Musings of the InsightLA teachers
This week Jack and I celebrated our one-year anniversary by returning to the Santa Monica Pier and riding the Ferris Wheel.
As our gondola rose towards the top, I felt a rush of joy. Last year, as we were rocking gently in midair, Jack proposed—right at the top of the wheel! As the wheel turns, we celebrate one of the happiest times in our lives, so grateful.
I’m grateful for the practice of mindfulness, for the love, joy, compassion, and equanimity that help us humans stay connected to ourselves and in friendly relationship with one another. I’m grateful that we can learn how to infuse our consciousness with self-compassion and tender kinship with all life. And I’m grateful for all of you, who care deeply about your lives, and want to grow and bring more love into our world together. I’m grateful for wisdom practices that show us how to recognize the genius of knowing itself. Instead of getting caught in pettiness and taking it all personally, we can identify with innate, benevolent and creative awareness.
Along with gratitude comes the wish to share our love. How many ways can you think of to share what you love? When you are loving, you can dedicate that love to those who are lonely. When you feel peaceful, offer your peace of mind to people traumatized by violence. When you take a shower, imagine all the people who are homeless, displaced, or refugees reveling in the stream of clean water. When you’re feeling safe and protected, give the gift of fearlessness to everyone vulnerable to racism, oppression, and discrimination. When you swim, dedicate the cool water to rain on places that are hot with hatred. When you sip something to drink, “May this drink satisfy the thirst of craving for power or revenge.” When you eat something sweet, “May this bite sweeten hearts everywhere.”
We can use our imagination to share what we love, the everyday pleasures of our life, posting them on the universe… Whatever joy, gratitude and love come our way, may they radiate to all beings everywhere, limitless and blessed.
P.S. I’m also grateful for the lively, fresh, and whimsical new community we’re creating on social media! A big shout out to Sarah Selders, InsightLA’s Director of Digital Content, and Mark Koberg, Director of Programming and Marketing, for their effort in developing this online space for our sangha to connect, share our love and support one another. We’d be so grateful if you’d join us on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter. It’s easy, just click the icons below.
We live in scary times and we easily get caught in the primal reactions to fight, flee or freeze. Being in those states is miserable; we feel angry, fearful or numb - or all of the above. And it will taint our interactions with the people we love and the wider community.
Where to turn for support? Two spiritual leaders who I think have had a lot of practice with violence, suppression, heartbreak and loss are His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. One living in exile for nearly 60 years now, his country still occupied, his culture and language still violated and suppressed. The other has been fighting years and years against the Apartheid system in South Africa and since its fall the many still ongoing after-effects.
Yet both of them, spiritual leaders for millions of people for decades, have been described time and again as some of the most joyful and happy people around. Which is no coincidence. What can we learn from them?
In his book with the Dalai Lama psychiatrist Howard Cutler describes research on unhappy versus happy people: “In fact, survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and socially withdrawn, brooding and even antagonistic. Happy people in contrast are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative, and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily than unhappy people. And, most important, they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.”
Desmond Tutu says: “Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” What uplifting and hopeful words. And the Dalai Lama has been famously quoted as saying: “Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?”
This is so much easier said then done – and yet. As mindfulness practitioners we have an idea how to do that. How to use our practice on and off the cushion to put this into action, one step at a time, one breath at a time.
This is from the introduction to my new book, No Time Like The Present:
“…After more than forty years teaching mindfulness and compassion, the most important message I can offer is this: You don't have to wait to be free. You don't need to postpone being happy.
When Nelson Mandela walked out of Robben Island prison after twenty-seven years of incarceration, he did so with such dignity, magnanimity, and forgiveness that his spirit inspired the world. Like Mandela, you can be free and dignified wherever you find yourself. Freedom is not reserved for exceptional people. No one can imprison your spirit.
When your boss calls and you feel fear or anxiety, when someone in your family is in conflict or duress, when you feel overwhelmed by the growing problems of the world, you have choices. You can be bound and constricted or you can use this difficulty to open and discover how to respond wisely in this unfolding journey. Sometimes life gives us ease, sometimes it is challenging and painful. Sometimes the whole society around you is in upheaval. Whatever your circumstances, you can take a breath, soften your gaze, and remember that courage and freedom are within, waiting to awaken, and to offer to others. Even under the direst conditions, freedom of spirit is available. Freedom of spirit is mysterious, magnificent, and simple. We are free and able to love in this life—no matter what.”
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, was created to celebrate American workers; now the holiday heralds the end of summer. It’s hard for millenials to believe today, but in the 60’s, jobs were readily available. Especially if you were white with a little education, you could take your pick.
Just a few years after graduating from college, I became a single Mom ‘head of household’. Suddenly I needed a job to support my family. Sometimes it was discouraging to work hard at work and at home. I wished life was more spiritual and romantic. We know that when we work on automatic pilot, bored and fantasizing about being elsewhere, this is demeaning of ourselves and those we work with. But until I found a teacher and began practicing the Dharma -- the beautiful teachings of mindfulness and compassion we offer at InsightLA -- perhaps like you, I didn’t know any better.
Before and after work, I spent lots of time sitting in meditation. Trading child care with friends, I sat retreats whenever I could. I began to realize that it’s not just whatwe do that shapes who we are, but how we do it. You won’t be surprised -- but I was amazed to discover that my outlook played a big role in whether work felt depressing or interesting. Soen Nakagawa Roshi used to say that as our wisdom grows, “Our miserable karma becomes our wonderful dharma!” My “miserable karma” of feeling oppressed gradually changed to the “wonderful dharma” of appreciation and gratitude. This can happen anytime we remember to be mindful about how we approach our life.
When we deliberately practice being friendly and mindful, even work that is unchallenging and repetitious can become a fruitful field of practice. Through the quality of our attention, the miserable karma of restlessness and resentment can become the wonderful dharma of renewal and creativity. We come alive! Then we see our work, our labor, as spiritual practice. The whole experience can be transformed.