Here is a video of another conversation with Sam Beard, this time about mindfulness and meditation. Hope you enjoy!
Category: Mindfulness Meditation
All aspects of mindfulness, whether formal practice, everyday practice, religious and spiritual connections, research, psychology and cognition, communication, etc., are fair game for discussion and debate.
Conversations with Sam
I have known Sam Beard since Labor Day 2016. The previous June, shortly before having my left hip replaced, I went to a meeting he had organized in downtown Wilmington DE. There were about 40 or 50 people in the meeting room, which was in a high-rise corporate office space. All of the people in the room purported to be mindfulness meditation teachers; I only recognized about 10 of them. It was a fascinating hour as Sam told us that he intended to find a way to teach mindfulness to over a billion people around the world. I concluded he was pretty crazy and went home.
A few months later I got an email from Sam’s assistant soliciting donations for the Global Investment Foundation for Tomorrow (GIFT), a 501c3 non-profit corporation Sam had started a few years earlier. Concluding that the meeting was only a way to build a mailing list, I sent a somewhat cynical email back and asked to be taken off the list. To my surprise Sam called me a few days later and asked to meet me. The only day available to both of us was Labor Day, so I trekked into his office on that morning. The next two hours were life changing for me.
I learned that Sam had a long career finding ways to make life better for people. One of his first jobs after graduating from Yale in the early 1960’s was as an aid to Robert F. Kennedy. When Senator Kennedy was assassinated Sam fell into a depression that lasted a few years. He looks back at that period as the most painful in his life. In the early 1970’s Senator Kennedy’s sister-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of President Kennedy, suggested to Sam that he should start something that would recognize the good that people do in the world. Out of this conversation came the Jefferson Awards for Public Service, which was co-founded by Sam, Jackie Kennedy, and Senator Robert Taft, Jr. If you’d like to learn more about the Jefferson Awards go to this link; you’ll be amazed at how powerfully this organization has made a change for good in the world:
Sam retired in his mid-70’s from the Jefferson Awards (he still serves on its Board of Governors) but he wasn’t through yet. He started GIFT with the intention to multiply philanthropy throughout the world, but then shifted, shortly before I met him, to his mission to spread mindfulness throughout the world. At that Labor Day meeting I realized that Sam was “the real deal” and signed on, starting on January 1, 2017, as the Delaware Director of Operations, a post I held for 2.5 years. During that time GIFT trained over 1,000 public school teachers in mindfulness, along with hundreds of mental health professionals and all sorts of helping people throughout Delaware. Our intention was to train people who could then share their mindfulness practice with the people they help. It was a resounding success.
I left GIFT in mid-2019 as Sam had decided to shift its emphasis from mindfulness to what he calls “0 to 5,” an outreach to find ways to have a positive impact on early childhood development. As usual, Sam is thinking big! And meeting with many successes. You can read about it at this link: https//:giftglobal.org/zero-to-five
In early 2022 Sam called me and asked me to help him out again. He wanted to interview me for a series of videos to be called “Ask Jim.” I was skeptical of course. But Sam was certain that these videos would have something to say that might be helpful to people. So in March of 2022 Sam and I sat down for four and a half hours to record a wide ranging conversation, that has since been edited into several video vignettes. I am posting the first of those, which concerns “Happiness.” I would be honored if you would watch it, and very happy if you would post in the Comments any Questions, Concerns, Observations, Complaints….anything at all to initiate a conversation about this topic. The video is posted below; I hope you enjoy it and please let me know what you think!
Thanks in advance! And looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
Thoreau, June 22, 1851
I was pondering what to write about next for my website when I picked up my copy of I to Myself: An annotated selection from the journal of Henry D. Thoreau, edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer. I’ve been reading a few weeks of Thoreau’s journal at at time lately. Today I opened to Thoreau’s entry on June 22, 1851 and found my next publication. This is word for word from Thoreau’s journal; I hope you find it as enriching as I did.
“We are enabled to criticise others only when we are different from, and in a given particular superior to, them ourselves. By our aloofness from men and their affairs we are enabled to overlook and criticise them. There are but few men who stand on the hills by the roadside. I am sane only when I have risen above my common sense, when I do not take the foolish view of things which is commonly taken, when I do not live for the low ends for which men commonly live. Wisdom is not common. To what purpose have I senses, if I am thus absorbed in affairs? My pulse must beat with Nature. After a hard day’s work without a thought, turning my very brain into a mere tool, only in the quiet of evening do I so far recover my senses as to hear the cricket, which in fact has been chirping all day. In my better hours I am conscious of the influx of a serene and unquestionable wisdom which partly unfits, and if I yielded to it more rememberingly would wholly unfit me, for what is called the active business of life, for that furnishes nothing on which the eye of reason can rest. What is that other kind of life to which I am thus continually allured? which alone I love? Is it a life for this world? Can a man feed and clothe himself gloriously who keeps only the truth steadily before him? who calls in no evil to his aid? Are there duties which necessarily interfere with the serene perception of truth? Are our serene moments mere foretastes of heaven,—joys gratuitously vouchsafed to us as a consolation,—or simply a transient realization of what might be the whole tenor of our lives?
To be calm, to be serene! There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind; there is the calmness of a stagnant ditch. So is it with us. Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives, not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves. All the world goes by us and is reflected in our deeps. Such clarity! obtained by such pure means! by simple living, by honesty of purpose. We live and rejoice. I awoke into a music which no one about me heard. Whom shall I thank for it? The luxury of wisdom! the luxury of virtue! Are there any intemperate in these things? I feel my Maker blessing me. To the sane man the world is a musical instrument. The very touch affords an exquisite pleasure.”
This is worth reading and reading again. His mind is sauntering, a way of being in the world that Thoreau particularly valued. He starts by noting that the tendency to “criticise” emerges “by our aloofness from men and their affairs” which culminates in being “enabled to overlook and criticise them,” hardly a generous way of being. He meanders through ideas and observations, and finishes with “I feel my Maker blessing me.”
