Musings of the InsightLA teachers
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!
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,
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!
When I was little, I wanted to know about money, and why some people were called rich. I asked my mother, “Are we rich?” My father was an academic and my mother a homemaker who sewed and ironed our clothes and froze our tuna sandwiches in bulk. After they defrosted in our lunch boxes we ate them, damp and soggy… My mother answered, “We’re rich in love and happiness.” I felt frustrated. This answer didn’t address my wanting to know where we stood with the money part.
Years later, as a grown-up, I appreciate her answer. Love and happiness are indeed our truest riches. It was on my meditation cushion that I first learned to trust that there is ample love in the universe. I learned to open to and connect with my inner riches with metta, with creativity, with understanding, with the inner sources of love and happiness that are ever available to all.
It was through psychotherapy and continued meditation practice that I began to know and accept all parts of myself, to feel truly at home in my own life. I remember walking into my little Cambridge apartment one day and hearing an inner voice say, “Trudy, you are complete!” It was startling, and true; I felt completely at peace. I hadn’t felt such total ease in my own skin before. And now I did. It had happened gradually, but I realized it all at once.
Breath by breath, moment by moment, with loving awareness, we create a home for the heart and this home is our refuge. We build community and the community supports us. We reveal our minds and hearts and our minds & hearts strengthen us. We open to life and life opens to us. We open to love and love opens to us
This poem, Thanks, from W. S. Merwin, reminds me of the
last lines of Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah:
“And even though it all goes wrong
I stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah”
Listen with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
in the faces of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
35 years ago, Adelaide Harrison, a kind white-haired lady from South Africa visiting her son Gavin in New England, confided to me in a hushed voice when he left the room, “He only does what he wants to do!” She was shocked at her son’s commitment to listening to his body and trusting his intuition about what he was called to do. I tried to reassure her: he’s not being selfish, he’s following in the footsteps of the Buddha, who taught that the best way to care for others is to be sure we’re taking wise care of our own life energy, too.
Gavin was diagnosed with HIV when it was a death sentence, before the medicines came that generously prolong life. Thanks to his fierce commitment to sustaining the health of his body, he was graced with enough additional years to fulfill his spiritual longing and live a truly enlightened life of meditation, beauty, service and joy. From his work with children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in South Africa and with gay men living with HIV in the early days, to his poetic teaching, Gavin used his passion and talent to guide and love others.
In his spiritual community in Mt. Shasta, Gavin changed his name to express the profound transformation he went through there. Gavin became their cherished companion Saucha, meaning purity of heart. Three weeks ago, our beloved friend Gavin/Saucha died suddenly of a heart attack. His teacher, Devaji, is leading a meditation retreat in Saucha’s honor, attended by me and the friends who became his family in the last few years. Saucha is very present here. It’s as though I’m looking through his eyes at the twin peaks Shasta and Shastina on the towering volcanic mountain he loved.
Two peaks, one Mt. Shasta: a majestic symbol of the two-fold practice erupting from the depths of molten love at the center of our being. Just as it is one mountain, it is one life, one love we share – we only appear to be divided in two, as self and other. How fortunate we are to have practices to reveal this all-embracing love in both its oneness and twoness! Though we meet, care for each other, go apart, care for ourselves, and meet again in the whirlwind of life, in reality, there’s no separation -- just the twirling dance of falling in love with our self, with each other, and the whole topsy-turvy world. Like Saucha, may every one of us live with the joy and radiance of infinite love!
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.