Musings of the InsightLA teachers
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,
A spiritual tradition is not a shallow stream in which one dips one foot and retreats to the shore, it’s a mighty tumultuous river that rushes through one’s life.
– Bhikkhu. Bodhi
As one year morphs into the next, it’s a good time to pause and ask what you most want for 2019? Asking an open question and waiting to sense the answer invites your intuition to help reveal your deepest wishes for yourself, your beloved community, and our shared world.
In the Tibetan tradition, there is a practice called setting your intention. Try it now: sit down, relax, and breathe mindfully for a few minutes. Then deliberately ask, question, what do I love the most? How can I create a life that is more aligned with my most generous, loving aspirations? To help, I sometimes use my imagination to fast forward into the future and look back on my life today from a wiser perspective. With this imagined hindsight, what I need to do comes clearer. You can imagine your best future and set your intention to move in that direction. After you have clarified your intention, write it down and save it somewhere. Your focused intention is powerful and purposeful.
Then as the year goes on, you can remember your intention; check in, each time trusting your heart to incline in the direction you truly want to go. Your simple persistence is a sign of deep, sincere practice! Whether you’re beginning to dip your toes, or wading, or swimming in the river of mindful living, please kindly appreciate any effort you’ve made to meditate this past year. Your practice will sustain you when you most need support, even when you’re not feeling it. Keep going.
Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, or struggle with the holidays, remember that we lived through the darkest night of the year last week. Day by day, the light is miraculously returning. So launch your boat or dive into the water - and set out for the depths in 2019!
Note From Trudy from Sarah Selders on Vimeo.
How many times do we start a new year with big resolutions, only to quickly fall short and give up?
We assume that change is an either/or proposition — we either “deliver” or we’re out of the game. Mindfulness practice suggests a much more effective approach.
When we meditate, we may begin with close attention to our breath or sensations, but over time we are bound to lose the thread of concentration.
We gently bring the attention back and start fresh. Nothing is lost. It’s all part of the process.
It’s a great metaphor for life. When we are thrown off course — when we fall short in our resolutions or are blown off course -- we simply begin again. No self-judgment or making stories about the future. Just pick up and start again.
Beginning again in meditation, says teacher Sharon Salzberg, is “the replica of having flubbed something at work and needing to begin again, or having strayed from our deepest aspirations chosen course and having to begin again, or finding that we’ve fallen down and needing to stand up and begin again.”
What happens if we berate ourselves for losing our attention in meditation? Or if we decide, “I’m going to focus for 30 minutes without losing my concentration for an instant”. Chances are, we’ll quickly get discouraged, and perhaps even give up meditating altogether.
Same with life and new year’s resolutions. Expecting ourselves to be perfect or being overly self-judgmental simply gums up the works. Just begin again. Right now.
The Buddha compared being overwhelmed by circumstances to being shot by two arrows. The first arrow is the pain of the event. The second arrow is the pain from tormenting ourselves over it. If we stop tormenting ourselves, we instantly eliminate half of our difficulties. Or increase our chances of reaching our goals.
Of course, many would argue that goals or resolutions aren’t very spiritual. Getting too caught up in what we want creates its own suffering, especially when it’s not good for us. So goals need to be held lightly. Especially, since we’re likely to need to begin again many times along the way,
Teacher Phillip Moffitt calls this\ beginning again "and” practice “ When things go wrong, he advocates telling yourself: “ 'Yes, I just got lost, and now I'll just start over.' For example, 'I feel alienated and think my peers don't like me, and I am going to go speak to that guy over there who I usually get along with.’ “
The beauty of this kind of “starting over” is that we don’t have to wait to practice for a new year or the next time we fall down. It’s as close as our next meditation.
Today I received a delightful surprise, the delivery of a pretty certificate. It’s not something that I ever expected, but it turns out to be full of friendship, humor and love. It has a photo of a cute black baby goat standing in goat heaven—in tall green grass! Next to the little goat it says, “We hereby name this goat” then in big letters, “TRUDY.”
My friends at One Taste who sent this gift were watching the baby goats play on their new land in Philo when their founder, Nicole Daedone, said, “I want to name them after people who supported us before we were cool.” Nicole teaches a practice called Orgasmic Meditation, or OM-ing. She describes it as a consciousness practice fostering connection and intimacy. We met when I taught mindfulness practices and spiritual perspectives on sex and relationship at One Taste retreats.
I have supported the work at One Taste for years, grateful to know they are dedicated to teaching ever deeper understanding of sexuality and orgasm. Many years ago, I taught workshops exploring how we laypeople might integrate embodied mindfulness practice and deep Dharma into the realms of parenting, psychology, and intimate relationship. All too often, sexuality is confusing; set apart or dissociated from our practice, largely ignored in our centers. In the past, we’ve invited my friends Cheryl Fraser, an expert sex therapist and Dharma teacher, and Justine Dawson, who completed the Spirit Rock teacher training years ago, to teach about sex and relationship at InsightLA. I’m committed to bringing our sexuality too, into our loving awareness.
All the teachers I’ve met at One Taste express their love for humanity through meditation, mindfulness and spirituality, helping people overcome the sexual repression rampant in our culture. They wrote on the certificate: “In honor of your ongoing love and support for orgasm… we decided to name one of our first two goats after you.” What a fun tribute—to my work and to the open-minded spirit at InsightLA!
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.
Once when I was teaching at a Spirit Rock retreat years ago, Jack was giving the evening dharma talk, I was so tired that I fell sound asleep like a child listening to a bedtime story. I was sitting up straight in perfect cross-legged posture on the stage right in front of everyone in the meditation hall. This is a strange ability one can develop after years of meditating!
It was interesting to fall asleep and wake up there. This is the sleepiness that can hinder meditation, quaintly called “Sloth & Torpor” in the ancient texts. Along with mild embarrassment, I felt surprised that I’d let myself relax that deeply sitting up in front of 100 retreatants. It was sweet to realize I felt safe enough to do that. I’m not recommending sleeping during meditation, but when it happens, we can appreciate being in a place where we feel protected enough to let down our guard and rest.
Today I’m tired again, filled with a kind of political exhaustion from the corrosive onslaught of negative news. This is a time to ground myself in the wisdom of what I deeply trust in our practice. It’s a time to find the stillness within that reveres all people for their powerful potential to be caring and good. It’s a time to gather in kindness and community, so the worldly winds don’t buffet us as much - time to lend each other our spiritual strength and feel the value of simply coming to practice with others. What a gift to have a spiritual home where we can rest our weary minds right here at InsightLA!