This is the third episode in a journal chronicling my silent journey during Silent Awakenings.
I went to bed right at 10pm last night. I’d read for 30 minutes, was tired, and looked forward to a lovely night’s sleep. My lovely night’s sleep was short lived, to the tune of 90 minutes. I awoke with acute pain behind my right eye, a migraine. I tossed, turned, got up, went to the bathroom, drank water, got back in bed. I think it was a combination of too much sun, too much tea, and not enough water. I had a migraine. It continued for hours. At about 3am I got up, turned off my morning alarm, knowing I’d be in no shape to get up at 5am, drank more water, and made a plan.
It was time to practice Deepak’s heling by being The Silent Witness. I got back in bed and began to focus on the sensation of my breathing in and out. I often imagine my breath as tiny, beautifully colored particles flooding my entire body when I bring awareness to my breath. I did that this time, but also began to silently chant “witness” with each breath. Eventually I was aware of witnessing myself in bed breathing. (After the fact, to be honest, I imagined myself as a bad-ass Wakanda warrior dressed in a skin-tight black jumpsuit with giant red wings.) With each breath, with each “witness” the pain began to subside. I recognized it and let it go with each breath. It began to lower to a dull pain. The next thing I knew it was 5:30am and I opened my eyes. I didn’t feel that I had been asleep because I didn’t have the normal sensation of waking. I felt refreshed, my mind calm and focused, and the pain nearly gone. I believe I was in the gap for about two hours.
I knew that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep, but I took my time getting out of bed and getting ready. I went for an easy walk on the dunes under beautiful blue skies and a few white puffy clouds, got breakfast and went to morning group meditation. I was joined by a beautiful Blue Jay on my walk to breakfast. It was smaller and more delicate than the sassy, screechy Scrub Jays at home, so I’m labeling it Blue Jay. It perched on a wire fence right next to me and gave me a nice 360-degree view of its lovely feathers. Then it hopped onto the walkway in front of me and skipped along for several yards before perching next to me again. Yesterday I had a similar walking companion experience with a young seagull. The day before it was the woodpecker show.
I’ve never had so many birds drawn to me before. It made me recall the Roman goddess Diana, the protector of animals and babies. She is the archetype with whom I identify. I am drawn to animals and them to me. I can calm babies. This led perfectly into our morning talk.
Meditation 1.0 – Meditation wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be since I’d only gotten about 90 minutes of sleep last night. Amazingly, I wasn’t the one snoring so loud the entire room could hear it. One thing that has brought some ease to my practice this week is Deepak telling us that thoughts are a normal and integral part of meditation. You can’t have meditation without them. If you just concentrated hard all the time on a mantra you’d end up with a headache (oops…). Meditating is like gentle waves in the ocean. You say your mantra or focus on your breath (top of wave), a thought comes in (bottom of wave), that little space in between waves (the gap). It is natural to have thoughts. It is the practice of the silence between where you cultivate all the good stuff. Then you reap the benefits off your meditation cushion.
“At this very moment, the world is blossoming into its infinite variety before falling silent in amazement at the miracle it has just achieved.” Deepak Chopra
Awaken to Nature – Nature is the greatest teacher. I love being in (but not sleeping in or having it sleep with me) nature. In my training in Ayurveda, we learned that we are all nature. There is no separation between us and nature. Ayurveda teaches us that the Mahabutas – the building blocks of life – are air, ether, fire, water and earth. Everything in our environment is made of these elements. It’s logical then that nature can heal us and take us back to our whole state.
Dr. David Simon, and integrated MD and co-founder of the Chopra Center said that talking about nature isn’t the same as immersing yourself in it. You can talk about a bird chirping, but you can’t experience it. Nature sounds are primordial sounds that can heal us and are best experienced while we are in silence.
Our relationship with animals is also part of awakening to nature. I’ve given a good pet to just about every beach dog I’ve passed since arriving in Asilomar. Dr. Linda Bender, who wrote Animal Wisdom: Learning from the Spiritual Lives of Animals, was sitting next to me during this morning’s session. Her book offers scientific facts about animal’s abilities and stories about our connection with them. She gives advice on how to deepen our relationships and communicate on a deeper level with them. This is right up my alley. Whenever anyone asks what my superpower would be if I could choose one, I say to be able to speak with animals. Another book, Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle, was sited as an example of a great children’s book about our relationship with animals.
