Entering the Christian Buddhist Path

by Christina Leaño

I was 22 years old and holding tightly to my driver, praying that I wouldn’t die on the back of the motorcycle. We were swerving and curving through some unpaved jungle roads on the Philippine island of Mindanao. I was certain that these were my last moments on earth.CLeano

I was on my way to my first Buddhist retreat having been invited by my host father, a Zen practitioner. I was in the Philippines as a volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee and was doing language studies before starting three years of service with a Filipino environmental group.

Once we arrived at the Zen sesshin, we entered into the rhythm of silence across several days. Sitting. Walking. Sitting. Walking. We slept on bamboo floors and practiced qigong to the chirping of birds. Toward the end of the retreat we each had a chance to have an interview with the teacher.

I can remember sitting in the bamboo hut waiting my turn. I was terrified. As a cradle Catholic, the Zen practice was both mesmerizing and confusing. Meditation brought me to a place of silence that felt both natural and new. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening in the stillness. I just knew that something deep within me wanted it. Craved it. I was connecting to a new part of myself that could taste freedom, and God, in a new way.

And yet I squirmed with the thought of committing to this practice, which I would do upon meeting the teacher and receiving my koan, or Zen riddle which was supposed to help trip me into enlightenment. There was no mention in my decades of Catholic education of where Buddhism or Zen might fit in. Even Christian forms of silent meditation were shunned upon at the time. I was certain I was going to hell.

I was just about to give up my place in line when I remembered that earlier in the day we had celebrated Catholic mass. This retreat had been organized by Assumption Catholic sisters who had been trained by another Catholic sister, Elaine MacInness who was a Zen roshi in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition after years of study in Japan. Somehow these other Catholics, priests and religious sisters no less, didn’t seem to have a problem incorporating Zen into their Christian spirituality. Maybe I could too.

I decided to go through with my interview with the Zen teacher. I went in, did my prostrations, and received my koan. The decision to stay was the beginning of a lifelong exploration and commitment to Buddhist practice that continues today. The decision in that bamboo hut two decades ago changed my life.

Today my Buddhist study and practice is largely in the Western Theravada tradition, although I also draw deeply from the Tibetan tradition. It has transformed my relationship to my Christian faith, to God, and to the world. Here are a few ways:

  • I often incorporate the body into my spiritual practice. In my most awakened moments at Sunday liturgy, I will connect to the actual sensations of receiving Eucharist, the wafer on my tongue, the saliva forming to meet it, and the decision to fully receive it.
  • I read scripture in a more embodied manner, tuning into the energies of the words and the invitations being offered. It makes lectio divina a process of truly resting in the Word to marinate in God’s loving embrace.
  • I have learned ways to cultivate “loving my enemy” through the practice of metta. The process of systematically offering loving kindness to self, benefactor, loved ones, a “neutral person” and then difficult people help me to respond to this difficult mandate of Jesus.
  • The development of awareness helps me to better see and respond to unhelpful thoughts or difficult emotions as they arise — judgments, anger, frustration, irritation. No longer caught in the throes of these mind states, I can better touch into the virtues of faith, hope, and love that our faith calls us into.

The list of ways that I have integrated the Buddhist path into my Christian faith is long and rich. It is an ongoing process of exploration and deepening, always with the intention of awakening to God’s love and compassion within myself and sharing that with others. Who would have thought the end of a terrifying motorcycle ride would have been the beginning of something so much bigger and transformative.

Christina Leaño is a trained meditation teacher, retreat facilitator, and spiritual director who has been studying Christian and Buddhist contemplative practices for close to 20 years, including three years in a Cistercian monastery. She is a recent graduate of the Community Dharma Leaders Program through Spirit Rock Meditation Center. She currently serves as the associate director for the Global Catholic Climate Movement, a Catholic network responding to the moral imperative of climate change. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and M.A. in Systematic Theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She will be leading a retreat titled Walking the Christian Buddhist Path next month at the Bethany House of Prayer in Arlington, Mass. Learn more about Christina at christinaleano.net.

