Mint on Green in Light: Moments of Being (+ Video)

Mint tea bag pre sunset post dinner at Spirit Rock in December.IMG_1513_tea bag_300_smaller

That kind of light at that time of day
I remember meeting Selby that August day in 1993, in the Stebbins Berkeley co-op kitchen.  She was making a peanut butter sandwich, wearing a flannel shirt and rolled up jeans way before high risers were trendy and I thought: this lady is cool and sexy and has aura, I want to be her friend. There was not exactly a ray of afternoon sunshine coming through the window, but that is how it felt and feels when I think of Selby– that kind of light at that time of day embracing you with love.

Shutters that open and close 
It’s been over 11 years now, but if you go to the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, with your back to the building — walk out and take a left, go up one block, cross the street and there — there should be a food stand with the most delicious panini. Did I mention that the windows of Institut du Monde Arabe are 240 motor-controlled apertures? Like a camera they open and close in relation to the light.

Paris, L'Institut du Monde Arabe, Jean Nouvel
Image of Institut du Monde Arabe shutters taken by batigolix, found on flickr and used via CC licence.

I was told this and went location scouting on my 1999 turning 2000 trip to Paris. It was breathtaking and I knew I wanted to share.  For those of you who’ve seen my film the to do list confessions, you will now notice this perhaps. And I did have a friend report that as of 5 years ago, the panini stand was still there, and still delicious.

Still from the to do list confessions (film): Outside Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris, France)

A few months ago I was at a school yard playing with my niece and nephew. We took a break from the playground and ran in the grass, did yoga, cartwheels that felt scary and then empowering, running, running out of breathe. While in a group downward dog my niece says, “The grass is dirty”. Her brother quickly agrees. I tell them that’s what washing up later is for. And heck, when I was a kid I probably ate grass. My niece, who is very by the rules, gets a twinkle in her eyes but asks, “Shall we eat the grass too? Hey, that’s kind of like when we put mint in our water, but not exactly”. Oops.  I tell her that I think the grass has changed a lot in the years and may not be as clean to eat (on occasion).  Now with all my stories of recalling specific places and instances, I can’t remember when and if I did eat grass, but it is highly likely. Just as there are so many memories that are not quite mine, but borrowed from conversations overhead in passion. One that was not borrowed but found. From the grass we went back to the playground and my niece confessed that she wanted to do a flip on the gymnastic bar but was scared. I showed her a secret way: cup your hand in between your eyebrows where you’ll find your third eye and focus your concentration on what you want to do.  Then take a deep breathe and extend your hand outwards in front of you, like you are pulling energy from your third eye and connecting into the world.  Repeat this movement and as you breathe in and out, let energy channel within you and find your spirit. We did this for three breathes and she said she was still scared. I confirmed that I would be holding her the whole time and that she may just feel better if she tried it, but she can do whatever she wants. She said “Ok”. “Wait”. The sun was about to set, she took the secret way and then told me she was ready.  The next day she got really frustrated with her brother. “R frustrates me sometimes. He is not exercising and he is not going to grow!” I tell her, well, he may frustrate you, but you have to understand that you can choose how you react. So, feel how you feel, but you are in charge and empowered to respond to the frustration or not, that has nothing to do with him. My niece responds, “I get it, I am empowered. I have the power. Because I’m the eldest right?”

Mint on Green in Light



Special Place Dance (2 Films Included)

She is placing stickers in a sticker book. My mom got the kiddos gifts as they visit this weekend. Their great aunt grandmother has just passed away. All the kiddos know is that they took a long car ride and now are visiting ajji (their grandmother, my mom) in the city they moved from, the city in which they were born.

Two weeks ago it was late at night and my nephew was upset because although it was nighttime he wanted to go to a “special place”, i.e. somewhere fun, i.e. the park. I said to him, you know, it is not good to go to bed upset, if you go to bed with happy thoughts that will be nicer for your dreams. I suggest that we recount 3  things he is grateful for, i.e. what is  something wonderful that  you are thankful for. “Nothing, because we can’t go to a special place”. I start. “Well, did you know I was coming and we would dance together? “Oh yeah, that was special, and fun”.

