Wedding Presence

When couples get married, the blenders, dishes, toaster ovens, and pots and pans flow in. During the past couple of months, people have thoughtfully asked me where Jack and I have registered, and my answer is “nowhere.”

Over our lifetimes, we’ve accumulated enough stuff and, if anything, we are at the point in our lives of giving things away.

And we give nothing away as happily and as passionately as the Dharma, the teachings of wisdom and compassion that guide our life’s work.

Jack came to California almost 30 years ago and founded Spirit Rock Center — a beautiful, thriving meditation retreat and community center. His experience has also guided InsightLA; he has been on the Board of Directors for over five years.

In the 14 years since I founded InsightLA, it has become a one-of-a-kind L.A. nexus for mindfulness education and deep Buddhist teachings. Our vision for the next 14 years is to put mindfulness-based social justice activism at the heart of our offerings.

We’ve grown so fast in the past few years and the financial cost has been high. If I would ask for anything for our wedding present it would be that you continue to support InsightLA by signing up for a course, a daylong or a program, or by giving whatever you can to help us over this end-of-summer financial crunch.

In the spirit of Labor Day, please help us continue our labor of love by offering a wedding gift to InsightLA. I know most of you cannot afford a ticket to our benefit. Please know we appreciate any contribution you can give at this time to support your meditation center, the wedding of your teachers…and yourself.  It’s a win-win!



Drive All Blames Into One – Atisha’s Mind Training 12th c.

It’s so tempting to place blame on others when things go awry. When something goes wrong at home or at work, we habitually look for someone to blame. What we don’t realize, is blaming others actually leads to more suffering. We find ourselves obsessing about what THEY did, and getting self-righteously angry and agitated about it. The practice slogan “drive all blames into one” doesn’t mean we blame and shame ourselves instead. This is the teaching; drive the energy of blame into awareness of how all things arise together, and are interconnected.

No matter whose mistake or fault it may be, even when it’s disastrous for all concerned, there is a possibility of transforming shattered dreams and dashed hopes into wise understanding. Meditation helps, giving ourselves the gift of some quiet time to reflect and calm down.

From where I am right now, teaching our annual Vallecitos Ranch retreat in the stunning southern Rocky Mountain wilderness of northern New Mexico, the view is so clear – ultimately there is no one to blame! Whatever happens is determined by countless causes and conditions intertwining in myriad ways, seen and unseen. By taking full responsibility, by working with our own reactivity, we can forgive ourselves, open our hearts, and make room for listening and learning from what happened. This way brings compassion, for our own hurt and for the pain of others. This way, with a little patience, we can return to caring for each other, no matter what.



Facing the Floods of Life

A few months ago I turned 40, and as I stand on the precipice of the next decade, I’m reflecting on life. I realize that, for some strange reason, my life doesn’t seem to be getting any simpler! I’m probably not alone and I suspect that you may know what I’m talking about. For many of us, it seems there are more and more responsibilities, and seemingly less and less time in which to tend them. I’ve got more passwords and login’s than I have fingers and toes. There are so many causes to help and support, and with work, family, friends and bills to pay, some days it just seems like an impossible task to balance it all. As I look back on my life, though, I can see the deep roots of mindfulness and meditation bracing me in the midst of these daily challenges, amidst the ceaseless responsibilities and tasks – “the floods of life.” But how?

Although the pace of life today may be somewhat different than 2,500 years ago, when the Buddha was alive, for millennia people have been facing the difficult task of how to navigate daily challenges. At one point the Buddha was asked about how to deal with the floods of life. He responded by saying, “I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place.” A rather perplexing answer and so the questioner, somewhat confused, asked – what the heck does that mean? He responded a second time by saying “When I pushed forward, I was whirled about. When I stayed in place, I sank. And so I crossed over the flood without pushing forward without staying in place.” The Buddha was pointing to a balance of effort, wise effort, which is a way to not fight the facts of life, or throw in the towel and give up.

