The Wake Up Call

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.

~ Danna Faulds

by Amanda Votto

In a blink of the eye, everything can change. Many of us have had firsthand experience with the ever changing nature of life. Whether it is a new diagnosis, a move, an accident, a divorce, a birth or a death, we soon realize that life comes without any guarantees. The faster we learn that we cannot control life, paradoxically, the easier and freer living becomes.

Through the practice of mindfulness, we begin to experience two crucial elements of life. The first is that everything is impermanent—our feelings, our circumstances, our lives and the lives of our loved ones. The other is that the only thing we have control over in life is how we choose to respond to our circumstances. Therein lies our power to co-create the life of our dreams.

At different times in our lives, we may get the call—the call to rise up and live the life we are meant to live. The call doesn’t necessarily come in a perfectly wrapped gift box. It may come in the form of a heart attack, a depression, a divorce or a layoff from work. The call is happening all the time but many of us are too busy in our heads to notice the present moment and too disconnected from our truth to hear the call. Don’t worry; the call doesn’t go away. Life is always working in mysterious ways to get us to wake up. If the call is ignored, our wakeup can come in louder and louder forms until our attention is caught, our escape tactics have run dry and we have few options left aside from turning inward and doing the work that is the only path to set us free.

Does this sound familiar? I personally sensed that I was “off path” years ago. I could not put my finger on what I was feeling. In fact, from the outside, it appeared as if I had it all together. I had a wonderful husband, two healthy kids, a meaningful career, yet an emptiness was growing within. I tried my usual escape tactics—keeping busy and avoidance—until the call became too loud that I could no longer ignore it. I felt disengaged from life and was unable to find happiness in the things I once enjoyed. I was confused, disconnected and felt deeply lost. I longed to return to the periods of my life when I felt joyful and connected. I had no idea how I had gotten to this place of suffering nor did I have any idea of how to get out of it.

No matter what I did to “figure it out,” it just didn’t make sense. There was no catastrophic external event that occurred. Letting go of trying to understand why took me a long time. I turned to mindfulness as the crucial step in reconnecting with myself.

I signed up for an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR). Through the practice of mindfulness, I discovered that my answers could not be figured out in my mind. In fact, my mind only created more confusion. I found the stillness that was needed to reconnect with the real me.

Slowly, I began to quiet the inner chatter and trust in myself and life. I knew I had all of the answers within me and with mindfulness, I have been able to access the inner place of unconditional love, patience and trust. My practice has had such an enormous impact on my life that I have now been trained to teach mindfulness to others who seek to find their way back home.

What is your call to wake up? Perhaps if we can see these events with a different perspective—by trusting that life is happening for us and that every occurrence is perfectly delivered for our biggest growth potential. Would we dare welcome the unwanted and make proper room for it?

Mindfulness is a life skill that teaches acceptance and allowance. Through practice, we train our attention to be in the present moment, the only real moment there is. It is in the present moment that we can hear the call, that we can safely feel our feelings, and that we can discover some of the patterns that keep us stuck. Becoming the observer of our thoughts, sensations and emotions allows us to form new choices and patterns and release old patterns that no longer serve.

The call is here. Maybe it is a whisper or perhaps a loud scream. Either way it is an invitation to answer it. Will you?

To explore mindfulness practice with Amanda, click here. For a complete schedule of all Copper Beech Institute eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses, click here.

Amanda Votto is a mindfulness teacher trained at the UMass Medical School Center for Mindfulness and an MBSR teacher at Copper Beech Institute. She leads a weekly meditation group and mindful parenting courses, and is author of the blog, The Divine Within. Amanda is also practicing physician assistant in cardiology. She believes in a holistic approach to healthcare and that we all possess the power to heal ourselves from the inside out. 

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Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Peas and Chard

by Terry Walters

I’VE MADE MAC AND CHEESE FOR MY KIDS more times than I can count. For years I had Annie’s Organic to thank, but now I go with this homemade variation and make my own “cheese.” I insist that we have to add something green, and peas and chard are always my girls’ top choice.

