Seven Weeks in a Silent Meditation Retreat: A Song of the Heart

A Reflection on the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat

By Beata Kucienska
 
The trees are wavering between life and death. They are touching the ineffable. They grow somewhere between time and the timeless. They guide me beyond myself. In this house made of hard matter, windows to wonderland appear. Silence is a broom that sweeps away the illusions created by the mind. Beauty is revealing itself.

Seven weeks in silence… The mind interferes constantly and I feel compassion for it. I know it is scared and I allow it to feel this fear. Pain in a dream is real, even if the one who feels it is made of void. The void hurts the void, and the void perceives the void as suffering.

Yes, my little one, you have all the right to be afraid. But who are you, really? Who is the one that is watching?

The birds sing inside me. The day starts with the gentle song of the first bird that awakens. The others slowly join the choir. The whole day I hear nothing but surrender. At sunset, they gather on a huge tree and sing a crazy concert together—as if they had to express all their inner music before falling asleep.

49 day silent meditation retreatThe Heart says: “learn from the birds,” and I listen. I receive the message beyond words. I swim in the infinite softness of being. I taste innocence being offered unconditionally to the one who reaches an arm to the sky and puts God in a cage.

I am the one who is singing and I am the one who is killing Beauty. I am the one who is longing for freedom and I am the guardian of my prison.

Oh Beloved, liberate my soul. Take me beyond myself. Guide to me to the sacred space of the Heart. Open the gate to the Kingdom of Stillness. Carry me there… In Your tender arms, I become a song. I cannot die.

How could I be so blind? How could I not see that the birds are Love turned into music? How could I not see that the entire Earth is the vibration of Your Heart? Of my Heart…

Beyond pain, beyond fear, beyond death, is this Song that never stops. Above the clouds of the mind, there is an immense clarity—so delicate and vibrating with Life. In the depths of the human heart, there is an opening to the space of infinite compassion. The forgotten Garden of Eden. Our origin.

Silence is growing in me
like an immense tree
with roots in the Heart
It grows into my bones, muscles, and skin
It is in me
and it is me

Silence is flowing in me
It flows in my blood, tears, and breath
It embraces me from inside
It enters my thoughts
It penetrates my pain
with deep mystery

Infinity
is growing
in me

 
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher who has participated in two 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreats. She is also a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.

The Spine of the Night

The Dark Night of the Soul: When Fear Becomes a Blessing

By Beata Kucienska
 
“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!”
–St. John of the Cross
 
Before the first taste of awakening, human life is driven by constant, underground fear. Most of our actions are aimed at goals that would lighten the burden of that fear. Ambitions, career, relationships, and property give us the feeling of control and create an illusion of security. This illusion persists until the moment we experience a painful loss, when our life falls apart and we are confronted with the terrible loneliness of human existence. With shaky fingers, we try to collect the broken pieces of our reality and start the hard work of reconstructing our identity. Until the next loss…

The Dance between Fear and Grace

When we enter the spiritual path, we become more aware that nothing external can give us true security. We start to feel the Reality beyond the body, mind, and emotions. We receive gifts of love, beauty, and gratitude. Grace flows, showing us the reflections of Eternity. Compassion cuddles us in its most delicate arms. We realize that the mysterious Treasure we have always been seeking really exists.

But, the ego is underneath, waiting to emerge. What is the ego? A wounded child hidden in the closet. For a moment, it saw a fairyland, opened its eyes with wonderment, and forgot itself. Until the next collision with the matrix. Until somebody touches its deepest wound.

So the fear is there. Again. Rigid reality comes back… stony faces… painful voices. Muddy masks grow around the lotus flower. We play our old game… as old as the world itself.

But, the memory of the Treasure is not lost. We know it is there, and we know it is real. We practice yoga, we meditate, we blow upon the embers of the heart, we ask the question “Who am I?”… And we connect with the Heart again… or not.

Entering the Dark Night of the Soul

A time might come when our meditation becomes dry. The mind, desperate to recover its power, comes back, armed with new resources. No matter how much we try, we can’t get through the darkness. And there is fear… so much fear… more than we have ever felt.

Christian mystics, like St. John of the Cross and Thomas Merton, describe this time as the “dark night of the soul.”

It is the stage when the ego deeply realizes that all its struggles to build identity, meaning, and self-worth are useless. And, we understand that the elements of reality that bring us value and comfort are impermanent. We know that all the structures that serve as our inner foundation are an illusion. We realize that we are living inside of the matrix… and this realization is terrifying.

We perceive the scent of the Unknown, but this New Reality is formless, it doesn’t provide a support for our feet. It feels like falling into an endless night.

Dark Night of the Soul

The New Meaning of Love and Faith

“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” –Rumi

During the dark night, the soul doesn’t experience love as sweet and tender emotion. Love is a response to an inner calling to step into the darkness. It is a courageous decision to witness fear, loneliness, and anxiety emerging from our subconscious mind.