Ok, what else?

I had grapes today and I like grapes.  I’m still allergic to raspberry berries though ok?

We make it all the way up to 10, my favorite being how he visited ajji and his old house in long beach, in his imagination, earlier in the day. As he goes to sleep I sing him my version of “My Favorite Things”. “Melina, and Rohan and Kai Kai and swimming. Yoga and yogurt and laughing and film. M-e-d-i-t-a-t-i-o-n and green plants galore….”

“Excuse me, what is meditation?”

Excellent question, would you like to experience this? I ask him to close his eyes and imagine an ocean. And sand. White sand and blue blue water. He is on the beach and his sister is close by and they are building a sand castle. She is close by but also far enough that he can really hear the sound of the ocean (insert ocean noise here). The sun is gently showering his back and a light breeze dances on his skin (add in cuddling effects here)…the guided meditation continues as he falls asleep.

Kiddos = niece (5), nephew (almost 4), nephew (almost 7 months).

Mina-beana-kamina (niece) is telling me what everyone is doing while she is playing with the stickers. Rohanie (as we call  him with an eee ending) is sleeping and I am sure my mom got him stickers too. Applecore is hanging out with both his grandma’s in my mom’s so cal rose and tulsi plant garden. Parents are somewhere. She giggles if I ask if they went on a romantic walk.

cherry blossom with filter

Applecore is my nickname for the the littlest one. Originally this name came as an alternative to the then name his siblings (and parents!) had given him- PooPooHead.  As a result of the Applecore naming, I have now been eating more apples, in honor of Applecore, and my niece has decided to abandon PooPooHead for Applecore, or Kai Kai, as we also like to call him. I had insisted then and still now that she can call him whatever she wants and should not be swayed by me, but is free to do as she wishes, within reason. Like when she tells me, I like visiting your small house because “we can do whatever we want”. I reflect back, “whatever you want, within reason.”  Last visit I explained that in a city we can indeed go for a walk at night. Since I live in a second story unit with lots of window, indeed she saw this was true. “Look at all the people on the street and it is night time!” She revised her initial understanding and after dinner suggested we go outside. I was trying to assess if this was about going outside or getting ice cream and the conclusion was, it was both. And walking, that is another thing we do in the city. And good thing for that because the Skeechers sign then automagically reveals itself to really be a spaceship and other things along our walk are part of the clues.  We agree next time they should visit in the daytime, so we can hunt for more clues outside, for longer, just like Little Einsteins.

Chatting on the phone with Melina, I bring the unicorns into the conversation. She asks, “Why do you think Rohan does not like unicorns so much?”  I protest and insist that he does, in fact he asked me to get him one. I gave her one for her birthday. I think he really is inclining towards dolphins. We are in the process of exploring this.  “What does inclining mean?”

I ask Melina if she thinks unicorns are magical. Yes, for sure they are. I tell her she is magical and I miss her. She says, “I miss you too you know.” 5 years old, in moments this little girl has grown. The day after she turned five she wiggled her toes to show me she can make the toes into shapes. She knows my birthday is coming up and when I ask her to guess how old I will be she puts her clever hat on and asks, how old are you now? (last year I was 5, bc that was one year older than her and one year younger than her mommy). I say 35. She tells me,  “Ok” and then tells me that I will be 36. I pause.  Am I really 35? 2011-1975. Yup it is true.

Before we get off the phone, my niece insists: When I see you next time we should do the ho ho ha ha ha dance, ok? But I know you like to call it the ha ha ho ho ho dance. That is ok, we can still be friends even if we do laughter club differently.  Right?

Here is the film I made for Magical Melina when she was a baby in the belly. Up until recently, she used to find the deer eyes – when they turn into hearts – kind of scary. Now that she is used to it, “I am no longer afraid, and I love it”.


This film is for a Special Place Dance:

Dedication: A pre-birthday celebration for Erika and Jazmin…and Angelisa because I never quite feel like you are a Libra anyway. Thank you for teaching me not only how to love, but how to receive.