“Out of silence, nature manifests the world of vibration. Everything that we experience is an expression of consciousness vibrating. Our child’s smile, a sunflower, a wave of sadness, and a flash of insight are all expressions of nature’s impulse to create.” David Simon
My Heart is in My Hand – I realized this morning that it has been five full days since I’ve been with my family. Oddly I don’t miss them as much as I do on a day-to-day basis when we are communicating often. I feel that they’re with me on this journey. Bill and the girls gave me a ring for Mother’s Day this year (Shout out to personal shopper Maddie.) that has a heart cut out and three bands circling it, representing each one of them. I usually wear it with the heart facing up, but all this week it has been spinning around so the heart is facing in. When I close my palm, I give the heart an embrace. I feel Bill, Isabella and Maddie’s love and support, along with that of my extended family and friends from home who know I’m on this experience, every moment of every day. In terms of the kitties: I feel Alice’s annoyance and desire to eat a plant and then puke it up on the floor. I’m happy Rosie has no concept of time and will think I just went to the gym or yoga studio for a class.
Dune – Not the super-long-and-what-I-found-ultimately-weird-and-boring-but-my-husband-loves-movie, but the restored habitat at the beach. Well, Dunes, to be correct. I went on a guided walk with a California State Parks specialist on the beach dunes. It really is amazing how they’ve completely restored the dunes, an effort that was only started in earnest in the 1980s. The dunes are now in a maintenance phase, but they sure do need a lot of maintenance. We even walked through the green house and shade house where the federally-and state-protected endangered plant species are grown. They are growing and planting as many Monterey Pines as possible since eighty percent of the pine forest in Monterey was decimated by the Pitch Canker Disease brought in on firewood and distributed by beetles and other critters (like inchworms). I took the time to not only visually appreciate, but touch and feel many plants. (I was secretly happy that I didn’t see the elusive black legless lizard who masquerades as a snake. I may have broken my silence with a yelp if one slithered across my foot.)
Beach Comber – I spent the afternoon by myself walking along, an in, the surf. It felt so good to have warm sand under my feet and between my toes. The weather has been unexpected and amazing, so warm that I am working up quite a sweat during my afternoon walks on the beach. The cool water felt good on my feet and I got far wetter than planned. That’s waves for you!
I played with a lot of beach dogs today. Two asked me to toss their balls into the surf, brought them back, buried them in the sand, and then looked at me expectantly: “Well, hooman, dig it up and toss it again.” Another dog, a golden retriever, wouldn’t stop licking my left hand. Her mom said, “She really likes diamonds,” pointing to my wedding ring. A corgie looked like she was dressed to impress, and some doggie siblings were play fighting over who got the ball. Beach dogs may be the happiest dogs on the face of the earth. They certainly brought me happiness today.
Oh, So Stinky – Seriously, I didn’t expect this warm weather. The beach here also stinks something fierce. There is more seaweed on the beach decomposing than I’ve ever seen in my life. In a word, it reeks! You guessed it, I and my clothing also reeked. I am at Asilomar a total of 10 days. I planned to wear each pair of pants twice. I didn’t bring as many athletic socks as warm wool socks because I figured the high temp each day was going to be in the low 60s as was forecasted. I transformed into Cinderella this afternoon and washed pants, socks and sports bras in the sink. There are clothes hanging everywhere. I’m hoping and praying that they’ll dry because nothing ever seems to dry here. There’s too much moisture in the air. Going with the flow.
If It ain’t Scottish… – Bagpipes were playing on my walk to tonight’s meditation. The Inn at Spanish Bay plays in the last golfers on the course every day. It was being carried on the wind. Pretty cool.
Meditation 2.0 (Beach Version) – We had the option to practice group meditation at the beach during sunset this evening. It was warm when I arrived, but cold by the end. Luckily, I bundled with a warm jacket and hat, but I was still chilly. Because there was no back support I chose to meditate in a constructive rest position (on back, feet flat on the ground placed wide on the sides of the mat, knees touching). We began meditating and I could hear children laughing, dogs barking, and the sound of the waves crashing. Then just the waves crashing. All of sudden, what seemed just minutes after, meditation was over. I felt calm, relaxed and focused. I felt as if I had become one with the waves. It was beautiful.
