be.

It makes sense because I knew what to expect, and I’ve been doing a lot of cleansing and growing in the last 3 years.

I didn’t have nearly as many dark painful thoughts that came up during the meditation and did’t have nightmares like I did last time (I was waking up in the middle of the night terrified from a nightmare pretty much every night during my first retreat).

My life has changed a lot in the last 3 years – getting married, quitting my job to pursue art etc. – and though my life still has plenty of ups and downs, I wonder if these changes have helped me to keep my inner peace more than I realized?

2. I examined my relationship with food.

It may sound kind of silly, but I was so afraid of being hungry during the retreat.

When you’re an “old student,” meaning this is not your first course, you don’t get to have dinner. During the tea break at 5pm, you get to have tea, and that’s all you get between lunch and breakfast the following morning. I’ve been on a restricted diet as well and was afraid there wouldn’t be much I could eat.

They also recommend you only eat until 75% full at breakfast and lunch. It’s really hard to meditate when you’re full. This made my fear of being hungry even worse, but I followed the advice to see how it went.

To my surprise, it wasn’t really an issue. 

Since we were not physically active, I just didn’t get very hungry. They serve delicious organic vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch, and with slight modifications I could eat almost everything. I occasionally got hungry later on in the evening, but by that time I was so wiped and just went to sleep no problem.

I survived just fine with two modest meals per day. Me not eating something every couple of hours. That’s wild.

It made me realize how much I’m tied up emotionally with food in my regular life.

I’ve been a little obsessed with food and diet for the last year or so. My intentions are good: I just want to improve and maintain my health through a healthy diet.

As a result, I think and read about food a lot. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I just ate, what to eat next, and how I’m going to prepare it. And I end up eating something frequently even though I’m not physically hungry. I often eat when I’m stressed, tired, or bored. And I feel bad when I do that even though I generally eat pretty healthy stuff.

Naturally, I thought about food a lot during my meditation 😀 I had all kinds of cravings and ideas of things to cook once I got home. And whenever I caught myself thinking about food, I tried to observe them without any judgement and notice my thoughts go away like the clouds passing through the sky.

I didn’t have to force it out of my head or feel bad about having those thoughts. I just sat with the thoughts and learned that they were just thoughts. They don’t have the power to make me do anything if I don’t give it.

Letting go of the control over food during the retreat was so freeing.

It’s interesting how you gain more control over yourself by caring a little bit less about things you’ve held on to so tightly.

3. No-speaking part was more difficult.

During the last retreat, not being able to speak was not very difficult for me. In fact, I felt like I was in an introverts’ heaven! No small talk with strangers. No chit chat during meal time. I could just sit with my thoughts alone, and people didn’t think I was being rude or weird!

But this time it was more challenging.

It has a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t have a roommate last time (my roommate left on day 2…) so I wasn’t even tempted to talk to anyone really. But this time, I had a roommate, and when we met on the first day while we were still able to talk, I really liked her and wanted to get to know her better.

I wanted to ask her how she was doing and wanted to tell her what I was going through. I wanted to vent to her at the end of a long day and tell her about the beautiful snakes I saw on the walking path.

But I had to ignore her and keep everything to myself. And it was SO HARD.

I was very happy to finally talk with her after our noble silence was lifted on the 10th day, and we got to talk about our lives and laughed about certain annoying things people around us did during our meditation 😀

4. I learned to be OK with not remembering/knowing/sharing everything.

When your mind gets uncluttered, you’re bound to come up with brilliant ideas.

I had many ideas for creative projects and my business during the meditation, and it was painful not to be able to write them down! You see, not only can’t you speak to other students, but you also can’t write, read, or draw during the retreat!!

At first I tried to hold on to all the cool ideas I came up with in my head, but it was just too difficult.

So I decided to trust that whatever I needed to remember would be in my head when I need it and let go of the rest.

And often an idea would pop in my head during the meditation, and I’d think, “oh, I need to look it up!” and realized I didn’t have my phone… Or I’d see a perfect pantone-colors-of-the-year evening sky and think “oh, it’s so gorgeous! I need to share it on Facebook!” and realized I didn’t have my phone… 😀 Or I’d be thinking of an Instagram caption to describe the delicious marinaded tofu I had for lunch…

This happened more times than I want to admit. It made me realize how much I relied on the technology to give me an answer to everything and how I’d become addicted to the instant gratification of sharing contents on social media.

Technology and social media are not evil. They can be a very useful tool, and I’m grateful for them! Being without them for 10 days just gave me a pause to notice how I’d taken it for granted. I’ll be more mindful about my relationships with these tools as well!

5. It helped me to create more space for love and compassion in my heart.

The main goal of the Vipassana meditation is to learn that nothing is permanent and develop your ability to see thing as they are, not as you’d like it to be.