21⁄2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 1⁄2 small squash)
2⁄3 cup rice milk or water
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3 tablespoons chickpea miso
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces gluten-free macaroni
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 cup chopped green Swiss chard
1⁄2 cup gluten-free bread or rice crumbs
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling baking dish
Paprika

Bring 1 inch of water to boil in medium pot with steamer rack. Add squash and steam until very soft.

Transfer squash to food processor. Add rice milk, nutritional yeast, miso, garlic powder, salt and nutmeg and process until combined and smooth. Turn processor off, scrape down sides and pulse one last time to combine all ingredients. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8×8-inch baking dish.

Cook macaroni according to directions on package. When nearly done, add peas and chard to cooking water with macaroni and remove from heat. Drain and return to pot. Pour squash mixture into pot and fold to evenly coat pasta and vegetables. Transfer to baking dish and spread evenly.

In small bowl, combine breadcrumbs with olive oil and mix until moist. Spread over casserole, sprinkle with paprika and bake 30 minutes, or until breadcrumbs are lightly toasted. Remove from oven and serve.

SERVES 6

Would you like the knowledge and inspiration to create your own clean food diet – or ways to infuse this approach into your holiday cooking? Learn more from Terry at her Copper Beech Institute retreat, Eat Clean, Live Well: Clean Food and Sustainable Health, December 2-4, 2016. For more information and to register click here.

Terry Walters is the best-selling cookbook author of “Clean Food, “Clean Start,” and most recently, “Eat Clean, Live Well.” She is a James Beard Foundation Award finalist and recipient of the Nautilus Gold and Silver Book Awards. She is featured regularly on television and radio in print and Internet media, and is the author of the popular blog, Eat Clean, Live Well. Terry will lead the overnight retreat, Eat Clean, Live Well: Clean Food and Sustainable Health at Copper Beech Institute, December 2-4, 2016. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 50 retreats and programs to foster peace and resilience in everyday life.

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Care of the Soul, 25 Years Later

by Thomas Moore

In the late 1980s, after about seven years of developing my own approach to psychotherapy, I was looking for a different way to re-imagine psychology, one that would have depth and include spiritual matters. I always look to the ancients for inspiration, and so I pored over the works of Plato especially, where I found a constant focus on the soul and reference to therapy as service and care. Having studied for the Catholic priesthood, I knew that this form of service was often called cura animarum, the cure of souls or care of the soul. After all, the priest was often called a curate.

So I began referring to my work as care of the soul. It didn’t hurt to know that the word psycho (psyche)-therapy (therapeia) means to serve or care for the soul. I got the idea of writing a book on these thoughts, based both on my doctoral studies in religion and depth psychology and my experience practicing care of the soul. I discussed these ideas with my learned friend Christopher Bamford and even suggested that we write the book together. But Chris was interested in other projects, and so I went into hibernation and wrote out my idea of what it takes to care for your soul.

I had written my dissertation for a PhD in religion on the work of a 15th-century philosopher, priest, and magus, Marsilio Ficino, who said that soul has to be in the center of life. He spelled out some basic ways to give soul its due, such as finding the right place to live and always being in tune with the movements of the planets and the seasons. Timing and place were important elements in caring for the soul. Ficino was an Epicurean, which meant loving life, enjoying deep and solid pleasures, and doing everything in a spirit of friendship and kindness. I added Epicureanism to my way of caring for the soul.

The “psyche-therapy” I practiced involved befriending my clients, when possible. I don’t mean mistaking therapy with friendship, a development therapy teachers warn against, but seeing friendship as a way of working and of being in the world. I learned to love my clients’ souls, if not always their personalities. I offered myself to them as a person, not just as a practitioner or someone who had mere skills and techniques. This was one way of inviting soul into the equation.

I focused most of my attention on dreams, so as to go deep enough to observe movements of the soul and not be focused only on making life work out better. Of course, in general I wanted to help, but most of all I wanted to assist a person in a process of deepening and the manifesting of their inborn destiny and potentiality.

Fifteen years before “Care of the Soul,” I had learned from my friends Robert Sardello and James Hillman to take seriously the needs of the world’s soul, anima mundi. So I wrote about care of the soul not just in personal terms but as a way to bring depth and vitality to the culture we are creating. As Hillman often said, it does no good to help a person adjust to a soulless society.

Then, when I had published the book and was touring the many bookshops that existed in those days, I found myself talking about food and home and work, ordinary things and activities where soul is nurtured. I advocated slow food before it became a movement. I suggested that we make our computers look more like animals as a way to animate or ensoul them. I imagined feet or wings on them, the way people a hundred years ago gave biological life to furniture and machines.

Most of all I recommended that people become more nonconformist and even eccentric, because when you live from the soul you are less “normal” than if you adjust to society and have a strong ego. I reminded them of Plato’s idea that there are ways to be slightly mad (his word is mania) that can be creative: love, contemplation, making art, and being seriously intuitive.

I emphasized certain gifts of soul: being a real individual, having a capacity for connection and love, living intimately, having a vision, being a real person and enjoying depth, and creating from a deep place within you. Soul is also at home amid variety and diversity. It doesn’t aspire to things like wholeness, unity, and integration. It speaks in dreams and a generally poetic style of speech. It appears best in stories and meandering conversations and communing with nature.

“Care of the Soul” came out almost 25 years ago, and the world continues to move in the opposite direction. It loves quantifying and classifying and defining and objectifying. It shows signs of soul less and less. Certainly, you meet soulful people everywhere, but their institutions treat them as things and numbers and herds.

There is much work to do. If nothing else, we need to turn in a different direction. I think this turn toward soul is possible and even probable, as we see and feel the effects of a cool, objectifying world. It generates conflict and violence and accounts for children and young people living without direction and a purpose. Now is the time to reconsider the ideas in “Care of the Soul” and put them into practice in our personal lives and as much as possible in the life of society.

Thomas Moore has been a monk, a musician, a professor, and, for the past 30 years, a psychotherapist practicing archetypal therapy with a spiritual perspective. His latest book is “A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World.” Thomas will offer the weekend retreat, Tapping Into the Soul’s Depths: Finding Personal Strength, Inner Guidance and Purpose Through Soulful Living from November 11-13, 2016.

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Meeting Life

by Mark Nepo

When we can still ourselves, our heart will sink —of its own weight—below the noise of the world, the advice of others, and even our own expectations. Once that still, our mind can relax and we have the chance to inhale what matters. This is how we practice meeting life.

So when losing track of what I believe in, when wondering what work I’m called to next, I still my heart until I stop feeding the dark things that keep shouting they’re important. In that stillness, I ask myself: Where is the light coming from today? What do I have to do to put myself in its path? What part of me is illuminated for leaning into life? What can I learn by being so lighted? What is it my heart can’t keep from doing that will bring me more alive?

To lean into life requires a quiet courage that lets us find our aliveness. And the reward for leaning into life is that everything hidden becomes sweet and colorful. Or more, we are finally present enough to receive the sweetness and the color. Consider how a flower opens. It doesn’t prepare for a particular moment, but stays true to a life of leaning toward the light. When a flower blossoms, it turns inside out and wears its beauty in the world. As do we. In just this way, a soul opens over a lifetime of leaning into life.

Despite the hardships we encounter, the heart keeps opening after closing, the way day follows night. Until meeting life is our daily experiment in truth. No matter the obstacles, we’re asked to welcome the sweet teachers along the way. Until we accept that the secret kingdom is everywhere.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe a time that your heart opened after closing. What helped you to open again?

