Ten thousand flowers in Spring…

It is May – and Spring has announced its arrival here in the upper valley where I live. The trees are bursting with blossoms and yesterday evening, my daughter and I walked in the neighborhood with the special purpose of smelling the lilacs. Growing up in India, I read about lilacs in novels, but I could not have imagined the incredible scent they carry – rivaling the heavenly scent of the jasmine flowers I grew up with in South India.

When I think of jasmine, the images of freshly picked fragrant buds hand tied into little strings sold in the market comes to my mind. Adorning the braided hair of Indian women, it reminds me of weddings and special occasions and temples. Lilacs on the other hand bring to mind long leisurely walks in New England with my daughter, taking in the heavy clusters of little buds that so freely give their fragrance. Between the two, a whole world lies – ties to the old and opening to the new. Isn’t that what life is all about? This balance between the old and the new, and the potential in this moment for transformation, curiosity, openness and mystery.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

I have been thinking recently of change. Listening to Joseph Goldstein’s recent talk on 10 percent happier on the last three steps of the eight-fold path brought this into the center of my attention. Of course, the season of Spring as well as having a growing child both make it impossible for change to leave my attention fully! Anjali, my 12 year old, is growing like a tall tree – shooting straight up. She takes after her Dad and the women in his family – this morning waking her up, I noticed that she might outgrow her bed at some point! Each day feels precious, each moment when I’m truly present, a moment of awe. How does one hold all of this in one’s heart?

Even as I wonder, I know the answer. One moment at a time, one breath at a time. In this way, we steady our attention and then our attention can attune deeply to change itself as it is unfolding…And as we cultivate the steadiness of mind and heart that can attune to change itself, we uncover the wisdom that comes from a direct experience of this change in our own experience.

We often have a like-dislike-relationship with change, depending on what has changed. Change itself however is impersonal and the very nature of life. Indeed as the quote goes, the only constant in life is change. And the Buddha taught us this radical practice through mindfulness, of turning towards change instead of resisting it. And even when we notice resistance, there is a learning – a direct experience of dukkha, of the suffering that comes from resistance. And this too is important – in recognizing and getting to know dukkha in this intimate way, we cultivate wisdom.

The funny part in all of this dharma (or truth) is that to truly open to wisdom, we have to let go of our agenda and timelines! All we can do is have the intention and let it guide us…As Joseph Goldstein encourages us, our intention sets the direction for our journey, and through the journey of mindfulness and wisdom, we learn to trust that our path will lead to wisdom and freedom. And we appreciate the many moments of beauty along this path.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,

a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter

If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,

this is the best season of your life

Wu Men

May this Spring bring you many moments of ease and beauty!

With love, S.

ps: There is still space in my Intro to Mindfulness course for BIPOC, check it out under my course offerings!

The in-between spaces…

Photo by Ben Young on Pexels.com

I have just finished teaching my five-week course on the mindfulness trainings. Showing up for the sangha, the community of kindred spirits who were taking my class, as they showed up for me, was deeply rooting and grounding. Especially because it carried me through the month of March which always feels like a difficult (and long!) month for me. I felt nourished and grateful! I love teaching mindfulness – it helps me stay committed to my practice in an intentional way.

It has also been lovely this month of April to have a pause from teaching, to allow my practice to unfold more organically and take in the wisdom coming from many directions. Spending a few days in Washington, DC for spring break with my family was a welcome change. And as I return home, getting ready to go back to teaching next week (I am high school teacher), I feel energized and uplifted. And a sense of joy!

The joy is coming through from the constant stream of bird visitors we have had to our home – bright yellow goldfinches, pinkish red house finches, gray-black juncos, bright red cardinal, downy woodpecker, blue-gray nuthatch (I had to look this one up!) – it has been constant – and is bringing us much delight! I have been going out late evenings to hear the frogs and toads in the nearby swamp (thanks to a beaver family that transformed that eco-system!) and there has been such a raucous! One late afternoon last week, on my usual walk in the neighborhood, I caught sight of a beautifully gorgeous turkey vulture about 30 feet from me, taking flight and landing on a nearby tree. I saw the same (or different?) vulture at the exact same spot the next day while walking with my daughter – and we decided to name this special bird Majesty. Seeing Majesty made me literally stop in my tracks and stand in awe. That’s what nature does to us – opens us up to wonder and mystery.

