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 “…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.”


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.”



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.