Posts Tagged ‘Upaya Institute and Zen Center’

Upaya Institute and Zen Center

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal.”
~~ Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

For me, the hardest thing to do is to practice the “not is”.

What the heck does that mean?

It means, for me, it is hard to be compassionate when I don’t see or feel compassion going on around me.

It means it’s hard for me to feel motivated, inspired, and creative when I feel like creativity is discouraged and hampered.

I don’t feel like I am odd with this.  I bet you are even shaking your head to a certain extent.

But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have to practice if this came as second nature.

If someone said, Hey, be loving when there’s no love around, and poof, we could do it, well, would we need metta mediation?

For me, it’s being lazy… spiritually and existentially lazy.

When I had migraines daily for 3 years, when I moved somewhere I felt exiled to for 5 years, when I did work that I found uninspiring, I took the “easy way out”.  I say that tongue in cheek because it didn’t feel like the easy way out.  It didn’t feel sloppy or lazy or anything like it.  It felt like some sort of surrender because some days, I didn’t “give a care” (exchange care for expletive).

I gave into the path of least resistance, sometimes for survival, other times because I just didn’t give a damn.

But when I practice the path of least resistance… hold on, that sounds to active… when I live the path of least resistance, my world falls apart and it is a world that I don’t want to be truly alive in.

It is only when I face what scares me, start where I am with what I have, and practice staying that I find that I am inhabiting a world where I am connected with all and care about all.

Three years ago, I found myself in a situation that felt hopeless and I adopted some hopelessness and then added a layer of learned helplessness on top of it.

I gave up my practice of mindfulness because I didn’t feel supported by those around me.  No one would understand.  No one would also practice or remind me of my shenpa or my lack of mindful awareness.

I closed off my heart to hide from the pain that I felt when I looked out.

I allowed myself to stop seeking creative solutions for the problems I saw around me.

But you know what it got me?

I was more isolated.  I had a heart that was walled off but was still aching.  I was still hip deep in problems and ear deep in feeling like there was no way out.

Now, to be honest. . . I haven’t just come off of 10+ days of horrific pain.  I haven’t come out of a whole day of staffings that made me want to poke my eyes out.  And I have been quite blessed recently with good news and supportive, faithful friends letting me know how loved I am.  So, if any of those things were going on, I might not be able to say all this.  That’s part of chronic pain — whether it is mental, physical, or existential.

Isn’t this the very point though?

I’m in the same crappy apartment with a fridge that freezes everything.  I’m in the same crappy job that’s only purpose is insurance and to pay the bills (or to give me money to do what I love).  And I haven’t gotten a new team of friends who are pouring love all over me.  But it’s different.

What’s changed?

I started this blog in December that brought me back in touch with my passion of end-of-life care.

I went out to Upaya Zen Center and was brought back into community and to the Dharma.

I just got hired to teach part-time which has given me another project to devote my heart and soul.

So all journeys, all paths, all lessons start from within; I truly believe that today.  It’s making a choice, even between two lousy choices.

It’s taking a step even if it’s followed by 6 back.

It’s about not giving up.

And it’s about having faith in something.  Not the blind faith that was suggested I have when I was little and in parochial school, but a deep lived bodily experience of knowing that some things are just Right and in some ways Eternal.

For instance, the Eight-Fold Path, to me, is right and eternal in that the buddha shared that with us and beings for generations have practiced it or attempted to practice it and have known that it helped create less suffering in their lives.

I don’t need to follow it blindly.

I have to experience it, live it, try it and that’s it.  Then I am reminded of its validity and its vital place in my life.

The best part?  I get to choose. . .

I can choose to let it all go, to suffer in the silence of my own faulty thinking, the loneliness of pain, and the despair of believing that there is no way out.

I can also choose

For me, the Three Gems, the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma, are both right and eternal in that despite the ever-changing nature of the universe, the Three Gems are always there for me as a touchstone. And it is me that moves away from them, not vice versa.

It is me who decides to hang on tight, to hunker down, to close off, to not believe, not experience, not try, and hold on to all the garbage.

And it is me who decides to practice compassion, to let go, to be at ease with how things are, and to know when to take an active role in making changes.

The whole point in having a spiritual practice is to have a foundation for when things work and when things don’t work

— To learn from the blessings and the curses and to have the all-encompassing vastness of equanimity that comes from being present and not pushing away.

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Bernard Glassman

Bernard Glassman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you were to ask me ‘What is the essence of Buddhism?’

I would answer that it’s to awaken.  And the function

of that awakening is learning how to serve.”

~~Bernie Glassman

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I can tell you this… if you don’t think I am crazy yet, you might just now…

This is a lovely tree behind the main building at Upaya Zen Center.

While I was there, I named it The Hugging Tree.

But I need to back up for a second…

I’ve written about my mentor, Lois, before.  Lois was not a Buddhist.  She was an incredibly spiritual being who was a breast cancer survivor, AIDS activist, diversity champion, social worker, healer, and probably what she was known for more than anything. . . the world’s BEST hugger.

Yes, I am sure if there was an award, she would have received it.

Lois held nothing back in her hugs. . . just like her life. . .

When Lois gave you a hug, you knew that you were being hugged.

Fully body, toe to toe, thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder kind of hug. . . this was true when she was hugging her partner Wayne, when she was speaking about dying, when she was at the hospital with a client, or when she was comforting a friend after a walk at Radnor Lake.

Lois died the week of the 9/11 attacks.  Even though we lost someone in the attacks, the Lois of such a wise and healing person was hardly eclipsed.

Anyway, while I was walking around Upaya taking photos, I decided to just lean across this tree in the photo above.  It is located near the place where I did my work period, watering the raised beds containing herbs and other greens.

The view was breath-taking and I just settled in.  I put the camera away and just allowed my breath to become deep and centered.  And tremendous grief came up for me.  I leaned deeper into the tree and realized that from the side of the tree I was standing against, the two parts of the tree came up like arms and I felt like I was getting a hug.

Now, it was my first trip to Upaya, and I had not been on retreat in some time.  I didn’t want to turn around and give the tree a proper hug for fear that a call might be made to the local psych unit.  But I stayed there awhile, nonetheless, and allowed myself to be supported by this assuming tree.  I allowed the energy of the tree to embrace me just as the branches and trunk did.

Maybe it was just being so thoroughly opened by the documentary on justice and reconciliation in war-torn areas?  Maybe it was being around the combination of Frank and Roshi Joan who both embodied so many of the things I admired about Lois, her deeply compassionate heart and gentleness that Frank possesses and her fearlessness and strength from Roshi.

Maybe it was just that I was open-hearted unlike I feel like I can be in some situations I find myself in daily.

But I allowed whatever “it” was to come.  I greeted the opportunity to settle in and feel support like I have not felt in a long time.  I felt grounded, connected, and solid, much the way the gathas goes. . . breathing in, I am solid as a mountain, breathing out, I am as free as the river. . .

Whatever was going on, I was very connected to something very ancient that seemed to be wiser than the conscious mind, deeper than  everyday existence. . . in those moments that I laid my head against the branch of this lovely tree, I felt connected to all those healers, shamans, mystics, mothers, fathers, and priests (priestesses) that have been touched by death and were present to the miracles that accompany dying and those they love.

I might not have my lovely friend and mentor any more but I know have her to share with you and with those whose lives I touch.

She has become a doorway into that lineage of masters, teachers, and healers for me.

We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, those who have come and share perennial wisdom and compassion and we honor that in our traditions through prayers, chants, devotionals, etc.

I think it is important that we find ways to embody this connection as well, a true lived-experience, and not only in our hearts and minds.  And it is easy to stay in our hearts as caregivers or in our minds as academics.

At least, for me it is easy to bounce between being in one place or the other and I have to remind myself to be whole, present, and mindful.

So, I made a new friend while I was away.  And I hope it did not mind the name I gave it.  I connected to a great sense of tradition and really deep love, feeling part of such a timeless sangha.

I hope if you ever visit Upaya, you go share your hug and love with this tree.  Or you find a tree or piece of the earth that allows you to open and be present to all the wisdom and good in the world.

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Joan Halifax with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dala...

Joan Halifax with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, at the XIVth Mind and Life Institute conference, 2007, Dharamsala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jack Kornfield, Roshi Joan HalifaxDan SiegelRick Hanson

Jack Kornfield


I’d love to go back to Seattle but I cannot lie, the Vegas conference carries the biggest bang!

I think if you could make it to any of these conferences you would learn a tremendous amount from these giants in the fields of mindfulness, science, therapy, spirituality, and more…




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Original Chögyam Trungpa drawing

Original Chögyam Trungpa drawing (Photo credit: Mattos Gabriela)

“Acts of compassion are eternal; they live forever shining their rays throughout the Universe.” ~~~ Chogyam Trungpa

I found this quote a week or two ago, getting ready for my trip out here to Upaya Zen Center and was trying to get posts ready so I didn’t feel the need to write if I didn’t want to.

What I am struck with, struck like we invite the bell of mindfulness struck, again and again is that there is a simple complexity in life… as caregivers (meaning ALL of us) there are some truths that seem to be more applicable and more important than trying to live my commandments our things outside of ourselves.

What do I mean by that… I mean that compassion, forgiveness, presence, intention are some of the most powerful forces in this world that we know.  They create healing, well-being, foster a sense of community, peace, comfort, kindheartedness, and deep and abounding Love.

I said to someone last night that if I could, you know, the whole magic wand thing… I would want to undo everything that doctors, RNs, and therapists are taught in their professional programs and have them sit on a safe or gomden with people like Ram Dass, Roshi Joan Halifax, Tara Brach, Stephen & Ondrea Levine, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Frank Ostaseski, Roshi Bernie Glassman, etc.  They get it.  They get what true healing is because they have been present to the joys and sorrows, the liberation and the suffering of beings in this lifetime.

Frankly, I don’t want to care what the new DSM says.  I don’t want to know about your ego defenses.  I don’t want to know your attachment type/style.

But what I want to know is what creates suffering for you?

What keeps you from your perfect wisdom, your “holiest” of selves?

What stirs passion in you?

What is it like to be with your thoughts, to be with the moment to moment sensations in your body.

What comes up for you?

What keeps you from being in touch with that?

What keeps you profoundly sad?

And what keeps you from being profoundly compassion and brilliant?

Don’t get me wrong, I would never trade my education in humanistic existential phenomenological psychology.  I would never trade the amazing teachers that I have had scattered amongst the strong brains and hidden hearts of professors.

But what has been most healing to me?

Steven and Ondrea reminding me to have a soft belly.

Roshi Joan’s laughter, great feminine wisdom, and embodied magic.

Frank reminding me to not push away anything.

Bernie taking people to Poland to sit in the snow and recite the names so we NEVER forget the dead or how they died.

This, to me, is the act of true healing.  It is what we gave birth to experience and witness.  This is how we cultivate compassion for ourselves and for this world.

Much gratitude and lovingkindness to all who read this and all who inspired this.

Peace, Jennifer

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Heat arises from the Earth.

Winds slow and stop


The blue is bluer than even possible.

And less cloud cover

seems to be in the sky and

over my being,




I sit at the feet of

two buddhas and a hundred

bodhisattvas and beautifully they

know it and don’t know it.

They know that there is

no other except here and now

and they take all the time in the world

to freely explore in wisdom, in compassion,

in the most honest way possible.

Come in.


Listen gladly,



But Listen

closely with every cell,

connecting to every

atom that exists,

lifetime upon lifetime

that all emerges into one pointedness.

The birds stop

singing and the whole

Earth exhales and pauses.



the clacker.



the bell of mindfulness wipes

away the presence of

everything else.

The edge comes. . .

Beyond the triple gems

and beyond these two buddhas

and hundred bodhisattvas

to a place of great merger

where on the dirt road

I come face to face

with the buddha within.


4/13/12 After teachings at Upaya Zen Center today

As I sit today and drink in everything like a sponge, I am so present and aware of the shoulders I stand upon, the countless beings who have come before me as healers, wise wo(men), shamans, priest(esses), artists, philosophers, physicians, etc who have walked this very earth knowing that being a community is vital to being present to the depth of suffering, joy, and healing in this world.

I am grateful to everyone at Upaya from those cooking and volunteering in the kitchen and nourishing us, to those residents, to my endless circle of teachers that I am privileged to sit amidst.

I feel like my spirit, essence, whatever you may want to call it is going through a detoxification, questioning delusional beliefs I have held lately and very open to a lack of compassion I have had for myself as a being-in-this-world and for those I share this world with.

And I have a more profound love and devotion to my parents, to my original teachers who have loved me in the very best ways they know how.  I honor them and pray that I have been able to and continue into the future to love others as deeply.

With deep gratitude to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha… the three gems, Jennifer

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For those of you who follow my blog, you will see that I have a bit of a new look… the photo for the header has changed form the static one that comes with this “look”.

I actually took the original photo two years ago.  It is at the Japanese Garden of a small volunteer-run botanical garden in the town my parents live in.

I spent a lovely fall day taking photos at the park, with my then, new phone with some great camera apps.

After toying with the idea of what to do to change from the photo that came with this web appearance, I decided to go through my own photos to see if there was anything I liked and I came across this one.  I like the photo in general but when it was cropped to fit the header space, I knew I had found the “one”.


Take a look at the photo.

What I was struck with is that you can see both bridges in the Japanese garden from this angle.  Trust me, I’m not excited about my photography capabilities…. I’m excited because that’s what Namaste Consulting is about… finding your way, your path on the journey and honoring it, no matter what it is.

So, you might take the zigzag approach to life and dying and grieving.  Look at the bridge in the forefront.  It is simple and complex at the same time.

It’s level but it has a lot of twists and turns and you can see so many things around you from so many different angles.

There is a myth that we go over zigzag bridges to get rid of or out run evil spirits.. some say it’s an urban legend.. some say it’s real… All I know is that my life has felt like this kind of bridge in the past…

Then there is the bridge in the background.. large, a centerpiece… a dark red bridge that connects to parts of the park together, arching high over the pond.

It is a beauty scene from the bridge as it is a high point and you can see many parts of the park that you cannot see altogether from other areas.  It is regal.

The point…

… they both bring you to the same place. . . the Japanese Garden of tranquility and peace.  It doesn’t matter how you get there… you get to that healing place.

And that is what I believe therapy does.  I believe that’s what the grief journey does.  I believe that mindfulness helps us learn to be present to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  It teaches us to be here for the journey and to have compassion for whatever is there for us.

So, they say a picture is worth a thousand words and this one was for me.  I hope that you can appreciate the change and why I love the imagery for this site.

I wish you peace, safety, health, and comfort on whatever journey you are on, no matter what path you choose.

Metta, Jennifer

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Meditation (Photo credit: holisticgeek)

Enjoy this 15-minute meditation that I found on Youtube.

I went searching for this because I have been spending a lot of time on the computer lately, doing various things from the blog, to school work, to my “employment” work.

I’ve been finding that I am multitasking all over the place.

One of these days, I expect to find myself driving to Whole Foods (which for me is a very long way away), listening to a cd, munching on something, and checking my ipad because I just got an email. . . . all the while, talking on the phone and listening to my GPS.

No, I promise, I would not do this, but some days it feels like it could happen.  It’s time to get un-hooked.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with technology and all of the sensations that are readily available to us “out there”.  And honestly, they keep us from feelings things “in here”.

Sometimes, I also feel like the more I do the more I find myself to be humming along.  No, I don’t mean humming and whistling show tunes.  I mean humming, like a low-grade anxiety or energy that has taken over and keeps propelling me forward. . . even when I should be standing still and breathing.

We’ve been having unseasonably warm weather this winter and there is a part of me that would like to go to the nearest state park and just sit for a while and listen to nothing-ness.  But, it is really too muddy and too cold.

So, I have choices on what I can do.  I can take 15-minutes and participate along with a video like this.

I can listen to a few minutes of an audiobook by Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron, a podcast by Tara Brach or from Upaya Zen Center  (check the Blog Roll for those links).

Or I can just push away the laptop, turn off the Itunes, not pick up a book, and set a timer for 5, 10, 15 minutes and just sit.  Nothing else, just sit and breathe.

Recently, I’ve purchased an Enzo Pearl Timer.  I do have to say, I am enamoured with it.   I can sit intervals like 20 minutes for sitting meditation, 5 minutes for walking meditation, 20 minutes sitting, etc.  And it has 3 chimes and a wood knocking “chime”.  It’s portable and comes with a small padded case.

And I can take it to my office where I can’t have a mindfulness bell on the computer at work so sometimes I just set many intervals for, say 5 minutes, to just be aware of the time.  Sometimes I set it for 35 minutes so I make sure I get up and walk around.

Use any of these ideas to help you unplug.  Or find your own way.  Give your mind, body, and spirit the gift of quiet and full unrestricted calm breathing.

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