Musings of the InsightLA teachers
I watched with awe and appreciation Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and the immense courage it took to share her painful history and trauma. I was floored by her commitment to her “civic duty” (her words). Let this just sink in for a moment: as an act of patriotism she bared her soul in front of the world for her country, knowing that without her story on the record, Congress’ decision in its selection of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court would not be fully informed. I also watched with deep sadness and horror as her brave truth-sharing was dismissed and undermined by fellow citizens, media commentators, and members of Congress. On display: an epidemic inability to hear and stay open to pain and consider the possibility that the story shared was for the common benefit, not partisan point-scoring.
I am reminded of similar acts of courage playing out on a much smaller scale in our meditation communities across the country. Meditation practitioners are standing up and speaking out about how the communities themselves have been formed that make them emotionally or psychologically unsafe. They are pointing out the ways the teachings are presented that prevent them from being universally accessible. As scary or daunting or even re-traumatizing as it is for them to share their truth, these courageous community members are speaking out with the intention to create more authentic, heartfelt spaces of shared practice and learning.
But unlike what’s happening on the national stage, those of us who meditate together learn how to turn towards our painful stories, stay steady and open to them. We have tools to help us when the going gets tough. When resistance inevitably comes up, we notice, ground, take a few breaths, and listen when someone says, “This is how it is for me.” It’s difficult to stay open to pain, especially when we may have wittingly or unwittingly played a part in it. With our commitment to loving awareness, these stories of suffering can be a gift – a wake up call, a precious opportunity to put our practices of mindfulness and compassion in action. We can explore ways of creating “a more perfect union” of practice and community (I am very much looking forward to David Treleaven’s upcoming teachings on trauma-sensitive mindfulness).
This work is not easy. To me, it is our “patriotic” duty towards our meditation communities to stay with it. We can be inspired by the courage of those of us who are willing to share their pain so that we can be better together. We can re-commit to opening our hearts. We can re-commit to turning tenderly towards suffering and using it as the path to transformation. We are not in a hurry. We are here to listen to each other. We are here to be kind – to ourselves and others - and to learn the truth of what is. We are here to awaken together. This is why we practice. This is what we are here to do.
On Rosh Hashanah Sunday, someone asked a poignant question. She wondered what to do? Yom Kippur is coming, the holiest of days of atonement, repentance, and she’s not ready to forgive - not at all. Her fear about facing this day without doing what is required reminded me of being a young girl and wondering if God would inscribe me in the symbolic “book of life” and allow me to live another year.
My family was not observant, so I only thought about God occasionally. I figured God didn’t have time to think of me too often, either, which was a relief. Being a little kid, I hadn’t done anything worse than fight with my siblings or steal candy, so I reckoned I’d get to live.
During the high holidays, observant Jews do the difficult psychological work of self-examination and spiritual change: asking for forgiveness, resolving not to repeat mistakes, wiping the slate clean of grudges and resentments to begin a fresh new year. God doesn’t sort out personal relationships; we humans have to do that – to apologize for hurting others, forgiving those who ask - so that we can bear to sit with ourselves in loving awareness meditation without having that body cringe of shame about who we are.
What if we aren’t ready to forgive? Forgiveness can’t be forced. We can have compassion for all the suffering without condoning unforgivable harms. We can have boundaries. It’s OK to protect ourselves from seeing the person who harmed us, even if they’re a family member. We can ask for help, like the questioner on Sunday. And little by little, we leave behind whatever separates us from the joy of our own aliveness. The book of life symbolizes our own aliveness here, the sense of being present and awake. To live is our birthright – to be at home in our lives, to feel worthy and appreciative of the life that has been given to us.
A Note From Trudy:
Over the decades since Larry Rosenberg founded the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, few people have ever been allowed the honor of being in residence there. For nine years my friend George Mumford lived there, practicing Vipassana (Insight or Mindfulness meditation) with great humility, steadiness and brilliant generosity. Later, as a sports psychologist, George was the mindfulness and meditation coach for the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers during the time they won six NBA championships!
When asked if Michael Jordan has the strongest concentration he ever witnessed, George responded, “Yeah, but it’s also mental toughness and will to win. I study excellence, and it doesn’t matter what domain a person who is excellent at what they do is in – there’s a meditative quality to their training and performance…certain qualities are there: wise effort, wisdom, concentration or faith, and confidence.
He added, “You can’t do it without the meditation practice. This is not just about being good in sports; this is warrior training. It’s a full-time job. Warriors have known this for a long time. You have to be able to deal with your emotions and be clear about what you are attempting to do and how you’re going to do it. Mindfulness develops this skill.“
George is one of the best and most versatile teachers I know. He has taught all over the country with his vast understanding and courageous heart. Now he’s training the Miami Dolphins, and this Saturday, coming to InsightLA. He teaches radical awareness: “Whatever is on your mind, that’s your meditation. Meditation is a way of life!”