Musings of the InsightLA teachers
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!
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,
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.
We hear every day how InsightLA changes people’s lives, bringing inner well-being, calmness, and wisdom. It is so important to keep love alive in these difficult times. We know how valuable this continues to be for all who join us.
Thanks to friends and supporters, we’ve been able to send our well-trained meditation teachers across our city, teaching mindfulness-based skills supporting people doing challenging compassion-based work. We call this innovative program Insight in Action.
We currently partner with 18 non-profits across Los Angeles -- serving the vulnerable kids who are experiencing homelessness at Safe Place for Youth, offering training for professional caregivers from area hospitals working with critically ill and dying children and adults. Helping people who are experiencing the unimaginable stress of displacement and homelessness -- whether migrants, refugees, or people down on their luck, helping veterans, firefighters, police officers.
Here are their words:
“I was able to reduce my medication for my pain. I can handle pain attacks much better and don’t panic so easily the way I used to.”
“My husband’s behavior changed in such amazing ways that I decided to take a class myself.”
“In some meditations I have a feeling of peace and utter serenity I used to feel on heroin. This is what I looked for all my life. Now I’m doing it on the natch and I ain’t spending no money!”
Our goal is to double the number of meditation and mindfulness classes we offer through Insight in Action in the next 12 months. We discover that whenever we put our practice into action by lending a hand to others, it helps us, too. This is the magic of generosity!
Your support makes a huge difference, keeping our programs open for all to quiet their minds, steady their hearts, and build a society of love. Please help us –visit https://insightla.org/Giving/Donate or simply respond to this email. We welcome a conversation with you.
Thank you again for your generous support over the past year. We’re glad you’re part of our InsightLA community.
May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you live with ease.
P.S. There are still some seats available for our annual benefit tomorrow. Hope you can join us!
A couple weeks ago, our InsightLA teachers and office team gathered once again for further training about racism and equity; we’re learning more about our organization and ourselves. As we brainstormed ways we can better serve our diverse community in Los Angeles and beyond, the whole room felt bathed in loving awareness. It’s a demanding and worthwhile effort. We’ve got skin in the game.
Our new East Hollywood center, formerly Against the Stream on Melrose, opens its doors on Monday November 12th and will include different voices. You’ll meet a few new teachers (some you may know from ATS) and our dedicated regulars. We’ll have offerings in Spanish as well as English, and there will be affinity groups for People of Color (POC), Queer and Transgender people, as well as immigrants, to sit together and build community. As we design the schedule, our priority is providing many opportunities for our neighbors and friends on the East side to enter a safe and accommodating space that is welcoming to all. In this spirit, all offerings (except for Saturday workshops) will be 100% donation-based and mostly drop-in through the end of the year.
We invite your suggestions as the teachings at InsightLA East Hollywood take shape. When we’ve had a chance to practice together for a little while, there will be a town hall to listen to everyone’s input. Here is some of what our team has planned so far:
Buddha’s Path Community Sits - Sunday morning, Tuesday & Thursday evening
Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Community Sit - Monday evening
Mindfulness Community Sit - Wednesday evening
Guided Meditations - Monday - Friday / 7:15am, 12:15 & 6:15pm / Saturday - 11am
Saturday Afternoon workshops
Silent Sitting periods - Monday - Friday / 10am & 3pm
After hearing from all of you, we’ll build on what’s here. I’m overjoyed that we have an on-going place to practice on the east side where all are respected for our heart’s willingness to be present. Let’s have a joyful celebration and ceremony to bless our new center after the holidays, in the new year. I can’t wait!
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.