Mindfulness Northwest Newsletter Articles

Here are the article from our monthly Mindfulness Northwest Practice Letter plus some additional notes from Executive Director Tim Burnett.
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  • 8 Apr 2021 10:30 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Carolyn McCarthy

    The ferry was running late. New to island living, my friend hadn’t planned for the ways wind and water might shape his day. Now he would miss his meeting. Frustrated, he texted a colleague to ask her to cover for him. But wait! They seemed to be speeding up. The boat made landfall earlier than expected; he and his wife sped home in the car. While she drove, he texted the colleague again: “No problem! We’re going to make it home!” And they did. Eager, they tried their shiny new keys in the backdoor lock – no matches. A key opened the front door, but - alas! - the chain lock was engaged. They couldn’t get in!

    Back in the car and off to the hardware store seeking help. On his way, he asked himself the central question of Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC): “What do I need right now?” Well, he thought, I need kindness, I need patience . . . I need a pair of bolt cutters! Happily, he got all three. He offered himself patience and kindness; the clerk at the hardware store loaned out their bolt cutters. They zipped back to the house, snapped the chain, and he made it to his meeting.

    When my friend shared this story, I was tickled. Bolt cutters: my favorite new self-compassion tool! And yet, he’s absolutely right: kindness and patience alone would not cut it. He needed resources, action. He needed both aspects of self-compassion, the tender and the fierce.

    Mindful self-compassion is the practice of learning to befriend ourselves in any moment, especially when things are tough. When we think of self-compassion, we often default to an image of warmth and kindness. This tender or yin self-compassion can feel wonderful. Our MSC workshops and classes explore the process of offering ourselves kindness in a moment of suffering, as we would to a sick child: not to make them feel better, but simply because they feel bad. Can we notice our own suffering, then offer kind words, a warm hand, or other tender care? This tenderness is an ongoing practice, a muscle we can develop over time. In my experience, it helps. But it’s not enough.

    When I began studying MSC, it was a revelation that I could treat myself as well as I treated my friends. I felt deeply nourished, growing in my sense of self-worth and self-confidence as a result of treating myself better.

    Still, my most challenging relationships were not improving. In any moment of stress or challenge, I worked on soothing myself. And yet I became more and more agitated. I remember wondering after yet another painful interaction, “So is this the practice? I just take it and take it and then go soothe myself?” Clearly, something was missing.

    What did I need? Yep: a bolt cutter. I needed fierce self-compassion. Sometimes called yang self-compassion, this is the self-compassionate side of you that protects, provides, and motivates. This is the coach or cheerleader in you, encouraging you to do your best not with a harsh, critical voice, but because it cares about you and wants the best for you.

    To revisit the sick child analogy, this is the mama bear who offers not only a cool washcloth on a hot forehead, but advocates at the doctor’s office to get the help her child needs. This aspect of self-compassion provides clarity, empowerment, and encouragement to take meaningful action. Kristen Neff, a founder of MSC with an upcoming book on fierce self-compassion, sees this element as key to social justice work: we need to soothe our pain AND take fierce, wise action.

    Recently I got a call from my step-mom: my father, in treatment for cancer, had taken a turn for the worse. He’d been rushed to the ER and was now in the ICU recovering from emergency surgery. Over the next few weeks, I needed a lot of tender self-compassion. I reminded myself that this was really hard, a part of human experience, and that I was not alone. I tried to be gentle with myself.

    I also needed the fierce: to ask for help at work, to research my dad’s conditions, to advocate for myself by letting go of some other responsibilities. I used my encouraging inner voice to make sure I got exercise, saying things like, “I know you feel worn out, I know it seems counterintuitive, but you will feel SO MUCH BETTER if you dance or go for a run. You can do it!” Most of the time, I did.

    My dad got better every day; we’re all holding up okay. I was grateful for the tools of self-compassion I teach and practice: yin and yang, tender and fierce. I needed both sides to move through that challenge.

    What are the challenges you face? Is there a place for Mindful Self-Compassion? Might you offer yourself a little more kindness? And how could you advocate for yourself, asking for what you need? This practice is not always easy, but it can feel awfully good. I would love to hear about your experiments. Kindness, patience, bolt cutters: what do you need right now? 