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Simple But Not Easy: The Right Effort of Beginning Again

by Sharon Salzberg

When I first began studying with the Burmese master Sayadaw U Pandita, I had been practicing meditation for 14 years. He was a powerful teacher with a rigorous pedagogy, requiring that each student meet with him one-on-one six days a week for interviews to describe our meditation experiences to him. Nervous and not sure what to expect from the interviews, I resolved that I would take notes after each of my meditations so that I could describe my experience precisely.

During our first interview, I shared everything I remembered (and had written down) about one of my meditation sittings. U Pandita nodded and said, “Well, in the beginning it can be like that.” A one-sentence response, and that was the end of the interview.

To my disappointment, each of our subsequent interviews followed a similar pattern. I’d come in fully prepared to describe a revelatory meditation sitting or a horrible one (or anything in between), and he would give me the consistent but frustrating reply, “Well, in the beginning it can be like that.”

The beginning?! I’d think to myself. I’ve been practicing for 14 years!

I couldn’t stand the fact that U Pandita thought of me as “at the beginning.” How could he not sense my progress? These feelings of resentment persisted until one day something clicked.

During my previous years living in India, I had been conceiving of my meditation practice in terms of progress. I knew that I was diligent and consistent, and thought I was doing well. I was on the right track toward enlightenment, or something, and wanted to hear that my efforts and perseverance were “paying off.” It’s no surprise that U Pandita’s constant references to my being a “beginner” made me annoyed. I was so obsessed with a goal-oriented way of thinking.

But U Pandita’s words were definitely not meant to invalidate me. I know now that I was simply choosing to let my insecurity dictate my response to him. I was reading negativity in the idea of what it means to be a “beginner.”

Over time, his response invited me to realize the challenge of choice that faces us in terms of how we respond to anything in life — whether in meditation, at work, in our relationships. If we make a commitment to living in the present moment, we are always “at the beginning” of whatever it is we are doing, constantly presented with thoughts, judgments, observations, and/or sensations that interrupt up us amidst our daily activities. The challenge is in the choice to accept these things and simply “begin” again, returning to the present moment, or to grip tightly to some idea of what we should be doing and flood ourselves with judgment in the process.

Many people, myself included, come to meditation with an initial expectation of immediate clarity and peace. We anticipate nirvana, filled with white light and an overwhelming sense of freedom. Contrary to these beliefs, meditation takes effort, a word most of us associate with burden. But the effort we make in meditation is not harsh and fueled by feelings of self-loathing or pressure. It’s an unrestrained willingness to “stick it out,” to recognize our ability to feel a sense of freedom through the act of accepting what is.

The idea of Right Effort is one component of the Buddha’s Eightfold Noble Path, and traditionally means directing our energy toward full awareness, with compassion and courage. But what does the Right Effort look like in our lives?

The other day, my friend told me that she had been having the same argument with her partner, almost every other day for about two weeks. She was aware that there was something about their dynamic and the way they were communicating about this particular issue that was resulting in the same conflict, again and again. As we have all surely experienced, there was something seductive and perhaps perversely comforting about the act of engaging in conflict — of rehearsing the habits of mind that both she and her partner were used to in the context of their relationship.

After those two weeks, however, something clicked for my friend. She told me she was finally able to sit with the feelings of discomfort she felt toward her partner, rather than engaging in a provocative dialogue that merely made the situation worse. The feelings did not go away, and she did not ignore them, but she said she was simply able to sit with herself, to stop and notice — “Ah, I am feeling resentful right now” — rather than immediately text her partner something that she knew would trigger him to engage her in emotional combat.

This act of seeing discomfort for what it was took effort for my friend: she practiced the cultivation of compassionate awareness and gave attention to the feelings she was having without feeling the need to judge, analyze, or act on them. Sure, she admitted that she felt moments of guilt or self-loathing along the way, but, by practicing her choice to make an effort to simply be present with her feelings, she allowed herself to be positioned with greater emotional freedom.