I have chosen this year to live intentionally in a Thoreauvian way. Once again he teaches us how to live and live well.
PS While traipsing around White Clay Creek State Park today I came upon Snowbells in full glory! Nature.
Up until January of 1968 the first 13+ years of my life had been uneventful. Mostly I played baseball, stickball, basketball, and football, while attending elementary school somewhat reluctantly. Despite my lackadaisical effort at school I was an honor student, but being a baseball all-star meant much more.
On January 19, 1968 while playing basketball at an outdoor court I felt a pop in my lower right abdomen as I went up for a rebound. I thought nothing of it as I had gone up for the ball with my back to the basket arching in a way that stretched my abdominal area to its limit. Probably a pulled muscle.
That night I ignored the worsening pain; the only thing to discuss in our house that night was college basketball’s “Game of the Century” (yes, that is what it was being called) to be played the next night in the Houston Astrodome. Elvin Hayes (the “Big E”) vs. Lew Alcindor (soon to be Kareem Abdul Jabbar); #1 ranked UCLA vs. #2 ranked University of Houston. The two leaders of these teams would go on to have enormous success in the NBA, with Abdul Jabbar eventually surpassing Wilt Chamberlain’s career scoring record.
But by late in the evening I could not ignore the pain any longer. Our family doctor made the house call, which was common in those days. He reassured my mother and father that my diagnosis of a strained muscle was correct. He’d call in the morning to check in on me.
He did more than call, he stopped by the next day. Despite my fever he maintained his diagnosis and advised rest, heating pad, and aspirin, which were all applied. By 4 pm the pain was excruciating; I was curled up in a tight ball on the couch. My father carried me to the car, told mom to call the doctor and tell him he was on the way to the hospital. Bloodwork showed my white cell count to be over 20,000; over 11,000 is very high. Most importantly I “failed” the rebound test: press in firmly on the right side of the abdomen and get no pain, then release suddenly and the pain is horrific. Correct diagnosis: ruptured appendix.
By the way, that IS what the standard test for appendicitis is called: the “rebound” test. Considering my experience the day before, pretty ironic.
The emergency appendectomy performed that night went without incident, but the surgeon failed to put a drain in me, normal procedure for a ruptured appendix. For the next seven days I was dying. I’m not being dramatic here; I was dying. On the seventh day a doctor reopened me without anesthesia in my hospital room, expressed a foul smelling slime from my abdominal area and stuffed a drain in me. By that afternoon my fever was dropping and color returned to my face. Nine days later I was discharged, “healthy” again.
Except I wasn’t. I had become what William James nearly 70 years earlier had called a “sick soul.”
I returned to school in mid-February. My 8th grade teacher, Sister Helen, assured me that I had nothing to worry about concerning making up my school work. It was the first time I felt any appreciation for my academic skills. I walked with a limp; I could not stand straight, adopting a sort of Z-shaped posture. I had lost 20 pounds from a body frame that did not have a spare 20 pounds to lose. Baseball tryouts were a month later. I could not run by then. I could barely throw, and swinging a bat hard was out of the question. I made a team based on my reputation from my final season of Little League but that next season I mustered only two hits. I felt lost; I began to wonder “who am I?” By the summer of 1968 I had no answer to that question.
As a therapist I’ve been guided in much of my work by William James. In 1890 he published the first American Psychology textbook, The Principles of Psychology. It is still a landmark. In his text James articulated his perspective on what it means to be a “self.” James espoused that we have a “material self” at a most fundamental level; our bodies and material fortunes. Surrounding our material self is our “social self,” “the recognition (one) gets from his mates,” which includes our friends, family and others. And he posited that there is a “spiritual self” that transcends these other selves and is least frequently experienced, yet is most essential to our being. I have found this conceptualization useful as a therapist, including the inevitable therapy I have had to do with and for myself.
In early 1968 my material self dissolved in a fever of organic dissolution followed by the loss of all certainty and vigor derived from my athleticism, which had been the central organizing principle of my identity in those early years. My dad played minor league baseball in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization; being a baseball player was one way to connect, and connect deeply, with him. That part of my “self” was gone. My friendships, my playmates, all of my associates were known through my sports. Mostly gone as well. I entered my teen years, that period of time for identity formation according to Psychosocial Developmental Theory, with nothing to call “my self.”
Or so I thought. My freshman year in high school at an all-boys Catholic High School was awful. I sat alone in the cafeteria most lunch periods. I limped through Phys Ed. I ruminated; the depression filtered my mind so strongly that I could not even make a nominal effort at schoolwork. I managed to pass my classes, that’s all.
Sophomore year was better, as my material self had healed by then. My social self began to heal, but I was so, so lonely. The high school was a 45 minute bus ride from my hometown, and none of my friends attended. Those first two years lasted a lifetime.
My third year started off the same, but my Junior year Theology course was taught by Brother Peter Russell, who was the first teacher in that school to recognize that something had gone wrong in my life. He reached out to me. He forced me to go on a weekend-long retreat that fall with a great bunch of my fellow students, who had been largely unknown to me. He engaged me, as he engaged us all, in serious conversations about what it means to be Catholic, to be Christian, to be engaged with the needs for social justice in the world. While my material and social selves were in abeyance, my spiritual self loomed, waiting to be initiated and invigorated. Brother Peter struck the spark that kindled this awakening. My spiritual self became my driving force.
My life story since 1970 has had many twists and turns like anyone else’s. As my sense of a material and social self returned I experienced normal highs and lows. I made mistakes along the way, but I also made great choices. My life has been anything but a straight line to where I am now, but there has been one rather constant force: my experience of this spiritual self that William James writes about.
