Musings of the InsightLA teachers
The Buddha taught that we can develop loving-kindness by visualizing how a caring mother holds her beloved child. Love is our true nature, but it is often covered over by a protective layer of fear. The Buddhist path uses systematic trainings to cultivate love. These trainings are found throughout the Buddhist world. They strengthen our capacity for love, compassion, joy and peace. The practices that develop these qualities combine repeated thoughts, visualization and feelings. These trainings have been employed by millions of practitioners to transform their own hearts.
Loving-kindness is the first of these trainings. In loving-kindness practice, students visualize themselves and repeat four or five traditional phrases of well wishing, such as “May I be safe and healthy. May I be happy.” Along with the recitation, a bodily sense of love is established and the feelings of loving-kindness are invited.
Loving-kindness develops as we repeat these phrases thousands of times, over days and months…. I often recommend a year of developing loving-kindness for oneself. Because of the shame and unworthiness we carry, loving ourselves becomes a particularly powerful practice. It doesn’t create love. It opens the pathway to the gold of our natural love. Then it can spill over to bless all we touch.
Spend NEXT SATURDAY, November 3rd, with JACK KORNFIELD, for a day of practice at InsightLA's 2018 benefit, AWAKENED HEART.
Join us for a joyful day of transformative teachings, wonderful stories, heart practices, and awakening together. In these turbulent and divisive times, more than ever we need ways to steady our hearts, calm our minds, clear our vision and inspire our action. We will cultivate the qualities of courage and love, how to dwell in kind awareness, and how to enhance our natural capacity for care and connection, towards ourselves, our society and all beings. Metta and goodwill–combined with compassion, forgiveness, sympathetic joy and equanimity–are the revolutionary and necessary powers that can transform our lives and mend our world.
10 am - 4 pm
Saturday November 3rd
First Presbyterian Church
Santa Monica CA
We can live wisely only when we accept the reality of change. Where I lived as a Buddhist monk, impermanencewas central to the curriculum. We deliberately contemplated change, our moods, the seasons, the passing of visitors, our aging, and the movement of our breath until we could see life as an unstoppable river. When Zen master Shunryu Suzuki was asked to sum up all Buddhist teaching he offered this simple phrase: “Not always so.”
Indeed, it was in the forest monastery that I began to taste the beauty of change and transformation. I remember how vividly mindfulness practice awakened my senses. I grew up in a suburban intellectual family, and the outdoors meant the backyard. But in the monastery, the temple buildings were in a central clearing, surrounded by towering teak trees and tropical vines, by thick woods filled with wild birds and cobras. Our small huts were scattered throughout this forest.
In this forest I learned to feel the turning of the seasons, the sweaty robes and loud singing of the cicadas on hot summer nights, the muddy feet and endless dampness of the monsoon rains, the dry winds of the cool season when I would wrap my towel under my robe for an extra layer of warmth. This was the first time I could actually watch the slowly changing phases of the moon and the appearance of morning and evening planets at dawn and dusk. I came to love these rhythms.
Now I bow to change everywhere. I have learned to be gracious with it. Of course like everyone I have suffered my losses, deaths of dear ones, divorce, and certain failures. With compassion and clarity, we can see that every one of us participates in the constant cycles of life’s change and renewal, seasons of grief and suffering, as well as seasons of joy, celebrating life’s renewed marvels and beauty.
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.
Science is catching up with the Buddha!
Neuroscientists are reporting confirmation of interdependence, selflessness and the holographic field of consciousness. This past weekend Trudy and I presented at the UCLA conference on Mind, Consciousness, and The Cultivation of Well Being along with 700 participants and a stellar faculty. Scientists like Elissa Epel showed how our cells and telomeres are listening to how we feel, responding to the whole environment and the society around us. Quantum physicists, cosmologists, and researchers like Menas Kafatos, Deepak Chopra and Dan Siegel described the field of Mind beyond the brain and how we live in probability, nonlocality, and entanglement—a play of form and emptiness.
I think of the 12-sided pavilion built by a Buddhist master for the ancient emperor of China, to demonstrate this. With mirrors on the walls and floors he suspended one candle and small crystal in the middle. As the Emperor looked into one tiny facet of the crystal he could see thousands of candle flames reflected into infinity in the mirrors. The smallest part contains and affects the whole.
What this means is that as you practice and illuminate your own heart and mind, you create healthy neural and epigenetic patterns and enhance your telomeres….and you positively affect the entire field of life around you. You know this already, but having science show it is like a cherry on top.
Here’s the best thing. These marvelous trainings in mindfulness and compassion are available for you year-round at InsightLA. Please come join in and let us practice together.
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.
This last week I again had the great pleasure and honor to teach a silent retreat in Germany, this time in Bavaria. Fifty brave souls, about a third of them new to retreat practice, showed up. Many of them secular mindfulness teachers or aspiring teachers. The place was magical: A medieval castle on top of a hill, first mentioned in local scriptures in the 12th century, surrounded by a big landscaped park with faux romantic ruins, perfect for walking meditation and reflections on nature.
Two male peacocks, one in natural colors and one white, watched our every move and commented the bell ringing with their cries. We decided that their cat-like “MEOUW-MEOUW!” could also be heard as “NOW- NOW!” What a fitting reminder!
After the first few days when the minds were caught oscillating back and forth between sleepiness and restlessness the repeated daily rhythm and the lack of outer distractions allowed for peacefulness and contentment to arise. Awareness practice became more easeful and kind and allowed for insights to arise, like these:
~We can see how we keep ourselves busy in order not to feel.
~We can see how much we believe that in order to be worthy of love we need to work hard and be perfect.
~We can see how we hold on so strongly to our roles, even on retreat, where many of them are just memories or projections.
~We can see how everything arises and passes away, inside and out, and relax back into this truth that nature shows us everywhere.
And (as Mark Nepo so beautifully describes it) we can have glimpses...
“..into the endless breath
that has no breather,
into the surf that human
shells call God(dess).”
With love and respect,
P.S. Trudy and I are co-leading InsightLA's 5 night Fall Insight Meditation Residential Retreat. The retreat is being held at the beautiful Royal Way Retreat Center, just a couple hours outside of LA, in Lucerne Valley. Hope you can sit with us!
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.