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Posts tagged ‘mindfulness’

Love and Light Always, johnny: notes on living well and dying a good death

I’ve been blogging about mindfulness since 2009 and have received some deeply touching comments and emails in response from people all over the world through years. I received this email in 2014 from a man named johnny:


I’m posting my reply here, because I think we could all use some reminders about how to live well and die well every now and then.


Dear johnny,

Thank you for writing to me. 

One of my first meditation teachers used to say that in our everyday life, we die a million little deaths, and these little deaths help to prepare us for our bigger death. Know that all of the little deaths that you have handled with grace (as well as those that you have handled without grace)—the pains, heartaches, losses, and other forms of suffering—have prepared you for this moment, and trust yourself. We all want a good life and a good death. Life and the dying process both are filled with moments of meaning, connection, love, and joy as well as moments of pain and suffering. 

Know that each present moment continues to offer you an opportunity to prepare for a good death by simply being present in each moment and attempting to meet whatever arises in each passing moment with acceptance and compassion. 

A number of years ago in my daily meditation practice, I said the following intention: “I am cultivating the capacity to be present with whatever arises.” I said this several times throughout each day for days, months, years. Sometimes I still say it. I have experienced a good deal of challenges and loss in my life, and having the intention to be present with an attitude of acceptance and compassion toward whatever arises in my life has helped me to navigate the difficult moments with much greater ease and less suffering. 

Try to take your last bit of time moment by moment as much as you can. This can serve to help get you through any fear, pain, or other difficult emotions. See if you can try to focus on “This is happening, now what?” and if thoughts arise related to wanting your situation to be other than it is in this moment, see if you can practice trying to have an attitude of acceptance. Fighting what is happening only increases suffering. When we can turn toward our experience with acceptance and compassion, we may still feel physical or emotional pain, but it can ease the suffering. As the saying goes, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. 

If there are words left unsaid, say them or write them to your loved ones, even if all you can get out it is “I love you,” or “I’m sorry.” If you hold resentment or regrets in regards to yourself or others, try to hold an intention for forgiveness toward yourself and toward those people. Know that you are a person who is worthy of love, mercy, and peace. Know that you have done the best that you could do, and like all of us, you are an imperfect being simply because you are human. This, more than ever, is a time for turning inward and trusting your own experience, letting go, and being present to each moment as it arises.  

If you are processing regrets, may you also recall the ways in which you have made meaning of your life, the ways in which you have loved well, the ways in which you have touched others’ lives and will be remembered. 

What matters most to you during your last days, hours, minutes? Whose company do you desire to keep? What do you wish to see? I like to imagine that I will die lying in bed looking out a window into nature, surrounded by a few quiet loved ones who are comfortable just being present with me and not filling the space with mindless chatter. I like to imagine that I will say, “No” to seeing the people who don’t add to my sense of peace. I like to imagine that I, along with the support of loved ones, will protect my sense of peace. This is your life and your death, and I encourage you to choose what matters most to you during this process. 

I am sending you a link to my loving-kindness meditation in hopes that you may find some comfort in listening. 

Your email is a gift and has touched me deeply. I will always remember you. I am holding you in my heart and sending wishes for peace. 

I hope that my words have brought you some comfort. May you dwell in your heart. May you find comfort in the rhythm of your own breath. May you be free from suffering. May you be healed. May you be at peace.

Love and Light Always to you as well, 



I don’t know johnny, how he found my blog, whether he read my reply, or how long he lived. But I’ll always remember him.

This post goes out to all of us who are trying to live intentionally and meet whatever arises in each moment with an open heart. It goes out to my students, clients and friends who are dying or who have recently passed on. Your courage continually inspires me. May we all open our hearts to more fully embrace the beauty and complexity of living and dying.

Love and Light Always,




Mindfulness & Self-Compassion

One of the best kept secrets about being human is that most of our suffering is not personal. Even though much of the time we compare our insides to other people’s outsides and often conclude that everyone else is ok and we are not, it’s not personal. Most of our suffering is simply a part of our human nature. That feisty inner critic in your mind? Most of us wrestle with it until we learn skillful means for making peace with it, which is entirely possible, by the way. One of the things the mind does when we don’t give it a task to do is that it makes commentary about the present moment. The commentary is often critical, and much of the time it’s directed inward toward ourselves. Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to increase grey matter in the area of the brain that relates to empathy and compassion, so just meditating regularly will grow your self-compassion, as will bringing mindful awareness to the moments in which you’re being unkind to yourself, pausing, and engaging in a merciful act of kindness toward yourself. And just in case your mind is telling you that self-compassion equals self-indulgence, it’s not true. There is a skillful way to develop self-compassion and still hold ourselves accountable.
 If your compassion does not include yourself, it’s incomplete. –Jack Kornfield

Making Intentional Choices



This is the age of the opening of the heart in a more collective way, for only through the forces of the heart can humanity become aware of the travails Earth undergoes, to actually feel Earth as a living Being, and consciously join our being with hers. –Robert Sardello

When we cultivate mindfulness, our self-awareness grows. When we open our hearts and cultivate self-compassion, our compassion for other beings and for the Earth increases. We can either walk through this life on auto-pilot, making choices based on what feels good or easy in the moment and spend our energy dealing with the impact of those choices on our bodies, hearts, minds and the Earth; or we can begin to wake up, open our hearts, cultivate a daily mindfulness practice, and make intentional choices that reflect a deep commitment to our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of the Earth. When we make intentional choices, we reap the benefit of those choices. What choices can you make in this moment and the next that reflect a commitment to take 100% responsibility for your own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of the Earth? Live intentionally. Choose how your life unfolds.



The Heart of Self-Compassion half-day retreat. Saturday July 16, 2016  9am – 12pm in Wilmington, NC. **This retreat is now full with a wait list.**
Self-compassion is an attitude that anyone can learn to cultivate. Many of us struggle with negative self-talk, perfectionism, and a relentless cycle of beating up on ourselves for our struggles, which can lead to low self-esteem, increased anxiety, and even depression. Isn’t it time you let go of the old ways of relating with yourself that aren’t really working and embrace relating to yourself with kindness and compassion? Research shows that those who cultivate compassion have increased willpower and an easier time with life changes in general. In this half-day retreat, we’ll explore practices from mindfulness meditation, writing, and modern neuroscience for working with the body, breath, and mind to cultivate loving-kindness and self-compassion. Please bring a journal or notebook and a pen.
Location McKay Healing Arts.  Cost: $50  Registration is limited and required.


Valuing Your Wellbeing



Those who value their own wellbeing equally with the world can be trusted with the world. –Lao Tzu

How many of us have truly learned to take 100% responsibility for our own wellbeing? Many of us are taught to take care of everyone else and often do so at the expense of ourselves. Learning to value and care for our own wellbeing creates a solid foundation from which we grow to recognize that we are interconnected with all beings. We can begin with a few minutes of mindfulness practice each morning. The more we practice, the more our awareness grows. Studies show that regular practice of mindfulness increases both awareness and compassion. Imagine what the world would be like if each of us began practicing mindfulness for even a few minutes each day. Close your eyes. Turn the attention to the breath. Notice the rise and fall of the chest and belly with the inhale and the exhale. As soon as you become aware that the attention has wandered, let it go, and begin again by turning the attention once again to the breath.


Receiving Ourselves with Acceptance


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Until a woman can receive herself, she will unconsciously force others to reject her, despite the fact that her most conscious desire is to be loved.” –Marion Woodman

One of our most painful habitual patterns as human beings is wanting things to be other than they are. We often turn this habit on ourselves, wanting to be other than we are. Rather than embracing our most wounded places with love, which is truly what is called for, we treat ourselves mercilessly and wish we were different. We may even unconsciously encourage others to reject us, we may reject them before they have opportunity to reject us, or we may keep them at a safe distance and feign indifference. We can learn to love ourselves by noticing our habits of self-criticism or self-hatred and choosing in these moments to meet ourselves with acceptance, love and compassion. Today, try turning toward your wounded places with love and receive yourself and all of your messiness and imperfection with acceptance.


Being at Home



Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. –James Baldwin

There is an opportunity to feel most at home when we are simply being in the present moment, the attention anchored on the breath or any other expression of present moment experience. Many of us search for a lost sense of home outside of ourselves before realizing that a sense of home is accessible to us in any moment. We can create a life that supports the experience of being at home—daily yoga and meditation, doing work that we love, choosing close people who resonate, making what matters most a priority, and engaging in creative expression and connecting with nature every day.  When we stay true to these practices, we living in the moment, aware of and finding refuge in the breath, and being at home.




A New Perspective


If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.         –Frances Hodgson Burnett

When we look at the world from our usual perspective, everything looks the same. If we search for answers, we may feel there are none, we may not trust our feelings or we may feel overwhelmed by the internal swirl of confusing thoughts.
When we commit to being willing to attempt to focus the attention and quiet the mind, sometimes a new perspective emerges that allows us to step out of our habitual way of seeing and opens the heart and mind to new possibilities. I had walked past the above scene countless times and had never found it interesting enough to photograph. One day last week, I approached it from a new direction and with a different lens. As I scanned through the viewfinder from this new perspective, this scene stopped me in my tracks and caught my breath. How can you look at one aspect of your life circumstances from a different perspective this week?


I’m honored to be a Teacher in Residence at Wells College in Aurora, NY March 7 – 11, 2016 working with the theatre, psychology, and creative writing departments. I will offer two presentations that week that are free and open to the public. NY folks, if you’re close by, feel free to join me. Monday March 7 from 7-9pm I’ll be teaching an introduction to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Thursday March 10 from 7-9pm I’ll be teaching The Heart of Self-Compassion: Making Peace with Your Inner Critic. Details:



Being Inspired

Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery. –Julia Cameron

Consciously choosing to activate the energy of feeling inspired supports a positive mood and encourages action toward personal and career goals. Many of us create intentions and/or goals throughout the year, and a lot of us ride the wave of inspiration that comes with the beginning of a new year. Remember that whatever we place our attention on grows, so resting our attention frequently on our intentions helps to propel us forward to take action that is aligned with those intentions. But to keep going, we’ll need to cultivate some inspiration. Read more

Mindfulness of the Body

How soon will we accept this opportunity to be fully alive before we die? –Stephen Levine

Continuing our series on the four foundations of mindfulness as outlined in the Satipatthana Sutta, the final instruction on mindfulness of the body involves contemplating the body after death in its progressive stages of decay. Notice whether you experience a feeling tone of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral in response to the possibility of this Read more

Contemplation of the Four Elements

…he abides contemplating the nature of arising in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of passing away in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of both arising and passing away in the body. –Satipatthana Sutta

Continuing the exploration of the original teachings on mindfulness as outlined in the Satipatthana Sutta, the next instruction in mindfulness of the body relates to contemplation of the four elements: earth/solidity, water/liquidity, fire/temperature, and wind/motion related to body composition. Read more