I look back at the disaster of my ruptured appendix realizing that it could have led to tragedy, but through my good fortune to have parents who provided loving care and then a wise Theology teacher, it turned out to be a godsend. Those two years of feeling lost were a necessary loss. Without the loss of the material and social selves that I identified most strongly as ME, I’m not certain that I would have stumbled upon my spiritual self. Maybe I would have, but maybe it would have taken much longer. I can’t say for sure.
All of these memories have come back to me this week as a result of several stimuli. First, I’m spending my time this year reading Thoreau, Emerson, and William James. I guess you could say I’m in a “transcendental state of mind.” This past week I’ve been through a few days of deep discomfort from Covid (my first bout with it), though I’m substantially recovered now. Then yesterday while reading I came across this passage in Pico Iyer’s new book The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise.
“The pursuit of happiness made deepest sense, I came to think, when seen in the framework of the Eastern awareness that suffering is the first truth of existence. Adam and Eve had to quit Eden if only so they could learn to resist the lure of serpents. Much as the young prince who became the Buddha had to quit his golden palace in order to confront the facts of sickness and old age and death. A true paradise has meaning only after one has outgrown all notions of perfection and taken the measure of the fallen world.” (italics added)
“Suffering is the first truth of existence;” I learned that at age 13. Then I “had to quit (my) golden palace in order to confront the facts of sickness….and death.” Having taken the measure of my fallen world, I was able to begin to see a true paradise, which turned out to be in service of social justice in this broken world.
It was all a necessary loss. I look back on this period in my life now and smile about it. I’m grateful for it. And I wonder if you, the reader, might be able to look back on a time in your life that was filled with loss as a time that may also have swept away unnecessary layers of self, leaving behind that which was most essential, that which is spiritual and transcends this material world
On Friday it started with the sensation of having to clear my throat over and over again. By Friday afternoon it was a sore throat; not severe, but noticeable. On Saturday morning it was a slight fever and a sore throat, prompting administrations of an at-home COVID test (negative result). By Saturday afternoon and evening the fever was troublesome but the sore throat had passed. On Sunday morning it was the nasal congestion and the fever that suggested a second at-home COVID test, this time positive. A visit to the nearby Urgent Care confirmed the diagnosis. Since then soup and tea, rest, and William James have been my prescription. Fortunate for me that my version of COVID appears to be “mild to moderate;” in other words, annoying but tolerable.
And who better to spend sick-time with than William James! His work remains transformative to my field, mental health, and has been transformative for me both personally and professionally. A list of his contributions to the field of Psychology and Philosophy would take up several pages. If you are interested in reading his work I would recommend these essays (and a book) as starting points:
- “The Will to Believe” (available online for free at many sites including http://krypton.mnsu.edu/~jp6372me/THE%20WILL%20TO%20BELIEVE%20.pdf)
- “Is Life Worth Living” (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Is_Life_Worth_Living%3F_(James))
These two essays in their entirety may be more than you want to read. So my third recommendation will make this easier for you. My current reading of William James is in an excellent new book titled “Be Not Afraid of Life: In the Word of William James,” edited by John Kaag and Jonathan Van Belle. Excerpts from these two essays and many more are included in this book, along with introductions to each reading from the editors. It is a fine way to begin getting acquainted with James’s philosophy and psychology.
The title of the book is derived from the final paragraph of “Is Life Worth Living:”
“These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”
I have found this to be true throughout my life. What I believe shapes my reality and, at times, creates my reality. For me, shaping my belief has come down to a simple but profound insight: “As I hear myself speak so I come to believe.” Gandhi speaks wisely of the consequences of managing your thoughts in words that, I suspect, William James would have strongly endorsed:
“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.”
That’s all for today. With COVID comes fatigue, so I think I’ll return to my reading and my tea for now.
Walking With Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau died in May of 1862 from tuberculosis. One month later his essay “Walking,” which proved to be one of his most beloved, was published. It opens with these words:
“I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil–to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.”
I retired from my private practice as a Pastoral Counselor in October of 2021. I decided to take a slower year, making few decisions regarding the course of my life, recognizing those decisions that life makes for me along the way and simply navigating whatever pathways emerged in time. I was not disappointed; life has a way of filling open spaces without my help. During this past fifteen months I learned much about myself: that I love to teach, engage in conversation, read, contemplate what I’ve read, but most of all that I love to walk in the woods. I learned that I feel most alive, most myself, when in awareness of being “part and parcel of Nature.”
Yesterday was a fine example. White Clay Creek State Park (https://destateparks.com/FieldsStreams/WhiteClayCreek) has miles of trails through pristine forests. The Lenape Trail winds its way along the creek, then off into the forest, across a field and Fox Den Road, doubles back to the forest and eventually circles back along the creek and to a parking area. After hiking four or five miles I returned to my car refreshed and tired at the same time; a glorious combination of feelings.
When I started walking after my retirement it was with the intention to generate aerobic exercise. At my age (turned 68 last October) that matters, at least to me. But during the year my pace of walking has slowed without my consent nor my intent; it just slowed down. My walking became my mindfulness practice, or at least an important part of it. I wasn’t certain what was happening until I read Thoreau’s essay again, especially its second paragraph:
“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.”
When I go a sauntering I see things that I might have missed otherwise. In the winter woods the grays and browns dominate. Much of the tree bark is silvery; lacking leaves this is the prominent feature one notices throughout the forest. Hidden among the tree trunks are the Christmas ferns, looking as alive and green as in the springtime. Then there are the holly trees, boldly green with red berries and hungry birds feasting. Looking across the canopy of trees the tan leaves on the Beech trees still cling, adding a contrast to the silver and gray of the tree bark. The cedar trees too; verdant throughout the winter. Lacking leaves the wind stirs more easily and sounds carry across the forest, mostly birdsong, occasionally squirrels digging for nutty gold.
