Musings of the InsightLA teachers
When I first came to InsightLA in the early days to take a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, I was eager to deepen my practice. I was making a movie in Central America and knew I would miss classes. I asked Trudy, how can I make them up? She smiled and assured me we would find a way. Sure enough, her co-teacher Christiane Wolf came to my house and taught me in my living room.
I have never forgotten that incredible generosity. Recently, I finished co-teaching a class with Christiane. At the end of each session, we talked about the challenges and joy of teaching mindfulness. After all these years, she is still my teacher, and we are spiritual friends.
Again and again, the Buddha taught that friendship is essential for a fulfilled spiritual life. He even went on to say that admirable friendship, companionship and camaraderie are not just an important part of the journey -- friendship enables us to practice and embody the whole eightfold path (wise view, wise intention, wise speech, conduct, livelihood, wise effort, mindfulness, and meditation). When you have trustworthy people as friends, companions, & colleagues, the Buddha is right -- you can truly walk this path to the end of suffering, the end of loneliness. I have found good friendship to be the key to my spiritual growth. Sharing the silence of a sit or walking in mindfulness with others deepens my practice immeasurably.
Each month all of the teachers of InsightLA meet to practice and study together. Last week at our teacher development group, I looked around the room of twenty-five teachers and realized I now have a whole room full of admirable companions, my spiritual friends - people I know, respect, and love. They are part of my practice community, my sisters, and brothers.
Practicing mindfulness and compassion is not a solitary path; the people that you sit with become your community. You are no longer alone on your path. Come and join us at InsightLA, you, too, can start a life of true spiritual friendship
Ron will be teaching a class series called Changes & Transitions beginning July 8th.
Trudy and I have had the privilege of staying at Montagne-Alternative, a visionary community high in the Swiss Alps. The community has rebuilt an ancient and semi-deserted Swiss Mountain village to create an elegant center for groups to learn integrated and healthy ways of development. They foster innovative business conferences and creative community living. It is inspiring to see this example, shared by people in every country who value compassion, care for the earth, social well-being and shared prosperity.
The Buddha called this the creation of Wise Society...based on mutual respect, protection and care for one another and the environment. We can contribute to this possibility in our own community, just where we are.
With all the troubles in the world, let's work to create a new way, based on generosity. compassion, virtue and wisdom. Let's stretch out our hands and protect the vulnerable, and plant and nourish what is beautiful. It is possible, the seeds are in each one of us.
Our mindfulness rests on a foundation of compassion. It works like this: as we become more compassionately aware of our own suffering, we can perceive the suffering of others more accurately. A growing sense of being part of one family comes from cultivating loving awareness of our similarity as human beings, our oneness. As this realization deepens, we find there is only one possible response to pain and suffering: to care for one another and help out where we can.
We now know that childhood traumas (called ACE’s, adverse childhood experiences) dramatically affect children’s health across their whole lifetime. Today, we are learning how to prevent the progression from early adversity to disease and early death. Yet today, 2,500 children, including infants and toddlers, of parents who may be fleeing for their lives have been taken from their parents, the one constant in their lives, and sent far away. We don’t even know where they are. Just writing these words fills my heart with grief. I have spent much of my professional life as a psychotherapist working with children and families to protect and promote their mental health and their healing from ACE’s.
You don’t have to be a highly trained clinician to know that losing a parent – let alone being forcibly separated and held prisoner far from each other - is one of the most stressful experiences children can have. All children, including those of immigrant families seeking asylum in our country, deserve to be protected from horror and heartbreak. To deliberately inflict this Adverse Childhood Experience on them is nothing less than child abuse.
Two weeks ago, I asked, what is a compassionate, enlightened response to pain? To take refuge in loving awareness, in friendship, in wisdom and self-compassion teachings - speaking our truth in community, raising our voices on behalf of what we care about.
For those of you who are interested, click HERE for some resources.
While our political views may differ completely, we can all agree: first, do no harm -- and protect kids!
There are simple ways we can shape our experiences to include more compassion. I have a teacher, for example, who bakes beautiful pies once a year to bring to a family gathering. When it comes time to transport them, she has to be very careful. She drives slowly and cautiously. Other drivers, unaware of her precious cargo, don’t seem to appreciate when she drives so gingerly. You can imagine the line of frustrated drivers stuck behind her.
There are other times throughout the year when she finds herself sitting, irritated, behind a driver moving too slowly for her liking or one taking a little to long to respond to a green light. One day she caught herself feeling upset at another driver and realized that she has been that person. At least one day a year, she has been the slow driver holding up the others. “That’s me,” she thought. “I’ve been there. Maybe they’re moving slowly because they’re carrying precious cargo. Maybe they’ve got pies.”
She caught herself in a moment of suffering, as a result of her irritation and frustration. Turning mindful attention on how she felt created spaciousness. In this space, she was able to choose. She used compassion for herself and non-judgment to turn her suffering into understanding. She transformed the tension that she felt into the recognition that she and the other driver are actually the same.
Every day there are countless opportunities to use mindful awareness to access the empathy that lives within us. If we can continue to be open to awareness, compassion can reveal itself in a myriad of situations- maybe turning a frustrating drive home into a tender-hearted memory of family; and yummy pies!
I've been spending time with a close friend, a deep practitioner who recently had surgery. He's in a lot of physical pain as he recovers. Pain is hard to bear. On top of that, we tend to judge ourselves for the way we manage it. Even the Buddha had backaches as he grew older; there were times when he couldn't teach. He had to lie down because it hurt too much.
Pain asks to be held with compassion rather than judgment. We can get through it, but not by comparing ourselves to a dharma fantasy of Buddha-like transcendence and elegant equanimity. Sometimes it's just too hard. To acknowledge when it feels unworkable, to ask for help and offer a humble bow of surrender - these can be sane and healthy responses to strong pain.
In the same way, we're also carrying our country's collective pain. We're witnessing children being separated from parents and being placed in awful facilities, unprotected from fear and pain. No matter where you stand on immigration and asylum issues, basic human rights accorded by international law do matter. Protecting children matters. Love matters.
In the face of wild emotional heartache or physical misery, we often feel helpless, lonely, despairing. But this reaction leads to distress, or depression, even suicide, as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain make tragically clear. Our practice calls for compassion for the pain of all beings everywhere (which includes ourselves). What is a compassionate, enlightened response to pain? To take refuge in loving awareness, in friendship, in wisdom and self-compassion teachings - speaking our truth in community, raising our voices on behalf of what we care about. Turning towards each other, sharing what's true for us awakens the great heart of compassion and frees us to respond wisely to the struggles of our world.
This is special time of year for me. When I was 17 I found the Dharma, and I often joke that because of my inner and outer turmoil and suffering I was highly motivated to practice. The truth is that's not a joke at all. There's a Buddhist phrase "practice like your hair's on fire." This expresses a sense of spiritual urgency. I related to this very much, and for me it was like my heart was on fire.
The Dharma was truly my life, my path. I didn't feel I had a choice. 10 years ago I moved to LA on a whim and met Trudy Goodman and found InsightLA before we had a center. It was a very different time for meditation in Los Angeles and I marvel at how things have grown. I have been teaching mindfulness and the Dharma since 2011 when Trudy heard me give a 10 minute Dana talk (a talk requesting support for the center and teachings) at the end of one of her evening teachings. She pulled me aside afterwards and asked me to join her first teaching cohort at InsightLA. Later on, I was honored to begin subbing for her Sunday mornings when she was away.
That year a few of my senior colleagues were given teacher authorization in the Theravada tradition in a beautiful ceremony with Trudy, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, and then one year ago, myself and several of my colleagues at InsightLA were given our own powerful teacher authorization ceremony with Trudy and Jack. We also celebrated friends and colleagues who had graduated from the Spirit Rock Retreat Teacher training and three others dear to me who are in the current training cohort with Dharma friends and colleagues I've practiced with for many years.
This past Tuesday was the buddhist holiday called Vesak, honoring the Buddha's birth and enlightenment, and the one year anniversary of my authorization. I want to share my gratitude for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and for all my teachers. The transformation of my heart and mind is beyond words that can be expressed here. I feel so fortunate to live aligned with what matters so deeply to me and to share that with people. My only wish is to be able to pass on a fraction of what I've received.
P.S. In August, I'm leading a 6 night night silent meditation retreat in the Andalusian region of Southern Spain, located in the beautiful foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This region is gorgeous and known for its tranquil and peaceful energy. If this is something you might be interested in learning more about click HERE.