Musings of the InsightLA teachers
For years, my vision couldn’t be corrected properly with glasses. Unlike most people, I’ve been waiting eagerly for the time to have cataract surgery where a new lens can be put into the eye. Usually it’s a simple, routine procedure, but with some damage to my corneas, it’s trickier. Thursday was the surgery on the left eye. It went well, but I won’t know the final outcome for a few weeks. Nervous the day before, I reflected, what does it mean to see clearly?
Seeing clearly is being fully present within the experiencing of seeing and what is seen; it’s an active process that can only happen in the present. Seeing this process clearly is mindfulness. Witnessing what’s happening right here through all the senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, thinking, remembering, noticing what grabs our attention – this kind of seeing doesn’t depend on the eyes. It requires the humility to simply receive the moment in clear awareness. It requires the willingness to welcome each moment of sight, sound, taste, touch, thought, feeling, taking it all in, moment by moment.
This kind of seeing is creative, intelligent, awareness discerning how everything it perceives appears and then disappears. We don’t have to try hard, our natural awareness can easily see how a sight, sound or thought happens, peaks, fades, then passes away. We are life witnessing life being born, existing, vanishing. Seeing this way doesn’t depend on glasses or corrective surgery; it relies on cultivating invisible qualities of the heart, like tenderness and patience.
It takes generosity of spirit to receive life as it is. It calls for the inner vision we call mindfulness or loving awareness, an intuitive wisdom. As the little prince said: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) May the light of seeing clearly, wisely, “rightly” what’s essential - LOVE - shine through all your holidays!
As I sit here at Spirit Rock, where I am assisting Trudy and Jack’s retreat, I am reminded once again how our lives are not separate from our practice. What we are dealing with in our hearts and minds also comes on retreat with us. There is really no way out of what is happening, yet on retreat there is a structure and space to begin to let ourselves be more intimate with however it is for us and open in love.
This retreat is a unique opportunity to practice Mindfulness and Metta without the traditional dharma talks and structure. Trudy and Jack are offering a space for questions throughout the day, sharing and responding to the moment spontaneously. This form brings our lives into the dharma hall where we are questioning and exploring, how to love, how to practice with difficult emotions, with heartbreak, fear, loss, genocides, refugees, incarcerated children, and the political polarization of this time. The Zen master, the Guru—all of us—are speaking a truth of heart at this experienced student retreat.
Laughter echoes out of the hall, smiles beam bright, turkeys gobble loudly in the mornings, and the joy of our human spirit is fully visible. You know from your own experience that completeness of presence available to us when both shadow and light are allowed to dance and play in awareness. Just like our lives, this retreat asks us to ground the teachings of loving awareness and presence with how the world is, and how we choose to respond.
I look forward to, along with my husband Vincent, being a part of InsightLA’s teacher authorization in May.
With warmth and love,
Emily Horn is a meditation teacher. Along with Christiane and Beth, Emily is a graduate of the Retreat Teacher Training led by Jack Kornfield, Trudy Goodman, Phillip Moffitt, Joseph Goldstein, and others. Emily co-founded Buddhist Geeks and Meditate.io. She and her husband Vince taught at InsightLA; they now live in Asheville, NC with their son Zander.
One of the most joyous occasions in my life is passing on the Dharma to teachers I’ve mentored and loved. And one special and unique hallmark of InsightLA is our place in a lineage of Asian and Western teachers whose blessings and protection cascade down the generations from my teachers’ teachers to us.
This May 13th, we honor a new group of teachers: Paloma Cain, Celeste Young, Lisa Kring, and Emily Horn. In July, we’ll welcome the second half of this brilliant group, Maureen Shannon-Chapple, Diana Gould, Elizabeth Rice, Wendy Block, and Cayce Howe.
Jack Kornfield will preside with me at this important ceremony. In July, Sharon Salzberg, also one of the first lineage holders in the Theravada tradition in the West, will join me. We light candles representing the illumination of wisdom, and pass the flame of inspiration to each of our teachers—who embody many years of study and dedicated practice of mindfulness and compassion, of selfless service and excellent teaching at InsightLA.
