By Melissa Moore

Last night, I dined with a 92-year-old woman and her 98-year-old husband, both still in good health; although she has severe osteoporosis, she is still gardening, throwing pots on a kiln, and he is golfing twice weekly - and only stopped skiing less than five years ago. It's wild how enamored I was of their energy at their age - they had been married for 71 years. The woman joked and said,’ You mean our denial of aging.’ This made me wonder if aging is as much of a mental process as she makes it sound – and if how we hold our age impacts the aging experience. 

Colorado is full of healthy 85+-year-old folks all over the slopes, cross-country skiing in the winter, and running and biking up and down mountains at high altitudes all summer. This is the state with the lowest BMI per capita, and the idolization of being active and fit while elderly is a State obsession. It is a common topic at dinner parties. I see it all as further ageism and ableism – yet I’m guilty of the same infatuation and aspiration as I age. Ageism is the degradation of aging, making a natural process something to hide or be ashamed of. Ableism is thinking that everyone has all the capacities to achieve and succeed, especially physically, with enough willpower, not realizing the impact on people with disabilities. 

Undoubtedly, there is a skillful means to the aging process that challenges the impact of ageism and ableism.  To grow old is good fortune for most - old age is a precious time to review the choices we’ve made in our life, our regrets and our accomplishments, the decisions we felt forced into, and the lifestyles we crafted – all bearing fruit in old age in an air of ‘looking back.’. Sorting through all of it is deemed a necessary exercise. Much like sorting one’s things, who will mess with all the stuff when we are gone? 

It's also true that we have learned some things and accrued wisdom in life, which longs to be shared and witnessed in circles of openness. We only sometimes find those opportunities in families or nursing homes across North America. Although there are many open-hearted people and programs for the elderly, we often encounter a warehouse of the elderly, lonely, confused, and frequently feeling they have inadequate help and nobody to talk to.

What would the world look like if we honored and appreciated our elders—as most indigenous cultures have always done? We would honor the fact that a long-viewed perspective is valuable and can only be attained through old age. We have life experience and a historical perspective that can be necessary to understand where we came from, our ancestors, and the lost generations and stories.   

What will the world look like as we are forced to return to intergenerational homes due to economics, where the babies are cared for by elder relatives, and the family is operated as a system for all versus just the individual? Today’s food and housing costs are forcing families to try on the time-tested model of intergenerational households; unfortunately, many youth interpret this as a failure instead of the opportunity before them. 

In Karuna Training, the cohorts we gather for our training are often multi-generational in age range, with youth and elders mingling. We’ve found a wholesome example of respect for elders' experience in our circles, and when we don’t make a big deal about age but interact as humans in a circle of equality. 

As elders, we bring responsibility into any communal space to take our seats and remember our potential contributions. Sometimes, we need to notice our habits of mind and speech, and together, we support one another in opening up. Here are a few ideas that we could practice:

We need to learn to express gratitude for life's long view. History always swings wild in a lifetime, as do inventions and so-called progress, which always look different from the lens of old age than it does to the youth. We can learn to express our gratitude to have witnessed such history, whether we understand it or not. 

We must skillfully work with life’s regrets and acknowledge our lessons learned with humility rather than self-blame. The old’ if we knew then, what we know now’ meme applies here, and we can adapt that meme with humor and humility, looking back with compassion and understanding for our life experiences, painful or joyful, all part of the soup of life. 

We should review our narratives with a healthy dose of a ‘not-knowing mind.’ We could review our narratives in life—what is right and wrong, political, cultural, religious, or otherwise influenced—with curiosity and let go of knowing all the answers. Especially if we desire to have a conversation, we can be curious about what and why others think what they do! 

To release what was, embrace what is. Old age requires us to release past identities and capacities that separate us from what we know. This loss can bring complaints and suffering, thus reinforcing our cultural conditioning of old habits. We could begin to open our minds to the wonders in front of us now, which may mean procuring a source for the wonder, when possible, strolls in nature or sitting on one’s front stoop as Spring dawns. When we only see doom and gloom, it may be an indication to raise our gaze to the present moment and allow the elements of wind, water, air, and sun to do their magic. 

    These are not prescriptions by any means, but they support reflection on elegant ways to age gracefully and to aspire to be as open and in awe of the world as possible.  

    Please tune into our Podcast, to listen to an invigorated conversation with four Karuna-infused wise women who will discuss the details and skillful means of aging elegantly.

    By Melissa Moore

    This article is related to an event. Click here to learn more.

    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: Sandra Ladley

    I’m writing this on Leap Day and reflecting on the often unexpected ways that changes happen in our lives. At this moment, I’m longing for the support we all need to leap forward in alignment with truth and care for ourselves, each other, and our planet. You can’t help but notice that things are heating up in 2024 on several levels. I feel personally constrained by anxiety and avoidance, and overwhelmed by the news cycles of so much hatred, polarization, war, harm, and suffering. How can we step out of this? Where can we find support?   

    A few times in my life, I felt trapped by a bad situation. I was up at night with dread and continually pondered how things would play out in my mind. More than once, something surprising happened that completely changed the course of events, and in the end, positively. Another example is how my closest friendships of over 40 years came about. I met one dear friend on the first day of college and another on the first day of work at my long-term employer. Who knew these first-day meetings would lead to sharing hundreds of experiences of life’s unfolding?

    We name occurrences like these when things come together unexpectedly as happenstance, serendipity, kismet, signs, and fortune, and we also recognize them as phenomena like ‘first sight,’ deja-vu, premonitions, and gut feelings. Sometimes revelatory turning points come in the form of hitting bottom, near catastrophe, or death. People in recovery from addiction or illness will cite that unplanned horrible moment as the thing that saved their lives or opened them up in profound new ways,

    Carl Jung used the word synchronicity to describe meaningful coincidences in his life's work. Recognition of these synchronous moments is not just for those who tend toward woo-woo or wishful thinking – researchers in fields including math, economics, physics, psychology, spirituality, and creativity study patterns of events, meaning, and interconnectedness beyond linear thinking or cause, beyond space and time. Some may call this god’s plan a higher power, fate, or destiny. Atheists, skeptics, and those not spiritually inclined can’t help but recognize that moves on the big game board of life extend beyond our control, beyond the individual ways we act or think.   

    When we feel stuck, lost, or hopeless, how might we attune to the unseen and unexpected, the meaningful coincidences of our lives for help? How might we cultivate increased recognition and appreciation of synchronicity and use it to nourish our well-being?  We are moving toward an increasingly artificial reality, further separating us from our human capacities of openness and interconnectedness. How might we reclaim and cultivate our deep and refined skills and, as some say, rewild our human psyche? How might we listen and live as part of our larger ecosystems where we do not ignore or dominate the natural world?

    Literature on the topic of strengthening our capacity for synchronicity cites common methods, which I discuss below. These align well with the Karuna Training program.

    Develop a Mindfulness Practice

    Research consistently cites mindfulness meditation as the baseline for developing attunement and synchronization and opening our minds and hearts. This is where the Karuna Training program in contemplative psychology begins. In meditation, we sit down, bring attention to our breathing, note the habitual patterns of our minds, and discover cracks of openness. Sometimes, our hearts melt as we open to and befriend our emotions.

    Call Your Ancestors, Allies, and Descendants

    From the vantage point of karma, it’s said that we bear the fruit of seeds our ancestors planted seven generations ago, roughly 150 years ago. I recently watched the film Lincoln again, which caused me to contemplate what seeds my American ancestors planted after the Civil War. We rightly reflect on and feel the harm caused by our forebears, including our painful childhoods, and often miss the epigenetic strands of courage, wisdom, and strength passed on to us. In Karuna Training, students focus on their personal history of wisdom and sanity, the qualities that brought them to the present. In indigenous cultures and embodied disciplines like Social Presencing Theater and Family Constellation work, we call on the human field past, present, and future for guidance: our ancestors in the past, allies in the present, and descendants nudging us forward. 

    Set an Intention

    When I’m preparing to teach or write on a particular topic, I ask the phenomenal world to show me the way, so to speak. I count on the messages that come in conversations, on walks, in study, in the news, and through events. It happens in surprising ways.

    Do Nothing - Open Your Senses, Listen, and Wait

    Are you trapped in a Moebius strip of rushing?  Do you find yourself continually heads down, speedily scrolling on your phone? We’re so anxiously focused on productivity. What happens when you do nothing?  Try slowing down and stopping. Relax and open your senses. Be present and wait. See what happens.     

    Attune to the Natural World

    It helps to become a natural world student and learn from the elements, the sky, the sun and moon, and the seasons. Karuna Training is rooted in the experiential study of elemental wisdom. Wandering in nature is an integral part of our retreats. Being in the natural world and cultivating a garden can both ground us and broaden our perspective. Learning from environmental weather patterns can help us understand our psychological weather.

