Shadow & Light

As I sit here at Spirit Rock, where I am assisting Trudy and Jack’s retreat, I am reminded once again how our lives are not separate from our practice. What we are dealing with in our hearts and minds also comes on retreat with us. There is really no way out of what is happening, yet on retreat there is a structure and space to begin to let ourselves be more intimate with however it is for us and open in love.

This retreat is a unique opportunity to practice Mindfulness and Metta without the traditional dharma talks and structure. Trudy and Jack are offering a space for questions throughout the day, sharing and responding to the moment spontaneously. This form brings our lives into the dharma hall where we are questioning and exploring, how to love, how to practice with difficult emotions, with heartbreak, fear, loss, genocides, refugees, incarcerated children, and the political polarization of this time. The Zen master, the Guru—all of us—are speaking a truth of heart at this experienced student retreat.

Laughter echoes out of the hall, smiles beam bright, turkeys gobble loudly in the mornings, and the joy of our human spirit is fully visible. You know from your own experience that completeness of presence available to us when both shadow and light are allowed to dance and play in awareness. Just like our lives, this retreat asks us to ground the teachings of loving awareness and presence with how the world is, and how we choose to respond.

I look forward to, along with my husband Vincent, being a part of InsightLA’s teacher authorization in May.

With warmth and love,

Emily

Emily Horn is a meditation teacher. Along with Christiane and Beth, Emily is a graduate of the Retreat Teacher Training led by Jack Kornfield, Trudy Goodman, Phillip Moffitt, Joseph Goldstein, and others.  Emily co-founded Buddhist Geeks and Meditate.io. She and her husband Vince taught at InsightLA; they now live in Asheville, NC with their son Zander. 

Passing on the Light

One of the most joyous occasions in my life is passing on the Dharma to teachers I’ve mentored and loved. And one special and unique hallmark of InsightLA is our place in a lineage of Asian and Western teachers whose blessings and protection cascade down the generations from my teachers’ teachers to us.

This May 13th, we honor a new group of teachers: Paloma Cain, Celeste Young, Lisa Kring, and Emily Horn. In July, we’ll welcome the second half of this brilliant group, Maureen Shannon-Chapple, Diana Gould, Elizabeth Rice, Wendy Block, and Cayce Howe.

Jack Kornfield will preside with me at this important ceremony. In July, Sharon Salzberg, also one of the first lineage holders in the Theravada tradition in the West, will join me. We light candles representing the illumination of wisdom, and pass the flame of inspiration to each of our teachers—who embody many years of study and dedicated practice of mindfulness and compassion, of selfless service and excellent teaching at InsightLA.

We also celebrate Beth Sternlieb and Christiane Wolf, recent graduates of Spirit Rock’s Teacher Training, as they offer their blessing and support to the new trainees, Teresa Romano, Alisa Dennis, and Gullu Singh.

Come celebrate with us as we gather to honor the wisdom, compassion, and community spirit of our skilled and generous teachers!

Love, Trudy

There is a $10 registration fee for this event and everyone is welcome.

Click here for more information.

We named a goat after you. Is that okay?

Trudy the goat

Today I received a delightful surprise, the delivery of a pretty certificate. It’s not something that I ever expected, but it turns out to be full of friendship, humor and love. It has a photo of a cute black baby goat standing in goat heaven—in tall green grass! Next to the little goat it says, “We hereby name this goat” then in big letters, “TRUDY.”

My friends at One Taste who sent this gift were watching the baby goats play on their new land in Philo when their founder, Nicole Daedone, said, “I want to name them after people who supported us before we were cool.” Nicole teaches a practice called Orgasmic Meditation, or OM-ing. She describes it as a consciousness practice fostering connection and intimacy. We met when I taught mindfulness practices and spiritual perspectives on sex and relationship at One Taste retreats.

