5 Things I Learned on a Meditation Retreat

By Ryan Stagg

Shambhala Meditation O'Hern - For Web5

At the end of a recent week-long meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center another participant remarked about how difficult it would be to explain her experience back home. “We sat a lot, walked in circles, and didn’t talk much,” she said with a laugh.

And yet somehow after a week of performing this simple routine, often in complete silence, we all had smiles on our faces and a clear appreciation for the journey we had just completed. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what, but some transformation had undoubtedly occurred. The atmosphere in the room was simply lighter and more spacious.

There is something very radical about choosing to go on a meditation retreat. In many ways it stands in contrast to the speediness and excitement of our everyday lives. It also creates a fundamental shift in our perspective—rather than seeking fulfillment externally, we resolve to sit and look inside, at our own bodies, hearts, and minds.

The effects of embracing this contemplative perspective have long been promoted by practitioners and more recently by scientists. What’s fascinating is that the benefits don’t come from outside as we are so often socialized to believe. They come from within our own being. Somewhere in the midst of sitting and walking circles people continue to discover something magical. In Shambhala we call this our “basic goodness.”

To discover basic goodness is to glimpse one’s own inherent worthiness and completeness. It’s a feeling of contentment with things as they are. Of course there are many benefits of going on retreat and everyone will have their own unique experience, but I’d like to share five things that I’ve learned about the journey:

1. I had to take a leap. Breaking out of the cycles of everyday life to come on a meditation retreat is not easy. I worried about getting behind at work. The long winter was finally breaking and warm spring days made me wonder if leisurely weekends might be a better way to spend my time. I knew from retreats before that my back would hurt…a lot. The list goes on. A definite leap had to occur out of my daily routine and all the momentum it carries. It’s really the first step of the practice—to break the attachments to habitual tendencies and comforts. It’s a challenge to put aside a week or a month, but that decision becomes the essence of the practice; it lays the foundation for letting go.

2. There is no replacing the full immersion of extended retreat. I’ve sat a number of weekend retreats recently, which are certainly a good way to spend a weekend. However, I find something happens around day 3, a kind of immersion where the practice becomes a little more embodied, a little more effortless. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to sit even 25 minutes in a day but the transition to sitting hours and days at a time is surprisingly simple. The container created by the retreat staff and the other participants becomes a powerful support and I seem to find a hidden patience and resolve.

3. Relentless kindness to one’s self is key. The Shambhala teachings have really done a number on my idealistic expectations of meditation. When you try to be a Buddha you end up being very hard on yourself, when you try to be a human you end up being kind to yourself. The Acharya of this retreat led us in a three part exercise each day where we’d feel what we were feeling—maybe pain in the body or a particular emotion—extend kindness to that feeling, and then relax into the feeling of being kind to oneself. It’s a simple and powerful practice that helped me reintegrate the more difficult parts of myself I’d rather not sit with—the parts that don’t seem “enlightened.” This technique helped alleviate a lot of the conflict and struggle of sitting meditation and replaced it with a holistic appreciation of what it means to be human.

4. I felt a lot. Sometimes more than I’d like to. I find it amazing how the world opens up from sitting. Maybe distant memories in which I could smell my childhood home and feel the warmth of a glowing fire in the hearth. Maybe a rush of emotion of the deep love I have for a close friend.

We also had a much-needed “aerobic walk” each afternoon. I live here at Shambhala Mountain Center but each time felt like the first time I’d ever seen this incredible land, my perceptions were heightened, I could vividly feel the point of the pine needle and the pleasant ruffle on the water of Lake Shunyata.

5. I found a lasting place of calm. Many of us go seeking externally for peace and quiet, awaiting our next vacation or moment to escape. But real peace and quiet comes from working with the mind. The depth of meditation I cultivated on retreat is something I can come back to over and over; it isn’t based on external conditions. It’s subtle, but that sense of my own basic goodness grows each time I make the leap to sit a retreat. I couldn’t think of a more valuable way to spend my time.

Click here to learn about Dathun / Weekthun Retreat 2015 — Your opportunity to meditate for a week or full month!

