Musings of the InsightLA teachers
For years when I was young, I struggled with a kind of low-level anxiety, as though something nameless and forgotten was always nipping at my heels. My relationships, passionate at first, always seemed to end in dissatisfaction. My mind jumped around, and I followed it. When I found this practice, it was hard for me at first. But even though I struggled to sit still and pay attention, just making that effort began to help me settle down and relax into my own being. For the first time in my young adult life, I felt at home in my own skin, in my own life.
This is why we practice mindfulness and meditation. Little by little, breath by breath, step by step, we learn how to be present and aware. Moment by moment, we develop and strengthen our power of attention so we can choose how to use our minds, how to open our hearts and live our deepest values. How we keep our awareness in this very moment is what really matters, for the present moment is actually the only one we have to live – the past is a memory, the future still a dream. The NOW moment is the most powerful. We learn how to be more steadily loving and kind so when we inevitably hit a rough patch, even though nothing may change in our external circumstances, our whole view and perspective on what’s happening can shift, bringing healing and relief.
We discover that the body is a rudder that can steer us through wild mind waves into the calm waters of loving awareness. And the more we can notice and be present with what’s happening, the more we quiet down and discover moments of stillness and peace that never seemed possible before. Loving awareness of the body is a great practice for busy people to calm down and release stress compassionately, even when there isn’t time to go away on meditation retreats or practice more intensively. Our body and breath are always with us and as we go through the ups and downs of life, becoming more joyfully conscious of the aliveness of the body, we realize our kinship with all life.
One of the great benefits of mindfulness practice is that we begin to understand: just as I go through hard times, everyone does. It’s part of being human. We make mistakes, we forgive ourselves, we learn that we’re not alone. This is what it’s like to be a human being, mindful of our unique, individual life happening in the vastness of all space and time. Being alive is an endless invitation to step into the magic of infinitely mysterious, ineffable being, manifesting as this very moment. I hope you’re enjoying the mindfulness practices that not only help you create a meaningful, purposeful life but also connect you to the immense current of creation flowing through you, as you.
Frank Ostaseski is an internationally respected Buddhist teacher and visionary cofounder of Zen Hospice Project, and founder of the Metta Institute.
The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully
Life and death are a package deal. You cannot pull them apart.
In Japanese Zen, the term shoji translates as "birth-death." There is no separation between life and death other than a small hyphen, a thin line that connects the two.
We cannot be truly be alive without maintaining an awareness of death.
Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most. And the good news is we don't have to wait until the end of our lives to realize the wisdom that death has to offer.
Without a reminder of death, we tend to take life for granted, often becoming lost in endless pursuits of self-gratification. When we keep death at our fingertips, it reminds us not to hold on to life too tightly. Maybe we take ourselves and our ideas a little less seriously. We let go a little more easily. When we recognize that death comes to everyone, we appreciate that we are all in the same boat, together. This helps us to become a bit kinder and gentler with one another.
In Buddhism, the reflection on death is an essential spiritual practice. It is not seen as ideology to be adopted as a protection against death. Rather, it is an opportunity to become more intimate with death as an inevitable part of life. While such reflections may seem morbid to some, I have found the practice of cultivating a wise openness to death to be life affirming. The value of these reflections is that we see how our ideas and beliefs about death are affecting us right here, right now.
This Sunday, Frank Ostaseski joins InsightLA's founding teacher Trudy Goodman at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Hollywood Forever, the home of our Eastside Monday Night Sitting Group, is the perfect setting for the exploration of what death can teach us about living fully. The program is open to all and will include mindfulness meditation, talks by the teachers, experiential exercises and discussion.
The Buddha’s original instructions for meditation, or dhyana, ask us to go into a secluded forest and sit under a tree, a quiet place to allow deep concentration. If you’ve ever meditated outside in nature, you can feel the support of plants, landscape, the earth, just as you are buoyed by different energy when you sit in a group from when you sit alone.
