11/22/14

“If we let go a little, we will have a little peace. If we let go a lot, we will have a lot of peace. And If we let go completely, we will experience unlimited peace.”
~ thank you Carsten

11/21/14

As I descended the stairs, the years between us seemed accumulated everywhere, filling the house, and it seemed strange to me, how love and habit blurred so thoroughly to make a life.
~ Sue Monk Kidd

11/20/14

thankful:

for my sacred practice called
Stretch Appeal Dance
food, water & nourishment
for my
mind
body
and
soul.
Julianne Hough inspires.
She moves with 
grace
power
emotion
connection.
These images were taken by Patrick Demarchelier in 2012.
"Most of us couple with or marry someone who reminds us of our mother or father. 
The real trouble begins when we realize we have re-created, at least in part, our parents' marriages. That's also where the real work starts, and the real love."
~ Marion Woodman

11/19/14

december renewal:

Cultivating Presence and Intention
through Applied Improvisation
End 2014 with presence, intention and receptivity. Using techniques from Improvisation and Applied Improvisation we will engage in various activities that bring forth qualities to build your confident vision for the new year.  Applied Improvisation is a modality that uses practices, philosophies and methods from improvisational theatre to better develop areas of your life that are not performance based.  Rooted in principles of acceptance, spontaneity, generosity, presence, collaboration and creativity, this transformational modality unlocks surprises at every turn.  Come enjoy an afternoon of fun, depth, laughter and inspiration with master teacher Barbara Tint.  No performance is expected or required.  
Saturday, 12/6/14
1:00 - 4:00
$55
reservation only
Special Renewal Offer:
Soft Stretch with Laure Redmond
11:30 - 12:30
$65
includes Improv workshop
reservation only
To Reserve:
2. 503-780-4964 (text or call)

pema pearls:

HOW TO BUILD INNER STRENGTH
You build inner strength through embracing the totality of your experience, both the delightful parts and the difficult parts. Embracing the totality of your experience is one definition of having loving-kindness for yourself. Loving-kindness for yourself does not mean making sure you’re feeling good all the time—trying to set up your life so that you’re comfortable every moment. Rather, it means setting up your life so that you have time for meditation and self-reflection, for kindhearted, compassionate self-honesty. In this way you become more attuned to seeing when you’re biting the hook, when you’re getting caught in the undertow of emotions, when you’re grasping and when you’re letting go. This is the way you become a true friend to yourself just as you are, with both your laziness and your bravery. There is no step more important than this.
~ Pema Chodron

11/14/14

Illustration from the 1970 satirical book:
It’s not a question of getting over it or healing. No; it’s a question of learning to live with this transformation. For the loss is transformative, in good ways and bad, a tangle of change that cannot be threaded into the usual narrative spools. It is too central for that. It’s not an emergence from the cocoon, but a tree growing around an obstruction.
Meghan O’Rourke

11/13/14

who is richard gere:

Richard Gere: My Journey as a Buddhist
by Melvin McLeod
I suppose it’s a sign of our current cynicism that we find it hard to believe celebrities can also be serious people. The recent prominence of “celebrity Buddhists” has brought some snide comments in the press, and even among Buddhists, but personally I am very appreciative of the actors, directors, musicians and other public figures who have brought greater awareness to the cause of Tibetan freedom and the value of Buddhist practice. These are fine artists and thoughtful people, some Buddhists, some not, among them Martin Scorsese, Leonard Cohen, Adam Yauch, Michael Stipe, Patti Smith, and of course, Richard Gere. I met Gere at his office in New York recently, and we talked about his many years of Buddhist practice, his devotion to his teacher the Dalai Lama, and his work on behalf of the dharma and the cause of the Tibetan people.
~ Melvin McLeod
Melvin McLeod: What was your first encounter with Buddhism?
Richard Gere: I have two flashes. One, when I actually encountered the written dharma, and two, when I met a teacher. But before that, I was engaged in philosophical pursuit in school. So I came to it through Western philosophers, basically Bishop Berkeley.
Melvin McLeod: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really happen?”
Richard Gere: Yes. Subjective idealism was his thesis—reality is a function of mind. It was basically the “mind only” school that he was preaching. Quite radical, especially for a priest. I was quite taken with him. The existentialists were also interesting to me. I remember carrying around a copy of Being and Nothingness, without knowing quite why I was doing it. Later I realized that “nothingness” was not the appropriate word. “Emptiness” was really what they were searching for—not a nihilistic view but a positive one.
My first encounter with Buddhist dharma would be in my early twenties. I think like most young men I was not particularly happy. I don’t know if I was suicidal, but I was pretty unhappy, and I had questions like, “Why anything?” Realizing I was probably pushing the edges of my own sanity, I was exploring late-night bookshops reading everything I could, in many different directions. Evans-Wentz’s books on Tibetan Buddhism had an enormous impact on me. I just devoured them.
Melvin McLeod: So many of us were inspired by those books. What did you find in them that appealed to you?
Richard Gere: They had all the romance of a good novel, so you could really bury yourself in them, but at the same time, they offered the possibility that you could live here and be free at the same time. I hadn’t even considered that as a possibility—I just wanted out—so the idea that you could be here and be out at the same time—emptiness—was revolutionary.
So the Buddhist path, particularly the Tibetan approach, was obviously drawing me, but the first tradition that I became involved in was Zen. My first teacher was Sasaki Roshi. I remember going out to L.A. for a three day sesshin [Zen meditation program]. I prepared myself by stretching my legs for months and months so I could get through it.
I had a kind of magical experience with Sasaki Roshi, a reality experience. I realized, this is work, this is work. It’s not about flying through the air; it’s not about any of the magic or the romance. It’s serious work on your mind. That was an important part of the path for me.
Sasaki Roshi was incredibly tough and very kind at the same time. I was a total neophyte and didn’t know anything. I was cocky and insecure and fucked up. But within that I was serious about wanting to learn. It got to the point at the end of the sesshin where I wouldn’t even go to the dokusan [interview with the Zen master]. I felt I was so ill-equipped to deal with the koans that they had to drag me in. Finally, it got to where I would just sit there, and I remember him smiling at that point. “Now we can start working,” he said. There was nothing to say—no bullshit, nothing.
Melvin McLeod: When someone has such a strong intuitive connection, Buddhism suggests that it’s because of karma, some past connection with the teachings.
Richard Gere: Well, I’ve asked teachers about that—you know, what led me to this? They’d just laugh at me, like I thought there was some decision to it or it was just chance. Well, karma doesn’t work that way. Obviously there’s some very clear and definite connection with the Tibetans or this would not have happened. My life would not have expressed itself this way.
I think I’ve always felt that practice was my real life. I remember when I was just starting to practice meditation—24 years old, trying to come to grips with my life. I was holed up in my shitty little apartment for months at a time, just doing tai chi and doing my best to do sitting practice. I had a very clear feeling that I’d always been in meditation, that I’d never left meditation. That it was a much more substantial reality than what we normally take to be reality. That was very clear to me even then, but it’s taken me this long in my life to bring it out into the world more, through more time practicing, watching my mind, trying to generate bodhicitta.
Melvin McLeod: When did you meet the Dalai Lama for the first time?
Richard Gere: I had been a Zen student for five or six years before I met His Holiness in India. We started out with a little small talk and then he said, “Oh, so you’re an actor?” He thought about that a second, and then he said, “So when you do this acting and you’re angry, are you really angry? When you’re acting sad, are you really sad? When you cry, are you really crying?” I gave him some kind of actor answer, like it was more effective if you really believed in the emotion that you were portraying. He looked very deeply into my eyes and just started laughing. Hysterically. He was laughing at the idea that I would believe emotions are real, that I would work very hard to believe in anger and hatred and sadness and pain and suffering.
That first meeting took place in Dharmsala in a room where I see him quite often now. I can’t say that the feeling has changed drastically. I am still incredibly nervous and project all kinds of things on him, which he’s used to at this point. He cuts through all that stuff very quickly, because his vows are so powerful, so all-encompassing, that he is very effective and skillful at getting to the point. Because the only reason anyone would want to see him is that they want to remove suffering from their consciousness.
It completely changed my life the first time I was in the presence of His Holiness. No question about it. It wasn’t like I felt, “Oh, I’m going to give away all my possessions and go to the monastery now,” but it quite naturally felt that this was what I was supposed to do—work with these teachers, work within this lineage, learn whatever I could, bring myself to it. In spite of varying degrees of seriousness and commitment since then, I haven’t really fallen out of that path.
Melvin McLeod: Does His Holiness work with you personally, cutting your neuroses in the many ways that Buddhist teachers do, or does he teach you more by the example of his being?
Richard Gere: There’s no question that His Holiness is my root guru, and he’s been quite tough with me at times. I’ve had to explain to people who sometimes have quite a romantic vision of His Holiness that at times he’s been cross with me, but it was very skillful. At the moment he did it, I’m not saying it was pleasant for me, but there was no ego attachment from his side. I’m very thankful that he trusts me enough to be the mirror for me and not pull any punches. Mind you, the first meetings were not that way; I think he was aware how fragile I was and was being very careful. Now I think he senses that my seriousness about the teachings has increased and my own strength within the teachings has increased. He can be much tougher on me.
Melvin McLeod: The Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism puts a strong emphasis on analysis. What drew you to the more intellectual approach?
Richard Gere: Yeah, it’s funny. I think what I probably would have been drawn to instinctively was Dzogchen [the Great Perfection teachings of the Nyingma school]. I think the instinct that drew me to Zen is the same one that would have taken me to Dzogchen.
Melvin McLeod: Space.
Richard Gere: The non-conceptual. Just go right to the non-conceptual space. Recently I’ve had some Dzogchen teachers who’ve been kind enough to help me, and I see how Dzogchen empowers much of the other forms of meditation that I practice. Many times Dzogchen has really zapped me into a fresh vision and allowed me to see a kind of limited track that I was falling into through conditioning and basic laziness.
But overall, I think the wiser choice for me is to work with the Gelugpas, although space is space wherever it is. I think the analytical approach—kind of finding the non-boundaries of that space—is important. In a way, one gets stability from being able to order the rational mind. When space is not there for you, the intellectual work will still keep you buoyed up. I still find myself in situations where my emotions are out of control and the anger comes up, and it’s very difficult to enter pure white space at that point. So the analytical approach to working with the mind is enormously helpful. It’s something very clear to fall back on and very stabilizing.
Melvin McLeod: What was the progression of practices for you, to the extent that you can talk about it, after you entered the vajrayana path?
Richard Gere: I’m a little hesitant to talk about this because, one, I don’t claim to know much, and two, being a celebrity these things get quoted out of context and sometimes it’s not beneficial. I can say that whatever forms of meditation I’ve taken on, they still involve the basic forms of refuge, generation of bodhicitta [awakened mind and heart] and dedication of merit to others. Whatever level of the teachings that my teachers allow me to hear, they still involve these basic forms.
Overall, tantra has become less romantic to me. It seems more familiar. That’s an interesting stage in the process, when that particular version of reality becomes more normal. I’m not saying it’s normal, in the sense of ordinary or mundane, but I can sense it being as normal as what I took to be reality before. I can trust that.
Melvin McLeod: What dharma books have meant a lot to you?
Richard Gere: People are always asking me what Buddhist books I would recommend. I always suggest Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind to someone who says, “How can I start?” I’ll always include something by His Holiness. His book Kindness, Clarity and Compassion is extraordinarily good. There’s wonderful stuff in there. Jeffrey Hopkins’ The Tantric Distinction is very helpful. There are so many.
Melvin McLeod: You go to India often. Does that give you the opportunity to practice in a less distracted environment?
Richard Gere: Actually it’s probably more distracting! When I go there, I’m just a simple student like everyone else, but I’m also this guy who can help. When I’m in India there are a lot of people who require help and it’s very difficult to say no. So it’s not the quietest time in my life, but just being in an environment where everyone is focusing on the dharma and where His Holiness is the center of that focus is extraordinary.
Melvin McLeod: When you’re in Dharmsala do you have the opportunity to study with the Dalai Lama or other teachers there?
Richard Gere: I’ll try to catch up with all my teachers. Some of them are hermits up in the hills, but they come down when His Holiness gives teachings. It’s a time to catch up on all of it, and just remember. For me, it means remembering. Life here is an incredible distraction and it’s very easy to get off track. Going there is an opportunity to remember, literally, what the mission is, why we’re here.
Melvin McLeod: Here you’re involved in a world of film-making that people think of as extremely consuming, high-powered, even cut-throat.
Richard Gere: That’s all true. But it’s like everyone else’s life, too. It just gets into the papers, that’s all. It’s the same emotions. The same suffering. The same issues. No difference.
Melvin McLeod: Do you find that you have a slightly split quality to your life, going back and forth between these worlds?
Richard Gere: I find that more and more my involvement in a career, in a normal householder life, is a great challenge for deepening the teachings inside of me. If I weren’t out in the marketplace, there’s no way I would be able to really face the nooks and crannies and darkness inside of me. I just wouldn’t see it. I’m not that tough; I’m not that smart. I need life telling me who I am, showing me my mind constantly. I wouldn’t see it in a cave. The problem with me is I would probably just find some blissful state, if I could, and stay there. That would be death. I don’t want that. As I said, I’m not an extraordinary practitioner. I know pretty much who I am. It’s good for me to be in the world.