According to Thomas Merton, “If we set out into this darkness, we have to meet these inexorable forces. We will have to face fears and doubts. We will have to call into question the whole structure of our spiritual life. We will have to make a new evaluation of our motives for belief, for love, for self-commitment to the invisible God. And at this moment, precisely, all spiritual light is darkened, all values lose their shape and reality, and we remain, so to speak, suspended in the void.”

We move in this void by faith alone. But, there comes a moment when we feel like losing everything—including faith.

Merton says, “The most crucial aspect of this experience is precisely the temptation to doubt God himself. We must not minimize the fact that this is a genuine risk. For here we are advancing beyond the stage where God made himself accessible to our mind in simple and primitive images. We are entering the night in which he is present without any image, invisible, inscrutable, and beyond any satisfactory mental representation.”

Merton believes that the terrifying experience of losing faith guides us toward the discovery of true faith, born in the depths of our being, “For it is this testing, this fire of purgation, that burns out the human and accidental elements of faith in order to liberate the deep spiritual power in the center of our being. This gift of God is, of itself, unattainable, but is given to us moment by moment, beyond our comprehension, by his inscrutable mercy.”

Dark Night of the Soul

A Call to Surrender

The dark night of the soul is a period of transition between the ego and the Heart. It is a time of losing control, seeing without eyes, hearing without ears, and walking without feet. The question “Who am I?” opens the Reality that scares our little human soul. The individual being may perceive the Unknown as a terrifying vastness.

During this difficult time, it is helpful to remember that the essence of the spiritual path is surrender to the Heart. And, the dark night of the soul is a call to this surrender. We let go of our life and offer ourselves to God within—the eternal “I Am”—beyond any image, any concept, any thought, or any religion.

This process of transition is a call to accept everything that appears in the soul: fear, doubts, loneliness, anxiety, and all of our struggles—falling down and rising again. When our humanity responds to the silent call of the Heart, our hidden subconscious world comes up, and witnessing it can be scary. The ego, that little child afraid of the dark, wants to hide under a blanket. It is trying to take its first steps into the Unknown and its fear is totally justified. Having compassion means to comfort this child, to love them and embrace them, and to accept the timely nature of this timeless call. Human life unfolds in space and time, as does spiritual adventure. Surrender cannot be forced or accelerated. It will arise from the depths of our being when the right time comes. All we can do is live this process with compassion: to hold our ego in a loving embrace while witnessing its struggles.

The Blessing of Fear

Fear is probably the greatest challenge during the dark night of the soul. It can be overwhelming, paralyzing, and extremely difficult to witness. It brings comfort to remember that we are not alone; so many beautiful teachers walked this path before us and experienced what we now do. I was surprised to discover that Thomas Merton perceived fear not as a curse, but a blessing. He believed that it is impossible to reach spiritual maturity without the experience of fear, torment, and anxiety accompanying the inner crisis of “spiritual death” in which we surrender our ego to God. Fear, when unwitnessed and blindly followed, guides us to separation and violence. But, when it is observed from the Heart as a struggle of a lonely soul that feels unworthy of love, it can become a force that liberates us from a false self-image, breaking through the prison of self-protection and awakening true courage in the depths of our being. It gives us the courage to let go of life and take our first step without feet… the step toward the infinite sky of the Heart.

Dark Night of the Soul

The Inner Guide Home

The first glimpses of this secret sky—vastness, nothingness, void—might seem so scary. And yet, it is the Source of everything we have ever considered worthy in life… everything that has ever given meaning to human existence… every true value… every perception of authenticity, love, and beauty. During Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats, Sahajananda speaks about spanda, the Sacred Tremor of the Heart—the bridge between Infinity and our humanity. In deep meditation we can feel this tremor in the middle of the chest, and sometimes in our whole body. It is a tangible expression of the Source in the human body… Eternity shining through time, space, and matter. The mysterious Unknown is so close to us, vibrating inside of us, dancing in the core of our Being. So scary and so seducing… so strange and so intimate… so terrifying and so beautiful!

And here we are, scared of what we are. Somehow we forgot our True Nature, but deep inside, we feel that our task is to find the way back Home. For many of us, this path goes through the valley of darkness, and we walk there with no other light than the invisible one burning within, in silence. No matter how weak, frightened, and lonely we feel, this sacred light is there. When the time comes, it will give us the courage to fly without wings, completely naked, into Union with our Beloved in the innermost space of the Heart.

Reference

Thomas Merton, “Contemplative Prayer”
 
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga Teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.

Inner Transformation: Where Are You in the Journey?