    Welcome Dreaminess and Dreams

    There are many stories of people being awakened by that Aha! moment, the solution to the problem out of nowhere, that great next phrase of music. Our dreams and our hypnagogic states, when our judgmental mind can be less strong, can open our receptivity to nonconceptual synchronicity.

    Learn More about Historical Patterns

    Like with nature, we have patterns in human civilization, and, as it said, history repeats itself. Reading historian Heather Cox Richardson’s daily newsletter Letters from an American helps me understand today’s political events in light of the patterns of history. I recently learned that it is thought that Americans first became broadly culturally attuned to synchronicity when former presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4th, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which they both signed. 

    Go on Retreats or Quests

    For millennia, people have gone into retreat and done vision quests to open their minds and hearts beyond the limits of self-concept, and to receive guidance. Today we do things like spiritual retreats, sweat lodges, and psychedelic-assisted journeys for this purpose. In Karuna Training, we do week-long retreats in a natural setting and have immersive experiences of the five elements through Maitri Space Awareness practice,   a centerpiece of the training program.        

    Be a Tracker and Journal

    I admire the work of Tom Brown and others who train in wilderness tracking and survival. We can also learn to notice and follow tracks in life generally, the repeated signs and lessons when something is trying to get through to us. Keeping a journal, noticing, and reflecting on themes can be transformative. 

    In Closing: Consider Auspicious Coincidence  

    Karuna Training has its roots in Vajrayana Buddhism which is oriented around the notion of auspicious coincidence (tashi tendrel), which assumes that time and linear reality are not the ultimate way things are organized. Everything that happens, whether we see it as good or bad fortune – nothing is a mistake. All coincidences are meaningful; all are messages that can wake us up and help us. Chogyam Trungpa described this as “when you begin to trust in those messages, the reflections of the phenomenal world, the world begins to seem like a bank, or reservoir, of richness. You feel like you are living in a rich world, one that never runs out of messages.”

    Later this month, a two-part podcast on synchronicity and meaningful coincidences will be available on all streaming platforms. Terry Jaworski, another Karuna faculty member, will join me. The first part will include our conversation; the second will include a guided practice session. I hope you’ll take a listen!

    Click here to listen to the Karuna Training Podcast

    By Sandra Ladley

    This post relates to an upcoming event, click here to learn more.

    As the New Year approaches, we think of making changes in our lives. Is there something you do that harms you, others, or the planet you wish you could change? Do you feel hopeless or helpless about it? Join me on January 10th, 2024, from 6 -7 MT for Reimagining Resolutions: Embracing Change for the New Year, where we’ll dive into this topic of change-making together. 

    As I write this, we’re midway through the holiday season. The holidays, initially holy days, can bring enrichment, love, and a grounding in rituals. They can also bring frenzy, disappointments, loneliness, and regression into bad habits. I tend to have a bipolar experience during this time as I swing and sway between moods and foods. As the season unfolds, I crave the peace, quiet, and retreat that winter in the north can offer. I also imagine myself ahead into January, when I’ll have a chance to get back to a sense of balance and the renewal of healthy habits. Around New Year's, there’s a familiar and often irritating buzz around resolutions. I know I’ll roll my eyes and sigh at yet another “New Year, New You” headline, as we all know that resolutions don’t seem to work. Yet, simultaneously, I am haunted by the fact that I want to make changes in my life and hope that this old dog CAN learn new tricks.   

    Research shows that there is a “fresh start effect” when we approach an important milestone like a New Year that we can leverage to make lasting changes in areas where we may feel stuck or have given up on ourselves. For example, of the people I know, one feels helpless to stop smoking, another wishes they could control their rageful outbursts, and another one hides out in a bubble of avoidance. For me, the issue is overeating, and all that comes with being overweight. I’ve lost 50 pounds at least four times over my life, and yet the weight and the behaviors come back. Being heavy has limited my life choices, and, in addition, I hold at least another 50 pounds of shame and other emotions to match my pounds overweight. It’s not for lack of knowledge - I stay current with research, behavioral strategies, and medical developments like Ozempic. Wouldn’t it be something if I and others could make lasting changes in these perpetually painful areas of our lives? With so much global suffering and rapid change upon us, I see many of us clutching even harder to these familiar habits. It can feel like the world is spinning around us while we’re trapped on an island of stuckness. I keep the following quote from Pema Chodron tacked to my refrigerator. “May you be open and receptive to dynamic, fluid, and impermanent energy of life.” How can we tap into the changing nature of reality as a positive force for personal change?   

