Musings of the InsightLA teachers
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.
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!
On Rosh Hashanah Sunday, someone asked a poignant question. She wondered what to do? Yom Kippur is coming, the holiest of days of atonement, repentance, and she’s not ready to forgive - not at all. Her fear about facing this day without doing what is required reminded me of being a young girl and wondering if God would inscribe me in the symbolic “book of life” and allow me to live another year.
My family was not observant, so I only thought about God occasionally. I figured God didn’t have time to think of me too often, either, which was a relief. Being a little kid, I hadn’t done anything worse than fight with my siblings or steal candy, so I reckoned I’d get to live.
During the high holidays, observant Jews do the difficult psychological work of self-examination and spiritual change: asking for forgiveness, resolving not to repeat mistakes, wiping the slate clean of grudges and resentments to begin a fresh new year. God doesn’t sort out personal relationships; we humans have to do that – to apologize for hurting others, forgiving those who ask - so that we can bear to sit with ourselves in loving awareness meditation without having that body cringe of shame about who we are.
What if we aren’t ready to forgive? Forgiveness can’t be forced. We can have compassion for all the suffering without condoning unforgivable harms. We can have boundaries. It’s OK to protect ourselves from seeing the person who harmed us, even if they’re a family member. We can ask for help, like the questioner on Sunday. And little by little, we leave behind whatever separates us from the joy of our own aliveness. The book of life symbolizes our own aliveness here, the sense of being present and awake. To live is our birthright – to be at home in our lives, to feel worthy and appreciative of the life that has been given to us.
A Note From Trudy:
Over the decades since Larry Rosenberg founded the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, few people have ever been allowed the honor of being in residence there. For nine years my friend George Mumford lived there, practicing Vipassana (Insight or Mindfulness meditation) with great humility, steadiness and brilliant generosity. Later, as a sports psychologist, George was the mindfulness and meditation coach for the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers during the time they won six NBA championships!
When asked if Michael Jordan has the strongest concentration he ever witnessed, George responded, “Yeah, but it’s also mental toughness and will to win. I study excellence, and it doesn’t matter what domain a person who is excellent at what they do is in – there’s a meditative quality to their training and performance…certain qualities are there: wise effort, wisdom, concentration or faith, and confidence.
He added, “You can’t do it without the meditation practice. This is not just about being good in sports; this is warrior training. It’s a full-time job. Warriors have known this for a long time. You have to be able to deal with your emotions and be clear about what you are attempting to do and how you’re going to do it. Mindfulness develops this skill.“
George is one of the best and most versatile teachers I know. He has taught all over the country with his vast understanding and courageous heart. Now he’s training the Miami Dolphins, and this Saturday, coming to InsightLA. He teaches radical awareness: “Whatever is on your mind, that’s your meditation. Meditation is a way of life!”
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!
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.
Walking on ancient stone floors uneven from centuries of footsteps, stepping over bronze plaques commemorating trials and beheadings for high treason and state visits of yore, under the soaring vaulted beams of the 13thcentury Westminster Hall, the ceiling like a huge upside-down ship, we marvel our way through majestic medieval buildings gently sinking into the marshland below the river Thames. This is Parliament, in London.
Our guide is Chris Ruane, a 10-year meditation practitioner and tall, welcoming MP (Member of Parliament). Chris was inspired by Tim Ryan’s Mindful Nation to found the UK All-Party Parliamentary Mindfulness Group, taught by Chris Cullen. In just five years, their work has touched politicians from 40 countries and hosted the first-ever international summit.
Jack, our granddaughter Allie, and I meet with the well-organized Mindfulness Initiative team, a working group of 20+ people from various disciplines sharing the efficacy and progress of mindfulness practice in their fields. To witness their international efforts become global reality fills my eyes with tears of gratitude and joy!
The leaders we met with have a great responsibility; they carry both the dismay and dreams of the people they represent. They’ve found the practices of mindfulness and compassion invaluable to quiet and clear their minds, enable them to listen to each other ‘across the aisle,' and learn to respond from the deeper calling of their hearts. They tell us it has changed their lives. You, too, carry your own disquiet, your dreams and great possibilities for the world. May your life, too, be guided by the power of your simple, sustained practice of loving awareness and caring presence.
Our mindfulness rests on a foundation of compassion. It works like this: as we become more compassionately aware of our own suffering, we can perceive the suffering of others more accurately. A growing sense of being part of one family comes from cultivating loving awareness of our similarity as human beings, our oneness. As this realization deepens, we find there is only one possible response to pain and suffering: to care for one another and help out where we can.
We now know that childhood traumas (called ACE’s, adverse childhood experiences) dramatically affect children’s health across their whole lifetime. Today, we are learning how to prevent the progression from early adversity to disease and early death. Yet today, 2,500 children, including infants and toddlers, of parents who may be fleeing for their lives have been taken from their parents, the one constant in their lives, and sent far away. We don’t even know where they are. Just writing these words fills my heart with grief. I have spent much of my professional life as a psychotherapist working with children and families to protect and promote their mental health and their healing from ACE’s.
You don’t have to be a highly trained clinician to know that losing a parent – let alone being forcibly separated and held prisoner far from each other - is one of the most stressful experiences children can have. All children, including those of immigrant families seeking asylum in our country, deserve to be protected from horror and heartbreak. To deliberately inflict this Adverse Childhood Experience on them is nothing less than child abuse.
Two weeks ago, I asked, 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.
For those of you who are interested, click HERE for some resources.
While our political views may differ completely, we can all agree: first, do no harm -- and protect kids!
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.