By Beata Kucienska

The Story of Inner Transformation

The great stories cherished by humanity contain the essence of life. The most unforgettable stories are those that express the deepest pains and longings of the human heart. We read and watch these stories to connect to ourselves, to feel what is hiding behind the masks of everyday life. We long for this kind of stories because they take us back to the Heart

Literary scholars have recognized that most classical stories have a certain sequence of events. Joseph Campbell called it the “Hero’s Journey.” This sequence expresses the journey and the transformation of the human soul, which is made visible in the reality of space and time throughout the story.

hridaya yoga advaita self-inquiry hero

The Stages of the Journey

It is worth taking a look at the “Hero’s Journey,” since it is the journey of every human being. Below, I describe the stages of this journey, inspired by the Joseph Campbell archetype:

  1. THE ORDINARY WORLD: We are born human. It is beautiful and it hurts. We are involved in a constant search for happiness. There is a deep fear and longing inside of us. We try to figure out what we really want from life.
  2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: The pain and the longing in our hearts become more intense. We hear the inner call. We have an intuition that there is another kind of life: fuller and truer. But we don’t know how to get there.
  3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL: We are afraid. We oscillate between the longing for a new life and the fear of the unknown.
  4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR: We find a teacher. It can be an external teacher or our own intuition. We see the direction to go.
  5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: We make the decision. We leave the ordinary world and take a step into the unknown.
  6. TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES: We taste the beauty of the new world. We meet other people with the same calling. Trials come and we learn how to face them.
  7. APPROACH: The calling grows in us. We have a feeling of a mission, a task. We go through a process of purification. We prepare ourselves to accomplish this task.
  8. THE ORDEAL: We face our biggest fears, our deepest wounds. We die inside and a new life is born from this death.
  9. THE REWARD: Now our whole lives have a different taste. We have found an inner treasure. We see the world with new eyes.
  10. THE ROAD BACK: We want to share this treasure with our loved ones, to bring it home. We undertake this journey.
  11. THE RESURRECTION: This is the highest purification. The deepest transformation. The final death and rebirth.
  12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR: We are in possession of a treasure that has the power to transform the world and our lives become a mission to share it with others.

hridaya advaita ramana meditation hero

Spiritual Adventure

This “Hero’s Journey” pattern, found through research on the structure of classical stories, is also a beautiful description of the spiritual adventure. It is encouraging to know that we all go through the same process, even if our individual paths are different. It can also be helpful to figure out which stage of the journey we are in right now. Is it the right time for retreat, withdrawal, and healing our wounds? Or, maybe there is a calling to dive into samsara and share our treasure with our family and friends.

Life cannot be reduced to any strict pattern; some stages can appear in a different order or can be repeated several times. However, the observation of human lives shows that the process of inner transformation contains all the steps mentioned in the “Hero’s Journey.” The calling to enter a specific phase in our spiritual evolution appears in the heart when the right time comes. We can follow it or we can resist it. Whatever we choose, the pain will be part of our path. We cannot really avoid it until the final liberation. If we resist the calling, we can stay blocked on one stage for years. If we follow it and embrace the experience with all its pain and beauty, we become heroes undertaking the journey into the Kingdom of the Heart: the most surprising and fulfilling adventure of our lives.
 
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.

The Wound of Love: Our Guide Home

By Beata Kucienska
 
During the 49-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, the penetrating question “What does it mean to be human?” was ever present in my heart. Ironically, a deep answer to this question came through the story of my cat Lilus.

Antoaneta, my teacher and neighbor, found Lilus on a Mazunte street. When she went to Europe, she left me this most charming kitty with huge eyes that seemed to contain the mysteries of the universe.

When Lilus came into my life I was going through a deep pain of separation. I spent whole days in a hammock watching the ocean. I stayed in a cabaña on a small hill and I often felt so weak that the only motivation to go down to the village was to get food for Lilus. He didn’t really need it. He was an excellent hunter, but he liked to be served. At the beginning, he was so impatient that he used to bite my feet when I put tuna fish, yogurt, and cat biscuits on his plates. But after a few months of meditation, he became the most loving cat in San Agustinillo.

We used to meditate together in the morning. He would lie down by my side and was so incredibly beautiful that I couldn’t close my eyes. Touching him felt like submerging my fingers in an ocean of softness, and his purring was the voice of God: the most tender medicine for my broken heart.

advaita, rumi, hridaya, spiritual heartI invented a game for us that I called “a slave of love.” I took Lilus to the hammock and there he tried to escape from my hug. I surrounded him with my arms and legs and he sought his way out, purring with delight. When he wanted to end the game, he communicated it with his voice. He never lost his temper, he never used his claws, he was always extremely careful with me.

Lilus was the happiest and freest creature I had ever met. He didn’t know what fear was. He lived in the Garden of Eden and he took me there with him. By his side, I could feel the taste of a world untouched by suffering.

When the Hridaya Teacher Training Course started, Lilus would wait for me at the bottom of our hill and then we would go up to the cabaña together. Sometimes I saw him from a distance running towards me. He knew my steps, he knew my voice, and he knew that I always came back.

He didn’t know that the time of our separation was coming. I was going to do the 49-Day Retreat and then return to Europe. My future was unknown, and I didn’t have a home to share with him. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine putting him in a cage and taking him away from his paradise. He was never limited by anything.

Antoaneta was back, she was my neighbor again, and I left Lilus with her when the high season started. I visited him almost every day. But he changed. He would run towards me, but at the last moment he would stop and turn to the side. He sat down with his back turned. When I walked away he followed me, but when I tried to take him into my arms he escaped. Love and pain were doing their work in his heart. He was confused… trapped between the longing for my presence and the wound of abandonment.