    Making an Aspiration/Resolution: A Clear Intention and Vow that Embraces the Journey

    Making a Resolution means having an aspiration and commitment to shifting or changing a pattern. It can be helpful to think of it as a vow, a kind of going ‘on the record’ with ourselves, others, and reality. Like with other vows, it doesn’t mean you won’t have ups and downs - or successes and failures - but that you have a long-range commitment. Research shows that the likelihood of keeping to our aspiration/resolution increases when it is something that we can feel how we want to change and that we practice visualizing and embodying that change. The word resolution is also used in photography; a picture has good resolution when it becomes focused and clear. Taking the time to clarify and state our intention, even making a ritual of this, while also being inclusive of the foibles of the journey, is a great way to start.  

    Finding and Discerning Safety: Bringing Attention to the Wisdom of our Bodies

    Karen Roeper, a mentor of mine and founder of the Essential Motion embodied awareness training, recently stated that most unhealthy tendencies are developed as coping mechanisms when we don’t feel safe. Strangely, my mind popped open; it was like I was hearing this for the first time. These coping mechanisms are often trauma responses that were passed on to us through our ancestral families and our culture. I am finding that bringing attention and discernment to what feels safe and unsafe in the present moment is very helpful when it comes to noticing my desire to overeat. What happens to you when you don’t feel safe? What are your tendencies? Is a lack of safety happening now, or is it an old message being triggered? What does safety feel like? How do you find it?

    Our world is heartbreakingly unsafe now for so many people. Becoming attuned to when, how, and where we find safe refuge seems increasingly important.

    Continually Learning and Making a Fresh Start

    The foundation of the Karuna Training contemplative education program is mindfulness/awareness meditation practice. For millennia, people across cultures and continents have sat down on the earth to settle and discover what’s happening in their bodies, hearts, and minds in the present. An ongoing meditation practice can give us strength and courage as we become familiar with our mind’s habits and learn that these habits can be disrupted. In meditation, we open to the vast reality we belong to that is greater than how we think about ourselves. 

    As a meditator, I appreciate the emphasis on you can always make a fresh start. We have continual opportunities to learn and start over regardless of where we are. What we perceive as a movement forward has as much information for us as our failures and falling back. We see this continually in nature as things twist and bend in growth, die back, and seeds start to germinate.    

    Not Willpower

    Dr. Kelly McGonigal at Stanford and others have made strides in understanding the neuroscience of willpower. Dr. McGonigal has sometimes referred to willpower as won’t power. Usually, when we make a change, there is a honeymoon phase fueled by some willful self-control. The honeymoon is typically followed by a plummet, then lapses, self-critique, and losing sight of the goal. This is why resolutions don’t work; I have experienced this firsthand many times. Research shows that we are more likely to succeed if we align with feeling what we want - visualizing and embodying it in increments instead of aligning with the grit of our will. Grinning and bearing it won’t work over the long run.

    Make Small Steps

    Research also shows that making small changes and not making a big deal of them increases success. Linking these changes to already established healthy routines also helps. The more we can keep these small changes under our “I should” voice surveillance, the better. Like many of us, I often feel burdened that “I should” get my several thousand steps in a day. If I start to sneak in micromovements like stretching in bed or moving around while waiting for the water to boil for tea, my natural appetite and pleasure in movement awakens, and the steps start adding up. 

    Share the Care in Community

    In Karuna; we foster a community where people can speak candidly about their struggles and extend natural warmth to each other. Right now, there are many around the world suffering just as you are. Recovery and other groups have shown that belonging and caring in communities is a secret sauce for changing our lives.

    In Closing 

    Why bother with all this? Who cares if we change?  As times get more challenging, I aspire to be, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, a person on the boat who can support stability and sanity in stormy seas. I want to be able to show up not only for myself but for others and our world.

    This is a significant and complex topic, and I’ve highlighted just a few themes here as a conversation starter. What have I left off this list? Join me for a shared exploration of change-making on Wednesday, January 10th, from 6 – 7 pm MT.   

    I wish you a good holiday season and positive transformations in 2024.