Melvin McLeod: Are there any specific ways you try to bring dharma into your work, beyond working with your mind and trying to be a decent human being?
Richard Gere: Well, that’s a lot! That’s serious shit.
Melvin McLeod: That’s true. But those are the challenges we all face. I was just wondering if you try to bring a Buddhist perspective to the specific world of film?
Richard Gere: In film, we’re playing with something that literally fragments reality, and being aware of the fragmentation of time and space I think lends itself to the practice, to loosening the mind. There is nothing real about film. Nothing. Even the light particles that project the film can’t be proven to exist. Nothing is there. We know that when we’re making it; we’re the magicians doing the trick. But even we get caught up in thinking that it is all real—that these emotions are real, that this object really exists, that the camera is picking up some reality.
On the other hand, there is some magical sense that the camera sees more than our eyes do. It sees into people in a way that we don’t normally. So there’s a vulnerability to being in front of the camera that one doesn’t have to endure in normal life. There’s a certain amount of pressure and stress in that. You are being seen, you are really being seen, and there is no place to hide.
Melvin McLeod: But there’s no way you actually work with the product to…?
Richard Gere: You mean teaching through that? Well, I think these things are far too mysterious to ever do that consciously, no. Undoubtedly, as ill-equipped to be a good student as I am, I’ve had a lot of teachings, and some have stuck. Somehow they do communicate-not because of me, but despite me. So I think there is value there. It’s the same as everyone: whatever positive energies have touched them in myriad lifetimes are going to come through somehow. When you look into their eyes, when the camera comes in for a closeup, there’s something there that is mysterious. There’s no way you can write it, there’s no way you can plan it, but a camera will pick it up in a different way than someone does sitting across the table.
Melvin McLeod: How comfortable are you with your role as the spokesman for the dharma?
Richard Gere: For the dharma? I’ve never, ever accepted that, and I never will. I’m not a spokesman for dharma. I lack the necessary qualities.
Melvin McLeod: But you are always being asked in public about being a Buddhist.
Richard Gere: I can talk about that only as a practitioner, from the limited point of view that I have. Although it’s been many years since I started, I can’t say that I know any more now than I did then. I can’t say I have control over my emotions; I don’t know my mind. I’m lost like everyone else. So I’m certainly not a leader. In the actual course of things, I talk about these things, but only in the sense that this is what my teachers have given me. Nothing from me.
Melvin McLeod: When you are asked about Buddhism, are there certain themes you return to that you feel are helpful, such as compassion?
Richard Gere: Absolutely. I will probably discuss wisdom and compassion in some form, that there are two poles we are here to explore—expanding our minds and expanding our hearts. At some point hopefully being able to encompass the entire universe inside mind, and the same thing with heart, with compassion, hopefully both at the same time. Inseparable.
Melvin McLeod: When you say that, I’m reminded of something that struck me when I saw the Dalai Lama speak. He was teaching about compassion, as he so often does, but I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if he spoke more to a wider audience about the Buddhist understanding of wisdom, that is, emptiness. I just wondered what would happen if this revered spiritual leader said to the world, well, you know, all of this doesn’t really exist in any substantive way.
Richard Gere: Well, the Buddha had many turnings of the wheel of dharma, and I think His Holiness functions in the same way. If we are so lost in our animal natures, the best way to start to get out of that is to learn to be kind. Someone asked His Holiness, how can you teach a child to care about and respect living things? He said, see if you can get them to love and respect an insect, something we instinctively are repulsed by. If they can see its basic sentience, its potential, the fullness of what it is, with basic kindness, then that’s a huge step.
Melvin McLeod: I was just reading where the Dalai Lama said that he thinks mother’s love is the best symbol for love and compassion, because it is totally disinterested.
Richard Gere: Nectar. Nectar is that! [In vajrayana practice, spiritual blessings are visualized as nectar descending on the meditator.] That’s mother’s milk; that’s coming right from mom. Absolutely.
Melvin McLeod: Although you are cautious in speaking about the dharma, you are a passionate spokesman on the issue of freedom for Tibet.
Richard Gere: I’ve gone through a lot of different phases with that. The anger that I might have felt twenty years ago is quite different now. We’re all in the same boat here, all of us—Hitler, the Chinese, you, me, what we did in Central America. No one is devoid of the ignorance that causes all these problems. If anything, the Chinese are just creating the cause of horrendous future lifetimes for themselves, and one cannot fail to be compassionate towards them for that.
When I talk to Tibetans who were in solitary confinement for twenty or twenty-five years, they say to me, totally from their heart, that the issue is larger than what they suffered at the hands of their torturer, and that they feel pity and compassion for this person who was acting out animal nature. To be in the presence of that kind of wisdom of heart and mind—you can never go back after that.
Melvin McLeod: It is remarkable that an entire people, generally, is imbued with a spirit like that.
Richard Gere: I’m convinced that it is because it was state-oriented. Obviously, problems come with that, with no separation of church and state. But I am convinced that the great dharma kings manifested to actually create a society based on these ideas. Their institutions were designed to create good-hearted people; everything in the society was there to feed it. That became decadent—there were bad periods, there were good periods, whatever. But the gist of the society was to create good-hearted people, bodhisattvas, to create a very strong environment where people could achieve enlightenment. Imagine that in America! I mean, we have no structure for enlightenment. We have a very strong Christian heritage and Jewish heritage, one of compassion, one of altruism. Good people. But we have very little that encourages enlightenment—total liberation.
Melvin McLeod: Looking at how human rights violations have come to the forefront of world consciousness, such as in Tibet and South Africa before that, the work of celebrities such as yourself who have been able to use their fame skillfully has been an important factor.
Richard Gere: I hope that’s true. It’s kind of you to say. It’s an odd situation. Previously I’d worked on Central America and some other political and human rights issues, and got to know the ropes a bit in working with Congress and the State Department. But that didn’t really apply to this situation. Tibet was too far away, and there had been extremely limited American involvement there.
I found also that the question of His Holiness in terms of a political movement was very tricky. It’s a non-violent movement, which is a problem in itself—you don’t get headlines with nonviolence. And His Holiness doesn’t see himself as Gandhi; he doesn’t create dramatic, operatic situations.
So we’ve ended up taking a much steadier kind of approach. It’s not about drama. It’s about, little by little, building truth, and I think it’s probably been deeper because of that. The senators, congressmen, legislators and parliamentarians who have got involved go way beyond what they would normally give to a cause they believed in.
I think the universality of His Holiness’ words and teachings have made this so much bigger than just Tibet. When His Holiness won the Nobel Peace Prize, there was a quantum leap. He is not seen as solely a Tibetan anymore; he belongs to the world. We were talking before about what the camera picks up—just a picture of His Holiness seems to communicate so much. Just to see his face. It’s arresting, and at the same time it’s opening. You can imagine what it would have been like to see the Buddha. Just to see his face would put you so many steps ahead. I think a lot of what we have done is just putting His Holiness in situations where he could touch as many people as possible, which he does every time with impeccable bodhicitta.
I keep saying Tibet will be taken care of in the process, but it’s about saving every sentient being, and as long as we keep our eyes on that prize, Tibet will be all right. Of course there are immediate issues to deal with in Tibet. We work on those all the time. Although we had reason to believe a more open communication with the Chinese was evolving, the optimism generated by Clinton’s visit to China has not panned out. In fact, the Tibetans, as well as the pro-democracy Chinese, are experiencing the most repressive period since the late eighties, since Tienanmen Square.
Melvin McLeod: I’m always impressed with a point the Dalai Lama makes which is very similar to what my own teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, presented in the Shambhala teachings. That is the need for a universal spirituality based on simple truths of human nature that transcends any particular religion, or the need for formalized religion at all. This strikes me as an extraordinarily important message.
Richard Gere: Well, I think it’s true. His Holiness says that what we all have in common is an appreciation of kindness and compassion; all the religions have this. Love. We all lean towards love.
Melvin McLeod: But even beyond that, he points out that billions of people don’t practice a religion at all.
Richard Gere: But they have the religion of kindness. They do. Everyone responds to kindness.
Melvin McLeod: It’s fascinating that a major religious leader espouses in effect a religion of no religion.
Richard Gere: Sure, that’s what makes him larger than Tibet.
Melvin McLeod: It makes him larger than Buddhism.
Richard Gere: Much larger. The Buddha was larger than Buddhism.
Melvin McLeod: You are able to sponsor a number of projects in support of the dharma and of Tibetan independence.
Richard Gere: I’m in kind of a unique position in that I do have some cash in my foundation, so I’m able to offer some front money to various groups to help them get projects started. Sponsoring dharma books is important to me—translation, publishing—but I think the most important thing I can do is help sponsor teachings. To work with His Holiness and help sponsor teachings in Mongolia, India, the United States and elsewhere-nothing gives me more joy.
The program we’re doing this summer is four days of teachings by the Dalai Lama in New York. August 12 to 14 will be the formal teaching by His Holiness on Kamalashila’s “Middle-length Stages of Meditation” and “The Thirty-seven Practices of the Bodhisattvas.” That’s at the Beacon Theater and there are about 3,000 tickets available. I’m sure those will sell quickly. If people can’t get into that, there’s going to be a free public teaching in Central Park on the fifteenth. We’re guessing there will be space for twenty-five to forty thousand people, so whoever wants to come will be able to. His Holiness will give a teaching on the Eight Verses of Mind Training, a very powerful lojong teaching, one of my favorites actually. Then His Holiness will give a wang, a long life empowerment of White Tara.
I’ve seen His Holiness give bodhicitta teachings like these, and no one can walk away without crying. He touches so deep into the heart. He gave a teaching in Bodh Gaya last year on Khunu Lama’s “In Praise of Bodhicitta,” which is a long poems Just thinking about it now, I’m starting to crys So beautiful. When he was teaching on Kunu Lama’s “In Praise of Bodhicitta,” who was his own teachers whooosh! We were inside his heart, in the most extraordinary way. A place you can’t be told about, you can’t read about, nothing. You’re in the presence of Buddha. I’ve had a lot of teachers who give wonderful teachings on wisdom, but to see someone who really, really has the big bodhicitta, real expanded bodhicittas.
So those are the teachings that I believe His Holiness is here to give. That’s what touches.
Due to bad weather:
Stretch Appeal Dance
is 
CANCELLED 
today