Some nights I sat down on the stairs of our hill for a long time, waiting for Lilus. Sometimes I could see him observing me from a distance. My heart was aching because I knew that I broke his. And I knew that there was no way I could save him from this suffering. He fell in love with a human and he lost his innocence. He ate from a tree forbidden for cats. He tasted the pain of love. His wounded heart couldn’t find the way back to the Garden of Eden.

wound of love, hridaya yoga, rumi, advaita

Lilus experienced the pain of every human being. His story revealed the answer to my question. I understood that to be a human means to be born with a broken heart.

We come into this world with the wound of love and there is nothing we can do to avoid it. This is our human condition. We can fight with this pain, rage, or cry, but we cannot save ourselves from it. Most of us will feel this pain all our lives. What can we do about it? Accept it. There is no other way. No matter how much we want to escape from it, there is no exit. The human realm contains light and darkness.

Is it a tragic destiny? It depends how we perceive this wound. Meditation shows us that both light and darkness can be full of Beauty. Pain can expand our hearts and take us beyond the ego. Vulnerability guides us towards the mystery of existence. Sadness can open us to compassion. Weakness brings us closer to others. The wound of love can become the path of love. While walking deeper into the Self we can discover “joy in the heart when sorrow appears.” By embracing the wound of love, we surrender. We lose control. By accepting the pain we accept life itself.

Sahajananda says that the finite human drama appears as an injury of life, a wound of eternity. In meditation we can feel this wound directly. There comes a moment when the pain deep within does not seem to be related to any specific event. It is formless, raw ache. There is something that hurts deep inside our hearts, something that makes us so soft and vulnerable. It is mysterious, melancholic, and beautiful… like the trembling of the leaves on a stormy day. When we get in touch with this pain, we feel so delicate… we become the sirens pulled out of the ocean. The longing for home breaks us into little pieces, and then a moment comes when we don’t know who we are anymore. There is only this overwhelming longing, like a little baby is crying inside. The most transparent tears give birth to pure innocence and compassion, taking us beyond our limits and carrying us toward Infinity.

*

During the first ten days of the 49-Day Retreat, I stayed in a small cabaña across the street from the Hridaya Center. One night I woke up with the feeling that someone was in my house. I reached my arm out and he was there! Lilus was sleeping on my bed, next to my chest! He had crossed the street, come up the hill, and somehow opened the balcony door—a door that no other cat could open. I submerged my fingers in his fur and divine music came out of his throat. We were in the Garden of Eden again!
 
P.S. Lilus fell in love with Beauty and is now the father of 3 beautiful kittens.
 
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. She is a frequent contributor to the Hridaya Yoga blog. You can read all her posts here.

lester levenson an insight on love

Guardians of the Heart: My Experience in the Yazidi Refugee Camp

By Beata Kucienska

My Experience in the Yazidi Refugee Camp in Greece

People in the Yazidi refugee camp look straight into your eyes. They can do it for minutes. As if they weren’t ashamed of anything. As if they had nothing to hide. Their eyes are like big, quiet mirrors… sheets of mild water… windows to an unknown land. For a month, I was trying to touch their world. Every day was a step into a mystery.

Banished from Home

“All the books of those who are without are altered by them; and they have declined from them, although they were written by the prophets and the apostles. That there are interpolations is seen in the fact that each sect endeavors to prove that the others are wrong and to destroy their books. To me truth and falsehood are known.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation

My first day in the refugee camp in Serres. I sit with the children under a tree and read a picture book that I found in the donation box. Suddenly, all the children get up and run to the gate.

“What happened?” I ask them.
“Nadia Murad came! Sister Yazidi!”

I follow the children. A beautiful and very sad girl, dressed in black, stands in the main square and talks to the people. She escaped from the hands of the ISIS soldiers who raped her for several months. Now she lives in Germany and tries to help the refugees. She gives interviews, talks to politicians, and asks the world for mercy, for help in liberating the more than 3,000 women and children who are still in the hands of ISIS and experience unimaginable horrors every day.

I cannot sleep at night. Something trembles in me. At the beginning, it is difficult to find my place. The Yazidis have just moved to Serres from another camp and there is no structure yet. My friend Molly, a Hridaya teacher who inspired me to come here, runs the team of volunteers and tries to respond to the most urgent needs. I help her count clothes, soap, and shampoo, and to distribute things. We go to the warehouse and choose clothes for the refugees, we build furniture to store things, we attend to mothers who constantly ask for diapers, milk, bottles, and shoes.

After some time, I try to organize an advanced level English lesson for teenage girls. We gather in a tent and they share their dreams:
“I want to go to Barcelona and meet Lionel Messi.”
“My dream is to join my family in Germany.”
“I would like to visit India and learn to dance.”
“I want to go to Canada and play with snow.”