Art work by Ladybug K, Magical Melina, Radiant Rohan and my mother’s feet. Dharma Talk Sampled: Buddhist Meditation teacher Howard Cohn.
Music/Edit etc : Kirthi Nath.

New Years Eve Monastic Retreat: Gem Moments, Haiku and Sharon Salzberg

Note: Like a good non-linear storyteller I have written this blog about my New Years Eve meditation retreat and reference an earlier Spirit Rock retreat…Spirit Rock blog to be written, as well an animation from pictures I took on the New Years Retreat. I’ll include some teasers in this post, but keep your eyes alert and rss/fb feeds on active watch for the new posts. (You can also subscribe to these posts by email feed so all you have to do is note when you get an email!)

NYE_SunPanel_blkbgNYE Panel_redtree_1_blkbg

Fade In: Dec 12, 2010, afternoon, Spirit Rock…I was just getting into the groove and then suddenly the retreat led by Howard Cohn and Mary Grace Orr was over. Instead of going down the rabbit hole of I did not go deep enough which is really the I’m not good enough story, I focused on integrating smoothly back into daily life and soon after found my way to a 7-day retreat over the New Years holiday.  Before we get there, I have a snapshot moment to share with you. Consider it a foreshadowing event, or an expression of how the universe paints beautiful songs in the skies and if we are present to witness and take in a particular note, when combined with another that comes later in time, we experience the melody of synchronicity.

I don’t have a car and most times I have gone to Spirit Rock, I have ended up carpooling with people in the sangha I did not actually know by name or conversation. This time a lovely woman Andrea gave me a ride, and on the ride there and back vibrant conversation ensued. As we were leaving the retreat grounds she asked, “have you stopped in the yurt with pictures of the various teachers who have passed through Spirit Rock—there is a picture of Howie (our home sangha teacher) from back in the day!” Upon entering the yurt we noticed that there was an entire wall dedicated to women teachers. My eyes took a beeline to the right side middle pane …there was a small Indian woman smiling. Andrea told me her name was Dipa Ma and she was known to beam with loving kindness and compassion. I said, “Wait, like Amma?” Andrea said, “Yes, like Amma.” Note to self: look up Dipa Ma when you get home.

Several years ago I saw a vision: I was at the edge of a green hill (ala my emotional imagination of a setting from Virgina Woolf’s Moments of Being). There was a younger middle-aged Indian woman in a white sari with long black flowing hair and me. The Indian woman was graceful, beautiful, tender, loving, compassionate, and confident; basically she was glowing in the wind. Perhaps this was my then elder self, perhaps it was someone else, perhaps she was a goddess spirit, perhaps all three (years earlier I explored a similar triangle/ambiguous relationship in my film The To Do List Confessions).  I will never know, to know does not really matter, she is my secret guide.  Dipa Ma did not look like the women in my vision, but something was drawing me to her nonetheless.  Appearances are deceiving when you only see the surface.

When I came back from the December retreat, I heard about a NYE meditation retreat. I thought it was 1 day, maybe 3 days, it turns out it was 7 days. I did wish to go deeper…but should I go on another retreat, I just went on one and had lots of creative energy…Andrea suggestively asked me, Can you see this upcoming retreat taking off where you left off in the last retreat? We both know retreats are never the same and not linear, but it was an interesting consideration. Maybe in this next retreat I could explore how not to fall asleep during all the sits! Maybe I could actually follow my breath or watch where I go when not with the breath. And why the breath again? Why do we do this again? After 8 years, I am only now discovering I don’t really follow my breath as instructed, but rules do and don’t work for me and the dharma has touched my life. I feel at home. Should I work on my film instead?

For New Years I did go on the retreat. It was a 7-day monastic retreat with Ajahns Anandabodhi and Santacitta, 2 Thai Forest Tradition nuns who are part of Aloka Vihara. I’m still taking it all in. So much came to the surface, some staying, some sinking. A few gems, grumpier rumblings and many insights. Lots of dancing with metta (loving kindness), compassion and forgiveness. I was able to do daily yoga- my practice included yoga journal podcasts and a Sivananda breath and asana sequence…the latter which is what I was doing New Years time 5 years ago at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram!