One of the most proactive steps we can take toward cultivating real happiness involves the simple recognition that we can make a choice to fill ourselves and our lives with negative energy. Or not. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “Self-Reliance” that “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” Intimacy with our experiences, feelings, and thoughts, in other words, is the simplest and most essential way to feel peace, even in the face of difficult experiences. It involves a willingness to find harmony with the truth of change, of contingency, with not being able to exert control over all that we wish to control. No external set of circumstances can prevent us from peace.

It takes effort to train ourselves to meet joy and sorrow alike with our full attention, kindness, and love — especially when we tend to judge our experiences with assumptions and distorting patterns of thought. But making that effort is not compulsory. It is our choice, a simple choice. And accepting that it may not be the easiest one is the first step in the practice of surrender.

Originally published on On Being October 26, 2015.

Sharon Salzberg is a meditation teacher and New York Times best-selling author. She is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. She will be offering a weekend Lovingkindness Retreat at Copper Beech Institute, June 9–11, 2017.

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When the Shift Hits the Fan

By Brandon Nappi

Maybe you’re like me. You tend to see the suffering of the world and feel its weight on a daily basis. You notice how unfair and random life seems to be. The countless injustices of war, racism, chronic poverty, systemic inequity smolder within until you flare up and flame out with indignation. Global problems intertwine with personal problems as you survey your own busyness, your messy house and your vague sense of uneasiness. You blame the kids, your partner, your parents, the government, Wall Street, technology, world leaders and God. At some point, you’ll likely even blame yourself — which is a vicious half-truth. While we are all to some degree responsible for today’s global challenges, the healing and peacemaking we most need around the world and around our dinner table will not begin with assignment of blame. In the end, all blame misses the point because it is rooted in an endless, subjective analysis of the past. Blaming only surrenders our authority to “author” a new path forward.

The hallmarks of the contemplative life are freedom, wonder and love. This is why we practice mindfulness, and this is why we developed Copper Beech Institute. We recognized that we need a circle of friends to support our commitment to waking up to compassion and awareness moment by moment. So we create a new center for mindfulness practice where we could ask the most fundamental questions that human beings can ask: How can I find contentment? How can I live with grace and equanimity? How do I transcend the incessant cycles of craving and aversion that seem to govern life? How can I find deep connection to myself and the people I encounter?

Our culture has persuaded us that thinking is the primary and defining human activity. The mind excels at calculating, safeguarding, planning and analyzing. These are critical skills necessary for our safety and survival, but they are not the only or the most important resources to cultivate. Often we live with the false assumption that if we get the right job, find the perfect partner and avoid unpleasant circumstances we will be at peace.

Outer change will not replace an inner shift. Until a contemplative shift in awareness is made, we will always live on a spectrum of pain and unhappiness. We will complain about the traffic; work will be unsatisfying; the vacation will seem over-rated; and family and friends will constantly fall short of expectations. The greatest gift we can give to our family, friends, co-workers and the entire planet it our willingness to wake up by cultivating present moment awareness.

I cherish mindfulness because it’s nothing special; it’s completely ordinary and doesn’t require any special set of conditions. Mindfulness practice offers us a deep reservoir of presence no matter what is happening. The most sturdy and reliable resource we have is the power of our presence. Mindfulness does not exclude any situation, but includes the entire spectrum of the human experience by bringing curiosity and compassion to whatever is arising. This warm act of loving awareness requires a softness in the heart and a willingness to be vulnerable. Through my practice I bring healing to the greed, selfishness and fear that are all too ready to colonize my life if I am not aware.

Still, living a life of deep awareness doesn’t protect us from pain; in fact, we might feel the inevitable pain of life more deeply and more often when we commit to living authentically and fully present to each moment. The inevitable lesson of mindfulness is that we can know true happiness only to the extent that we know true sadness.

Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. By suffering I mean the drama of craving and resistance. We too often cling to what we need to let go of and run away from what we think will harm us. Such strategies for happiness are hardwired to fail because they run contrary to life itself.

Happiness is not about creating extraordinary moments, but appreciating ordinary ones. Our awareness is our most powerful resource. Our presence is our gift offered freely in the service of healing and compassion. This is the shift that needs to hit the fan—one breath, one moment at a time.

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 offers more than 50 transformational programs annually to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. For a listing of all retreats led by Brandon, click here.

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A Visit from an Elegant Soul

By Alyssa R. Norwood

I walked slowly into my synagogue for Kol Nidre services. I was supporting my 96-year-old grandmother on one arm and holding the hand of my then two-year-old daughter (the youngest of our three children) with the other. I was flush with the joy of four generations of family, together on the cusp of the spiritual climax of the Jewish calendar, feeling transcendent.

The sanctuary was bathed in white, the color customarily worn on Yom Kippur, symbolic of the purity for which we strive on this Day of Atonement. But at its core, Yom Kippur is about imitating death – not eating, drinking, or otherwise attending to our bodies – as a conduit to powerfully affirming life.

I watched members of our congregation remove all the Torah scrolls from the ark, gently cradling each one. Amidst this moving pageantry, I had a vision of myself holding a baby the following year.

The next month, I found out that I was pregnant, and my husband and I were overjoyed. Each one of our three children has been an abounding source of love and spiritual teaching. Now, we were eager to embrace a new guide.

Soon I was nauseous. I was tired. And when I started to slip into that familiar “poor me” narrative of self-victimization, I would use the mantra, “Breathing in, I get to be pregnant; breathing out, I know it is a privilege.”

I focused less on my body and more on loving the fragile soul within, and it helped a lot – until my first visit to the obstetrician. I looked expectantly at the ultrasound monitor, waiting to experience the wonder of seeing a pulsing bean shape. But I never did. There was no heartbeat.

I was shocked. I was speechless. And then I was crying uncontrollably, letting unrelenting sadness flow out of my utterly broken heart. I got myself and my tear-soaked handkerchief home and I went to a candlelight meditation circle with my husband that evening. We sat in community with our profound feelings of loss.

The days that followed – literally the darkest of the year, as winter solstice approached – my soul exploded with heightened awareness of life’s tenuousness. I was on a crazy, hyper-sensitized trip. Tears of delight and devastation commingled, and my three children were newly miraculous.

On a cold Friday afternoon, right before Chanukah, I slid gingerly into the passenger seat of our Honda Civic for the short ride home from the hospital. In a sterile operating room, a compassionate team of health care professionals had just wrenched from me the physical traces of pregnancy.

For the next several days, the Jewish calendar demanded that I literally illuminate the darkness with the nightly kindling of the Chanukah candles in the window. This placement brings light beyond one’s own home and out into the world.

But what about those to whom the light does not reach? Who remain in darkness? Though Judaism offers thoughtful and compassionate mourning practices, Jewish law does not recognize a miscarriage as death. I felt broken and without a clearly defined spiritual roadmap, though I ultimately found some wonderful resources.

The broader point is that loss lies on a continuum. Death of a first-degree relative rightfully activates a robust and immediate, community-wide response. But the Jewish community has an opportunity to widen the circle of circumstances in which it acknowledges loss. Miscarriage, infertility, mental illness, and innumerable other stigmatizing, personal calamities can isolate mourners at the very moment when community support is most called for.

The months following my dilation and curettage revealed my body’s unwillingness to let go. More bleeding, sometimes violently. More ultrasounds. More blood tests. And ultimately, more surgery, shortly before Purim.

In “Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life,” Rabbi Alan Lew writes that these shattering moments of life can crush and embitter us – or bring us to a place of spiritual breakthrough where we can encounter God anew. The Torah is replete with examples: Jacob’s nighttime wrestling match with an unnamed adversary before personal transformation and reconciliation with his brother Esau; Moses’s fleeing from Egypt to escape persecution for the murder of an Egyptian task master before encountering God, and then returning to lead the exodus; and the Israelites’ enslavement before entering the covenant at Mt. Sinai.

The spiritual discipline of Judaism – or any faith practices – is one of using life’s challenges to transform pain into love, to touch divinity. The resulting freedom in this transformation is what Passover is really all about: our own personal exodus.

A precious life was whisked away after choosing me for only a fleeting visit. But, in the words of the Rabbi Reba Carmel, “a tiny bit of your elegant soul draped a veil around my heart.” In that lies abundant gratitude – and redemption.

Alyssa Norwood, attorney and program developer of Sustainable CT, resides in West Hartford with her husband, Joel, and three children.

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Moving into Stillness: Running as Meditation

by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard 

The practice of running as meditation is not about running. Or rather, it’s not just about running. It’s really an exploration of the power of stillness and movement and the dynamic interplay between the two. It’s about learning to take the clarity and mindfulness of meditation into the various forms of movement that make up our lives.

My premise is simple. I believe it’s more fulfilling to live life awake than asleep. I also believe that anything we can do to help ourselves to be and stay awake is worth doing. Seated meditation is one of the most powerful and effective ways to cultivate that wakefulness. But unfortunately, it’s not enough.

I’ve practiced sitting very still, often for long hours, almost every day for the last 23 years. This has been a good and powerful practice. But I’ve also seen that with a little bit of effort and patience, anyone can learn to be still and calm while sitting alone in a dark, quiet room. The real challenge is to take the same degree of presence, concentration, and insight into everything that we do. That’s why I think of running as a doorway between movement and stillness, between doing and non-doing. It’s one way to learn how to move into stillness and back into activity while remaining both clear and awake. So, you could say that running meditation is a skill that requires that we become so intimate with both stillness and movement that the difference between them disappears. It’s like a top, spinning in perfect balance.

But why running specifically? Quite simply because it’s the form of movement that I know best. I began running seriously when I was 10 years old, and haven’t stopped since. Over the years, my reasons for doing it have changed as my priorities have shifted. I’ve run for exercise, comfort, escape, glory, and identity. Often I’ve loved it, but on occasion I’ve resented it to the point of loathing. I’ve been asleep to it and to my body, and suffered the consequences. I’ve felt the bliss of speed, of a strong, working body, and on occasion, of my self disappearing. Yet from the moment I first started doing meditation I saw the immense potential of running as a form of moving meditation. It’s simple enough that anyone with a pair of running shoes and relative good health can do it. (In my workshops, I’ve taught people of all abilities and ages—the oldest being almost 80 years old.) It helps to keep your mind fresh, your body healthy, your self embodied. Most importantly, it can very poignantly teach you about the very nature of that self.

As I studied this relationship between stillness and movement, I developed various tools to allow my running to become a more mindful practice. I used mantras, visualizations, and a series of practices whose purpose is to help me develop awareness of myself—not just as a physical being, but also an emotional and spiritual one. To me, that is an essential component of awakening: you gain access to the totality of your humanity, so you can benefit yourself and others.

There are many reasons to run, and many more not to. But the most important question really is, am I fully in my life? Am I present, aware, at ease? The world doesn’t need faster runners. Yet it desperately needs people who are clear and awake. And although running alone won’t necessarily transform you into a clearer person, it is an excellent place to start—or continue—your path.

Vanessa Zuisei Goddard is a Dharma Holder and senior lay student in the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism and the Director of Operations of Dharma Communications, Zen Mountain Monastery’s educational and outreach arm. Zuisei has been running for more than 30 years and exploring the relationship between running and meditation for the last 20. She is offering the retreat, Moving Into Stillness: Running as Meditation, May 19–21, 2017. 

