Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment,
but not seeking, not expecting,
is present, and can welcome all things.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


10-day Silent Meditation Retreat (Vipassana Meditation)

How would you feel about having the opportunity to completely disconnect from the world as we know it for 10 days?  No e-mails, no news, no TV, no talking.  In fact, not even text messaging for that matter.  Imagine just giving yourself the opportunity to completely let go of the daily routine and the expectations you have for each day and simply meditate and be.  This has been an intriguing idea to me for years now since a friend first mentioned it to me, and I am finally going on a 10-day meditation retreat to experience just that.

The Vipassana meditation center in Shelbourne, MA is 10 days free from noise.  No news bombarding your conscience.  No reading, no writing, no talking, maybe some snoring as that’s hard to control.

Simply be present – it’s harder than we may think

After having a religious crisis sometime in my teenage years, I abandoned many aspects of my spiritual life.  I would want to keep everything logical, I wanted to know the truth about things and did not want to hear any ambiguous or “fluffy” answers.  Additionally, if I was right about something, I was self-righteous about it and could sometimes be slightly very obnoxious, too.

Obnoxious little Omar realized over time that one of his biggest mistakes was to ever think he was in possession of the absolute truth – that he could declare certain religious beliefs to be unimportant or silly, and those who refuted it as wrong or just trying to cling to unjustified beliefs.  Over time it became very clear that every opinion possessed by a single person was based on that person’s unique life to date, and that the fact that some followed Jesus’ teachings while others took comfort in following Buddha’s made no difference whatsoever as to the quality of thinking and the integrity these people had.  Similarly, I was no better or worse off than others simply because I was going through a religious meltdown and did not follow anyone’s teachings. I was simply letting life teach me new lessons as I went through my days.

Over the past year I have been spending more time simply sitting and trying to be present.  This is one of those silly things you get to do when you have nothing else better to do — or so I once thought.  I realize now that even though meditation, being ‘in the moment,’ and paying attention to my breathing were activities I used to only engage in every once in a while when I had plenty of time at my disposal, they have become much more important activities for me over time.  I now seek the nourishment that meditation provides.  I look for the joy of being fully in the moment appreciating my breath and the sounds around me.  I find it shocking at times to observe that the world around me that I may sometimes block out or ignore can feel so alive once I let go of the incessant chatter in my head and choose to simply be present, right here and right now.  A great way to reset during a boring meeting, or at a time in which you feel anger boiling up inside, is to simply take a few deep breaths and observe those breaths and nothing else for a few seconds.

We live in a world that is constantly changing, and we seek to achieve more and more, but we go around trying to do that without truly paying attention to what is happening in the moment.  We strive for a better tomorrow, yet in constantly doing so we miss the days that are passing by.  We fail to appreciate that today we are better off than we were yesterday and we should be happy and grateful about it.  We forget that sometimes is time to reset, take a breath and simply be — be in the moment and not thinking about what will happen next or what happened yesterday.  Just appreciate this very moment we call present.  One of the most ironic things I’ve seen is that we spend weeks planning a great event, looking forward to it and how wonderful it will be, but when we are in the midst of the actual event our thoughts are elsewhere – wondering when the next great event will take place, or worrying about how much better dressed others are.  Let’s not lose sight of our present — at the end of our lives we realize it is all we ever had and will ever have.

According to meditators and scientist, a simple 20-30 minutes in the morning is all we need to make a big difference in our lives by learning to be present and mindful.  That’s less than 2% of our day for us to sit, feel our breathing, let go of all thinking, and that way reset and keep going with our lives feeling more nourished and alive than ever before.  The peaceful feeling I have after simply taking out that time in the mornings is good enough to convince me to wake up earlier, stop the urge to start doing, and simply sit.

“Don’t just do something, sit there!”


Cherish Today

Today you can rush to work, or you could choose to stop on your way and observe the morning, truly observe and feel it. Feel the air moving and observe how it makes the leaves on the trees flicker.  Observe how little animals move around, blissfuly unaware that the world is going to end one day for them.

Today you could get lost in thought and start the day by thinking about all the things that must be done, your plans for next week and next month.  You could even go on to think about how you will finally have a great time when you can take a vacation in 3 months.  Or you could instead take your time to enjoy the present moment and realize that life is perfect right this moment.  You are alive and have all the potential in the world within you.  Just as anything and anyone else in the world, you are made up purely of energetic atoms vibrating restlessly, giving you the power to create, inspire and enjoy each moment of the day.

Today you could feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, or you could instead feel lucky and thankful that you have the potential to contribute.  That there are millions of people around and you can touch their hearts through your work or simply by offering a smile and showing that you care.

Today you can have the same cup of tea you had yesterday, finish it up and move on.  Or you could close your eyes and let yourself feel your body warming up as the tea moves down your body, embrace the experience and focus on all the feelings and sensation in your body. Find the innocent and inquisitive nature of the child within you and don’t let any part of the experience slip away.

Today you can simply get through your day just as if it were just another day, or you can choose to feel alive and cherish every experience, being thankful for each one of them.  It is you who decide whether today will be truly special.

Let yourself cherish every little miracle this day has to offer.  Who knows, it may make you happier than the alternative.

Developing Compassion – How and Why?

Deep down we all have a few things in common, we want avoid suffering and instead we want to be happy and fulfilled.  The path we each take to get there is unique, but our end goal is the same.  Understanding this and keeping it in mind throughout my days is probably one of the most powerful things I have recently learned.

“A narrow perspective makes even a small problem unbearable.”
– Dalai Lama

I came across a video that was posted on YouTube a few weeks back in which a particular college student made some insulting remarks against the Asian American community in her school.  The remarks were offensive, insensitive and immature.  When I watched it I felt mixed feelings, I felt slightly insulted and sorry for her simultaneously.  That being said, what was most saddening to me was the responses people would leave in the video and across the web.

People who felt very offended went ahead and left hate messages and made remarks that were just as insulting, if not more so, to her.  They felt empowered by the fact that everyone else was in a state of outrage, and they felt they had the right to retaliate in a similar fashion.  This was most saddening to me.

With a narrow perspective, we respond to bad behavior by exhibiting even worse behavior, and then we justify it.  If we instead took the time to feel compassion for that person who is insulting us, and respond appropriately, we would come to a much more dignified solution to the problem.  Instead of spreading hate, we would put and end to it.  More importantly, by showing love and compassion even towards those who offend us we make a powerful statement that others will remember.  This sort of influence is what we need if we ever want to achieve peaceful living.

Now, this all sounds good and pretty, you may say, but why should I care?  Fair question.  The point is, if you are going to be selfish at least be selfish in a wise way (as the Dalai Lama would say).  Think about your long-term happiness, not the very moment.  If you respond in a compassionate way to hateful behavior, the rewards are huge:

  • You gain peace of mind
  • Those around you learn from you, hence making your life better in the longer term
  • You gain respect from others
  • You will feel more fulfilled as time goes
  • Your perspective starts changing, so things become easier to deal with
  • Instead of wasting time and energy with hate, you will have that energy to work towards achieving your goals
  • If you are in a leadership position, being compassionate does not mean you will be perceived as weak.  Quite the opposite, showing compassion can be seen as a sign of strength and when carried effectively it inspires others to work better and listen to you.

In the end, it is through compassion that we will make a better living for ourselves.  We may never become quite like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, or Jesus, but we can nevertheless reap some rewards for our personal lives by becoming more compassionate and loving.  We will reduce our levels of stress which will improve the quality of our lives and allow us to enjoy each day more and more.

I recently began a routine to start each day saying the following quote, and often re-read and repeat it throughout the day as I feel like I need it.  Sometimes when dealing with difficult situations or people I say it over and over to myself.  The benefits of simply doing this are amazing, and I encourage everyone to give it a try:

“Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on compassion.  I have much to learn about compassionate behavior and I’m looking forward to continue forging a better future for others and myself with it.