October Still


There are about fifteen tables in the dining room at the ashram.  The seven or so residents and swamis sometimes eat in the Buddha Study, a separate room just off the dining room but the rest of the 31 people at the ashram right now eat dispersed amongst those fifteen tables for three meals a day.  With everyone coming and going we don’t all eat at exactly the same time.  I myself have been pulling my tired body out of bed at approximately 8:07 the last couple of mornings, barely giving myself time for the five minute walk to mandala house to eat breakfast and start Karma Yoga at 8:30 let alone get ready in the morning.  Ah, the ebbs and flows of ashram life. 

The dining room therefore generally has about one person at each table.  Most people sit at around the same place.  I used to always sit at a table just a row away from the windows, facing the view or, if someone hadn’t taken the spot already, right directly in front of the statue of Tara, the Tibetan Buddhist Goddess of compassion.  I’ve spent many meals at that row of tables.  During the YDC I was often in the silent company of my dear “family”: my soul siblings Lisa and Frederic.  The springtime came and with it the influx of fellow karma yogis, wordlessly taking in three meals a day of nourishment.  Every two weeks would see another group of seekers, joining me at the tables I usually picked. 

 Summer time came and the population of the ashram expanded.   Karma Yogis, people on courses, and residents from other centres all flocked to the ashram.  Space in the dining room was at a premium with the accommodations crew often ensuring there would be enough chairs for everyone should it be rainy and outdoor seating not an option.  Occasionally someone would swiftly adjust the angle of each table to open a pathway from the food at the back to the tables closer to the windows; the tables I usually chose.

Then somewhere along the way I stopped trying to navigate my way to my once chosen spots.  I simply plated up my food, grabbed my cutlery, and picked a spot right near the back.  Now, this was not a sly way to ensure I would be closer to the food and therefore quicker to get seconds, no, this was an honest to goodness change for the sake of change.  I challenged my idea of sitting where I would have what I considered the best view.  Every spot in that dining room has a spectacular view with Kootenay Lake shining out in all its glory and the Purcell Mountains hemming in behind it.  Or perhaps I’ll be facing North and see the rich array of trees which, especially at this time of year, offer visual delight in their colours and textures with squirrels and woodpeckers enjoying them just as  much as me.  Regardless, I’m going to have a fabulous meal even if I look up and see the back of a few people’s heads.

It would be interesting if I would have noted this change somewhere and could look back and see when it happened.  I bet that other things were changing in my mind then as well and that this was simply an external manifestation of some subtle inner change.  Perhaps I was becoming more accepting, realizing that no matter what my external circumstances are, my internal world – ie, my experience of a meal – will not be effected.

Today I went to lunch and discovered all the prime spots, my new ones with little walking distance, were all taken.  There were some only one row in but I spotted someone I needed to whisper something to and walked over to her.  After gently telling her my message I looked around and noticed no one was sitting at the old table I so often used to haunt.  I glanced beside me and saw an empty spot right close by but instead decided to walk forward to mt old row of tables, mentally picking first an angled chair towards the southwest but then changing my mind and sitting beside it, facing more west, facing Tara.  Ok then, what does this mean?  Symbolically it is a representation of my more compassionate attitude towards myself and others lately.  Perhaps sitting here for a meal, facing this Goddess of compassion is a sign that these recent changes will be lasting.  Perhaps it’s also a sign of the cycles inherent in all of life. 

Sitting in a certain area of the dining room for so long then shifting perspectives to eventually find my way back for a meal or two I wonder why is it that people generally sit in the same places?  I could argue that it’s a biological thing with certain ideas firing brain synapses and then forming a pathway making it easier for the same thought to move through my consciousness the next time it is given the opportunity to present itself.  What does it mean when change happens?  Do those troughs of electrical impulses eventually get smeared away should I decide to pick something different every time?

A recent satsang video had Swami Radhananda, currently away on a book tour, talking about how change is hard.  It really and truly is.  My time in Alberta certainly showed me that.  I look at the person I am here and when I try to apply that person to a temporary life in Lethbridge I struggle.  It’s the small, subtle changes that are difficult to implement.  I’ve been a certain way for so long with people I’ve known my whole life that it’s very hard to even know what it would look like to do something differently.  I wonder if that’s why not moving back to Lethbridge appeals to me so much.  I’m bolstered by my victories here and my knowing that change is not only possible but inevitable.  Every small victory counts.  Say, for example, switching which spot I sit at dinner.