I have supported the work at One Taste for years, grateful to know they are dedicated to teaching ever deeper understanding of sexuality and orgasm. Many years ago, I taught workshops exploring how we laypeople might integrate embodied mindfulness practice and deep Dharma into the realms of parenting, psychology, and intimate relationship. All too often, sexuality is confusing; set apart or dissociated from our practice, largely ignored in our centers. In the past, we’ve invited my friends Cheryl Fraser, an expert sex therapist and Dharma teacher, and Justine Dawson, who completed the Spirit Rock teacher training years ago, to teach about sex and relationship at InsightLA. I’m committed to bringing our sexuality too, into our loving awareness.

All the teachers I’ve met at One Taste express their love for humanity through meditation, mindfulness and spirituality, helping people overcome the sexual repression rampant in our culture. They wrote on the certificate: “In honor of your ongoing love and support for orgasm… we decided to name one of our first two goats after you.” What a fun tribute—to my work and to the open-minded spirit at InsightLA!

Love, Trudy

The Shadow of Thought

It’s Spring, the season of renewal; delicate baby leaves, blossoming trees, new birdsongs.

Here at our spring retreat in beautiful Lucerne Valley, we’re taking time to unplug, sit down, relax, and begin our life anew, breath by breath, step by step.

To sit is to renew ourselves. We can open our hearts to something bigger than our thoughts. The warmth of high desert sunlight, the crescent moon smiling in the cold night sky remind us we are far more than we think.

Our small “I” is a shadow of thought that follows us wherever we go, without ever being fully present in the reality it thinks about. Mindfulness invites us to step outside the shadow of thought into clear, bright presence of awareness. In the light of being present, this shadow can disappear into what Suzuki Roshi famously called “big mind”, the infinite luminousness of consciousness.

Then all the thoughts of I-am — how I am, how I was, how I will be, who I could have been, who I want to be, on and on –-simply pass through the mind, casting a fleeting shadow. Sitting, walking, standing, or lying down, when we’re being mindful, the shadow of thought fades away. We are renewed.

Thousands of years ago, the Taoist master Wu Hsin wrote:

There is a shadow that runs parallel to life.

This shadow is the thought I-am

The movement of life is shadowed by the movement of thought.

One must not forget that that which runs parallel can never touch

That to which it runs parallel…the reality of what is called life.

Love, Trudy

Illuminating Interdependence by Jack Kornfield

Science is catching up with the Buddha!

Neuroscientists are reporting confirmation of interdependence, selflessness and the holographic field of consciousness. This past weekend Trudy and I presented at the UCLA conference on Mind, Consciousness, and The Cultivation of Well Being along with 700 participants and a stellar faculty. Scientists like Elissa Epel showed how our cells and telomeres are listening to how we feel, responding to the whole environment and the society around us. Quantum physicists, cosmologists, and researchers like Menas Kafatos, Deepak Chopra and Dan Siegel described the field of Mind beyond the brain and how we live in probability, nonlocality, and entanglement—a play of form and emptiness.

I think of the 12-sided pavilion built by a Buddhist master for the ancient emperor of China, to demonstrate this. With mirrors on the walls and floors he suspended one candle and small crystal in the middle. As the Emperor looked into one tiny facet of the crystal he could see thousands of candle flames reflected into infinity in the mirrors. The smallest part contains and affects the whole.

What this means is that as you practice and illuminate your own heart and mind, you create healthy neural and epigenetic patterns and enhance your telomeres….and you positively affect the entire field of life around you. You know this already, but having science show it is like a cherry on top.

Here’s the best thing. These marvelous trainings in mindfulness and compassion are available for you year-round at InsightLA. Please come join in and let us practice together.

Metta, Jack

Onslaught of Thoughts? Help Is Closer Than You Think

Have you noticed that we love nature analogies for our mindfulness practice? For example, the mind is like the clear blue sky and thoughts are like clouds or the RAIN acronym.

Here is another one for you: The Waterfall.

Have you ever felt like you were being attacked by thoughts?

As if a torrent of harsh or anxious or even panicky thoughts pours down on you like a relentless waterfall. When this happens, we can feel shaken or even tossed around by the impact of these violent thoughts.

I’ve been there for sure. It’s painful and can make us feel utterly helpless.

Instinctively we want to get away as far as we possibly can.

But help is closer than we may think. What we are looking for is a refuge or a shelter.

Here is how waterfalls work:

From nationalgeographic.org: “…A stream’s velocity increases as it nears a waterfall, increasing the amount of erosion taking place…The resulting erosion at the base of a waterfall can be very dramatic, and cause the waterfall to “recede.” The area behind the waterfall is worn away, creating a hollow, cave-like structure called a rock shelter.”

What we are looking for is the rock shelter of our experience. Where is that to be found? It’s right behind us. We take a step back. Just one step.

Sounds simple but it’s not easy. But this actually lies at the core of our mindfulness practice. We bring simple, kind awareness to the core of our present moment experience. Or even just awareness, as at times kindness is nowhere to be found. And by the miracle of just becoming aware we have already taken the step back.

Because awareness of rushing thoughts is not the same as being rushing thoughts.

We are still very close to the experience, we probably still get soaking wet and feel the mad rush of the falling water—but we don’t get tossed around anymore. When practicing mindfulness with a challenging story or emotion you will still get “wet.”

You.Will.Still.Get.Wet.

This last point can’t be overemphasized. When we first start our mindfulness practice we have this idea that mindfulness and the whole idea of “detaching” and “disengaging” from our experience creates a big distance between us and what we feel and think. You might have heard the phrase “Practicing mindfulness is like watching a washing machine—compared to being in it.” I wish!

But interestingly enough, being right there, in the rock shelter of thinking, one step behind the torrent, we can gain a strange sense of spaciousness, steadiness—and agency.

Don’t believe me? Please try it out and let me know what you find.

Love,

Christiane

Wise Love

On Wednesday, International Women’s Day 2017, I imagined women around the world joining hands and hearts to practice and share the warmhearted attention of lovingkindness. We have so much in common. Too often we neglect care for ourselves as we tend the world.

Through millennia of powerful conditioning, we’ve been trained to place the welfare of others before our own. In some cultures, it’s an imperative. In the West, while taking care of the well-being of others is important for everyone, it’s women who most often do this, sometimes at our own expense. Over-giving is often followed by dissatisfaction and even resentment. We lose our balance in unwise love. Seeking desperately to regain it, we look outside of ourselves for a much-needed source of energy, nourishment, and care.

Women and men alike get all mixed up and imagine that the loving attention that we long for can only be found outside of ourselves, transfused to us by a parent, a partner, or by a spiritual authority. Lovingkindness and Mindful Self Compassion practices teach us how to be nourished from within.

We can support each other with humor and kindness as we stumble towards wiser love. We’re just learning how to extend and protect both inclusion and diversity. Practicing loving awareness together, we learn how to focus on ourselves as well as others, so we don’t lose our balance in our work and relationships.

We human beings can come to experience clearly that we are the source of the love we seek. Joining hands and hearts in community, wise love blesses us and all we touch.

Love,

Trudy

In The Body – Zen Mind is Enough Mind

We are having out-of-the-body experiences all the time, more often than in-the-body experiences. The out-of-the-body experiences can be fascinating. We can travel pretty much anywhere in our minds, anytime. But with mindfulness, we discover what’s possible when we learn how to stay IN the body, fully present, focused, awake.

Meditation is the time when we bring our mind and our body to the same place at the same time. What we’re trying to do is train our minds and hearts to be with the actuality of what’s here—even when it’s difficult. We uncover the vividness and richness of that actuality, of Reality—capital R, right in the midst of hard times.

Freeing the heart from suffering doesn’t mean that there isn’t pain or suffering in our lives. During the recent rains, one community member who is experiencing excruciating pain due to a life-threatening illness wrote:

“During my morning meditation today, I continued the practice of reframing the “pain” as “strong sensation,” a feeling to be curious about, rather than label as negative…. After a while I noticed that the strong sensation in my shoulder and arm was powerful, tingling, pulsing and for a long time, it honestly felt like pleasure.