    Sandra Ladley

    This article is associated with a course offering. Click here to learn more.

    Join us for an immersive program with Luchy Lopez Wisdom From Within: Embodiment of Ancestral Teachings. This program begins January 13, 2024 and meets monthly on the 2nd Saturday of the month for 6 months. To get a taste of what this program will explore Luchy shares a story of Senai, a student of hers who found profound healing through embodiment. 

    Senai began working with me because she had never paid attention to her body and felt the time had come. She had been through a very painful illness for years. At times, her condition had taken her to the point of imagining throwing herself out of the window. Working 14-17 hours a day, she hardly slept. In the morning, she suffered from intense anxiety and anguish from the very moment she woke up. For years, she had been under psychiatric medication and diagnosed with congenital depression that she was told would never go away. 

    On top of that, every week, Senai had to visit the physiotherapist to take care of a chronic inflammation in her hip that also "was going to bother her forever." At 45 years old, Senai has had a complicated relationship with her parents. After many years of psychotherapy, she concluded that they never loved her, and she accepted that. Drinking alcohol became her way to alleviate suffering.

    We began liberating her channels of bodily expression, working through the six basic emotions. Gradually, Senai's vitality began to return. After each session, Senai discovered new possibilities of experiencing her life outside her constructed narrative. 

    Despite her progress, her relationship with her mother was still causing her intense suffering. Her most significant change came through a dancing session with her ancestors. In that session, she received information about how women in her family were not allowed to express joy, anger, tenderness, or eroticism. The ancestors showed her they had gone through life, switching from sadness to fear and vice-versa. They showed her how denying some natural basic emotions had limited their lives. 

    Basic emotions arise naturally inside us at the moment circumstances require them. Even if we deny, suppress, or want to manipulate emotional expression, they´ll be stored somewhere in our bodies. Without the “epigenetic authorization” to feel and express, the ones we accept tend to impersonate these emotions. Without permission to feel each of the basic emotions in a spontaneous moment of exchange with the world, we easily dive into an internal conflict with a high cost. 

    The wear and tear from this conflict may be so significant that it is hard to endure. Emotional internal conflicts can lead to despondency and create a profound loss of meaning, feeling “dead in life” rather than full of vitality. I think about basic emotions like a kind of “substance” that, on one hand, helps the animal we are to survive and, on another, is an anchor that allows our hearts to develop the virtues treasured in it.

    Senai´s meeting with her ancestors continued until she developed a very intense headache, ending her dance session early. She had a significant insight when she surrendered to the fact that she needed to stop. She saw her mother when she was a child, complaining of severe headaches. Senai couldn´t stand her mother's grievance and harshly criticized her. She became convinced that her mother was either making it up or self-provoking it to manipulate everyone in the house. 

    Senai´s headache, which became impossible to overcome, was a tremendous limitation to continuing to explore her relationship with her ancestors through movement. Feeling the pain changed her perception of her mother. She heard the message from her ancestors: how, over several generations, they continued to deny their feelings and emotions. They told her about the dangers they had suffered. Senai had sensations and intuited scenes that vibrated this truth in her heart and body. 

    These traumas had created a core of belief in her family concerning what happens to a woman if she is happy, if she expresses anger, if she feels tenderness or if she dares to experience the terrible consequences of eroticism. Two years after we began to unclog the channels of basic emotions, and about five months after her encounter with her ancestors, Senai no longer recognizes herself. 

    With a doctor's approval, she stopped all the medication. She has started taking care of her diet. She lost weight, gained muscle mass, and can now work more efficiently. She sleeps 8-9 hours a night and no longer works 14 or 17 hours a day. Occasional alcohol consumption, but only for celebrations. She saves quality time for her husband and son. 

    She has not returned to the physiotherapist after the last check-up months ago, where she was permanently discharged. For the first time in her life, she feels that her mother and father love her underneath the surface even though they have no natural embodied capacity to express it. Their love was bound by unexperienced anger, tenderness, joy, and eroticism. If these emotions had been lived, they would have allowed them to defend Senai in situations of vulnerability and lack of protection.

    Senai is now able to imagine a more hopeful future. The love she has felt from her ancestors makes her feel like she belongs to an ancient lineage and is part of something bigger. She feels validated for a broader exchange with the world and is open to contributing her knowledge and expertise for the greater good. Interdependence is still mysterious for her but also full of love and hope. 

