Category Archives: Spirit

From Role to Soul

As a former caregiver for nonagenarian parents, I’ve spent a good deal of energy consulting the experts on what it takes to sustain good physical, mental, and emotional health into old age. I’ve been putting that advice into practice in hopes that it will pay dividends as I continue racking up the years. My latest read dives into the psychology of aging with the intent of giving readers a new way to view and inhabit the journey.

spiritual elderIn The Inner Work of Aging: Shifting From Role to Soul, Dr. Connie Zweig provides a process by which one becomes attuned to the soul’s inner longing and emerges as a vibrant spiritual elder. It’s a process of transformation from the inside out through which one confronts denial, resistance, and shadow personas en route to a vital and genuinely meaningful life.

In a highly youth-oriented culture, it’s no surprise that denial and resistance rear their ugly heads. I remember when young folks used to talk about never trusting anyone over thirty (which they now refer to as the “dirty thirty.”) Then there were the funerial decorations that went along with fortieth birthday parties. By 50, the jokes stopped being funny as folks started bumping up against job discrimination. By 60, there was the full-court press to sign up for anti-aging products and procedures that would help keep up youthful appearances. To the extent that we internalize these messages, we lose sight of the inner vibrancy that welcomes advancing years and the wisdom that comes with them.

And what of the shadow personas? Our performance-oriented culture has us believing that we are what we do. So even if retirement becomes an option, we may still be so addicted to appearances that we drive ourselves to be “successful” in the eyes of our peers – perhaps on the volunteer stage, or the wild travel adventures stage, or whatever projects a winning image on social media. We may also be inured to caregiving and allow our unmet needs to go unnoticed.

Dr. Zweig shares three portals through which we can launch our inner journey:

  • Shadow awareness helps us remove inner obstacles that block us from finding the treasures of late life. She provides lots of tools and examples to plumb theses depths.
  • Pure awareness allows the silent, dispassionate witness to unfold. It is a state of mind that is silent, open, resting, and aware of awareness (a.k.a. mindfulness meditation). It brings us back to an experience of the present moment through the sensory doors.
  • Mortality awareness calls us to live fully in the present with a keen awareness that our days are numbered.

Two “divine messengers” may spur us on toward the inner path. Retirement disrupts our habitual patterns and offers the opportunity to explore new ways of being. For some, this newfound freedom may be paralyzing. They’ve become acclimated to their routines and have no idea what to do with themselves. They may profit from the wisdom and guidance of an experience coach. Others use the time to explore longstanding passions as well as new opportunities all the while listening to their inner voices to see what truly resonates.

Illness may also prove disruptive whether experiencing it as the afflicted or the caregiver. It’s a tricky teacher. It can be the doorway to profound lessons and insights so long as the affected individuals do not get stuck in martyr/victim roles. I’ve definitely trafficked in the latter. (It’s easy to do!) A change in attitude does not lessen the burden of an illness, but it can avoid the needless suffering that goes along with it.

Amidst all the thoughts, case studies, and exercise provided in the book, I took away the lesson that one’s elder years can be a deeply fulfilling journey of coming back to oneself and finding deep-seated contentment and purpose. While I haven’t reached the culmination of my inner journey, I can attest to the merits of its pursuit. Per Zweig, the rewards of the journey include:

  • Spiritual depth
  • Equanimity in the face of challenges
  • Openness, rather than judgment and premature closure
  • The ability to focus attention here and now
  • Clarity unclouded by desire or fear
  • Compassion for the suffering of others
  • Big-picture knowledge
  • Humility beyond ego

Curiosity, Surprise, and Wonder

beginner's mind

The last of Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations is to cultivate don’t know mind – i.e., a mind characterized by curiosity, surprise, and wonder. This invitation does not encourage ignorance but rather a sense of exploratory innocence, without attachment to a view or outcome. As Zen Master Susuki Roshi says: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Ostaseski argues that our culture encourages us to overidentify with the rational, thinking mind. We are afraid of losing control. When threatened, we either recoil, get angry, or become inflexible, believing ourselves, our views, and our memories to be right. And when memories are taken as truth, they go unquestioned. Yet neuroscience tells us that the human memory is neither objective nor truthful. Why not let go and see what new ideas or options might emerge?

Ostaseski encourages us to engage with life right where we are and sit in awareness of our emotions and experiences as they play out. This invitation asks that we let go of our busy-ness and predisposition toward setting agendas. We’re asked to let go of preconceived ideas about what should be happening or how we should be feeling and simply breathe. In a posture of not knowing, we can open up to a fertile boundlessness that transcends form and structure. In deep silence, we can plumb the depths of our basic nature.

“To know the sacred is not to see new things, but rather to see things in a new way. The sacred is not separate or different from all things; it is hidden in all things.”
― Frank Ostaseski, Buddhist hospice worker

“No my soul is not asleep. It is awake, wide awake. It neither sleeps nor dreams, but watches, its clear eyes open, far-off things, and listens at the shores of the great silence.”
― Antonio Machado, poet

Finding Rest

busy life

The fourth of Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations is to find a place of rest in the middle of things. I have to smile at this one. I’m forever thinking, “Once I get through this [project, deadline, situation, event, et al], then I can relax and enjoy myself.” Ostaseski encourages us to find rest within us no matter what’s going on in our lives.

When we are caught in a scarcity-driven mentality in which we believe there’s not enough time or resources for our needs, we can become trapped in a prison of our thoughts. We fuss and stress and worry and obsess. We treat our lives as something to be passed through. We tumble from one moment to the next. We forget that the cell door was never locked. We can get out any time!

We find rest when we are present for what happens right here, right now rather than let our minds wander the halls of fear and anxiety. It comes when we focus on what is important and not what’s urgent or insistent. It comes when we break the habit of busy-ness and let loose our fear of boredom and addiction to exhaustion. It comes when we give ourselves permission to experience a Sabbath without chastising ourselves for being idle. Rest is not a luxury. It is crucial for our physical, mental, and emotional health.

We cannot force ourselves to rest. That attempt becomes just another task on the “to do” list. But with mindfulness, we can learn to ease up on the thoughts and impulses that obstruct our contact with rest. Ostaseski points out three common poisons:

  • Craving (greed) which fuels the false assumption that what we have is not enough
  • Aversion (hatred) which proceeds from the mistaken belief that we can separate ourselves from all other life that calls this planet home
  • Ignorance (delusion) which serves to disconnect us from reality and from our pain

Mindfulness serves as the antidote to these poisons. It enables us to explore the causes and conditions of our circumstances and respond skillfully to them. Ostaseski asks that we be open to how life unfolds; rest means allowing. Irish priest and philosopher John O’Donahue said it beautifully:

“We need to come home to the temple of our senses. Our bodies know that they belong… it is our minds that make us homeless.”

We come home as we sense the breath’s texture, rhythm, and pace. We give ourselves permission to slow down, to take in our surroundings, and feel our connection to the ground of being. Instead of striving and struggling, we find rest, restoration, and revitalization.

Ostaseski warns that mindfulness is not something to be “achieved.” He does not encourage numbing out as a means of grasping tranquility. Rather, it’s an awareness of what is happening. It welcomes thoughts, strong emotions, and associated energetic patterns without getting ensnared by them. It takes notice and then lets them dissipate on their own volition. Mindfulness is a means of becoming intimate with our inner landscape.

Life is precarious. We are encouraged to sustain a courageous practice when fear comes knocking. We can learn to discern the difference between the feeling of fear and the mental process that riffs off it. With love, we can learn to be steadfast, undefended, and vulnerable in its wake and come out stronger on the other side.

Warts and All


The third of Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations is to bring your whole self to the experience – from your best, strongest, and most fully formed self to your most vulnerable, imperfect, inexperienced, and weak self. Bring it all; don’t leave any of it out.

If we’re honest, most of us don’t live that way. We put our best feet forward and hide the parts of ourselves that we deem less desirable or fear that others might find objectionable. We may even go so far as to feel superior to others who display attributes that we’ve stuffed in ourselves. Yet when we’re embodying these personas, we’re inhabiting roles rather than engaging others and the world as our authentic selves. We’re letting those roles define and confine us. Ostaseski says: “Don’t be a role; be a soul.”

It is through our weakness and vulnerability that we are most able to connect with others. We find common ground through the courageous exploration of our shared human experience. We become helpless together and helpers together. We find wholeness by connecting to our innate capacity to heal and reconnecting with what we lost through fear and contraction. And when we reflect wholeness in others, we become a portal to their healing.

The initial steps in this direction involve taming the inner critic. Constant self-judgment diminishes the quality of life. We must address it on the road to self-acceptance and recognize that brokenness is part of wholeness. Brokenness is nothing to fear or avoid. It does not impinge upon our basic goodness. We need simply hold our imperfections with kindness and let wisdom navigate the move from judgment to discernment.

Love sets us free. Acceptance is a loving act of an open heart. It helps us face the critic and the truth of our circumstances and take wise action. It gives us the strength to change what we can and accept our foibles along the way. Love releases us from comparison, assessment, and rejection.

Mindfulness is the spiritual practice that helps us settle into the utter simplicity of being fully ourselves. It creates a presence that opens the heart and engenders compassionate acceptance of where we are. Through mindfulness, we become aware of our inner dramas without getting lost in them. We give ourselves space to be ourselves and curiosity to explore how we show up in the world.

We remain mindful of our pain and that of others and the world. We are exquisitely unique but not separate; we are interdependent. He/she/they are just like we are, and we wish them well. We seek genuine understanding and compassionate companionship. In that state of being, separation falls away. We live in service to one another. Per Rachel Naomi Remen:

“When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole.”

Welcome Everything


The second of Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations is a call to openness, to welcome whatever is happening in the moment – whether pleasant or unpleasant – in a spirit of hospitality. When receptive, we are free to discover, to investigate, to explore options, and to respond skillfully to whatever we encounter. We are liberated from living life reactively. He refers to that posture as a spacious, undefended, non-biased allowing. It renders us open to new life, experiences, opportunities for growth, and a tolerance for the unknown.

By contrast, denial breeds ignorance and fear. When we argue with reality, we lose every time. Like it or not, reality will keep coming back at us, bringing more suffering with each visitation. That being said, accepting reality does not imply resignation. Rather, it acknowledges what is and confers the freedom to develop a response. We retain agency in the conduct of our affairs.

For most of us, it’s especially difficult to turn toward suffering. We seek distractions to keep it at bay or find ways to sidestep it entirely. But such strategies make us live self-protective, small lives. Moreover, our distractions typically only provide temporary relief. For healing to occur, we must be willing to open up to pain and explore its many elements, one of which is our attitude toward it. Pain plus resistance equals suffering.

Pain plays an important role in our lives. It warns us of danger. It pinpoints aspects of our lives that need attention and care. It opens us up to deep connection and empathy with others. As we become adept at dealing with pain, we gain insights about ourselves, others, and the world that enable us to make skillful choices and act. And we can live in a world of change with greater ease.

An openness to pain can lead us toward the healing power of love. We need not be a heat-seeking missile for love. As Irish writer, priest, and philosopher John O’Donahue says: “We do not need to go out and find love; rather, we need to be still and let love discover us.” Such love springs forth from our very source of being. It recognizes and responds to intrinsic goodness. Ostaseski says:

“The sort of fearless openness required to turn toward our suffering is only possible within the spacious receptivity of love… [Love] provides us with a way of approaching life that softens the identification that keeps unskillful habits from hardening into character. Love helps us accept. Loving awareness helps us embrace it all.”

Make Every Moment Count

Through my coursework in the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program, I came across the work of Frank Ostaseski. He’s a Buddhist teacher, a leader in end-of-life care, and founding director of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. He wrote an engaging book entitled The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. He notes that life is short and precious. As such, we’re advised to cultivate thoughts and habits that lead to wholeness and steer clear of those that engender separation and suffering. He invites us to consider 5 strategies to do just that (which I’ll cover in individual posts).

The First Invitation: Don’t Wait.

Life is a study of constant change. The breath arises and falls away. Thoughts, emotions, and sensations come and go. Relationships have their ebbs and flows. Mother nature has changing seasons along with unpredictably cataclysmic events. We don’t have the power grasp on to what we enjoy and keep unpleasantness at bay. We receive it all. As such, we are invited to live in harmony with life’s impermanence and experience the wonder and beauty of each moment in gratitude. For each dissolving brings forth an opportunity for becoming.

Don’t wait for permission, encouragement, or the “right” conditions to step fully into life. Don’t sit on the sidelines hoping to rewrite history or secure guarantees for the future. Don’t waste life on meaningless activity.

What does “not waiting” look like for Ostaseski?

It means living in an open, receptive quality of mind. It means allowing objects, experiences, states of mind, and hearts to unfold with neither a penchant for grasping or avoidance. A life lived in openness provides a sense of freedom and an ability to sustain continuous contact with reality.

For the naysayers among us, I’d interject that a state of openness implies neither inaction nor aimless wandering. Living fully demands that we clarify our values, find meaning in the course we set for our lives, and move forward with positive action. We do that with a relaxed and spacious attitude that allows for the revelation of the moment, not wrestling with it. We participate in life’s unfolding.

A substantive player in Ostaseski’s “not waiting” philosophy revolves around forgiveness. Speaking from personal experience, I find forgiveness difficult, especially when the underlying hurt and pain are acute. It takes strength to shine a light on the underlying issues and explore my role in them. And I can get stuck in being right about the matter; forgiveness feels like capitulation.

Ostaseski reminds us that forgiveness is not about forgetting or condoning bad behavior. It’s not about securing acknowledgment or recompense from the party or parties toward whom we feel aggrieved. He says resistance to forgiveness is like grabbing a hot coal and saying, “I’m not going to let go until you apologize and pay for what you did to me.” No! Forgiveness is for forgivers. It releases us from the contraction of bitterness and frees us to rediscover our inner peace. It shakes loose the calcification around our hearts and opens us up to experience more love. Reconciliation need not be part of the equation.

Ostaseski deems forgiveness a form of self-acceptance and self-care. It’s an invaluable tool for releasing pain that only hurts ourselves. He does not want us to wait to do it until we’re knocking on death’s door.

The Search for Meaning

Earlier this year, Rabbi Harold Samuel Kushner passed away at the age of 88. While best known for his book on the problem of evil (When Bad Things Happen to Good People), I’ve decided to honor his memory with his 1986 book entitled When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters.

Kushner asserts that our souls thirst for relevancy. We aspire to lead a life such that the world will be better for our having passed through it. We want to know that we matter.

rodin thinkerThis soul quest is nothing new. Twenty-five hundred years ago, a wise teacher explored the topic in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He feared dying before figuring out how to live. He fully expected that nothing he ever did (or would ever do) would confer any lasting value. So, how should one spend one’s time?

He rejected uninterrupted fun as it seemed merely a way to escape the challenge of doing something meaningful with one’s life. While diverting, nothing of value remains when the fun is over.

Likewise, the pursuit of wealth and power – and the exercise of power – would prove foolhardy. Such a quest narrates life in terms of competition instead of cooperation. Moreover, the exercise of power can make relationships problematic, thereby interfering with our basic need for connection. As Kushner says, “When one commands and one obeys, there can be loyalty and gratitude but not love.” And who wants to live a life without genuine love?

Even piety can prove a challenging anchor on which to bind our lives. Should faith pander to our desire to be told what to do – especially when life gets complicated – then it fosters childlike submission and dependence. Kushner claims that authentic religion does not want obedient or perfect people. Rather, it gives us the courage to face life’s vexing questions, get ourselves together in the midst of them, and be at all times who we are at our best.

Instead of searching for the Great Answer or the Immortal Deed that will make life feel worthwhile, Kushner shares his simple wisdom:

“[Life] is not about writing great books, amassing great wealth, achieving great power. It is about loving and being loved.  It is about enjoying your food and sitting in the sun rather than rushing through lunch and hurrying back to the office. It is about savoring the beauty of moments that don’t last, the sunsets, the leaves turning color, the rare moments of true human communication. It is about savoring them rather than missing out on them because we are so busy and they will not hold still until we get around to them… There is no Answer, but there are answers: love and the joy of working, and the simple pleasures of food and fresh clothes, the little things that tend to get lost and trampled in the search for the Grand Solution to the Problem of Life and emerge, like the proverbial bluebird of happiness, only when we have stopped searching.”

The author of Ecclesiastes attained this wisdom after many disappointments and false starts. May his lasting legacy be the flash of insight that sets us on the right path long before we pass from this earth.

A Life Journey in Two Stages

A good friend put me on to a book by American Franciscan priest, writer, and spiritual director Richard Rohr entitled Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. It’s an interesting read.

Rohr’s theological convictions suggest that we each have a divine spark that animates our lives and establishes purposeful blueprints for engagement with the world. Our journey of discovery proceeds in two stages. During the first stage, we build ego structures (“containers”) that provide our sense of self, our sense of place, a means to navigate our way in society, and a sure-footedness when following the disquieting path of growth. In the second stage, the focus shifts away from the container toward the contents they are meant to hold.

containerOur containers are comprised of the laws, traditions, customs, boundaries, and moral codes that govern our societies. We assimilate them through our families, group affiliations, civil and religious authorities, and close associates. Healthy environments provide the right set of elders to guide our steps and the right limitations and freedoms to foster spiritual growth. A Rohr says:

“None of us can dialogue with others until we can calmly and confidently hold our own identity. None of us can know much about second-half-of-life spirituality as long as we are still trying to create the family, the parenting, the security, the order, the pride that we were not given in the first half.”

That being said, Rohr cautions against contexts that demand unquestioning followers by dominating leaders. We must wrestle with rules and authority to understand when and where they prove useful, and when and where to part company with them. We must also push beyond our comfort zones and leave the family nest (however defined) to find the “pearl of great price,” our true selves. Rohr characterizes this self as the indwelling Spirit that confers true enlightenment, discernment, and union between ourselves and everything else. It enables us to find a deep meaning in our everyday experience.

What are the tell-tale signs of those who have transitioned successfully into the second stage of life?

  • They experience life as spacious and alive with possibilities. They contribute creatively and proactively to their communities because they forged strong containers in which to incubate and realize their visions.
  • They are not compelled to protect, defend, prove, or assert their identities. They will accept the mantle of leadership but are not concerned with public affirmation or praise. They are content to simply be “part of the dance.”
  • Their daily life reflects prayerful discernment. They do not get swept up in reactivity. They fight only that to which they are called directly and for which they have the requisite “equipment.” They withdraw energy from foolish or evil pursuits.
  • When facing difference, they look for the “both-and” solution rather than be trapped in an “either-or” mentality.
  • They accept pain and discomfort as a normal part of life and do not fixate on eliminating them. They let go of hurts and failures and lean into forgiveness instead of punishment for others’ transgressions.
  • They influence others simply by being who they are.

Getting from the first to the second stage of life requires inner work. It calls for us to deconstruct the presentations of ourselves that reflect what others want from us, what garners worldly rewards, and what unduly shapes our identities. It takes a healthy dose of critical thinking – and perhaps an able guide or two – to recognize our “shadow selves” and see what lies beyond them. It’s humbling work but one that carries a big upside. When we recognize our shadow personas, they lose their power to control us. We stop giving away our inner gold to others.

Rohr laments that too many individuals and institutions get stuck in the first stage of life. They’re averse to the leaps of faith that attend to a life in continual growth and development. The familiar and habitual become falsely reassuring. As such, they build increasingly rigid containers and lose sight of the broader, deeper world in which their divinely-inspired souls might find a freedom of expression. They lose the capacity to give themselves away without strings in service to others. Rohr views Jesus as a second-half-of-life man embedded in a first-half-of-life culture. His radiant light provided a path to transcendence.

I understand what it means to be enmeshed in a cultural identity that “works” and the daunting task of unearthing a more authentic self. It takes faith and a measure of courage to stand apart from the cultural norms and chart a different course. The journey brings heartache and joy, confusion and certainty, loss and renewal. Though I’ve stumbled and fallen along the way, a firm foundation has enabled me to “fall upward” and not fall apart. I may never “arrive,” but I’m content to spend the rest of my life on the path.

Dana and the Spirit of Generosity

danaMy teacher at the 6-day mindfulness retreat about which I wrote last week trained at a Buddhist Forest temple in Thailand. Each day, the monks would line up in order of seniority and walk to the village to beg for alms (rice, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit). No matter how little they had, the villagers gave generously because they valued the monks’ work. Having filled their begging bowls, the monks returned to the monastery to listen to a dharma talk, eat their meal for the day, and meditate. They might break in the afternoon to do chores and have a cup of tea. Periodically, they’d gather to chant the 227 precepts and confess any deviations from them. When the moon was full, they remained wakeful and meditated through the night. It was a simple life that dated back 1,000 years.

After leaving the monastery, he became a licensed therapist and trauma counsellor and has served his clients and community faithfully for decades. He remains a practicing Buddhist and dharma teacher. I was surprised to discover that he freely accepts participants to his retreats for a nominal registration fee. While nothing more is required, he provides an opportunity for the experience of giving. He writes:

“In accordance with Buddhist traditions, the teaching, guidance and other services of this retreat were given as dana. Dana is not a donation, which is what one gives to organisations and individuals in need. Dana refers to the economy of generosity where the teachings and services are given freely and those who receive the teaching have the opportunity to reciprocate with a financial gift that they feel is suitable after the retreat has been completed.

“The aim of dana is to cultivate joy from generosity. The amount you choose to give or not give is completely up to you. If you give too much resulting in difficulty, hardship, and regrets for yourself, then it defeats the purpose. Conversely, if you would like to give and do not, or give what is in your mind as very little, then again the function of dana is defeated.

“Dana is also a way of expressing one’s respect and gratitude for the value of the teachings. It is priceless and therefore a price cannot really be given to it. Remember, if you feel you would like to offer dana but have no money, offering the merits of your practice is also dana and as such something that we can all celebrate in.”

I am reminded of the widow’s offering in the Gospel of Mark 12:41-44. We read:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.”

Both of these teachings call upon us to be intentional about sharing what we have been given. Such gifts should transcend transactional considerations – i.e., if I give this, then I will get that. They should transcend duty and obligation from which feelings of guilt might otherwise arise. They should transcend a scarcity mentality with its undergirding in fear.

Giving freely and generously from the heart confers benefit upon the giver and receiver. When I’m most caught up in anxiety or sadness, I look for opportunities to be generous. It boosts my spirits, softens my heart, and cultivates a quality of character that I want to inhabit.

A Way of Life for Laypersons

In my last post, I shared some reflections from His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s book describing the way of the Bodhisattva, or person on the path toward Buddhahood. Of course, one needn’t choose a monastic life in order to evolve spiritually. The Dalai Lama provides a roadmap for laypersons in How To Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life.

The Dalia Lama starts at the place of our shared humanity. We all want to be happy and to avoid suffering. In our interdependent world, we serve ourselves and others by cultivating love, kindness, and compassion, and inoculating ourselves against anger and self-centeredness. We realize this state of being through a daily practice that weakens negative thoughts and strengthens positive ones. The resulting inner peace makes room for an external peace that manifests in harmonious relations among people and nations.

Three Ways to Practice: Morality, Meditation, Wisdom

morality, meditation, wisdomAt its most basic level, morality calls upon us to refrain from physical and verbal actions that harm others – e.g., killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive talk, harsh speech, senseless chatter, covetousness, harmful intentions, wrong views. Be at peace with others; resolve conflicts and misunderstandings. Do not give in to lust, hared, enmity, jealousy, or belligerence. Replace self-centeredness with other-centeredness. Minimize material needs such that more becomes available to give to those in need. Detach from transient pleasures. The Dalai Lama tells us: “Through purification of the afflictive obstructions as well as the predispositions established by them, you can transform your consciousness.”

A regular practice of concentrated meditation helps to focus the mind so that wisdom can take root. Agitation, distraction, and lethargy are obstacles to meditation. The serious practitioner prepares for practice by eating healthfully (preferably whole foods), getting adequate rest, setting aside uninterrupted time in a quiet place for meditation, and adopting a posture that sustains ease and dignity. The practice directs attention to an object (e.g., the breath) with a consciousness that is focused and alert. Through daily practice, one learns to settle the mind and create the space for deep insight and learning.

Wisdom teaching in the Buddhist tradition begins with the acknowledgement that all beings suffer. We suffer physical pain and mental anguish. We suffer in response to unwanted change. And we suffer when the reality of our experience does not match our expectations. The antidote to suffering lies in recognizing that all phenomena lack innate substance; they depend on other conditions for their existence. Life proceeds as a function of cause and effect (karma). Because things do not exist inherently, they cannot be sources of pleasure or pain. Even our own minds change from moment to moment. When we recognize that all is emptiness and selflessness, we take the first step toward freeing ourselves from suffering.

Our busy lives rarely make room for deep reflection and consistent practice to transform our hearts and minds to their highest good. We just put one foot in front of the other and go about our business. But The Dalai Lama reminds us that the good intentions to which we cling in our faith practices do little good if they are not consciously implemented daily. While we may find little to commend them when life is smooth sailing, he tells us:

“When we face unavoidable problems such as sickness, old age, death, or desperate situations, it becomes critical to control your anger, to control your emotional feelings, and use your good human mind to determine how to face that problem with patience and calm.”