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Myth #1: Mindfulness Is a Fad

by Krystn Ledoux

While it may seem that mindfulness is suddenly everywhere, from the New York Times to the “Today Show,” the practice is certainly nothing new. With ancient roots in nearly every great wisdom tradition, people have been practicing mindfulness — or present-moment awareness — for millennia.

The ancient practice of mindfulness entered popular culture through the courageous vision of biomedical scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In 1979, his work in applying modern medicine and science to the practice of mindfulness led to the development of the foundational eight-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

Copper Beech Institute offers both day and evening sessions of the eight-week MBSR course with classes starting several times throughout the year. To learn more about MBSR and view upcoming course dates, visit our website

Krystn Ledoux is the marketing manager for Copper Beech Institute. After a lengthy career in politics and non-profit association management, Krystn has dedicated herself to promoting Copper Beech Institute’s transformational programming in the hope of helping individuals live more joyful, peaceful and healthy lives.

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Three Powerful Ways To Address Fear and Anxiety

by Nadia Colburn

This is a time of heightened anxiety for many of us in America. But whether you’re anxious and fearful about what you read in the news or something happening closer to home or even in your own body, fear and anxiety have a way of contracting our muscles and our minds.

Sent down a long tunnel of worry, our bodies contract and our shoulders hunch over, as if forced to fit too small a space. The form our bodies assume is self-protective: we try to create a shield over our own heart.

The problem is, this strategy doesn’t work; fear and anxiety don’t actually protect us. It takes many of us a long time to realize this—it certainly took me a long time. For much of my life, I thought on some unconscious level that if I weren’t anxious and fearful about danger, I would be deluding myself, and therefore would be more vulnerable, more exposed, and unable to make wise and prudent decisions.

But over time, I came to realize that, in fact, the opposite is true: being able to breathe through our fear and anxiety, actively working to mitigate them, does not make us more naïve, but instead makes us more awake, more alive and more able to make good decisions that will actually protect and help us and others.

The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the best teachers on fear. A peace activist in the Vietnam War, he had many experiences of life-threatening danger. He lived with the threat of death by violence, saw great suffering firsthand and lost many close friends.

And yet, he teaches us that when we are in a place of fear and anxiety, we are less able to make good decisions.

After the war, Thich Nhat Hanh helped countless Vietnamese “boat people,” refugees who escaped the communist regime on small, dangerous boats. Time and again, he saw that those who were able to remain calm—who did not succumb to their anxiety and panic— were more likely to survive their rocky boats and the dangerous journey.

So if we are in a state of fear and anxiety, here are three things I recommend doing:

1) Breathe. Remember you are here now. Come back to the present moment.  Come back to your body. Come out of your head and into your experience right now, without judgment. Drop the story of what you are feeling and just feel. I also recommend chanting meditations that can help stop our spinning minds and allow us to come back to a sense of joy.

2) Choose an action to do and do it. If you are worried about something, your worry won’t create positive change. Find one or two new things you can do to address your concerns. If you are worried about the political situation, for example, make a realistic practical plan for what you can do to be actively engaged in creating change and stick to it. Then, when worry arises, you can channel your energy into action itself.

3) Remember that worry, anxiety, violence and illness are only facets of human experience, and perennial parts of what it means to be a human. Find the full richness of your human experience. What you are experiencing is not unique to you. And there are always many other sides to human experience—joy, love, friendship, compassion—that are all equally important parts of what it means to be human. Try to water the seeds of positive qualities you want to cultivate. The more you feed and water the seeds you want more of, the more they will grow and bloom for you, so don’t forget to feed what you love.

Nadia Colburn brings together mind, body, and spirit through online and in-person classes, and through meditation, yoga and writing retreats. She is a published writer with a Ph.D. in English from Columbia and B.A. in from Harvard. Nadia will be offering the day retreat, Breathing Out Fear: Facing the World with Equanimity and Courage, April 29, 2017 and a weekend retreat, Living From Your Center: Integrating Mind, Body and Spirit, August 18–20, 2017. You can learn more about Nadia at www.nadiacolburn.com

Photo by Mae Chevrette.