The current floods in Louisiana are a strong symbol of how our life can be turned upside down in days, hours, sometimes even minutes. These are literal floods, but we are assaulted by little floods all the time – a parking ticket on our windshield, hurt feelings by a brash remark. At these moments, how do we handle it? Mindfulness and meditation show us how to face these challenges, one moment, one breath at a time. We see that we can’t fight the facts of life – if we push too hard against these realities, we’ll end up exhausted and whirled about. But we also don’t have to sink, overwhelmed by it all. There is a middle way. We can stay with just this breath, this one breath, taking a moment to feel our aliveness, and then move forward, without pushing and forcing things, but without getting stuck in place either. Sometimes, it is just a breath, a moment of connection to our bodies and the world, which can make all the difference. Give it a try!

Eric McCullum


One Sunday morning at our sitting group we were talking about shame. Shame is one of the most common – and hard to bear – experiences we humans have. It’s different from healthy remorse. Working skillfully with our shame calls for the very qualities shame obscures: mindfulness and self-compassion. When shame arises, we instinctively turn away and cringe, curling into ourselves like cellophane in fire. The judging mind can be harsh and unforgiving, far worse than whatever mistake we’ve made.

A social worker in our group talked about how she overcame her shame at judging a client whom she hadn’t seen for over a year, a lady who had spent all her money on drugs, stolen all her mother’s money, and lost her home. She spoke about using her own practice to tune in to the suffering of this scary, addicted woman: “She talks really, really loud and she’s really, really stressed out and enraged, and everything is everybody else’s fault.”

This woman had made so many mistakes. She was upset, intimidating, and living in her van. Our group member was acutely aware of her judging mind, judging her client, then judging herself for being judgmental. She stayed close to her own shame and judgment with equanimity and understanding, focusing on her relief that her client returned and was alive. At the end of their meeting, the angry lady softened. She expressed her gratitude, saying, “Thank you that you’re here.” She asked, “Can we meditate again?” The brief meditations they’d done together, along with being received with presence, patience, and kindness, calmed her uneasy heart. We, too, can free our hearts from shame, with the courage to be calmly present, tenderly accepting our humanness.



Curate Time


One of the great teachings of life is impermanence, the unstoppable flow of experience we call time and change. In time, tomatoes ripen, children grow up, and we know that every relationship we have will end. How we long to escape death and elude loss…When we’re happy, we don’t even want to think about it, we want to slip away from the inexorable embrace of time. When we’re sad, impermanence is our friend. We know that the way things are is not how they will always be.

Mindfulness works in a flash, like photography. When we click a photo or take a screenshot of a friend’s disappearing snapchat, the cascading forms of constant perception stop for a moment, a moment that means something to us. In any instant of mindfulness, a flash of presence can calm us down. We return to our senses, opening up to receive the intensity of aliveness, the vividness of how life feels here and now – capturing the memory for someday, there and then, when that part of our life is gone.

Try it now. Just by taking a mindful breath in, you can slow into this moment. Then, breathing out consciously — all the way to the fleeting pause at the end of the exhalation — you stop the timestream for just one or two heartbeats, pausing for a screenshot of stillness. To do this is to curate time. “Curator” is the Latin word for caretaker. By being mindful we are curating time, taking care of the vanishing moments of our life. We can’t bring them back, but we can mindfully, lovingly curate the time we do have here.



PS – Credit to Clayton Cubitt for his take on photography: “It is the creation of art through the curation of time.”

You Have A Lifeguard

The other night I dreamed my daughter and I were swimming in an emerald green ocean by a deserted island somewhere far away. Enchanted by the beauty of the black sand shore at sunset, we drank in the sight of deep green water and dark mountains rising above the coast.

Suddenly, the water began to flow in a strong rip current, pulling us out to sea fast. Fear flooded in — there’s no one around, can I save both of us? Mindfulness kicked in: swim diagonally towards shore! I decided to wake up instead.