By experiencing the law of impermanence through your continued practice, you’ll be able to detach yourself emotionally from things that cause you cravings (e.g. “This cake is delicious. I wish I could eat it every day for the rest of my life.”) or hatred (e.g. “Why did Betty in accounting have to make that snide comment during the staff meeting last week? What did I ever do to her? Does she think I’m incompetent because I made that one mistake a couple of months ago? Grrrrr!!”).

The less reactive you become towards these situations, the happier and more content you will be in the moment.

Late Mr. Goenka, the foremost lay teacher of the Vipassana meditation techniques, talks about how it’s easy to care about and feel compassionate towards those who you perceive to be your friends, but the ones who need it the most is those who you perceive to be your enemies.

Have compassion for people who have done harm to others, he says, because they live in such misery, holding on to tremendous amount of anger, hatred, and fear.

And when you harm others, you’re actually doing more harm to yourself.

This is such a powerful and healing message. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do, but it’s something I’d like to live by. I know that meditating for 10 days won’t change anyone into a saint, but it’s a start.

For instance, I noticed a slight change in my reaction to a dreadful situation right after I left the retreat. I was driving back up the I-5 towards Seattle and saw a billboard sign that’s always been there for as long as I can remember. It stands right by the freeway and always has a pretty racist or homophobic message on it.  It’s bothered me whenever I drove passed it.

It makes me very angry that some people feel OK to act out on their blatant oppressive beliefs, and I don’t get to choose if I’m being subjected to it or not.

But this time, my mind was calmer – I saw the sign, read their racist message (and they’re on top of updating their messages regularly, too) and felt sad towards whoever put up the sign. Whoever this person is lives in such fear and anger that they feel they need to do this. They’re so ignorant and choosing to stay miserable. How sad to live like that??

While I don’t approve any acts of violence or oppression, I was able to keep their nasty message from entering my heart. I didn’t want to allow them to plant a seed of hatred towards them inside me. In that moment, I was able to fill my heart with compassion, and it acted as a radiant shield. It was a very powerful experience.

So, now what?

After you finish your 10-day course, they encourage you to continue your practice at home. They say you should do one hour of sitting in the morning and one hour of sitting in the evening every day so you can continue to receive the benefits from it.

After my last retreat, I was diligently following that for about 3 months. Then life happened (namely my wedding!) and it was too stressful to fit in two hours of meditation every day. I was sleepy, tired, and grumpy, which is opposite of what you want to happen! So I quit practicing all together and felt guilty about it for a while… 😦

This time I’ll do my best to continue my practice but with more flexibility and grace. I’ve been waking up one hour early to meditate in the morning and doing a shorter sit in the afternoon-evening, usually between work and dinner.

If I can’t do it every day, though, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I figured it’s more important to continue the practice long term even if it’s in less-than-perfect form than quitting all together.

I also found a new Vipassana community in Seattle that does a weekly group sit at someone’s house and plan on joining them from time to time. It’ll be a good way to build a supportive community and will provide on-going accountability, too.

I’ve been gradually transitioning back in to my “normal” life and taking it a bit slow this week even though I have a ton of work to do. Fortunately, my meditation is helping me not to freak out about it. At least for now… 🙂

Are you a meditator? If so, I’d love to hear how you incorporate your practice in your regular life. Do you have a favorite time/place to do it? What motivates you to keep practicing? Please tell me in the comment!

p.s. if you’re interested in the Vipassana meditation retreat, they have many retreat centers  all over the world! You can check them out here.

Be happy,

xo Yuko

Yuko Miki Honeyberry Studios Headshot

 

 

 

 

Taming Your Wild Monkey Mind!

It has been a year since I went to my first Vipassana 10-day silent meditation retreat here in Washington.

去年、ヴィパッサナー瞑想の合宿の10日間コースに参加してから1年が経ちました。

When I first heard about the Vipassana retreat, I was a little overwhelmed.  Not speaking and meditate for 10 days!?  WOW!

初めてヴィパッサナー瞑想について学んだときは、ちょっとびっくりしました。誰とも話さず、瞑想を10日間も行うなんてすごい!

I’m naturally a curious person, and last year, I somehow felt I was ready.  What is the worst that could happen?  Even if it sucked, it would be over in 10 days.  So there I was without any big expectations, my clothes and sleeping gear in a little suitcase, I rolled up in my 2000 Honda Civic at the meditation center in the rural Washington.

そう思って敬遠していましたが、去年に「できそう」という気分になりました。もし大変だったとしてもたったの10日間で終わるのだから、そんなに悪くもないなーと思いました。そんなこんなで、特に大きな期待も無く、着替えと寝具を持ってワシントン州の農場が広がる田舎にある瞑想リトリートの合宿所にたどり着いたのでした。

I had done some meditation practice in the past but never seriously in any way.  We checked in, moved in to the dorm room, met my room mate, and had a delicious dinner with the fellow students on the first night (and we could still talk & socialize at this time).

以前にも瞑想の経験は少しはあったのですが(ヨガなどで)、真剣に取り組んだ事はありませんでした。合宿所に着くと登録をすませ、部屋に荷物を運びます。そこでルームメートと挨拶し、夜はみんなで食事です。この時はまだお互いに話も出来ます。

Our practice began on the first night.  We were assigned our sitting spot in a big hall.  The meditation practice was lead by the video and audio recordings of Mr. Goenka, and teachers were also available for questions.  From this point on, you’re to focus on your practice and have no interaction with your fellow students.  No talking, miming, writing, eye-contact or body language.  You’re only allowed to speak to the manager and the teacher if you need assistance with your accommodation or the practice.

その夜から瞑想のコースが始まります。大きな広間で自分の座る場所を指定されます。瞑想の教えはゴエンカ先生の講演のビデオと録音を通して行われます。指導者の方もいて、質問をする時間も設けられています。この時点から、他の誰とも話すことも無く、自分で瞑想の修行に励みます。誰とも話せないだけではなく、手振りやしぐさ、筆談や目を合わせることなども禁じられています。指導者や、施設のマネージャーとは必要に応じて、質問などもできます。

I know this is kind of overwhelming, but as an introvert, I was also looking forward to not talking to anyone for 10 days.  No need to strike up a conversation with strangers and make small talks.  How relaxing!

こんな非日常的な状況に置かれるわけですが、どちらかというと内向的な私は、10日間も誰ともしゃべらなくてもいいなんて、ちょっとラッキーという気もしました。特に知らない人達に囲まれて生活をして、無理に会話をもりあげなくてもいいし、世間話もしなくていいなんて、私にとってはリラックス出来そうな環境です。

During the 10-day retreat, your daily routine is pretty structured.  Your day starts at 4am, and meditate for a couple of hours.  Breakfast is served at 6:30am.  Then you meditate for a few more hours.  Lunch at 11am, and you will have a little break to rest and/or walk along the path in the property.  You meditate again for the afternoon, and instead of dinner, we have tea with honey and milk and some fruits at 5pm.   After dinner, we have more meditation and discourse/lecture until 9pm. Then lights out at 10pm.

合宿では毎日決められた生活をします。4時に起床、2時間ほど瞑想をして、6時半に朝ごはん。それからまた瞑想して11時にお昼ご飯。お昼の後には休んだり、散歩をする時間があって、また午後には何時間か瞑想します。5時には夕食の代わりにハチミツとミルクを入れたお茶と、フルーツが少し出されます。その後には、また瞑想、それから講義が9時まであります。その後10時ごろ消灯。

I was a little worried about the “no dinner” situation as I LOVE to eat. Though it was hard in the beginning, I got used to it eventually.  Because we just sit for the most part of the day, I didn’t get super hungry anyway.  And their food was really great too.  Healthy, wholesome vegetarian meals were prepared by awesome volunteers every day.  This is what a typical day’s meals look like.

食べるのが大好きな私は、ちゃんとした夕食が出ないという事はちょっと心配でした。はじめの数日はお腹が空きましたが、そのうち慣れました。一日のほとんどは瞑想しているので、あまりお腹が空くこともなくなりました。合宿中はボランティアの方達が毎日とってもおいしいベジタリアンの食事を作って下さいました!典型的なメニューはこんな感じです。

meals
typical meals!

So, during the retreat you would sit and meditate for about 10 hours per day either as a group or individually in your room.  Each day, we’re given instructions and guidance to further our practice.  In the evening, we’ll watch the video-recording of Mr. Goenka’s lecture, and I looked forward to that every day.  He is quite a character, and I felt like he knew what I was thinking a lot of the time.  Questions like, “Why am I here?”  “Why are we doing this silly nose breathing thing day in and day out??” were answered during the video lecture.  The program was well structured so you are able to build on a skill and really learn to sharpen your senses.

合宿中は、一日にだいたい10時間ほど瞑想します。生徒全員で大広間で瞑想したり、各個人の部屋でも行います。毎日瞑想の手法について手ほどきを受けます。夜にはゴエンカ先生のビデオ講義があり、それがいつも楽しみでした。ゴエンカ先生は中々おもしろいキャラで、講義中のコメントを聞いていて、「何で、私が考えている事が分かるの?」と思うこともしばしばありました。瞑想のプログラムもうまく組まれていて、毎日学んだ手法を練習し、次のステージに進みます。自分の感覚が段々と研ぎ澄まされていくのが良くわかりました。

Sitting for a long time was definitely not easy, but by far the hardest part for me was shutting off my mind.  As Mr. Goenka puts it, your mind is like a wild monkey going from a branch to branch grabbing bananas and leaves.  It’s also like browsing on the internet – you click on a link and then next, and next, and next….  it’s a never ending rabbit hole, I tell ya!  Your meditation practice would help tame your wild monkey mind, he said.  REALLY?  Because it was really, really hard to shut off my mind for even a second.

もちろん長い間座っているのは楽ではありませんが、一番大変だったのが自分の頭の中の会話を止める事。ゴエンカ先生の言うように、人の頭の中ってサルが枝から枝へと飛び移るように、次から次へとめまぐるしく色んな物事を考えています。瞑想の練習を積み重ねる事によって、この頭の中のおサルさんを手なづけることができるそうです。これは本当に難しい!一秒でも頭の中をからっぽにするって困難な技です。

meditation_kitty_color

Many thoughts came up while sitting.  A lot of them were really intense thoughts of anger and fear.   And I felt worried about having those thoughts (i.e.”Wow, am I ok?”) and continued to let go of those thoughts.  Because I was feeling such intense feelings during the meditation, I had nightmares almost every night and woke up scared in the middle of the night.  I understand why students are asked to stay for the entire 10 days.  I would’ve been kind of a mess if I left without having some kind of a closure for those intense feelings I felt.

瞑想をしている間に、本当に色んな考えが頭をよぎりました。特別な理由もなく、とっても強い怒りや恐怖を感じもしました。そして、そんな感情がこみ上げてくる事に対して心配してしまったり、そんな心配を手放していく練習もしました。瞑想中にそんな考えが頭をグルグルしていたせいもあってか、ほぼ毎晩悪夢をみたり、夜中に怖くて目が覚めたりもしました。この合宿に参加する人は、つらくても、できるだけ10日間完了させることを求められていますが、これはもっともだと思いました。こんなに色んな感情が宙ぶらりんなままで合宿を去ってしまうのは何となく危険だと思います。

There is so much to say about the practice, and I think you need to go through it to really experience the impact of it yourself (or you may find it doesn’t have a lot of impact for you).  What the practice taught me is to realize nothing is permanent,  pain or pleasure, and holding on to them only creates suffering for you.  It was really powerful for me to realize that only I can make my problems go away.  It is such a simple message, and it was so empowering and deeply healing for me.

この瞑想がもつ力というのはやはり実際に体験していない人に伝えるのは難しいですし、個人差ももちろんあると思います。私がこの合宿を通して身をもって学んだのは、この世にあるすべての物は絶えず移り変わっているという事でしょうか。いわゆる仏教の「無常観」という事ですね!悦びも苦しみも永遠に続く物ではないのだから、それに固執する事は自分を不幸せにするだけで、自分が持っている問題を解決するにはまずは自分の視点を変える事なんだ!と気づかされました。これはとってもシンプルなメッセージなのですが、その意味を心と体で感じることができ、とても癒されました。

At the end, we learned the Metta Meditation, a.k.a. “Loving Kindness Meditation,” which may be my favorite part.  In this meditation, you will learn to send all kinds of positive, loving, warm thoughts to yourself, your loved ones, your enemies, and all beings in the universe.  What could be better??

一番最後は、メッタ瞑想(慈悲の瞑想とも呼ばれています)で締めくくります。この瞑想では、自分とすべての人々(たとえ自分が憎しみを持っている相手でも)や生き物に対しての愛や思いやりのこもった念を体全体から送り出します。この瞑想をした後は、体中があたたかいエネルギーで満ち溢れました!

metta_quote_white
「全てのものが幸せになり、安らかで自由でありますように」

After returning from the retreat, I was following their recommended daily practice of 1 hour meditation in the morning and 1 hour in the evening.  It was a really hard commitment  to keep, and eventually I stopped when my life got kind of crazy last summer.  Despite that, I’m still able to go to that quiet place in my mind when things are stressful or hard even for a short time.  It was truly a life-changing experience for me, and I would recommend to anyone who is interested!  You can find more information about the Vipassana retreat here.

合宿から戻った後は、先生の勧めに従って毎朝晩1時間ごとの瞑想をしました。一日のスケジュールに瞑想を2時間組み込むというのは中々大変で、昨夏色んな行事が重なってとっても忙しくなったのを機に止めてしまいました。今は定期的に瞑想をすることがなくなってしまったのですが、嫌な事があったりストレスを感じた時などは、たとえ短時間であっても結構すんなりと心を落ち着かせる事ができるようになりました。この瞑想合宿は私にとっては転機であり、興味がある人には是非トライしてもらいたいです!日本ではこちらで合宿が行われています。