I find myself walking slower and slower these days, not from fatigue but from wonder. It’s perfect. There is no need for human activity out here. Sounds of machines left far behind; occasionally another walker, sometimes with a dog, passes by. Smiles come so easily out here, greetings, sometimes conversations, spontaneous, often of things that matter. I am relaxed now, mindful, awake. I leave the forest refreshed, ready to be with my loved ones again. It is like returning from a voyage to a far away land; much to talk about, people you long to see. Yet I’ve only been gone for an hour or two.
I have always avoided making New Year Resolutions. But this year I’ve made one: to live a “Thoreauvian” year. Reading his essays again, finding another wonderful biography (Laura Dassow Walls’ “Henry David Thoreau: A Life”), savoring a paragraph from one of his essays and then contemplating it on a walk or a meditation. His spirit fills me.
This Holy Land Thoreau speaks of is found within. The journey is to the inner regions of mind and spirit. It reminds me of the Japanese poet Basho and his travel journal “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” Basho’s journey to the “Deep North,” like Thoreau’s to the “Holy Land,” is an exploration of interior spaces: the mind, the heart, the spirit. In these times I experience silence; sometimes for just a moment, sometimes for many steps, many breaths. In his book “Thoughts in Solitude” Thomas Merton wrote:
“To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labor and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.”
Silence has a best friend called Listening. Sigurd Olsen captures this well in his book “Listening Point,” an exploration of what it means to exist within wilderness:
“Only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard. Everyone has a listening-point somewhere. It does not have to be in the north or close to the wilderness, but some place of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe.”
Walking and Silence. Listening; finding Nature, the wilderness, within. These are my intentions for this year, maybe for this life. This is my journey this year.
During the past year I have not posted on my blog. I was not certain whether to continue writing or not. I’ve decided to post again, to see if I have something to say that may be worth saying. I was concerned that any desire to post may be driven by personal pride, hubris. Again, from Merton’s “Thoughts in Solitude,” there is a warning about this sort of pride:
“When I speak, it is a demand that others remain silent so I alone may be heard. When I am silent, I hear my true self and reach my soul. When I am silent, I hear with a caring heart. Silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it. If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything because we have said everything before we had anything to say. . . . .”
I will be posting again this year. I intend to do so in response to my sauntering, and from a place of silence, and from what I have learned by listening. My hope is that my words will be useful, caring, from my true self.
You can read Thoreau’s published material, including “Walking,” at this website:
The first time I taught Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was during the summer of 2006. I had just completed my mindfulness teacher training at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness a month earlier. I was confident in my skills, having worked as a therapist for several years and become comfortable with discomfort. At the same time I was nervous about this first class, mostly driven by my concern to provide a helping experience. In addition, the only guided meditations I had led to that point were in my teacher training, and all of the “students” I was “teaching” were experienced meditators. So this first class was a leap into the unknown.
I had managed to recruit 15 attendees, and rented space at a local Catholic retreat center called Jesus House. The owners, Chris and Angie Malmgren, created a safe, quiet, pastoral setting that was clearly Catholic in culture but not overwhelmingly so. The room I used was a stand-alone small building facing an open field with lots of windows and light streaming in from the west. In the early afternoon the room was resplendent, truly a peaceful place to meditate and address stress related issues.
After introductions were concluded we started our first meditation, which was a sitting meditation lasting 15 minutes. None of the attendees had any experience with meditation; all expressed concern that they “wouldn’t be any good at it,” a pretty typical reaction from most non-meditators. After assuring them that all they had to do was sit and follow the sound of my voice as I directed their attention in a mindful way, we commenced that first meditation. The room became quiet; perhaps better to say the room was enveloped in stillness. Everything felt right.
Five minutes into that first meditation the landscaping crew arrived and began their work. Four large mowers, the kind that one rides standing on the back portion of the blade housing, were moving at a quick pace around the grounds immediately outside of our room, engines roaring in unison. The sound was deafening; I nearly had to shout to be heard above the din. I began to feel panic; this ruined everything! I took a breath, noticed my body’s reactivity, noticed the sounds, noticed my mind. With no application of reasoning power or logic, I heard myself say:
“Continuing to follow the rhythm of your breathing, seeing if you can also be aware of the sound from the mowers alongside the sensations of breathing.”
I let go of my need for silence in the room. I kept breathing, noticing. I heard myself say:
“Noticing if you’re having feelings about the mowers’ sounds. Perhaps being OK with those feelings. Then gently returning your mind’s attention to your breathing.”
I let go again. I was breathing, noticing, accepting. I heard my mind’s voice say “Noise is just noise, there is no ‘good meditation’ or ‘bad meditation.’ There is no ‘good noise’ or ‘bad noise.’ Are you awake right now? Are you breathing?” Then I heard myself say:
“In a few moments we’ll bring this meditation to a close. Using these remaining moments to be completely present with your body, your breath, your mind. Noticing whatever is present and seeing if you can be OK with all of it.”
I sensed how calm I felt. In control. I sensed how powerful this short meditation had been for me. I had let go of the “necessary” outcome. I had just let myself be present.”
After everyone returned their attention to the room, with the mowers still at work, I asked what it was like to use their minds that way. The summation of responses was clear:
“When the mowers arrived I thought “well that ruins everything!” But I learned to just notice what is happening in each moment; to be ok with whatever comes to my awareness. Every moment, it turns out, is worthwhile.”
At that moment I knew that I could teach this skill. I am so grateful to those landscapers!
When I tell people that I teach meditation the most common response I get is “Oh, I’ve tried to meditate. I can’t do it; I’m terrible at it.” This response makes sense in the context of how meditation is represented in the popular press and media, but it misses the point. There is no “good meditation” and “bad meditation.” Either you are meditating or you are not. Actually, I prefer to say either you are mindful or you are not. When I choose to meditate in a formal way my mind becomes focused and non-judgmental; in that moment I am meditating. A few seconds later my mind wanders into “story land,” or perhaps I may feel a judgment arise about myself or someone else or some thing that comes to my mind. In those moments I am not mindful; I am not meditating. Then I notice I am in story land and take a breath; I’ve begun to meditate again, and will continue until the next time my mind wanders back to story land. It can go on like that for quite a while, but the more intention I bring to my meditation session the longer the mindful periods persist and the more able I become to notice when I am not mindful. This is a skill that can be developed with intentionality and discipline. That’s up to you.
So you might want to try this simple way to introduce mindfulness to your day-to-day experience. At the beginning of your day commit to the intention to ask yourself this question from time to time:
“Am I breathing right now?”
It’s a pretty simple question to answer. If your answer is “no,” then you have bigger problems than meditation can resolve! Your answer, of course, will be “yes” most of the time.
When you stop to ask yourself this question, you’ve become mindful. “Yes, I”m breathing.” Now in that mindful moment look around, perhaps within your body/mind or perhaps around you. Notice something: a pleasant feeling or taste, a relaxed body, the breeze on your face, the feeling of sunshine, a friend or a friendly face, the laugh of a child….. The list of possibilities here is endless. In that moment that you’ve said “Yes, I am breathing” take another moment to notice something else, staying fully present with whatever it is. Maybe for a few seconds, maybe even a full minute. Or, if you’re feeling radical, just stop whatever you’re doing, put away your phone, push away the keyboard, lay your pen on the table. Stop and stay present with whatever you found when you noticed you were breathing. And when you’ve fully embraced that moment of wakefulness do something really radical: Smile! Now notice how that makes you feel. Then let go of the smile and return your attention to the events of the day, until the next time you notice your mind wondering “Am I breathing right now?”
Who knows, you may find the experience to be so pleasant, so helpful, that you begin to set aside time to do this simple exercise. And then your response to the next meditator you meet will be “Me too; I like to take time to be mindful as well!”
Sometime back in 2005 I went on my first mindfulness retreat, though it wasn’t the first retreat I ever attended. That first retreat happened when I was in 11th grade at an all-boys Catholic High School. My first two years there had been painful; looking back I was likely in a depressive episode. I had a life-changing traumatic experience shortly before starting 9th grade and I did not really begin to recover until that retreat in 11th grade. But I’ll save that story for another time.
My next retreat did not occur until I was in my mid-30’s and I was the retreat co-leader, not simply an attendee. In hindsight I realize that I did not really know what I was doing, but fortunately my co-leader did, and we pulled off a good retreat. From that event in 1989 until 2006 I either led or was the co-leader in four or five retreats per year, all to support people making a religious conversion to Catholicism. These retreats were good experiences for me as well and clearly instrumental in my decision to leave my corporate sales career and begin graduate work towards an MS and PhD in Pastoral Counseling starting in 1995.
After I completed my Masters in June of 1997 I was preparing to begin my PhD work when my mentor at Loyola College in Maryland, Dr. Joe Ciarrocchi, handed me a copy of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Full Catastrophe Living.” He smiled his quiet smile and said “You might like this. I’m not into this Buddisty stuff, but I know you are.” I devoured the book and concluded that mindfulness training, the topic of the book, would become an important part of my clinical work both as a therapist and, a few years later, as a counselor educator. Mindfulness also had a tremendous impact on my spiritual journey, and continues to be an important part of daily living.
I spent a lot of time and energy learning to teach mindfulness along with cultivating a regular practice. An important part of this training was attending meditation retreats. The second mindfulness retreat I attended, seven days of guided silence and stillness at the Omega Center in Rhinebeck, NY in 2005, led to an important realization resulting from an unexpected experience, which is the initial subject of this essay.
The first full day of the retreat began on a warm summer morning at 6 am in a large meditation hall filled to capacity with about 90 people. We spent six hours in a combination of sitting meditation, walking meditation, yoga/stretching meditation, and lying on the floor doing body scan meditation. As my mindfulness practice was pretty new to me it was a demanding morning. At noon we were instructed to remain in silence for the next two hours, including while in the dining hall. Our silence was to include “modesty of the eyes;” that is, avoiding making eye contact along with avoiding all speech. This didn’t phase me, though, as I had begun to truly cherish the silence of our meditations that morning and the inner stillness I was experiencing. However, I was about to learn that the retreat you expect is not always the retreat you get and, perhaps, need, and my teacher was an octogenarian whose husband of many decades had recently died.
Barbara was a psychologist practicing in a large mid-Atlantic city. She was short; actually she was small in stature, someone you might miss in a crowd if you didn’t look carefully. Tastefully dressed, noticeably so for a meditation crowd, she walked up to me as the crowd filed out of the meditation hall as if she already knew me. It was a very intentional approach, or at least it seemed to be. I felt her presence immediately; she was strolling alongside me, close enough that we could have held hands. After only a few steps she looked up and said softly “hello, my name is Barbara.” I think if it had been anyone else in the crowd breaking the silence I would have reacted in some way, but for reasons forever unknowable to me I did not react at all, except to look down toward her face, smile, and say softly “hello, I’m Jim.” We did not speak again while walking the short distance to the dining hall, but we walked together and I understood that we would be sitting together.
After going through the buffet line and finding a table Barbara began to tell her story. She had spent the better part of her life working as a therapist and had never retired in the formal sense of the word, only slowing down in her later years. Her husband had died a few months ago; her grief felt overwhelming. She was nearly whispering to me throughout that long lunch together. Her husband, also a psychologist, had been her lover, the father of their children, her work colleague, her best friend. I thought of a quote from Montaigne: “One soul in two bodies.” It was that kind of relationship.
