Musings of the InsightLA teachers
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!
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.
All of us at InsightLA want to share our deep sadness for the tragic events that occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue and the shooting Friday at a yoga studio in Tallahassee.
Places of worship, sharing, community, or just somewhere that we can simply sit quietly - are sacred spaces. These spaces, and all spaces, are infinitely worthy of safety for all.
The Buddhist teachings that InsightLA is founded on are strongly rooted in the principles of non-violence and non-harming. It is these principles that we wish to communicate with every act, thought and will of compassion.
At InsightLA we know that when someone shares in practice with us, they are meeting us in a place beyond words, through connection of the heart. When something tragic befalls a member of our community, it ripples throughout us all. We send metta to the community of the Tree of Life Synagogue and to the people of Pittsburgh. Know that InsightLA is here for you.
We resonate with the larger community of Jewish people around the world, and with all beings who have suffered unbearable loss. May we all find a safe and reliable refuge in our places of practice and prayer.
We send wishes for healing, and our hearts meet in the place beyond words. Here is a video of President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, after the tragic shooting there.
Please remember to vote with your heart on Tuesday!
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.
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!”