Reprinted with permission from Mark Nepo’s book, “Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness” and his article in Patheos.

As a cancer survivor, Mark Nepo devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, he has published 12 books and recorded six audio projects which have been translated into 18 languages. Mark will lead the retreat, Finding Inner Courage, at Copper Beech Institute October 21-23, 2016.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice offering more than 50 transformational programs to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. 

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Can I Borrow Your View?

A few weeks ago I started taking rowing classes on the Hartford river through Riverfront Recapture. In the early mornings before class, I always pause for a few moments on my front patio watching the sunlight slowly fill the sky and illuminate the Hartford skyline in the distance. As I drive down my driveway, through my town and into Hartford, the buildings become closer as I make my way to the boathouse. Standing beside the river, the skyscrapers tower above, earning their name.

I could describe what the buildings look like at sunrise and sunset. I could explain what they look like from the river. It would be easy to say, “Yes, yes, I know all about these skyscrapers as they are a part of my everyday scenery now.” However, I have never stepped foot in one of these buildings. I am not the guy who cleans the top ten floors and works the nightshift. Does he look out through the large panes of glass, wondering what it is like to be near the river? He might be waiting at the bus stop or walking home when I first arrive for my morning class. I am also not the woman wearing a business suit, who steps out of the elevator, arriving before anyone else. Does she have time to look at the river? She might be waiting for her fifty-plus employees to arrive when I am leaving to go back home.

Perspective. We each have our own unique perspective. We find it through our environment and our experiences, creating a lens to see the world. It can be tempting to claim our own story as THE truth. it is so easy to do. It is comforting, familiar. But when we decide our own story is the only story that can be possibly true than we risk not being able to connect with others who have a different story. We start to protect our own version so tightly that we won’t let anyone else’s story seep into our own. Our foundation can start to fill with self-righteousness and disregard for others. 

Today, I am simply looking for ways to be reminded that my story is not the only truth. I will be adding a dose of humility and a reminder to do all things with love in my heart. I will listen to other people’s stories and share my own, creating more expansion for us both. 

A lovely little girl was holding two apples with both hands. Her mother came in, smiled, and softly asked her little daughter: “My sweetie, could you give your momma one of your two apples?” The girl looked up at her mom for some seconds, then she suddenly took a quick bite out of one apple, and then quickly out of the other. The mother felt the smile on her face freeze. She tried hard not to reveal her disappointment. Then the little girl handed one of her bitten apples to her mom, and said: “Momma, here you are. This is the sweeter one.” ~Author Unknown

Kimberlea Chabot can be found chauffeuring her three kids to activities or writing blogs about connecting to what matters most, www.LuckyPennyFound.comsneaking off to a yoga class or stealing a quick dinner with her husband. In addition, she meditates regularly and needs reminders to breathe daily. 

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5 Steps to Joy

by Karen Maezen Miller

How do we find joy amid chaos?

I’ve been practicing meditation for 23 years now, and this question tells you why. It’s why I do retreats as a student, and it’s why I offer them as a teacher. Each of us, no matter what the circumstances, can find ourselves in a daily struggle to stay sane. And if not completely sane, at least positive. And if not totally positive, than at least moderately hopeful.

There is so much going on. We can’t catch up or get ahead. Even our kids are too busy. Everyone is stressed, pressured, and anxious. The outlook is for more of the same. We may feel an urgent need to slow things down, or a depressing belief that nothing we do will make a difference.

We might think that chaos is a unique feature of our 21st century culture but that isn’t so. True, technology means that many of us work 24/7, and we have our devices to thank for our chronic distractibility. We may lack the support of family and friends, and feel disconnected from meaningful relationships. But I bet that you don’t need to look very far back in your family history to find a time when your own ancestors struggled just to maintain adequate food and shelter for their families, or labored under catastrophic wars, disasters, and economic or social injustice. In short, life has always been hard, and often a lot harder than it is now. The proverbial “simpler time” we yearn for might not have been simple at all.

