By Melissa Moore

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Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘circle’ or anything with a center, a periphery, or a fringe. It can include any society, group, or association and often has connotations of a spiritual gathering. In many Eastern traditions, wisdom mandalas are used as meditation practice tools. 

In Karuna Training, we engage the wisdom Mandala of the Five Buddha Families (5BF) by practicing space awareness to learn to trust and understand the nonduality of the seen and unseen forces of the world. Through convening with the 5BF Wisdom Mandala, we learn to access and integrate our innate wisdom. 

Is this a therapeutic approach? Well, yes and no.  It depends on how we define therapeutic. If therapeutic means curing or ‘fixing’ an ailment or addressing a pathology, then no, space awareness practice is not therapeutic. However, in the contemplative definition of healing, when we learn to come home to who we are, unique to each of us, it could be considered healing and certainly relaxing.

Karuna Training offers a deep dive into the practical and imperceivable aspects of the Five Buddha Families through the Mandala's body, speech, mind, quality, and action.  These families are experienced in both confused and wisdom manifestations. The spectrum between confusion and wisdom is the ground we tread daily and where most land habitually. Bringing space, kindness, and awareness to the dimensions of the 5BF Mandala as it manifests within us performs the healing properties of space awareness practice. 

The outer aspect of the 5BF Mandala is the elements and where we begin in Karuna Training: space, water, earth, fire, and wind—making up the entire universe and all its inhabitants. We study each element's unseen energetic aspects and then how the elements transfer into emotional styles and eventually habituate into conditioned experiences. The confused and wise aspects of the 5BF energies are nondual realities, and we exchange with them daily. We call them families because they’re so familiar; however, bringing contemplative awareness to these energies ignites our wisdom mind. 

It's the old adage of ‘it's not what happens to us, but how we hold it that matters’ - a shift of mind can make a difference in our perception and experience. For example, if we plan a picnic and it rains, we may experience disappointment, but if we are farmers amid drought, we experience the rain as a blessing. Our conditioning toward the elemental aspect of the energies matters, and the 5BF also engages deeply with the primary emotions of passion, aggression, ignorance, pride, and envy - all possessing nondual wisdom in their own right. Through space awareness, widening the mind with space and relaxation, we begin to experience the respective wisdom of the 5BFs: discernment, clear seeing, accommodation, equanimity, and skillful action. 

In Karuna Training, we learn to trust the world's intrinsic sanity by studying the 5BF Wisdom Mandala, exchanging ourselves with others' energies, and turning our allegiance to their intrinsic sanity. We practice this through Compassionate Exchange, which allows a broader perspective on the 5BF energies. For example, what passion looks like in me will be very different from all others. The same is true for all shades of emotion.  Again, we learn to widen our minds and hearts with space and relaxation to open to the wisdom of others. 

We are befriending ourselves as we learn to embody and befriend the energies. This is often experienced as healing because internally, we relax, and externally, we expand out of trust and love for the world as it is—not as we wish it to be. So even when emotional energies are uncomfortable, we stay with them and learn to transmute the innate wisdom within the emotion. We make friends with ourselves and become less reactive to the world with its omnipresent impermanence and suffering. 

Space awareness is therapeutic, but not in the sense that we change ourselves; it's much more about befriending and becoming more of who we are, which is always sane and reasonable at our core.  

By Melissa Moore

“May this Winter Solstice season bring peace, love, and relaxation.

We wish you a good book to read, a blanket to keep you warm,

a hot drink in your cup, and friends with whom to weather any storm.”

~ Otherworldly Oracle

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We need to bring light and insight into the darkest hours of the year, light to turn the page, light to move forward, and heart light to bring cheerfulness into the darkest time of year. Humans have marked this annual transition from dark to light since time immemorial. Nowadays, when we ritually observe and celebrate the Winter Solstice, we connect to what is ancient in us as human beings.

We may tap an embodied memory when we move ritually in tune with the seasonal changes. 

Winter and Summer Solstice rituals are cross-culturally known to human beings worldwide. One could imagine they abide in our DNA as a species, consciously or unconsciously; there is an impulse to mark these significant annual dark-to-light and light-to-dark transitions.

Creating Rituals to Acknowledge Transitions

Karuna Training explores how rituals help us embody and acknowledge substantial events and life transitions. Through ritual, we learn to commune directly and energetically with the invisible elemental forces and tune into the world's seasonal significance and greater wisdom. 

Through ritual, we bind ourselves to reality through our body, speech, and mind. The Body - is the embodied action, the actual act or rite of the ritual. The speech aspect is the feelings stirred and invoked by the rituals. Rituals allow our voice to be heard, and we speak directly to the invisible forces - taking back our human capacity and power to commune directly with the sacred. The mind holds the intention we set for our rituals;  with clarity on what we aspire toward, we are more likely to magnetize whatever we desire.

Both conscious and unconscious rituals are essential to human psychological health and sanity.  A ritual here does not necessarily mean following an official rite or a prescribed religious ceremony; we can discover all kinds of rituals. When speaking of ‘sacred ritual, we acknowledge the freedom to create and amalgamate whatever we care to incorporate, as humans have done for eons, in creating a meaningful ritual for oneself. Mundane rituals can be as everyday as making our tea, relating to our phone, greeting our partner or children, calling our mothers weekly, etc. They are meaningful and essential to be intentional in one’s body, speech, and mind.

If we create rituals, we unconsciously enact them, usually through self-destructive or unsatisfying behaviors. In Contemplative Psychology, we understand destructive addictive behaviors, usually ritualized, arise out of separation toward the sacred. Sacred here refers to evoking an experience of the world and its wisdom, which is more significant than us but not separate from us. We are all seeking connection with that which feels more powerful than we are. We aspire to belong to someone, something, and the World. Even if we have renounced belonging and live in solitude- we’re in reaction or evolved away from our need to belong.

Evoking the sacred means learning to enact conscious rituals or create contained experiences that bring forward a sense of belonging to the greater whole. We can remember to mark significant transitions in the year with meaningful rituals that we amalgamate from our history and current values. Creating rituals or combining those familiar to us and those we love is an opportunity to evoke the sacred - to make the holiday season meaningful and personal to feel they belong to us and we to them. 

When the sun is far away, we can supplicate the light to return, metaphorically, ‘What shadow areas do we wish to shine light in our lives?’It is courageous to invite light, which in Buddhism is synonymous with luminosity or appearances. We are bringing light into the shadow time of year, a shared collective turning point on the globe's Northern poles. 

“We tell ourselves stories to live.” 

      Joan Didion 

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I recently took a road trip with an old colleague and friend with whom I’ve not spent much time for several years. It was their first time traveling through the Southwest Canyonlands, and we spent a lot of time in a hot car together. The past occasionally came up in conversation, and I found it astounding how differently we remembered the same events!  We each had a markedly different narrative about what happened 20 years ago.

Story-making is the act of weaving meaning through narration that orders our experience to make sense of what happened to us. We all integrate meaning through a story from life’s precarious and unceasing events.  Narratives can be highly therapeutic and sometimes necessary to synchronize with one’s world. I am addressing when our narratives conflict with others or we hold them so tight there is no room for another’s experience. 

It's widely understood that individual memory is extraordinarily subjective and faulty. (Shaw, J., & Porter, S., 2015). Therefore, when we notice we have different narratives than someone else on shared history, perhaps with friends, siblings, or family members, we will be challenged to find agreement, and schisms occur. We’re confronted by an entirely different perspective than our own, and sometimes, it feels threatening and groundless. 

From a Buddhist perspective, thoughts weave our personal stories together, and these thoughts arise from deeply conditioned and habituated aspects of our minds. Buddhism understands a storehouse consciousness, one of eight consciousnesses, which holds onto every action, emotion, experience, and thought as a seed waiting to ripen when the right causes and conditions occur. Buddhism believes our storehouse consciousness is full of seeds from this life and all previous lives. 

I’m not realized enough to know if there is a storehouse consciousness. Still, I can recognize that I repeat emotional and behavioral patterns I thought I’d already worked through. I am repeating patterns in relationships, friendships, and life challenges that play out similarly as they have before.  This repetitive nature of our habitual patterns is the ripening seeds arising from our storehouse consciousness. We can purify the storehouse consciousness, but not without intentional mind and heart training.

I’ve learned from my dharma practice and study over the last 40 years to understand that my narrative is nothing more than how I’m making sense of life and certainly nothing solid. Also, I notice how my stories change over time as I edit and re-edit them in the telling. 

Knowing how to loosen our narratives is beneficial in today's divided world of politics, family dynamics, science zealots and deniers, and a general information overload. Widening our minds around our narratives offers us and others flexibility of mind, an openness of heart, and the ability to become curious about another’s perspective. Openness is the seed of compassion, what we cultivate in Karuna Training. 

I have often reminisced with my brother and sister about our family vacations as a matter of relief and entertainment. We’ve found great camaraderie in these recallings at times. My siblings are both considerably younger than me, and in reality, we had different family lives, but we shared the same father and grandparents. When we speak about our father and grandparents, I notice we have entirely different relationships with those family members, leading to varying narratives, which can occasionally cause tension.

What makes siblings exciting, regardless of the age gap, is that they are the most extended relationships we tend to have. Family conflicts can arise when siblings hold tight to their version of ‘what happened.’ Recognizing that it’s natural for our siblings to perceive family experiences differently is an important aspect. A practice of loosening our narratives could be helpful in the name of maintaining essential relationships. 

The way to loosen our narrative in the name of mutual understanding with those with whom we love and share experiences is to let go of what we think we know. That's a challenging task! However, loosening the narrative makes space in our mind for new perspectives and demands we investigate why we hold things from such a different point of view. How do we let go of these storylines, especially when they feel like they’re gluing us together? 

Meditation is beneficial to accomplish this mind-unraveling task, which is one of the main goals of meditation practice. We sit silently with ourselves and synchronize our bodies, breath, and mind in the present moment. Letting the breath and the space at the end of the out-breath be our anchor to the present moment; we continually let go of our thoughts and return to our breath. Meditation builds the muscle in our minds to let go of what we think and experience what is happening fresh in life off the meditation cushion. 

When we encounter a situation where we have a different viewpoint from someone else about what transpired, we practice letting go because that skill has been developed. It shows up like pausing and asking ourselves, ‘Is it necessary to hold onto my story as the right story?’ 

I faced that question this summer when my friend presented a different interpretation of our shared past. At that moment, I had to instantly broaden my perspective to listen genuinely to their point of view. It served as both a gesture of goodwill towards our relationship and evidence of how much I cherished our friendship to be willing to release my narrative. Join me for a one-hour free Karuna Live on Thursday, October 26, from 7 - 8 PM MT to discuss and explore where we hold our narratives tightly and when that is a problem.

By Melissa Moore, PhD

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Perhaps we’ve heard or used the phrase ‘taking space,’ yet do we know how to take space for ourselves in a beneficial way? It's often invoked amid relational tension when we’re at a crossroads and need to back off and take some time and distance from one another. Sometimes one partner in a relationship will say, ”I need to take some space,” which can be perceived by the other partner as a threat. What do we mean by taking space, and how can we do so with genuine kindness toward ourselves and others? 

We need to take space in relationships sometimes, especially when caught together in destructive patterns of speech. How can we simply pause and touch into space to re-group without shutting down completely? 

Sometimes, when in need of space in my relationship, I shut down the space and stop relating altogether. When I do so, I don’t feel spacious at all, I feel claustrophobic and controlling. That's not taking space – it’s an act of suppressing space and refusing to feel anything. Part of learning to evoke space is the capacity to notice the contrast between feeling spacious and feeling ignorant and suppressed. The latter is a habit of employing space to ignore and become dull. Space has multiple qualities, and how we relate to these qualities is a question of awareness. 

Space is one of the five elements of the Five Buddha Family Wisdom Mandala. The elements are water, earth, fire, and air. Space abides in the mandala's center, where all elements are born and dissolved. Karuna Training teaches us to embody space and all the elements. We learn to evoke space and discern when it's needed. 

Making a deep relationship with space is one of the benefits of meditation practice. When we sit with ourselves in silence, in the beginning, we find we are filling the space with many of thoughts. We do so because open space can threaten our ideas of who we are; we sense groundlessness, and automatically, we will avoid the space and fill the openness. Often we’re inclined to admonish ourselves for thinking so much  - but thinking is a way to fill up the space and confirm our existence.  Meditation is learning to befriend ourselves while we feel uncomfortable not filling the space. So even when our minds feel out of control, and it’s challenging to be with ourselves, we stay open to what arises. 

Eventually, the chatter subsides when we sit in meditation long enough, and then the boredom sets in. There is such a thing as hot boredom and cold boredom.  Hot boredom is irritating, fidgety, and another way to fill the space. Cool boredom, however, is a physical and mental acceptance of boredom, a sense of contentment amid the boredom. Chögyam Trungpa said, “In Western society, when any little irritation comes up, there is always something to cure it. From little things like pads for your spectacles to the biggest of the biggest, as long as anybody can afford it, the Western approach is to cure any kind of boredom or irritation at all… They even sell little pads to stick on your spectacles to keep them from sliding down so they stay on your nose properly… And a practitioner is someone who can maintain themselves, who can relate with boredom.” 

In Karuna Training, we center ourselves around meditation practice and expanding our intensity capacity to sit with boredom, irritation, and discomfort; to grow and develop further capabilities of being with ourselves as we are, not what we wish we could be. We learn to evoke ‘Maitri,’ a Tibetan word meaning loving-kindness toward ourselves and others as they and we are. True maitri occurs when we love ourselves regardless of how we feel or what our mind is doing. 

In meditation practice, we learn to soften the most uncomfortable parts of ourselves as they are, and when we do so, we are planting the seeds of maitri and mixing our minds with space, an open space we can feel internally.  To discover genuine space takes time and training to relax and rest in the silence of space. We aspire to integrate space as a known state we can evoke when feeling claustrophobic.

Once we’ve established a regular meditation practice, we take space with kindness daily to be with ourselves as we are, not with the agenda of fixing or making ourselves better. Regular meditation shows us what space is and what it feels like to have it. Meditation practice for 30 minutes a day is like taking a preventative pill that will allow us to approach our lives with more space and kindness. 

Learning what space is and how spaciousness feels internally is one of the many things we study in Karuna Training.  Then we advance on to develop that capacity of holding space for others – while honoring our own need for space is what is practiced in compassionate exchange—this is one of the key methods of Karuna Training. 

Can we hold space for others, meaning can we be present for another when they are in pain? Or do we need to offer advice to fix them and find a solution to their problems? Holding space is a practice of non-judgemental deep listening that communicates consideration and love. 

We learn that space is necessary for the mind to be discerning, perceptive, pliable, and kind. We can make space an ally and evoke it in our bodies, speech, and mind. Learning how to evoke space can only occur through a relationship with loving kindness.

We invite you to spend an hour learning Karuna's views, methods of evoking space kindness, and other fundamental methods of Contemplative Psychology. Please join me for an hour-long Karuna Live on Saturday,  June 17, at 10 AM MT to explore your relationship with space and kindness.

By Melissa Moore

This article is related to an event, click here to learn more.

Change is coming, and there's nothing we can do to stop it, so the question is, ‘ how do we move gracefully through the inevitability of life’s changes and be wisened by them?’ 

Some societal changes sweep in change faster than we can prepare for, like unexpected election results or suddenly being laid off by a giant tech company. There are gradual changes, like aging,  kids growing older and leaving home, or societal shifts that occur without too many disruptions or annoyance, like the introduction of artificial intelligence or the rise of the smartphone. And then there is drastic and unexpected change;  sudden deaths, natural disasters, illnesses, family tragedies, or accidents that come out of nowhere. These changes evolve naturally; for the most part, we integrate them as they happen; gradual societal changes are viewed as progress and expected. 

It's the unexpected change that most of us struggle with, complain about, resist, and sometimes willfully sabotage. Sudden change is usually out of our control and imposed on us, either by others who have the power or by greater circumstances like the weather.  We can also prepare for unexpected change, but not with our usual attempts to ensure ourselves against calamity. We can become busy nailing down the rug of our lives to ensure we’re not caught off guard. But suppose we could raise our gaze beyond our preoccupations with security?  We can discover the inevitable aspect of change that is always in process and the changes that move us toward living a more responsive, wise, and dynamic existence. In other words, life wisens us when we learn to embrace change.

The ability to accommodate and navigate change falls on a continuum; on one end is utter resistance and a refusal to move forward – on the other is an expectation for change. Meaning if it's not changing, we get nervous. We all fall in different places on the continuum, and it's essential to know our habits around meeting any life changes.

For several years I was the director of the research and training division of one of the oldest social service agencies in San Francisco.  I was the agency’s labeled ‘change agent,’ which didn’t make me popular with the clinicians who worked in the many mental health programs the agency oversaw. 

My job was to help the CEO update an outdated agency to modern times. In 2005,  that meant getting people to use email, implementing a newly designed data management system for client record keeping and billing, and bringing evidence-base-practices to all of the agency's services. Clinicians hated the changes. So in that job, I experienced firsthand the strategies to avoid change. 

Many clinicians resisted the change I implemented across the agency, first by ignoring them, then by actively undermining the system. It was so tricky that I ran all the agency's clinicians through a  ‘change adoption survey’ to find out where they fell on the adaptation-to-change continuum. Adaptability to change scales measured the clinician's proclivities to an experience of change. I fall on the far end of the continuum of a person who is quite comfortable with change. I get anxious if things stay the same, which made me a complete outlier in that agency. Many fell on the other end of the continuum, where any change brought anxiety and struggle.  Learning about people’s propensity to change was informative, and I realized people need to be taught to navigate change because change will happen, like it or not. 

I had to think about what made my proclivity to change so open and expecting. Perhaps a groundless childhood, moving countless times between divorced parents.  I’ve also traveled a great deal – all seasoned travelers know things do not go as planned, almost ever. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel anxious in the face of unexpected change, but I’m also known as an ‘early adapter’ in a system of change.  I believe the Buddhist teachings on impermanence have prepared me the most for adaptation to change. As a practitioner, I’ve sat in contemplation for many hours around the truth of impermanence. 

Impermanence is a natural process that teaches us that once something is born into existence, it is subject to death. We are naive to think we can put things in place in life forever, whether that be a relationship, a job, a home, or even a way of thinking about life. Holding and integrating the truth of impermanence allows us to prepare for the change that will eventually appear. It doesn’t mean change will not break our hearts or irrevocably interrupt us.

Integrating the truth of impermanence allows us to be less self-occupied when change occurs. We become more proactive in creating the changes we desire. As Gandhi said, you must be the change you wish to see in the world. 

Preparing for the truth of impermanence will allow us to navigate the winds of change. If you would like to practice working with impermanence in a group setting and share what’s arising, please join me for a Karuna Live on Thursday evening, March 9, at 6 PM MT.

By Melissa Moore

It’s that time of year again… 

It’s time to consider the opportunity of the New Year before us,  a new chapter, and potentially a fresh start. Usually, we resolve to do things differently, and often we identify something we want to stop doing. How many resolutions have you made that didn’t go anywhere? We resolve to stop eating sugar, stop binging on Netflix, spend less time on devices,  or get off the couch and exercise! Many New Year’s resolutions are based on self-admonishment, and we use the New Year to reprimand ourselves with resolve to do it differently. 

This New Year, we could find another way to initiate the change we desire by learning to make aspirations over resolutions. Aspirations are a more friendly approach toward ourselves to instigate change. For example, we could aspire for inspiration to cook for ourselves in a way that nurtures us the same as sugar does; or we can aspire for more engaging activities with friends and more passion in life than we find on Netflix. Or we could aspire to find real-world activities like walks in nature, musical instruments, or books that nourish us more than our electronic devices.

Learning to aspire over resolve in the New Year invites passion, creativity, and space. New Year aspirations, as opposed to resolutions, are less defined and open-ended. 

New Year’s resolutions based on self-admonishment can be unkind ways of perpetuating the habit of making ourselves wrong and unworthy. We forget to reflect on what’s driving our undesired behaviors or relationships. We forget to ask ourselves what these behaviors and relationships are serving. For example, we binge on sugar because we’ve eaten poorly all day, or we binge on Netflix because we feel unengaged in our relationship. Typically, it’s difficult to understand what is going on when we take the time to reflect on ourselves with kindness.  In Karuna, we call this practice of reflecting kindly Maitri, a Sanskrit word that means loving kindness towards ourselves and others.  With the attitude of Maitri, we learn to foster self-understanding and patience toward ourselves.  

True aspiration is something we feel inspired by. It adds direction and curiosity to our lives. We find out there are more things we want than things we don’t want. Opportunities manifest when we learn to cultivate a rising mind of aspiration.  Instead of something flat and dry like, “ I aspire to exercise more in 2023’. An aspiration sets a psychic intention, is more open-ended, and is inspired.  “I aspire to discover an exercise that I enjoy doing” or “I aspire for an exercise partner, which makes exercise more fun.” We rise to aspirations out of passion, as opposed to resolutions that often result from aggression towards ourselves. This can be subtle,  but a resolution solves a problem. We firmly decide on a course of action and lock into something we’ve come to out of failure and disgust. 

I like to make lists to know what I have to do and to stay on task. Long ago,  in reality… only six years ago, I realized that my ‘to-do’ lists were seriously weighing me down. I was so busy accomplishing what was on the list that I was losing track of what I wanted to do. The more enriching things in my life that mattered to me were not on those lists.  My aspirations were not on those lists: writing a book, learning to play guitar, studying history, reading more fiction, etc. 

I’ve also noticed that specific dreams I’ve accomplished have come about organically, like learning to garden or hand-tiling my patio with river rocks. I never wrote those things down on  a list – although they were things I’d aspired for many years. I’d seen hand-tiled patios in Northern California everywhere, and I desired to do the same one day. 

Last year, in March, I took my gardening aspiration to a new level and grew seeds indoors. beginning in March.   I live in Colorado, where the growing season is short, and gardening is more challenging than in  California, where I learned. So aspirations evolve and develop and offer us an exploration of the things we are most passionate about. 

Aspiration doesn’t need to be written down, although people are different in modalities that work for them.  Aspiration can be mulled over in one’s mind for years, and then one day, we notice -  there we are  - deep into gardening. Also, aspirations evolve and look differently than we initially imagined them.

Choose a rising mind aspiration this New Year by learning to make open-ended aspirations!  

You can take yourself through a simple exercise by answering these questions. 

Take time to reflect on your answers, either through contemplation or journaling. Tune into your body and notice where you are in the present moment before you begin.

  1.  Tune into behaviors or relationships you wish to change.. Take a few breaths and consider your topics and where you feel them in your body. If possible, don’t judge yourself; if you do, just notice and take a breath. Don’t try to figure anything out - we are simply identifying the feeling in our bodies about that which we desire to change. 
  1. Once you can sense the issue(s), drop deeper inside yourself with kindness and curiosity toward yourself and simply feel what you are feeling.. 
  1. Ask yourself what these undesired behaviors or relationships are doing for you.  We usually do things because they work or once did, so sit kindly with yourself and ask what’s working. Don’t judge your answers. Usually, we know right away when we remember to ask. 
  1. Spend time feeling into whatever truth you find within yourself – and take more time to consider what you desire if no conditions were hampering your life; what would life look like? 
  1. Make a simple rising mind aspiration that circumstances evolve to what you want in your life instead of reprimanding yourself with a resolution.
  1. After that, release and return to the present moment –  notice what kind of space has opened up within.

When we arise out of aspirations -  we are inspired to find opportunities. An open aspiring mind generates auspicious coincidences; our main task is recognizing the opportunities to make a change. 

By Melissa Moore

There is an online event related to this article that you can find here.

In the Northern hemisphere, there is a melancholy to the end of November when the grasses turn brown and the trees are freshly naked. We participate in this annual death of light, the descent into darkness… for a spell, and if we’re not wrapped up in activities, we might glimpse the sacredness of this seasonal transition. And yet, I notice that November tends to be one of the busiest times of the year. Like so many things, we’re propelled by the bottom line—instead of following the natural tendencies of the season. The seasons always display a natural wisdom of what to do at their respective time of year, and it’s so obvious—we miss it!

Following the seasons, no matter the time of year, is attuning to the sacred and exchanging directly with the invisible forces of life.
The Spring season is natural when we hatch anew, enliven, plant, and cooperate with emerging life. The summer is a time to accomplish—because one can move, expand, and grow when there is an ease of activity. The fall celebrates the harvest and gives thanks for the richness. Wintertime’s arrival—often unwelcome, we can taste the invitation to stock up and hibernate. Winter is a beautiful time for a solitary retreat when that opportunity is available. However, most of us fill our calendars with engagements and family reunions. Of course, meeting with our families is important too, and there’s a short season of bringing our children to meet their elders. Still, we need to find a balance with the seasonal flow. 

In the late fall, going into the holidays in North America, no matter our spiritual roots, the season of darkness heralds a time to honor the quiet. Everything needs time and space to die and renew. We foster our natural connection to the sacred by allowing ourselves to synchronize with this quiet time of year in some way, whatever our life affords us. That may mean getting up at dawn for sunrise meditation before the kids are up. Or a slow walk with a beloved pet in the chill of the morning. 

These glimpses of stillness emerge organically in the flow of our lives. Often it’s a matter of offering ourselves the space to be quiet. We don’t have to call it meditation; silently sitting or walking is enough. The dark time of the year lends us its hush, silence, and luminous stillness. 

I recently walked out of a cabin at Drala Mountain Center at 8000 in elevation in the Rocky Mountains at 6:35 AM. I was on a group retreat, and I’d just completed a Maitri practice room. The color I chose to intensify in this retreat was yellow or the Ratna Buddha family, associated with fall, earth, generosity, and bounty, among many other things. Ratna is the color of death and ancestors. During the retreat at the Mountain Center that morning, it had snowed, and snow had collected on the land through the night up to 14 inches. Early in the frisky morning dawn, I noticed winter had arrived through the silence. The snow hushed the forest to a stillness only afforded by fresh snowfall. I opened my ears and stood still to allow the silence to open my heart. It is like I caught up with myself at that moment. 

Recalling when nature has awed us into open-hearted silence is an excellent exercise.
I only need to stop typing this article and raze my gaze right out my office window. I’m awed to see the beauty of golden light reflected through the bare elm and plum trees—and experience the kiss of autumn wind rustling the dead leaves. In this instant, my mind is quieted, and I notice the subtleness of the elements opens my heart. 

Contemplative practice is learning to attune our hearts to the energies of the present moment, nature, and a cultivated relationship with the elements I find it is the most accessible experience of that which is eternally sacred. One can also tune into the present moment in a crowded airport and experience much the same, but this takes training. 

The primary practice is remembering because we have a lot more training in forgetting there is an instant resource in our natural environments. We need to slow down and tune into the present to remember to do. Failing to raise our gaze and feel our experience in the present moment is so simple. Trungpa Rinpoche called this always-available sacred moment Nowness. Nowness is also referred to as the fourth moment in Buddhism. The fourth moment is beyond time and simultaneously incorporates all time, past, present, and future. 

I’ve experienced the death of the seasons as an excellent time to reflect on our year. Starting at the end of November and early December—moving forward through the Winter Solstice, and between Years… This is the season when the planet is most distant from the sun. This is the season we are invited to go inward to access and reflect on our year of experience and the transition of what was—to what is—to what will be… all accessible right now. 

What happened in 2022?
What did you learn, and how do you want to apply that wisdom? What are we working with as we transition into 2023, what are we completing in life, and what are we willing to carry forward – even though we still may carry a burden? What is unfolding now for you going forward? Staying in the present to answer these questions is a point of access to our innate wisdom. But, it requires we go inside and sit openly, and wait…

When the underground energies settle down, the earth protects our life force while allowing time for rest. We do not need to figure anything out logistically, we can surround ourselves with loving kindness and stay with whatever arises. 

We can attune to nature’s stillness—in the Northern hemisphere, at this time of year, the days are short, and the nights are long—can we find respite in the dark season by following nature’s lead? 

Attune to the stillness, the silence, and the joy of the sacred this holiday season in a Karuna community. We will walk through a group ritual together, a time of reflection. Please bring a candle, an instrument, or anything that opens your heart and represents the sacred. 

On Thursday evening, December 15, at 6 PM Mountain Time, we meet on the rise of the waxing crescent moon and practice a seasonal ritual of contemplating our year.  Please join us for Attuning Our Hearts to the Sacred.

By Melissa Moore

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In Spring 2021, a colleague and dear friend from Naropa University, Janneli Chapin, insisted I read The Buddha in Redface by Eduardo Duran. She said, “This is what I care about right now,” as she handed me the brightly red-covered book. I took it home and opened the book immediately because Janneli is someone who has realized her Buddha activity, meaning she embodies wisdom, compassion, and kindness. Also, we’ve shared a spiritual path since we were in our 20s at Naropa Institute in the early 80s, and I listen to her leads.

The Redface Buddha is an epic tale of compassion and wisdom—a testament to humanity’s brilliant sanity. I found the book a page-turner of a read! The Buddha in Redface illuminates Padmasambhava’s famous prophecy: When the iron birds fly in the sky, and when the iron horse moves across the land, the Buddha will be in the land of Redface. Padmasambhava was the Indian saint who brought Buddhism to Tibet.

Eduardo, a cognitive behaviorally trained therapist (Eduardo is also Jungian trained) consulting psychologically with Native tribes in New Mexico, was finding little success with Western methodologies for indigenous populations. Along the way, he meets a simple yet profound, paralyzed native man named Terrance in the mountains near Los Alamos, NM. Terrance is a complex character to describe, so I won’t do him an injustice by trying.

Terrance plans to hold healing ceremonies on the Los Alamos land to invigorate the Dreamtime. Los Alamos was the site where scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and staff initiated the secret Manhattan Project. This group was responsible for developing and testing the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

Terrance trained Eduardo in ceremonies in the Dreamtime; Terrance tells Eduardo, “Dreaming—that is our way. Everything comes from the dream. All of our medicine comes in from the dream. All teachings, the Buddha, and God, all are the dream. Our relatives from the north call this the ‘eye of awareness,’ and Our Tibetan cousins call this the ‘big mind’ or ‘the awareness.” (p. 25 The Buddha in Redface )

Upon completing the Buddha in Redface, I asked Janneli for Eduardo’s email and reached out. He was responsive, and we quickly met online. Ed is humorous, humble, and wise. He’s also wrathfully honest, which I greatly appreciate.

In Spring 2019, Karuna Training, as an organization, embarked on a decolonizing journey.
I had no idea what that meant then, and I’m still tentatively figuring out a definition as it applies to an organization like Karuna Training. However, it has something to do with the embedded unconscious biases arising from the historical dynamics of slavery, genocide, and the colonizing of indigenous land and peoples, which plays out blindly through habits of control over, and appropriation of people, places, and or systems.

Karuna established a new Board last year with a few folks I recruited for their decolonizing experience. We’ve been undergoing a slow and provocative process of investigating how our unconscious mental conditioning impacts curriculum and systems of operations. As a steward of Karuna, I have read many articles, attended multiple anti-racism, and decolonizing seminars since embarking on this journey. Still, I make countless social blunders from what I understand to be unconscious ‘settlers' guilt.’ from living in a white body.

I struggle with uncomfortable feelings of hopelessness around what I don’t know, can’t see, and still don’t understand about my racism and unconscious biases. I see how Buddhism, specifically America Buddhism, has been individualized and whitewashed. Encountering Eduardo and his writings has illuminated many blind spots—at times, it's heartbreaking to undertake the task of decolonizing myself, nevertheless, an organization.

My respect for Ed deepened when I read his second book, Healing the Soul Wound: Counseling with American Indians and Other Native People. This book catalogs the fruition of Eduardo’s ceremonies and instruction from Terrance. In this book, Eduardo illustrates a skillful means of providing trauma-informed counseling to Native Peoples in a decolonized manner.

The book provides simple yet profound clinical translations that offer culturally specific methods that make sense to Native peoples. Here, Eduardo delivers a compassionate and relational approach toward one’s illness, whether physical or mental; for example, having a ‘naming ceremony’ to help hold and relate to any specific trauma versus receiving a clinical diagnosis, which can be traumatizing. Eduardo generously includes instructions for non-American Indian counselors to grasp and use the concepts he presents in culturally competent ways.

Eduardo's approach is deeply aligned with the compassionate exchange work of Karuna Training, continually working from a non-pathological view and trusting in another’s basic sanity. Only he dives deeper to address indigenous peoples’ generational trauma, how the perpetrator’s aggressions arise in the victim and the perpetuation of an epidemic societal soul wound. I found Healing the Soul Wound to be a revolutionary contribution to the practice of clinical mental health. I only wish I had come across it while working on renovating the broken community-based mental health care system in my career.

Reading that book, I aspired to invite Eduardo to a Karuna Live program, where he and I could dialog about the healing needed for the troubled times in which we live. I chose the Thanksgiving weekend because I wanted to contemplate the path we could envision for healing our greater societal soul wound, which we all carry, and mostly continue to perpetuate unless we initiate and partake in healing ceremonies.

Join us for the Karuna Live Saturday, November 26th at 10 AM MT for a conversation with Eduardo Duran and meet the Buddha in Redface. We will offer a smoke ceremony together for Turtle Island and have an eye-opening discussion about the true meaning of Thanksgiving. In an email, Eduardo remarked, “I believe that the original primordial knowing has been retained in the plant world, and when released with the element of fire, the smoke resonates with the elemental knowing in our DNA. There is the knowledge of our original face, as the Zen people talk about.”

Learn more about Karuna Live! Offering Gratitude to Turtle Island and Her Original Inhabitants here.

By Melissa Moore

A Wisdom Mandala is an ancient meditation tool that depicts the nature of the world and is the representation of a sacred deity. We usually find mandalas shown as colorful circles or squares in Eastern, specifically Tantric Buddhist artwork, as in the painted sand mandalas in Tibet. Each specific color, symbol, and character has a meaning and points to the world's wisdom. 

In Karuna, we draw on the Wisdom Mandala of the Five Buddha Families, which has an outer aspect: the five elements of space, water, earth, fire, and wind; an inner aspect, which is the way of emotions; and a secret part, which has to do with transmuting confusion into wisdom. Transmutation is like composting; it means staying with the discomfort of confusion until wisdom dawns. 

The Five Buddha Family Mandala arises from Indian Hindu and Buddhist Tantric traditions, as well as the indigenous religion of Tibet, the Bön tradition.  All these streams melded together to create Tantric Buddhist teachings or Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. Karuna Training draws on this ancient wisdom tradition. 

Today, in modern parlance, the word mandala points to the makeup and culture of a group, circle, organization, church, or a like-minded community. Mandala means ‘circle’ in Sanskrit;  a circle with a center and circumference. In Buddhist (and Hindu) circles, one can hear the use of the word; “she’s been part of the mandala for many years,” “Let's include him in the mandala,” etc. 

In Tibetan Buddhist practices, one finds mandalas representing a practice of a central deity; each deity has its specific powers, qualities, and benefits.  A deity often arises in the center of a palace and is surrounded by a retinue of other similarly garbed deities. These retinues are often visualized by the practitioner and sent through the practitioner’s mind to enhance the deities' beneficial power. There is usually a charnel ground outside the palace, where life's blood, gut, and gore (Samsara) are depicted; in Tantric traditions, everything is included on the path of awakening. 

Usually, the practitioner uses the depiction of the deity mandala in visualization practice and has a mantra that accompanies the deity. These practices engage one’s body, speech, and mind in the deities' world or mindset, and the practitioner is mixing their mind with the power of the deity - a depiction of their own unlocked divine powers. Visualization practice is an ancient and traditional way of invoking a wisdom mandala in the tradition of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. 

Mandalas are also depicted through the art of making intricate sand mandalas, painstakingly constructed by rubbing a mental grated tube full of colored sand and placing the sand in precisely the right place. I’ve tried this method, and it isn’t easy. In the late ’80s, a few Gelukpa monks were engaged at the Deyoung museum in San Francisco, publicly constructing a Sand Mandala over a few weeks. Toward the end of their demonstration, a Muslim woman broke through the crowd, jumped on the table, and scrambled the sand mandala with her feet, screaming, ‘heretics!’ The monks simply stopped and placidly did nothing. When the guards asked if the monks wanted to prosecute the woman, they laughed and said that, ultimately, the sand mandala represents the World’s impermanence. She demonstrated impermanence for everyone. Once we finish, we ritually return the sand to the ocean, so why prosecute? 

Deity visualization and constructing sand mandalas are the traditional means of evoking a wisdom mandala. However, Chögyam Trungpa first introduced the Five Buddha Families and Tantra to Westerners as embodied practices and tools to train one’s awareness. 

Trungpa evoked the Five Buddha Family Mandala by offering specific postures or physical poses, which one practices in colored rooms or with colored glasses in a retreat setting. The postures intensify one’s awareness of mental and emotional contrasts associated with the Five Buddha Family Mandala. Through the practice of space awareness, he offered an experiential glimpse into one's relationship to space - or perhaps a glimpse into one’s lack of space. Trungpa called this practice Maitri Space Awareness; Maitri is a Sanskrit word meaning loving-kindness. 

Space is a big word; it is the elemental birthing place of the Buddha Buddha Family. The element of space, with disturbing emotion, ignorance, and wisdom, is the accommodation of space. Space, in this context, is synonymous with openness and can be sluggish and dull. So space has a challenging manifestation and a liberating one. 

By becoming familiar with the Buddha Buddha family of space, one learns to evoke space by becoming aware when we are lacking space. In this way, becoming familiar with the wisdom mandala of the Buddha Families adds elemental daily direction and guidance. 

We are invoking the mandala as a way ‘to call on the energies, just like praying or calling on a higher power for guidance. Invoking is a practice of aspiration, meaning we aspire for the wisdom and inspiration to infuse whatever we are drawing to ourselves or a group.  Invoking a Wisdom Mandala is something we learn to do in Karuna Training. Once we practice together in retreat, we can call on the energies in our daily life.

By Melissa Moore

The noun resource turned into a verb; to resource got its meaningful significance through the field of neurodiversity. To live a life of basic sanity, one must continually resource oneself. In the dictionary, Resourcing means providing money, workers, skills, etc., to a particular project or venture; however, in Karuna Training, we practice the art of resourcing ourselves when hit with complex challenges. Whether our challenges are physical, relational, or energetic – like working with fatigue, difficult emotions, or an ongoing illness; one way of resourcing ourselves is the capacity to draw on the natural elemental energies which make up our world.

Resourcing through the elements means drawings energy and inspiration from water, air, earth, fire, and space, which are the makeup of our world. To draw on the elements as a resource assumes an established and conscious relationship with the elements. Once we begin to work with the elements this way, it is like having access to a wisdom tap of inspiration available 24/7.

It’s common to take the elements for granted, like small children who never consider the context of their worlds and never stop considering who and what supports their existence. Yet, nothing in life doesn’t arise out of and dissolve back into space. Every person, place, and form is intricately subsistent on interacting with the elements: water, earth, fire, and wind. The Chinese elemental system makes room for wood and metal elements; however, in Karuna Training, we draw on the Tibetan Mandala of the Five Buddha Families, which aligns wood and metal with the element of earth.

Chögyam Trungpa once said, “If we understood the nature of the elements, we would understand everything there is to know about karma.” Karma, in the Buddhist teachings, is the law of cause and effect. Karma understands that all people, things, and occurrences are interdependently co-arising, meaning we are inseparably linked to everything else. The makeup of everything is elemental and subject to the Universe’s physical laws.

Communing with the elements and their energetic makeup is a primary practice of Contemplative Psychology. Learning to exchange with elemental energies is how to resource ourselves in everyday life. We draw vital energy, power, inspiration, and wisdom through fundamental awareness of the elements and how they interact with one another. In Karuna, we take the elements as our teachers. What this practice looks like varies; for example, when we bring ourselves fully present to experience the energy of a developing rainstorm, we can attune to the magic of a thunderclap. Doing so may serve to invigorate us, just ask any child; thunderstorms can help to cleanse us of occupying worries and cares. The storm can wash away our common concerns and attune us to the awe the world has to offer.

An old Chinese proverb states, “Life begins the day you start a garden”! I can attest to that truth when I finally had the time and space to start gardening in my 63rd year of life (aided by a worldwide pandemic). My garden has become a cliche of a life-altering and deep resource of fulfillment that I never knew I was missing. The daily exchange with earth, water, wind, and sun in my kitchen garden has bound me to my home and family in wholesome daily rituals.

Even though I’ve been teaching about exchanging with the elements for a very long time, it turns out that resourcing ourselves with the elements is literal! So we need to get our hands dirty.

I come from a long line of Missouri farmers. Both my parents escaped the family farms early on, vowing to never turn back. I grew up in apartments in Los Angeles and later in the burbs in the 1960s and 70s, where the back to the earth movement had yet to resonate. Each lawn was perfectly manicured. I’ve spent my life supporting my partner as the resident gardener; while simultaneously racking up a huge carbon footprint commuting hours to keep a permaculture lifestyle.

Gardening isn’t the only way to resource ourselves elementally; other activities include but are not limited to: bird watching, mushrooming, rock climbing, hiking, sky diving, and possibly even hunting; although I have an aversion to the killing aspect. These and many other outdoor activities are all opportunities to contemplate our inseparability from the elements. In Karuna, we consider the elements deeply, one by one, considering their impacts on our being physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Space the primordially birthing ground and the graveyard of all existence; everything arises out of and dissolves back to space.

Water is essential to life and health, the fluidity and reflective aspects of life’s complexity.

Earth the ground, and sustenance of all our existence, from which all nurturance is spanned.

Fire allows for digestion, integration, insight, and even transmutation of confusion into wisdom.

Wind is the circulatory instigation of all action and movement in the world, without which would be stagnancy.

The five elements are the make-up of our existence, and each element has correlative energy with which communion can be exchanged. In Karuna, we create rituals to call in the elemental powers, learn to commune, and draw on the energetic elemental wisdom in everyday life. At first, this calling-in ritual can feel awkward; we have long ago delegated our spiritual prowess to priests, shamans, and other authorities we have deemed more fit to communicate with the invisible forces. However, humans have known how to communicate with these magical energies for much longer than they have forgotten.

Moreover, by communing with element energies, we become sensitive and attuned to our fire-like nature of flitting from one thing to the next absent-mindedly. Or to the turbulent water-like way we thrash through our daily tasks, or the windy existence of our daily schedules. We can take the elements as our teachers, ever-present and accessible to us when we learn to raise our gaze and exercise our permeable natures.

Elementally resourcing ourselves is a contemplative practice that allows us to draw on the wisdom of the world, from which we are not separate.

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