Jack and I are in Kyoto, Japan, for the first time! We spent our first day visiting majestic monasteries and Zen gardens. Everyone takes off their shoes at the entrance to a temple and puts on worn slippers. We pad silently around the soft wood floors, respecting the quiet rhythm of Zen temple life. Around each corner, gardens display subtle patterns of rock and gravel, moss and water, curved stone bridges carrying us from the preoccupations of our human world into the beauty and harmony of the vast cosmos.
When I gaze at the ineffable elegance and grace of one simple garden, I think of you and me. We, like Zen gardens, are exquisitely designed to express the sweep and power of nature in a small space - in this body. With quiet, mindful presence, we don’t have to go off to visit faraway Zen temples or ancient Japanese gardens to realize how this very body -- this personal life of you and me -- reveals infinite dimensions of universal life.
It’s very early Spring and the branches are bare. A few daring plum blossoms have burst open and little red camellias brave the cold. Stopping to savor a garden, we tune into the eternal stillness and flow of this life we share. A thirteenth-century Chinese master, Wumen Huikai, rakes the gravel of our flowing thoughts and feelings into one of my favorite Zen poems:
春有百花秋有月 The spring flowers, the autumn moon;
夏有涼風冬有雪 Summer breezes, winter snow.
若無閑事挂心頭 If useless things do not clutter your mind,
更是人間好時節 You have the best days of your life.
Did you know about the Veterans Day Moment of Silence Act? It was enacted to encourage two minutes of silence nationwide on each Veterans Day in honor of their service. This Act is definitely an outlier, for it was unanimously passed by both houses of Congress! President Barack Obama signed it into law on Oct. 7, just a year ago.
On Saturday we remember all the people who fought in the many wars of our history; this year for the first time, Military Families are included with Veterans. For the past seven years, InsightLA trained staff at area VA hospitals in mindfulness and self-compassion practices designed especially for our Veterans. The mission was to create a kinder atmosphere in the hospitals, and to offer our Veterans powerful mindfulness-based practices for healing their trauma and isolation. We care.
No matter what you or I think about war, or who goes to fight our wars, or what defines honorable service, we can understand the longing to live for a purpose bigger than just ourselves. America’s warriors are volunteers. They choose to put their lives on the line to serve and protect others – us! Wherever we stand on the increasingly divided political spectrum, we can separate our passionate, wildly divergent beliefs from simple respect for selfless service, personal sacrifice and love of country. Our mutual respect is an honorable path to peace.
I love this Moment of Silence Act — two whole minutes of national mindfulness! Two full minutes of being together in silence as a nation to appreciate our shared humanity and offer respect. Two minutes a year…imagine if we could extend this to two minutes a day. When we practice mindfulness together, little by little we realize that we and our beautiful country, our magnificent blue planet, and our magical, heart-breaking world are not separate. With more and more minutes of loving awareness, we begin to see how all our diversities are part of a larger whole, and feel the stunning unity connecting us in all our multiplicities. We, too, can inspire ourselves to live with the intention to serve, protect, and take care of life – life in the form of you, of me, of all beings everywhere, without exception!
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!
You know how sometimes you agree to do something and then when that time rolls around, you’re really sorry? A while ago I said I’d teach an online video course for Conscious2. Teaching this way was definitely an edge for me… How do you act animated and natural when teaching to a glassy black camera lens in a studio empty of students?
The course title is “Everything Is Your Path.” Which means doing videos now must be my path if I’m walking my talk, taking whatever happens as a chance to learn and overcome fears, I simply did it. Guess what?— mindfulness works LOL! It felt completely natural. I even enjoyed teaching the way I do when you’re in the room with me. And I think the course is well-designed and good. It’s not for complete beginners, but for people who have some practice and want to go further.
In this course, we look at bringing mindfulness and kindness to your whole life, to body, heart and mind.
One of the thoughts I had to work with arose when I looked at myself in the mirror. Why couldn’t I have recorded video teachings when I was 20 or 30 years younger!? I smiled with loving awareness. We all want to look good …. awww…. this is tender, poignant vanity. And it actually looks pretty good as it is.
This Sunday, there’s a free 2-hour Livestream so you can sample the teaching and decide if the more in-depth class is for you. It’s a very generous offering, and I thank the students who participated. For all of you who’ve longed for some online Sunday sitting group, I hope you’ll come join me.
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.