A particularly interesting part of me is watching how I adapt in so many situations in order to make others feel comfortable.  Well, at least, my definition of comfortable and what would make me feel comfortable.  A couple came into the bookstore a few weeks ago and wandered around, fingering the jewellery and making purchases for their grandchildren.  The wife commented on a wall hanging in the store, an Om symbol and its inspirational saying under it: “Easier said than done,” she said jokingly but expressing her appreciation for the variations of hangings.  “Yeah, they’re nice,” I automatically reply.  No, they’re not, I immediately think in my head.  They’re a gimmicky material possession to hang on the wall of a house rather than a truth to feel in the heart.  Ok, some people may like this kind of thing and use it to externally manifest the bubblings of positive statements and quotations that do exist internally as well.  I can respect people’s desires for owning wall hangings such as these.  I quietly rescind my statement in case she even heard the original comment anyway over the bangle of her jewellery-laden fingers and wrists.  Who did I say it for anyway? : “They’re nice”.  Surely not to make her feel more comfortable, she wasn’t listening anyway.  It must have been for me. 

It’s a quiet, drizzly day signalling the end of summer.  She gregariously translates her husband’s hushed hindi comments that she lower the decibel of her voice in this tranquil store. “Oh, it’s just the rain that makes it seem quieter today,”  I’m making justifications for her again, assuming that she needs my comments to feel as though she can exist the way she is with her expression of preferences of products for sale and general convivial attitude.

Why am I doing this?  Why am I under the illusion that first of all I can, and secondly that I need, to justify her expressiveness.  It’s not, then, about others’ comfort at all but rather about my own.  It’s about my habit of reflecting back outwards what I see rather than gazing internally to express myself.  It’s about entrainment.  Entrainment, similar to entanglement, in which two atoms/cells/beings/whatevers adjust their vibration to match each others.  But what happens when I observe external vibrations and match them without my vibration being matched also?  Loss of identity is what happens.

I sure had the opportunity to witness this happening this past week in Alberta.  All the change and growth in the world won’t really amount to much if I don’t embody it in situations other than living here.  As I drove back west, into the comforting, placid mountains I felt my mood rise higher and higher.  Alberta, what did you do to me?  Alright, alright, it wasn’t you, Alberta, not this time.  I take full responsibility for not taking any responsibility.  I see how my trip was a series of events that I placed myself in rather than actively taking part in.  It felt rather disempowering yet I understand how I could have behaved exactly the same way and taken part in exactly the same events, and with a slight mind-shift, would have come away with a completely different experience of the week.  Nevertheless, I felt downright shaken by Thursday evening with my lowering confidence levels and increasing anxiety.  Looking back I see how my willingness to place myself in dependant roles and then judge myself lands me in that place.  I am, after all, an only daughter with three older brothers; it’s natural that I have habituated that in my being.  Now, however, I take back my independence that I so easily express and live out here.  Here, in this community that I’ve chosen all by myself.  Here, where independence is fostered and expected.  I’ve a rich artillery of tools for self-empowerment to engage in the future, coupled with my own inner strength and knowing that I can be whatever I want to be and those I love will accept me.

It’s really wonderful to be back home.  My birthday was a veritable love-showering (even for someone who likes to be treated special).  A friend gave me a card with a Hafiz quotation summing my week up perfectly:

Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
With veracity and love

My tendency to judge as right or wrong is merely a habit comparing reality with conditioned preferences.  Luckily I get to choose what it means to have independence and ultimately how I live my life.

My birthday evening coincided with movie night.  But first, after supper, I quickely went back to my room for a bit to unpack and clean up, feeling grateful for this precious room that I call my own, filled with tokens of external representations of my true inner self.  Jim always says that we never really change and that our true essence is the same from the time we were born.  Having not remembered myself from infancy I have the tendency to disagree.  I am changing and growing all the time, as evidenced by my place of residence being so different than what I was willing to express in years past.  I left enough mess to recognize the place and as movie-time approached I bounded up the hill back to Mandala house, periodically passing growing mounds of bear scat.  Ah, it’s good to be home.