Tag Archives: Spiritual Teacher

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Greatest Teaching on Love and Mindfulness


The first time I was exposed to well-known Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author Thich Nhat Hanh, who visited Boston over the weekend, was when I read his book, Miracle of Mindfulness in a college course on Buddhism. I still recall one of our homework assignments for the class. We had to wash the dishes…which was awesome for my roommates. I’d pulled dish duty. A monk said so.

But, the assignment wasn’t to wash the dishes the way any of us typically wash the dishes, dashing off a chore so that we can move on to something better. Instead, the assignment required us to wash the dishes while being fully present and mindful. Never mind what happens next. We were learning through real-life practice that the powerful moment–the only one over which we have any guarantee or influence–is the one happening now. Don’t wait until later to be compassionate or kind, attentive and aware. A mind does not get stronger that way. It stays distracted and anxious about what comes next… And after that?… And then what?

On Sunday, in Copley Square, I was again reminded how miraculous mindfulness can be. I went with the expectation that I’d sit quietly, among hundreds of other people, in the presence of a revered Zen master, but didn’t anticipate much more. I knew it would feel meaningful and maybe solemn. I imagined we’d hear car horns or passing Duck Tours as we meditated. Quack, quack! I hoped he’d speak a little bit. Hopefully, we could hear and understand him. I momentarily wondered if it was unsafe to congregate in an open and vulnerable public space doing something spiritual, possibly viewed as religious. After all, we were in front of a church, among hundreds of Buddhists, yards from the Boston Marathon finish line, where two bombs went off five months ago to the date.

Trinity Church’s Reverend Dr. William Rich acknowledged this fact as he introduced Thich Nhat Hanh, who was now sitting under the hot sun clad in a knit hat and multiple layers of robes and meditations shawls. Wasn’t he melting? It struck me that it couldn’t be a coincidence, this event to sit in peace and healing near an area subjected to so much suffering a short time ago. The week before had also marked the anniversary of 9/11, the reverend noted. We were still at war and now considering military action in Syria. The day before marked the Jewish holiday of atoning for sins, Yom Kippur. In any number of ways, no matter who you were, the message of the day was clear. We are here to be together in peace. We’re here to practice greater awareness and compassion because the world needs both right now.

Small and centered, the 85-year-old Vietnamese monk in a knitted hat.

Following his introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh did something surprising to some. He said nothing. He didn’t even open his eyes. Instead, he sat silently and meditated, signaling for a typically pulsing cross-section of the city to join him. I don’t recall car horns. Definitely no quacking. A few small children giggled or cried briefly in the crowd, but mostly, it was very quiet.

When he eventually spoke, about 25-minutes later, the famous monk said only this: Breathing in, I am aware of my breath. Breathing out, I am aware of my breath, a simple mantra to set the stage for a talk that would succinctly and poetically teach a diverse group what it means to be mindful and how it creates peace. Next, he said: Breathing in, I enjoy breathing in. Breathing out, I enjoy breathing out.

The mantras and teachings gained momentum from there. We breathed in and out qualities of a mountain’s solidity and stability, water’s stillness and reflection, a flower’s freshness and beauty, and space. Breathing in, I have the element of space within me. Breathing out, I feel free… Space: free. Nothing was too heady. No one was left out. It was the most simple yet moving talk I’ve ever witnessed on meditation or Buddhism. If I was exposed to this teacher first in college, I was now getting schooled in a whole new way.

Then, the talk dovetailed into territory I would not have predicted for an 85-year-old celibate monk: love. It could have easily represented love for a family member or friend, but to hear a monk use the word darling in three different types of mantras suggested romantic love, and it made everyone smile. Darling, I am here. Darling, I know you are here. Darling, I know that you suffer, and I am here for you.  

“The most precious thing you can offer your loved one is your presence,” he said. “To be present means to be there. How can you love, if you are not there?” His voice was gentle, but the message reverberated. Love (romantic or otherwise) doesn’t work if we’re distracted or hiding– behind suffering, the TV, iPhone, alcohol, who knows. We all have our means of avoiding reality, some healthier than others. To love means to understand suffering, our own and our darling’s.

He linked the two segments of the talk seamlessly– the meditation, breathing, and mantras– with his thoughts on love. We practice meditation so that we can restore our presence and feel more stable, free, fresh, and beautiful. “You cannot buy it in a market,” the adorable monk cautioned in his sing-song accent, of the level of presence needed for true love. “You have to produce it yourself.”

Somewhere along the way, my tear ducts started producing an abundance of water. I was overwhelmed. It was too beautiful maybe, the day, his words, the fact that my present moment looked, felt, and sounded the way it did, and I was sharing it with hundreds of other people, some of whom must have been having a similar experience. Their suffering was all around, their love, too. I felt a hand on my arm, which startled me. It was a kind woman offering a tissue. I could hear others nearby also weeping. Monks and nuns were chanting now, singing the name of Avalokiteshvara, the saint of compassion, and a cello played. Damn cello, gets me every time. Vast blue sky space stretched overhead, and the ground on which we sat felt solid and stable. We were being restored.

The Buddhist monks and nuns chanting… also the cello. Sniff.

Life will always contain suffering, and it will offer opportunities to cultivate compassion, grow love, and strengthen our minds through presence and practice. Copley Square will always be the place where we went after the marathon to leave flowers, candles, sneakers, and letters. It’s where people cried and prayed  Often, they felt hopeless. Today, a proper memorial resides in the same spot, on the periphery of where Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation event occurred. The earth, there, hugging the edge of the space where so many people sat in peace and thought about love.

I still hurry through the dishes most of the time, and while writing this post, I wolfed down an apple and peanut butter so fast, I barely tasted either of them. My spoon scrapped the bottom of the bowl, and I thought, heyyy, who ate my snack? But, then, a teacher or moment reminds me of the miracle of mindfulness and skill of being present. How I can always practice, beginning simply with breathing in and breathing out. And, sometimes, the expectations in my mind are blown away by the real-life experience.


Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

5 Quotes From Eckhart Tolle That Could Change Your Life

Eckhhart_Tolle_front-1Spiritual teachers and writers often talk about the importance of “being present” and practicing non-attachment when it comes to worries about the  past and future. But how do we actually stay non-attached in practice? When difficult emotions arise or life becomes too chaotic, many of us lose sight of the practices and teachings we’ve gained in yoga or meditation.

In the latest issue of Spirituality & Health magazine, the editor-in-chief sat down with renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle to discuss the practical aspects of living in the moment, and how to deal with daily challenges like anger and negative emotions.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom we gathered from the article:

On the present moment:

The actual experience of awakening can only be in the present moment.

On focusing on the future:

The future does not exist, because nobody has ever experienced it. You can only ever experience a present moment.

On global responsibility:

Your primary responsibility is your own state of consciousness. And once that is achieved, then whatever you do and whomever you come into contact with, and even many people you don’t come into direct contact with, get affected by your state of consciousness.

On the difference between being aware and being unaware of negative emotions:

[W]hen there’s a lack of awareness, then you get completely taken over by those negative feelings. There’s no inner space anymore, and you think, say, and do things that are controlled by that negative energy inside you… The difference is, when the same thing happens again and you become irritated, you become angry, whatever it is—reactive in some way—sad or depressed, there’s an awareness that this is happening to you. You have the observing presence in the background that’s more who you are rather than the emotion. You are still there as it happens.

On engaging in “awakened doing”:

Awakened doing is when you don’t create suffering anymore for others—or for yourself—by your own actions. It also implies that your primary intention, the focus of your attention, is on the “doing” in the present moment, rather than the result that you want to achieve through it.

We hope you find these quotes as inspiring as we did, and grab a copy of Spirituality & Health to read the rest of this amazing interview!



MayJune2013_Eckhart.1Read the entire conversation with Eckhart Tolle in the May-June edition of Spirituality & Health, on newsstands now! The issue also features: 

For more enlightening, empowering, and inspiring information about your physical and emotional health, subscribe now to Spirituality & Health. 

Image via Wiki

The Resistance of the Ego

As you become fully present, thoughts stop. But the ego exists within a framework of thought. If thoughts stop, the ego feels like it is disappearing. It feels like death to the ego. Do you think the ego is going to stand by and let you kill it off? Not likely!

And even if you reassure the ego that it is not being annihilated, it will still not allow you to be present. The ego does not exist in the present moment, and so it is not in control when you are present. It is not in control until you think your way back into the world of the mind. And the ego has no intention of relinquishing control. After all, it has been in control since you were just a small child.

A part of this process of awakening and becoming permanently established in presence is to come into right relationship with the ego, and with every aspect of whom you have become at the level of mind ego. No longer trying to change or fix yourself or get rid of anything, you enter into a deep and ongoing process of accepting, acknowledging, expressing and confessing every aspect of who you have become.

This is only possible when you are awake in Presence.

It is as if the Godly dimension of you, which is a silent and awakened Presence of love, acceptance and compassion, encounters and embraces the human dimension of you, which has been journeying through time and has had to endure all the pain of separation that is an inherent part of that journey through time.

If you continue to condemn the human dimension of yourself, which is less than perfect, then who is the one condemning? It is not the awakened Presence, for that dimension of you is completely without judgment. It is just a part of the ego, splitting off to condemn itself.

It might sound somewhat self defeating, but actually, it is exactly what the ego wants. The energy of judgment keeps you bound within the world of the mind, where the ego is in control. The ego thrives on judgment, condemnation and rejection. It gets stronger in the face of such negative energy.

But if the ego is embraced with love, acceptance and compassion, it has no defense to that. It does not know what to do. Eventually it will simply relax and surrender.

There is no greater power than the power of love, which arises from Presence. It overcomes all resistance and aggression.

Being present is ultimately quite ordinary. Occasionally it opens up and reveals the extraordinary, but that only occurs through grace. We must be willing to accept the present moment as ordinary, before the present moment will reveal its hidden treasures. And you must be willing to allow those extraordinary moments to pass, without trying to hold onto them, if you want to remain present and in the truth of life.

This approach will allow you to become more and more grounded in presence. You will keep deepening into presence.

Until one day, you will declare,

"It is accomplished. I am awake. At last, I am here, now."

And the angels will sing, "Hallelujah!"

-Leonard Jacobson
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Hello Boogie Bottom!

Many years ago while I was living in the ashram that I had started down in Miami with my (now ex) husband, we went to visit our teacher, Yogi Bhajan, who was staying at the Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami Beach.    He had just finished leading several hundred of his students in a ten day course of meditation, yoga and other spiritual instruction (in complete silence by the attendees) and was having a short rest at the hotel before heading back to his residence in Los Angeles.  We were accompanied by our baby daughter, Saraswati who was several months old at the time.  We affectionately had nick-named her "Boogie Bottom" for the cute action of her bottom as she crawled around the house.

So as we enter the room where Yogiji is staying and upon him setting eyes on our beloved Saraswati, he utters in his large, booming voice:  "How is my little Boogie Bottom"?  Stunned, my husband and I looked at one another.  How did he know this nick-name we had for her?  We had never shared this information with him.  When we asked him how he knew this, he just smiled and wagged his head at us.

Sutras from the Bible

Yogis write and study sutras.  These are short and pithy sayings from Scriptures and the sages and saints of history.  In my spiritual counseling practice I often bring my clients "sutras" from the various world traditions to memorize and to study.

Why?  Your brain can’t handle more than one thought at a time, either positive or negative.  The beauty of learning scriptures is that you can have access to powerful time tested thoughts to crowd out any negative thoughts that may arise during your day.

Often clients feel disconnected from God.  They simply don’t want "religion" and they are beyond worshipping a man a throne.  However, in their quest to leave religion they often turn away from the jewels that have served  thousands to have a better, richer life.

God, He, She or It, is a reality to those who choose to believe in this all powerful, all wise, benevolent and ever present creator.  But is this omnipotent God an angry, jealous punishing God or something more?

Let us look at  the Scriptures in this order and notice they form a love letter."

You may not know me, but I know everything about you.
(Psalms 139:1)
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered.
(Matthew 10:30)
for you were made in my image.
(Genesis 1:27)
In me, you live and move and have your being.
(Acts 17:28)
I knew you even before you were conceived.
(Jeremiah1:4 5)
I chose you when I planned creation.
(Ephesians 1:11 12)
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book.
(Psalm 139:15 16)
I knit you together in your mother’s womb.
(Psalm 139:13)
and brought you forth on the day you were born.
(Psalm 71:6)
I have been misrepresented by those who don’t know me.
(John 8:41 44)
I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love.
(1John 4:16)
It is my desire to lavish my love on you simply because
you are my child and I am your father.
(1 John 3:1)
I offer you more than your earthly father ever could.
(Matthew 7:11)
for I am the perfect Father.
(Matthew 5:48)
Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand.
(James 1:17)
for I am your provider and I meet all your needs.
(Matthew 6:31 33)
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope.
(Jeremiah 29:11)

because I love you with an everlasting love.
(Jeremiah 31:3)
My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore.
(Psalms 139:17 18)
and I rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)
I will never stop doing good to you.
(Jeremiah 32:40)
for you are my treasure.
(Exodus 19:5)
I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul.
(Jeremiah 32:41)
and I want to show you great and marvelous things.
(Jeremiah 33:3)
If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me.
(Deuteronomy 4:29)
Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4)
for it is I who gave you those desires.
(Philippians 2:13)
I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine.
(Ephesians 3:20)
for I am your greatest encourager.
(2 Thessalonians 2:16 17)
I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles.
(2 Corinthians 1:3 4)
When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you.
(Psalm 34:18)
As a shepherd carries a lamb, I carry you close to my heart.
(Isaiah 40:11)

If you memorize these scriptures, just one a week and pass it through your mind, they will uplift you.  In yoga, Bhakti is the path of love or devotion.  It is considered to be the fastest path to God or Self Realization. Repeating these sutras of love will take you directly to the God of your heart.

And if you want to make this practice extremely effective, then take some time to FEEL the actual presence of God around you and within you.   Once you feel this loving presence, then recite the scripture and feel the effect it has upon your body, mind and soul.

When driving, affirm these scriptures and possibly say aloud, "God is with me.  God is helping me and God is guiding me."  Let these statements become real for you and notice your relationship to God growing deeper and deeper day by day.

Blessings from my heart to yours!

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