Musings of the InsightLA teachers
The Buddha encouraged his community to meditate in the forest at the foot of a tree, beginning a long tradition of reverence for nature in Buddhism. Spending time in nature, we can sense the intimate connection between the natural world and our own nature. There’s a circuitry between the health of the environment and our own mental and physical health.
Even along city streets, by strip malls and parking structures, we notice the power of nature -- blades of grass poking through asphalt, tree roots heaving up concrete slabs of sidewalk, banks of flowers inhaling the exhaust of the freeway. In Los Angeles, the ocean is our only wilderness. The beach is a liminal space where the untamable magnificence of Mother Nature meets our urban life of confinement in cars and constant connectivity. People flock to the beach around sunset, the mysterious threshold between day and night.
As the sun flames from gold to orange to scarlet, the waves move like liquid opal.
For a few moments, the sea is milky turquoise, luminous under a glowing coral sky. The vast pearly ocean slowly turns dark as light fades from the sky. Rays of incandescence light up the horizon where the sun slides down to the other side of the world. Scattered along the water’s edge, a few families and couples enjoy playing in the afterglow, silhouetted by the sea -- ghostly beings dancing in the magical light before nightfall.
Why not try it one evening? Stay, linger on the beach at dusk as waves wash away the day. Revel in the stillness of being in nature. You might walk toward the Santa Monica Ferris wheel of ever-changing, ever-turning rainbow light. You can treasure the peace and magic of the natural world in your own mindful heart.
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!
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.
This is special time of year for me. When I was 17 I found the Dharma, and I often joke that because of my inner and outer turmoil and suffering I was highly motivated to practice. The truth is that's not a joke at all. There's a Buddhist phrase "practice like your hair's on fire." This expresses a sense of spiritual urgency. I related to this very much, and for me it was like my heart was on fire.
The Dharma was truly my life, my path. I didn't feel I had a choice. 10 years ago I moved to LA on a whim and met Trudy Goodman and found InsightLA before we had a center. It was a very different time for meditation in Los Angeles and I marvel at how things have grown. I have been teaching mindfulness and the Dharma since 2011 when Trudy heard me give a 10 minute Dana talk (a talk requesting support for the center and teachings) at the end of one of her evening teachings. She pulled me aside afterwards and asked me to join her first teaching cohort at InsightLA. Later on, I was honored to begin subbing for her Sunday mornings when she was away.
That year a few of my senior colleagues were given teacher authorization in the Theravada tradition in a beautiful ceremony with Trudy, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, and then one year ago, myself and several of my colleagues at InsightLA were given our own powerful teacher authorization ceremony with Trudy and Jack. We also celebrated friends and colleagues who had graduated from the Spirit Rock Retreat Teacher training and three others dear to me who are in the current training cohort with Dharma friends and colleagues I've practiced with for many years.
This past Tuesday was the buddhist holiday called Vesak, honoring the Buddha's birth and enlightenment, and the one year anniversary of my authorization. I want to share my gratitude for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and for all my teachers. The transformation of my heart and mind is beyond words that can be expressed here. I feel so fortunate to live aligned with what matters so deeply to me and to share that with people. My only wish is to be able to pass on a fraction of what I've received.
P.S. In August, I'm leading a 6 night night silent meditation retreat in the Andalusian region of Southern Spain, located in the beautiful foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This region is gorgeous and known for its tranquil and peaceful energy. If this is something you might be interested in learning more about click HERE.