Musings of the InsightLA teachers
Tuesday morning when I took out the recycling, I saw several people up and down the alley bending over the big bins searching through the trash. I’d never seen so many people—all looking like homeless grandparents—foraging in the alley. The bottle and can collectors and the homeless folks were quietly working to gather whatever they could find to redeem, sell, or eat. Seeing this, my heart was heavy. I remember when homeless people were a rare sight on our streets.
The night before, I’d learned about the terror attack in Manchester. With immense sorrow, we mourn the loss of innocent lives—and the loss of carefree concert-going. Can we ever let our kids go to concerts again without worrying? When did concerts and public spaces become known as “soft targets”? How do we stay present and brave in the face of poverty, violence, and fears for our home, planet Earth?
With a little bit of mindfulness training, we learn how to use our right as human beings to choose how and where to direct our attention. When we notice that our attention is caught by frightening images, stuck on anxious or angry thoughts, or sinking into despair, we free our hearts by shifting back to our practice, over and over again. Mindfulness and compassion can go anywhere! Even when the hurt seems too huge, and overwhelming, loving awareness can be strong enough to hold it with clarity and understanding. We learn how to meet suffering and tragedy without closing our hearts. We’re all together here.
This means, my tears fall with yours. Our tears fall with all the tears in Manchester.
When I took my first ordination vows as a shy young Zen Buddhist with Soen Sa-Nim 43 years ago, I could never have imagined sitting side by side with my teacher/mentors empowering a succession of wonderful teachers at a beautiful meditation center I founded. I feel infinite gratitude for the ancestors who passed on the practices of wisdom, love and compassionate participation in this mysterious, intimate, universal life.
How did this happen? Through the blessing of countless generous ancestors who came before me, and the work of many hands here at InsightLA over the past 15 years. It happened because of your study and practice, your wanting a spiritual home in Los Angeles in the lineage of both early Buddhism and modern mindfulness. Evoking our ancestors as a source of wisdom and support is a well-known practice in Buddhist and indigenous cultures, often sadly missing in the West.
Lineage refers to a succession of generations—it’s our family tree! In the tradition of my ancestors, family is meant to be a sacralized center of spiritual life. In Buddhist tradition, the community becomes our family. The continuity of love and wisdom from teacher to student, from each to all, is alive for us at InsightLA. We are connected to a whole extended family of previous generations of practitioners, whoever they were and whenever they might have lived, all the way back to the Buddha.
When I encountered Buddhist psychology and meditation teachings at age 26, I fell in love. It all felt so right and true. I definitely needed a “safe and reliable refuge.” At first, the awe that I felt for my teachers was about looking up to someone, to something outside of myself, hoping to enlighten myself through connection with who they were and what they resonated. After a few years, though, a sense of devotion grew—from knowing that there was, and is, something genuinely inspiring about that to which I was so drawn. This is the devotion that connects us to the more sane and calm and clear and good qualities of our own hearts.
Whenever we envision the possibility of awakening, and begin to trust that awakening can happen in this very life in this human form, we’re connecting with this innate wisdom within ourselves. In these moments, we’re not preoccupied with wanting our life to be better, different, more…you can fill in the blanks! These are stressful thoughts that make us unhappy. As a skilled teacher, the Buddha recognized that it was uplifting for people to contemplate his way of life and be in his illumined presence. His radically generous teaching is that each of us can walk in his awakened footsteps.
The infinite gratitude I feel for my teachers still carries an element of devotion—to this path of refuge in awakening, in the teachings, in community—devotion to going for refuge as we are doing together this Saturday.
I invite you to come join us as we celebrate what unifies us at InsightLA—the wise and loving intention to wake up, to learn together, and grow our capacity for friendship and community. Together, we dedicate our lives to the joy, compassion, and release of freeing our hearts.