We were back to the meditation hall by 2 pm and moved our cushions and mats to be next to each other. Each day we meditated in close proximity, and at each meal we told our stories to each other, always in hushed tones out of respect for the intention of the retreat to practice silence and stillness. Gradually during the week we were joined by others, who listened and told their stories as well. This small, emerging group shared intimacies, many joyful, some sad, all meaningful to each of us. Our shared stories were illustrations of our humanity, and naturally a deep connection was formed, one brimming with affection. Oddly none of us felt in violation of the retreat strictures, though clearly we were. Looking back I suppose that we were committed to a sort of quiet authenticity that simply felt congruent with the intention of the retreat.
After six days the silence of the retreat was broken. It felt as though the 90 attendees filled the meditation and dining hall with peace and joy, which spread throughout the pathways and open areas of the retreat center. Barbara and I now laughed out loud together, and joined a group slurping ice cream cones at the convenience shop on campus. The next day we said our goodbyes without pretending that we would stay in touch. What we shared needed the context of a retreat, and we both were returning to the lives and circumstances we had left behind just one week earlier.
Two nights ago, roughly 16 years after meeting Barbara, I went walking in the dusk hours of a late autumn evening. It was cold and breezy. I’ve grown to love my afternoon and evening walks. In the morning I walk and trot for exercise; aerobic activity feels good to me and is likely good for my health. But later in the day, especially in the late fall and winter, I walk without any particular purpose. I stroll along; the French word flâneur comes to mind, usually translated as a “stroller, a loafer, or a saunterer.” Naturally, since it is a French word, it has additional connotations, including being seen as “an ambivalent figure in an urban setting, wandering as if detached from society in order to be a keen observer of contemporary life.” I’ll admit to the intention to be a keen observer, however neither detached nor ambivalent. I suppose I just like the sound of the word.
In any case I wandered on the grounds of a nearby high school campus, walking slowly and enjoying the feeling of the cold air on my face and the soft light of the early evening. Autumn light has a milky quality to it; the low angle of the sun throughout the day refracts through the clouds, which seem to be smeared across the sky, hanging lower and darker than summer clouds. The light is comforting to me, more of a glow than a shine, and when the moon is out its reflected light creates an aura that veils its visible contours and edges. I want to walk slowly in this chilled air, this softened light; I want to be able to remember it for days afterward. If life presents moments of loss and despair, and with them feelings of isolation, it also offers us moments of transcendence and fulfillment, with feelings of deep interconnectedness. These walks present this possibility to me: that the moment of connectedness is now.
There is a hill on this property. From this hill, looking east, the lights of a long suspension bridge many miles away shine. Further south you can see a refinery at work; not a pleasant place but its lights are still an attraction and draw the eye. Standing on this hill the breeze became the wind, and the coldness stung but also made me more aware of how pleasant the warmth of my insulated jacket felt; there are always reminders of the inherent balance in all lived experiences.
As I walked through the north parking lot of the school, having turned west with this hill behind me, my eye was drawn upward by a movement framed against the orange tinge left by the already set sun. It was a bird, a large bird, flying low with wings fully outstretched but quite still at the same time. At first I thought it might be an owl or a hawk, but there was no way to tell as it was only seen as a blackened outline against the night sky. The tips of its wings were like outstretched fingers; though it was gliding quickly there was a complete stillness of its body at the same time. It seemed to float. It moved quickly above and past me toward the east, toward the hill and the lights of the bridge and refinery. As it reached the break of the hill it moved its “fingers” ever so slightly, as if gesturing softly and silently, to effect a slight change in direction. It flew on into the night. I stood and observed as keenly as I could.
Then my mind resumed activity; my first thought was “how exhilarating it must be for that creature to soar aloft on the breeze, into the night sky, unfettered by gravity and time.” But that was an error on my part, for to be exhilarated requires some element of novelty, perhaps even the occurrence of something unexpected. For me, soaring into the sky on a commercial flight is exhilarating, but walking along slowly, though pleasant, was not. Could it be that the familiarity of the experience of soaring flight for this bird had taken away any semblance of exhilaration for it? Perhaps this bird looked down at me and thought “look at how smoothly that creature strolls along, how quickly and easily he masters bipedal movement. If only I could do the same!” I realized this all in a moment while standing in the parking lot, and when I resumed walking I noticed my walking with new eyes, and for a moment I knew what it takes to be a flâneur of the inner world. My mindset had shifted from passively noticing my surroundings to actively noticing and embracing what if felt like to walk, as if I had never walked before. This “walking for the first time” experience was, in a way, exhilarating. I can’t remember when I’ve felt more connected to all that is within and outside of me than that moment.
Thomas Merton began his spiritual classic “Seeds of Contemplation” with these words:
“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.”
As I walked toward home two nights ago I began to think about meeting Barbara so many years ago. I had been reminded of that meeting when talking with my sister earlier that day. She had just completed a retreat and had experienced the “retreat you need, which may not be the retreat you expect.” Like my time with Barbara, my sister had spent much time with a beloved friend and though neither of them maintained the silence of the retreat, they found the inner stillness they sought in the communion of their hearts. Hearing my sister’s story brought back the memory of my retreat years ago and the communion of hearts that Barbara and I had experienced. The feeling of that connectedness with Barbara was waiting for me in the moment of experiencing that soaring silent bird, and then my own strolling, silent walking. These moments appear spontaneously, as Merton points out. These moments are waiting, but not waiting for our arrival, but rather waiting for our awakening. And that awakening is not only the awareness of what is happening, but it is awareness in the mind filled with curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
Today I walked again. The air was cold, but it was my morning walk and my intention was task-oriented. I walked quickly, elevating my heart rate and breaking a sweat. It felt good. Later today I will walk again. I will not be looking for any birds flying along or another meditator waiting to join me in my strolling. I will not be looking for anything, but I will be open to seeing everything and practicing this art of “seeing with new eyes.” And whether I notice them or not, in each moment of my walk, indeed in each moment of my life, “germs of spiritual vitality” will be present.
A final thought to share. If you look up the definition of “retreat” you’ll find a curious collection of meanings. First, it is both a noun (“the retreat of the army was well organized”) and a verb (“the army retreated rapidly in the face of strong opposition”). It has a military connotation, as evidenced above, but also a spiritual connotation. Isn’t that curious? While a “retreat” can be an escape to fight another day, it can also be withdrawal into a quiet or secluded space for prayer and meditation. In either case one is renewed and fortified after retreat. In the case of the army in retreat, the soldiers are rested and ready to fight anew. In the case of persons on retreat, they return rested and ready to engage the world with openness and compassion. Quite a range of meanings for one word!
What would be the effect in your life if you looked at each day as having opportunities to be on retreat? Could a short walk at lunch be experienced with “new eyes,” noticing the “germs of spiritual vitality” that are omnipresent for us? Might a quiet lunch, consumed alone, become a time of solitude and thoughtful prayer? Is it possible to quietly meditate on the breath while driving home or even sitting on the bus? What is possible in your one short amazing life? The germs of spiritual vitality await your awakening!
When I was a sophomore at Fordham University, all of 19 years old and able to drink legally for the first time because New York’s drinking age was only 18 when it was 21 pretty much everywhere else (this was in 1973), you could hear Bruce Springsteen in any hallway in any dormitory at nearly any time of day or night. For a kid from north Jersey going to school in the Bronx, hearing Bruce everywhere was a gift of the gods, or perhaps a gift from “a God,” Bruce that is. “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle” had just been released and most of us were in a Bruce-induced mania. “Rosalita, jump a little higher. Senorita, come sit by my fire.” Or “…Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us. This pier lights our carnival life forever. Oh love me tonight, for I may never see you again.” I was that kid singing those songs in that hallway, yearning for Rosalita or Sandy to please love me tonight. God I was lonely; I was a teen.
By fall of 1975 I was a student teacher in an uptown High School on the east side of Manhattan riding the subway and the bus to get there on time every morning. Plastered all over town, on every mode of transportation and on billboards, were images of ultimate cool: Bruce Springsteen, rock god. This poster, advertising his Born to Run album, was the best, at least for me. I mean really, who wouldn’t want to be this man, especially when the one doing the wishing was 21 years old and trying to figure himself out?
At the time I never realized what a gift Bruce was giving us, in giving us this image that seemed to declare that he knew his pathway lay in a particular direction. To me it screamed self-assurance, something I didn’t yet have. This picture told me that with a leather jacket and a good pair of sneakers anyone, even me, could be an object of desire. But what I didn’t know I learned years later in his autobiography “Born to Run:” Bruce suffered, and likely was suffering in 1975, from depression and anxiety. For a guy in a leather jacket writing about “Racing in the Streets” it was hard to imagine that he didn’t have a driver’s license because he was too anxious to drive. I am glad that I didn’t know this in 1975; I wasn’t ready to discern the difference between facts and truths yet. I learned the facts about Bruce’s suffering in 2016, the year he released his autobiography. Afterward I recalled a famous line from John Ford’s film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:” “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Thank you, Bruce, for letting us embrace the legend back then, but having the courage and authenticity to give us the facts later on. And I believe firmly that the legend that Bruce gave us in the early 1970’s held a deeper truth about himself, one that he could hardly imagine until much later on in his life: that there is indeed something legendary about the willingness to be candid and vulnerable about your own suffering. If you read between the lyrics you can find Bruce’s authenticity about his suffering in those early songs.
Working as a psychotherapist for the past 25 years I have been in the business of finding something deeply true amid the facts of a person’s life. I’ve heard story after story, some very painful and some quite funny, silly, or sometimes even deeply spiritual. I never knew on any given day what I was going to learn about someone. Over and over again I heard people struggling to find their own truths in the midst of the facts of their lives. This process can be so difficult to follow, especially when memory struggles to reconstruct facts. Traumatic events and the powerful stress hormones they release damage memory formation. We build our truths from those narratives; how difficult it is to do this work when the narratives are so painful and so poorly remembered.
When I first started my practice 25 years ago the first challenge was to decorate my office. The furnishings I chose were pretty simple: lots of earth tones, some greenery and “soft corners,” a lesson I learned from a feng shui master. After the furniture came the walls. I found a watercolor of a vineyard that captured those earth tones perfectly. Then a Japanese floral print; another match, but so far my office seemed too impersonal, warm in a way but still somewhat sterile. On the one hand therapists should not have items that make the room a sort of biography of themselves. We stay away from family photographs, drawings made by our children and grandchildren, even our bowling trophies don’t make the cut. But at the same time it’s good to have something in the room that tells my client something about me, something that gets to what might be true about me, if not getting at my facts and narratives. After much contemplation I resolved the issue by hanging that poster of Bruce, the one that was hanging around all of the subway stops and MTA buses in New York City back in 1975. That would let people know something true about me, without having my life story get in the way.
Bruce hung on my office wall for the better part of 25 years. Occasionally Bruce would become a focus of a conversation. “Yes, Bruce has suffered from depression too. You’re not alone.” Or “who wouldn’t want to BE Bruce Springsteen now and then?” One day speaking with a client struggling with yearning, wanting desperately for his life to be something, anything, other than what it was, and knowing that this client loved Bruce’s work too, this quote from “The River” felt reassuring, maybe to both of us:
But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night, on them banks, I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?
Or is it something worse?
Bruce offered no easy answer, no answer at all, about what to do when your dreams have died and you’re filled with remorse, regret. But just the knowing that we’re not alone in heartache, in yearning, to know that the man in that picture suffered too, gave hope. And I’m grateful for that gift from Bruce, the gift of authenticity and willingness to bare a hard truth.
I retired from my private practice earlier this year, just five weeks ago, actually. My truth at this point is that retirement is not easy. The facts are that I’m 67 years old and planning on focusing my time and my energy on “the greater good,” whatever that turns out to be. I’m fortunate that I no longer need to be concerned with creating income. My wife and I live a frugal life, no frills really. But it’s difficult to walk away from so many people that I’ve tried to help, and in the helping come to know their facts but more importantly their truths, at least as best as we could figure them out. And it’s in hearing the stories, in making sense of them and finding some truth that we come to love one another.
We find this emerging love in Jesus’s all-time greatest story about the outcast (the Samaritan) who came to help the privileged one (the Jewish man coming down from Jerusalem). Jesus’s narrative speaks strongly to the need for unconditional compassion, but it leaves out something important I think. The Samaritan could see easily the facts of the matter: the robbery, the beating, the dying man in the dirt on the side of the road. So could the lawyer and the priest who walked by and ignored the needs of the man. But I think the truth here may be that the Samaritan saw the man and knew “this could be me; this IS me.” The story tells the Samaritan’s truth about compassion, but not how he came to know his truth. I suppose it was from his own suffering, perhaps the same suffering that made him a Samaritan, an outcast. But it turned out his truth created love without boundaries.
I tell that old and glorious Gospel story because my work has been to hear stories and tell stories and help people tell their own story. The crux of our work as therapists is in our capacity to hear, receive, and tell stories that find meaning and truths. Throughout these 25 years I’ve tried to keep my own facts to myself; it wasn’t my therapy after all. And I have tried to allow our shared truths to result in love, just as I think the Samaritan had a story that allowed love, rather than prejudice, to emerge. This kind of love is perhaps best understood as agape, a Greek word usually translated as “fellowship” or “charity.” Once I know your story, and can reflect on my own story and how it informs me about our shared truths, then something happens that is helpful to my client, and maybe to me, as well. Whatever it is that happens that is helpful inevitably is in the context of love, agape, emerging.
There was always that Springsteen poster hanging there in my office, and it always suggested something of my own story, both the facts and the truths. It always reminded me that the stories, the facts, should always lead to the legends, the truths.
This morning I opened a package sent to me from two of my former clients, a married couple, who I’ve known for about a decade. Inside the package was a framed picture that looked like this:
It’s difficult to put into words how grateful I am for this gift. What makes this such a perfect gift is it speaks to being known, to my truths being known, by these lovely and loving people whose lives I’ve been involved in for so long. When I think about gifts, I come to realize that this is the greatest gift any of us can give: to have our truths known and acknowledged to each other. In their note accompanying the picture were the words “maybe we were born to run.” Right on, Mike and Sue! Never stop telling your stories; never stop finding who you were born to be and what you’ve been born to do! And thank you for your lovingkindness. That is the greatest gift!
On April 1, 2020, in response to the COVID pandemic, I began to host twice-weekly drop-in meditation sessions for anyone who cared to take the time to join in. Those twice-weekly meetings continued through August, 2020, when I changed the schedule to once per week. After nearly 18 months of meeting online every week with some of the kindest people you can imagine, I’ve decided to bring these “Take a Break From Stress” meetings to a close. No, the pandemic isn’t over yet. The Delta variant has seen to that! But this year has been a year of endings for me, and it felt right to bring this to an end as well.
What sort of endings? I decided to retire my private practice after 25 years of pastoral clinical counseling. I have met so many wonderful people over those years! In my private practice I’ve provided many hours of counseling and clinical supervision, and enjoyed it all. I’ve been hard at work for nearly 50 years now, and with my 67th birthday approaching decided late last year to take some time to collect my thoughts and my spirit to discern “what’s next?”
There have been other endings for me and my family this year. In December of 2020 a close friend died, followed by the mother of another close friend in January of 2021. Then in April a second close friend died, and then in May my mother passed after many years of suffering from Alzheimer’s. The context of my endings includes saying goodbye to people I love both in my clinical practice and in my personal life.
In a way we are all dealing with societal level endings over these past two years. Gone are the days when we were not sure if climate change was coming or already here. The extraordinary extremes of weather turn out to be the leading edge of our changing climate. The pandemic and its power over our lives has ended any illusions that humans can conquer and control our relationship with nature. Finally, the past political year has ended any hopes that the impact of easy mass communication through the internet and social apps would not prove to have so much potential to be malignant.
Many endings for me; many endings for all of us. But the thing about endings is that if you lean into them, truly see and feel exactly what they are; if you yield yourself fully to all of the consequences of all of these endings, you find something beginning as a result. I’ll soon be without my private practice, but that free time begs me to reach out with new ideas and activities for the greater good. Dear friends have died, which only serves to make me cherish all the more the friends I have, whether I’ve met them yet or not. And my mother’s death fills me with anguish, but reminds me that I have such lovely family still with me, including my sister who was such a compassionate and dedicated presence in our mother’s life right until the end. These losses inspire me to pay attention all the more to the good friends and family that I have been blessed to have with me.
So today I post the video and audio from the final drop-in meditation session. I’ve posted many of these sessions over these past 18 months, but far from all of them. Over the coming months I’ll work on posting this backlog and maybe, just maybe, finally get around to actually organizing my website! Thanks for not complaining!
When I bring mindfulness to a group I like to cite poetry or some reading that I think captures something of this wonderful practice. For my final Take a Break session, I decided to go to a “greatest hits” list, or at least a few of my favorites. All of them are from books by Thomas Merton.
When I speak, it is a demand that others remain silent so I alone may be heard. When I am silent, I hear my true self and reach my soul. When I am silent, I hear with a caring heart. Silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it. If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything because we have said everything before we had anything to say. . . . .
If a (person) is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.
Ask me not where I live or what I like to eat . . . Ask me what I am living for and what I think is keeping me from living fully that.
— Thomas Merton, from “Thoughts in Solitude”
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . I suppose the big problem is that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.
— Thomas Merton, from “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”
Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.
— Thomas Merton, from “New Seeds of Contemplation”
Here is the video of today’s meditation:
Here is the audio: