Zero Relationship? Or Relationship as Zero?

It is a gift to be alive, to be in relationship. Mindfulness is intimate relationship with life. We are nothing but a field of relationship—to this moment, to NOW, to a world that is so much greater than ourselves. Mahatma Gandhi did meditations on being “zero” which were a source of power, enabling him to embrace the whole of humanity, in kinship and humility.

Being zero meant uncluttering his mind and heart, taking time to simply BE, without having to be anything or anyone, just BEING. Then he could show up as a deep lover of all humankind. We, too, can be fully present as lovers of life. This is how we participate in what Dr. King called the “beloved community.”

As long as our life continues, we can be lovers, making love with this present moment, playing with all its rough & tumble—offering our creative gifts and love to ourselves, to each other, our families, to our home on this earth. We can fall in love anytime we’re fully present! As Dr. Cheryl Fraser says, “Falling in love is easy. Staying in love takes mindfulness.” It takes loving awareness and compassion, giving ourselves and each other the benefit of the doubt, forgiving missteps. We can come home to this radiant possibility every day we practice.

We find a compass in our hearts that points the way to a refuge in our hearts. Through staying open in love, through making love, and expressing our love in action, we can transform ourselves into something greater than ego—into sincere zero. Never has our meditation practice been more needed to stay in love and trust the ultimate goodness of humanity.




From Mrs. King

The Meaning of The King Holiday


The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.

Whether you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you are European-American or Asian-American, you are part of the great dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America. This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.

‘I say to you…I have decided to stick to love. I know that love is ultimately the ONLY answer to the problems of humanity. I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.’

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a day of service all across America, in hospitals and shelters and prisons and wherever people need some help. It is a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutoring those who can’t read, mentoring at-risk youngsters, consoling the broken-hearted and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream.

… And when Martin talked about the end of his mortal life in one of his last sermons, on February 4, 1968, he lifted up the value of service as the hallmark of a full life. “I’d like somebody to mention on that day Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others,” he said. “I want you to say on that day, that I did try in my life…to love and serve humanity.”

We call you to commemorate this Holiday by making your personal commitment to serve humanity with the vibrant spirit of unconditional love that was his greatest strength… And with our hearts open to this spirit of unconditional love, we can indeed achieve the Beloved Community of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.


Great Faith

One night at the dharma talk, a student asked Zen Master Seung Sahn, “What is great faith?” He held up his little finger: “Do you see this?” And she said, “Yes.” “That,” he said quietly, “is great faith.” In the simplest way, he was encouraging us to trust our perception. Faith is a kind of confidence; it’s complete trust in the truth of what we see, even when we’re being told something different.

The teachings of mindfulness and self-compassion ask us to trust and stand up for what’s most important, to live the truth in our hearts. The teachings of understanding and love inspire us to see the nature of reality with wisdom; the content of wisdom is compassion.

Compassion cares about racial and environmental equity, women’s rights, the earth. Compassion cares about what Mahatma Gandhi called satyagraha, the force of truth. Self-compassion says, it’s time to trust our own perceptions and act—to change both the world within and the world around us.

For a little while during the night, our Los Angeles horizon was wreathed in gorgeous, towering cumulus clouds we rarely see. They dissolved into mist and vanished with the pouring rain. Great faith means trusting the fleeting truth of this moment, moment by moment. Like love and compassion, trust is invisible—yet it lights our path.



PS – This year is the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Million Women March started by Dr. Phile Chionesu to bring thousands of African American women together in Philadelphia for the social, political, and economic development of the Black community. Tomorrow, women in 50 countries and 6 continents march on behalf of all. If you can’t make it to a march, you can read Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham jail; his words are prescient for our time. CLICK HERE TO READ.


Happy New Year!

Have you ever been to the Four Corners Monument, marking the place where four states meet? The quadripoint where a corner of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado meet also marks the boundary between two Native American governments, Navaho Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation. As you drive across the country, through hundreds of miles of stunning desert wilderness, signs begin to appear along the highway, saying, Four Corners! Four Corners! And the closer you get, the bigger the signs are, and the more often they pop up.

Do you remember the cartoon where a car driving through an empty countryside passes a billboard proclaiming, “Your own tedious thoughts next 200 miles”? In the sometimes monotony of long-distance driving, it’s easy to get excited: “I’m going to Four Corners! Can’t wait to get there!”

Then you get there. It is exactly the same rugged, remote, and isolated Southwestern desert landscape you’ve been driving through for hundreds of miles before. There’s nothing there! It’s an idea in emptiness, Four Corners. Just a bronze plaque and parking lot overlooking the vast sweep of mesa and mountains. It’s beautiful. But not more beautiful or any different from the sweeping land of boulder heaps, sandstone formations, shallow cliffs and rolling mesa seen through the windshield for hours and miles before.

New Year’s is like this. It’s the New Year in the culture, it’s in the air. There is a sense of a fresh start, rich with possibilities, despite our fears. And yet…it’s a complete illusion. In fact, we’re in the very same stream of life and consciousness that we were in the old year—only the landscape of our life is called the New Year now! Happy New Year!

We can use this holiday (& other conceptual calendar demarcations) to reflect on our intentions and make choices about how we’re going to be. During his years as a single Dad, the Buddha often told his son: “Use your actions as a mirror to reflect where you’re at in your life.” Our behavior becomes an open book—for the way we behave is an expression of the state of our mind, body, and heart. As we consider taking action (an action can be a thought, word or deed), we can be mindful of our intention and motivations. From Juan Mascaro: “Watch the thought and its ways with care; may they spring forth from love, born of compassion for all beings.” In this Way, may we all enjoy a truly HAPPY NEW YEAR.



Celebrate With Us

Last Saturday morning, we packed up the toys and food you donated for the Westside Children’s Center in cartons decorated with gold tinsel, red ribbons, and festive holiday cards. Then we all sat on the floor and talked about generosity. The children in our circle, aged 6–8, listened attentively as I described my puzzlement at hearing, “Tis better to give than to receive,” when I was their age. It seemed obvious to me then—it’s way more fun to receive than to give!

And yet, these young children astonished all of us with the depth of their wisdom. The 6-year-old appreciates a subtle reciprocity—people who don’t have enough to eat, or kids who have no toys to play with give her the chance to be generous. A 7-year-old talks about being someone that others can trust, so no one has to be afraid of you. Without knowing it, she’s echoing the Buddha, who calls that “the gift of fearlessness.” As they eagerly raised hands to voice their insights and observations, the children embodied clear, pure-hearted generosity.

This is the season of renewal of the light, celebrated in religious traditions and cultures around the world. With ever burning lamps, with enlightenment at seeing the morning star, or with the miraculous birth of a heavenly child, we welcome the return of light-filled days. In West Africa, people sing to each newborn baby, “The most generous task in life is to deliver the gifts you have brought to this world.”

In practicing loving awareness, we uncover the wisdom we knew as children of spirit, we remember we are that bright light. May you each find the joy of giving, the happiness of being generous and courageous. May you carry the lamp of a kind and open heart into the New Year!



Playing In The Wind

I can’t stop staring at the birds. The ocean is wild early this morning. Whipped up by gusts of cold wind, the water is silver-grey. Bright white waves break way out beyond the shore.  What captivates my attention is the birds, obviously playing in the wind.

Seagulls soaring, gliding, are strewn across the sky like blowing leaves. They hold out their strong wings and stay still, miraculously hanging in space, buoyed by the moving air. Alone, sometimes in pairs, wings extended, they float; every so often, they let themselves be swept sideways in a strange horizontal move. A few small birds try to join in the fun, but careen off in the powerful currents of air, unable to hover or hang glide. The gulls wheel and rise on their unmoving wings, then plummet down, flapping a few times to shoot up high again.

Do seagulls feel joy? I’m riveted by the pure, silent pleasure of their wildness. I imagine my arms outstretched, catching the wind, lifting off the ground and swirling over the beach with them. They fly as we do, coming close to each other, then veering away, just as we do, intersecting, separating, dancing in the whirlwind of life.

Often when we meditate, we’re like a couple in an on-again, off-again relationship who keep drifting apart then finding each other again, our mindfulness meandering in and out of awareness. Can we play in the ever-changing winds of craziness and caring, of fear and delight? Can we open and stretch our wings like seabirds in a storm, extending steady minds and quiet hearts to the turbulence of these times?  May we move with joy, steadiness, and grace through the wildly uncertain weather to come.



Let’s Make it Real!

Our annual retreat with Ram Dass ends at the beach under a soft grey sky; two Hawaiian healers lead a beautiful blessing ceremony in a sprinkle of raindrops. For the finale, Ram Dass is rolled across the sand into the ocean in his special wheelchair with big rubber wheels. He swims gently out in a sea of retreatants, steered by his companions. Soon, a big crowd is swimming together, offering flowers and following his lead in the Ocean Swim Chant: “Oh boy, oboyoboyoboy!” Followed by, “Oh joy, ohjoyojoyojoy!”

It’s a perfect expression of gratitude for the gift of opening our hearts, right in the midst of personal losses — people struggling with grief, bereavement, cancer, tough jobs like working with Syrian refugee children. Each evening, Krishna Das and his band play devotional music called kirtan. It’s an ancient, sacred practice of quieting the mind by connecting through music, chanting together in a moving, rollicking call and response sing-along. With each passing day, the powerful energy of love grows stronger, creating a poignant, joyful field of compassion.

In the same way, at InsightLA we create a field of caring that includes those in our greater community who are going through hard times. As the year comes to an end, we ask, “How can I help?” This season of giving, we’re asking not only for your support for InsightLA, but also for families at the Westside Children’s Center, Would you please be willing to donate food, new or gently used toys and children’s books, and/or new school supplies to help at-risk children?

We’ll have a donation collection area at InsightLA’s Olympic Blvd. center from now until December 17th, 2016. We invite you and your family to join us at 9.30 am on December 17th at 1430 Olympic Blvd. to help box the items people have kindly donated. For questions please contact

Through our offerings, we can all participate in the loving spirit of this retreat. Direct giving and service is an act of love that strengthens the heart of our community. Let’s make it real! Come taste the happiness of generosity as we “Love, Serve, and Remember.”



The Open Heart Already Knows by Alisa Dennis

The shockwaves from the election have dissolved, and while the feelings of heavy heartedness, bewilderment, and dread continue to visit me, the feelings are not as intense as they were several weeks ago. As a student of astrology, I am grateful for the full moon in Taurus and the Sun in Scorpio on November 14th.  I feel this constellation is supporting us in focusing our intentions. Taurus is compelling us to reflect upon what we hold most dear, to ground ourselves in our bodies, and to take a stand. The vibrations of Scorpio are urging us to dig deeper, to look beneath the surface, to step out of our bubbles so that we may understand truths that have been buried. We are doing this on an individual and collective level. I am heeding the urges of these planetary callings in ways that resonate with me: mining for truths in my personal and planetary history, expressing my love of the mysteries of life in my art, and creating safe-enough spaces for people, especially people targeted by oppression, to share their voices.

The Dagara people of West Africa believe that every human being is born with innate gifts that if nurtured, can support the healing of imbalances. What’s your calling and how might you bring it to the world during this time of great change?

A couple of nights ago, I went to see Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo give a talk at a local spiritual center. She is a 27th generation lineage holder in the Cherokee Nation. She is also a Zen Buddhist teacher from the Vajrayana tradition. She beautifully blended the ancient wisdom traditions of the Cherokee with the Dharma. Her talk resonated with me, especially when she said that politics is a way to argue about what we already know is true. I agree. At times politics seems like a distraction from the truth, designed to confuse and entangle, keep us separated, and in our intellects instead of our hearts.

Political debates about building walls feel like the macro reflecting the micro. All of us build walls within our own hearts: between the parts of ourselves we like and dislike; between the parts we are proud of and the parts we are ashamed of. These walls get projected outwardly on larger scales. What walls are erected in your heart? Dig deeper…. When we begin dissolving these inner walls perhaps different kinds of people will be elected to public office. Our elected officials are embodiments of the nation’s collective consciousness.

The Dakota Indians have an ancient tale that says evil people keep their hearts in a secret place, separate from the body. The heroine or hero must find this secret place and destroy the heart that perpetuates harm through ignorance, greed, violence, bigotry, and deception.

During these politically divisive times, I find myself donating to causes that reflect my values. How might you be the heroine/hero who destroys the hidden heart by deepening the heart of love, kindness, generosity, and compassion?

I have been relying on my meditation practice to steady me during these turbulent times. My breath and body have been my ground in a world that feels groundless. Being able to meet my worry and fear with loving allowance, has helped me to know that this awareness is bigger than whatever it is holding. I feel into its subtle currents of calm, gentleness, and equanimity and know I am held in love.

When I reflect upon the recent battles lost and won, truths repressed and raised, I am reminded of how layered and complex this life is, how long the arc of justice is, and how when we turn away from what we already know is true about justice and injustice, history repeats itself over and over again.

A couple of weeks ago, the mantra, Gate Gate Paragate Parasumgate Bodhi Swaha, began to ring in my ears. Reciting it has comforted me during moments when the struggles of life have felt overwhelming. It expresses an ever-present movement toward awakening that has no endpoint. We never arrive, but are always on the way to greater awareness. Knowing there is nowhere to get to; that this life is about the awakening of my heart, gives me some measure of peace, dropping me into the present moment and into One Heart.

Perhaps opening to the wisdom of this mantra will offer you comfort whenever the journey feels arduous and long.


Alisa Dennis

The Lions and The Intelligent People

They sit on thin straw mats covering the cement floor, two circles of young Darfuri refugee women wrapped in long colorful headscarves, huddled together conspiratorially. One group, calling themselves “The Lions,” are careful to lower their voices so the group across the mat, the self-styled “Intelligent People,” won’t overhear their strategizing. They are two teams of Little Ripples preschool teachers, locked in a tight race on the last day of their mindfulness training in refugee camp Goz Amer. The team that can best demonstrate their skill at teaching what they’ve learned this week will win. Yasmine (Joslyn Hitter) and I, Tahani, pretend to be the children they’re teaching.

It’s a friendly but tough competition; everyone concentrates on putting forth their best effort. While both teams do a great job, it’s the Lions who finally triumph. The Intelligent People sigh and accept the verdict. Afterward, we all come together to appreciate what we’ve done during our time together. How different the spirit of this gathering is from the fierce election contest that took place recently in the United States, watched intently by the whole world.

The upset win of the ‘Lion’ unnerved and devastated many who considered themselves the ‘Intelligent People.’ And those whose candidate won feel vindicated and energized. No matter how we feel about the election, from the perspective of mindful awareness, whatever unmasks bias or prejudice in us is a wake-up call—to be welcomed, and learned from.

On this Thanksgiving, may we include in loving awareness everyone who needs care and protection—everyone. May we count our blessings with gratitude and grace. May we help ensure all people can enjoy the privilege of having shelter, reliable electricity, Wi-Fi, and running water, in their homes!! And good food to eat! May everyone have a chance to cherish and fulfill the immense promise of this life. May we vow to treasure and stand up for the rights of all beings, in every way we can.



Camping, For 13 Years

Each day of our teaching in the refugee camp, we play a variation of a Susan Kaiser Greenland’s mindfulness game for children called “Mind, Body — Go.”* Our Little Ripples preschool teachers are young and they love to play! We sit and take turns rolling a ball across the circle. Each time the ball rolls to a new person, she notices how she feels in her body and her mind. Ahmed translates the answers:

“My mind is happy, my body has good energy.”

”My mind is happy, my body has fever.”

”My mind is happy, I have a headache.”

Occasionally, a teacher with bloodshot eyes says, “My mind is tired…malaria.”

As I learn more about life in the camp, I marvel at the dedication and grit of these teachers. Quite a few are also nursing little ones, and every day at home they haul heavy jugs of water on their heads, wash clothes, grind flour… Although they may have a head or body ache or a fever, they are so committed to the children’s education that they show up to greet them at 7AM, no matter what.

Well-fed and healthy, I know how I feel sitting in that same circle—sweating in 100+ degrees, thirsty flies landing by my eyes and nostrils, perspiration evaporating instantly in the psychedelic heat. When I tell Ahmed how impressed I am by their devotion to their work, he says, there’s no choice: “Here, we never have seven days in a row of feeling healthy.”

Oumda Tarbosh is a leader. He tries to stay cheerful and optimistic for his family and for his community. But he readily acknowledges that people are traumatized, malnourished, and often feel hopeless. In a quiet voice, he describes how hard it is to survive. “Here are destroyed lives,” he declares flatly, sitting heavily back in his plastic chair.

Feeling Oumda’s moment of deep sadness, I, too, feel sad—overwhelmed by the interminable exile and ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan. I wonder, what difference can I possibly make here? We don’t even know if America will keep funding essential UN food and refugee programs under the new administration. Can you imagine running for your life, hiding, camping out, and then being forced to stay at your campsite for 13 years? And yet—the welcome, warmth, and appreciation we feel from Oumda, Ahmed, and the teachers, the excitement and happiness of the children, fill our hearts to the brim. Like a sunflower to the sun, we can all turn our hearts towards one another. We can choose to love and care. With a little bit of mindfulness, we can create and cherish moments of peace and joy, and find ways to serve our world.