Tag Archives: Shambhala Mountain Center

Something Good

1. Fort Collins, Colo., might be the happiest place on Earth on LA Times. I love where I live.

2. How To Boost Creativity With A Morning Routine from Fran Sorin.

3. Everyone saw the biracial Cheerios commercial, but kids saw it differently. This is a great video. The little girl with freckles is my favorite.

4. Dave Matthews breaks down on bicycle, gets a ride to his concert from fan. Reading this made me cry, thinking about how magic happens, how this person was just being a decent human, offering to help someone who needed it, and got such a great surprise reward for it.

5. how trusting my body makes my dreams come true, a great reminder from Sas Petherick.

parkinggaragebird

6. How I decide what to charge for {everything} I create from Alexandra Franzen.

7. Elizabeth Gilbert’s posts on Facebook. It’s like she’s writing a mini blog there, and her posts are so good that I can’t stop sharing them. Here’s one on Bringing Up The Light, which sent me to the paint department to look for my color. Does Running Away Work? was another really good post.

8. Do Whatever Makes You Happy, from Christian Novelli.

9. Also from Christian Novelli, 46 Reasons To Exist. What 46 things are on your list?

10. The Space Between and Learning How To Stop The Glorification Of Busy on Scoutie Girl.

11. Chris Rock Gives The Best 60-Second Piece Of Advice To Liberals, Conservatives, And Human Beings on Upworthy.

12. Most Celebrities Promote Products They Like. Ellen DeGeneres Is Not Most Celebrities. and BOOM, ROASTED: Here’s Why You Don’t Ask A Feminist To Hawk Your Sexist Product on Upworthy.

13. Take The Human Test, a brilliant set of videos from ZeFrank, who has a habit of making brilliant videos.

14. Golden Retriever Champ: Probably the Happiest Dog In The World and Meet Norm, Pug With the Best Selfies on the Internet on Bored Panda.

15. Terms of Endearment from Rachel Cole.

16. Louis CK – Animated: If God Came Back

17. Rest in Peace, Tiger.

18. Preorder the Humans of New York book. One of my very favorite projects.

19. My son and dog’s 2 1/2 year friendship on Reddit. The last picture in the set is so sweet.

20. 21 Cozy Makeshift Reading Nooks on BuzzFeed DIY. We all need one of these, a good book and a dog or two.

21. How To Be Happy: Simple steps to lead a simple and content life. Yes, please.

parkinggaragevine22. Coolest Dad Ever on Elephant Journal, a Latino Depeche Mode cover band that consists of one dad and his two kids, one girl and one boy. Cool.

23. Dad Captures His Son’s First Year, One Second Per Day, and It’s Lovely, another cool dad.

24. My Girlfriend Weighs More Than Me. So What?

25. 21 Things to Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People on Live Love Grow.

26. Confessions of a life coach : slogging through the muck from Amy Kessel.

27. from running to runner from Jessica Swift.

parkinggarageface28. We Shake With Joy, a short poem by Mary Oliver.

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.

29. 14 Things You Didn’t Know About Neil Gaiman on BuzzFeed.

30. 5 Powerful Resources for Decluttering Your Home and Living More Simply and How to Release the Grip on Your Comfort Zone on Be More with Less.

31. Wisdom from Pema Chödrön,

The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you’re feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering—yours, mine, and that of all living beings.

32. Home Bound Blues, Raf Horemans travel blog which includes the most beautiful photography.

parkinggaragehands33. Evidence for the suggestion that racism isn’t natural, it is taught: The 40-Year-Old Photo That Gives Us A Reason To Smile and this more modern picture that shows the same from Reddit.

34. Wisdom from Tama J. Kieves,

You may think that making the “right” decision guarantees you success. But, really, knowing that you can’t fail is what guarantees success. You can’t fail because the Love that guides you is infallible and can always course correct.

35. Latest Parenting Trend: The CTFD Method.

36. Allison Mae Photography does it again. Oh Allison. Oh Idgie.

Photo of Idgie, a.k.a. Honey Badger, by Allison Mae Photography

I couldn’t bear to have Allison take pictures of Dexter, could never bring myself to go through with it, make that call, just knew looking at images this beautiful when the boy was gone would have hurt too much, would have felt too bad to have two of my dogs captured this way when Obi was already gone and would never have the chance. But now that there’s just Sam, and there will be another boy one day soon-ish, I think a session is in order.

37. 10 Epic Treehouses Cooler Than Your Apartment on Mashable.

38. 40 Days of Dating.

39. Just One Paragraph, from Christina Rosalie. This is a great idea, but I can’t take one more thing on right now. Check her comments section for other bloggers taking part in posting just one paragraph each day for 30 days. I am loving reading Christina’s posts, like this first one for example, Making Saturday Slow on Purpose {Just one Paragraph: 1/30}.

40. Things I want to remember from Susannah Conway. Oh my, the poop moment — who knew such a thing could be so sweet.

parkinggaragemural41. How you can ask for — and receive — cosmic guidance from Danielle LaPorte.

42. Something else Elizabeth Gilbert posted on Facebook,

Several years ago, I went to see an ophthalmologist on account of some recurring trouble with eye strain and general blurriness. During the exam, the doctor asked me, “Do you spend much time reading or writing?” I replied, “Only when I’m awake…”

Me too. Me too.

43. Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man.

44. From Rowdy Kittens’ Happy Links list, Life is Not Perfect. Fortunately.

45. If I lived alone, this might be what my place would look like: anahata katkin: papaya! on SF Girl by Bay.

parkinga46. your daily rock : no expectations

47. How To Draw Mandalas (And Why You Want To) from Andrea Schroeder.

48. Shared by Susannah on her Something for the Weekend List: So, How Was Your Day? and So We’ll Always Remember.

49. This story, of how good people can be, and how important it is for us to share the good stuff, because apparently this wasn’t reported on the news.

The ashes of Sean Misner, one of the 19 firefighters who died last week in Arizona, were being transported by his wife back to their hometown on Tuesday. She was in his truck and is pregnant with their unborn child. On every overpass for nearly 500 miles there was a tribute similar to this. Pretty damn remarkable and worthy of more media coverage than most of the other stuff that has been on tv lately. Wanted to share because our media has seemed to overlook it.

firetruck50. love this: ellie’s current favorites from Liz Lamoreux. I love the sweet way that Ellie sees the world.

51. Dog Finds A Tiny Kitten, Risks Everything To Save Her on BuzzFeed. Hopefully these two get adopted together.

52. Calvin and Hobbes Documentary Trailer Gives Us All Kinds of Feels on The Mary Sue.

53. If I were to take another online class right now, it would have to be Be Your Own Beloved, “a 28 day photo adventure designed to cultivate self-compassion through the practice of taking self-portraits” with Vivienne McMaster. The next session starts on August 1st.

54. This wisdom from Audre Lorde, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Something Good

1. In honor of Memorial Day: Memorial Day: an open letter to our troops on the topic of bravery from Lisa Adams, and Shambhala Mountain Center is offering a special, extended weekend retreat for veterans and their families from August 1-4. “Outer War, Inner Peace will create a safe and intimate setting for discussions and a variety of mindfulness practices, including gentle and powerful healing work with horses. Scholarships are available.” Please share with anyone you think might benefit from this program.

2. New Hyperrealistic Sculptures by Ron Mueck on Bored Panda. So freaky.

3. 10 Simple Ways to Eat Clean & Save Green from Kris Carr.

4. Why it’s so hard to be good (and how to begin) from Sayta on Writing Our Way Home. This one really has me thinking.

5. 26 Steps to Living a Life You Love from Marc and Angel Hack Life.

6. Oklahoma Tornado Survivor Finds Missing Dog During Live Interview.
Instead of reading about all the scary, sad, terrible things, I watched this video.

7. The Obstacle is the Path on Zen Habits. I know this, but sometimes I forget. It’s good to be reminded.

8. Simplify Your Life and Quiet Your Mind on The Spin Cycle and Your Definitive Summer Slow Down Guide on Be More With Less. Courtney Carver’s posts end up on this list almost every week. Maybe I should just put a permanent list item that says “Read Be More with Less.” She’s also doing a Charity:Water campaign for her birthday, because she’s awesome.

9. “Fortunately, it is not required for happiness.” 7 words to re-focus your mind on what matters. from Alexandra Franzen. Same here — maybe you should just take it for granted that I will be telling you every week to read something Alexandra has written, consider it a standing order?