I am fortunate to live in a beautiful landscape and the coming of spring, much anticipated by us, seems to be here. And while holding the realities of climate change and the terrible tragedies around the world that are coming from our ignoring the signs – the certainty that something is wrong if we go from winter to summer in a week – I am also holding this. This deep joy and gratitude for the life that surrounds me, right now. This moment. The daffodils starting to bloom and the day-lilies pushing themselves out of the ground. And I am remembering Mary Oliver’s words from Straight talk by Fox.

I see you in all your seasons

  making love, arguing, talking about God

as if he were an idea instead of the grass,

  instead of the stars, the rabbit caught

in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought

  home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is

responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not

  give my life for a thousand of yours.

Mary oliver

Please do check back for my next offering, which will be an intro to mindfulness course for the BIPOC community here in the Upper Valley and elsewhere in the world – the nice part of offering it online is that the world is suddenly a smaller place! And BIPOC or not, you are welcome to listen to the recordings of my guided meditations from my recent course, posted under the Guided Meditations tab.

Be well, take care and may spring be in your every step!



Sunrise Ruby

Photo by Tommes Frites on Pexels.com

As a busy week winds down, it is time to turn inwards towards stillness. This cold weekend extends a perfect invitation to do just that! Even as mercury retrograde is over (astrologically, Mercury retrograde is a period to turn inwards) and mercury is leaving its retrograde shadow, we reflect on where we are and move towards embodying our deepest self. We move towards what is skillful, what nourishes us and restores us into presence. This movement requires a courage and willingness to look towards the places in ourselves and in our relationships where we still operate from fear and reactivity, and to bring gentle kindness, love and understanding. The intimacy with these dark places allows us to bring light in, and shine that light outwards into the world. And what a gift that is to the world!

I’m always surprised when I turn towards my own fear and reactivity. I notice the resistance towards this process of making this U-turn (as Tara Brach calls it) until I become conscious of the fact that the charge in my inner heart and the obsessive thinking in my mind is painful. And when I turn towards my pain, it inevitably brings me face to face with enormous love, care and great gentleness. The courage is simply making the choice to turn towards dukkha, the rest usually unfolds naturally. And this process of transformation from within brings such joy!

I have been thinking of Christina Feldman’s words on tranquility, whose course on Essential Mindfulness I have been grateful to take this January. She talks about tranquility as a calming of the agitation of the mind. This calming, this tranquility, this willingness to be with our own discomfort and the joy that arises naturally as a result, is the process of uncovering our own inner wisdom, goodness, our sweetness. I love the word sweetness – it reminds me of the sanskrit word rasa – meaning flavor. This sweet flavor, this nectar is both the result of our practice and the path itself. The more we take this in, the more we abide naturally here. And we become like the sunrise ruby Rumi talks about:

“There is nothing left of me.
I’m like a ruby held up to the sunrise.
Is it still a stone, or a world
made of redness? It has no resistance
to sunlight.”

Rumi (translated by coleman barks)

May your path towards uncovering your own sweet rasa unfold with grace!

With Love, S.

Finding refuge in kindness and community

Photo by Marek Okon on Unsplash

I love this image of the Buddha supported by the tree branches – and resting.

Yesterday, Saturday, December 10th, 2022, thirty of us gathered – some in person and most online for a retreat I co-taught with my teacher Doreen Schweizer, my first time attending a retreat in the role of a teacher. Doreen Schweizer has been my primary dharma anchor and teacher – and someone who has inspired me to become a teacher myself. When Doreen reached out to me a couple of months ago asking me if I would co-teach the December retreat – an annual offering in the Valley Insight community, one which I have myself attended several times – I was thrilled! Over the last couple of months, we met a few times – to talk through the process – everything from the title and the intention to the structure of the days which involved an optional pre-retreat gathering on Friday evening and a day-long on Saturday. Through the meetings and along with many emails, there was joy – our spiritual friendship deepened and I have learned so much working alongside a veteran and wise teacher whom I trusted in completely and felt a deep metta connection with. 

Finally the retreat evening dawned, though not without some personal hurdles. Over the past week, my body developed an allergic reaction of some sort, breaking out into hives. It started on Tuesday night – and progressively worsened during the week. Hives are not new to my body – they are a familiar visitor but do not visit not often enough for me to have coping strategies lined up. After racking my brain this week, I realized this was probably a reaction to the covid booster shot I took a couple of weeks ago. Exhausted on Friday morning, I finally called my Doc and managed to get an appointment in – and get some medication to soothe. 

Part of what also unfolded was the resurfacing of my own doubts – will I be able to make this retreat? Will I be able to hold the container for others? Most of all, the thought – did I jinx this with my own excitement and joy? I’m sure this is something many of us can relate with. 

The journey from fear to love is sometimes a single step. A single thought. If this was meant to be, it will be. All I can do is show up. At night, laying in bed, I allowed mindfulness to take over. Itchiness. Heat. discomfort. Sensations. Compassion. Passing away. Arising again. My husband’s gentle hands soothing the itchiness in my back. receiving care from him. My daughter’s concern. This was the practice. This was my practice for the retreat! 

The medication received from my doctor on Friday evening worked wonders. I had almost no symptoms on the retreat day. Wow! Sweet gratefulness. I could be present, attentive and kind. My practice deepened in teaching this retreat with Doreen and holding the space for the participants, many of whom are my dear spiritual friends, and who brought their commitment, presence, resolve and kindness. 

Most of all, there was gratitude. Support from so many to make this retreat possible. Opening of hearts to being touched by boundless friendliness and peace.

It’s another beginning, my friend, this waking in a morning with no haze, and help coming without your asking! A glass submerged is turning inside the wine. With grief washed away, sweet gratefulness arrives.

Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, in the collection ‘The glance’

To live each day as if it were your last…

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To live each day as if it were your last…these are the words that came to my mind as I was biking the last up hill stretch on the road leading to my home. My nearly 12-year old daughter had already made it to the top. We had taken a very pleasant bike ride on a cool summer cloudy afternoon when it had threatened to rain. It was one of our last days of summer vacation before school began for both of us. If this were my last day, would I be happy? Would I be content with the way my life has unfolded? Would I be at peace?

Even though I have been practicing metta and mindfulness for many years and now am training to be a mindfulness teacher, there are many moments in my day when I am not awake. I am in a trance/dreamlike state where it feels like I am here, but life is not in full focus. I only realize this when I return to the present moment – and how fresh and alive it feels! And here is an opportunity. To realize that I am NOW awake – instead of berating myself for being away. As Joseph Goldstein points out in a recent 10 percent happier episode, this is a helpful way of practicing. My teacher Tara Brach says this over and over again – this (moment when we return) is a moment of re-member-ing and re-relaxing in the body.

‘It does not matter how long we have been unconscious. We are groggy, but let the guilt go. Feel the motions of tenderness around you. the buoyancy‘.


So as I rode up the hill, I remembered this question – what if this day were my last. Would I be ok?

I think I would be very grateful! For having a life more beautiful than anything I could have imagined. For having just enough suffering and pain for me to reach for and stay on a spiritual path; for having more than enough joy for me to have balance; and for having equanimity – the letting go of wanting anything more! More than anything, for being present, here and right now. If this were my last day, I would be grateful to be here and be with the people I love.

How about you? Are you living this day as if it were your last? If not, what is in the way? Can you ask this question with great tenderness and kindness so that you can really listen to the response from your heart?

In kindness, S.

Living itself as a friend…

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside, looking into the shining world? Because, properly attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion. Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit to no labor in its cause?’ -Mary Oliver

I love these words by Mary Oliver and I believe them whole heartedly! At its core, walking a spiritual path requires discipline, it requires commitment and labor, it requires showing up when things are good and showing up when things are not so good. It requires sitting on the cushion when we feel alert and balanced and full of vigor and also when we feel tired and sleepy and not so full of vigor! Above all, it requires letting go of purpose and agenda…and trusting that wherever we are is exactly where we need to be.

‘Be courageous and discipline yourself…Work. Keep digging your well. Don’t think about getting off from work. Water is there somewhere.’, says Rumi. All these wise words point to showing up and doing the work.

And yet, how do we respond when we forget to show up? That too is part of the practice! Do we berate ourselves and pile on the self judgement or do we soften in tenderness for the challenging life circumstances that have prevented us from coming to our mat, or cushion? Above all, do we give ourselves permission to begin over?

Beginning over and over is the practice. And we do it not because its what we should do, but because we have a choice and it’s what we choose to do. And every time we choose to begin over, we open the door to spontaneous joy, the joy that arises from making time to listen to our soul, our spirit, the inner most voice inside that speaks only when we become silent… And that spontaneous joy that ‘comes and sits softly on my shoulder’ (in the words of Thoreau) gives me the courage to stay on the path.

So, here is to discipline and joy and supporting each other on the path…

With metta, S

Ps: please enjoy my latest collage for which I used Brush Dance’s Rumi calendar from 2007 as backdrop…

In taking the photograph, the reflection of the window adds an interesting dimension! The words at the bottom are from Rumi as well.

Lessons from the ocean…

What is it about the ocean that brings such peace? Is there anything that I could say that has not been said before, and more eloquently than others?

Even so, I’m going to try to capture some felt experiences of being at the beach this past week in Maine:

  • Things arise and they pass away. If you pay attention, you can just discern a wave crashing, even as another is rising…and it is a never ending cycle. Just like the breath. That is comforting. It also reminded me of a powerful realization that my breath will be with my until the moment I die! Literally. So, if I am ever terrified or scared, I just need to remember to breathe. I actually understood what Rumi meant by: ‘Don’t let your throat tighten with fear. Take sips of breath all day and night!’.
  • What wild abandon looks like. My daughter Anjali is a water lover and a good swimmer. At nine, she sits down on the sand and lets the waves crash over her. She jumps into waves. She runs a race with them. She lays down and allows the ocean to embrace her. I have never met anyone like her, with no fear, and no self-consciousness. And the water was ice-cold! It was inspiring and it pushed me to let go a little bit of control. To let go, and lean in. Into the unknown and the uncertainty of this moment!
  • Thoughts arise and pass. We don’t have to act on them. We can, if we choose to. But there is that moment of choice, and in that moment also abides the freedom. If only we can slow down. It is easy to slow down by the ocean, to be lulled into the state of being, witnessing and abiding in love.
  • When we relax into the moment, give up our plans and agendas, we actually have more energy! I found that I had boundless energy to go with the flow, and at the end of the day, I felt at peace. No resistance, no pushing away.
  • So much beauty surrounds us. We can so easily take it for granted. Especially now, more than ever, we see our surroundings with new eyes. ‘A feeling of fullness comes, but usually it takes some bread to bring it. Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.’ (Rumi)
  • Appreciating the body. The body without which experience on this earth would not be possible. As Mary Oliver says in ‘Red bird explains himself’, “for truly the body needs a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work, the soul has need of a body, and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable beauty of heaven“.

So, let’s breathe. Feel the ocean within us. And ‘enjoy this being washed with a secret we sometimes know, and then not’ (Rumi)

With prayers and love,

Mindfulness teacher training program…

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From the time I attended my first meditation retreat, I have been drawn to the practice of sitting and looking within. When I sit on my cushion, everything becomes clearer. Initially, I tried my hand at zen meditation, mindfulness in the Thich Nhat Hanh lineage, meditation with Sally Kempton and other techniques before I found the insight tradition in 2007. Each of these practices have their own wisdom and flavor. With insight meditation, it just felt like home; perhaps because it is less structured and more flexible than other practices. But it wasn’t until my first metta retreat in 2008 that I really felt like I came home. Perhaps it is Michele Mcdonald’s way of teaching, or the timing, but my soul deeply recognized the need for the loving-kindness, for unconditional love as a practice to cultivate mindfulness and wisdom.

Becoming a mom in 2010 changed my life profoundly in many ways and you can read about my first year for free on Kindle! In particular, I had less time for longer retreats, and more opportunities to practice mindfulness in daily life! With kids, especially when they are younger, you run into the same challenges over and over and there is plenty of opportunity for the practice of starting anew!

Anjali will be nearly ten this Fall. Time has flown by. And somehow organically, it feels like the right time to deepen my own practice. I’m excited to share the news that I have been accepted into a two-year mindfulness teacher training program, that will begin in Feb 2021. I learned about the program from Doreen Schweizer, my teacher with Valley Insight. It is taught by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach and the way it is structured appealed to me immediately! The application and acceptance happened quickly! And while the program won’t begin until winter 2021, I’m currently doing one of the prerequisite courses this summer, a seven week course called the Power of Awareness.

How do I describe what it is like to dive into this course? It is like smelling a rose all over again, as if for the first time. Or sinking into the soft sands of the beach after being away. Sure you have been in ponds and lakes, but we are now talking about being back at the ocean! You know that feeling?

The lessons involve talks, instructions for home practice, journaling and guided meditations as well as community mentoring zoom sessions. It is forcing me to be more disciplined about sitting for at least 20 minutes everyday, which sometimes feels like a challenge. And yet, what I am discovering is a joy, a happiness, even a delight, in doing something I have always loved!

I think of this practice as remembering presence, or maintaining a continuity in the train of mindfulness, during the course of the day. There are more moments in each day that I am aware of my body and emotions. Of course, there are plenty of moments when familiar patterns of reactivity still arise, and sometimes I am able to see them more clearly. I’m noticing resistance at times to new ways of meditating, while at other times, the mindfulness practice feels very complementary to metta. As Rumi reminds us, ‘There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’

Sometimes I wonder how I could possibly train to be a meditation teacher! I love meditating but I don’t always like talking afterward! Will I have the wisdom necessary? Or the patience? On the other hand, there are definitely moments when I am day dreaming of what talks I will give as a teacher! LOL! And I haven’t even started the training program yet! When that or this happens, I notice, smile, and let it go. Come back to this moment, right here, right now. And begin again.

With love, S.

Abiding in loving-kindness…

Abiding in loving-kindness or metta has this slow flowering quality of opening our hearts. It doesn’t ask for us to be perfect, but simply that we are willing to aspire and practice to be unconditionally loved and loving.

As many of you know, I am drawn deeply by the ecstasy, joy, truth, contradiction and union in Rumi’s poetry. I love reading Coleman Barks’ introduction in his many books of Rumi poetry, about the story of how Rumi and Shams met and how their friendship began, outside of time. When Shams disappeared, Rumi journeyed and looked for him everywhere, until one moment, one day, he realized that Shams was within him. And out of that union came so many of his songs and poems celebrated throughout the world. As Rumi says, “when living itself becomes the Friend, lovers disappear.”

When I attended my first metta retreat with Michele Mcdonald back in 2008, it was my first taste of this unconditional love and friendship. In metta, we concentrate on phrases/wishes of well-being for our benefactor; not with the aim of controlling their happiness or well-being, but to gently ease into and abide into our own heart’s capacity to love and wish others well, independent of their accomplishments or qualities. We start with the benefactor, because this is our ‘easy’ person, the person for whom wishing well comes easily to us. As we practice, our hearts expand in friendship and good will and then it becomes easier to extend those wishes to ourselves, neutral and more difficult people, in that order. Ultimately, our aspiration is to wish all beings on earth this same unconditional good will and friendship, as we would wish for our dearest ones.

Being a parent offers a beautiful doorway to practice this metta journey. When I sit in meditation and begin with metta for my daughter, Anjali, it is easy to wish her well. Her sweet face fills my consciousness and brings me immense joy. Not because of her accomplishments or certain qualities she possesses, but simply because of who she is. A radiant being of light and joy, for whom my wishes of friendship, health, safety and love flow easily and naturally. When I abide in the love I feel for her, and slowly turn it like a mirror towards myself, this magical alchemy occurs. I too am worthy of the same love that I extend to my child. Sometimes I find myself wondering who is the mother and who is the child.

Moon and clouds are the same. Mountain and valley are different. All are blessed; all are blessed. Is this one? Is this two?” – Wu-Men.

This abiding in unconditional love and friendship is the state from which we can then act in the world. Can we extend that same unconditional love to difficult people in our lives? This is certainly more challenging but as we keep coming back to the practice, our heart slowly opens and learns to relate in a new way to others. Extending this good will does not mean we condone others’ unskillful actions. But it allows us to respond from a place of wisdom and grace, simply because we acknowledge that we are all human, imperfect and worthy of love, friendship and respect.

I cannot say that I can love all human beings the way I love my daughter. If I did, I would be an enlightened being. Instead, I am very much imperfect, impatient with myself, insecure at times, trying too hard, demanding at times. But in loving her, I am discovering a far greater capacity for love and healing than I ever thought possible. Always remembering patience and diligence. And that, as Daniel Mead puts it beautifully in his poem, “A flower cannot be opened with a hammer.

May all beings abide in this friendship and metta,

With love, S.

ps: Please note that all Rumi references in this post are translations by Coleman Barks. If you would like a recommendation of his poetry, my favorite is his book ‘The Glance’.

Creative magic…

Growing up, my sister and I did not have a lot of dolls. In total, we had two barbies. And the way we played with them was that we created this whole house for them using stools for rooms, and the basket in which we kept our clothes, as their bed. We made shoes for them from clay, and furniture for the rooms using blocks. Sometimes we played with cut-out dolls for whom we used to make paper clothes. My sister is five years younger than me, and I remember playing dolls with her until I was quite old actually – nearly 13.

I was reminiscing about those days, while cleaning up Anji’s doll house last night. I am usually taken aback by how lightly she treats her toys, and how messy the doll house looks (perhaps a window into her future house-keeping skills!? ) . But then, she has so many stuffies and Lotties! So of course she takes them lightly. Showing her a different reality from the one she has, without sounding like I am preaching, is a difficult balance, one that I am not always successful with. But last night, as I was sharing with her my own childhood memories, I could tell she was really listening to why it was important to me that she take care of her things.

And then today I did something I have not done in a long time – I played with Anji and her dolls. Mostly, I was an observer with occasionally supplying a dialogue or two. In the story she came up with, they went camping in the middle of the night – all the dolls woke each other up, and then they took their bikes to go camping and watch the stars. Listening to her playing was such a fun and delightful way to spend a hot afternoon!

I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’, and it resonates with me that we are all fundamentally creative, it is ingrained inside us, and each of us are creative in different ways. And thinking about growing up with my dolls last night reminded me that it too was an outlet for creative expression. Just like seeing the beautiful Rangoli designs growing up in India, or henna designs at street corners by artisans who could fill your whole arm within minutes. Creativity has so many expressions and there is something so fun and enjoyable about experimenting with the magic that draws us towards it – whether it be trying your hand at a new genre of writing or taking up drawing lessons or trying new recipes in the kitchen… Whether it is redecorating the interiors of our home or putting together a bouquet of flowers, creativity demonstrates itself in little and big ways.

And by doing the things we love, we are better people to be around! I definitely agree with Gilbert on that sentiment. I love meditation because it makes me really happy to set aside some time for myself and witness my thoughts. And I am happier when I engage with my practice in new ways. It is the same with doing henna on my hands (and neighbors’ hands and Anjali’s feet sometimes when she will let me…).

Creativity is something that takes our lives from the mundane to the sublime. So I leave you today with one of my favorites from Rumi:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty

and frighened. Don’t open the door to the study

and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

I would love to hear about how you kneel and kiss the ground…

Namaste, S.