Category Archives: Intent of the Day

Meeting Our Edge and Softening

The road to the blue

It’s another morning, another day of having to live inside a hurting body inherited from a little known, rare genetic condition. I try not to think of how it used to be. I can let go of the younger me, the one who won a yoga Olympics by holding wheel pose for more than eighteen minutes. I can let go of the woman who ran three miles on most days, who loved to ski and Boogie Board, bike and play tennis.

But what about just being able to wander the hills and woods around our home? What about walking along the river? So much has been taken away, and I’m losing strength on all fronts, because most ways of strengthening the muscles injure my joints.

“Sweetheart, just soften.” I found that kindness made all the difference. When I returned home, the stories and fears about the future were still there. The controller would come and go. But I had a deeper trust that I could meet my life with an open and present heart.

Getting sick, getting closer to death, can unravel our identity as a good, worthy, dignified, or spiritual person. It puts us face-to-face with the core identity of what I call “the controller”—the ego’s executive director, the self we believe is responsible for making decisions and directing the course of our lives. The controller obsessively plans and worries, trying to make things safe and okay, and it can give us at least a temporary sense of self-efficacy and self-trust.

Yet, great loss can unseat the controller, which we often scramble to resurrect by getting busy, blaming others, blaming ourselves, or trying to fix things. Even so, if we are willing to let there be a gap, if we can live in presence without controlling, healing becomes possible.

My controller can hold loss at bay for months at a time. If I can keep doing things—teaching, serving our community, counseling others—the ground stays firm under my feet. But some years ago, right before our winter meditation retreat, my body crashed. I landed in the hospital, unable to teach, or for that matter to read, walk around, or go to the bathroom without trailing an IV.

I remember lying on the hospital bed that first night, unable to sleep. At around 3 a.m., an elderly nurse came in to take my vitals and look at my chart. Seeing me watching her, she leaned over and patted me gently on the shoulder. “Oh dear,” she whispered kindly, “you’re feeling poorly, aren’t you?”

As she walked out tears started streaming down my face. Kindness had opened the door to how vulnerable I felt. How much worse would it get? What if I wasn’t well enough to teach? Should I get off our meditation community’s board? Would I even be able to sit in front of a computer to write? There was nothing about the future I could count on.

Then a verse from Rumi came to mind: Forget the future … I’d worship someone who could do that … If you can say “There’s nothing ahead,” there will be nothing there. The cure for the pain is in the pain.

I began to reflect on this, repeating, There’s nothing ahead, there’s nothing ahead. All my ideas about the future receded. In their place was the squeeze of raw fear, the clutching in my heart I had been running from. As I allowed the fear—attended to it, breathed with it—I could feel a deep, cutting grief. “Just be here,” I told myself. “Open to this.”

The pain was tugging, tearing at my heart. I sobbed silently (not wanting to disturb my roommate), wracked by surge after surge of grief. This human self was face to face with its fragility, temporariness, and inevitability of loss.

Yet as my crying subsided, a sense of relief set in. It wasn’t quite peace—I was still afraid of being sick and sidelined from life—but the burden of being the controller, of thinking I could manage the future or fight against loss, was gone for the moment. It was clear that my life was out of my hands.

On the third day I was walking around the perimeter of the cardiac unit, jarred by how weak I felt, how uncertain about my future. Then, for the ten-thousandth time, my mind lurched forward, anticipating how I might reconfigure my life, what I’d have to cancel, how I could manage this deteriorating body. When I saw that the controller was back in action, I returned to my room and wearily collapsed on the raised hospital bed. As I lay there, the circling thoughts collapsed too, and I sank below the surface, into pain.

I was immersed in the very thing I had been running from. Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa taught that the essence of a liberating spiritual practice is to “meet our edge and soften.” My edge was right here, in the acute loneliness, despair about the future, and grip of fear. I knew I needed to soften and open. I tried to keep my attention on where the pain was most acute, but the controller was still there, holding back. It was as if I’d fall into a black hole of grief and die.

Then, gently, tentatively, I started encouraging myself to feel what was there and soften. The more painful the edge of grief was, the more tender my inner voice became. At some point I placed my hand on my heart and said, “Sweetheart, just soften … let go, it’s okay.” As I dropped into that aching hole of grief, I entered a space filled with the tenderness of pure love. It surrounded me, held me, suffused my being. Meeting my edge and softening was a dying into timeless loving presence.

In the remaining days, whenever I recognized that I’d tightened into anxious planning and worry, I noted it as “my edge.” Then I repeated to myself:

Consciously grieving loss is at the very center of the spiritual path. In small and great ways, each of our losses links us to what we love. It’s natural that the controller arises: We will seek to manage the pain of separation in whatever way we can. Yet, as we awaken, we can allow our sorrow to remain faithful to itself. We can willingly surrender into the grieving. I’ve found that by honoring the pain for what has passed away, we are free to love the life that is here.

Adapted from True Refuge (Jan. 2013)

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photo by: SergioTudela

Ear of the Heart

String of heartsMost of us consider listening a great virtue. We love having others listen to us with interest and care, and we hope to be good listeners ourselves. But for most of us, listening is hard. To listen well, we must become aware of the mental static that runs interference: our emotional reactivity; all the ways we interpret (and misinterpret) each other; our haste to prepare a response; how we armor ourselves with judgment.


Learning to listen involves stepping out of our incessant inner dialogue, and using what St. Benedict called the “ear of the heart.” This deep listening offers a compassionate space for healing and intimacy.


One of my meditation students, Kate, discovered the power of listening in her relationship with her mother, Audrey, a wealthy, successful, brilliant, and yet narcissistic woman. Those who knew Audrey well kiddingly referred to her as “the center of the known universe.” A well-known writer, Audrey treated other people as orbiting satellites, audiences to regale with stories; their role was to let her shine in her own reflected light.


Audrey could be lively and charming when holding forth, but she was exhausting to be around. As soon as they could, both of her daughters settled on the opposite coast. Kate’s older sister rarely returned for visits, and while Kate came for holidays, she kept her stays brief. Their step-dad loved his wife, but he and Audrey had drifted into a routine that lacked intimacy. Some of Audrey’s friends still tolerated being a captive audience, but as she aged she became increasingly isolated.


Kate came to one of my Conscious Relationship workshops to focus on her marriage, not on her mother. Yet, by the time she left, she’d become acutely aware of her mother’s woundedness, and of the possibility that deep listening might lead to healing. Her inspiration was the image of a fountain.


During the workshop, we envisioned our inner life and spirit as a fountain that becomes clogged with unprocessed hurts and fears. As we ignore our painful feelings or push them away, they impede our flowing aliveness and obscure the pure awareness that is our source. By not listening to our inner life, we cut ourselves off from reality. What remains is a diminished self, an unreal other.


However, when we confide in someone and they listen to us, really listen, the debris naturally begins to dissolve, and the fountain of aliveness is again free to flow. And, when we really listen to another, we help them come home to this same aliveness.


It’s important to remember that this process takes time. As we begin to listen, we often come face to face with the distasteful tangles—the jealousy or self-consciousness or anger that have been clogging the fountain. The conversation might seem superficial or dull, nervous or self-absorbed.


Yet, a dedicated listener hangs in there without getting lost in resisting or judging. This unconditional presence can be a healing balm that gradually helps the speaker’s tangled defenses relax so that his or her natural vitality and spirit can emerge. Perhaps you’ve noticed this when someone is really listening to you. You feel calmer, whole, “more like yourself”—more at home. Like an unclogged fountain, the deeper waters of humor, intelligence, creativity, and love begin to flow.


Kate left the workshop with the intention of experimenting, and when an opportunity to attend a professional training session near her mother’s home presented itself, she decided it was time to try deep listening with her. She made arrangements to stay for ten days, her longest visit with her mother since she’d left for college.


Now, Kate really listened during their time together. As we’d practiced, she listened inwardly to her own tension without judgment when she felt resistance, then reopened to whatever her mother was saying. In the same way, when she felt unimportant, impatient, bored, or judgmental, she brought mindfulness and kindness to her own experience. By doing so, she was able to bring that same open and clear space of presence to her mother.


Kate admitted that at first, it was hard. “I had a panicky sensation,” she told me. “It was like I would drown if I didn’t get away, if I didn’t find a way to have some of my own space. She takes up so much room!”


Yet, Kate found that if she kept a sense of humor about it, she could breathe, forgive her own reactions, and keep coming back. Then she would coach herself to deepen her presence: “Now … what is happening? My mother is talking, and I am quiet. There is endless time. I hear it, every word. And what is beyond the word? . . . I hear who she is.”


As Kate listened for what was behind her mother’s words, it got easier for her. She began to hear desperation, as if her mother was insisting over and over, “I’m here, I matter.” Taking in her mother’s pain, Kate felt her heart soften with care.


Through her own quiet, steady presence, Kate communicated, “You are here, you matter.” And her mother started to relax. Kate knew this, because there were longer pauses between the stories and commentary—her mother sat back more in her chair, looked out the window, slowed down, and seemed more reflective.


Several days before Kate was scheduled to leave, her mother began to tell her that she felt alone and unappreciated. Kate was able to respond with sincerity, gentleness, and honesty. “Mom,” she said, “it’s because you don’t listen to people.”


Her mother froze, but to Kate’s surprise, didn’t get defensive. Kate had been so truly present, and had offered such uncritical sympathy, that a trust had emerged—this was not an attack, but a caring reflection of truth.


Her mother wanted to know more: “Please tell me, I need to know.” And Kate told her. She explained how it had been for her sister, for their dad, and now, for her step-dad. “When you don’t listen, people feel like they don’t matter, that they’re not known. And it’s true—you can’t know them if you don’t listen. You can’t be close.”


Audrey looked at her daughter with a sorrow and understanding that pierced Kate’s heart. And in that moment, something changed. Maybe the pain of alienation had broken through her defenses, or maybe this was simply her time, but Audrey started to listen.


Others noticed, too. After her sister’s next visit with her mother, she told Kate, “For the first time in my life I felt like I was a real person to her … that I existed!” The change was most poignant with Kate’s stepfather, who began to enjoy the long dinners and evening walks that had been abandoned shortly after their marriage.


Audrey was no longer speaking to demand the world’s attention. She was speaking and listening in order to belong with other people, to share their lives. Because Kate had listened and let her heart be touched, her mother’s fountain had begun to unclog. Her life could once again flow from its source.

Adapted from  True Refuge (2013)

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photo by: aussiegall

Why It’s Important to Enjoy the Art Around Us

If I were to ask you, “What subject matter in school is deemed most important?” What would your answer be? Math, science or art?

Sunny Blossom (Toan Lam)

Art? Doing this for a living was never even an option in my household — it was a taboo subject. “Be a doctor, lawyer or engineer,” my parents would ingrain in my brain. In my parents’ eyes, the definition of success were those professions, in that order: doctor, lawyer, then engineer. I chose the fourth – failure (in the eyes of my immigrant parents, journalism seemed like failure).

Power Light (Toan Lam)

Reading and writing, my passions, were not as revered as mathematics and science. I would read everything out loud. In the shower, I would read shampoo bottles – “Rinse, lather, repeat.” I remember what brought me joy was acting out the characters while reading my favorite childhood books. It’s no coincidence that I became a journalist, founder of Go Inspire Go (we use the art of storytelling to inspire action) and college instructor.

Rainbow Drops Coit Tower & Telegraph Hill (Toan Lam)

That’s why this GIG Spark, produced by high school student Aaron Long resonated with me on many levels, personally, professionally and even spiritually.

Through Aaron’s GIG Spark, he wants to inspire us to look around and enjoy the art around us in San Francisco. Don’t live there? No problem; Aaron wants you to look around and enjoy a tree, some street art or something that catches your eye.

Water Cloud Reflections/Aquatic Park (Toan Lam)

How did he do this? In a creative way, of course! Find out how he inspired folks in his community to be present and enjoy the art around them through this GIG Spark (Lesson on Compassion) submission. His goal is to inspire you to notice (and enjoy) the art that surrounds you.

Gigster: Aaron Long
Where: San Francisco
Spark: Notice the Art Around You


Like many GIG Spark videos, this seems fun on the surface and it is. But on a deeper level, being creative isn’t nurtured in our society. I recently discovered this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation. Specifically, he speaks about the importance of creating an educational system that nurtures creativity. This TED video is full of inspirational gems.


I often wonder what I would be doing had I not pursued my passion work. One thing’s for sure – if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be as fulfilled and full of joy. Special thanks to Aaron for being aware and inspiring presence in this adventure we call life.

City Dew Drops (Toan Lam)

Take action:
1. Stop wherever you are. Look around and take a deep breath. Enjoy one thing around you.
2. Get creative. Like to bake or paint? Do it, then give it away to someone in need. Small things like this make anyone’s day.
3. Nurture the artistic talents in a child’s life.

We hope this video inspires you to be present and enjoy the art around you — and use your power to help others. I’ve been practicing enjoying the art around me by taking pictures on my Go Inspire Go Instagram account. I always snap cool scenes and things that inspire me because I want to share it with our viewers (tagged with an inspirational message).

Be You Naturally (Toan Lam)

Note: Thanks to Mom: who turned over a new leaf and supports endeavors — because she feels my passion for GIG. Also, I know (and feel) that my father, who on his death bed told me, “You’re wasting your life, you need to quit that reporting stuff and become a doctor,” has had a change of heart and is somewhere above, looking down and smiling at me. Smiling because I followed my heart and chose to redefine his definition of “failure.” Thanks to my parents for taking the risk — to uproot their successful lives — so my siblings and I could redefine the American Dream. No. 4 ain’t so bad!

Bay City Chain Scape (Toan Lam)

GIG Spark was developed to create compassion through the exercise of brainstorming, problem solving and experiencing the joy of using your power to help others. Rachel shares her thoughts about what this particular experience meant to her:

“Something GIG Spark taught me? Don’t stop yourself from doing something just because you think it’s not going to change anything. Whether what you do is monumental or small, whether it affects a million people or just one person, what’s important is that you did something. It’s human nature to resist change, but at least you presented a chance to plant a seed of change in someone’s mind.”

Copollalights (Toan Lam)

About Go Inspire Go (GIG):

GIG is about inspiring small actions that ripple out to meaningful changes. As we’ve experienced, the ripples continue to billow out, one story, one person, one act at a time.

FEELING INSPIRED? Make your own GIG Spark and share with us. We may share it with the world.

As part of GIG’s mission to inspire our viewers to discover their power, we developed GIG Spark: A Lesson on Compassion. The goal is to spark action in everyone that witnesses your good deed. We want you to identify a problem in your community and be the change by capturing your action in a short 1-1:30 minute video. Use your passion and creativity to produce a GIG Spark and inspire viewers with your story!

What can YOU do?

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Learning To See Past The Mask

Photo Credit: kelleypopkorn

My friend Richie and I met when we were juniors in college. A shy, thoughtful African American man, he was known for carrying his camera everywhere, listening as others poured out their stories to him, and running through the snow wearing gym shorts. We’d lost touch after graduation, yet nearly fifteen years later, he called and asked to consult with me on an upcoming visit to Washington, D.C.

Now a photojournalist living in New York, Richie had recently married Carly, a Caucasian woman he’d met at a meditation class, and he wanted to talk with me about her family. “I knew what I was getting into … country club, conservative, the whole nine yards … but I had no idea it would be this hard.”

“From the start,” he told me when we met, “Sharon [his mother-in-law] was dead set against me and Carly getting together.” While Carly’s father seemed willing to support his daughter’s choice, her mother had fought the marriage vehemently. “She warned Carly that we were too different, that we’d end up divorced and miserable. Well,” he said grimly, “we love each other deeply, but she’s succeeding in making us miserable.”

On their third and most recent visit, Sharon had refused to attend a community theater production with them. She later told Carly she couldn’t bear to encounter her friends from the club: “As soon as I’d turn my back, they’d start gossiping about you and Richie.” At dinner Sharon ignored Richie’s compliments about the salmon, and gave vague, noncommittal responses to his questions about a recent trip to Italy. When Carly confronted her mother privately upstairs, Sharon acknowledged her behavior. “I admit it, I’m being awful. But I can’t help it, Carly. He’s a good person, an intelligent person, but you’re making a terrible mistake.”

Carly wanted to stop visiting—they could just skip Thanksgiving and Christmas, she said—but Richie insisted on hanging in there. “It’s not that I’m trying to martyr myself,” he told me. “Sharon’s a racist, self-centered asshole, and it might do her some good if Carly refused to go home. I’d be gratified. I’m way pissed. But something in me feels like she’s reachable.”

As part of his meditation practice, Richie had recentlytaken “bodhisattva vows” with his teacher. These express a basic commitment to let whatever arises in our life awaken compassion, and to dedicate ourselves to actively bringing this compassion to all beings. For Richie, these vows had a very specific meaning. “I don’t want to give up on anyone, give up on who they can be,” he told me. But Richie knew that before he could approach Sharon, he needed to connect withhis own anger, and what was behind it.

“That’s what I wanted us to focus on, Tara,” he said. “I wouldn’t be so pissed if I didn’t feel insecure. It’s that basic issue of being worthy—she’s telling me I’m not worthy enough for her daughter.”

“Is that feelingfamiliar?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. This has been the kind of thing I’ve told myself ever since my dad left. Back then it was that I’m not enough to make my mom happy.” He sat quietly for a few moments then went on. “I thought I was supposed to fill his shoes and I couldn’t. She was always depressed, always anxious.”

Richie sat back in the chair, deflated. “It’s always this same feelingthat I’m the kid who can’t make the grade, who doesn’t deserve good things.  And it didn’t help going to that vanilla college of ours …” he flashed me a smile, “or working in a white profession. I know this unworthiness thing’s in the culture, Tara … but that kid still feels like he’s young, and just not cutting it.”

“As you pay attention, can you sense what that kid who feels unworthy most wants from you?”

He was quiet, then nodded. “He just wants me to see him, to notice him and to be kind.”

“What happens if you offer your kindness inward?” I asked.For a few minutes Richie sat silently, then said: “I guess this part of me needs some reassurance, some care. Just now I felt like I was looking through a camera at this kid who was failing at an impossible task. There’s no way he could make things okay for his mother.”

We talked about their upcoming Thanksgiving visit, and how Sharon might activate his insecurities. Richie came up with a plan: “I’m bringing my camera. I’ll keep my eye on the kid inside, and on Sharon, both of us with kindness.”

I heard from Richie again right after Thanksgiving weekend. Sharon had treated him with polite formality—everyone else was family, he was a guest. “But I kept imagining I was looking at her through a camera viewfinder,” he told me, “and I saw she was in pain. Behind that coldness was a scared, tight heart.” He had a freeing realization: “It isn’t really me she’s afraid of. It’s of Carly being unhappy.”

A day or so later he e-mailed me two standout photos, both of Sharon. Carly’s sister had just had a baby, and he’dcaught Sharon cradling her new granddaughter, looking down adoringly at the infant. The other was of a playful moment when her husband had pulled her down to sit with him and she’d toppled over on him. Richie took the shot just as they were looking at each other and laughing.

Then came Christmas. Early on Christmas Eve, Carly’s dad (playing Santa) placed two boxes in front of Richie. Sharon had ordered some socks for him online (too large) and had wrapped a box of chocolates (he rarely ate sugar). Sometime later, Sharon opened her gift from Richie. She found the two photos he’d taken weeks earlier, simply and elegantly framed. Sharon started trembling, then sobbing. Her husband and Carly came over to see what was wrong. There were the pictures of Sharon with her granddaughter and her husband, looking radiant, loving, and happy. And here she was weeping. When she calmed down, she still couldn’t speak and she waved everyone on to continue the gift giving.

Richie had truly “seen” Sharon—her vulnerability and spirit, and he’d expressed his careby mirroring her goodness. It took another year and a half for her to tell him what those gifts had meant to her, and to apologize. But because he hadn’t given up on her, a thaw had begun. She too was able to see more truly, and come home to her heart. The following evening Carly’s sister asked Richie for a lesson in swing dancing, and he showed her some steps to the jazzmusic on his iPod. She caught on quickly, and the others applauded as she and Richie spun happily around the living room. Carly glanced over at her mom, who was standing behind the others in the doorway. She was watching with a slight smile, her eyes wet with tears.

Adapted from True Refuge (Jan. 2013)
[vimeo 54815099 w=459 h=344]

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The Hospice Diaries: Transcending the Traditional

HAND IN HAND IS THE ONLY WAY TO LANDThis morning, as I lie in bed, contemplating what the next few days might bring forth on all planes–physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually–what the days could look like, I begin to wonder how I could possibly best manage to “enjoy” them.

As I contemplate how to cope with moving my mother from hospital to hospice, the word “creativity” bubbles to the surface.

cre·a·tiv·i·ty – [kree-ey-tiv-i-tee] / noun (source:

The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.

Precisely!  I set my intention to transcend all that is traditional; to question the agreed upon realities–the thoughts, feelings, patterns, relationships that our culture has embedded into my mind (our minds) about death, dying, hospice, family, love, self.   I set my mind to create new meaningful ideas and expressions, to utilize the most under-utilized resource that humans have: the imagination.

I breathe and imagine.  I imagine how it feels to be soothed and comforted.  I am strengthened by the calm.  I imagine slowly and carefully moving through the day, perhaps slipping once or twice into a dark spot, but always able to catch myself and, once again, find calm.  Serenity and peacefulness are there once more to comfort.  While my inner-resources are sometimes obfuscated by clouds, I realize that they are always there for the taking.  I need only remember that they are there.

In knowing this to be true, in knowing that I have the ability access serenity, which enables me to clear a path to be fully present in these most extraordinary days, I am able to find satisfaction; to “enjoy.”

Spread the word–NOT the icing!

For the best life and wellness wisdom, visit:  Our Lady of Weight Loss

photo by: Neal.

It’s 2013 and Time to Leap!

Usually i fly but this time i decided to leapThis is the year to give up procrastination and excuses. This is is the year to begin what you have been dreaming about.

You can make the best most elaborate plans.

But the hardest step to any goal is simply the first.

If you take the first step, the last step will take care of itself.

There aren’t thousands of steps in the fulfillment of your goals, there is simply ONE.

It can often be overwhelming to think of all the elements to your vision. Sometimes you might feel paralyzed by fear, thinking of everything you need to do and how it’s going to happen.

Don’t think of EVERYTHING you need to do. Simply think of the one action step that is right in front of you, right now.

Can you simply do that one action step that is NEXT for you right now?

Perhaps it’s that one phone call?

Or writing that one email?

Or doing one hour of research?

Or walking one time around the block?

It’s often said that talk is cheap. I like to think that talk is in fact very EXPENSIVE. Simply talking about your goals and visions without action will simply cost you your dreams.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking everything needs to be in place and perfect plans need to be made before you take action

Not true.

Even the best plans will change or go out of the window once you take steps along the path to your vision. As you progress, your goal will reveal to you what is needed next which you may have not been able to see from the perspective of your first step.

Even when you think you know where you are going, have you noticed more often than not you end up somewhere completely different that you planned?

And it’s often way better than you could have wished for.

So don’t think you know where you are going even when you think you know where you are going. Stay open and curious about what is seeking to happen.

Then each moment becomes a juicy surprise.

Give up the need to know.

Give up the need for the perfect plan.

Trust Life itself.

The same Intelligence that brought you into this world, knows how to fulfill itself through you and bring about the perfect unfolding of your vision.

But you must start.

Starting is the key to success.

Will 2013 be a year of best intentions and dreaming or a year of fulfillment and actualization?

The best plans, dreams, intentions mean nothing without action.

The hardest action is often the first step.

Take the first step.

Then keep taking the next first step.

There is only one step on the path to your goal.

Simply one-step over and over again.







P.S. If you are ready to catapult your 2013 and fulfill your full potential, give up excuses, and manifest your most authentic desires, join me on the journey of a lifetime July 4th – July 15th!

photo by: BoyGoku

Entrusting Yourself to the Waves

wavesI was drawn to my first Buddhist mindfulness retreat during a time when my son, Narayan, was four, and I was on the verge of divorce. During a slow, icy drive through a winter snowstorm on the way to the retreat center, I had plenty of time to reflect on what most mattered to me. I didn’t want a breakup that would bury the love I still shared with my husband; I didn’t want us to turn into uncaring, even hostile, strangers. And I didn’t want a breakup that would deprive Narayan of feeling secure and loved. My deep prayer was that through all that was happening, I’d find a way to stay connected with my heart.

Over the next five days, through hours of silent meditation, I cycled many times through periods of clarity and attentiveness, followed by stretches when I was swamped in sleepiness, plagued by physical discomfort, or lost in a wandering mind. Early one evening I became inundated by thoughts about the upcoming months: Should my husband and I hire lawyers or a mediator to handle the process of divorce? When should we move to separate residences? And, most importantly, how should I be there for our son during this painful transition?

As each anxious thought surfaced, I wanted to really dig in and work everything out in my mind. Yet something in me knew I needed to stay with the unpleasant feelings in my body. A verse from Ryokan, an eighteenth-century Zen poet, came to mind: “To find the Buddhist law, drift east and west, come and go, entrusting yourself to the waves.” The “Buddhist law” refers to the truth of how things really are. We can’t understand the nature of reality until we let go of controlling our experience. There’s no way to see clearly what’s going on if on some level we’re attempting to ignore or bypass the stormy weather.

During the last few days of the retreat I tried to let go, over and over, but felt repeatedly stymied by my well-worn strategy for feeling better—figuring things out. Now Ryokan’s verse was rife with possibility: Perhaps I could entrust myself to the waves. Perhaps the only way to real peace was by opening to life just as it was. Otherwise, behind my efforts to manage things, I’d always sense a lurking threat, something right around the corner that was going to cause trouble.

My old habits didn’t give up easily, though. As soon as I’d contact some tightness in my chest, I’d flip right back into worrying about my son’s new preschool, carpooling, or about how to find a baby-sitter with more flexible hours. Then I’d become hypercritical, harshly judging myself for “wasting” my retreat time. Gradually, I recognized that my heart was clenched tight, afraid to let the intensity of life wash through me. I needed help “entrusting.”

Each afternoon, the teachers had been leading us in a lovingkindness meditation. I decided to try weaving this into my sitting. The classical form of the meditation consists of sending loving prayers to ourselves and widening circles of other beings. I began to offer kind wishes to myself: “May I be happy and at ease; may I be happy and at ease.” At first, repeating the words felt like a superficial mental exercise, but soon something shifted. My heart meant it: I cared about my own life, and becoming conscious of that caring softened some of the tightness around my heart.

Now I could more easily give myself to the waves of fear and sorrow, and simply notice the drifting thoughts and physical sensations—squeezing and soreness—that were coming and going. Whenever the worries that had been snagging me appeared, I sensed that they too were waves, tenacious ones that pressed uncomfortably on my chest. By not resisting, by letting the waves wash through me, I began to relax. Rather than fighting the stormy surges, I rested in an ocean of awareness that embraced all the moving waves. I’d arrived in a sanctuary that felt large enough to hold whatever was going on in my life.

After my retreat, I returned home with the intention of taking refuge in presence whenever I was irritated, anxious, and tight. I was alert when the first flare-up occurred, a week later. My ex-husband called to say he couldn’t take care of Narayan that evening, leaving me scrambling to find a baby-sitter. “I’m the breadwinner, and I can’t even count on him for this!” my mind sputtered. “Once again he’s not doing his share, once again he’s letting me down!”

But when I was done for the day, I took some time to pause and touch into the judgment and blame lingering in my body, and my righteous stance softened. I sat still as the blaming thoughts and swells of irritation came and went. Underneath the resentment was an anxious question: “How will I manage?” As I let the subterranean waves of anxiety move through me, I found a quiet inner space that had more breathing room—and more perspective. Of course I couldn’t figure out how the future would play out. The only time I had was right now, and this moment was okay. From this space I could sense my ex-husband’s stress about finding a new place to live, working out our schedules, and more deeply, adapting to a different future than he had imagined. This helped me feel more tolerant and kind. It also revealed the power of entrusting myself to the waves. My husband and I continue to be dear friends. With him and in countless instances with others, this gateway to presence has reawakened me to a space of loving that feels like home.

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance
My new book True Refuge  is out January 2013

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One Thing That Changed EVERY DAY of My Life in 2012

Photo: Toan Lam, Journal by: Caroline Harper

I’ve never really made New Year’s resolutions. But last year, I resolved to do one thing that changed me (from the inside out) every day of 2012.

I finally got around to keeping a journal — why did I wait so long?!

It’s not just one of these woo woo journals for the sake of saying you keep a journal. Instead of a sole gratitude journal, I started an evidence/gratitude journal — inspired by two people, one of whom I know, another who I will know or at least meet one day: Devyn Rush and Oprah Winfrey.

I’ve always been a fan of Oprah and have always kept her crusade to inspire folks to keep a gratitude journal in the back of my mind. It sat on the back burner until December 19th of 2011 — that’s when I finally lit the flame.

An inferno of miracles ensued.

I always thought, why keep a journal? I am present now, enjoying the now already. Well, what I realized is that this is where the magic happens — when you actually put them down on paper, effervescence happens… your thoughts manifest into something tangible, something real.


My friend Devyn Rush, a former American Idol contestant who is also a national spokesperson for U.G.L.Y., a bully prevention organization, told me about this journal, “Building the Best You.” If you get the privilege to know Devyn, you will walk away feeling reenergized by her infectious positive energy. At her behest, I decided to finally put pen to paper and took the penning plunge promise. My goal was to write in it everyday — I knew this would be a big feat for me because I get bored easily — but I’m proud to say I did it. Woo hoo. And whoa! Wee. Wow.

This viscerally changed me from the inside out.

What’s the difference between a gratitude journal and an evidence journal? The evidence part is when you log what you did for the day — then the gratitude part is when you write down things that unfolded that you’re grateful for.

Everyday I wrote down what I did that day, then at least five things that I was grateful for. The Building the Best You journal is a two year journal, each page is split in half. The left fold is year one, the right fold, year two.

I remember Oprah saying, “Some days I’d be grateful for seeing a squirrel in the park.” And boy wasn’t that the truth. She’s right, it doesn’t matter how simple something seemed or the lack of things you felt grateful for, it’s the fact that you’ve put this gratitude exercise into practice. And like a muscle that is put into action, I’ve become more aware and conscious of the beauty surrounding my life everyday. My favorite author, Eckhart Tolle, calls this “awareness.”

No matter how bad my day was, I found myself grateful for the lessons that came in different ways, shapes and forms. I started searching for things that I was grateful for during my days: a phone call from a loved one, discovering yet another street-corner style hero to feature in my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go, or a walk with a friend along the pier. It became habit.

I randomly flipped through my journal a couple of nights ago and was happy to see that I was grateful for “being present” and “my breath” and feeling connected to something bigger than myself were constant themes. What a big accomplishment.

Among the highlights of things I’ve logged:

1. Being more present than ever before: to nature, people and my spirit — not the “ego” or “thinking thing” rather, what Tolle calls “the watcher” — my inner compass.
2. Connections to people. I felt like the Universe sent me personal and professional connections that continue to help me grow as a person as well as progress within my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go.
3. Realization that when you become present and surrender to the ebb and flow of life, you are open to receiving more. Gratitude begets more goodness (and things to be grateful for).

What I’ve realized is that the miracles have always been there; I just became aware that they were happening — which in turn created and ignited more miracles. That’s the law of attraction at work. Ever notice how when you start the day by saying, “This is going to be a bad or stressful day” — the universe delivers a “Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?” What about those days when you say, “It’s going to be a great day!”

As a kid, I always woke up thinking, “What will I learn today? Who will I meet? What will happen?” Now I go to sleep logging the days happenings, building awareness and counting my blessings. In a sense, keeping this journal brought back the child within and has taught me to unlearn certain things we’ve learned as adults and to go back to that innocent, creative, awe-filled child’s lens we all had when we were discovering the world as children.

I’m glad I finally took action to count the miracles and enjoy them fully — I’ve evolved physically, mentally and spiritually thanks to the simple five-minute exercise of keeping an evidence/gratitude journal.

Are you aware of the miracles showing up in your life everyday? Write them down and witness them multiply.

My favorite author Eckhart Tolle says that the universe conspires to help us all. “But if the shutters are closed the sunlight can not come in.”

Cheers to a new year of counting your blessings and logging the light that comes through your window.

Happy New Year — Happy New You.



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Letting Life Live Through Us


Many years ago, after several years of experiencing a long chronic illness, I attended a six-week Vipassana meditation retreat. Given my struggles with sickness, I looked forward to this time entirely dedicated to sitting and walking

I was out of my body and into my mind: “Whoa … I still really feel sick.” OnceThe first few days went smoothly. Yet, towards the end of the week, I started having stomach aches and felt so exhausted I could barely motivate myself to walk to the meditation hall. At this point it was a matter of making peace with discomfort. “Okay,” I figured a bit grudgingly, “I’m here to work with…unpleasant sensations.”

For the next twenty-four hours I noted the heat and cramping in my stomach, the
leaden feeling in my limbs, and tried with some success to experience them with
an accepting attention. But in the days that followed, when the symptoms didn’t
go away, I found myself caught in habitual stories and sinking into a funk of fear,
shame and depression. “Something’s wrong with me … with the way I’m living
my life. I’ll never get better.” And under that, the deep fear: “I’ll never be happy.”
The familiar trance threatened to take over, and I took that as a signal to deepen my

On a clear and brisk afternoon at the beginning of the second week of retreat, I
took off into the woods and walked until I found a patch of sun. Wrapping myself
in a warm blanket, I sat down and propped myself against a tree. The ground,
covered with leaves, offered a firm, gentle cushion. I suddenly felt at home in
the simplicity of earth, trees, wind, sky, and was resolved to attend to my own
nature—to the changing stream of sensations living through my body.

After taking some moments to release any obvious tension, I did a quick body
scan, and noticed aches and soreness, a sinking feeling of tiredness. In an instant
again I watched my mind contract with the idea that something really was wrong.
Taking a deep breath, I let go of these thoughts about sickness and just experienced
the sheer grip of fear, which felt like thick hard braids of rope, tightening around
my throat and chest. I decided that no matter what experience arose, I was going to
meet it with the attitude of “this too.” I was going to accept everything.

As the minutes passed, I found I was feeling sensations without wishing them
away. I was simply feeling the weight pressing on my throat and chest, feeling

the tight ache in my stomach. The discomfort didn’t disappear, but something

gradually began to shift. My mind no longer felt tight or dull but clearer, focused
and absolutely open. As my attention deepened, I began to perceive the sensations
throughout my body as moving energy—tingling, pulsing, vibrations. Pleasant or
not, it was all the same energy playing through me.

As I noticed feelings and thoughts appear and disappear, it became increasingly
clear that they were just coming and going on their own. Sensations were
appearing out of nowhere and vanishing back into the void. There was no sense
of a self owning them: no “me” feeling the vibrating, pulsing, tingling; no “me”
being oppressed by unpleasant sensations; no “me” generating thoughts or
trying to meditate. Life was just happening, a magical display of appearances.
As every passing experience was accepted with the openness of “this too,” any
sense of boundary or solidity in my body and mind dissolved. Like the weather,
sensations, emotions and thoughts were just moving through the open, empty sky
of awareness.

When I opened my eyes I was stunned by the beauty of the New England fall, the
trees rising tall out of the earth, yellows and reds set against a bright blue sky. The
colors felt like a vibrant sensational part of the life playing through my body. The
sound of the wind appeared and vanished, leaves fluttered towards the ground, a

bird took flight from a nearby branch. The whole world was moving—like the life
within me, nothing was fixed, solid, confined. I knew without a doubt that I was
part of the world.

When I next felt a cramping in my stomach, I could recognize it as simply another
part of the natural world. As I continued paying attention I could feel the arising
and passing aches and pressures inside me as no different from the firmness of
earth, the falling leaves. There was just pain … and it was the earth’s pain.

Each moment we wakefully “let be,” we are home. When we meet life through our bodies with Radical Acceptance, we are the Buddha—the awakened one—beholding the changing steam of sensations, feelings, and thoughts. Everything is alive, the whole world lives inside us. As we let life live through us, we experience the boundless openness of our true nature.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance

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