10. Indie Kindred Trailer, a documentary by Jen Lee. Can’t wait to see it.

11. Daily Rocks from Patti Digh: your daily rock : be selfish sometimes and your daily rock : trust yourself.

12. Luke’s Barely Habitable, a video tour of a 78-square-foot live/work apartment in Manhattan. He pays the same amount for rent as my mortgage on an 1100 square foot house. Every video like this inspires me to downsize, start getting rid of stuff, get clear about what I really need.

13. 2013 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest, a set of gorgeous pictures.

14. This wisdom from the Dalai Lama,

Whether one believes in a religion
or not, and whether one believes
in rebirth or not, there isn’t
anyone who doesn’t appreciate
kindness and compassion.

We are all the same — we just want to be happy and safe.

15. Super Summer Challange on Back to Her Roots. This would be super fun and of benefit, if I weren’t already doing one million other things, (yes, I said one million).

16. From Couch Potato to One of the World’s Fittest Menon Forks Over Knives — also very inspiring but probably not something I’m going to do this summer.

17. lisa congdon : THink — a glimpse into the studio + creative world of the artist from Woodnote Photography. I love Lisa Congdon, her art and her story, and love to hear the stories behind people’s tattoos, so this interview is a win/win.

18. My diet secret…The ONLY diet you will ever need! from Kute Blackson. If you have body or food issues, if you struggle, you have got to read this post, watch the video. What Kute has to say here is spot on, and he delivers his message with a huge smile and a ton of energy. Watch it. I’m not kidding. You can thank me later.

19. Creative Living with Jamie: Eric Maisel, Jamie’s weekly podcast interview with a creative person. I mention it this week for a special reason — that Jill she refers to at the very end is ME! But seriously, if you are a creative type, do yourself a favor and take a look at her podcast archive.

20. Convos with my 2-Year-Old, Episode OneI have it on good authority that this video is pretty accurate, not just of this guy’s 2 year old, but of kids in general.

21. roots, on Doorways Traveler, where Lisa Field-Elliot shares this poem,

Allow, by Dana Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.

22. This wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut,

Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

Which is good news, because apparently, according to this comic, I am an artist.

you-might-be-an-artist-if-640

23. Fear & Loathing on Facebookfrom Real Mom Nutrition.

24. How buying a pair of mom pants led to an epiphany from Wellness by Design. All I have to say in response to this is amen, and thank you.

25. Frida Kahlo’s Wardrobe unlocked and on display after nearly 60 years.

26. When she comes home from a long day at school, having a bad day, been told off or sad… She cuddles her best friend. This was on Reddit, and I’m totally in love with it. It makes me wish my dogs were a tiny bit bigger.

girlandbestfriend

27. From Your Inner Pilot Light,

When you notice a sensation or symptom in your body, that’s me talking to you, my love. You know that, right? Sometimes you can be a wee bit stubborn. Sometimes you don’t listen when I whisper. Sometimes I have to get scrappy and start bellowing at you in ways I know will catch your attention. Don’t make me yell, my love.

28. Here’s How Austin Kleon Writes on Copy Blogger. At one point, Austin shares this John Cleese quote, “Creativity is not a talent, it’s a way of operating.”

29. Busy Philipps on The Conversation talking about body image.

30. Cabin Porn, shared by SF Girl by Bay. I could get really lost in this site.

31. Freebie | Ephemera from Goodnight Little Spoon, shared by Pugly Pixel.

32. 22 Ways To Get Your Vegan Snack Attack On from oh she glows, shared by Patti Digh on her Thinking Thursday list.

33. Avocado Frozen Yogurt recipe, shared by Kind Over Matter.

34. 70 Cutie Baby Animals Bring You a Good Mood, shared by Positively Present.

35. How to Dance Properly, shared by Susannah Conway on her Something for the Weekend post. Oh my, this brings back memories and brought up lots of laughs.

36. Shared by Tammy on her Rowdy Kittens Happy Links list: Three Essential Elements of Personal Power on Always Well Within (I found this super interesting because what she’s describing is what I would call basic goodness), Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers on Brain Pickings, and My writing practise on Beautiful Again.

37. 21 Love Lessons They Didn’t Teach You in School from Rebelle Society.

38. 10 Best Cases of On Air Giggles from Hello Giggles.

