First, Happy 80th Birthday to HHDL! I can't believe he is 80! He honestly looks and carries himself as a younger being, and I am sure it's because of all the meditation, laughing, happiness, and compassion that he surrounds himself with.
Next, I would like to just relay a few things from my last week in India! My group presented our project on Tibetan Buddhism's definition of love and compassion. I think it went really well. As part of the class we also had to write a paper expanding on our project. I attached the paper to this blog post. I expanded on the Tibetan Buddhist notions of love and compassion as well as their relation to intimacy. I discussed affectionate love and the inherent problems of it due to its strong connection with attachment and impermanence. It is comparable to "Romantic love" in the West. After this, I returned to the discussion of compassion and loving-kindness, the superior forces of love in this world. I talked about how to integrate compassion into our daily lives (specifically through compassion meditation) and its benefits (both through a Buddhist lens and scientific perspective). This part was most interesting to me because I incorporated the compassion meditation that my own teacher on this trip developed. It is a secular type of meditation that anyone can try. He developed it at Emory University to help students combat depression. It is now being studied for its multitudinous health benefits, which I explore in the paper. It is so cool that this meditation that my teacher developed is now being spread around the U.S. to help thousands of people cultivate compassion and greater happiness. It’s awesome that my teacher took the Buddhist traditions of a certain type of meditation and cultivated it into a non-religious framework. I am so excited to engage in these meditations at meditation club next semester as well as the monastery close to campus that my teacher founded.
After our project, we spent the last few days relaxing and wrapping up. We had our last day of class with our monk students who we taught English (saying bye to them was hard because I really did enjoy teaching them, especially the neuroscience part!). We also said our goodbyes to the monks who we ate our meals with and we had a ceremony in the prayer hall, which was quite a surprise! We were taken into the huge prayer hall where thousands of monks were chanting and the rinpoche sat in a huge chair adorned in gold and other painted decorations (this rinpoche is the reincarnation of HHDL's senior tutor. He is very high up in the rankings here, but is only in his early twenties). The thousands of monks clapped for us while we received our ka-ta from the rinpoche and a Buddha statue, which I can't wait to bring to Emory for my dorm room next year! It was a great send-off ceremony and so touching.
Regardless, these last couple weeks back home have been quite restorative. I have been sleeping a lot. I have met up with all of my high school friends, eaten at amazing restaurants downtown, and attended an amazing concert with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett (it was really incredible). I have returned to my yoga practice at the beloved Forever OM yoga studio in my hometown. I have been weight lifting and regaining my strength. I went to the doctor to make sure all is well, and all is well, except my vitamin D levels are low. I was shocked by that news because I have written extensively on here about the importance of Vitamin D. I had been supplementing during the school year, but I stopped once the weather got hot in Atlanta and I was tanning more, but I guess that still isn’t enough. I am going to order Thorne Vitamin D supplements to try to get my levels back up. Having low vitamin D levels can affect one’s mood as well as many other aspects of health so it really is important to supplement and get enough sun. Since I am dark complected it is harder for me to absorb vitamin D through my skin so I realize now that I really need to keep up with my supplementation. I have discussed it on here before and Thorne really is a great brand for any vitamin supplementation needs.
I have not been keeping up with my meditation as much as I would have liked, but I will get back into it again for sure, even if it just 30 minutes 5 times a week instead of every day. I will be heading to California this weekend to visit a friend so I will recount that in a blog post soon.
Overall, life is good. This trip was really transformative and I know that sounds cheesy, but it really has given me a new perspective. It really taught me to pause, step back, and assess before reacting. It taught me to come into things with love and compassion. It taught me that emotions are good to express. We are all human. This is part of our condition. But it’s noticing these emotions and the causes for their fluctuations that is so integral. We can’t abandon emotions altogether. We thrive and depend on them. It’s just not getting attached to the states. Not getting attached to the sadness or the happiness, because these are all impermanent. They rise and fall. But we should still notice them, and especially appreciate when we are happy. If sadness and hurt are impermanent and we can come to understand this, it is easier to move forward into the states of forgiveness and love. We all want love, every human craves this at its core. It’s our essence. We find happiness and freedom from suffering through love. But it’s exploring and accessing the right types of love that are key. Straying away from the attachment side and finding “something” in another person, as hard as that is. See we can access that “something” that key to happiness in anyone and everyone we meet. It takes cultivation and this all takes time and patience. It’s not easy to begin to try to love with those we have the toughest relationships with. That’s why in Buddhism they recommend starting with those we already care for and deepening the love to a place of compassion and understanding. And even further. Getting to a place where you don’t merely wish for people to be free from suffering, but you actively work to alleviate their suffering and its spontaneous. It comes out of instinct, not force.
Once we cultivate it with those closest to us, we can work on neutral people we encounter in our daily lives, and our “enemies”. But even our enemies aren’t our enemies. They are really are closest friends because they are teaching us something. They are either teaching us something we lack in ourselves or are trying to find in someone else. They push our buttons. They push those things that we need to work on most in ourselves. So really they are our greatest tools for growth. It’s easy to live life when you’re surrounded by those you love because they don’t challenge you at the same level that your enemies do. If you look at your enemies and the “suffering” they create as a tool for expanding your consciousness, then the “bad” events really don’t seem so serious. It creates such a perspective change. It’s all perspective. Even “bad” has a good side. It’s like the yin and yang. There’s always another side. A give and take. I am not saying it’s easy and it definitely takes day-to-day work, but working on ourselves first is really the only thing we should be doing. We try to help others, but really we should just be working on ourselves. Because all anyone else really needs from us is our love and compassion, not advice and words.
After this trip I am learning how fragile life really is. It is such a waste to spend each day wishing for something else or wishing time away. It is such a waste to maintain anger towards someone. After all, it’s only you holding onto it and at the end of the day, your frustrations and afflictive emotions towards someone else are just hurting you at the most basic level. SO we should release it and let go. We should work towards loving and being a little kinder. To ourselves and others. Because we all need it. It’s hard to always access and think about the deeper meanings of life, but if we can keep those ideals in the back of our minds at all times and strive towards them, we will achieve greater well-being, but our communities at large will as well.
That’s all I have for today. This trip was such a great run and summer is going so well. I can’t wait to write more. Also, if you are interested in more talks about how to create purpose in our life, check out this great video here. It is a short, philosophical tedtalk by my English teacher from high school and it really is poignant!
If you want more of my contemplations on a daily basis, check out my new Tumblr account: http://stephaniewellbeing.tumblr.com/
May you have a peaceful day full of happiness and love towards yourself and everyone else.