11/11/14

who is pamela druckerman:

What You Learn in Your 40s
"PARIS — IF all goes according to plan, I’ll turn 44 soon after this column appears. So far in my adult life, I’ve never managed to grasp a decade’s main point until long after it was over. It turns out that I wasn’t supposed to spend my 20s frantically looking for a husband; I should have been building my career and enjoying my last gasp of freedom. I then spent my 30s ruminating on grievances accumulated in my 20s. This time around, I’d like to save time by figuring out the decade while I’m still in it. Entering middle age in Paris — the world’s epicenter of existentialism — isn’t terribly helpful. With their signature blend of subtlety and pessimism, the French carve up midlife into the “crisis of the 40s,” the “crisis of the 50s” and the “noonday demon” (described by one French writer as “when a man in his 50s falls in love with the babysitter”). The modern 40s are so busy it’s hard to assess them. Researchers describe the new “rush hour of life,” when career and child-rearing peaks collide. Today’s 40ish professionals are the DITT generation: double income, toddler twins. The existing literature treats the 40s as transitional. Victor Hugo supposedly called 40 “the old age of youth.” In Paris, it’s when waiters start calling you “Madame” without an ironic wink. The conventional wisdom is that you’re still reasonably young, but that everything is declining: health, fertility, the certainty that you will one day read “Hamlet” and know how to cook leeks. Among my peers there’s a now-or-never mood: We still have time for a second act, but we’d better get moving on it. I think the biggest transition of the 40s is realizing that we’ve actually, improbably, managed to learn and grow a bit. In another 10 years, our 40-something revelations will no doubt seem naïve (“Ants can see molecules!” a man told me in college). But for now, to cement our small gains, here are some things we know today that we didn’t know a decade ago: If you worry less about what people think of you, you can pick up an astonishing amount of information about them. You no longer leave conversations wondering what just happened. Other people’s minds and motives are finally revealed. People are constantly trying to shape how you view them. In certain extreme cases, they seem to be transmitting a personal motto, such as “I have a relaxed parenting style!”; “I earn in the low six figures!”; “I’m authentic and don’t try to project an image!” Eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life’s great pleasures. Actually, scratch “unmedicated.” There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently. There are no soul mates. Not in the traditional sense, at least. In my 20s someone told me that each person has not one but 30 soul mates walking the earth. (“Yes,” said a colleague, when I informed him of this, “and I’m trying to sleep with all of them.”) In fact, “soul mate” isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time. You will miss out on some near soul mates. This goes for friendships, too. There will be unforgettable people with whom you have shared an excellent evening or a few days. Now they live in Hong Kong, and you will never see them again. That’s just how life is. Emotional scenes are tiring and pointless. At a wedding many years ago, an older British gentleman who found me sulking in a corner helpfully explained that I was having a G.E.S. — a Ghastly Emotional Scene. In your 40s, these no longer seem necessary. For starters, you’re not invited to weddings anymore. And you and your partner know your ritual arguments so well, you can have them in a tenth of the time. Forgive your exes, even the awful ones. They were just winging it, too. When you meet someone extremely charming, be cautious instead of dazzled. By your 40s, you’ve gotten better at spotting narcissists before they ruin your life. You know that “nice” isn’t a sufficient quality for friendship, but it’s a necessary one. People’s youthful quirks can harden into adult pathologies. What’s adorable at 20 can be worrisome at 30 and dangerous at 40. Also, at 40, you see the outlines of what your peers will look like when they’re 70. More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief. But you find your tribe. Jerry Seinfeld said in an interview last year that his favorite part of the Emmy Awards was when the comedy writers went onstage to collect their prize. “You see these gnome-like cretins, just kind of all misshapen. And I go, ‘This is me. This is who I am. That’s my group.’ ” By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people. Just say “no.” Never suggest lunch with people you don’t want to have lunch with. They will be much less disappointed than you think. You don’t have to decide whether God exists. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t. But when you’re already worrying that the National Security Agency is reading your emails (and as a foreigner in France, that you’re constantly breaking unspoken cultural rules), it’s better not to know whether yet another entity is watching you. Finally, a few more tips gleaned from four decades of experience: Do not buy those too-small jeans, on the expectation that you will soon lose weight. If you are invited to lunch with someone who works in the fashion industry, do not wear your most “fashionable” outfit. Wear black. If you like the outfit on the mannequin, buy exactly what’s on the mannequin. Do not try to recreate the same look by yourself. It’s O.K. if you don’t like jazz. When you’re wondering whether she’s his daughter or his girlfriend, she’s his girlfriend. When you’re unsure if it’s a woman or a man, it’s a woman."