    Join Carolyn’s Spring MSC class HERE. See our full Spring lineup HERE.

  • 22 Mar 2021 8:44 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    In January 2021, Tim gave a 4-talk series based on the courageous women practitioners through the centuries who contributed so much to our mindfulness tradition. Watch the talks and peruse the notes here: 2021 - The Hidden Lamp and see other talks from our Roots of Mindfulness and Roots of Compassion retreat series here: Roots of Mindfulness. We hope you enjoy these in depth lectures and discussions on the Buddhist roots of mindfulness and compassion training.

  • 4 Mar 2021 2:27 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.

    Right. Remembering these lines I feel something in my gut unclench a bit. I find it easier to breathe. I hadn't realized my breath felt so constricted. I feel my jaw soften a bit. I feel a little more ease.

    These opening lines from Mary Oliver's well known poem "Wild Geese" are a deep comfort to me. What comforts you?

    Lately I've been feeling overwhelmed. Feeling like I can't quite keep up with my responsibilities. Even when I ignore the to-do list items that I decide are less important, I don't feel like I'm keeping up my end of the bargain. Bargain between me and who? I'm not sure but it feels like a bargain has been struck and I'm not doing my part. Am I getting lazy? Am I just not efficient enough or smart enough?

    And I've been making mistakes. Not huge mistakes - I can give myself some room there - but mistakes. Being sloppy in communication with people mostly. Creating some unneeded stress and angst. The mistakes feel unkind and I dislike myself when I feel unkind.

    And I suspect that at the root of it all there's an underlying fear that I'm just not good enough. Not good enough to pull it all off. Not good enough to be the person I'm supposed to be.

    I know it's not that bad. I know I'm essentially fine. And I remember my privilege. Living in a community with so many folks experiencing homelessness, I remember I have a comfortable and secure life in all of those basic ways. I do know I'm one of the lucky ones.

    And yes, I do my mindfulness practice daily (well close to daily anyway). And I exercise. And I eat well. I get out in nature. And I know it'll be okay. Part of me knows full well it is okay already.

    And yet this human life includes hard times.

    This human life includes feelings and moods that swing. Includes doubt. Mine does anyway. It's hard to accept this. For the most part, I don't compound these tough moods by telling myself that as a mindfulness teacher I shouldn't be having bad moods - that I should be balanced and at peace - deeply accepting everything and using the tools of mindfulness to find steady and lasting peace.

    But I'm human. And a deep part of this particular human's condition seems to be an unrelenting desire to be good. To do it right. To always be doing it right. And that's a set up. And sometimes I suffer.

    And so I listen to Mary Oliver's words and take comfort. I don't have to be good. I don't have to be perfect. Whatever 'letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves' means, it has a feeling of ease and release. And I do know it's all right.

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.

    How do you find comfort when your world closes in?

    For me, a community of practice helps. Like last weekend: I was fortunate enough to help lead a Day of Mindfulness. Even over Zoom these are such powerful and healing experiences. Part of why I'm inspired to write this vulnerable piece about my own fears and doubts is the deep honesty expressed and the courage of those at the Day of Mindfulness. We spent our time together deeply just being with what is.

    And all with the support of a community of practice. It's hard to fully appreciate, I think, how much the community piece helps until you experience it. Practicing steadily for a day does help; practicing together helps even more. At least that's been my experience.

    I hope Mindfulness Northwest's programs can be one of those deep and important comforts for you, too. There is so much more to this work than learning new skills and slowing down a little. When we come together to learn and practice mindfulness something important happens. Internal and external barriers can soften. New perspectives and insights can emerge. Please read on to learn about upcoming offerings.

    I hope you have access to what's deeply comforting to you. I hope it helps.

    All best,


  • 4 Feb 2021 4:30 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    The Calm Within the Storm

    by Michael Kelberer

    By all accounts the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of equanimity. In the face of persecution, a lifetime of exile, the responsibility of both an entire nation and an entire religion, he has always seemed grounded, open-eyed and to be acting from a base of strength.

    That’s not me. Mostly I’ve been Dorothy: seeming to live a calm life in Kansas, but with the first heavy wind – wham! I’m in Oz without a red slipper in sight.