Contemplative practices such as meditation originated many thousands of years ago and haven’t changed. They don’t need to change. They don’t need to be modernized or adapted to the millennial mindset. They depend solely on oneself. And they work. This is what I have observed in my own meditation practice: stillness and silence bring peace, and from that peace springs radiant joy that you can experience for yourself.

It begins in chaos. Are you troubled, confused, anxious or overwhelmed? You’ve taken the first step to joy.

1. Enter the chaos.

All spiritual practices are born in chaos — the shock of loss, the pain of despair, the sobering certainty of old age, sickness and death — the recognition that time swiftly passes and you are not in control. When the world is moving too fast, we always have choice: to be tossed by external events, or to center ourselves in the midst.

2. Drop resistance

The fact is, you’re upset. Frustrated, disappointed and annoyed. Resentful, regretful or indignant. Uncomfortable, uneasy and afraid. Most of us have developed a hard outer edge: the edginess that comes from resisting the way things are. Once you recognize what you are holding on to, you can drop it. It’s a lot of work to haul that extra stuff around, and it makes you feel terrible.

3. Exhaust yourself.

No longer struggling against anything, you might instead feel . . . tired, very tired, and tender, very tender. Your heart softens, and you feel genuine compassion for yourself and others. Everyone is simply doing their best. This is a key step on the journey because now you are courageous enough to do the most difficult thing of all.

4. Be still.

A great teacher once said, “The effort of no effort is the hardest effort of all.” Using breath as a guide, meditation draws you into the still center of your being. You can stay, rest, and relax there. Your core of stillness, which is pure presence, is the place where healing and transformation occurs.

5. Enter the silence.

Some people approaching their first retreat thinking that keeping silent will be the greatest challenge for them. I always remind folks that silence is not a prohibition. It is instead an invitation to enter the silence that is already here. Once the mind is quieted and the heart is calmed, everything is exactly as before but without the noisy rat-a-tat-tat of our judgments. Inner silence harmonizes with all outer activity.

In silence we find quiet joy and gratitude for our life and for all those who share it with us.

What a useful thing to bring home from retreat. Perhaps you could find out for yourself.

Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest and teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. A wife and mother, she is the author of books about spirituality in everyday life, including “Paradise in Plain Sight,” “Hand Wash Cold,” and “Momma Zen.” She will lead Quiet Joy: A Zen Retreat for Busy People, the weekend of October 28–30 at Copper Beech Institute.

 

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Thrown Back

by Mark Nepo

Twenty-six years ago, the tumor growing in my skull vanished and I was thrown back in the streets like Lazarus. Today the rain is a fine mist and I open my face for a long time, receiving water from the sky. All I can say is perhaps falling in love with the world is the bravest thing we can do. I only know that my heart grows stronger every year, a muscle gaining each time I love. This rush of life is all we have and still we struggle to get out of it. Like fish we labor to make it to the sand as if that shore were Heaven. And when thrown back, we can grow bitter if we think we’ve failed or be humbled to accept that waking tomorrow in all of this is being saved.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a loved one or friend, describe one way you’ve been asked to accept the nature of life.

Reprinted from Patheos with Mark Nepo’s permission.

As a cancer survivor, Mark Nepo devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, he has published 12 books and recorded six audio projects which have been translated into 18 languages. Mark will lead the retreat, Finding Inner Courage, at Copper Beech Institute October 21-23, 2016.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice offering more than 50 transformational programs to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. 

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Lessons of a Mindful Date

by Brandon Nappi

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”

Melville’s line haunts me in the moments when I notice myself longing for a clear path to replace the murky ambiguity that is most of life. What will the test results say? Will this relationship last? Should I leave this job? Will my children be OK? Will I have enough for retirement? Am I doing enough? Life is filled with countless moments of not knowing and every journey is accompanied by questions without clear answers. There are parts of me that seek formulas and linear paths to deliver me what I think I want. I’ve come to understand, however, that the art of not knowing is perhaps the most important skill to cultivate in life.