11/10/14

FORGIVENESS
"is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, the act of forgiveness not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source. To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to reimagine our relation to it.
It may be that the part of us that was struck and hurt can never forgive, and that forgiveness itself never arises from the part of us that was actually wounded. The wounded self may be the part of us incapable of forgetting, and perhaps, not meant to forget ... stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting.
Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful question and a way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves; an admittance that if forgiveness comes through understanding, and if understanding is just a matter of time and application then we might as well begin forgiving right at the beginning of any drama, rather than put ourselves through the full cycle of festering, incapacitation, reluctant healing and eventual blessing.
... At the end of life, the wish to be forgiven is ultimately the chief desire of almost every human being. In refusing to wait; in extending forgiveness to others now, we begin the long journey of becoming the person who will be large enough, able enough and generous enough to receive, at our very end, that necessary absolution ourselves."
Excerpted from ‘FORGIVENESS’ from the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. ©2014 David Whyte

11/7/14

11/5/14

who is brigitte lacombe:

to nurture and protect:

(Véra Nabokov, 1902–1991; art by Thomas Doyle)
"There is something quite wonderful about witnessing one human being selflessly bolster the creative achievement of another. For many people we've come to celebrate as geniuses, such human capital was precisely what made their achievements possible – a vital aid rather than a detractor of their greatness. The most frequently recurring roles of these silent supporters are of wife and mother, who doubled and tripled and quadrupled as assistant, caretaker, editor, publicist, and a great many more utilitarian and creative duties. As an example, Véra Nabokov dedicated her life to bolstering her husband, Vladimir Nabokov's genius, in which she believed resolutely and which she felt honored to nurture and protect. She was the first reader of all his work and his lifelong inspiration. The inscription on every single one of his novels reads, simply, "To Véra." So intense was their psychic bond that they even shared an uncommon neurological condition called synesthesia. When Nabokov's obituary stated that "their dedication to each other was total," it was a statement of simple fact."
~ Maria Popova

11/2/14

"Once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it’s going to be (however that vision appears to you), it is impossible to live compliant and complacent anymore in the world as it is. And so you come out and walk out and march, the way a flower comes out and blooms, because it has no other calling. It has no other work."
~ Victoria Stafford

10/29/14

a must-read for writers:

I was thrilled to come across this Q&A today between my friend/author Priscilla Gilman and my former fitness student/author Dani Shapiro. Both women inspire me in countless ways, I love the questions Priscilla asks and the potency of Dani's answers ~ enjoy:
Priscilla writes ~ "I’d heard about Dani Shapiro for years, but didn’t actually read her work until the summer of 2013, when I was sent a copy of her newest book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, in galley, and then devoured her other books. I reached out to Dani to let her know how much I loved her writing, and we became email friends. It was such a privilege and joy to do this conversation with her, and I found each of her answers to be a little gem of exquisite writing and profound insight."
Q: Still Writing opens with a bold claim; in its first paragraph, you declare: “everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.” Give us a few examples of how the practice of writing has taught you important life lessons.
A: When I think of what it mean to face the blank page each day, I think of tenacity, courage, persistence, doggedness, faith, and the willingness to make a leap into the unknown. These are all traits that I’ve cultivated in order to do my work, and at the same time, I think they serve me well in my life. I liken facing the blank page with the feeling – if we really think about it – of getting out of bed every morning. We can’t know what the day holds. Our lives are at the mercy of so much randomness. There is chaos, chance, luck. Unexpected sorrow, unexpected grace. And yet, if we were really to focus on that randomness, we wouldn’t be able to put one foot in front of the other. What writing has taught me (here’s another bold claim) is how to love in the face of all the consequences of love – because after a lifetime of hurling myself into the abyss of the unknown in my work, I also have become more willing to hurl myself into the abyss of the unknown in my life.
Q: At one point in Still Writing, you say that writing is practicing “the art of waiting.” Can you elaborate on that suggestive assertion?
A: When I’m between books, I become a crazy person. Even though I’ve written eight books, I believe, absolutely, fervently, every time, that I will never write another book again, that the muse will not visit me, that I’m stuck forever, done, finished. I’ve learned, however imperfectly, to live with this feeling by cultivating the practice of waiting. Of patience. Or, at least, attempting patience. When I’ve tried to force something –– begin a project that’s only half-baked, or jump at an assignment just to have the deadline, or drive myself forward based only on a flimsy or tenuous idea, I always regret it. And I always end up throwing mountains of pages away. Better to wait. To ponder, mull, to live. To cook, walk, travel, take care of children, or partners, or animals, or whatever. To make the space. It’s only when that inward space is there that we are able to witness our own creative process, and give birth to something new.
Q: As someone who studied piano from age 7 to age 18 and sang, danced, and acted extensively throughout my childhood, I was especially intrigued by your claim that “piano was my training ground- at least as important as any writing workshop.” How did your studying and playing piano influence and shape you as a writer? What are the similarities and the differences between writing and making music? What does your experience have to teach us about the benefits of arts instruction and enrichment for young children and in our schools?
A: Oh, how wonderful! I hadn’t known this aspect of your background. What I meant by piano as my training ground, particularly, is the musicality that those years of study brought to my prose itself. I needed to hear sentences, not just read them. The lines must have a certain rhythm to them, and if they don’t, I work until they do. Though there was an underside to all that musicality –– which was pointed out to me by one of my professors in college, a great writer named Jerome Badanes. Jerry said, “Dani, you know how to write a very beautiful sentence. You’d just better make sure it means something.” I have taken that lesson to heart. Musicality isn’t everything. Beautiful language, on its own, isn’t enough. As for the second part of your question, arts instruction and enrichment is where our children access the power of their own empathic imaginations and their ability to create –– what could be more beneficial than that? Especially in this high-speed, disconnected age we’re living in.
Q: I don’t do yoga because I can’t exercise barefoot due to severely pronated feet, but I have practiced TM since my early 20s and feel it’s essential to both my productivity and my creativity. Tell us about how yoga has influenced your writing life.
A: I’ve practiced yoga since my 20’s as well, and much more recently, have developed a meditation practice. These are my tools of self-knowledge. If, as writers, we are our own instruments, these practices sharpen (and soften!) and hone these instruments. My best work comes from a quiet mind. And that quiet mind does not come naturally to me. I need to unroll my mat. If I remember to unroll my mat, the quiet mind reappears, like a mountain from behind cloud cover.
Q: I see you as a demystifier, and I really admired how Still Writing generously and honestly works to lessen the sense of distance aspiring, young, or less successful writers feel between themselves and established writers. Writers never feel confident or secure, you insist: “It never gets easier” and “there is no magical place of arrival.” I couldn’t agree more! Given that we never arrive, how can we best recover our equanimity and faith in our work as we struggle, labor, doubt? What is your best antidote for writerly anxiety?
A: I like that you see me as a de-mystifier. What a lovely thought. I think it’s important for writers early on in their writing lives to understand that these feelings are normal. Not only are they normal, they’re necessary. Insecurity is part of the process. I would worry if a writer felt too secure. I mean, this thing we’re doing is unbelievably hard. I think that the abject fear we feel when we sit down to work is absolutely appropriate, and keeps us honest and focused on our attempt. Because we mostly spend our time alone in our rooms, we lose sight of the fact that this insecurity and self-doubt is part of the job description. I think it helps to be reminded that writers all over the world are feeling precisely the same thing.
Q: You dispatch unhelpful clichés with peremptory force: no late-night writing jags for you, no writing only when inspiration strikes. For you, good writing is the result of rhythm and routine. You credit your success to sheer plod, and a little shine of “fairy dust.” Can you describe your routine for us, and can you suggest helpful tips for setting up a routine?
A: Well, I’ll describe a good day. A good day would first begin following a good night’s sleep. I’d wake up refreshed, stay offline, have my first cappuccino of the day (one of several from my little machine) and I’d continue to stay offline. No email. No internet. No phone. My teenaged son is away at school, and my husband is also a writer, and he has an office outside of the house, so in this “good day” I’d be alone at home with my dogs. I’d get to work by reading a few paragraphs of beautiful prose. A bit of Virginia Woolf, perhaps. And then I’d begin with the pages I’d written the day before, and which I would have revised by hand. I’d input those revisions, and by doing so, get myself going. I’d get a foothold on the day’s work, and then, at around noon, I’d unroll my yoga mat and do my practice. The afternoon would be spent getting more writing done, and then, after I’d gone as far as I could, taking care of the business of writing, and of the rest of life. By dinnertime, I’d stop for the night. But this is a fantasy of a good day – more like a perfect day. It almost never happens. It’s more likely that I will find myself sidetracked by one thing or another, and have to “begin again” multiple times during the course of the day. The most important advice I can give for establishing a routine is to stay off the internet. The internet is crack cocaine for writers. And to find tools that allow you to bring your mind back to the work. Think of the mind like a puppy you’re training. Say heel to the mind. Gently tugging the leash. Heel.
Q: I love how you let us in on the backstage business of publishing, dismissing the subtitle of your memoir Slow Motion as “marketing-speak,” giving a copy editor credit for discovering infelicitous repetitions in your manuscript. Can you share another telling, funny, or instructive anecdote about the behind-the-scenes goings-on?
A: Oh, lord. How about my author photo from my first novel, in which the publisher spent thousands of dollars on a glamorous photograph of me, rather then send me on book tour? I didn’t know any better. I was just so grateful to be published, and felt that they knew best. I spent years living down that glam shot. And I make it my business to try to steer young writers in good directions, ones that, with any luck, they won’t have to eventually live down.
Q: You tell us that writers should read good writing every day so they can “fill [their] . . . ears with the music of good sentences.” What are some especially good books, poems, or passages that you’ve read recently? and what are some of your favorite sentences, either from recent books or from old favorites?
A: I’ve been reading Louise Gluck’s new collection of poetry, which is magnificent. There is also a beautiful and instructive interview of her in the current issue of Poets & Writers. I’m also reading Anthony Doerr’s magnificent All The Light We Cannot See. Tony and I are going to be teaching together at Sirenland, the writers’ conference I direct in Positano, Italy. Also, Rebecca Solnit’s The Far Away Nearby. And Jenny Offill’s beautiful novel, Dept Of Speculation. And I just read Jane Gardham’s Old Filth. What a novel.
Q: You and I are both passionate quotation collectors, and Still Writing is studded with wise and beautiful quotations from others, including many of my favorite people/writers (anyone who quotes and approvingly cites Ted Solataroff, John Gregory Dunne, and Andy Sean Greer has my undying loyalty). If you had to pick one quotation to summarize your approach to writing, what would it be? your approach to parenting? your approach to life?
A: I can only answer this question by saying that I have so many favorite quotes, and here are a few recent favorites:
For writing: “As the mind is engaged and anxiety suppressed, some imaginative work in some recessed portion of the being is getting done. Not to say that every moment is contributing to a book or a poem, but you can’t know in advance what will. Don’t prejudge your stimuli. Just trust where your attention goes.” — Louise Gluck
Parenting: “We still counted happiness and health and love and luck and beautiful children as ‘ordinary blessings.’” — Joan Didion, Blue Nights
My approach to life: “The health of an eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” — Emerson
Q: Still Writing serves as a salutary corrective to the pervasive belief, endemic in the literature of self-help, that success is the result of having a shrewd plan or a well-honed strategy. So much is accidental, so much is luck, so much is outside our control, you remind us, from the twists and turns of plots that unfold in ways we could never have predicted to the surprising disappointments and inexplicable triumphs of our careers. You cannot plan it, “you cannot force it,” you cannot make it happen. Openness to the unexpected and “embracing uncertainty” are crucial, you suggest, if we hope to write, and live, with equanimity and grace. How can we make ourselves more open to the unexpected? How best to embrace uncertainty?
A: This question is quite possibly the central question of my life, and the focus of my memoir Devotion, as well as thematically at the core of most of my fiction. I have no answers to this profound question. Only that if we hew to our own dharma – if we steadfastly force ourselves to work, in the words of the artist Anne Truitt, “along the nerve of (our) most intimate sensitivity,” then we have the chance to be alive to all of it –– to face into the wind –– to understand that life is precious and its very unpredictability is what makes it precious, and that to be born, to be alive at this very moment, is such a rare, extraordinary, unlikely thing. If we have this deep awareness, and if we are able to wear it lightly, I think we have a greater chance to embrace it all –– the whole human catastrophe. Just this morning I was reading a piece in the New York Times about the Siberian tiger that Vladimir Putin set free in the wild, and there was an amazing photograph of the tiger’s face at the moment of his liberation. The tiger doesn’t know that there are potential poachers awaiting him. He doesn’t know that he’s going to cross the border between Russia and China. He’s just moving steadily with such blazing light in his eyes, being everything he’s meant to be. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this story, but there you have it. I want to be that tiger.
Q: In a lovely and generous moment, you gently remind your readers that “to allow ourselves to spend our afternoons watching dancers rehearse, or sit on a stone wall and watch the sunset, or spend the whole weekend re-reading Chekhov stories—to know that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing –is the deepest form of permission in our creative lives”. Why do you think we find it so difficult to find the value in or to justify spending our time in the ways you describe? How can we give ourselves permission both because such wandering, watching, or immersion in art help us with our own creative endeavors and because reading, noticing, and way-finding are valuable in and of themselves? What’s a recent experience like this that was especially restorative for you?
A: To go back to Louise Gluck’s advice to “trust where your attention goes,” I think this is so hard for writers –– hard for all of us. How can we know when we’re creating the space we need within us, and when we’re just procrastinating? Earlier today, I went to the market and got the ingredients for a chicken stew that I planned to make in the slow cooker. The whole exercise took a couple of hours. The marketing, the chopping and dicing, the simmering. I even took a photograph of the dish and posted it on Instagram, with the pithy question: “Chicken with pancetta and peas? Or procrastination?” But in truth, I knew that I was simmering. As I write the answer to this question, I’ve been home alone all day. I’ve cooked. Shelved some books in my library. I’ve taken a bath. I’ve read. This is a day of creating space in my mind, even though it could be argued that I haven’t accomplished much. For me, all I know is that, when I’m between books as I am now, I need a lot of time to meander. When I meander, I discover. Or, as in the epigraph of Still Writing, a quote from David Salle: “I have to get lost so I can invent some way out.”
Q: What is the greatest peril of a creative life? The greatest pleasure?
A: The peril: Failure of nerve.
The pleasure: To quote Thoreau, it is the “fearless living out of your own essential nature that connects you to the divine.”
The Healing Time
Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
All the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
holy.
~ Pesha Joyce Gertler