Before swimming in the ocean the next morning, I checked the lifeguard’s post and read “Rip Currents”. Concerned, I asked the lifeguard about the currents and told him my dream. “Was there a lifeguard in your dream?” he asked. “No…” Then he grinned, “Well, now you have one.” His comforting reminder – this is reality now; you have a lifeguard! you’re safe – dispelled any lingering fear. I swam happily in the roly-poly swells.

Fear colors our perceptions – what just brushed past my leg? It could be a sea monster…And right over there, it looks like the tip of a shark’s fin! When we step back and look again, we calm down and see clearly, oh, that was just a fish…no shark, either, just a piece of kelp poking up from the water. Aware of what is actually here, we can relax. We all have the lifeguard of mindfulness and compassion kindly keeping an eye on us!



Betsy’s Loving Choice

When I asked Betsy Davis if I could share this goodbye, she told her beloved yoga teacher, Denise Kaufman, that she would be honored for all of you to know a bit of her journey. Betsy is an artist who radiates a light-hearted elegance of spirit. She’s dying of ALS, and has decided consciously and care-fully to end her life this Sunday.

How different this is from suicide! Many of us, including myself, know the anguish of losing a family member or dear friend to suicide, leaving no time to intervene, to say goodbye, or complete anything. Wherever you stand among the myriad and divergent views about doctor-assisted dying, Betsy’s remarkable clarity and acceptance show us how —  even in times of extreme difficulty — we can be tenderly mindful and choose how we meet our fate….with love.

My dear friends,

I’m off. This Sunday I’m taking the big adventure into the unknown. I’m so fortunate to have the law on my side. Gov. Jerry Brown passed the End of Life Option Act this year to allow people with terminal illnesses a physician assisted death in California. 

I want to thank each of you for our unique time together; the conversations, the dance parties, the collaborations, the adventures, the comedy, the love, I could go on… But each of you have lightened my heart, inspired me, taught me, made me laugh, been honest with me, and gave me the space to be my silly, imperfect self–which made me feel perfectly fine. Thank you. 

All I ask is that you send me off with a good wish or a stiff drink around west coast sunset time. 

Lovingly yours,


Life Blooms in the Midst of Suffering

Along with the tragedy of more lives lost in terror attacks, violent racism, homophobia, hate, I feel immense gratitude for the happiness and love in our lives.  It’s a miracle of mindfulness that joy and sorrow can peacefully co-exist in the same heart!  Miraculously, when we’re fully present, life keeps blossoming, even in the midst of heartache.  The poet Rilke explains “someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will sound the depths of their own being.”

Just as happiness is part of being alive, grief, despair, anger or fear are natural to us. Life can change on a dime; even the luckiest among us can suddenly face great suffering. Lovingkindness, metta, connects us with others in gladness. And when sadness comes, metta turns into compassion. All living beings wish to be happy. Knowing how much we all want our lives to unfold in a good way, we can let ourselves feel connected to all beings — humans, animals, plants, all those in existence.

This is the gift of compassion. Compassion helps balance misery and misfortune with courage and grace. When we’re navigating the most difficult impasses we face, we can return to the breath, and softly breathe tenderness into the moment. We are not trying to banish suffering from life. What we are doing in our meditation is changing our relationship to suffering. When we respond to vulnerability, our own or others’, with kindness, we connect to everyone who feels vulnerable and everyone who cares. We are not alone.

Anyone who sounds the depths of their own being discovers the benevolent heart of compassion, a heart of loving awareness blooming right in the center of this suffering world.



Inter-Being as a Path to Liberation, a special guest blog by Alisa Dennis

I intended to write about freedom today, using Independence Day as a springboard. As I started to write, I kept feeling a nudge in my heart and a tug in my gut to expand my musings beyond the topic of liberation in general, to include the recent killings of two African-American men by police officers in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. And now, five Dallas police officers are dead from sniper attacks as revenge over despair about the deaths of African-American men at the hands of police officers. A man involved in the ambush was killed using an explosive delivered by a robot.  As I sat down to write, I realized I could not continue without reflecting upon my experience of shock, numbness, rage, and eventually tearful heartbreak. Not again. Not again!