This is why I practice mindfulness and meditation: to learn to be OK with not knowing. In mindfulness practice, I practice noticing all the judgments, the attachments and the prolific fictional commentaries produced by the mind. I practice being with the discomfort of not seeing a detailed roadmap ahead and not trying to force a path where one does not want to emerge.

“Just show up,” I tell myself. When I live with this kind of trust and openness to murky ambiguity, I notice that the path appears beneath my feet one moment at a time.

When I was 23, I was dating a woman who was planning a solo backpacking trip in Italy. On our fifth date I surprised her by buying a ticket and offering to join her as her travel companion. Since we had only known each other for a few weeks, this was a risky proposition which might have easily be interpreted as presumptuous and creepy. She was shocked and confused that I had made such a dramatic move in our new relationship. In retrospect, it still surprises me how out of character this was! She welcomed me with lukewarm resignation and reluctant confusion (I will counsel my daughters to run away from anything that resembles this in the future).

Our two-week date included some of the most famous art of the Renaissance, evening strolls through candlelit medieval villages, private tastings in hidden wineries, and food that defies description. Our journey concluded with a hike along Italy’s famous Cinque Terre, five towns impossibly perched upon rugged cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea.

Very few roads access this coastal paradise and we were quite content to venture through these five towns along a meager though popular hiking trail that connects them. Under a relentless July sun we hiked all day. The increasing vagueness and desolation of the trail slowly revealed my miserable navigation skills. A few minutes before dinnertime we discovered that I had made an error in navigation many hours before. We were left with no good options: we faced an abandoned train tunnel ahead, the jagged face of a mountain souring upward on our right, a cliff with a vertical hundred foot drop directly into the ocean on the left, and five hours of trail behind us. Sun-scorched and hungry, our bodies ached from fatigue as our minds ached in confusion.

Improvisation as our only option we shuffled into the tunnel hoping for a path toward food, shelter, and ointment for my blistered shoulders. The stale, moist air greeted us first as the blackness steadily devoured us.

A pinprick of light hung like a distant star nearly a mile in the distance. Creatures scurried around our feet. Drops of water plunked into puddles as rocks shifted around us. Unidentified sounds echoed through the mysterious corridor. Suddenly, we were the naive couple in the cheap horror movie that the audience scolds for wandering foolishly into the zombie-infested cemetery.

In our blindness, we gripped one another’s hands tightly like I remember my father gripping my toddler hand when we crossed a Manhattan street. We placed each foot with exquisite care hoping that it would be met by solid ground. Did the tunnel contain a den of unhappy animals or a colony of criminals? Had it been abandoned because of safety concerns? Did the pothole underfoot suggest that the path might collapse into the sea below us? Such imaginings haunted us as we continued the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, trusting that mindfulness and presence itself could contain the intensity of our fear and not knowing.

After an hour’s journey, we noticed golden light beginning to illuminate our footsteps. We emerged from the tunnel to find a village where later we slumbered in a renaissance palazzo with bellies filled with pesto and our hearts bursting with a stunning sense of accomplishment. We stepped into the tunnel as friends and we left as lifelong companions. Two years later we were married.

I’m astounded by how that adventure of walking through the darkness has prepared us for every life challenge we’ve faced. In life, not knowing is actually as important as knowing. If we can learn to make space for not knowing, then by simply putting one foot in front of the other we will get to where we need to be—one breath, one step, one moment at a time. Living this way takes a great deal of trust. For some this is trust in Life, the Universe (God), or simply the trust that we are strong enough and resilient enough to weather any storm.

Not knowing is how we build this reservoir of trust. Within the space of not knowing, we are being molded, shaped, and strengthened for the journey ahead.

Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice offering more than 50 transformational programs to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. For a listing of retreats and programs led by Brandon, click here.

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