Wednesday, February 17, 2010

365 Lessons-Lesson 48: Meditate

People have been asking me about meditation, so I dug up this old post about when I came out of 45 days of silent Vipassana meditation. I am reposting it here so that all those who are interested can have the same opportunity and reap the same benefits that I am. While these 45 days were truly remarkable days of my life, every day is important and daily practice is the most important. Participating in a meditation course can help you establish your practice of meditation, so I recommend that too.

I'm emerging. I feel like this lotus. My petals are unfolding one by one. If there were an appropriate pop song for this occasion, I think it would be I'm Coming Out by Diana Ross. It's going a bit slow for me my friends. I'm talking again, just fine. I've met three people since I've been home-my husband, my mother and my friend Lena. I find myself wanting to be part of all that I have missed and then wanting to retreat again. I think it's just where I am. For those of you who have just happened upon this blog, you may want to read earlier posts. To catch you up to speed (and the speed is quite slow at the moment), on March 14th, 2009, I returned from a 45-day meditation course at the Vipassana Massachusetts Centre in Shelburne Falls, MA. People have asked, "Did you have a good course?" Well, it's a bit hard to summarize the experience actually, but I feel so much gratitude, peace, happiness, and clarity. It was harder than anything I've ever done, but it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

A 45-day course is not something you just jump into. I've been practicing this form of meditation since 1996 when I took my first 10-day course in Nepal with my husband Seong Yoon, who was a Buddhist monk at that time. The 10-day course in Nepal was so hard. I felt so much anger coming out and I wanted to run far away. The moment the course was over, I was on the first bus out of there. I vowed to never take a course again. Later, when I was wandering the streets of Kathmandu with Seong Yoon that day, I realized that something had changed. I felt light and free. There was a deep happiness inside. As soon as I was away from the meditation center, I could clearly see that I had gotten something very positive from the experience. At the Vipassana center in Nepal, I was surprised to learn that there is a center in Washington State. By December, 1996, I was sitting a course in Washington. This is still shocking to me given my state after my first course. What's more surprising is that I've continued taking courses for 13 years and I just completed 45-days of meditation.

The benefits I have received from sitting and serving courses are really indescribable. If you have never tried a course, all I can say is, "try it!" It's very easy to make all kinds of generalizations or have judgments if you've never done it. If you've tried it, you know that it's not easy. Right away you know when you arrive for orientation that this is going to be work. Hard work. For me, it is the most rewarding, beneficial work I've ever done. Already people have asked me, "What did you do for 45-days?" Well, I meditated. Another question was, "How did you spend your days?" I spent approximately 10 hours per day meditating in a 2 by 6 foot meditation cell and two hours meditating in a hall with other meditators. The cells are only for people who have completed at least one 10-day course. If you are attending a course for the first time, you will sit in a meditation hall with other meditators.

Other than talking to the teacher a few times, I was in silence for 43 days. We had two days of speaking at the end to reintegrate. The other times I was either sleeping, eating, walking or taking care of personal matters. The Vipassana Massachusetts Center provided me with a private room and bathroom, a meditation cell, meals and walking trails. Every center is different and what you are offered depends on what is available and how many people attend the course. People came for 45-days to cook. They volunteered to do this because they have received so many benefits from this practice. Forty-five days is a long time to cook and work. There is no charge for the course either. The courses run on donations. People get so much from these courses, that they feel they want to give. If you serve at the center, they call it "selfless service" . Those who have completed at least one 10-day course can serve. You serve, just to serve. You don't expect anything in return.

In the past, I have had an opportunity to serve on courses and live for a year at the center in Washington and serve as the center manager with my husband. It was so wonderful to live and work in an environment where people are meditating. Most people go into a course a little heavy with whatever emotional and physical pain they've been carrying around with them and come out light, happy and shiny! The transformation that I have seen is truly amazing.



If you look at a picture or see someone meditating, it appears that nothing is happening. We live in such an extroverted society. People, especially in Western society, aren't taught to go inside or to experience what is happening inside of us, yet that is where everything originates. Every emotion or action on the physical level starts inside. I don't want to go into details here on the practice of Vipassana. If you are interested, I suggest you go to the website (http://www.dhamma.org/) where you can learn all about it. All I can say is that through this practice, I do not feel as much anger, pain, worry, or irritation as I used to. As I continue to practice Vipassana meditation, I feel more and more content, peaceful, happy, at ease, and free. I am not perfect, so of course negative emotions creep in, but they are not as strong as they used to be. They don't stay for very long.

Right away I am able to notice the people who received positive benefits from this practice. They are shiny! Their eyes are so bright after a course. They make people feel at ease and comfortable. There actions are positive. They really seem to glow like this woman from Serbia!

In my 45-day course, I sat with people from New Zealand, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, India, Israel, Canada, Burma. People from so many different walks of life and religious backgrounds are sitting together. It's amazing. They listen to instructions in their own languages. I've sat with an army general and a rock star (you'll have to ask me personally, if you'd like to know who...^_^). People come and keep coming because they get something. They feel different. This technique of meditation is very practical. Anyone who is not seriously debilitated mentally or physically can practice this. You don't need to change your country, name, religion or background. You will remain as you are, but you will have a technique or tool that can help you in all of life's ups and downs.

