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!
Beginning this Monday, we’re excited to welcome you to practice with many generous friends and dedicated teachers at our new center, InsightLA East Hollywood.
Until now, we’ve been retrofitting diversity and equity into the existing infrastructure of our growing teachers’ group, office team and community at InsightLA. The birth of our new center celebrates the further steps in our practice of collective and societal flourishing. We’re making big efforts to explore implicit bias in many forms, such as institutionalized racism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, etc. This work is not separate from the teachings of awakening. This is a relational expression of our awakening hearts! Becoming more lovingly aware in the daily challenges of our lives is an integral part of supporting each other on our path.
To have our own center on the East side is a long-time dream come true. We’ll be posting the following welcome statement right on the front door. This is a fresh new place for us and we’re committed to making sure our center is a place where everyone can feel at home.
Welcome to InsightLA.
We’re glad you are here.
We offer practices of inner peace, compassion, mindfulness and love. We are open to all. Come in and join us!
Here is our commitment: In this world, with its great beauty and many difficulties, we will train our hearts in peace and kindness and courageously take a stand against all forms of greed, hatred, delusion, and cruelty. We acknowledge the implicit and overt violence that has been done to individuals based on race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, gender identity, religion, body size, ability, race and class. We recognize the violence that has been done to our planet and to the first nations peoples who stewarded this land before us.
We pledge to undo the forces of ill-will and isolation in ourselves and in our world. We will offer to all who come practices of mindfulness, compassion and wisdom. And inwardly and in our actions, we pledge to hold all beings in a circle of mutual respect, love, and unity.
May our resolve and our practice together benefit all.
Radical inclusivity and social justice was the hallmark of the Buddha’s teaching, too. Thousands of years ago, from the Dalit (untouchable) caste to widows, courtesans, convicts -- all those divided from society, discriminated, disinherited – if you wanted a new life of practicing mindfulness together, you were welcome to join. The Buddha referred to everyone in his community as “sons and daughters of noble family”. I hope that by working together, we, too, can be leaders in bringing mindfulness and compassion practices to serve an ever-widening swath of the communities where we live -- in Los Angeles and beyond.
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!