We also celebrate Beth Sternlieb and Christiane Wolf, recent graduates of Spirit Rock’s Teacher Training, as they offer their blessing and support to the new trainees, Teresa Romano, Alisa Dennis, and Gullu Singh.
Come celebrate with us as we gather to honor the wisdom, compassion, and community spirit of our skilled and generous teachers!
There is a $10 registration fee for this event and everyone is welcome.
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.
Yesterday evening I was sitting on the beach at sunset, mesmerized by a flock of surfers bobbing on the waves, lit by the last pink light as the sun went down behind the mountains. I jumped into the ocean and played in the surf alongside some children I heard speaking French. A joyful toddler made a break for the waves, running towards us to join the fun before his mother snatched him back to safety.
Do you remember what it was like to be a child? How strange and fascinating the adult world can appear from a kid’s perspective? Even though specific memories may not be recalled, the felt-sense of being young and open - curious, sensitive, exploring - can be alive and strong in our mindfulness and meditation practice.
Children have a special power to imagine what will be healing and bring them happiness. When they feel safe enough, they have the courage, determination, and creativity to insist on whatever they conceive true happiness to be. What made the Buddha unusual was that he had an unlimited humanitarian goal and never lowered his expectations. As children do with their desires, he imagined the ultimate happiness and freedom and then cherished his longing for that as his highest priority. He pushed the limits of what his spiritual teachers taught. He wasn’t afraid to want a lot.
We can see a link between the beginner’s mind of children and the imagination and creativity of a grown-up Buddha. Resting in the often forgotten world of childhood—fresh, immediate, spontaneous, wide awake, immersed in the reality of here-and-now—can be a heartfulness training for our ‘been there, done that” adult minds. We can feel refreshed and renewed by being around the determination and delight of our young friends. Like us, children flower in the radiance of loving awareness. This is our practice: to shine this light on ourselves, each other, and our world.
This video from the Cleveland Clinic, “Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care”, was shown at InsightLA a few years ago. It shows a miraculous seeing into the hearts of others with eyes of compassion. If only we would see beyond the different roles and personalities we all inhabit to the one family we actually are!
Meditation allows us to be still and let the heart flower into new understanding and tenderness—this is the miracle of mindfulness! To paraquote the poet Walt Whitman:
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Los Angeles,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—
the ships with people in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
With mindful walking and quiet sitting, we develop the ability to intuit, to see under the surface of things. We tune into universal rhythms of both the human and non-human worlds. Births and celebrations and losses and milestones touch our hearts while the earth turns on its axis and brings the seasons.
Wednesday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Tonight the moon is waning, as a radiant crescent slivers into darkness. Here in the Northern hemisphere, we’ve been living each day a little longer. The majestic sun lingers slow and bright in the afternoon sky. This is the turning, light sheared off days by seconds, then minutes, till the longest night of winter solstice. This is the life of our world.
There is no other life—just this: the gradual turning of immense currents of light and dark, the miracle of incarnation, of empathy and compassion, embodied in each of you, in each one of us.
Today is the solstice, the first day of winter, when Earth’s axis tilts the Northern Hemisphere farthest from the sun’s warmth. It’s the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This year a full moon (called the Cold Moon, or the Long Night Moon, by Native Americans) coincides with the solstice, along with the Ursid meteor shower. After all the holiday celebrations, winter is a time to to drop under the busy surface of everyday life and ask, what is most important? Who or what most inspires me to go deep?
And what does that even mean? Commit to daily meditation? Do a retreat? Come to community sits (meditation sessions) and events to explore practice together? To me, going deep means questioning whatever holds me back from experiencing wisdom and love. It means remembering the dimension of timeless mystery, the ever-present mystery of nowthat is always here, waiting for me to look beyond habitual, conditioned seeing.
For you, going deep may be imagining you’re sitting on a star looking down, envisioning your life from the perspective of vast compassion. It could be serving in a profound way that takes you out of your separate self to identify with something far bigger. It might be devoting this time to creating more balance and harmony in your life, withdrawing from relationships and activities that don’t nourish your spirit to refocus on understanding where your heart wants to go. It can be reflecting on the deepest teachings you’ve encountered, like this from Nisargadatta Maharaj:
“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.”
May this holiday bring you gifts of joy to light up your heart and home.
With infinite love and gratitude for your practice and generosity,