I am not a very disciplined person – I can’t seem to sustain any kind of daily practice for long, such as yoga or meditation, unless it really calls me. (If an unfinished drawing is hanging on my “project string”, I can hardly keep myself from working on it every day.)
But Vipassana meditation works best if you are practicing it daily, or at least several times a week: it’s like learning to play an instrument, you need to give your body and mind the time to catch this gesture-chord-sound connection, repeatedly, so after a while you can play without having to think about every note.
|Reflections in an April alley|
Similarly, the habit to observe your reactions, instead of acting them out, needs to be practiced regularly in a neutral, safe situation where you can try again and again, without worrying about the results – you just need to have faith in the process and keep trying. Your mind and body will learn this eventually, and you will be able to use it in real-life situations.
So how was I going to make it work, without meditating several times a week?
|I love how puddles bring out the simple, hidden beauty of our surroundings.|
And then I remembered something that S. N. Goenka had said in one of his evening talks (he was not there in person of course, but his wonderful sense of humour turned these videos into a very lively talk, and it was the best moment of the day): “Don't forget that you can also practice Vipassana in your daily activities. There are many occasions (at work, in family life) where you can simply observe your inner reactions. This is a good exercise.”
|And observing quietly is something I enjoy, obviously.|
Right! Working in a bookstore offered a lot of opportunities to do just that. There was always only one employee in the store all day, which meant I sometimes had to manage the ‘cash register’ (except we had no cash at all, because of too many past hold-ups) while answering questions on the phone and dealing with customers in front of me. Dear waitresses out there – and parents! – you know what I am talking about ;o)
|Messy but interesting|
So I began practicing my equanimity at work, once in a while when I remembered to… and soon, it made a real difference. Situations (or people) that would have driven me nuts a few weeks before became interesting challenges, or exercises.
Furthermore, most of the time I did not feel the need anymore to rewind the difficult situation or dialogue in my mind, or to dwell on how unfair, unexpected etc. it had been… The ‘exercise’ was precisely to let the experience drift away, and not to become attached to it, even in a negative way. And it worked! This alone was worth it, for living in my head is not good for me.
|Then you get closer|
But this endeavour was taken to a whole new level after the Free Hugs event.
I am a member of Couch Surfing, which has brought several lovely encounters, cat-sitters, and two good friends into my life. Couch Surfing is one of the global movements that give me faith in the power of generosity, open-mindedness and trust, to change today’s and tomorrow’s world. The community has grown (in one decade) to almost 7 million members everywhere. It is great for traveling (and hosting like-minded travelers), but also for meeting friendly people in your own neighbourhood... This is how I stumbled on an event organized by a guy in the Montréal CS group.
|This could qualify as an exercise in letting go: painting an imaginary pot in a few gestures.|
I had never heard of “Free Hugs” happenings, but I thought it would be a good way to overcome some of my remaining shyness, as hugs were, for me, something really meaningful and personal that I shared only with my family and good friends.
Needless to say, I was nervous when I arrived at the meeting place, but I soon realized that all the others were, too – there were maybe twelve of us in all, including Caro, whom I liked instantly, and who became a friend soon after that :o) We took our time to paint warm-coloured, bilingual signs proclaiming “Free Hugs! Câlins gratuits !”- then we simply stood there, waiting for people to accept our offers. In the beginning, though, they were too shy themselves!
(Would you be bold enough as a passer-by? Or have you participated in one?)
|I found this heart in rue Marie-Anne, last summer.|
Then I started to hold out my arms to women (at first) in a coy, innocent gesture. This universal body language had a universal appeal – with a surrendering smile, they came to me, and we hugged. After a short while, my shyness dissolved, as I began to truly appreciate the sincere, warm exchange that took place each time, even with the occasional guy.
With every person, regardless of their personality, their current state of mind or their original embarrassment, the same wonderful thing happened: in a few seconds, through the simple grace of the embrace, both of us were relating on a deep level. We were able to share tenderness and trust in a genuine, reciprocal way – there was no ‘giver’ or ‘receiver’… We were simply experiencing these feelings, together.
When we separated, I could see in their wistful smile and peaceful look that they, too, were aware of this transformative connection. No words were needed, except “thank you”: we both knew that we had experienced the same beautiful thing.
|Cosmos and wild geraniums on the gallery.|
You can imagine how giddy I was, how grateful and in awe! Now my inviting smile and gesture were full of happiness and promise, and people actually went out of their way to respond. One tall, slightly dishevelled guy remained in the embrace for a little while, and I could feel the weight of his weariness, his solitude. He nodded gravely while saying “thank you”; again no words were needed to convey the fact that he had not shared a hug in a long time.
Ah friends, I still can’t tell this whole story without having goosebumps. Before leaving I hugged each of the Couch Surfers, and our smiles expressed the same happy gratitude.
|Giddy Machaon feeding on merry Honeysuckle.|
While walking home, I found myself looking at people from that place of intimate knowledge and connection – I was now truly conscious that just under the surface, we shared every human emotion and feeling. We are all one. Really. This revelation was the beautiful sister of the one that took place in the forest...
And it made me even happier.
|New Rowan sprouts shooting up towards the sky, |
right from the trunk that had been bent by a peculiar fate.
Back at work the next day, I saw each person entering the bookstore in this new light. Just like the other days, though, I would not necessarily greet them with a warm “bonjour”, or even ask them if they needed help with something (unless they did ask, or looked perplexed), since I tend to let people drift into their own thoughts as long as they feel like it. We definitely need this in our busy world… So it was more of an inner perception on my side.
|First you observe; then you really see; and then you can make see.|
But as the week went by, I began to notice that everybody’s attitude was different, too. In fact, almost all of the customers thanked me warmly for my help upon leaving the store, although I was simply my usual (helpful) self. I was grateful to them every time. And puzzled. How did this work?
So I tried to apply this discovery further.
As recounted in chapter three :o)
As recounted in chapter three :o)
You can read the first chapter here.
ps - I picked a completely different series of pictures (and two drawings) for the French version.
I've always felt that he had succeeded in capturing the essence of my personality, but there is a blend of trust and tenderness here that has been resurfacing slowly through adulthood, so that I can now often recognize it in my current everyday self. It's a wonderful feeling :o)