My yogi job was to help in the kitchen, which inspired my first haiku:

Is this for compost?
No, the goats can eat citrus
Oh, did not know that!

The nuns who led the retreat were very generous, informative and extremely funny. And it was interesting to learn a little more about the gender politics and power struggles in the monastic community and their radical actions to move towards a Bhikkhuni ordination and why (this discussed informally after the retreat).

I’d never been on a monastic retreat before- and only once before had all women teachers. It is different. Also, I was rather used to the dharma talks at night format, so much that it took me a couple days to register that in this retreat the dharma talks were mid morning.  Yes, I was slow on the uptake, like an electric light bulb. On these retreats the days have patterns: wake up early, sit, walk, sit, sit, walk, sit walk…eating, showering, work meditation, movement, and free time are scattered in, usually at the same time each day. This pattern is almost like a container and you don’t have to worry or plan what you are going to do with your day and you can get up close and personal with each moment, because really, all your doing is breathing. Or that is the practice of the practice. During the dharma talks, the nun’s voices were so melodic and combined with my recent penchant for “falling close to sleep” when sitting on a chair…well, a lot of the talks reached me by a kind of whispered osmosis. I finally explored sitting on the cushion, which kept me more alert and I discovered that my back pain was not necessarily connected with sitting on the floor. The several sessions of personal yoga did wonders, even if it took me out of a kind of stillness (each to their own). I also explored how not to spend the whole next session beating myself up over how I did not practice the last session as I wanted to. It gets quite ridiculous, but these too are patterns being played out on another level. Same story, different content, the opportunity to watch it all from prime seats. And note, the view at points shone on amazing galleries of delight and amazing.

One day while doing walking meditation I noticed that the library had several meditation and Buddhism books. I flirted with a few books and then found Sharon Salzberg’s A Heart as Wide as the World- Living with Mindfulness, Wisdom, and Compassion. It is suggested that during a retreat you don’t distract yourself by reading or writing…stay in the stillness, in the silence. I had kind of forgotten this and by the time it came up as a gentle reminder during one of the talks, well, I was hooked on the book. Actually every break was another moment to read the book (which then I had to ease off of so I could do yoga, take a shower and sleep!). Here is how I justified it: since I was not alert during all the dharma talks, this was my personal dharma talk. I did want to explore deeper and here I was, with my heart wide open with Sharon Salzberg as my guide. Justification aside, something was calling me to this experience so I was willing to be with it. It was like a wonderful dance, the way reading the book was interweaving with my own experiences and explorations on and off the cushion.  I would have a question and then I would find myself reading a chapter that talked about the very thing. How did the Sharon know? Were she and the book talking to me, or was I listening? Quietly, this dance was leading me to my inner guide and self acceptance of I am enough and wonderful just the way I am.

On New Years Eve, the mid morning meal was Indian food. I was very excited and in the kitchen during my work shift I had to resist giving my opinion of how to alter the recipes (I love playing with savory recipes and make Indian food often). I was assigned making raita (yeah, I heart yogurt). The cook was worried the main dish would be spicy and we joked, that is why there is raita! (There was occasional talking in the kitchen during the silent retreat, sssh). I was trying to be very diligent with the exact measurements because usually I am not…there was a guide to the right on how to double the recipe…1 TBS cumin, ditto mark for other spices, including chili powder. That is a lot, but ok…I never measure and instead just add in, what do I know about exact measurements. You can imagine the rest…when the food was presented, the label card next to the raita read: caution *spicy* (turns out the chili powder was supposed to be add to taste). After filling my plate I sat down and immediately tasted the raita. Oops, ouch, this is s-p-i-c-y! Then I started to worry: oh no, it is new years eve, most of the people on the retreat are elder white western woman, what if they don’t eat spicy, what if I cause stomach situations today, what if I ruin new years eve, oh vey. I looked around my table, ok that woman is eating her raita. A moment later, interesting she ate all of it. I look around to visually monitor raita consumption at other tables. And then, I’m thinking, the cook trusted me, we had rapport, and maybe this stressed her out because she thinks people think she made it spicy on purpose and she is upset with me, should I say something, we are in silence though. I could just go into the kitchen and say, “mmm, I wonder if I misread the recipe, I did not intend to make the raita spicy”, how could I say something and still be confident, but express my intention was to follow the recipe, should I remain in silence and practice faith and trust? Yes, I am a sensitive person, and yes, this is dramatic and where is this worry coming from and what is my intention if I were to say something, or why am I having this reaction?

