Coming home after travel to exotic lands, people ask me, how was your trip? How do I answer that question? Most of the time, with a quick, “It was great!”. Sadly this does not give the person asking the question any real information at all. How do I communicate the essence of the experience? How do I find the words to share the many subtle ways in which I have come home a different person? Do I even fully comprehend how this journey to distant places has planted within me the seeds for new and profound changes? At the moment, I see the seasonal quality of my life. When I left home, it was winter in my homeland and in my heart, and now there is a tingle of hope and little buds of excitement for whatever comes is new and promises change…
In this daylong workshop we’ll explore what it means to be happy and how mindfulness meditation can be used to support the intentional cultivation of happiness. The day will include periods of guided and walking meditation, with time for discussion and self-reflection. No prior meditation is needed to attend the class.
Call (707) 624-8080 or visit NorthBay HealthSpring Fitness to register. Cost is $60 for members and $75 for non-members. Join us!
…with Megan Kramer and Tina Clay
Set your intentions and learn simple self-care tips for the winter season that will keep you grounded and present for all the gifts of the holiday season and year ahead.
Holidays can be overwhelming and stressful. It’s easy to let anxiety and stress distract us from joy. This year, allow yourself to be truly present and connected to the rituals and important people in your life. Learn practical tools for feeling at ease. Empower yourself to create a truly wonderful holiday season.
In this workshop we will do what nature is doing during this time of the year; renew, replenish, get quiet, and give ourselves time to go within to recharge and celebrate the light within.
We will start with Pranayama (breath work) and some gentle movement, followed by a short discussion on the importance of a winter routine while enjoying a warm cup of tea, and end with a nourishing restorative yoga class, and a candle reflection meditation.
Saturday December 15 from 1:30pm-4:30pm
We are entering into the Fall season and I have to pause in awe at the fact that three quarters of the year has almost passed. This has been a huge year of change for me, the most recent being that my oldest son is going off to college next week, and my younger son has just begun his high school career. As I reflect, I wonder about how I have related to all these new changes in my life. How do you relate to change? Do you embrace it and see it as an opportunity for growth? Or do you resist it and find ways to avoid having to deal with it? For most of us, I would guess, that like me, the answer to that question is not so clear…we might actually do a little bit of both….So really the question then becomes, what makes us view the change with hope and anticipation, and/or makes us fearful and full of aversion?
In meditation, there is a beautiful teaching phrase:
pain x resistance = suffering
This means that pain (and we could replace that with the word change) is the inescapable reality that arises in life. It is here in the present moment. But the degree to which we resist whatever is happening in the moment, (that is pain or change) our experience of suffering will be more or less. If for example, you are in the midst of changing careers, the reality is that there is uncertainty and stress that accompanies a job or career change. That is the reality. Now, if we view the stress as if it shouldn’t be happening and we make ourselves physically ill with the worry and anxiety over the uncertainty of this transition, the degree of our suffering increases quite a bit!
Maybe it would be clearer if we plug in some numbers. If pain is a level 10 and our resistance to the pain is also a level 10, our suffering is a level 100. If the pain is 10 and our resistance to the pain is 5 then our suffering reduces by half. Now if the pain is still a 10 and our resistance to the pain is 0….ah! What happens to our suffering?
Becoming mindful of our thoughts, words and actions, we can actually begin to work with the resistance that arises (quite spontaneously I might add!) in the face of difficult situations. There is a plethora of research available (a quick search will yield plenty) that has shown the beneficial effects of meditation and how it can improve one’s life. Personally, I am convinced that meditation has been a positive addition to my life and has given me tools to cope and manage the changes I have had to face this year. And honestly, I am really glad because there are probably more changes to come….
I woke up on the morning of the last day of the retreat feeling light in my heart and relaxed in my body. My mood was buoyant and I was happy for no reason. It felt natural and easy. But this wasn’t the case the whole time. In the span of one week, I experienced a wide range of emotions and moods. The pendulum swung from joy to despair. And then there were moments filled with the sharpness of anger and the spreading warmth of compassion. In my everyday life I might experience all of these emotions in the span of a day or week, but the difference is that when I am on retreat, I WATCH my mind produce the thoughts; I feel my body respond to the thoughts and I experience the live current of emotions that wash over me. Capturing this moment to moment experience is most possible when you are absent from the demands of daily life and free to experience the depths of silence and stillness that comes with being on a retreat. Under these conditions, the meditation practice deepens.
Why go on retreat? Most people start meditating for short periods of time on a daily or somewhat routine basis. In the beginning the practice consists of gently guiding their attention towards their breath or their body. They may practice alone at home, or in nature, going on walks, or practicing in a group setting. This beautiful entry into meditation allows one to get acquainted with the movement of breath and the field of sensations that live in the body. There are tremendous benefits to this style of meditation ranging from stress release to feeling calmer. It also begins to whet the appetite, and awakens a curiosity to know and practice more. I once heard meditation teacher Howard Cohn say that the best reason to take the leap and attend a meditation retreat is because just as a tea kettle cannot reach a boil by taking the it on and off the heat, our own meditation practice cannot “cook” and reach a boil when we practice for short periods of time. To go on a retreat means that you give yourself the opportunity to drop out of the routines of your daily life, and become the tea kettle on the heat.
Are you ready to take your personal meditation on retreat?There are no rules to follow, but I always encourage people to explore a residential meditation retreat after they are familiar with the primary practices of sitting and walking meditation. It helps to know the experience of noticing the wandering mind and then bringing the attention back to the breath or anchor of choice. Most meditation retreat schedules are centered around chunks of time where the individual practices sitting or walking meditation. Having prior experience gives you greater ease as you adjust to the retreat setting.
Is your practice feeling stale, stagnant, or in need of inspiration? It may seem as though meditation is a solitary practice, but in fact, it is enhanced by group practice. In the Buddhist tradition, the community of practitioners is known as the sangha. There is a palpable and uplifting energy to sitting or walking with others who are, like you, exploring mindfulness through a formal sitting or walking meditation practice. The environment, such as the meditation hall or the beautiful landscape is oftentimes so inspiring that the practice takes on qualities of effortlessness and ease that do not as easily come in the midst of daily life.
Are there particular challenges you’ve been facing, or questions you’ve been struggling with? Residential retreats are frequently led by one or more experienced teachers who provide guided instructions during the retreat, answer questions and schedule private interviews. This is particularly helpful if you have specific questions or face setbacks and challenges in the practice. To be able to speak about it with a teacher can make the difference between moving deeply into the practice or abandoning it altogether. There may be certain themes you are interested in exploring in some depth, such as cultivating compassion, or increasing concentration. In these situations too, practicing with a teacher is extremely valuable.
What kind of retreat would be ideal to start with if you have never been on one before? Daylong retreats – Many retreat centers offer single day programs, where for a 5-8 hour period you can practice meditation with others. The programs may be centered around a topic or it could be an open practice to unplug for the day and be with silence.
Residential retreats – In a residential retreat, you choose a length of time that is convenient and appealing and stay at the retreat center. This immersion experience gives you the opportunity to dive deep into your practice.
Teachers and traditions – There are many styles of meditation and teachers have their various interests within the scope of meditation. Do some research on the teachers that will lead the retreat, or learn about the style of meditation (Zen, Vipassana, or Tibetan are examples) before you commit to the retreat. This way you can be prepared for specific styles and expectations for practice.
Are you ready to start looking? If you are ready to start looking, below are some of the most well-known retreat centers in the United States. This is definitely not a complete listing but it will give you some places to start your search so that you can look at their programs and retreat schedules.
Spirit Rock, Woodacre CA
Insight Meditation Society, Barre MA
Deer Park Monastery, Escondido CA
Magnolia Grove Monastery, Batesville MS
Green Gulch San Francisco Zen Center, Muir Beach CA
The Omega Institute, Rhinebeck NY
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Stockbridge MA
Shambala Mountain Center, Red Feather Lakes CO
Does a dog have Buddha-nature? This question, a part of a Zen Buddhist koan (riddle), has sparked something in me. It has helped me hold a compassionate perspective while listening to the news of all of the violent tragedies that are occurring in our world. Continue reading “Everything is MU”
Everyday I look to my meditation practice to navigate the day. I have been a serious meditation practitioner for the past 5 years. Learning the nuts and bolts of how to meditate was the first step. Then actually putting my “behind” on the cushion was step number two. Continue reading “Why blog?”