A young woman gives me a note. There is only one sentence: “My dream is to go back to Iraq and see my mom.” I swallow my tears. She reads it aloud. Suddenly all the girls start talking. They want to return to Iraq, to go to school, they miss their friends, their families, holidays spent together, excursions to nature. They are yearning for home. And their eyes, their lips overflow with emotions. Raised in the desert, attacked by ISIS, the Yazidis are an exiled nation. The city of Sinjar, emptied through hate and violence, is their lost paradise.

Sinjar, Shingal, I hear this word every day. The girls share:
“My favorite job is a policewoman. I want to help the Sinjar people.”
“I would like to be a doctor, to heal the people in Sinjar.”
“I want to be a teacher and share everything I learned with others.”
On the tent’s floor, I see a note: “Sinjar in my blood.”

“And, now,” I say, “Choose your most important dream, and write it down.”

A beautiful girl with deer eyes gives me a note: “My dream and the dream of all Yazidis is freedom for the women and children abducted by ISIS. Because they are raped and tortured every day.” I read it and stay silent. I have no words. A 13-year-old girl takes the card from my hand and reads it aloud. Nobody is surprised. Everyone in the camp, including the children, feels the horror of the ISIS sexual slaves. These women are their sisters. It is their collective pain. One big wound poured into hundreds of thousands of hearts.

 

My Friend, Give Me the Heart!

“I was, am now, and shall have no end. I exercise dominion over all creatures and over the affairs of all who are under the protection of my image. I am ever present to help all who trust in me and call upon me in time of need. There is no place in the universe that knows not my presence.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation

There is so much joy in the camp! Four hundred refugees live here and more than half are children who play all day. The mornings begin with singing and dancing. The volunteers organize sports activities, games, and English and Greek classes. The children learn two new alphabets: Latin and Greek, they learn to read and write from left to right, to turn the pages of books in the opposite direction. They assimilate new rules on a new planet.

The first words that you hear in the camp are: “Hello, my friend.” The children come to you and shout: “Hello, my friend!” Some of them run into your arms. After a few days in the camp, the sentence “Hello, my friend” enters your blood. You use it to greet both the refugees and the volunteers. After a while, you start your emails and posts on Facebook with these words. They acquire a peculiar sweetness. When you return home, you miss them. Your ears instinctively seek them, but nobody in your country greets you this way.

Another English sentence that every child in the camp knows is: “My friend, give me one!” The “one” can be a card, a pen, a pencil, a balloon, a hair elastic, or a paper heart. Molly asked me to decorate a hall in the abandoned school with hundreds of colored hearts. For over an hour, we hung them high on the wall, out of the reach of the children—they were watching with hungry eyes. “My friend, give me one!” they screamed. I left the hall for several minutes. When I returned, there were no hearts on the walls. The kids had climbed on the tables and taken them all.

The children serve as interpreters in the camp. They learn English very fast. Some of them studied it in Iraq, and in the camp they absorb everything. I like to read with them. I choose a donated book and when the children notice me, they gather around. We sit down together under a tree. The older kids read aloud, the younger ones describe the illustrations: “This is a dinosaur, this is an island, and this is a volcano. The boy is flying in a balloon over the ocean. He rescues the girl and the dinosaurs. After a long journey, he returns to his grandfather and together they drink hot chocolate.”

I find a book with pictures of animals. I notice a group of boys under a tree, they are calling me. Together we look at monsters from the depths of the ocean. “This octopus is bigger than a human, as tall as the distance between this and that tree.” I explain. Shouts of astonishment. Fascination. Suddenly, the kids raise their heads.
“Beata, look there, on the tree!”
“What is it? A bird?”
“Yes. Listen. It is singing…”

Come with Me… Beyond Words… To Wonderland

“I give and take away; I enrich and impoverish; I cause both happiness and misery. I do all this in keeping with the characteristics of each epoch. And none has a right to interfere with my management of affairs.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation

The women don’t speak English. When they need diapers, milk for their babies, a pacifier, a bottle, they bring children as interpreters. I visit them in their tents. They ask me to teach them English, too, so I do. Every day, I repeat “head, hair, eyes, nose, mouth, neck…” dozens of times. The women do laundry in their basins, and repeat after me, “head, hair, eyes, nose…” With time, the lessons become more formal. I prepare teaching aids, I write, I draw, I gather people to the school. The women stay for hours after class. They copy strange signs in a foreign alphabet from the board. They want to learn so much! They want to grow so much! “I would like to work, to do anything, not just sit in a tent all day,” one of them told me.

I like to spend time among the tents. I made friends with a 13-year-old girl who always dresses in white. I ask her parents about the meaning of her clothes. “Gardinia, no husband, no children. Mother of all,” they answer. Gardinia doesn’t participate in the games organized by the volunteers. She stands aside and observes everything. She accepts her destiny with serenity, but I feel the loneliness behind her smile, the burden of being different. She brushes my hair, and paints birds and flowers on my arms. We sing together, we exchange bracelets. Gardinia spends two days making a bracelet, using beads that have the first letter of my name. I read books with her, draw animals and write their English names. Twice, she makes the same drawing: a blue eye crying red hearts, which fall into a vessel and give birth to colorful stars and flowers. She gives me more presents: juice, a croissant, an apple.