    I share Senai's case, not only with her consent but also with her joy of being helpful. It wouldn't have been possible at the beginning of her journey. The sessions I propose for our online class are an opportunity to expand your vitality and create an exchange with the environment. They may also help you recover and strengthen your sovereignty over your life experience, feeling part of what precedes you and what is to come. This brings us naturally closer to an ecosystem experience and our desire to find cohesion and harmony.

    In my approach, psycho-corporal imagination is not treated as fantasy, and space recreation is not just for children. Here, imagination is a substance capable of creating reality and playing with space and free expressive movement, how it dialogues with us.

    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

    This article is related to an event. Click here to learn more.

    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. 

    This article is related to an event. Click here to learn more.

    I was raised agnostic in the US Midwest. We recognized the basic Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, as well as colonial celebrations like Thanksgiving and Fourth of July. Each of these was approached with some energy but not much meaning. Christmas equaled family time, which was similar to other holidays.

    When I was twelve, my dad died, and then my mom died when I was nineteen. Holidays became wrought for me, a time of grieving not just my parents, but also grieving what others had that I fundamentally lacked – the family that was at the center of the meaning of those celebrations. I tried to build new traditions with my remaining siblings, but none of it ever felt right. 

    As I age, I understand that each holiday also has a lot of political and spiritual history. The tangled mess that semi-Christianity and patriotic culture have built out of national holidays parallels my family's tangled mess. Now, in addition to the bags of family history, I can sense the layers of social and economic history behind each of these days.  

    Because of all this, my spouse and I have mostly chosen to opt out of big celebrations, taking tender time to be quiet together on often difficult holidays. But there’s more room for what joy can emerge, space made available out of practice.

    All families and all communities are complex systems. Most large-scale holidays are complicated because a lot of the federal holidays in many countries are tied to colonialism, religion, and or wars. 

    I want to take some time to honor the complexity of celebration when it comes to holidays and offer some suggestions for staying grounded. 

    A holiday – in the American use of the word – is generally some predetermined date or day when a collection of folks celebrate, observe, or mourn. Dig into the history of any particular holiday – let’s pick Halloween since it is that season. Doing a Wikipedia search will reveal hundreds of years of associations and layers, from Christian All Hallow’s Eve to Pagan Samhain to appropriation from Latin American Dia de los Muertos. 

    In addition, there are all the commercial layers – what I’ve been told by advertising this holiday means – candy, costumes, and, as I’ve aged, drinking and “sexy” versions of just about any costume. 

    Finally, there are the inner layers, the ones more personal to my family and to me – cooking green bean casserole, thinking of those who have died, celebrating the glorious color of autumn.

    I have struggled with Halloween for years because of my previously traumatic relationship with grief. People around me were putting skeletons in their yards but couldn’t talk with me about having been orphaned at 19. The dissonance was too much for me. As I have resolved a fair amount of the trauma, I have become more curious about the holiday’s history and meanings for others and building new traditions for myself.

    Pause and think of a major holiday for you – one recognized by the culture(s) around you but complicated for you, whether it’s Rosh Hashanah, Eid, Christmas, Diwali, or another. What are this holiday's political, religious, and social histories? And what’s your personal history and that of your family of origin? How does it feel to hold all of that as an adult? 

    In Karuna Training, we often say that every relationship you’ve ever had is in the room when you enter. This means we bring our history with us everywhere, and those present mirror that history for us. I think that every holiday is there when we observe – every past Yom Kippur we’ve observed is part of the present Yom Kippur, and so on. When we bring awareness to those stories, we let go of unconscious expectations. For me, coming to terms with the former holidays in preparation for each present holiday helps me enjoy what I can.

    A lot of this is grounded in the elements. When I need to deal with the fact of death on the day of a funeral, the bright autumn leaves outside my window bring peace. When I struggle with being generous without breaking the bank, I reach into the richness of the soil. When I can’t seem to clarify travel plans, I walk near water and follow its flow. To each of these experiences, I can offer up the confusion of so many celebrations and transmute them from being just my pain alone to understanding them as a part of universal human pain. From there, I can see my relatives and friends, clients and teachers, and all other humans battling in a similar way each time a significant date on the calendar approaches.

    Understanding a bit of our own history, our family’s history, and the social history of a holiday can help. Using awareness to check our expectations is also helpful. Once we are at the celebration, having practices that help us stay connected to ourselves is essential.