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10524698_676605145764845_4615874047729965354_nRyan Stagg received an MA in Contemplative Religious Studies from Naropa University, and currently lives and works at Shambhala Mountain Center, where he explores the dharma as a personal, social, and professional path.

Floral Notes and Bardo: Egg, Apparently

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a regular feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

A world in which rock-people swirl as if only vapor, the sky answers in snowfall poem, and light allows dust to be messenger of song…

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A week of everything — some real, some imagined, some really imagined — up in the cabin — Sambhogakaya — and roaming an enchanted corner of the land.  Offering smoke and reciting, hearing, esoteric verses from inscrutable Trungpa — rather, “from” who? — some say this or that.  And so terrifying — possibilities open as if revealing the core of the earth.  The core of my being, beneath sage brush of comfort, mountain peaks of reassurance, forests of familiarity.

Some uncertain lava sure to devour any versions of myself that I uphold which are not in accord with roaring truth, muse.  Cosmic.  The circumstances of my voice in the sunlight are far more vast than I tend to recognize.  My melodramas will be swept off in a single breath of this wind.

I always kinda knew that the path would open up wider, and that which I’d glimpsed would breathe — hot — in my face, and otherwise on the back of my neck.

Now, several years into the conversation, subtle dance, with lineage — practice, hearing, feeling — things are opening up — but it’s like a growth spurt.  It’s not quite a shock, but a bit sudden.  It’s not quite foreign, but a bit more strangely personal.  A bit more real than before — which is disconcerting.

Perhaps my center of gravity is shifting, and I’m struggling a bit to adjust, find my balance.  Or, also knowing that things will likely always be in flux…  Anyway, it’s one of those bardo periods.

We moved out of the cozy lodge suite with the bathtub just a few days after I returned from retreat — a rather traumatic re-entry in which I tried to say and show a lot of my experience — things that may be better digested than shown while being chewed upon.  I opened my mouth and showed Heather — the nitty gritty of spiritual expansiveness and utter bewliderment.  We rode this moment of blazing ambiguity and eventually came home to one another.  And then, we moved into a new home.  Boxes into the mini-van.  And now, sharing a small bedroom in Manjushri.  Planning to move upstairs into the larger room soon.  One of my main homies, Ryan, is considering moving into Avalokiteshvara — the yurt.  I’ve been trying to sway him like I’m a Realtor.  That lil’ house is sacred and I feel protective.  I want to pass it onto to someone who I feel would be a good successor-inhabitant.  It’s a lineage thing

Meditation and meal times have changed and my routine has been scattered — by the breath.  Yesterday I spoke with Naksang Rinpoche about written symbols, and I’m leaning into the practice of writing.  Tonight I’ll read the epilogue to Jeremy Hayward’s book Warrior King of Shambhala: Remembering Chogyam Trungpa.  This book has provided nice accompaniment to my recent curiosity and exposure to further Shambhala teachings, practices, energies, possibilities.

Saturday, Trungpa Rinpoche’s Parinirvana — we all celebrated in the Stupa — Sadhana of Mahamudra feast.  Yesterday, Easter Sunday.  We dyed eggs previously and Heather organized an Easter egg hunt, which, fortunately, some kids participated in — which wasn’t part of the plan.  I took my first full shower in two weeks and felt re-born.  Showers now in Karma Bathhouse.  This morning I showered again and rang the gong for morning session — first for me this season.

Also, tic season.  I’ve pulled four off of me so far.  The first was in retreat.  I had a lucid dream, and a monster appeared and bit into my thigh.  I woke and grabbed it right off.  I could see clearly that it was terrified.  I whispered blessings and then asked the insects to leave me alone.  I made offerings of peppermint tea on all of the windowsills and at the doorway.  There were no more incidents.  Now though…  Heather has had ticks too. Last night, she was quite upset.  Me too.  Disturbed.  I did tonglen, laying in bed — for her, for us — I forgot about the tics.  So many beings to be amidst — seen, unseen, parasitic, lovely, at any given moment.  Me too.

– April 6, 2015

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious creature on the path of artistry and meditation, who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center.  His roles within the lil’ society include Marketing Associate and Shambhala Guide — a preliminary teaching position.  Follow Travis on twitter: @travisnewbill

Floral Notes and Bardo: Shoving Off

By Travis Newbill

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

This morning on the hillside, standing — symphony dawn — witnessing: my preferences are like fleeting mosquitoes in the cosmos.  Yet, wondering… how big can I be?

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Tomorrow I’m going into a two week, group retreat: Enlightened Society Assembly.

Yesterday, I spent time in the shrine tent with Shenpen, Sensei, working on a large installation.  It felt magical in there.  It felt refreshing.  There’s good substance to the Shambhala tradition, and I pray that this two week immersion may put me into touch, a bit deeper.

Today, trying to “wrap things up” and prepare for the retreat.  Deciding what ends to leave loose.  How much to scramble in order to get things tidy, and how much to let go so I can go into this relaxed and well rested.

I’ll be settling back into Avalokiteshvara (lil’ yurt).  I’ll spend some nights with Heather.

I live here.

It’s a funny thing going into a retreat like this, which most people leave their homes far behind in order to do.  For me, it’s happening right here — where I live, work, play… I’m not leaving anything behind.

Rather than pretending that I am, I’m going with it.  We’ll see how it goes.

Gotta make an Ikebana arrangement for the yurt.  Gotta get up to the Stupa –circumambulate, refresh the offerings, light some incense, prostrate — stir up some good mojo.  I’ve ordered some real nice tea to drink during the retreat.

Ahh… excited! Going in!  Shoving off!

– July 25, 2014

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center.  His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community.  Follow Travis on twitter: @travisnewbill

 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Squirm, Squirm, Leap

By Travis Newbill

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

There is no escaping the collective here.  The buzz in my skull is a shared reverberation.  There is internal and external chatter, and calm.

This is the shrine in my yurt:

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Through my comical aversion to Kasungship, I’m recognizing my inclination towards maintaining my bubble.  I have an agenda.  I’ve been so worked up about things.

I decided to plant myself for a day this past weekend.  A 24 hour retreat, to settle.  I went to the Stupa early in the morning, to be alone, in peace.  There were already people there.  I practiced for a while.

I ate breakfast by myself in an aspen grove.  I made a sign and clipped it on my shirt: “Noble Silence,” indicating that I would rather not engage in conversation with anyone.  The noble silence badge is common around here.  People wear them during retreats.

After breakfast I sat back down in my yurt for a long morning of solitary, sitting meditation.  Ahh…

About an hour into my session, I heard footsteps outside.  Kasung Kate came to my door.  I gestured for her to come in.  She had done the work of organizing a gathering for those of us who will be attending Enlightened Society Assembly later this month.  One of the teachers, Acharya Melissa Moore, was leading an online discussion.  Kate had hiked all the way up to my house to retrieve me.  Very kind.

I walked down after her and listened to the talk, asked questions.  It was a very auspicious interruption of my day’s agenda.

I ate lunch in the trees and afterwards went back up to my house for several hours of meditation, with a bit of study thrown in at the end.  I read Treatise on Enlightened Society.

There seems to be no escaping the reality that we’re all bound up in this together.  And I realize that I have an inclination toward self-protection, comfort-seeking.  There seems to be a real leap that has to occur.  I have to leap over my laziness in order to be helpful.

All the teachers say that helping others, that not being selfish, will bring true joy.  I know it’s true because I’ve experienced that before.  But I forget.

There’s a leap involved in opening up to people, to their beauty and fragility.  Lately, I’ve noticed a tendency to immediately judge negatively.  People are easier to ignore if their ugly.  It’s not helpful.  It seems that to shift things in a positive way for myself or others I have to leap, leap, leap.

I’ve been glancing at this truth with a skeptical eye recently.  And, I’m finding that resisting the truth that helping others is of utmost importance brings misery and struggle.  It’s becoming more real — because with my skepticism, I’m beating it into a pulp.  There is no squirming out of anything.  We’re all in this together.

– June 30, 2014

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PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center.  His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community.  Follow Travis on twitter: @travisnewbill

 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Some Hallucinations

By Travis Newbill

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

What am I afraid of?

Feeling overwhelmed forever, failing in my endeavors, losing people’s approval, not achieving what I wish to, not receiving the recognition that I crave, not being special at all, being a grain of sand, being fundamentally mistaken, being nothing but a brief-luminous-flare.

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I really feel the need to go on retreat.  I’m all wound up.  I’m feeling clouded.

But…

It’s difficult to find the time.  Some people seem to think that living here is like being on one big retreat.  In a sense, that’s true.  But…  I work a lot here.  Most everybody that lives here works a lot.  Between the day-jobs that we have — which keep the business running — and our community service, obligations, participation…  it’s a lot.

And…

I just realized a couple of days ago that I ought to go down to Florida for a week or so in the beginning of May to help my mom.  Our family home is being foreclosed upon.  My brother is soon going off to college.  So, she’ll be alone.  The house is full of stuff — physical and emotional.  It’s been accumulating for half a century.  It’s a mess.  It’s quite haunted.

Anyway…  I’m just a little freaked out and need to go on retreat.  Note to self.  Got that?  Retreat.  Or, carry on and do my best with the state of mind and circumstances that are arising.  The time for retreat will open up and I’ll know it.  Keep the peepers peeled.

Last night in Fearlessness in Everyday Life class, lead by Greg Smith, we paired-up and asked each other: What are you afraid of?

My current answer: My own hallucinations.

– April 17, 2014

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

 

 

Connecting Tai Chi and Buddhism with Larry Welsh

By Travis Newbill

Larry Welsh will be leading Flowing Like Water, Strong as a Mountain: Tai Chi Retreat, April 25-27

Larry-20Welsh-IMGP0429cc-(1)The ancient practice of Tai Chi Chuan has often been called the “supreme ultimate exercise.” When joined with mindfulness sitting meditation, these two forms bring forth a potent way to awaken health and restore well-being in body, mind, and spirit.

Larry Welsh, MAc, MA, has trained in the Yang-style short form, listening hands and sword form of Tai Chi Ch’uan since 1977. Larry is Senior Adjunct Professor and Mindfulness-Meditation teacher in the Traditional Eastern Arts program at Naropa University. He practices Japanese Classical Acupuncture, herbal medicine and whole-food nutrition in Boulder, Colorado.

Watch our interview with Larry Welsh below, or scroll down to stream/download the audio.

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

Larry Welsh will be leading Flowing Like Water, Strong as a Mountain: Tai Chi Retreat, April 25-27. To learn more, please click here.

Floral Notes and Bardo: Good-life Immersion

 

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

A week of staff retreat–so, so good…

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Meditation in the mornings, talks from our teachers, a beautiful lahsang on day one, cooking meals for each other.  In the afternoons–activities: music group, art, nature, physical movement, study…

So, peeps chose a track, grouped up, and got deep into those activities.  Some of us peeps got into music.  I facilitated the group and encouraged deep listening, space exploration, improvisation…  edgy spots, sweet spots, unexpected things.   And after we bravely improvised together, becoming braver as the days went on, we’d spend some time just hanging out with some tunes–Irish tunes, Brazilian jazz tunes…  everyone in the group was coming from a different place, musically, and so the improv was interesting and also the hangout section was lots of fun and varied.

The first night of the retreat we held council practice for the whole community.  People sharing from the heart in a sacred space.  I felt such deep love for everyone.  It set the tone for the rest of the retreat.

Such immersion into what it is to live here.  Time spent together–practicing, playing, just being together.  Lots of spontaneous, long conversations.  People staying after meals just to hang…  Ahh, so good.  Time with the land.  Time enjoying living in this amazing situation together, free from the day-to-day complexities and stresses that go along with trying to keep the thing afloat, and progress towards greater operations.  Of course (of course!), the greatest operation is ever-happening.  This was a nice reminder of that.

In the evenings there were various activities–dancing, movies…  Nathaniel and I hosted a sound bath.  People laying on cushions in the center of the shrine room–heads together in the center, huge speakers all around, dimmed lights, and an hour and forty minutes of washy, lush, beautiful music curated by Nathaniel, who has exceptional taste.  I offered a bit of my music into the mix, which he blended nicely.

Milarepa Day on day 6.  Oh, wow!  A full day of reciting, singing, chanting “The Rain of Wisdom“–spontaneous songs of our Kagyu forefathers.  So, so, beautiful.  So deep.  We began at 9am and went until after 10pm.  A very rich, traditional Buddhist day.  We drank chai  and nettle tea on breaks.  Sho mo! What a joyful, good experience!

The next day we went to the Great Stupa for Sadhana of Mahamudra.  I was so glad for how everything lined up/unfolded.  We spent a lot of time planning and preparing for the retreat, and then it seemed the magical forces kicked in and carried it to better places than we could have imagined.

We ended with a feast at which we practiced the Shambhala Sadhana, dined, and had libations, toasts, and made offerings.  The music group performed, others sang and shared things about their experience throughout the retreat, the art group had everyone throw colorful paper airplanes…

Rejoicing the Container: Our friend Tara–who was here and then left–asked us to put this nice thing into place: a box which collects ‘thank yous’–to people, from people.  We did so and offered the thank yous at the feast.  Everyone read one from the box.  Touching.

So… Ahh!  Such a deeply beautiful immersion into the magic of living here together.  That’s the thesis.  That was the intention and it really hit nicely.  So grateful.  Now onwards into the springtime…

–March 24, 2014

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Golden Sky, Level 1.5

 

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

Sun/torch
brought close to
buzzing fly–not to fry the lil’ baby, but to remind it
of eventual disintegration.

Golden water will vanish, and also: butterflies.

Not so scared of tumbling into the dream.

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Time spent with sky and sparkling snow, and emotions, my friends and Teacher Steve. I was a helper for Shambhala Training Level I last weekend. Two years after I first took the program with David and Ethan Nichtern in NYC. It was a wonderful experience–again.

After a full weekend–full heart, full of meditation, and awakening-moments, a walk around with friends up to my little house for a tea party. Then hiking back down–gazing 360 with amazement at the sunset. A lovely nap/sweet cuddle. Barely made dinner and heard about a party. Across the land again, now stars out–baffling. And giddy to be walking with this friend. Joyous gathering–sweet booze/poison from Chile, saw my dear heart-friend (had been a long time), and an amazing tarot reading–one friend to another in the middle of the party. Incredible–loving, wild, comedy. Trio hike home. Big moon. Friend showing me constellations, then goodnight. Late to bed. Laid awake–again. Laying down meditating. Opened my eyes to golden sky.

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Slow-down Practice (Slow Down, Practice)

 

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

So much happening these days–all days, always
in my mind, body, office, and in the general atmosphere. So many ideas about
the path forward–business-wise, community-wise, and
personally. I am feeling more and more
one
with this organization.

My sleep has not been so restful. Maybe too much tea
too late in the day. But also, for sure,
activated imagination. So much energy to process.
It’s challenging. I’m glad for it.
There is a lot to do. There is a lot of work to do.
The is a lot of art to do. There is a lot of caring to do.

–On this planet. In this day and age.

I’m learning how to do that.
There are teachers here who are helpful.
The whole life here–

here = SMC; but also, here = HERE

but, especially SMC (for me)

is a place to practice.

Practice meditation. Practice friendship.
Practice art. Practice work.
etc.

Because there are bombs going off in my chest and
brain these days, I will spend the entire day tomorrow
meditating in the Stupa.

One of my aspirations for 2014 is to sit a nyinthun on every Saturday
which follows a New Moon.

sit a nyinthun = meditate for a full day

Sitting meditation is the opposite of propagating sickness. Here is a sign which is posted on the Quadropooper:

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This is the Quadropooper:

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Bracing the old shack for a windstrom that’s been on the way since before
contruction began.
Before the trees were planted.
Long before lumberjack swung for pay–
greasy sausage

An entry from an encyclopedia
belted out operatically to illustrate
the continuity of knowledge and feel,
words and intuition,
art and work,
speech, song, hearing, and growth.

Passed on from elderly–a verse about the future,
the restaurants are nervous to serve meat,
the folks who sat at the booth are concerned that their coffee may spill on their
laps because they no longer trust their bodies.
Jimmy Dean on a chipped porcelain plate is wet with grease
after the meal the original prophetic-neurotic-author saw himself
in the puddle of lardy-juice,
laughed,
and said “Oh lardy!”

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

Taking Joy

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 Photo by Greg Smith

Author, teacher, and innovator in the mindful recovery movement, Kevin Griffin, shares an exclusive excerpt with us from his new book, a work in progress tentatively titled Happy, Joyous, and Free: A Buddhist Guide to Contentment in Recovery. 

No matter how together our lives are, how good they look, how much stuff or success or fame we have, if we can’t take joy in it, we won’t be happy. Taking joy is the realm of mindfulness, practice at the center of all Buddhist teachings. Mindfulness is fundamentally about being present for our life, for each moment in a wholehearted, non-reactive, inquisitive, and intuitive way. While mindfulness is an inherent human capacity that we all have, it’s something most of us have never developed and need guidance and practice to establish. Mindfulness training is done formally in meditation. It is done informally in all activities, like walking, talking, eating, or exercising. Anything we can do, we can do mindfully and mindfulness enhances the experience of any activity.

With mindfulness, we actually experience the joy in our lives. We taste our food more fully; we feel our emotions more clearly; we see the beauty around us and are touched by sorrow, joy, and pleasure. Mindfulness enriches every moment.

When we take joy, we remind ourselves to fully experience something. I often find it amusing when I’m at some beautiful natural site and people pull out their cameras. Instead of actually experiencing the beauty, they are trying to capture it and take it home. How silly. As if looking at a picture of the Grand Canyon or the Golden Gate could be more satisfying than being there. And yet, if we don’t learn how to be fully present, to be mindful, this is often the best we can do. When we are numbed by the constant inflow of sense experiences that our culture provides, it can become hard to feel anything more than superficially.

For me, it was only after I’d gone on a Buddhist meditation retreat in California that I started to discover this kind of engagement. Returning to my hometown in Pennsylvania for Christmas, I was shocked to see how beautiful it was. I’d never noticed the loveliness of the brick sidewalks, the Victorian mansions, the tree-lined streets, and the 18th century church. I realized that I’d sleepwalked through my life until then, caught up in my own thoughts and feelings, taking my surroundings for granted. I finally began to take joy in the world around me.

In my role as a spiritual teacher, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to perform a few marriages. Each time I do, I try to emphasize to the couple the importance of being present and taking joy in the moments of the ceremony. Especially in experiences like getting married—with all the excitement, stress, and trappings—it’s easy to get lost and forget to pay attention. These are precious moments that only come once (hopefully), and we must remember to fully take in their joy. As a musician, I used to play at weddings from time to time, and seeing the bride or groom getting drunk was particularly tragic to me for this very reason.

Here’s another, much simpler example of taking joy: When I eat a piece of high quality chocolate, I stop and savor it, smelling the chocolate, inhaling the flavor, rolling my tongue over the smooth texture, chewing slowly, and taking in the whole pleasurable experience. Ah!

Interestingly, when I was working with some mindful eating researchers who were developing a program for severely obese people, this same technique was used to develop aversion to unhealthy snacks. The researchers asked the participants to slowly and mindfully eat junk food, the result being that the participants realized that they didn’t really like this stuff, but were eating it out of habit. This exercise has important implications for all of us, that if we pay attention to any of our activities, we will see which ones are bringing us happiness and which ones are leading in the other direction.

Mindfulness helps us to see clearly the difference between taking joy and grasping at pleasure. While the Buddha pointed out the fruitlessness of clinging, he also encouraged us to appreciate what we are experiencing here and now. Take joy in each moment, and then let it go. This is our path.

Kevin is leading The Joy of Recovery: Buddhism, Chi Kung &12 Steps with Greg Pergament at SMC from December 6-8. To read more about this powerful and supportive retreat, click here.