I tried to continue writing about freedom, but as is often the case in a world of polarities, I found that I couldn’t write about freedom without also reflecting on the ways that I, as an African-American don’t always feel free and that we as a country are not yet free even though this nation declared its “independence” 240 years ago.

How do I tie together centuries old brutality against African-Americans, Independence Day, liberation, and the Dharma?

It was Independence Day earlier this week: July 4th.  All around the country, people celebrated.  Some attended parties and concerts. Others barbecued or went to fairs. Some took advantage of holiday sales and went shopping. Still others spent the day at the beach and enjoyed firework displays. In the weeks leading up to July 4th, I began reflecting upon the historical events that led to the 13 colonies gaining independence from the British Empire in 1776 through protests and then a violent revolution. I was reminded, as I am every year around this time that both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were based upon and inspired by the Great Law of Peace – the oral constitution that bound the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Great Law of Peace was a living, breathing document that embodied so much of what the Buddha taught about the true nature of reality, including the inter-connectedness of all life.  Inter-being is at the core of all Buddhist teachings and we can see the truth of this all around us.  From the First Nations people who created the Great Law of Peace, which the Founding Fathers appropriated in drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to African slave labor that amassed the capital that financed the industrial revolution, to Asians who toiled to build this nations railroads. This web of life also extends to the trees that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, to the wolves that regenerate nature’s ecosystems, and to honeybees that pollinate the plants that comprise so much of our dietary staples.

Our practice of mindfulness is about bringing our receptive awareness to our lives moment to moment, being aware of what is arising within us, as well as around us, in our intersecting communities. By bringing our awareness in contact with reality, we come to know in an embodied way that all life, all phenomena, are marvelously interwoven and that the internal and the external reflect one another.

Recognizing the inter-being of all things, we see the fractal nature of life. That inside each of us lives each of us. The Buddha said “within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos.”

Is this a path toward true liberation, truly seeing and knowing our inter-connectedness in this fathom-long body?

Perhaps by deepening our awareness of this truth, we will come to celebrate our interdependence instead of our independence, and know that our freedom and our peace depend on it.

As I reflect on the recent violence in our country, I see the soil is being tilled – must be tilled – before new seeds are planted. We are unearthing what has been buried for hundreds of years – racism and the belief in separation. Although it looks like things are falling apart, the country, the world, is actually looking to re-unite. In order for this to happen, things that have been buried need to be unearthed so we can see them clearly, make contact with them in an embodied way.

Our practice of mindfulness can be our refuge during these difficult times. It can support us in pulling up the weeds and old seeds of aversion and delusion, and cultivating more wholesome seeds of love, compassion and awareness of our inter-being. The planting of these new seeds will support us in creating the peaceful world we aspire to live in.

Yours in the Dharma,


Just Married

Dear ones,

We are delighted to share the happiness of our Hawaiian wedding day. We have known each other for 43 years, and come to love each other deeply. To start the special day, we joined Ram Dass for his weekly community beach swim.

And invited Richard Marks our photographer to take these photos while we played in the waves in our sea-worthy wedding outfits.

Trudy and Jack Wedding 1

Later, before sunset, as soft Hawaiian breezes blew and the clouds turned rosy colors, we had a private ceremony (in dry clothes 🙂 in Ram Dass’s Haiku garden…exchanging vows, leis and rings.

In poetic language, Ram Dass married us to each other and to the Dharma, and offered his blessings to us, to our families, friends, and communities. Then he asked each of us, do you take Jack/Trudy as part of your sangha? We both answered wholeheartedly, “Yes!” All of you are now happily included. And here we are — newlyweds, starting our married life, fully blessed and grateful. We hope these photos add another smile to your day.


Trudy and Jack


*Check out InsightLA’s Facebook page for more pictures from Trudy & Jack’s wedding.