You can start with a 10-day course. Look at the website, I am sure there is one near you!

I write this with the sincere wish that everyone can share what I have experienced. May all of you feel peace and happiness. May all of you be free....


Monday, February 15, 2010

365 Lessons-Lesson 47: Awaken your Intuition

My husband, Seong Yoon Lee, is a believer. What does that mean exactly? He believes in what he is doing so much that he is willing to make very bold statements. Sometimes his statements scare me. When we were living in South Korea, he used to say things like, "Quit your English teaching job and teach yoga full-time to Koreans." This was his suggestion to me when I was at the end of my rope with my teaching gig in Korea. I just looked at him with wide eyes and an opened mouth. All I could think of was How will I do that? Well, I did it. I quit my job, got my yoga teacher's license in Colorado and started teaching yoga to agile Koreans while trying to speak Korean. I'm sure I chopped up the language a bit, but it went quite well. For those of you who have just arrived at this blog, my husband used to be a Buddhist monk. After we married, he left the monastery and opened his own yoga school. This was not an easy leap and it's one I am writing about in my book Lessons from the Monk I Married.

Flash forward to 2009, my husband hasn't stopped making these bold statements. Sometime during the past year he said, "I'm going to teach yoga at Microsoft." Guess what he's doing? During the same year he said, "I'm going to open my own yoga school." Now this one I couldn't believe. I mean, we didn't have any money for this..how would it be possible? It's expensive to rent business space, how would we pay for everything? I couldn't wrap my head around it. When I asked him directly how this would be possible, he answered, "I have no idea, I don't think, I feel it."

In early December, I went to a 10-day silent meditation course. When I came back, Seong Yoon had a business partner who wanted to invest his time, energy and money into opening a business with Seong Yoon because he too believes it will be a great success. I thought jokingly, "It's contagious, more and more people are becoming believers." They will open Yoon's Yoga Bliss near Seattle on February 26th. When you are around this kind of energy, you can't help but start to believe in your own inner feelings or intuition.

I asked my husband just now, "What does intuition mean?" and he said, "Message from inside." Most of the time our insides are so jumbled, it's hard to hear anything clearly. Meditation has helped me immensely in tuning in to what I am meant to do.

I have spent periods of 20, 30 and 45 days in silent meditation. All of this time was not wasted; it was training me to hear myself from the inside out. Unknowingly, I have also come to trust my intuition. It takes training to hear what your inside has to say.

My inside is telling me to connect with as many people as possible and share with them the fact that everyone has this possibility of hearing themselves. Meditate, feel your breath, practice yoga, take a walk, get out of your head..all of these are helpful. The most helpful thing I can pass along is to live moment to moment because living in the moment is where you will find your answers. If your mind is racing to the future or falling back to things that happened in the past, you will miss what your intuition wants to tell you. You will miss now and if you keep missing now you will miss your life.

In the evening before my husband and I go to bed, we like to read to each other. I always grab a random book from the stack by our bed and say to my husband, "What page?" The other night he said, "Page 76." Whenever he tells me a page, I say, "You always say that page." He starts to laugh, he knows this isn't true and that I'm playing with him. Then, he lies flat on his back with a peaceful look on his face and closes his eyes. Then, I start to read the page to him.

The gist of page 76 was about struggling to find the answer to something or to remember something. Only when you completely let go of your efforts, do you find what you are looking for. Like when you forget an actor's or actress's name and it comes to you in the middle of the night when you are no longer focusing on finding the answer.

I believe that when you set good intentions which are helpful to you and others and you release those intentions into the universe, without being attached to them or attached to the results, good things will happen. It's the law of nature. The key is to be opened and remain in this moment. I know this to be true as I have seen unbelievable things happen with my own eyes which have caused me to become a "believer" too.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

365 Lessons-Lesson 37: Practice Yoga

When I was young, I was told in elementary school that I had Scoliosis (curvature of the spine). For some reason, I always believed after hearing that news, that I was doomed. That I wouldn't be able to do things that other people did. That maybe I'd lead a sedentary life. I always lived with the fact that I just wasn't flexible and that not being able to touch my toes was just part of who I was and it was all hereditary and there was nothing I could do about it, so I might as well face the facts.

Over the years, I enjoyed running and even joined a half marathon in my mid-20's, but always felt tight in my muscles. I started to get knee damage from running and at one point was told by a doctor that I would need laser knee surgery. I refused to do this. I hated going to the doctor. I was determined to find some way to cure myself. I stopped running and did more walking and hiking and less impact sports. Around 1995, I started to take up an interest in yoga. I felt there was a lot of stress in my life and I wanted to find some way to relieve the stress I felt. My mother gave me a gift certificate to join Yoga Centers in Bellevue, WA to practice Iyengar yoga. The main teacher for that center is internationally renowned Aadil Palkhivala from India. Immediately I noticed that I started to feel lighter, taller, and more limber. After a few classes I could already see an improvement in my posture and overall sense of well-being. I knew I wanted to continue with yoga and make it a part of my life.

While in Korea, I met my husband, a former Korean Buddhist monk. He was trained in yoga by his master in the Zen temple where he lived. Before we got married in 2003, we decided to open a yoga school in South Korea. My husband had official training at Kaivalyadama Yoga College in Lonavala, India and I received my yoga certificate after a month-long training course at Shoshoni in Colorado in 2002. My husband taught most of the classes at his school and I continued to teach English at a college in South Korea. So many students loved my husband's classes. He did not scream at you if your posture wasn't exactly right. He has a lot of gentleness and calmness and he emphasizes the internal experience of yoga, rather than the outward appearance of yoga. That being said, I always thought he looked so graceful when he practiced yoga. He looks so light, like a feather. Here are some pictures we took at Green Lake today in Seattle. Some of these pictures will go on his website for the opening of his new yoga school near Seattle.

I am proud of my husband. It wasn't easy for him to leave the monastery. It was very hard. I am writing a book about that journey. The journey we decided to take together. When he left the temple, he had nothing to his name. NOTHING. He went from monk, to husband, to opening a yoga school in South Korea, to opening two yoga schools in South Korea, to moving to the USA, to teaching yoga in the USA in our living room, to teaching yoga in the USA at various yoga studios and health clubs, to teaching yoga at Microsoft, to deciding to open up his very own yoga studio in the Seattle area with his friend. The name of his yoga school is Yoon's Yoga Bliss. Yoon means happiness. That is my husband's name.

The bliss part came from a Tibetan Rinpoche who is friends with my husband and is recognized by the Dalai Lama. One day, while he was walking around Green Lake in Seattle with my husband, the Rinpoche said, "You are yoga bliss." And that's how he decided the name for his school. The website is still under construction, but you can check it out here: Yoon's Yoga Bliss.
Yoon's Yoga is his own style. It's an inward focus of yoga, so anyone of any age or flexibility level can do it. The point is to focus on your inward awareness. Instead of focusing on exact body posture, my husband guides practitioners to feel themselves from the inside out; To keep the continuity of awareness throughout the entire practice; To never lose focus of the breath and the body from the inside.

Yoga has become a big part of my life thanks to my husband's encouragement. I ended up quitting my English teaching job in South Korea and teaching yoga full-time using only Korean language at times. When my husband told me that I could do this, I thought he was crazy. How on earth could I, someone with a curved spine, bad posture, and little flexibility, teach yoga in Korean to agile Korean students. But I did it. Anything is possible, but it takes practice to see the results of anything you do. It takes discipline. It takes patience. It takes belief in yourself. Belief that you can do anything regardless of what anyone tells you. I see my husband and I am always reminded of the long road he walked to be with me. I see his love for his students and everyone he meets. When I see him I can't help but want to be the best person I can be.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

365 Lessons-Lesson 34: Nirvana is in the Mailbox

Getting the mail may seem like an everyday task for most people. Bills, bills, junk, bills, junk....oh, look! Nirvana!

 I'm a believer in signs...call me superstitious. Yes, I'm the one who saves my fortunes from the fortune cookies and pins them to my bulletin board, remember?

A few hours ago, my husband went out on this fearful rainy day to get the mail. I didn't even raise my eyes from the computer. He came back in shaking the rain off his jacket. In his hands he held a square box. I glanced up at him and said, "What's that?"

"I don't know?" he said and proceeded to rip the box opened.

He stood there staring with amusement at what was in his hands.

 I said again, "What is it?" He said, "Ummm...it's nirvana."

 I was a little puzzled. For a minute I thought maybe my husband was having one of those instant enlightenment experiences that I've read about in books. You know, the monk goes out and sits on a rock and a raindrop touches his head and that's it, he's enlightened. I've read about it, so I suppose it could happen to anyone. But that's not what he was talking about.

He looked up at me smiling and then showed me what was in his hands and said again, "Look, Nirvana!"
I just started laughing. I immediately thought, "Everything you're looking for is inside your mailbox!"

There's more to this story. When we first moved into our house, we were told that a recording engineer, by the name of Jack Endino, used to live in our house. We were also told that he recorded Nirvana (the group) in our basement before they were popular. I wasn't sure I believed this story. We had been getting mail for Jack on and off. Letters from Hollywood, LA, and other parts of the US. We'd pop them back in the box and write, "wrong address."

This time, we received this rare vinyl record of Nirvana's old songs. My husband didn't want to pop this one back in the mailbox. He found it very amusing. So amusing that he ran off to a thrift store to see if he could locate an old record player! In the meantime, the postman came back. He came to the front door and said, "Did you get a square box in the mail?" I said, "Why, yes!" (I'm not good at hiding the truth) He continued, "Does that person live here?" I said, "No, but he used to and we get mail for him from time to time."

Sadly, I gave him the package and he drove off in the rain in his mail truck. Now my husband is out in the rain trying to find a device to access his nirvana....but it's gone...it's so fleeting!

For a moment he held it in his hands. It wasn't anywhere exciting..it wasn't on top of the a mountain or in a cave or at a holy shrine. It was right there in the mailbox.

Yes, I believe in signs.....however fleeting they are!