10/27/14

10/19/14

"Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone." 
~ Rebecca Solnit
do
You
have
a
Loving
relationship
with
Yourself

10/16/14

STAY PRESENT, WITHOUT SECURITY
Instead of asking ourselves, “How can I find security and happiness?” we could ask ourselves, “Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace—disappointment in all its many forms—and let it open me?” This is the trick.
~ Pema Chodron

who is marty stuart:

"Although known primarily as a country music star, Marty Stuart (b. 1958) is a master storyteller not only through his songs, but also through his revealing photographs. He has been taking photographs of the people and places surrounding him since he first went on tour with bluegrass performer Lester Flatt at age thirteen. His inspirations include his mother, Hilda Stuart, whom he watched document their family’s everyday life in Mississippi. He also admires bassist Milt Hinton’s photographs of fellow jazz artists and Edward Curtis’s well-known images of Native Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. Stuart’s works range from intimate behind-the-scenes depictions of legendary musicians, to images of eccentric characters from the back roads of America, to dignified portraits of members of the impoverished Lakota tribe in South Dakota, a people he was introduced to by his former father-in-law, Johnny Cash. Whatever the subject, Stuart is able to tease out something unexpected or hidden beneath the surface through a skillful sense of timing and composition, as well as a unique relationship with the sitters often based on years of friendship and trust."

10/13/14

november renewal:

The Power of Your Story
Join Author and Renowned Psychologist
Bonnie Comfort
for a very special afternoon
Learn how to use memoir writing as a therapeutic process. 
Memoir writing offers the writer a way of sorting out truth from lies, it is a style of writing that helps unpack personal family myths.
In this workshop you'll identify the significant milestones and turning points that make up your coherent story, which can lead to life-changing epiphanies. 
~ Uncover the secret stories that are the keys to your self-healing
~ Safely explore the dysfunctional dynamics and roles of your family 
~ Heal old wounds, creating a better, brighter future 
Saturday, 11/1/14
1:00 - 4:00
$55
reservation only
Special Renewal Offer:
Soft Stretch with Laure Redmond
11:30 - 12:30
$65
includes memoir workshop
reservation only
To Reserve:
Laureredmond@mac.com

who is keith haring:

Am I Really Busy or Does It Just Feel This Way?
Most of us judge how busy we are by how much we have to do. When there are too many things to do, we think we're busy, and when there isn't much to do, it feels like we're not busy at all. But in fact, we can feel busy when there isn't that much to do, and we can feel relaxed even when there's a lot going on. The states of "busy" and "not busy" aren't defined by how many things there are to do. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as multitasking; the brain can tend to only one thing at a time. Being too busy or not being busy is an interpretation of our activity. Busy-ness is a state of mind, not a fact. No matter how much or how little we're doing, we're always just doing what we're doing, simply living this one moment of our lives. 
Norman Fischer
art by Keith Haring

10/10/14

You become writer by writing. It is a yoga. 
~ R.K. Narayan, novelist (1906-2001)

10/9/14

here's the good news ~ you can't fail at meditation:

DAN HARRIS gets the inside story on mindfulness and compassion from Buddhist Master teachers JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN, SHARON SALZBERG, and MARK EPSTEIN.
It was a pretty sweet opportunity, really. The poobahs from the Shambhala Sun Foundation came to me and said: pick your favorite Buddhist teachers, and we’ll set up a public speaking event for you in New York City. So I invited three teachers: 1. Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, who is a bestselling author and perhaps America’s premier proponent of loving-kindness meditation; 2. Joseph Goldstein, also a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, author, one of the most respected and revered meditation instructors in the US, and my own personal teacher; and 3. Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist who writes brilliant books about the overlap and interplay between psychology and Buddhism.
To be honest, I was a bit nervous, sitting out there alongside three of my beloved teachers in front of a big crowd at Manhattan’s Jewish Community Center. It wasn’t until I read this text that I fully realized what a wonderful evening it was. We discussed everything from the Jewish affinity for Buddhism to the controversy over mindfulness in business to the most skillful ways to handle problems in beginning meditation. Please enjoy. Dan Harris
Dan Harris: Sharon, you’ve written two bestselling books on happiness. So what is real happiness? 
Sharon Salzberg: I define happiness as a kind of resourcefulness. It’s a sense of resiliency and the ability to meet things without being defined by them. It’s a source of profound strength inside ourselves, which we don’t always realize we have. Also, happiness is our connection to one another, so we don’t feel so cut off and alone. 
Joseph Goldstein: The Buddha said that the highest happiness is peace. Different things may make us happy at different times in our lives. But in the long haul, the things Sharon talked about actually manifest when the mind is peaceful. The feeling, the taste of peace, is very sweet.
Dan Harris: People say, “I know meditation is probably good for me, but my mind is too crazy. I could never do it.” How do you respond to that?
Sharon Salzberg: Those are my people, the ones who say they can’t do it. Or, people who say “I tried it once, but failed.” I really love those people, because you can’t fail at it. Meditation isn’t about what’s happening; it’s about how you relate to what’s happening. You can have a torrent of thoughts and difficult emotions, but that’s okay. You can be with them not only with mindfulness, but with compassion. Usually when people start sitting, we say that five minutes is enough. You don’t have to think, “I’ve got to sit here for six hours.” You don’t have to get into some pretzel-like posture and suffer! Just choose an object of awareness—maybe the breath—and rest your mind there. You know that it’s not going to be 9,000 breaths before your mind wanders. It’ll likely be one. Maybe three, maybe just a half a breath! The most important moment in the whole process is the moment after you’ve been distracted, after you’ve been lost or fallen asleep or whatever. That’s when you have the chance to be truly different. Instead of judging and berating yourself, you can practice letting go and beginning again. That’s the core teaching.
Mark Epstein: If meditation is hard, you’re probably doing it right.
Joseph Goldstein: One of the things we learn in meditation is how untrained our minds are. To me, one of the great beauties of the practice is to see the commonality of the experience. While the content, the stories may be a little different, the way we get caught up in our minds—and the way we let go—is exactly the same. So the more we understand ourselves, the more we understand each other. When I started meditating, I didn’t have some amazing degree of concentration or anything. My mind just thought all the time, and it was fun! I was entertaining myself with thinking. So if I could come to some understanding of my mind and taste a little bit of peace, anybody can. And the more you practice the better you get at it.
Mark Epstein: One of the things that I’m grateful for is getting to know my teachers as friends. I have no illusions about their meditation practice or who they were. I can see that they were just like me, and that is so encouraging.
Harris: What’s your advice for getting started? 
Joseph Goldstein: Something quite extraordinary can happen in even five minutes. The first time I sat, I was in the Peace Corps in Thailand and going to these Buddhist discussion groups. I was the guy who was asking a million questions and wouldn’t shut up. People literally stopped attending because I was there. [Laughter.] Finally, one of the monks said, “Why don’t you try meditating?”
So I got all my paraphernalia and I set my alarm clock so I wouldn’t over-sit. Even though it was just five minutes, something extraordinary happened. It’s not that I achieved any great state, but I discovered that there was a way to look into the mind as well as look out through it. It was a revelation to see that there was a methodology for looking inward, regardless of what one found. Up until that point I’d always been looking outward. It set me on the path.
Sharon Salzberg: Practicing meditation is a powerful tool. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to go from sweetness to delight to joy to bliss to ecstasy to peace in a straight shot. It’s not like that.
I’m somewhat famous for having marched up to my first meditation teacher, looking him in the eye, and saying, “I never used to be an angry person before I started meditating” [laughter]. I was laying the blame exactly where I felt it belonged—on him! Of course, I’d been hugely angry before, but I hadn’t really paid much attention to it. So it’s perfectly natural when you start meditating to see a huge array of thoughts and feelings you may have been ignoring. This is one of the reasons why it’s very reassuring to work with a teacher or have a class, a guide, or a community. They can remind you that it’s about being aware of what’s going on, not trying to fight it. Not getting caught up in it. Being able to move your attention somewhere else so you get some relief. Having some compassion for yourself instead of judgment. It’s really useful to be able to tap into that kind of counsel.
Sharon Salzberg: Dan, I’m interested in your relationship to loving-kindness meditation. You’ve used the word “annoying” to describe it.
Dan Harris: I stand by that. It’s really annoying. Basically, the shtick is that you picture a series of people and systematically send them good vibes like, May you be happy, May you live with ease, May you be safe and protected. It’s like a Hallmark card with a machete to your throat. It’s tough stuff, especially when it’s first proposed to you. What I find revolutionary about meditation—straight up mindfulness meditation—is that we assume, consciously or subconsciously, that our happiness is contingent upon external factors: the circumstance of our birth, the quality of our marriage, the quality of our career; whether we’ve hit the lottery, and so on. What has allowed a skeptic like me to embrace meditation is that it’s a skill you can develop. You can practice it just like you can practice building your bicep in a gym. And I find that really exciting. Compassion is a skill we can learn too. As corny as loving-kindness meditation may seem, it’s not going to make you become some dopey, endlessly, mindlessly loving person in the world. It’s that not seeing everything through a veil of suspicion and hatred actually improves your life. It can make you more popular and is a great manipulation tool around the office. [Laughter.]
Question from the audience: I find that when I meditate thoughts pop into my head and a lot of them are very anxiety provoking. Often they elicit a physical response. Should I embrace this or just be aware of it? 
Joseph Goldstein: What you’re describing is not unusual at all. See if you can relax into the sensations of the anxiety, knowing that it’s okay to feel them. When I started meditating the major difficult emotion that was deeply conditioned in my mind was fear. I worked with it for a long time, thinking I was being mindful of it. But finally I realized that even as I was recognizing my fear, I wanted it to go away. Then there was a moment when I was doing walking meditation and something shifted. I thought, “If this fear is here for the rest of my life, it’s okay.” That was my first moment of genuinely accepting my fear. Acceptance doesn’t mean that fear doesn’t arise anymore, but acceptance does change the relationship. It’s the same with anxiety: It’s okay to feel it. So acceptance is the first step. Once you’re okay with the feeling, then you don’t need to be afraid of the thoughts. You see the thoughts come and go. Normally, our thoughts have tremendous power in our lives. They are the dictators of our mind: Go here, go there, do this, do that. We’re the slaves of our thoughts. And yet when we are aware of them, when we are mindful that we’re thinking, we see that a thought as a phenomenon is completely empty and fleeting. It’s little more than nothing! It’s tremendously interesting to learn this about one’s mind. It’s very freeing!