    Depending on my emotional weather, the portable storm cellar I constructed for myself has varied over the years from alcohol to ice-cream, denial and more ice cream, emotional shutdown…you get the picture. While studying mindfulness, however, I heard about equanimity and balance as solutions to life’s pain and suffering. But deep down I couldn’t imagine they were anything more than mental tricks to create the same good feeling as ice cream (without the fattening side effects).

    Recently, though, I read a great article by Sharon Salzberg in Lion’s Roar magazine entitled, Calm in the Midst of Chaos, that focused on equanimity. Not only did the article reshape my understanding around the topic, it also spurred me to consider: which mindfulness practices can help me achieve such balance?

    As I pored over the article, a couple of meaningful points I especially appreciated talked about staying present and centered. How am I supposed to do that?

    Creating Space

    Sharon Salzberg says that equanimity starts with mindfulness. By bringing ourselves into the present moment, by pausing between stimulus and response, we give ourselves the opportunity to expand our awareness beyond the immediately buffeting winds of life. And in this spaciousness we can make choices with our whole selves, not just the part that’s reacting to whatever strong emotions those winds have triggered.

    Reading this, I remembered that this expansiveness is exactly what happens when I remember to do more concentrated mindfulness practices like Awareness of Breathing, Listening Meditations and the Body Scan. And for immediate relief, informal practices like the S.T.O.P. practice or Two Feet and a Breath have proven to be really helpful.

    A Gyroscope

    Salzberg likens being in a state of equanimity to the steadiness of a gyroscope. No matter how strongly a gyroscope is buffeted, it always returns to its center. It feels the winds but its core strength makes it remain in a balanced state.

    When I thought about it, I realized that I have two things that help pull me back to my center in the midst of crisis: my core values and my purpose in life. These can be the gravitational center that can right my life when overwhelm threatens. Even if this reconnection with core values or purpose doesn’t “solve” my present storm, it can help me feel more secure, clear-eyed and serene in the face of troubling times.

    Attending the 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion class offered exercises around core values and helped me create a list of my own. A regular re-reading (and tweaking) of that list helps strengthen the presence of my core values so that when the winds do blow, I can find them easily. And the Affectionate Breathing practice helps me notice when my mind wanders so that I can gently return my attention to the present moment – which strengthens my basic gyroscopic muscles.


    Stormy winds that blow me off center do so by taking advantage of my tendencies to cling to (some stormy winds feel positive) or resist the winds. As I’ve watched myself in mindfulness practice, I’ve noticed that I instinctively react to each gust of wind with either attraction or aversion, either trying to hold on or push away. Either response means I’m tying myself to the way the wind blows, and that is what gives the wind its power to push me around. That clinging is also, of course, based on the false hope that I can control the wind, something that’s ever-changing and, well, impermanent.

    There is a group of mindfulness practices called Open Awareness or Choiceless Awareness that help me specifically cultivate an awareness of the impermanence of things. I find that these practices makes it easier for me to let go of the wind so that I become more used to simply allowing the gusts to ebb and flow.

    Equanimity in Everyday Life

    My best days are the days I somehow balance moving through life purposefully without my plans getting in the way of meeting life as it is. These days seem to happen the more I incorporate my mindfulness practices into living – trying, in effect, to turn everything I do into a practice.

    There’s a delightful story about the Dalai Lama (a true story, although my memory may get the details wrong) that I heard a while back that illustrates this same equanimity Salzberg speaks of in her article:

    At his residence-in-exile in India, the Dalai Lama was with a group of religious leaders talking about the role of religion in life and how religions could come together around common values like compassion. Heady stuff. Then the door opened and an aide brought in a refugee from Tibet who, escaping persecution, had just arrived after a long and difficult journey over the Tibetan mountains.

    Having made this same journey himself as a young man, the Dalai Lama excused himself from the lofty conversation, and went over to greet the refugee. Hugging the newcomer and listening with complete attention, the Dalai Lama showed visible empathy and compassion toward the refugee as he heard the man’s story. Then, as the refugee was escorted from the room for food and rest, the Dalai Lama turned back to the religious leaders and immediately re-engaged in their conversation with his complete attention.

    The gentle wind of philosophy. The piercing wind of suffering. The same Dalai Lama. That’s equanimity.

    To access the mindfulness and compassion exercises mentioned above, please visit our Practice page.

    Michael Kelberer works for Mindfulness Northwest as Assistant to the Director and as a Mindfulness Instructor.

  • 21 Jan 2021 12:22 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)
    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    We finally kissed 2020 goodbye a few weeks ago, hoping for more peaceful, healthy, and productive times ahead. And yet as I write this, the U.S. is breaking tragic records for deaths from Covid-19 and Congress is debating whether to impeach President Trump for the second time. That 2021 is off to a difficult start feels like a massive understatement.

    I do take a little comfort in our practices of mindfulness and compassion during a difficult time and I hope you do, too.

    Mindfulness helps me be a bit more aware of how it's all affecting me. I feel distracted, worried, at times fearful. At times angry. I've learned it's so much better if I know how I'm feeling. I used to be so good at "stuffing" difficult feelings.

    And mindfulness helps me make choices that help keep me at least a bit more available to myself and others. No, I don't need to check the headlines every few minutes. Yes, it is nourishing to do my practice, to exercise, to reach out to friends and family. And yes, I am human and I have been reading too much news and neglecting exercise. I'm working on it.

    But most importantly mindfulness supports acceptance. The current situation is a tough pill to swallow. How could it be that our country is this divided? How could the events in the Capitol that happened last week have happened? And yet it is and they did. By allowing these realities in more fully, I stand on ground that's a little bit firmer than the shaky ground of rage or denial or distraction and avoidance. This helps me keep going.

    This acceptance isn't acquiescence. It's not saying it's "all okay." We each have different views and approaches, but I am sure that things are happening that are very much not okay for just about every single member of our society right now. So tough. And I do know that it's a lot tougher for a lot of people than it is for me.

    Although it never feels like I'm doing enough, standing on this firmer ground of acceptance-of-what-is gives me a bit more strength to contribute. In my case recently: a bigger than usual donation to the food bank - it's so hard to accept that I have neighbors without enough food - and I was able to muster a little courage to go with a friend and volunteer some help at the nearby homeless tent city here in Bellingham (it was easier than I thought and they were very appreciative, but what a hard thing to see).

    And mindfulness steadies the ground for compassion. Compassion: that willingness to be with suffering and try to help. Even when the suffering is really challenging - even when what I see "out there" brings up strong emotions and suffering in me, mindfulness helps steady the ground in me for compassion for those who are behaving in ways that upset me greatly.

    Our teachers remind us that everyone wants to be happy and doesn't want to suffer. Some suggest that all unhelpful behavior is a result of unmet needs somewhere along the way. I think of the wise advice given to parents to seek to correct the child's choices and behavior without giving your child the message that there's something inherently wrong with them. And I think also of the danger in being righteous and demeaning to others.  Can I look at the many troubling images in the news and have compassion for my fellow humans even when they're behaving badly?

    These are tricky times. There are no simple answers. Plus it's almost impossible - maybe completely impossible - to speak out about what's happening without offending someone. We won't get it right. But our practice calls on us to try our best. To accept, to work for a better world, to view everyone with the eyes of compassion. Our year - now it may be years - of living under Covid I hope will help us to see at last that we're truly all in this together.

    As you know Mindfulness Northwest offers a variety of classes, workshops, and retreats to support your practice. I want to highlight this month that we're growing our drop-in offerings. In addition to the Midday Mindfulness I offer (Wednesdays weekly, noon to 1pm) and the monthly Alumni Practice Group (fourth Friday of the month, 7pm - 8:30pm) we're adding a new weekly Midday Mindful Movement program on Mondays noon to 1pm. All three of these drop-in programs are offered free of charge. You need to register to receive the Zoom link. And we rely on your kind donations to our Accessibility Fund to help fund our operations when we aren't charging registration.

    Hope to see you soon at one of our programs.

    And here's hoping for a peaceful Inauguration Day next Wednesday.

    Yours in mindfulness and compassion,


    Tim Burnett works for Mindfulness Northwest as Executive Director and Guiding Instructor.

  • 1 Dec 2020 2:15 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Teresa Johnson

    I have a strong preference for life to make sense, especially the part that involves human interactions. Do you find that, too?  So much rides on our ability to see eye to eye and solve problems.  I want everyone’s attitudes and actions, including my own, to line up like a tidy picket fence, upright, orderly, and organized for the common good.   But is that really what will help us to live more peacefully together, or is all that wanting to control behaviors part of the problem?  

    Each of the 7.8 billion human beings who share this planet has deeply rooted conditioning, uncountable cultural and familial variables, all of us in flux moment to moment.  We are all unpredictable and imperfect, so attachment to unrealistic expectations of ourselves or others inevitably renders suffering  as we fall into the traps of judgement, frustration, disappointment, anger, and anxiety. 

    Perhaps there is a different way to respond to the reality of our own sometimes conflicting values and impulses and the often confounding encounters with other human beings whose actions and opinions don’t make sense to us. 

    Mindfulness reminds us to begin close in, noticing first how we’re relating to those moments of dissonance in ourselves and with others. As we invite curiosity and openness into the room of our hearts and minds, we may recognize the habit of resisting conditions as they are.  We might also see an added layer of wishing we weren’t struggling.  

    Especially helpful in these moments of reckoning, is the simple yet powerful quality of kindness, the “state of being gentle and considerate,” (Merriam-Webster).  Kindness helps us to reach in toward ourselves and out to others with more tenderness and consideration. And amazingly, kindness helps the resistance to loosen, allowing us some space to be curious, explore, gain insight, and move toward acceptance, connection and understanding. 

    The task of bringing the practice of kindness into moments of conflict can seem daunting, especially when encountering all the  -isms that polarize this fragile human family and threaten to divide us irreparably.  Maria Popova, (Brainpickings), shares this wisdom, “The measure of true kindness — which is different from nicety, different from politeness — is often revealed in those challenging instances when we must rise above the impulse toward its opposite, ignited by fear and anger and despair.” 

    In the midst of difficult interactions, as we observe reactivity in ourselves or others, a deeply rooted practice of mindfulness and kindness can support us in exercising self-restraint and harmlessness when encountering opposing views, whether we’re in a conversation with a loved one or neighbor, attending a professional meeting, a rally, or listening to the news.  It can also temper the urge to blame or discharge anger or react toward someone else’s anger in an unskillful or inflammatory outburst.  In stepping back from reactivity long enough to gather our attention into the anchors of the body and breath, the space referred to in the Viktor Frankl quote, and the choice to re-orient toward a wholesome response, toward kindness, emerges.  From that large room of awareness,  we can also consider “...what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone, (Compassion, Miller Williams.) We have the option to see what’s behind the reactivity of others.

    Practicing kindness, formally in meditation and informally in daily life, opens the heart to see the role of suffering in the reactivity of ourselves and others and moves us toward understanding even when we disagree. 

    For sure, this is not easy work, and to be clear, kindness is never an act of assent in the face of injustice.  We can practice kindness right alongside fierce compassion as we stand for justice and human dignity while our mindful awareness supports the capacity to stay present and wholly connected.  Mindful discernment is also a powerful assistant in knowing how best to offer kindness in a given moment, answering, “What is most needed right now?”   Sometimes what’s most needed is further dialogue when all parties are able to be respectful, but other times, the kindest thing is a boundary as we request to end a conversation or respectfully agree to disagree.

    Going forward during this extraordinary moment in our collective human history, we’re faced with many challenges. Finding common understanding and vision is imperative to moving toward solutions that will impact us globally. A lot is at stake for our complex, often jumbled, infinitely creative, and beautiful human family. A lot. Martin Luther King said so eloquently that we are woven together, “tied in a single garment of destiny.“

    My hope for all of us, as we encounter each other, especially when we differ, is to remember first to pause, to connect to the breath, make space in our hearts and minds, recall our common good, and truly commit to kindness as the only response that makes sense anymore. 

    Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

    Before you know what kindness really is

    you must lose things,

    feel the future dissolve in a moment

    like salt in a weakened broth.

    What you held in your hand,

    what you counted and carefully saved,

    all this must go so you know

    how desolate the landscape can be

    between the regions of kindness.


    How you ride and ride

    thinking the bus will never stop,

    the passengers eating maize and chicken

    will stare out the window forever.


    Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

    you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

    lies dead by the side of the road.

    You must see how this could be you,

    how he too was someone

    who journeyed through the night with plans

    and the simple breath that kept him alive.


    Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

    you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 

    You must wake up with sorrow.

    You must speak to it till your voice

    catches the thread of all sorrows 

    and you see the size of the cloth.


    Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

    only kindness that ties your shoes

    and sends you out into the day to mail letters and

    purchase bread,

    only kindness that raises its head

    from the crowd of the world to say

    it is I you have been looking for,

    and then goes with you everywhere

    like a shadow or a friend.

  • 5 Nov 2020 4:36 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Sitting with Uncertainty

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    On the day after the election our nation, and the world, hung in suspense about which way the presidential and senate races would go, along with many other weighty decisions. Did you have a challenging day like so many of us did on Wednesday?

    It helped me see with fresh eyes just how uncertain everything is. As COVID keeps reminding us, we don't ever know what's going to happen. And it's hard when things happen in ways we don't like. It's hard in general to work with the many disappointments of life, but don't you think it's far harder on us if we've already invested in some vision of the future? Isn't it harder to bear challenges when we've convinced ourselves that something else is going to happen; when we believe our predictions (or someone else's predictions) are actually describing the future, and not just predictions?

    And in the case of the presidential election most of us are likely still feeling the heaviness of the waiting game now two days after the polls closed. In addition, regardless of who is named president, there is plenty of uncertainty around some pretty big issues in our nation: What are our next steps with COVID? Healthcare? Social and Racial Justice? The Economy?  Uncertainty is powerful. And it's everywhere.

    I was thinking also about how we have so many technologies, theories, and ideas about the future that give us a false sense of certainty. Take weather reports for example. They're pretty good. Sometimes even the hour by hour predictions are accurate. That amazes me. It said it would rain at 10am and then at 11am it would clear up. And then it does just that. Amazing.

    But that doesn't mean that a weather report is actually predicting the future. It's a model, an approximation. It's a surprisingly good one often. Quite accurate. And that fools us. It fools us into thinking we actually know what's going to happen. It gives us a false sense of certainty about what the weather will be tomorrow.

    It's the same with political polls. It's the same with how we expect people to respond to things at work. The same with how our children turn out. We have information, we have data, we have models and predictions. They aren't wrong, they are usually reasonable predictions, but things aren't going to happen exactly as predicted, either. We get fooled. We get fooled into thinking we know what's going to happen. We are lulled into a false security when we confuse predictions with predestination; when we confuse models and forecasts with actual awareness of what the future will be.

    So I figure we need to practice with this: with accepting the unknowability of things and with how destabilizing it can be to let ourselves hang out in our heads when our heads start to believe predictions as future. Then it's so upsetting when that future doesn't come to pass. Which is what is normal. Which is how it all actually works.

    And yet there is something about our resilience and our human hearts that can also stay strong and grounded without depending on certainty. There's a more flexible and responsive strength available to us. It's hard to describe this in words so I decided to record a meditation on this today. It's a practice of feeling into the uncertainty and also exploring the still place in the middle of uncertainty. It isn't the stable ground of certainty we long for, but there is a feeling we can touch in our practice that's steady and still, even in the midst of the disordered flurry of a mind trying so, so hard to know what's going to happen.

    It's a full 30-minute meditation and I recommend giving it a try. You can play it here on our website:  Sitting with Uncertainty

    I'd love to hear about your experience with this practice and any thoughts you have about being stable and sane in the midst of the radical uncertainty that is our world.

    All best,


    P.S. I closed the meditation with a favorite poem by John O'Donohue as I felt the weight of Wednesday and figured we need all the help we can get.

    John O'Donohue - Beannacht (Blessing)

    On the day when
    the weight deadens
    on your shoulders
    and you stumble,
    may the clay dance
    to balance you.
    And when your eyes
    freeze behind
    the grey window
    and the ghost of loss
    gets in to you,
    may a flock of colours,
    indigo, red, green,
    and azure blue
    come to awaken in you
    a meadow of delight.

    When the canvas frays
    in the currach of thought
    and a stain of ocean
    blackens beneath you,
    may there come across the waters
    a path of yellow moonlight
    to bring you safely home.

    May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

    may the clarity of light be yours,

    may the fluency of the ocean be yours,

    may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

    And so may a slow

    wind work these words

    of love around you,

    an invisible cloak

    to mind your life.

  • 23 Oct 2020 8:30 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Tim Burnett and Robin Boudette gave talks on the core Buddhist teaching "The Three Marks of Existence" this year at our annual October Roots of Mindfulness retreat. Their talks are now available here: 2020 - Three Marks of Existence

  • 7 Oct 2020 8:07 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    Lately I've been thinking about how I can support myself better in living more deeply in the way I intend:  to be more grounded and deliberate in my choices at home, especially. And since I'm home so much more, this matters. Work, play, rest, all is happening almost totally at home now. How can I meet my days more fully?

    Are you also finding it hard not to drift at home? Using technology, which most of us are also using a lot, ‘more’ seems to be particularly slippery in terms of making choices about how I want to use my time. It’s so easy to unintentionally misuse my time.  For example, I may be heading for a bit of research online or for a moment of writing and end up spending 45 minutes on email or reading the news for the fifth time that day.  And once I notice what’s going on, it usually doesn't feel good.

    I also notice when I'm unfocussed and drifty like this that I'm also more vulnerable to low moods. It's easier to dip into depression or spin into anxiety.

    It's surprising how easily we can drift and flit about so, isn't it? Mindfulness is all about being intentional and grounded, and I do mindfulness practices every day, and have for 30 years!

    So what's going on? Are some distractions just too sticky? Are tough moods just inevitable? Or are there other practices and supports I can add to my home life to help me with this?

    A good friend of mine, a fellow teacher of MBSR, identifies herself as a contemplative. On her Facebook page, email signature, and I assume when she's thinking about who she is, there's a short list of roles and one of them is that she is a "contemplative."

    This got me thinking. Am I a contemplative? I do a lot of contemplative practices, that's for sure. I'm also ordained into a religion that prizes sitting meditation. I've spend time in monasteries -  the traditional home for contemplatives, too. So yes I guess I pass the "duck test" pretty well there.

    And then I thought, well, do I actually live like a contemplative? And I answered well: sometimes. Kinda sorta.

    What is a contemplative? Literally it'd be "one who contemplates" right? The Oxford English Dictionary’s  first meaning is "expressing or involving prolonged thought" - a thoughtful person. Their second meaning is "involving or given to deep silent prayer or religious meditation." So a contemplative is one who practices, and there's a connection to religious practice.

    And then we're in tricky cultural waters. The practices of mindfulness are deliberately presented as non-religious. This in the interest of them being accessible to more people and available in settings like workplaces and universities that are supposed to be unconnected to religion. I think this has been skillful and wise.

    But there's a big "and yet" to it, too.

    If the very idea of living as a contemplative has religious roots, does that mean we just can't access a whole set of tools and practices outside of a religious context? That's all off limits unless you're "doing religion"? That seems like a great shame. Maybe there are ways to fold these practices into a modern life.

    So I thought about the Zen Buddhist training as that's been a big part of my life. And I encourage you to think about your trainings and connections and upbringing. What's in there you can tap? You can renew? You can reinvent? What has feeling in your heart and in your body?

    For me the container of Zen practice is very grounding. Mindful. Stable. For those hours or that week at the Zen temple I really am living as a contemplative. A contemplative within a kind of sacred space. A place where things feel orderly, calm, deliberate - and I do, too.

    I thought about why that might be. Part of it is being with others who are practicing, for sure. But there is also a whole way of being, of moving and holding my body, of acting, that I do within that context that's important. That matters to me.

    I realize that I can practice this whole way of being at home, too. Although it surprises me that I haven't lived as a contemplative that much at home, it's never too late to try a new approach.

    So I've been adding more of the practices I do at Zen centers and monasteries to my home life.  Two stand out: making offerings at altars and reciting short mindfulness phrases called gatha (pronounced gah-tuh). 

    I'm not sure the details of my religion-inspired contemplative home practice matters too much. The point is for each of us to consider what is meaningful and supportive. I encourage you to consider if there is something deep within you to draw on. To bring forth. We are likely to be living under Covid for quite a while longer and as the seasons turn toward Winter such consideration might actually be pretty urgent and important.

    But to clarify the example I'll share a bit about my renewed home contemplative practices.

    I've set up an altar with a little Buddha statue in my front hall where I see it as soon as I come in the front door and often as I move around my place. And now I do little rituals there several times a day. I light the candle, offer a little bit of incense, bow - all actions I've done a million times at Zen places so there's a real feeling in them for me. And then I recite a little verse depending on what's next. 

    It's a way to pause. A way to set intentions. A way to remember how I want to live. A way to renew again and again the life of a contemplative. And a way to touch into beauty. I've been surprised by how moved I am to see my little candle burning by a few flowers from the yard and my little wooden statue of Buddha.

    A few examples:

    After getting up in the morning I pass this little altar on the way to the kitchen to make coffee. It's been nice to pause there, light the altar in the newly dark, pre-dawn morning and say:

    Awakening in the morning 
    I arise with gift-bestowing hands 
    Ready to give my heart to myself, 
    and to anyone I can be helpful to. 

    So many of us work at home now. Here's a verse I'm trying on for after breakfast when I'm ready to sit down to work:

    Sitting down to work
    I vow with all beings
    To apply energy, intelligence, and kindness to my tasks, co-workers, and students
    May all of us benefit from today's work.

    Going out to run errands is a big shift in focus to bring some deliberate energy to, I realized. Here's my draft of a verse to say before leaving for the store:

    Re-entering the marketplace
    I vow with all beings
    To buy and sell with love
    Holding bodhicitta as my only true possession

    ("bodhicitta" is a Buddhist term for the thought or intention of awakening)

    I haven't decided whether to do another verse when I get home from errands. I know from past experience that if I get too ambitious with this it'll soon come tumbling down like a house of cards and I won't do it anymore. What's the balance? A little is a lot.

    Sitting down to eat is a situation many of us say a blessing, or offer a verse, for. This fits into the idea of mindful eating very well. I have two choices. One is from a traditional Zen chant, the other a modern piece by my Buddhist teacher.


    Innumerable labors brought us this food
    We should know how it comes to us
    Receiving this offering we should consider
    Whether our virtue and practice deserve it
    Desiring the natural order of mind
    We should be free of greed, hate, and delusion
    We eat to support life and practice the way of Buddha.

    Norman Fischer:

    As we make ready to eat this food
    we remember with gratitude
    the many people, tools, animals and plants,
    air and water, sky and earth,
    turned in the wheel of living and dying,
    whose joyful exertion
    provide our sustenance this day.

    May we with the blessing of this food
    join our hearts
    to the one heart of the world
    in awareness and love,
    and may we together with everyone
    realize the path of awakening,
    and never stop making effort
    for the benefit of others.

    Finally, I do one last offering at my altar right before heading to the bedroom with a stop at my meditation cushion. I sit without a timer or plan in the evening. Ten or 15 minutes. I offer loving-kindness to myself and a few others who come to mind. I breathe. I just be. And then after this evening sit, as my last out loud words of the day, I recite this poem from the 16th century Japanese haiku poet Kobayashi Issa:

    This dewdrop world
    is a dewdrop world.
    And yet.
    And yet.

    These are just examples from my experiments so far. I'm curious to see if I sustain these practices. So far it all feels very supportive. Slows me down a little and supports a more deliberate approach to my days. And that helps me a lot with a more stable and joyful mood.

    If my examples stir something in you I hope you'll consider what in your background you can draw on. What can you do every day to help you stay grounded and in touch with your intentions? Perhaps some elements from a childhood religion? Perhaps something from trainings or wilderness trips or spiritual experiences you've had? Are there poems you appreciate? Perhaps reciting a poem out loud at a few of these inflection points during the day would be helpful. Or setting up a nice corner in your room for meditation or other practices will make it easier to remember your practice intentions?

    What might help you to live more fully as the contemplative I believe we all have the very deep potential to make real in our lives?



    P.S. If you'd like to reply to this email with examples of what you do, or what you discover, I'd be delighted to know. I only have my own unique background to draw on and you have a different background. What practices, rituals, remembrances, and ideas help you live the life you most deeply intend to live?

  • 22 Sep 2020 2:24 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Tim Burnett's five talks as part of our Roots of Compassion series are available under the  Roots of Mindfulness page in the Learn section of the website.

    This year Tim investigates 8th century Buddhist teachings on the practice of patience. The participants were particularly moved by Tim's 5th and final talk. Videos of the talks and Tim's notes and references are available.

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