I went outside. It was a sunny chilly. I walked into the garden, sat down, took a deep breathe and laughed. I could fester or let it go, or both. I had good intentions. If I am going to say something to the cook, think about what to say and why. The next chapter in Sharon’s book told an anecdote about chili peppers and how we all have our own perspective on things. Something to mull over and then I moved on to the next chapter. Later I would find out that many people loved the raita. One woman came up to me after retreat and said, did you make that raita, I loved it. Another guy said, it was spicy?

In the book Sharon shares many anecdotes and explorations of the dharma and practice, but my heart sparkled every time she wrote about Dipa Ma. Yes, Dipa Ma was in this book also! Dipa Ma was a teacher of Sharon’s and someone you can tell had a huge impact on her life. Reading about Dipa Ma, her love, compassion, her being really…I was giddy and exhilarated. And all this was coated by Sharon’s love and respect for this woman.

I love these crazy moments, when you experience ecstatic energy and vibrations ripple in the world. My heart was deeply brightened reading A Heart as Wide as the World.  What if I did not go to this retreat (I wanted to go on a play “vacation”), what if I was not doing walking meditation (sometimes I do yoga instead), what if I did not discover the book (I started with another book), what if can go back a very long way (what if I was not born), so from another angle, what if turns to what is and then dissolves into less wondering and more exploring and a blanket of gratitude. I value intuition and synchronicity and welcome when this enters my life. Upon coming home I proceeded to check out all the Sharon Salzberg books I could find. She has a new book that just came out, Real Happiness and is currently doing a book speaking tour.

Funny how in silent retreats you are in silence, but at the end when you finally do talk to people, some amazing kinship may be discovered. Whether they are in passing or continue on. Before the last day, to introduce us to speaking, we were allowed to speak during evening tea. I did not want to participate in this and considered sneaking off into my room, but instead, I stayed and met an elder woman named Rose. We did not talk much, a simple hello and exchange of names, acknowledgment that we were both sitting in the same corner of the room each day. The next day, towards the close of the retreat I went up to Rose again.

I said: Rose, your shirt is lovely, you are lovely in it, and may I say, you look very cute! Rose said: The shirt has a story. When my husband died a few years ago, I was very very sad. This woman who I barely knew said to me, Rose, you are so sad. I made this shirt for you so you can be happy again.

The shirt made Rose look absolutely radiant and who knew if she was happy or sad, yet her face was enlivened like a young child. Being in her presence was like receiving a gift. Later in the hallway we talked more and she told me that she is quite anxious and has a hard time expressing how she feels about someone in their presence. Sometimes she wants to speak so badly and say something really simple, like, I like what you said…but it is so hard to say that and before she knows it she is in the middle of anxiety and just like that a mountain has grown out of a mole hole.  Rose continued and told me about that feeling she has had most of her life, like something is missing, but perhaps the loss is starting to melt. I was trying to listen to her words, but I was also listening to her, so I suggested that perhaps the story she circles around is an old unhelpful story and that what she is seeking is already there. I gave her a hug. At this point the retreat was over and people were in gathering luggage and heading out mode. Rose saw me in the hallway before I left. She came to me and whispered, you sparkle. She had put a hot pink jacket over her blue shirt. I pointed to my hot pink undershirt and my blue hoodie and responded, we match!

On the retreat, there was another woman who like me had a little mediation rule rebel and during the walking meditation sometimes took pictures. During the non-silence teatime, we began talking about exchanging photos and then discovered we are neighbors and both do art. She also sometimes helps people organize and this sounded really fascinating. Very excited, we exchanged phone numbers and emails and expressed heartfelt intentions to follow up with tea soon and not let this be one of those things left in the ether. A new art-dharma friend, yeah! Ive been on retreats before, but this time, twice in one month, I met new friends in the crevices of the silence.

