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’

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’.

The life-changing in-betweens…

It has been so long since I wrote in this space, that today when I looked at the title of my blog:

Dharma notes…

…about life, being a Mom, and all the craziness and life-changing awesomeness and the in-betweens!

I realized that right now is the life-changing in-betweens: a period of uncertainty that is also be life-changing. It is difficult to witness the changes in our lives and those around us, especially those who are struggling to keep their livelihoods and their lives. When we encounter the stress of living with uncertainty, in ourselves and others, quoting Sylvia Boorstein, how can we be anything but kind?

Kindness can come in many forms. One way I’ve been mindful of practicing kindness is by paying attention to my speech. What am I bringing into this world through my words and action? The Buddha’s advice regarding skillful speech is to practice speech that is truthful, helpful, kind and timely. It is something that we have to keep holding in our minds and hearts. Are our words timely and helpful, rather than fearful or blameful. Do they help others? Are our words necessary? Sometimes silence can be more helpful than unkind speech. How can we practice non-judgment towards others? And can we hold ourselves with compassion as we navigate this all new terrain of living our lives within our homes and practicing seclusion and solitude.

I have been thinking of this zen poem recently:

My daily affairs are quite ordinary;

but I’m in total harmony with them.

I don’t hold on to anything, don’t reject anything;

nowhere an obstacle or conflict.

Who cares about wealth and honor?

Even the poorest thing shines.

My miraculous power and spiritual activity:

drawing water and carrying wood.

Layman P’ang

So simple, this instruction in mindfulness. next time you are washing dishes or cooking for your family, when you are zoom-ing or working out, can you be in total harmony? Being present is the antidote to a frantic and anxious mind. We train to keep coming back to this moment, to the daily affairs so ordinary, to the poorest things that shine. And we do this with gentleness and compassion.

May we all abide in loving-kindness, and may be abide in the clear mind that comes from practicing skillful speech,


Metta and the Celestine Prophecy…

Recently, I finished the novel, ‘The Celestine prophecy’ by James Redfield. A dear friend of mine recommended it, and once I began the book, I couldn’t put it down. The book is written in first person about the spiritual seeker who goes on this journey to discover nine key insights written about in an ancient manuscript found in Peru. In the vein of ‘The Alchemist’, it is not about knowing what the insights are, but direct experience of them that transforms our narrator. As I started to talk to other friends about the book, I discovered that this book was huge when it was published. But that was in the mid 90s when I was about 15! No wonder I had missed this book.

De focused path on sunset natural bokeh background

Rather than telling you about the insights, I can say this: much of what James Redfield writes about is very relatable right now. He writes about energy flow in the universe and how we can connect to the source of this energy, and how the interplay of energies works in relationships.

What I found so interesting is how much this connects to the practice of metta. When we begin metta, it is very much about sending well-wishes to our benefactors, ourselves and close ones. And then we slowly expand our circle to include neutral people in our lives and then the difficult people in our lives who are harder for us to send metta to. The ultimate metta goal, if there is one, is to be able to wish all beings well, to send wishes for happiness, peace, love and friendship to everyone unconditionally. And to notice as we do so, that we too are receiving the gifts of metta. Several buddhist texts talk about the benefits to the person practicing metta. Theravadan Buddhist monk Bhante Gunaratana outlines the ways meditation can benefit our mind and our body in this Tricycle article. The list includes peaceful sleep and a radiant and joyful complexion! In a talk given by Ajahn Achalo on Insight timer, he talks about the confidence that practicing metta can bring us!

The practice of metta changed the course of my practice and my life; it is definitely for me the centering practice. When I am off balance, I know it is a sign to return to metta. And as a math teacher, it provides a wonderful opportunity for me to practice going beyond each student’s strengths and weaknesses to wishing every student well, no matter their ability or their personality.

Interestingly, what I have also found is that the more I practice metta, or stay connected to love and friendliness, the more energy there is to give others. It feels more natural to respond to desires and needs of others without draining myself out. Obviously I am not an enlightened being and I have my own issues, but these too are more manageable with practicing metta and karuna (compassion) towards myself and my family.

I also found it interesting that the writer talks about how more and more beings are drawn to this path; I certainly found that when I was at Kripalu a couple of weeks ago, there were so many many more people coming for retreats than there were about 15 years ago when I went to Kripalu for the first time! The sangha that I have been part of locally for the last decade or so has also grown tremendously in the recent years!

If you haven’t read this book or it has been a while, I hope you will go to your local library and grab a copy. I leave you with this poem Love of God, by Dante that directly resonates with this topic:

The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
     flows into a pure soul the way that light
     rushes into a transparent object.
The more love that it finds, the more it gives
     itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
     the more complete the joy of heaven is.
And the more souls who resonate together,
     the greater the intensity of their love,
     and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.

-English version by Stephen Mitchell.

Namaste, S.

Sing your song…

I’ve wanting to write in my blog these past few weeks, but nothing materializes. Somehow I don’t have the words to describe all that I feel. When I try words, they seem cliched, trivial and I know my life experience is anything but that. So much has been happening, each day, each week, I can hardly keep up. I don’t mean externally – my life is a simple one for the most part – family, work and play. Internally, it is a different story. I have moments each day when everyone makes sense and I am magically alive. I spend several moments each day, lost in trance – of being elsewhere – not quite in the moment. I have come to recognize those moments with fondness – they allow me to soften. Making the turn and seeing a familiar face, or walking into a shop and seeing somebody I know, or simply walking sometimes. A lot of times, while driving. My judgments for wandering have diminished leaving a strange comaraderie for myself. This is me – imperfect. and my attention wanders. Lets return. and I do.

I have moments when I am caught in the anguish, of feeling that I am not enough. Frustration that I cannot be more, do more. And somehow, I notice, and they pass. The moments I feel most alive are when I am in nature, and when I stop and appreciate whatever is in front of me. It happens a lot when I am with my daughter – she forces me to pause. Its like she sees this beautiful being in me that makes me stop and figure out if I can catch a glimpse of this being in me too. Such love, a daughter brings. such joyful play and appreciation.

So, tonight, before I go to bed, I will be sneaking into my daughter’s room to watch her tonight. I hope you too have something that makes your heart smile.

I leave you with this…

Sing your song

life isn’t all that long
so take this moment
to sing your song

sing it wildly,
belt out loudly
let everyone hear

that heartful voice
inside of you
loud and clear

no one else can sing it
the way you do, not quite,
there is no other you

so take this moment,
pause for a minute
get ready and sing…!

With Love, S.

Twilight moments…

I am a twilight fan. There. I said it! I have been dreading this moment. It all started harmlessly enough. Sitting with Abhi on the couch, browsing through netflix, we came across Twilight among recent new releases on Netflix. I remembered vaguely enjoying it a few years ago, so we watched it that night. I am a sucker for love stories. Abhi, noticing my obvious enjoyment of Bella and Edward’s love story went ahead and ordered the whole saga for me. Mistake. Not that I’m not hugely appreciative – but mistake nonetheless. I ended up watching each installment of the saga over the period of a week. That is 5 movies of 2 hours each, so about 10 hours in total. This may not seem like much to some of you – but I’m somebody who doesn’t get very attached to TV series. Or rather, I’m impressionable so I practice restraint. The few shows I watch – and have watched – Downton Abby, Parenthood, Baking shows, to name a few – are in moderation because they only show one episode a week. I avoid crime, violence and intense drama because they get into my head. And I get bored by watching the same show for more than a couple of days. Hence, imagine my puzzlement when I found myself anxious to return each night after Anji’s bedtime, to the next chapter in vampire romance!

Clearly, this was against all odds. I could think of so many reasons why I should’t be watching this saga. Top of the list was that this series does not make any sense. And yet, drawn I was, like a moth to a flame night after night. My sweet husband valiantly watched all of them with me – that is how much he loves to spend time with me. I felt terrible for putting him through the ordeal! But stop, I could not.

Finally the last of Breaking Dawn finished and I realized how much of a lesson I was really learning. Other than my own self-judgment criticizing staying up late and any related thought that arose harmlessly in my mind, there was no problem really. But that is forgetting exactly how entrenched my self-judgment really is! I struggled with pushing away innocent thoughts of Forks as I drove on new england roads. ‘Go away!’, I said. And of course that didn’t work!

And finally, one night tossing and turning, berating myself and my mind, I came into softening. There was really nowhere else to go. My mind and heart softened. I chanted metta phrases every time a thought or scene from the movies arose in my mind. ‘May I be happy, may I be peaceful!’, I repeated over and over.. All night, my body and face kept softening intentionally until I realized: here was the practice! This was what Twilight had led me to. The workings of my own mind, observing, witnessing and accepting all of my thoughts. and softening and embracing my own loving heart. When I woke up in the morning, all was calm, my face and heart was shining.

I am a twilight fan. I adore the story of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. There I said it. I’m not proud but I still love the goofball teenager inside me!

Peace to you,

The goldfinches…

Greetings on a rainy spring day from New England. As I type this blog, two goldfinches are right outside our window at the bird feeder, patiently having their meal/snack. They are not multi-tasking, they are not talking, they are in the moment, eating. Nothing else. Isn’t that cool!? That feels like a luxury these days. How any days have you been completely mindful of what you are eating in the moment, and not multi-tasking (or thinking other thoughts/planning? ). For me, it is very few. Mostly by the time I remember, I am at the last few bites, which I try at least to remember to eat mindfully.

While there is so much I want to write about: about why it has been so long since I wrote in this space and what is happening in my world and about the realizations and insights and circumstances of my life, what I find myself writing about, are these gold finches.

Right now, one waits patiently in the branch while the others complete their feed. They don’t fight, there seems no animosity or sense of ‘lack’. The bird on the branch seems as content waiting as the bird on the feeder. When I saw this the first time, I thought it was pretty cool, especially since this bird feeder is only about a month old. After the long winter, surely there must be a dearth of food. I would have thought they would be fighting. Atleast if they were human beings, they probably would. They never seem to. And again, they seem to bring this complete presence to the moment, a simplicity of purpose.

Sometimes, bigger birds come by to see what the fuss is about. We have seen a blue jay and a pigeon in addition to robins. They seem to lose interest once they realize the feeder is too small for them. They don’t seem to disturb the smaller birds. which in itself is interesting to me.

Among the smaller birds, we have seen chickadees, other finches, the junco in particular and the goldfinches and sparrows. It strikes me again and again how colorful and cool and completely accepting of others, each bird appears to be. I find myself looking forward to seeing these little ones every day. Its like this greeting they bring to our lives, without which something is incomplete.

In honor of these birds, let me end with a beloved Rumi quote as translated by Coleman Barks:

Birds make great, sky-circles of their freedom.

How do they learn it? They fall. And in falling

Are given wings


If you would like, do check out Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Invitation’, another favorite of mine, about goldfinches in particular.

Peace and metta to you,



Happenings on Winter Break…

One of the best things about my job as a high school teacher is that when Anjali has a snow day at her preschool, I do too. And when she has winter break, so do I. Hallelujah!

I had a lot of plans last weekend, facing an entire week ahead of time in the mornings to myself (with Anji at art camp). Time to catch up on work, have coffee with friends, saunter along on the main street, and do yoga and read poetry. On Monday morning, things were off to a good start. I did some work and went to yoga class after dropping off Anji. And then I went to pick up Anji. As soon as I saw her, I knew something was off. She was sitting in a daze, and looking…well.. a bit ashen. We came home and she threw up. One of many throw ups. Followed then were two days of my being dedicated mom to sick child. Lots of lap time, reading books (or same books over and over again) and cuddling with my little one. Comforting tears, cleaning up messes, and giving hugs.

Once I let my agendas drop, it was nice to pause and slow down. Anji is usually so much on the move all the time – that it was nice to snuggle with her as much as I did. We listened to sounds – to snow trucks clear the drive ways, the sound of water dripping after a shower, and to sounds of waves on our phone. Time paused. We saw Aamir Khan in ‘Taare Zameen Par’ painting with eight year old boy Ishaan. We made cookies (though of course Anji didn’t want any) and we slept a lot. Or she slept and while she did, I sat next to her and graded papers. And every now and then, looking at her sleeping face resting in complete surrender and peace, I felt a welling of tenderness. A reminder of the fleetingness of time.

So, time comes a full circle – sometimes in a short time. On this friday morning, I have dropped off Anji at her art camp, happy and herself again. She managed to eat some breakfast (miracle!) and with a peppy smile, waved a big good bye to me from the window as I drove off. What a sweet start to the morning.

There are some things we could never plan for, that turn out to be the sweetest of all things – moments that we cherish, love that fills our hearts and a softness that carries through our smile to others. May yours be a day with some or all of these things.

With Love, S.