Letting Go

Susan Piver at Shambhala Mountain Center

Hold your experience with tremendous gentleness. Stay with yourself–always, always, always. Be kind, feel kindly, be loving… As you become friendly toward yourself, you see that actually you can trust your own mind and heart. From this trust and friendship arise unconditional self-confidence. ~Susan Piver

About a month ago, I went to a retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) led by Susan Piver. This is the second retreat I’ve been lucky enough to do with Susan at SMC. It was an Open Heart Retreat, “a weekend of meditation practices, journaling, small group dialogue and an exploration of ways we can bring our raw and tender hearts home to the world of family, politics, work, and love.” For me, it was perfectly timed. That morning, I had met for the first time with a new doctor, and she told me “you are obese.” I left for the retreat confused, irritated, and sad.

The retreat provided a safe, supportive space in which to process. And yet, it was not easy. Meditation practice can be difficult because when you sit, the thing that needs your attention, that you’ve maybe been avoiding, is the thing that shows up. And as Susan said at the beginning of the retreat in reference to another activity we’d practice that weekend, “journaling is a very potent way to begin a dialogue with your own heart.” So essentially, there was no place to hide.

On the first full day, we did a practice I’ve done with Susan before. In the most simple terms, you sit across from a version of yourself, imagining who she is and how she sees you, and then you switch perspectives. You start by being your smallest, most scared self looking at your strongest, most brilliant and actualized self, finishing by taking her perspective and seeing your small self from that side. Later, we spent time journaling about, telling the the story of our small, scared self.

The next day, we spent time remembering both perspectives, and wrote a letter from our wise, strong, kind self to the person who is small and scared. It had to begin with “Dear Jill, this is what I have to say to you,” and end with “I love you.” I wrote,

Dear Jill,

This is what I have to say to you–It’s okay. Cheer up. You’re perfect. Yes, there is a tender spot, like a splinter in your foot or a paper cut in your finger. But, it is that small–that irritating and present, but still small and impermanent. It is there so you know, understand the shape and flavor of this particular suffering. It is there to speak to you of darkness, but also of compassion and wisdom. It is a path.

Look for the exit, the off ramp, the sign. It’s there. You have a GPS that is set to lead you into your own open heart, into your life, into wakefulness, into space. It is an open door. It is a blanket you can wrap around yourself. It is your mother.

Ask for help, allow people to help you. You know Eric is there to help and love you. He said this morning in that way he does, “We’ll figure it out,” and you know you believe him, that it’s the truth.

There is nothing to be afraid of or worried about, no rush, no reason to push. You can simply be with this, ride it, be curious and gentle, relax. In this are the seeds for compassion, for love, a fuller life–more time with the dogs, more time with Eric, activities that make you feel nourished, that feed what you are truly hungry for–love, connection, activity, movement, breath. This will all come together and you will take it out into the world with you.

There’s no failure, only trying or success. There’s no end point or goal, only breath and life. This is genuine, truth, love, and you are open to its wisdom and compassion.

Remember what Lisa Field-Elliot said, “it’s not about the accumulating, it is about recognizing and eliminating what does not speak the truth.” Let go of thinking any external validation, truth, wisdom or acceptance has any meaning. You can save yourself. Your body is wise and if you listen to it, to your heart, it will tell you the truth, always the truth, and you never need to apologize for it. You never need to explain or justify it. It is, as you are.

You are your own mother, your own doctor, your own guru. You will ease your own struggle and suffering, and go on with a deep knowledge, an understanding of truth that will benefit others. You will ease suffering, in yourself and in the world, through the good effort of your practice and your open heart.

I love you.

After we wrote our letter, Susan sent us aimlessly wandering. This is a particular mindfulness practice, “exploration without destination,” movement without intention or judgement, a walking meditation. As I walked, I was drawn towards my favorite trees at SMC–two pine trees, one straight and one bent, but so close together they almost look like a single tree, growing mostly by themselves in the corner of a meadow. I stood between them, looking out at the land, and the wind blew, a cool gust that filled my lungs, pushing against and past and through my body like a physical thing. In that moment, a voice inside me whispered, “you can let go.” I made a deal with the wind, with the pines, with that sacred land and vast open sky that I would.

Looking in my wallet, as I’d packed to come to SMC, I’d found a rock, picked up, collected and kept from our trip to the beach this past summer, carried with me ever since. It was a joke from Eric. I’d been finding so many heart shaped rocks on the beach, that one day he came home from a walk with the dogs and said, with a crooked grin on his face, “I found you a heart rock.” What he put in my hand was deep red and meaty, shaped like an organ, rippled like muscle, a tiny petrified heart.

After the weekend at SMC, I was ready to let it go, this closed, hard heart. I couldn’t drop it just anywhere, throw it away. It needed to go somewhere I could trust to take it, needed to give it away and have it accepted with kindness, to have it held it for me, to place it somewhere safe, to allow for a letting go. On that final morning, I walked back to “my” trees. I hugged the one that stands straight and tall, (I confess, I first looked to be sure no one was watching), this spot where I’d made a deal with the wind, where I could return my closed, hard heart to the earth, let it rest in that place.

It would release me, I would release it. I could move on, go home. I could leave the self there who hurts, who is afraid. She could stay there safe, comforted, and I would leave, cracked open, soft and tender and raw.

There was a spot in the bent tree where a branch had been cut off. It looked like an eye. I took the heart rock from my pocket, smooth and warm, and shoved it as far as I could into the center of the eye. Then I stood between the trees, in the same spot where the wind had touched me the day before, and looking out over the land, I let go.

I opened my heart.

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
~Mary Oliver

Day of Rest

I am at Shambhala Mountain Center on retreat right now. I am most likely missing my three boys like crazy, thinking about how much I love them, so this video seems like a good thing to share today, (originally seen in this post on Elephant Journal).

Love won’t look exactly like this for all of us (thank goodness, because that would be super boring), but may we all have a big love, be a big love for someone, be that lucky and that loved, that loving.

Three Truths and One Wish

shambhala mountain center book and gift shop

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. ~Chinese Proverb

1. Truth: I am a writer. This has been the precious secret I have carried and kept for the past 38 years. As I say on my Artist Jill about page, “For so long, I kept this a secret, locked in a box in the very, very center of my heart. It was a tiny bird that I fed lovingly, kept it warm holding it close, tight in my hands, whispering all my secrets to it, but utterly unable to let it fly.”

The retreat this weekend allowed me to claim this, my self as a writer, step into it fully, embody it. It was my moment to take my seat, make a vow, devote myself. At Shambhala Mountain Center with Susan Piver is the most sacred and holy way I could do so, in a weekend filled with bravery, open hearts, meditation and writing practice. I will forever think of my writing life in terms of before this retreat and after.

me in an aspen grove on the way to the stupa

When Susan looked me in the eye and said such open-hearted, kind things about my writing, when I got feedback from my accomplices there, when I made a room full of people cry with the raw honesty of my words–I felt a confidence about my writing that has been a long time coming. I felt peace, clarity, stillness, and was able to take risks, without hesitation. I was able to see the totality of this practice–that at first, alone with the words and space, I notice things, understand, explore my curiosity, and experience basic goodness, and then when I share my writing, dedicate the merit, offer the finished pieces in the hope it might benefit others, I serve, and somehow, even if in only a small way, there is less suffering in the world.

my feet on the floor of the great stupa of dharmakaya

2. Truth: I don’t need permission. For a long time, I waited for this. I thought I had to be granted the right to write, or that I had to earn it, prove myself, gain credentials or pass some entrance exam, pay a fee, apply for a passport to be able to live a writing life. What I realize now is I don’t need the go ahead, nod, nudge, okay from any external source. I simply need to be who I already am, to manifest what is already there, whole and unbroken. I didn’t have to change at all, just step into, sink into what was there already, has always been there, or rather what has always been here.

heart-shaped moss in front of shambhala lodge

3. Truth: All I had to do was start. Eric told me yesterday, “you’ve done more writing since starting your blog than you have in years.” He’s right, and all I did differently than before is to start. There is no magic, no complicated series of steps. Instead of waiting for something to happen, all I had to do was happen. Begin right where I was, write before I was ready. “Waiting is the fear, starting is the fearlessness, ” (Susan Piver). All I had to do was relax, soften, and begin–one breath at a time, one word at a time, open my heart and meet reality, what is, as it is, right where I stood.

One wish: Whatever you are waiting for, wishing for, that you can let go of the waiting and the fear, let go of whatever obstacle you have placed in your own way and begin. That you realize you are already whole, already good. You are precious, just as you are, brilliant. Don’t hesitate to let your light shine, dear reader. You have no idea who you’ll help out of the dark, and in the meantime, you’ll be lighting your own way.

Cheer up. It’s okay. You’re perfect.

Something Good

1. How I spent my weekend: “Fearless Creativity,” a writing and meditation retreat with Susan Piver at Shambhala Mountain Center.

My brain feels like this:

And my heart feels like this:

2. What We All Need, a post from Metta Drum. “You can be free. You can be big enough for your own life.”

3. Walking and Yoga, an excerpt from Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham. I can’t wait to get my copy of the book and read the whole thing. All the excerpts I’ve seen so far are very inspiring. Also from Sakyong Mipham, 5 Tips for Running with the Mind of Meditation. And finally, Meditation for Running and Walking, a guided meditation by Sakyong Mipham that you can record, download on to your mp3 player, and listen to as you walk or run. I feel calmer, more at ease just listening to him.

4. Meditation: Am I Doing it “Right”? by Susan Piver. I may have shared this already, but if you missed it the first time, it’s a really good read, and you don’t have to practice meditation to understand what Susan is talking about. We could all benefit if we would just “Stop trying so hard all the time. If you can’t, then relax with yourself as one who just really, really wants to try. It’s OK.”

5. 8 things I’ve learned about life, the universe & everything — from 80+ life coaches, from Unicorns for Socialism. This post is so great.

6. An Invocation for Beginnings from Ze Frank. I love him so much.

7. A Credo for Making it Happen from Danielle LaPorte. Inspiring.

9. Pussy Willows.

M is for Meditation

M is for Meditation

I’ve been at Shambhala Mountain Center all weekend, at the “Fearless Creativity” writing and meditation retreat with Susan Piver, so it was pretty clear what I should write about for the letter M. I’ll write a post later about how utterly amazing the retreat was, about how much I adore Susan Piver, and the impact this weekend has had on my writing practice, but for now let’s talk about the other practice I did this weekend, that I do daily: meditation.

Many of us are slaves to our minds. Our own mind is our worst enemy. We try to focus, and our mind wanders off. We try to keep stress at bay, but anxiety keeps us awake at night. We try to be good to the people we love, but then we forget them and put ourselves first. And when we want to change our life, we dive into spiritual practice and expect quick results, only to lose focus after the honeymoon has worn off. We return to our state of bewilderment. We’re left feeling helpless and discouraged. It seems we all agree that training the body through exercise, diet, and relaxation is a good idea, but why don’t we think about training our minds? ~Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

“The process of undoing bewilderment is based on stabilizing and strengthening our mind,” says Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. “Shamatha meditation is how we do that.”

I started a regular meditation practice five years ago. Sometimes it seems like only five minutes, and other times it feels like 500 years. The style of meditation I practice is shamatha, which means “calm awareness” or “peaceful abiding.” The focus is on the breath and the eyes remain open, inviting reality and the environment in to the experience, engaging with it but not grasping or attaching, and accepting reality as it is, not rejecting, trying to change it, and not hoping that conditions were different. Peaceful abiding, calm awareness. Being with what is, as it is. Opening your heart to the vast space, the stillness and the silence, even when your internal or external environment might be otherwise.

It’s through this training of the mind that we can regain a connection to our innate sanity, our compassion, confidence, wisdom, and strength, on and off the cushion. The practice trains our mind away from a discursive, fearful, aggressive relationship with reality, away from a confused perception of the way things are.

the view from my cushion this weekend

In some traditions of meditation, the goal is to reach a state of removal from reality, transcendence, a bliss state even, the goal being to check out, to remove yourself from the experience of reality. I won’t lie, this sounds appealing, but what happens when you come back, off the cushion in your post mediation life? How will this have helped you cope with the real deal, the shit and stink of life, what’s really going on? I prefer shamatha, the instruction to relax and be gentle with yourself, but also to open your heart and connect with reality, your current state, your life and everything in it, to experience things as they are in this moment, bravely and with confidence.

This for me is such good news, that there is a method, a way, a practice for training your mind to be with what is, come what may, to be confident and peaceful. I don’t have to fight reality, deny it, abandon it, transcend it, reject or renounce it—I can be in my life, bravely and confidently. Yes, it is messy and unkind, brutal at times, and I am at times confused, suffering, dirty and stinky, but I am also brilliant and precious. And I am grateful to have a practice of meditation that makes it all workable.

Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest. ~Pema Chödrön