Anecdotes about interactions aside, on this retreat, I feel I got to swim deeper into the dhamma (dharma) and for now my favorite word/action is skillful.

Oh this life is such a gift!

Taking the Zanskar Vow: The Gratitude Project

I have been a little slow posting my November Art every day projects- but they are happening. And even more delightfully, projects are brewing, bubbling and multiplying!

Yesterday was one of those SF specials- it was warm outside, the local pool was open, the lifeguard let me swim 5 minutes beyond the close time, the sky was magical, and I brushed up close and personal with humbleness and gratitude  several times. What a wonderful way to be alive!

Magical Sky November 3, 2010

Earlier in the day I went to a new cafe on Valencia Street and posted on Facebook something to the effect of geez, $2.25 for coffee, really? I am paying for the atmosphere.  To this one friend commented about – get ready this is a mouthful- direct trade green coffee beans- and escalating prices which are translating to higher prices in US cafes. Another friend respectfully wrote, “In Bali with this amount we can feed our family for a day…. Lucky you Kirthi

To be honest, I am still grappling with how to take this all in. One thing for sure, I am thankful for the reminder that the price of my cup of coffee translates into much more in another country. How this will effect my choices other than supporting direct trade, I am not sure. In the now, right now, I am humbled and honored to be to be part of a world that extends beyond my local neighborhood and arms length experiences.

Last night was the opening night of the 3rdI San Francisco South Asian International Film Festival.  Most every film in the festival is inspiring and yesterday was no exception. Last night was a double header- starting with Terrie Samundra’s beautiful short film Kunjo. This film is quite powerful and evocative and tells a story not often told- that of rural to rural migration and how this affects a community, especially children. What we learned at the Q/A was that this film was shot in the filmmaker’s family village and the process of making the film was just as important as the final product. Translation: Terrie spent 2 1/2 months in India and worked with local non actors to workshop and develop the script with the community. I am paraphrasing here, Terrie has a more  detailed account on her website, but I wanted to take a moment to pause on the collaborative intent of this narrative production and the earnest desire on the filmmaker’s part to empower the people the story was about.

The next film was Frederick Marx’s Journey from Zanskar. Set in Zanskar, a traditionally Tibetan region of northern India, the Zanskari culture and Buddhist practices are dying out. It is a poor region. For children to get an education that connects them to their culture, they must travel to villages far away. At the heart of this documentary are the questions, “How far would you go to save your dying culture?” and  “What does it mean to separate a child from their family to give them a better life?” This film documents the difficult journey of the Stongde monks, 17 children aged 4-12 and handful of parents who travel from Zanskar to Manali in hopes of securing an education. On one hand there is the astounding physical difficulty of the journey and on the other, the amazing presence of love between the parents and children and ultimately the confrontation of what must be sacrificed for a better future. In its more subtle notes, this story reminds us strongly about compassion, the gift of education and the radiance of humanity.

An audience member asked Frederick to give us an impression of how the kids were years later. Although Frederick stated that how the kids felt was something he could never fully understand because it was not his experience, he did tell us one thing-  some kids say they cry all the time because they miss their family and that they are also full of joy to get an education.

How do you hold both of these things in your hands? Perhaps as an exploration that is not a dichotomy.  And as for if this will lead to a better life, one of the monks Geshe leaves us with this offering….will they have a better life? I don’t know. But if I believe they will, there is less worry and less suffering in the now about what may be.

The Stongde monks are now building a school in Zanskar so kids do not have to be separated from their families and so they do not have to make near death journeys for this promise of the better life. People can donate money that goes towards education or take the The Zanskar Vow an invitation to make your own commitment to make the world a better place. You can send your vow to the folks at the Saving Zanskar website and they will be updating the website soon.

My vow? I will live my life with gratitude and help chronicle stories of gratitude. I do believe in the ripple effect, one vibration at a time.

The Gratitude Project: Jazmin’s Story


What will you do to make the world a better place? What are you grateful for?