Each family receives a daily ration of food from the Greek army. It is not much, but they share it with the volunteers. They care about us; they ask if we are hungry. At the beginning of my stay, a woman tells me (through her English-speaking son): “When you are hungry, come to me and I will give you food. When you are tired, you can rest in my tent.” I am speechless. Where did I arrive? At a wonderland? These people have been deprived of everything, but ISIS didn’t manage to take away their hearts.

Jokes, smiles, games: waves on the lake’s surface… and underneath, such deep pain and longing. How does it feel to lose everything? To be banished from your own home? To wander through different countries? Not be able to cook dinner for your children, to make tea? To ask strangers for soap, shampoo, underwear, bras, milk for your babies? How does it feel to miss the place where your ancestors lived for 6,700 years? And to suddenly be spread around the world? To have a mother in Iraq, a sister in Turkey, a brother in Germany, while previously your family lived together for generations? Where is your home now?

A Silent Embrace

“I lead to the straight path without a revealed book; I direct aright my beloved and my chosen ones by unseen means. All my teachings are easily applicable to all times and all conditions.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation

Hello, my friend. You have such serene eyes. And you look at me with such calmness … as if you have nothing to fear. Where do your courage, dignity, and hope come from? You were stripped of everything that smelled like home, banished into the unknown, and you don’t know how it will all end. I don’t understand you. I don’t understand your language, tradition, or faith. Your world seems a strange planet to me, the same as mine to you. The only thing I can do is teach you a few words, so you can ask for a shirt, shoes, and trousers. And, I will also teach you ‘love,’ ‘hug,’ and ‘heart.’ And, I will look into your eyes. You know, in my country, people live in such a hurry. So few can look into each other’s eyes and remain silent. Just like you. So simple.

It is not easy for me to look at you this way. There are things that I want to hide. There are things that I’m ashamed of. There are things that I’m afraid of. Because looking into the eyes of another human can be the hardest thing in the world. But not for you…

I know you so little and, yet, something shivers in me. I understand so little of you and I cannot sleep at night. And this homesickness, is it my longing or yours? And this sadness? And this hope? And this stinging in the heart… Is it pain? Or love?

“In love, nothing exists between heart and heart
Speech is born out of longing.” –Rabia al-Basri

Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read her contemplation on transforming suffering here. To support the work of Molly Hock, a Hridaya Teacher who continues to work with refugees in Greece, check out her CrowdRise page.

hridaya advaita ramana meditation hero

A Walk Beyond Darkness: Transforming Suffering by Opening to Light

By Beata Kucienska

“I said: ‘What about my heart?’
God said: ‘Tell me what you hold inside it.’
I said: ‘Pain and sorrow.’
God said: ‘Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.’”
-Rumi

Once, I read a story about a little horse that was staying in a warm and cozy place. He was safe there and didn’t want to leave. Suddenly, he saw a tunnel of light and felt a force pulling him out of his shelter. He was so scared; he thought he was going to die. And then he found out that he was just being born.

The moment of birth is the first moment of separation. It must be horrifying for a baby to come out of its mother’s belly into such a strange place: to breathe air and to hear, smell, see, and touch the craziness of a new world.

Our birth, which is the most natural thing in life, is also a scary and painful experience. With the first breath, the human heart is broken. And then, duality spreads its wings. The story of love and pain, connection and separation, light and darkness, unfolds in time.

Yet, it is not easy to see pain as natural. Why? Because it hurts! And our deepest desire is to be happy. A paradox of human life is that avoiding pain is as natural as its existence. In the animal world, the escape from suffering is the immediate reaction to it.

Rumi, a thirteenth-century Persian poet, said: “Stay with the pain. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” This statement may not seem logical. Why should we stay with the pain? Why should we suffer?

The wound is present in every human heart… it is growing and aching from the moment of our birth. We can try to escape it by using anything the world offers us: food, drugs, work, sleep, alcohol, a hyperactive lifestyle, and other strategies. But finally, it leads to even more suffering, loneliness, and separation. By avoiding pain, we multiply it.

Facing Our Suffering

When pain comes, we have a choice: to face it or to escape it. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a prisoner in a World War II concentration camp, wrote: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

Viktor’s mother, father, brother, and wife all died in concentration camps. He was left alone in a place that was an expression of the deepest darkness of the human soul. He could have committed suicide, as many prisoners did, but he chose to embrace pain: “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”

When pain comes, the question “why?” arises in us. This question is a trap since it doesn’t have an answer. To be human means to be born with a broken heart… and to have it broken again and again and again. Pain is there to be felt, to be experienced, and, often, to reveal a deeper reality of human existence. Viktor Frankl and the other prisoners could see it: “For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and death, of suffering and of dying. Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the camp’s tortures by ignoring them or harboring false illusions and entertaining artificial optimism. Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. […] But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

It is not necessary to be in a concentration camp to experience the ultimate depth of human pain. Every day people commit suicide because of unrequited love, health issues, financial crisis, loss, rejection, and loneliness. There are moments in life when suffering seems unbearable.

From Pain to Peace

My friend Susy from Mexico City lost two children to incurable diseases. She didn’t have any other children. Her pain was unimaginable. She told me that in her darkest moments, she still had a choice. She could choose between hate and love. She could reject life, people, mothers, and children or embrace everything. She decided to love and the magic happened. She radiated so much light that her son’s friends sought out her presence, friendship, and advice. Her house was full of young people. She posted a picture of her daughter’s wheelchair on Facebook, offering it to anyone who needed it. The picture was shared over one million times and many parents of sick children wrote to Susy asking for the wheelchair. With the help of her friends, Susy collected money to buy more wheelchairs and ended up creating a foundation that helps poor and sick people in Mexico. In honor of her children Diana and Daniel, she named the foundation Dianel. Every conversation with Susy is magical; it feels like crossing the boundaries of the ordinary world and diving into a planet with different rules: a kingdom of giving. Her boundless heart has become the source of miracles. Her Facebook messages inspired a mother who hadn’t seen her daughter for over twenty years to visit her, make peace with her, and meet her grandchildren for the first time. The Dianel Foundation is constantly growing, bringing help and relief to the lives of hundreds of people in unexpected ways. Susy has become a rain of light, but the pain and the longing for her children hasn’t disappeared. The wound is constantly present, even when she laughs, sings, and dances.

Transforming Suffering: Staying with the Wound

At times, life hurts so much that even the act of breathing is painful. We seem to be inside a dense cloud that absorbs every ray of light. There is only pain, spreading through every cell of our being. The only thing we want is relief from our suffering. At any cost, even the cost of our life itself.

Outside everything might seem fine. We might not be able to explain to others why we are suffering. They wouldn’t understand. But, we feel it with every breath. Void, fear, loneliness stir inside us. The dark space in our souls wants to be acknowledged, accepted, and honored. Yes, the pain is there. Yes, it hurts. Our bodies express it. Tears fall. And this time, we stay with the wound. Without anesthesia, we enter our broken hearts. It is just us, being human. It is us, facing our humanity, experiencing its very core. It is us, exercising our highest freedom: the freedom to choose our attitude. It is us, expressing our greatest courage: the courage to feel the depth of our hearts.

Suffering doesn’t have value in itself, but our attitude toward it does. Facing the pain is an inner journey each of us must make alone. It is an intuitive task, difficult to express with words. Great poets, like Hafiz, have tried:

“Don’t surrender your loneliness
so quickly
Let it cut more deep
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can…
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so softy
My voice
so tender
My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.”

Seven centuries ago, Hafiz and Rumi understood that facing and accepting pain opens the human heart. It is the path of the transformation of our deepest wound into a channel of light. And then, the magic happens…

Love’s Embrace

In the middle of suffering and humiliation, Viktor Frankl contemplated the memory of his beloved wife. This moment revealed the essence of life to him: “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. […] For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words: ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’ […] My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”

Surrendering to life, with both its light and darkness, is a path to the secret mountain that changes our vision of the human drama. It is a door to the deep understanding that love goes beyond life and death. It is stepping into a reality that cannot end.

The nineteenth-century Polish poet Adam Asnyk wrote:

“And the heart, the human heart
runs away to infinity
through tears, longings and torments
It wants to absorb in its womb
space and eternity
and to embrace all heaven.”

The Longing of the Heart

Poets and mystics perceive human suffering as the echo of the pain of separation from God, the Heart, our deepest Essence and most intimate Truth. They see it as an expression of the desperate longing of the human heart for the Infinite.

We cannot avoid or escape pain. But, we can witness it in meditation, listen to it, and discover God’s voice in it, yearning for us and calling us to Him. In the depths of our soul, we can hear the torment of a lover who is desperate for union with the beloved. If we surrender, this longing will become our guide to a Reality in which life and death disappear in an eternal embrace.
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read her reflections on the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat here.

Hridaya Yoga will offer “From Pain to Peace,” a 3-day practical workshop on the art of transforming suffering into awareness, October 21-23, 2016. You can book your place here.

Beata shares: “The From Pain to Peace workshop is a loving embrace that will allow you to face your pain. The heart opens in the atmosphere of trust, and the light of awareness reaches the soul’s dark places. Every courageous step into your soul will be a step toward deep connection with others, love and forgiveness. It is a journey into the mysterious reality described by Rumi: ‘Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of their heart.’”

walking into the unknown

Walking into the Unknown

A Taste of the Void

By Beata Kucienska

At first, walking into the unknown was about letting go the external branches: the love relationship, the job, and the project of buying my own apartment. Then, it felt like walking on water… or floating in the clouds. Who am I without all this? A dance between an intoxicating freedom and a freezing fear… the newly discovered beauty leaving my eyes wide open and the loneliness of a tiny planet lost in the infinite sky.

Who am I when there is so little left of my life? Am I still alive? Am I real or am I dreaming?

I served myself a meal made of the void. It had a bittersweet taste. It hurt… sometimes softly and tenderly; at other times, the pain entered my bones and shook my whole being.

Meditation opened my eyes. I could see the clouds, the plants, the animals in a way I had never seen them before. I watched the same tree for hours, for days, for months… and it was always new.

But the pain was there. And the question “How to live in this void?” hurt me from inside. How to live without plans, ambitions… without the future?

The only answer I received was: trust. Trust in the Heart. This path is about walking into the Unknown. Taking steps in the air. Surrendering to not knowing…

Oh, how difficult it was for my scientific mind! There were moments when the need to have something solid for my shaky feet was a drug addict’s craving. I complained:

 Too much void, dear Heart. Do you know the word “moderation”? What is it all about? Where are you guiding me? Do you want me to lose my mind?

The Heart didn’t discuss. It opened a magical window to the Unknown. And I couldn’t even see clearly what was on the other side. I fell in Love with the Mystery. I felt so much and understood so little.

This love story goes on. A lover without a face seduces me in a wordless language. When it hurts, he embraces me with invisible arms. Sometimes he sings inside me. And this song feels as if he were trying to tell me something:

-I will be with you… always, always. I will guide you through life. I will guide you through death. Take my hand. Trust me. There is nothing to fear.
-How can I trust you? I can’t see you. I don’t know you. You are so irrational!
-You know my taste, you know my smell, you know my voice. I have always been with you.
-I am so scared and I feel so lonely.
-I am here. IN YOU. Listen…

I breathe and I listen. He takes my heart and guides me beyond matter, beyond the senses, beyond daily emotions. I am so light. I fly to the other side of the sky. I perceive the taste of my Beloved… freedom.

-Where are you taking me?
-Into the Unknown. Are you ready?
-I don’t know… I am afraid. How is it there? In the Unknown?

He laughs inside me. I breathe and my wings grow stronger. I keep flying… following the fragrance of my Beloved. Sometimes the never-ending sky feels so lonely. Where am I going? I don’t know. I dive into the void. I follow the echo of the silent note of his voice… the deepest vibration of my heart. It is all I have… and it is enough. He knows it. He knows that I would exchange the world for the slightest touch… the most silent whisper… a bite of the shadow of his Beauty.

Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher who recently completed the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat. You can read her reflections on that experience here.

the truth behind the curtain

The Truth Behind the Curtain: A 49-Day Retreat Experience

the truth behind the curtain

By Beata Kucienska

 

Come. This is your journey into the Heart. The most important one you can ever make. You will travel behind the masks that you have built during your whole life. You will be walking deeper and deeper into yourself. You will cross the darkness; you will go through fear and pain. Little by little, the veils will fall from your eyes.

I will talk to you softly, whispering from beyond the border of words. I will be calling you and seducing you. You will be falling in Love and this longing will become stronger than your fear. You will face what has been terrifying you your whole life. You will look into the eyes of the monsters hiding in the dark. You will discover what courage is. I wilI break your chains.

Feel your fear. Feel how much you are scared of not being worthy of love. It is only this: the terrifying story that the voice has always been telling you. The ancient monster devouring the human heart. The source of every pain, every contraction. You were trained to believe in your own darkness. You are so scared to see something too ugly, too overwhelming. You have been convinced that there is something so dark hiding in you, so horrible that nobody can accept it.

You are scared of what you can find behind the curtain. Every rejection you experienced was a new brick in the castle of your fear. Just stop and look. It is there: a terrifying construction of your mind. Witness your pain. Love your sorrow. This is the adventure of being human. This fear is your path, it contains a hidden treasure. It will show you your courage. It will reveal your beauty.

One breath at a time. Feel your heart deeply, deeply. I am guiding you into the Wonderland. You start to see behind the skin of things. The masks are falling, revealing the essence. You perceive the heart of every flower, every tree, every wave. This is what you were afraid to see. This is what was waiting behind the curtain.

Every leaf contains an unspoken mystery; every bird carries you to Infinity. The sky is not the sky anymore, the ocean is not the ocean. The intuition of what you can be, of what you are… The intuition of what is there, waiting for humanity. The treasure hidden behind the curtain… The gratitude that breaks your heart. You are disappearing. A tiny bird with transparent wings is waking in your chest. Too fragile to be perceived by the senses… Never before have you felt anything so delicate. You cannot believe it… Can it be me?

Are you scared of the darkness? Are you scared of the pain? Are you scared of Beauty? Every mask that falls takes you behind the world of shadows. One more step into the Mystery. You are expanding into the darkness and the light at the same time. The border between life and death disappears. It is so wonderful that you don’t dare to breathe.

One more breath. One more memory. One more step inside. The ocean, covered with tiny diamonds, is hurting your eyes with its beauty. Your heart breaks… Your heart is expanding. The silent voice, more powerful than anything you have heard before, whispers: “Come, my Love. This is the way. I am waiting…”

Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher