Gratitude in Action

“I am so incredibly grateful that you and your car got us from Portland to this trailhead safely,” my friend Mary stated.

And now it was my turn...”I am so incredibly grateful that I have a refrigerator and cupboard stocked full of healthy foods.”

Another steep part of the hike was upon us, we both went back into the solitude of our minds until we reached flat land again.

I am so grateful for the household that I live in,” Mary said.

I am so grateful that I have my health to be able to do this awesome hike,” I said.

My friend Mary and I have been on many hikes throughout the Pacific Northwest together since I started hanging out with her almost three years ago.  A few weeks ago we ventured on a hike and came up with a new way of hiking. Each time we came upon a new incline to hike up, we had to each think of something near and dear to our heart that we were grateful for and then once we reached flat land again, we’d share with each other what we were thinking. We did it in some back lands behind Silver Falls in Silverton, Oregon.  The trail had many inclinations and there were no other souls around.  I felt so light and as if my body was buzzing throughout the hike.

I have always known the power of gratitude as I have seen it work wonders in others’ lives and my own.  Meditation has helped me to further integrate into the wonderful energy of gratitude. By being so completely present in the moment, everything seems like a miracle.  Of course, the monkey mind comes back quite often (dang it, I’m still human!) But for the most part, ever since starting my meditation practice half a decade ago, everything…a spoonful of delicious soup, resting my body on a comfortable bed, or having a meaningful conversation with a dear friend  have all become moments of gold.

A couple different spiritual teachers that I have been listening to lately have inspired me to start a new daily practice, I made up my own term for it, I call it “3 and 3.”  It’s super easy, doesn’t take a lot of time and is incredibly powerful.  I either do it at night or in the morning when I’m having my coffee.  Basically, I list three things in which I am grateful for, but honestly it’s more than just listing them…I actually try to really feel how deep my gratitude is for them.  Then I list three intentions that I have for that day (or if I’m doing this at night, I list three intentions for the next day.) I have found this to be a very powerful practice because more often than not I reach almost all of those intentions that day.

If that seems like a lot of extra activity to your already packed world, maybe just try to do it for the week.  So before the week starts, list three things you intend to get done that week and three things that you are in gratitude of from the last week.  I have found that actually writing them out, with pen and paper really seems to make it happen.  Do whatever works for you yo, I just hope you do give it a shot and see for yourself!

Peace out!

Materialistic Mindfulness

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After my first 10-day meditation retreat, something within me really snapped and shifted.  All of a sudden I wanted to get rid of a ton of personal belongings.  I still found a few items very meaningful: my journal, coffeemaker and hygienic tools were things that were important to me. However, my shelves upon shelves of dusty DVDs, CDs, books, and random knick-knacks felt heavy. Impulsively, I grabbed a few large garbage bags and just started pulling all of these items that felt heavy to me and gently placed them into the garbage bags.  Without thinking twice, I jetted the collected items over to my local thrift store and dropped them all of without looking behind.  I felt a lightness in my mental and physical state instantly.

Materialism has never been my thing, but especially since starting meditation in 2011, it seems that any fractal of interest in it has dwindled even more.  Almost a year into my 20-minute daily meditation practice, I was inspired to write a piece for Lightworkers World about how I feel in regards to the idea of physical things creating inner happiness. The deeper and deeper that I have gone into the depths of my soul, the further I have gotten from caring about comparing what others’ have to what I have. I have instead thought more and more about how I appreciate the things that I do have and truly taste the blessings that I am given on a daily basis.  The cravings for more lessen as I see how amazing it is that I have a fully stocked kitchen, efficient means of transportation, and ohhhhhh so much more!

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When I was visiting my sister on the East Coast over this past winter, I had a couple of Netflix binges and upon doing so came across an incredibly inspiring documentary entitled “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.”  The main two cast members of the documentary Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodermus also have an inspiring website, The Minimalists, which you should definitely check out if you have time.  A lot of what they mentioned in their documentary was exactly the same thoughts that I had been having shortly after my first 10-day meditation retreat.  They touch upon the last few decades of American culture and how it has heavily influenced our consumer mindset.  We have somehow been driven to think that things create happiness, but as the late George Carlin would state “trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all of your body.”

Over the last six years, I have moved about eight times (what can I say, a spiritual awakening can cause a bit of chaos, hehe) and one of the moves was cross-country. With each move, my amount of possessions has lessened and I find myself only holding onto the things that I find necessary.  Not having a whole lot of clothes makes life so much easier to me and the few clothing items that I do have are my absolute favorite, so I get excited to wear them.  Everything that I own, besides some old mementos stored in family and friends’ attics, fits into my vehicle. It feels so freeing to be able to pick up and go to a new place if my heart is calling it, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do this.

I am excited to see a lot of other people feeling the same way about materialism, how it’s not truly all that it’s cracked up to be.  Advertisements are unfortunately always going to be around as long as money is around, but at least as we get more and more in touch with ourselves and remembering who we truly are, we will be able to get less swayed by those advertisements.  How are you feeling about all the things that surround you right now?  Do you truly need all of it?  Or might you be able to donate some of those extra items that you haven’t touched in ages?

344Everything that I owned in 2011 as I made my way from the Midwest to the West Coast of the U.S.

As always, please comment and share your thoughts with me, I love feedback 🙂

Take care, much peace and love!  ❤

Meditate With Me!

 

Wooh!  Spring is in the air, summer is right around the corner and the collective energy feels exciting. With that excitement, there is a slight undertone of feeling scattered. It feels like everyone is making plans for the future: backpacking trips, camping trips, road trips.  All of these thoughts of making future plans makes it feel difficult to stay focused in the here and now.  This is how the last couple of weeks has felt for me at least. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed and as if I am being pulled in a million different directions I try to find a spare 10 minutes to sit and meditate, adding this onto my other daily habit of 20 minutes of meditation in the morning.

 

In the spirit of community I thought it would be awesome to record a 10-minute guided meditation.  This meditation is one that I have shared with countless friends and acquaintances when they have asked me if I could instruct them in meditating.  I learned this one from the “Insight” meditation group that I joined in Portland, Oregon back in 2012.  What exactly is “Insight” meditation might you ask? It is derived from one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation called “Vipassana” meditation. Vipassana involves focusing on the deep interconnection between mind and body.  It involves focusing on your breath and anytime your attention wavers, you gently bring yourself back to your breath.

 

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I start out the meditation with having us take a few deep breaths together which helps to ground us into the present moment.  I then ask us to notice three touch-points, noticing your connection to whichever surface they might be on (i.e. your hands resting against your knees or thighs, your bottom on a cushion or a chair.)  We then will bring our attention up to our nostrils and become aware of the cool air coming in and the warm air as we breathe out. Paying attention to the sensation of the in and out breath is the main focus for the rest of the 10 minutes.  Some might not like this type of meditation, but I am hoping that it does help a few. There are an incredible number of different types of meditation and mindfulness techniques, so if one doesn’t work for you, don’t you worry because there are countless others to try.

 

Click on the recording below (best listened to with headphones) and join me for 10 minutes of meditation, I hope this helps you!! 🙂

 

 

 

Revamping before 33!

The road to 33 is looking good!



I have gotten so off track from my initial intentions with what I wanted to do with this blog, but that is going to change!  When I started this blog (gasp) almost five years ago I entitled it “Ilona’s Meditation Challenge” because that’s what it was going to be.  My original plan was to write down what I noticed from starting a daily 20-minute meditation practice and it kind of twisted and turned into something completely different, it became a bit more random.  That’s okay though because from it I have gained a ton of blogging friends and acquaintances.  I would like to steer this blog vehicle though back on track and keep at it.

With my 33rd birthday coming around the corner it has hit me that I truly am not getting any younger here.  So with that, I want to work on sharing a blog post at least once a week about all things MIND, BODY, AND SOUL!  I want to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves, to help remind them that WE CAN CHANGE OUR WAYS and that IT IS NEVER TOO LATE.  The only way that we can make that truly happen though is to have the desire to change, that is the first step.

So in the coming weeks, I will be challenging myself (as my blog page is now accurately named) to post one blog post per week that has everything to do with: meditation, healthy eating, exercise, and anything else that you can think of that helps to heal MIND, BODY, AND SOUL.  I am going to release any guilt that I have held onto about wasting time or any ways in which I have been unconscious.  I want to change within, bring it out into the world and inspire others if they too have this similar goal.

Please join me in these coming weeks.  I plan on sharing what I notice with my two daily meditations (I have now been meditating for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.) I will be sharing book reviews (I am currently reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.) I will be recording guided meditations for you to listen to and try out. I might even try my hand at making a video or two!

The point is, we are all in this together.  Everything is truly connected and everything we thought we knew is not going to last.  So let’s prepare ourselves now so as not to freak out when the crumbling begins (which it has already started a bit anyhow.). Let’s become more conscious together.  Let’s take a look at our bullshit stories that keep running/ruining our lives and transform them.  Please take my hand and cross this river with me.
Peace!

From my jog this morning:


Amen to that!!!!!

Mission Accomplished: My Experience with a 10-day Meditation Retreat

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This year, my holidays were spent like no other.  I spent my Christmas Eve agreeing to enter “noble silence” for ten days, this included no communicating through cell phone, laptops or any other technological gadgets and no speaking or gesturing to those around me.  No reading or writing was allowed either (my jaw dropped with that one too.)  My New Year’s Eve was spent meditating in a meditation hall with about 100 other people for an hour and a half before our bedtime (lights out were at 9:30pm.)  The only celebration was heard from the neighboring farm lands nearby in which the residents were lighting off fireworks as I laid my worn head to bed.

I had first heard about this 10-day silent meditation retreat from classmates at a local meditation group that I attend in Portland, OR.  When I had heard about their experiences with it, I was fascinated.  One of my classmates compared it to a Native American Medicine Journey, a journey where you go completely within.  I stashed the idea of it away in my brain as something I ought to try sometime, maybe in a couple years when I could accrue that many hours off of work.  My meditation teacher kept discussing it at class as the weeks went by.  I found out that the 10-day silent meditation was free and they also offered it during the holidays so you don’t have to ask for as many days off of work as you might need to otherwise. I signed up in May 2014 to attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat from 12/24/14-1/4/15, that May I remember thinking how I wouldn’t have to worry about it for quite sometime, as it was more than seven months away.  As the months and weeks crept closer though, I started wondering if it was that good of a decision.  Everyone else would be spending the upcoming holidays with family and friends, while I would be falling off the radar.  As the week prior to leaving for the retreat came up, I received this text from my sister, who has attended a few retreats herself, but none longer than three days:  “Sad, it kinda feels like you’ll be crossing over to the other side for ten days.”  When I received that text, I took a deep breath, I really wasn’t sure what I had signed up for.

When I first pulled up into the land that the Northwest Vipassana Center is located on, the whole vibe of the land and the building was incredibly peaceful.  After registering inside and getting the itinerary booklet (see picture below) I made my way from the building to the women’s residential suites.  As I walked along the pebbled path towards what would be my home for the next ten days I saw a couple of deer eating alongside a marsh area with the peak of Mount Rainier in the back round.  I remember feeling elation and getting the sense that the next ten days were going to be very relaxing.

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I made my way back to the building after setting up my bed and meeting Kate, my new roommate whom I found out was also on her first 10-day retreat and had traveled down from Seattle with her best friend from high school.  I sat in the dining area of the building, sipping on hot tea and chatted with a few girls that were sitting near me.  I had found out that two of them had done a 10-day retreat before and the girl sitting across from me, Lacey, was at her first retreat.  Lacey and I interrogated the girls that were veterans of this retreat, asking them what we should expect, what had happened for them last time, and more.  One of the veteran girls seemed a little distraught as she mentioned “I don’t know if I’m ready to go through this work again….” with a far-off look in her eyes.

The last of the meditation-goers were checking in and trickling into the dining area.  We were provided a light dinner and instructed to get anything we needed from our cars afterwards, to make sure all of our technological gadgets were handed in to the staff and to meet at the meditation hall in about a half an hour for the first group meditation.  There was a frantic energy in the air, it seemed that people were gabbing just for the sake of noise because we all knew that the “vow of noble silence” would start after our first group meditation.  I used the time to meet a few more new people and to get acquainted with where everything was on the premises.

The time drew near 8pm, the big moment of our first group meditation and the official end to communication of any kind. We stood outside the meditation hall, awaiting the teachers to enter first.  I met two girls and spoke nervously with them, one had mentioned that she and her boyfriend decided to sign up together for this, the other girl mentioned that a friend in Portland had told her about the retreat.  We seemed to be talking just to talk, just to get the last words out we could, all of us knowing that in less than ten minutes we would have to be mute for a week and a half.  The teachers entered the building and close to forty of us followed them in.  We took off jackets and shoes and were instructed to grab any pillows, blankets or chairs that we would want to use as our meditation tools for the next ten days.  One of the assistant teachers started calling out names, and one by one people were directed to their assigned seats.  I remember a thought crossed my mind in which I felt that I was at Heaven’s gate or something–waiting for my name to be called to enter a whole other world.

We met in the meditation hall three times a day, at 8:00am, 2:30pm and 6:00pm.  Our days consisted of ten hours of focused vipassana meditation, the first three days we focused on the sensation of our breath and the area near where we could feel the breath the most–the area on or near the nostrils.  The middle of the ten days, days four through six we started doing focused meditation called “body scanning” which consisted of placing our awareness on each body part.  With body scanning, we would start at the top of our head and move down piece-by-piece (the forehead, the ears, the nose) just noticing any sensations, be it pain or tingling or anything.  We were instructed not to label anything, but to just be aware of it and notice it’s changing form.  The last three days we were taught of “free form” body scanning which consists of starting at the top of our head down to the bottoms of our feet, scanning up and down in more of a flowing fashion.  If we had troubles with this, we were instructed to go back to body scanning piece-by-piece.  We could also speak with the teachers after the evening group meditation or during lunch break if we were having any particular troubles with the meditating.

There were a couple major moments that stuck with me the most during my 10-day retreat.  On night three and five, I had incredible dreams and also visions as I tried to fall asleep.  On night three, every time I tried to close my eyes to get to sleep, there was a light show going on beneath my eyelids.  There were magnificent colors swirling and dancing, if I didn’t know any better, I might have thought someone had spiked my evening tea with magic mushrooms.  Then, on the fifth night I had what I can only describe as a deeply spiritual experience which I found to be extremely comforting.  On that particular night, I had some troubles initially falling asleep, but I finally did drift off at a relatively early hour–around 10:30 p.m. or so.  I had a very vivid dream (it seemed as real to me as me typing these words out and hearing the hum of the washing machine below my kitchen floor right now feels to me.)  In the dream, I headed to the group meditation hall, walking the pebbled path from my residential suite to the building, everything covered in dew from the damp weather that early morning.  I sat down in my assigned seat, wrapped my blanket around me and was aware of all the other meditators around me.  We all closed our eyes to start our meditation and immediately I got the sensation of no longer having a body, I felt so light and free.  It felt so completely right, as if this was what I have been longing for my whole life.  I then realized that I had dissolved into oneness with all of the other meditators.  I then darted awake in my bed and looked at my clock–it stated “12:30 a.m.”  I then fell asleep again and had this same exact dream three more times, always darting awake as my conscious mind realized the feeling of oneness, I awoke again at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 a.m.

I went into the ten day retreat with expectations that it was going to be easy for me since I have been practicing daily meditation for two and a half years, but it was far from easy.  When I came back to Portland and was asked multiple times about my experience, the best way that I could describe it to people was that it was tormenting, yet transformative.  I didn’t have too much trouble with the no-talking rule as I am an introvert, but I did miss my phone a lot and not being able to write or read was excruciating for me.  The retreat really instilled into me the changing nature of reality: physical pain, emotional pain, food, people, circumstances, ideas, locations–all of this is coming and going continuously.  The retreat got me more comfortable with the idea of impermanence and it also reminded me that we can start over at any moment by focusing on our breath.

I highly recommend these types of retreats for anyone, it is not affiliated with any religious sect and accepts everyone from every back round.  The facilities are run off of donations, but no one is turned away for lack of funds.  The way that I am going to donate and give back is to be of service at future retreats.  One thing that I have mentioned to friends or family members that have expressed interest in this retreat is to realize that when you attend one of these, you are not going for the purpose of rest and relaxation (I had that wrong estimation myself.)  What these types of meditation sits truly do is break down a ton of barriers within you and can create profound healing.  It brings you into acceptance of what is, as the itinerary booklet states, “Vipassana means seeing things as they really are.”