Now, I wish I could say that I now have the ability to transform my pain to pleasure at will. But I don’t get to choose what happens. Whether I am sick or if it rains is beyond my control. All I can do is continue to turn my mind to the reality of the present moment—as it is—good or bad, rain or shine, pain or pleasure…I’m not in charge. I can only watch the droplets fall, grateful that I am alive to feel them wash over me.”

No matter what is happening, each moment of being in this body contains all the ingredients we need to wake up. By staying with the ‘in-the-body experience,’ this meditation student has realized the truth of what my first teacher used to say: “Zen mind is enough mind.” Even in the midst of intense difficulty, she expresses her gratitude for “every being in the universe who is out there living life to the fullest, bravely facing the ups and downs, being present while you can.” Enough, indeed.

Love,

Trudy

Community Is Our Lifeline

Once, long ago, a father asked the Rinzai Zen master Sengai for a blessing for his family’s prosperity, to be treasured from generation to generation. Sengai took out his brush and ink and wrote, “Parents die, children die, grandchildren die.” The man was furious! Was this a cruel joke? Sengai explained: “If your family passes away in the natural order I have named…I call this real prosperity.”

It’s expected that parents will die and, much later, their children will die. The death of a child is always an unimaginable tragedy, an “out-of-order” death. Such an unfathomable loss rocks our world. I’m deeply sad to tell you that our beloved InsightLA teacher Elizabeth Rice and her husband David Wood lost their eldest son Galen Ricewood last weekend. Galen was 29. He is standing next to Elizabeth in the photo.

Death catapults us into the unknown. Like the refugees, we lose our connection to our known world where life unfolds in familiar ways, where children survive parents, not the other way around. Death and loss know no zip code, nationality, or identity. Community is the only lifeline when we’re grieving, hungry, sick, homeless. I saw firsthand the importance of community in the Darfuri refugee camp in Africa. In the midst of their heartbreak, Elizabeth and David are grateful for their strong marriage and family, and thankful for the friendship and support of our community.

Refuge in community is one of the three central pillars of our practice. We learn how to go for refuge in loving awareness, how to show up for each other, and how to recover the infinite richness of open-hearted, simple BEING that is our birthright. To honor Galen, his parents kindly request that you please send a donation to InsightLA in his memory, in lieu of flowers.

Love,

Trudy

Remember Your Body

The first foundation of mindfulness, the ground of our existence where we bring our attention, is the body. The Buddha wanted us to feel the body IN the body, to feel the breath IN the breath. What does this mean? It means getting to know the body from within the experience of being this body. Not as a concept or an object that we make ‘other’—but from within, from the inside.

Mindfulness is participatory observation—we are both subject and object of loving awareness at the same time. We both witness and experience the emotions and physical sensations that we’re having, simultaneously. The word for mindfulness is SATI, and it means, remember, don’t forget! Don’t forget to relax and allow yourself to simply notice and be here, right where you are—present with what’s unfolding, willing to see life just as it is. Remember to notice and appreciate life happening, life in the form of this breath, this sensation, this perception, this moment!

Remember to connect with your body in walking, don’t forget to stay close to your own body as you sit still, and as you are standing, walking, living, moving around, being and doing what you do. You can sense the gathering wholeness, the healing and happiness that comes when we grow in confidence about our ability to stay with our body and learn, with loving awareness.

From the great Thai meditation master, Ajahn Mun:

“In your investigation of the world, never allow the mind to desert the body. Examine its nature, see the elements that comprise it, kindly see the impermanence, the suffering, the selflessness of the body while sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. Then its true nature is seen fully and lucidly by the mind/heart, the wonders of the world will become clear. In this way, the purity of the heart can shine forth, timeless and delivered.”

Love,

Trudy