The Deepak and Suhas Show – Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar is an Ayurvedic MD with a practice in Santa Cruz, CA and the author of several books on ayurvedic practices in healthcare. He was one of my ayurvedic teachers during my certification and can speak Sanskrit so fast that it all sounds like one long 115- character word. Sometimes he even forgets to translate.
Deepak and Suhas had an informal discussion this evening on bringing spirituality into healthcare. It was sort of like the two of them were just sitting in someone’s living room having a lively discussion. They both can have goofy senses of humor and I could tell were really enjoying themselves, as were all of us being witness to it.
It was very interesting to listen to these two MDs talk about their journeys with traditional medicine and ayurvedic medicine/practices. Dr. Suhas discussed how Ayurveda was essentially created to dispel the fear of death by improving life. They both commented on the fact that no one teaches us how to be happy and healthy from birth. We are born with this innate knowledge, but then our parents and societal norms teach us to do things differently. We need to get the information about Ayurveda into the hands of Western medicine, so it is taught in schools and into the hands of parents, so they can bring their children up with these practices.
I liked Dr. Suhas’ statement that “You can’t have natural health for unnatural living.” This was preceded by a discussion of our microbiomes. The word microbiome is defined as the collection of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment, creating a sort-of “mini-ecosystem.” Our human microbiome is made up of communities of symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic bacteria (along with funghi and viruses), all of which call our bodies home. What scientists have recently come to understand is that the makeup and overall health of your microbiome as a whole determines whether pathogens in the gut coexist peacefully, or cause disease. (www.environmedica.com)
In Deepak’s book The Healing Self, he sites research that shows that only three percent of the causes of Alzheimer’s is genetically-based. Inflammation and lifestyle account for the other ninety-seven percent. Most people think our brains are what control mental illness, but seventy percent of serotonin is produced in our guts. What we eat matters! There are microbiome testing companies now that can test the critters in your gut to tell you what foods are OK for you to eat and what foods your body can’t break down, so they cause low-grade inflammation. Low-grade inflammation is the root cause of just about every disease out there, including obesity, depression, and anxiety. It seems like a good investment to get tested, and tested young, if you have the opportunity.
Yoga Nidra – It was interesting to hear that Deepak practices Yoga Nidra every evening. I trained in Yoga Nidra earlier this year and have been teaching a class for a while. I absolutely love it. I think The Chopra Foundation should fund a long-term Yoga Nidra study on its affects on the level of stress and anxiety in children. I was shocked to see how much anxiety and depression is prevalent on college campuses when my girls were in college. I would like to teach sixth graders yoga nidra for 20 minutes every day during the school week and continue the practice all the way through high school. The study would continue to follow them for the next four years while they self-practice. Can you imagine the data we would get? My hypothesis is far less anxiety and depression and greater physical, mental and social health. Let’s do this!!!
This is what Deepak does every night before he goes to sleep and recommends that we do the same:
- Recapitulates while seated in bed (Silently remembering the events of the day without judgement.)
- Silently repeats his manta to himself for about five minutes with his eyes open.
- Asks “What is my experience of existence right now?” The answer will be what he can see with his eyes, forms, colors, a scene, etc.
- Closes his eyes and turns his attention to what he can hear (clock ticking, pet, partner breathing, etc.).
- Turns his attention to bodily sensations (i.e. feel of skin on the sheets).
- Turns his attention to the sensation of his breath and intuitively knows that his existence is a sensation.
- Lies down and rests in infinite being. Deep sleep is the closest we get to pure consciousness other than the gap in meditation.
Starry Starry Night – The stars were shining bright again, lighting the path back to Stuck-Up Inn, and the crickets were serenading us. When Hillary and I approached the cabin, we both dropped to the ground commando-style at the exact moment to avoid dreaded inchworms hanging from the trees. We laughed so hard we couldn’t stand upright again. We will soon be staring in Crouching Tiger Hidden Worm.
About the Author
Rochelle Barcellona is an animal-loving, family-and-friends-embracing, yoga-nidra-meditation-and-ayurveda-teaching, happy red-headed yogi who owns Nourish Mind Body & Spirit in Northern California. You may learn more about Rochelle here. Rochelle may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and 916-353-5200.