    When we can let go of some of that additional luggage, our arms are open for the now moment, ready to make new traditions or be clear-minded about opting out. In other words, we have equanimity. We can hold what’s coming up for us and also witness others’ suffering with more compassion and clarity.

    Join me as we do practices to cultivate our curiosity and equanimity around complex celebrations so you can have more tools in your pocket and a sense of community.

    *Please note that, for example, Jewish high holidays will have already passed in September; not all countries and cultures “celebrate” at this time of the year. Despite the timing of this event, it will be focused on any holiday/celebration, not just US Thanksgiving, Christmas, and/or Gregorian New Year.

    “We tell ourselves stories to live.” 

          Joan Didion 

    This article is related to an event. Click here to learn more.

    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 Sandra Ladley

    This article is related to an event. Click here to learn more.

    “The sky is falling; the sky is falling” cried the anxious chick Henny Penny in the old European folktale known as Chicken Little in the United States. Alarmed, Henny Penny begins a quest to alert the king. Along the way, they share their journey and learn lessons from companion animals. In the end, Henny Penny finds out that it was (just) an acorn that bopped them on the head. The moral of the story is to have courage and keep your wits about you even when it seems like the sky is falling.

    We are bombarded daily by more than acorns signaling climate change and its effects. Eco-anxiety is palpable and shared – we worry about past, present, and future harms and fear environmental catastrophes and doom. We get so anxious that we don’t want to look anymore, as satirically portrayed in the 2021 film Don’t Look Up. Waking up to the news is frightening. In just this past summer of suffering, we in the US have experienced so much: the fires in Canada and Maui, the thick smoke in New York, the rain and floods back east, and the empty apocalyptic streets of Phoenix at 120 degrees. 

    Are you still reading? How can we keep looking up? What can we do?  How to cope? How to help? 

    This complex and painful matter cuts close for all of us.

    A colleague recently said she learned years ago that anxiety is her friend. Wow! Anxiety has a bad reputation, especially for those of us who grew up in environments that felt unsafe. To cope with our anxieties many of us developed behaviors such as hypervigilance, ruminating, obsessive compulsions, numbing, and addictions. Anxiety as an emotion is experienced as a somatic dis-ease for which you must take action. Rooted in survival, it starts as a warning in your brain that causes your sympathetic nervous system to create bodily tension. Then, we’re flooded by thoughts, and often, as the adage says, and without dissing Henny Penny, we run around in a panic like a chicken with our head cut off.  

    How do you experience anxiety? How can we make friends with anxiety and use it to our benefit? 

    The warnings and sensations of anxiety can be a friend to us if we respond to them with attunement. Some of us use anxiety as a source of drive, as it can help us focus and get things done. For example, I have developed procrastination habits with deadlines where I rely on my body getting into an anxious state as fuel for bursts of creativity. 

    We can also start to recognize when our habits that stem from anxiety are not always a friend to us. For example, when we feel that dis-ease, how quickly do we want to do anything to make that feeling go away --- have a drink, smoke, food, or turn to social media or streaming?

    In Karuna Training, we train to become familiar with the full range of our emotions, including anxiety, through meditation and embodiment practices that increase our attunement to them. As we open our hearts, we cultivate compassion toward ourselves and others.  

    With eco-anxiety, we are now in a global pandemic of anxiety. It seems to be the defining characteristic of our times, affecting not just some but everyone - including people who may appear less anxious or less aware. It is especially hard for those experiencing climate change firsthand, those with the most to lose, and our young people. 

    A 2021 international study of 10,000 youth aged 16-25 showed that 59% were very or extremely worried about climate change. More than 45% said that their feelings about climate change affect their daily lives and functioning. The study showed that our youth experience high anxiety around their governments’ inadequate responses to the climate crisis.

    We suffer from eco-anxiety and try to discharge it in often harmful ways, whether conscious or not. We feel hopeless and lose connection to meaning in our lives. We go into paralysis and numbing. We get easily triggered based on our values and politics and go on the attack with our perceived enemies, forgetting the common ground we share. We go into denialism and ignore the truth. We doom scroll and become nihilistic. We feel powerless and hope that religion, science, or technology will save us. 

    How do you tend to discharge your eco-anxiety negatively?

    Last year the International Panel on Climate Change issued a “final” warning that we must act on climate change while there is still time. Changes that could have been made decades ago have still not been made. Changes ARE happening but are not being made fast enough by enough of us at work and at home. 

    To make more change quickly, we need to reduce the harmful tendencies of our eco-anxiety and tap into it as a force for responsibility and action. Here are some commonly cited steps that we can take to help cope, and to contribute to change:

    1) Ground yourself in the present through embodiment and connection with nature.

    2) Acknowledge and be curious about your feelings. Get and offer support for doing so.

    3) Limit your news intake and recognize when you are doom scrolling. Take media breaks.

    4) Join a group, community, or circle working on climate change. A 2022 study of United States university students showed a positive correlation between collective action and a reduction of the adverse symptoms of eco-anxiety.

    5) Use your voice! Know your government representatives; write and call them. 

    6) Find out what you can do personally to have less of an adverse climate impact. Take small steps, which increases the likelihood of sticking with them. 

    7) Recognize your strengths and vulnerabilities, and what you can contribute. Try not to compare yourself to others.   

    8) Cultivate what is described in the Serenity Prayer: the ability to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

    9)  Call on the wisdom of those you see as ancestors - who demonstrated courage when faced with adversity.

    10) Resource yourself in the best ways you know how. 

    What have I left off this list? What can you do to care for yourself, others, and our planet as we face this crisis? 

    I hope you’ll join me online for a shared exploration of this urgent topic on Saturday, September 23rd at 10 AM MT.

    By Miriam Hall

    This article is related to an event. Click here to learn more.

    “What if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow, but is also what emerges from how we care for each other through those things?“

    - Ross Gay, Inciting Joy

    Joy. A three-letter word that is so simple and short, and yet, experiencing joy often feels complicated. Through my study and work in Karuna Training, I’ve seen joy as a spectrum, from contentment to ecstasy. There’s a wide range in there - celebration, happiness, satisfaction, playfulness, delight, wonder, and more. And, as Ross Gay says in the quote above, joy is not separate from sorrow.

    Pause for a moment to consider the following:

    You can make a list of what brings joy, but I invite you to go deeper and consider how joy feels in your body, heart, and mind.

    If we are going to harvest joy, first, we have to plant the seeds for it. When I woke up this morning, the sink was full of dirty dishes. I remember grumbling to myself before going to sleep that I’d take care of them in the morning. When I saw the sink this morning, I momentarily cursed last night me, but then I recalled I was exhausted and couldn’t do one more thing last night. I turned on some fun music and dug in because leaving them for future me would kick the struggle down the road a bit.

    This morning, I had the ability to give my afternoon self the gift of joy that comes with getting to see a clean sink and the minor, but important, accomplishment of finishing something. I can’t always do that. I struggle with cyclical depression and anxiety, and sometimes planting joy looks more like leaving a favorite stuffed animal in bed to snuggle with that night. Sometimes it looks like crying with a friend until I am emptied out, and we can laugh about something silly. 

    In other words, small bits of joy resource us, give us the strength and ability to handle hard times, and help us be receptive to further joy. Deb Dana, a polyvagal researcher, and therapist, coined the word “glimmers” to refer to the opposite of what we commonly call “triggers”. While triggers set our nervous system into states like fight, flight, freeze, and fawn, glimmers help us recover from those states and, sometimes, even attain equilibrium and joy. Though the idea and experience of glimmers are often small or momentary, we expand to the whole spectrum of living - joy and sorrow- when we practice joy in microscopic ways.

    All of this talks about joy as if it is an “inside job.” In a way, it is. But the inner aspect of joy isn’t the whole story. The fact is, some people can’t access the basic resources they need to survive, which can mean joy becomes a lower priority on the list. I think it’s important to look at joy as both an outside and inside job. Everyone can enjoy the small things in our lives - butterflies, children’s smiles, beautiful flowers - even as we struggle to survive or work toward liberation for all. Survival and joy don't have to be pitted against each other; we can always keep the joy in mind and heart. Joy and care often come together. Joy isn’t meant to bypass pain; rather, to help give us more than just pain in our lives. 

    Once we begin to recognize joy on a personal level and a larger scale, we need to harvest it: take it in, savor it, and share it. Since it’s intermixed with sorrow and everything else, this harvesting of joy isn’t always clean and simple. When we harvest joy, we have to harvest the full complexity of our lives. 

    In August, I am facilitating a Karuna Live to take a deeper dive into the concept of harvesting joy. I invite you to join me for an hour to collectively cultivate a sense of interconnected joy, embracing the richness of our overall experience.

    linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram