Musings of the InsightLA teachers
How many times do we start a new year with big resolutions, only to quickly fall short and give up?
We assume that change is an either/or proposition — we either “deliver” or we’re out of the game. Mindfulness practice suggests a much more effective approach.
When we meditate, we may begin with close attention to our breath or sensations, but over time we are bound to lose the thread of concentration.
We gently bring the attention back and start fresh. Nothing is lost. It’s all part of the process.
It’s a great metaphor for life. When we are thrown off course — when we fall short in our resolutions or are blown off course -- we simply begin again. No self-judgment or making stories about the future. Just pick up and start again.
Beginning again in meditation, says teacher Sharon Salzberg, is “the replica of having flubbed something at work and needing to begin again, or having strayed from our deepest aspirations chosen course and having to begin again, or finding that we’ve fallen down and needing to stand up and begin again.”
What happens if we berate ourselves for losing our attention in meditation? Or if we decide, “I’m going to focus for 30 minutes without losing my concentration for an instant”. Chances are, we’ll quickly get discouraged, and perhaps even give up meditating altogether.
Same with life and new year’s resolutions. Expecting ourselves to be perfect or being overly self-judgmental simply gums up the works. Just begin again. Right now.
The Buddha compared being overwhelmed by circumstances to being shot by two arrows. The first arrow is the pain of the event. The second arrow is the pain from tormenting ourselves over it. If we stop tormenting ourselves, we instantly eliminate half of our difficulties. Or increase our chances of reaching our goals.
Of course, many would argue that goals or resolutions aren’t very spiritual. Getting too caught up in what we want creates its own suffering, especially when it’s not good for us. So goals need to be held lightly. Especially, since we’re likely to need to begin again many times along the way,
Teacher Phillip Moffitt calls this\ beginning again "and” practice “ When things go wrong, he advocates telling yourself: “ 'Yes, I just got lost, and now I'll just start over.' For example, 'I feel alienated and think my peers don't like me, and I am going to go speak to that guy over there who I usually get along with.’ “
The beauty of this kind of “starting over” is that we don’t have to wait to practice for a new year or the next time we fall down. It’s as close as our next meditation.
Do you have new years resolutions? Maybe you want to stop eating convenience food so often or you want to meditate every day. Those are wonderful aspirations and could make a big difference in your life for sure.
Alas, from experience we know that it’s often hard to stop an old habit or to create a new one.
While you probably already know a lot about creating new habits, have you taken a closer look at your attitude towards where you are now? Why do you want a daily meditation practice? Do you want it because you want to rewire your brain? Get rid of the constant stress and anxiety? Stop yelling at the kids? Nothing wrong with that! But what is your internal self talk around this? Are you kind to yourself, understanding and motivate yourself with love or is the internal talk rather harsh, maybe even condescending or mean? Do you want change from a place of overall love and acceptance for yourself or because you believe that if you change x, y or z you will be happier, more successful or more lovable?
Australian meditation teacher Bob Sharples talks about “the subtle aggression of self-improvement”, the constant urge to make ourselves into a better version of ourselves. When we come from a place of not-good-enough, like we feel that our life is not good enough or we are not good enough – then the internal stress of that belief will be constantly present in the background.
If we first learn to accept this moment as it is, and then ourselves as we are – in this moment – then change can happen from a very different place. As the great psychologist Carl Rogers said: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.”
Wishing us all a wonderful and self-accepting 2019.Warmly,
I wake up to a clear winter sunrise in LA. It’s already the fifth day of the new year. Like a dream, the holidays are past, whether sparkling or somber. It’s 2019 now. Here we are, rowing our boats gently down the swift stream of time. Is life really but a dream, as our childhood song tells us? Who creates this dream life? Is it a lucid dream, where we are aware that we are dreaming?
Living immersed in our culture, it’s not easy to stay aware of the ephemeral, dream-like nature of this life. I sometimes find myself asleep in a way, distracted - check my phone, intend to answer an email but get drawn into answering a text and then forget the email. I know I’m not alone, if this happens to me, it probably happens to you, too. We’re already living in a virtual reality, a dream world where we forget who and what we truly are.
One New Year’s Eve, when people gathered to reflect on how they’d fulfilled their intentions for the year past, a very accomplished young teacher laughed and confessed: “I can’t even remember what my intentions were!” Her honesty was full of self-acceptance and light-hearted compassion. This is how it is sometimes: dreaming of a being a better self, we set intentions and…forget. It’s OK.
The grace of mindfulness and meditation is remembering. We learn how to step back from forgetfulness into loving awareness, any time we remember to wake up. Waking up, we perceive time itself - present, past & future -- has the quality of a dream. If life is but a dream – let’s make this year a good dream!
A spiritual tradition is not a shallow stream in which one dips one foot and retreats to the shore, it’s a mighty tumultuous river that rushes through one’s life.
– Bhikkhu. Bodhi
As one year morphs into the next, it’s a good time to pause and ask what you most want for 2019? Asking an open question and waiting to sense the answer invites your intuition to help reveal your deepest wishes for yourself, your beloved community, and our shared world.
In the Tibetan tradition, there is a practice called setting your intention. Try it now: sit down, relax, and breathe mindfully for a few minutes. Then deliberately ask, question, what do I love the most? How can I create a life that is more aligned with my most generous, loving aspirations? To help, I sometimes use my imagination to fast forward into the future and look back on my life today from a wiser perspective. With this imagined hindsight, what I need to do comes clearer. You can imagine your best future and set your intention to move in that direction. After you have clarified your intention, write it down and save it somewhere. Your focused intention is powerful and purposeful.
Then as the year goes on, you can remember your intention; check in, each time trusting your heart to incline in the direction you truly want to go. Your simple persistence is a sign of deep, sincere practice! Whether you’re beginning to dip your toes, or wading, or swimming in the river of mindful living, please kindly appreciate any effort you’ve made to meditate this past year. Your practice will sustain you when you most need support, even when you’re not feeling it. Keep going.
Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, or struggle with the holidays, remember that we lived through the darkest night of the year last week. Day by day, the light is miraculously returning. So launch your boat or dive into the water - and set out for the depths in 2019!
Today is the solstice, the first day of winter, when Earth’s axis tilts the Northern Hemisphere farthest from the sun’s warmth. It’s the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This year a full moon (called the Cold Moon, or the Long Night Moon, by Native Americans) coincides with the solstice, along with the Ursid meteor shower. After all the holiday celebrations, winter is a time to to drop under the busy surface of everyday life and ask, what is most important? Who or what most inspires me to go deep?
And what does that even mean? Commit to daily meditation? Do a retreat? Come to community sits (meditation sessions) and events to explore practice together? To me, going deep means questioning whatever holds me back from experiencing wisdom and love. It means remembering the dimension of timeless mystery, the ever-present mystery of nowthat is always here, waiting for me to look beyond habitual, conditioned seeing.
For you, going deep may be imagining you’re sitting on a star looking down, envisioning your life from the perspective of vast compassion. It could be serving in a profound way that takes you out of your separate self to identify with something far bigger. It might be devoting this time to creating more balance and harmony in your life, withdrawing from relationships and activities that don’t nourish your spirit to refocus on understanding where your heart wants to go. It can be reflecting on the deepest teachings you’ve encountered, like this from Nisargadatta Maharaj:
“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.”
May this holiday bring you gifts of joy to light up your heart and home.
With infinite love and gratitude for your practice and generosity,
It was love at first sight, when I first met Coco, a curly apricot poodle mix that melted my heart to a puddle. I was 23 years old and had no idea the walls around my heart were soon to come crumbling down. Up to that point, my relationships with people were complicated at best or otherwise painfully traumatizing. My heart adapted to these wounds by erecting a fortress designed to never let love in again, guarded by the insistent belief that I was undeserving of it anyway.
Slowly but steadily, before I knew it, Coco snuck in past security and nestled her way into my heart, erasing any sense of separation between us. Loving and caring for her more than 13 years transformed my heart. I could no longer deny that I was lovable because Coco truly loved me, day in and day out, never wavering.
Coco was my benefactor, teaching me the language of true love and the gentle, tender tone to use when offering metta to myself and for all beings. Coco taught me the true meaning of mudita when joy flooded my heart every time she ran wild through a field or napped with ease in a blanket of sunbeams. When her beautiful bright spirit left her body heavy in my arms she became my heavenly messenger.
As you know from your own life and losses, through the joys and sorrows of impermanence only love remains. May our broken hearts heal and open to love in its many forms.
For years, my vision couldn’t be corrected properly with glasses. Unlike most people, I’ve been waiting eagerly for the time to have cataract surgery where a new lens can be put into the eye. Usually it’s a simple, routine procedure, but with some damage to my corneas, it’s trickier. Thursday was the surgery on the left eye. It went well, but I won’t know the final outcome for a few weeks. Nervous the day before, I reflected, what does it mean to see clearly?
Seeing clearly is being fully present within the experiencing of seeing and what is seen; it’s an active process that can only happen in the present. Seeing this process clearly is mindfulness. Witnessing what’s happening right here through all the senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, thinking, remembering, noticing what grabs our attention – this kind of seeing doesn’t depend on the eyes. It requires the humility to simply receive the moment in clear awareness. It requires the willingness to welcome each moment of sight, sound, taste, touch, thought, feeling, taking it all in, moment by moment.
This kind of seeing is creative, intelligent, awareness discerning how everything it perceives appears and then disappears. We don’t have to try hard, our natural awareness can easily see how a sight, sound or thought happens, peaks, fades, then passes away. We are life witnessing life being born, existing, vanishing. Seeing this way doesn’t depend on glasses or corrective surgery; it relies on cultivating invisible qualities of the heart, like tenderness and patience.
It takes generosity of spirit to receive life as it is. It calls for the inner vision we call mindfulness or loving awareness, an intuitive wisdom. As the little prince said: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) May the light of seeing clearly, wisely, “rightly” what’s essential - LOVE - shine through all your holidays!
When I was little, I wanted to know about money, and why some people were called rich. I asked my mother, “Are we rich?” My father was an academic and my mother a homemaker who sewed and ironed our clothes and froze our tuna sandwiches in bulk. After they defrosted in our lunch boxes we ate them, damp and soggy… My mother answered, “We’re rich in love and happiness.” I felt frustrated. This answer didn’t address my wanting to know where we stood with the money part.
Years later, as a grown-up, I appreciate her answer. Love and happiness are indeed our truest riches. It was on my meditation cushion that I first learned to trust that there is ample love in the universe. I learned to open to and connect with my inner riches with metta, with creativity, with understanding, with the inner sources of love and happiness that are ever available to all.
It was through psychotherapy and continued meditation practice that I began to know and accept all parts of myself, to feel truly at home in my own life. I remember walking into my little Cambridge apartment one day and hearing an inner voice say, “Trudy, you are complete!” It was startling, and true; I felt completely at peace. I hadn’t felt such total ease in my own skin before. And now I did. It had happened gradually, but I realized it all at once.
Breath by breath, moment by moment, with loving awareness, we create a home for the heart and this home is our refuge. We build community and the community supports us. We reveal our minds and hearts and our minds & hearts strengthen us. We open to life and life opens to us. We open to love and love opens to us
This GIVING TUESDAY, we invite you to help us grow our Insight In Action Program. Put your COMPASSION into ACTION by giving the gift of mindfulness this year.
DONATE TODAY and a generous InsightLA donor will match all donations up to $25K.
One of the core principals of InsightLA is compassion, and by its very definition, compassion is not just an emotion it is accompanied by a strong desire to take action and help those who are suffering.
By offering mindfulness practices to people affected by homelessness, poverty, illness, as well as caregivers and first responders, we have learned that meditation can provide profound healing and refuge to those directly affected.
INSIGHT IN ACTION is comprised of three main components:
In 2019, through our INSIGHT IN ACTION program, we aim to:
Your support makes a huge difference. Please help us by visiting our website and donating. You can support people from diverse communities, backgrounds, and experiences.
Let’s make sure that nobody is left out.
This poem, Thanks, from W. S. Merwin, reminds me of the
last lines of Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah:
“And even though it all goes wrong
I stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah”
Listen with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
in the faces of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is