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The Beauty of What You Love

by Brandon Nappi

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened…. Let the beauty we love be what we do. – Rumi, as interpreted by Coleman Barks

The most widely read poet today has been dead for 700 years. Yet the voice of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, otherwise known as Rumi, is as alive as ever. It’s a rather peculiar fact that despite many Americans’ political suspicion of things Middle Eastern, we can’t seem to get enough of this medieval Muslim mystic from thirteenth-century Afghanistan. Why is this? As I prepare to offer a day retreat this spring on the intersection of Rumi’s poetry and mindfulness practice, I’ve been giving my mind and heart to this question. Here are some initial hypotheses:

1. Ageless Wisdom for Our Age

We live in an era of multiplicity. From toilet paper to breakfast cereal, we have exponentially more choices than ever. When we truly look more deeply, many of these options are hollow: we read fake news, wear synthetic clothing, eat artificial food and create superficial relationships. As we process more information than ever before, we crave the truth. If wisdom is the capacity to live the truth in love, then many are longing to discover, experience and live what is lasting and grounded in this rapidly changing world. Rumi’s wisdom offers true nourishment for souls who are hungry for real food.

2. Nonduality

We are coming to understand how interconnected the world is. The daily choices we make impact everyone and everything. Nearly every spiritual tradition teaches at its essence that there is no separation between what is ultimate, which many name as God, and the world of material phenomena. The creator and the created are inseparably intertwined.

When we fail to recognize this essential oneness, we suffer and we cause others to suffer. When we act from the understanding of unity, we contribute to the flourishing and wellbeing of the world. This act of acting from a place of wholeness and connection with the divine and one another is called love. In a world that is increasingly fragmented, Rumi celebrates this unity and invites us to know it ourselves.

3. Spiritual (but Not Religious) Longing

While Rumi’s wise insight is born from deep within the Islamic tradition, many Americans struggle to find a home within mainstream religious institutions. While fewer Americans are participating in the traditional structures of religion, the deep spiritual hungers of the soul have not gone away. Questions of purpose and meaning along with the longing for connection and love surge within the human heart as much today as ever. Fundamentally, many of us are wondering: Who am I in relationship to the universe, to God and to my neighbor? Fresh translations of Rumi’s verse persistently meet these deep questions which leap forth from within us. Many find in Rumi a guide and friend to assure us that we are not alone in this spiritual odyssey of life.

Join me and my dear friend Helen BetGivargis for an exploration of Rumi’s most captivating and enduring themes in the day retreat, What You Seek Is Seeking You, The Wisdom of Rumi, on May 13, 2017. We’ll hear Rumi in his original Persian voice and explore mindfulness practices that resonate with his wisdom.

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 offers more than 50 transformational programs annually to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. For a listing of all retreats led by Brandon, click here.

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13 Ways Mindfulness Makes Me a Better Parent

By Carla Naumburg

I recently got the following question on my Twitter feed: Do you feel meditation has really changed you? More relaxing, less stress? So on?

The short answer to these questions is YES! All of the above! But that answer isn’t terribly helpful, so I thought it would be useful to share just how my meditation and mindfulness practice helps me to be a better parent.

Before we get into the details, I feel compelled to clarify something. As I have said many times, I am not the Dalai Mama. If any of you were to follow me around for a few days, or spy on me (in a totally non-creep way, of course), you would probably see me snap at my kids or sneak a peek at my smartphone or hide in the kitchen for a break.

You would see me being anything but mindful.

cNaumburg

Carla Naumburg

The reality is that I’m doing all of these things less often than I was before I started meditating, and when I do find myself doing them, I am able to calm down, center myself, and make better choices more quickly than before. That’s just what happens when you learn to pay attention to the present moment without judging it or fighting with it. (I actually have a huge amount of experience fighting with reality. I never win.)

Here are the ways in which my meditation and mindfulness practice make me a better mother (in no particular order):

  1. I’m less anxious. Anxiety is worrying about the future, usually about things I can’t predict or control. I am an expert worrier (especially when it comes to parenting), but the practice of mindfulness helps me see those anxious thoughts for what they are – just thoughts – and then let them go.
  2. I sleep better. Perhaps it’s because I’m worrying less, perhaps it’s because I have more skills for quieting the endless chatter of my brain. Either way, I know I sleep better when I’ve been meditating. (Needless to say, I’m a better mother when I’m well rested.)
  3. I’m less reactive. My kids, like most children, are highly skilled at pushing buttons (especially mine). Before I started meditating, I was basically one giant button waiting to be pushed. It’s starting to get better. Maybe I don’t respond the first time they push, or even the second, or maybe my response isn’t quite as intense as it used to be. This is awesome, because I feel a lot less like a crazy person who freaks out at every little thing.
  4. I can calm myself down faster. As helpful as meditation is, I still lose my temper. I still get frustrated and annoyed and angry and impatient. Rather than losing myself in whatever crappy mood I’ve gotten myself into, rather than spiraling out of control, I’m getting better at taking a few deep breaths and getting myself into a better headspace.
  5. I’m better at being bored. Let’s face it. Parenthood can be really boring. If you don’t believe me, I have three words for you: Chutes and Ladders. Every time I meditate, I’m practicing tolerating boredom, because there is nothing less interesting than following your own breath.
  6. I’m more grateful. I’m so good at working myself into a tizzy about every little thing. When I slow down, breathe, and pay attention to what is actually in front of me, I realize that life is pretty amazing. Even when it isn’t that amazing, I still have a lot to be grateful for; if nothing else, my children and husband are healthy and I get to spend time with them. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives.”
  7. I’m comparing myself to others less. I used to spend a lot of time noticing all of the ways in which other mothers are “better” than me: they cook more, they’re fitter or more crafty, they’ve achieved more professionally… the list goes on and on, and it makes me miserable. Coming back to the present moment, to the here and now, gets my mind off the merry-go-round of constant comparisons.
  8. I’m learning to loosen my grasp on the future. It’s easy to get caught up in my fantasies about who my children will become and what they will achieve. High school, college, successful careers, healthy relationship, white picket fence, 2.5 children, etc. etc. If I get too attached to my dreams for my kids, I won’t be as open to who they are becoming and what they want. Mindfulness helps me let go just a little bit, so I can focus on strengthening my relationship with my children, regardless of what path they are traveling.
  9. I beat myself up less about the past. I make a lot of mistakes in parenting (and life) and then I obsess about them. I replay them in my mind, judge myself harshly, and end up hosting my own one-person pity party. I get into a terrible headspace, and often take it out on my kids. Mindfulness helps me let go of the self-critical thoughts and come back to the present moment.
  10. It’s getting easier to access joy. When I let go of my worries and obsessions about the future and all of my frustrations about the past, there’s a lot more room in my mind for happiness. That’s all.
  11. I’m better at just being present. This sounds fairly obvious, but it’s worth re-stating. Each time I am able to put down my smartphone or get out of my crazy brain and be fully present for my girls, I am actually communicating something really important to them. I am telling them that they matter to me, that they are worth my time and attention, and that I care about what they have to say. That’s a big deal for children (and for parents).
  12. I’m kinder. I’m not sure I can explain this one, but I know it’s true. The more I meditate, the nicer I am. I’m less snappy, less impatient, less grumpy, less likely to interrupt or rush or snap at my kids. I’m just plain nicer.
  13. I enjoy parenting more. That’s the bottom line, and that makes me a better mother. That makes it all worth it.

Carla Naumburg is a clinical social worker, writer, and mindfulness practitioner. She is the author of “Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family” and “Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters.” Carla will be offering “Mindfulness and Yoga Retreat for Mothers,” a weekend retreat at Copper Beech Institute, March 31–April 2, 2017. 

Main photo by Heidi.

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