Your Life is a Poem: Pain & Suffering

To love is human. To feel pain is human.
Yet to still love despite the pain is pure angel.
– Rumi

We continued our month-long look at poetry for our MLUC Meditation Group I on the theme of pain and suffering with an interview of Joanna Macy including several Rilke Poems. You can also read about our sessions on Intimacy, Vulnerability and Beauty.

Suffering = Pain * Resistance

The formula above reminds us that we can feel pain, unpleasant and negative emotions, but still experience joy and contentment. It is only when we resist and react that the pain is literally multiplied into suffering. We can incline ourselves towards joy by allowing for our emotions, holding them lightly and letting them come and go on their own time.

One fierce way to work with suffering is called Tonglen. Pema Chodron is a leading advocate of this practice in the United States. You can try it out below:

Listed below are some of the poems and readings that were shared:

The sweetness and delights of the resting-place are in proportion to
the pain endured on the Journey. Only when you suffer the pangs and
tribulations of exile will you truly enjoy your homecoming
– Rumi

0a56b8fecb83dfaf375fdef4ae677ca9--the-circle-circle-of-lifeWe will continue on Sunday, September 2 at 8:30 a.m. as we work with the poetry of beauty featuring John O’Donohue. Click here to join us and bring your favorite poem on the topic. Each week will include a short talk and will invite participants to bring and share their own favorite poems on the week’s topic.

August 12 – Intimacy
August 19 – Vulnerability
August 26 – Pain & Suffering
September 2 – Beauty

If you can’t make it, please visit to see what else we are up to including Meditate4SelfCare online meditation every Sunday at 9pm.




Cultivating The Heart: Compassion

Cultivating The Heart: Compassion

This fall, Your Mindful Coach, in conjunction with the Center For Self-Care is offering four free beginner’s meditation workshops at the Tredyffrin Library in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The series is called “Cultivating The Heart.” The title recognizes the practice of mindfulness and meditation as a process. There is no sudden awakening or enlightenment. Instead, by gently tending the garden of our mind and heart, we set an intention that inclines us toward kindness and compassion. We’d love you to join us. But if you can’t, you can find a recording of the entire session as well as the practices below:

We began our first session with a simple practice from Jonathan Foust called, “Moving From Thought to Sensation.” We spend so much of our days analyzing, judging and comparing. This important function kept our ancestors alive 20,000 years ago when they were being chased by wild animals. It also serves a critical role in advances in the field of science, technology and medicine. But sometimes, a different state of mind is called for. A state where we use our sense to arrive in the present moment. We closed the practice with a beautiful poem from Danna Faulds:

Walk Slowly

By Danna Faulds

It only takes a reminder to breathe,

a moment to be still, and just like that,

something in me settles, softens, makes

space for imperfection. The harsh voice

 of judgment drops to a whisper and I

remember again that life isn’t a relay

 race; that we will all cross the finish

line; that waking up to life is what we

were born for. As many times as I

 forget, catch myself charging forward

 without even knowing where I’m going,

that many times I can make the choice

 to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk

 slowly into the mystery.

The session was structured to engage our minds through brief talks, experiential practice and small-group discussion. These steps reinforce each other and deepen our understanding. And it requires practice. Two disciplines we worked with were Mindfulness and Insight Meditation. In Mindfulness Meditation, we bring a non judging awareness to our experience using our senses and mind states as an anchor when we become distracted. Insight Meditation sits right next to Mindfulness, as it brings in the qualities of compassion and kindness. begin-again-quote-1.jpegAt its simplest, meditation is a practice of returning. We find ourselves lost in thought, distracted by sounds or memories or just simply carried away. I offered the following aspirations for a practice of meditation and a practice of living:


Catch Yourself

Be Gentle

Begin Again

Try the focused breathing practice below to get a sense of it. Just like training a puppy, our task is to pause, reset and begin again.

fight-or-flightIts a simple practice but it sure isn’t easy. Its fairly radical because our evolutionary biology is based on avoiding pain and seeking pleasure instead of allowing our experience to unfold. Our culture reinforces that by emphasizing comfort and convenience over actually feeling what we are feeling when we are feeling it.

Just as we go to the gym to build physical strength, we practice in meditation to build mental strength. And it ain’t easy. Its basically “failing practice,” right? We intentionally sit and allow ourselves to become distracted so that we can practice returning. So it will require one more thing: compassion. Without compassion, we may turn this work into a grim duty, a mechanical act that mimics all the other things we are trying to perfect about our life despite the utter impossibility of arriving at that state.

We worked with a traditional compassion practice that you can try out yourself. In this practice, we combine an image, a wish and repeated phrases to soften and open our heart to a deep compassion for ourselves and others. As we repeat these phrases silently, we slowly expand the circle of our care to include others, even all beings.

Please join us on Tuesday, October 3 for our next session, Cultivating the Heart: Lovingkindness (free but registration is required).

The Most Important Job

The Most Important Job

Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg declares, “They say that the healing is in the returning. Not in never having wandered to begin with.”


The most important job is to begin again.

In mindfulness meditation, a core practice is returning your attention when it becomes lost. You may find yourself lost in thought. And that is okay. The point isn’t to perfect your meditation or empty your mind. Instead, it is to return over and over, no matter how far your mind has traveled or how long it has wandered from the present moment. We use our breath, our body, our senses to gently guide us back to now, the only moment that there really is.

Its simple but not easy. I regularly find myself in meditation ruts, barely making it into the chair each day. Sitting for a few minutes and then bailing out. At these times, I remind myself to begin again simply. I abandon the elaborate practices I’ve been forcing myself to do and move to a single instruction: “Just put your body there.” I may find myself sitting in a car, lying in bed or walking to class. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I just begin again.

Science tells us that meditation cultivates brain neuroplasticity. We can literally rewire our brain through intentional practice. Building new pathways in our brain that support positive habits. Jonathan Foust writes, “The neurons that fire together wire together.” This is one reason why consistent practice is so important. We are literally restructuring our brain.

Beginning again doesn’t just apply to meditation. The same thing is true in life. Routines and habits become ingrained and unconscious. But you can “teach an old dog new tricks.” Contrary to previous understandings, we now know that the brain is constantly growing and changing.

How do we begin again? Start before you’re ready. Start now, while you are reading this sentence. Begin again. Allow yourself to breath deeply. Lower your standards and let go of expectations. After all, the practice is in returning. So naturally, any new plan, system or resolution is going to run into trouble. The work will be to return, adjust, to begin again. This form of beginning again is a radical type of self-care. Recognizing our human fallibility and resetting our course.

0a56b8fecb83dfaf375fdef4ae677ca9--the-circle-circle-of-lifeIt seems a good time to consider beginning again as the weather starts to change and students return to school. For me, one new beginning is the launch of a business partnership focused on self-care. We begin next week with the formal announcement and new programming focused on men and dads. After several years practicing and teaching, now is a perfect time to begin again by investigating my passion, my experience and my calling. The experience of being a man has resonated for me and deepened my practice as I’ve joined in fellowship with groups of men this summer. I look forward to sharing many wonderful stories this fall.

Programs Coming this fall

Men’s Programs
These men’s group offer a safe, comfortable atmosphere to join in fellowship while sharing our universal stories and connections.

Mindful Men Meeting First Thursday each month beginning September 7, 7:30-8:45pm. Practice and discussion to support a regular mindfulness practice.

camp-fire1Men Sitting By A Fire Third Thursday each month beginning September 21, 7:30-9:00pm. Inquiry-based discussion group focused on male identity, roles and responsibility.
Bravery & Courage Retreat Friday, November 3 at 7pm to Sunday, November 5 at noon. Men’s residential mindfulness retreat for beginner and experienced participants.
General Programs
Meditation for Beginners: Cultivating The Heart Sept 25, Oct 3 (Tues), Nov 27 & Dec 4, 7:30-8:45pm. Instruction to support focus, calm and life balance through meditation.


Get Busy Living, Part 2

Get Busy Living, Part 2

In my last post, I described the story of Mohini, a white tiger who created a small, well-worn patch amidst abundant landscape of opportunity. As we confront fear and confusion, we often seek to live small, to blend in to support our hope that we can forestall change. By recognizing this change is normal, we open our horizons to risk and possibility. We confront our mortality.

Stephen Batchelor offers a meditation on this choice for living. He offers three simple lines to practice with and explore:stephen_thumbnail150

Death alone is certain.
The time of death is uncertain.
What should I do?

Try it out right now:

Confronting our mortality isn’t about how to die but how to live. What really matters in our life? It has been said that when one confronts death, the two questions one asks are “Am I loved?” and “Did I love well?” There is a lot to learn from these questions. Thankfully, as we confront the impermanence of our experience, there are recipes for living with heart and confronting this question of mortality before we are dying. One such recipe comes from meditation teacher Frank Ostaseski in his new book, The Five Invitations, Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. Ostaseski collected the lessons he learned from years working as a hospice worker, sitting with the dying. The Five Invitations are described below:

mischa-richter-stay-but-harv-there-s-a-great-wide-wonderful-world-out-there-waiting-new-yorker-cartoon.jpgDon’t Wait – This can take many forms including both words and actions. It could be telling someone you love them or taking that big chance on an adventure or with a career. Our mortality and impermanence has a way of sneaking up on us that betrays our planning and future dreams. Recognize that everything is changing and we are changing with it. It may be that you need to start before you are ready. To love. To let go. To forgive. Living vulnerably. As we accept this invitation, we can live from a place of hope instead of fear, knowing that they are two sides of the same coin. The coin of uncertainty, impermanence and mortality.

Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing – There can be beauty and meaning in everything. With this phrase, we are invited to replace our judgment with a curiosity. By being open and receptive, we expand our possibilities. When one friend of mine complains to his wife about how he is aging, she reminds him, “Don’t die before you’re dead.” In this way, he can reset himself to see change as not worse or better but just different. Deferring judgment, we practice a generosity of assumption towards ourselves and others while recognizing we don’t need to try to fix or change everything. This does not mean that we bow to injustice. Instead, we see things as they are and bring discernment to our next action. This important “letting in” step is critical to letting go.


Bring Your Whole Self to the Experience – Bringing your whole self requires a fierce vulnerability. It means contacting the dark parts of your soul, your shame, your grief. We come to define ourselves by our external roles as workers, partners, and community members when that is but a piece of who we are. We forget what we are passionate about and assume the perceived dreams of these roles as a shortcut to happiness. Then, when we find ourselves at the top (or bottom) of the career ladder or at the start (or end) of a relationship, we have difficulty connecting with the emotions that accompany these transitions. Only by connecting our heart and our mind, can we access the compassion of this invitation.

Find a Place of Rest in the Middle of Things – Ostaseski writes, “we imagine that we can only find rest by changing our circumstances.” For example, finding a quiet room or hiding away in the mountains. If instead, we can find a refuge within, we can better handle the swirl of excitement and chaos that surrounds us. We can learn to ride the waves of our experience because we just can’t stop them. Mindfulness practice is a good start. Bringing our awareness to our breath (the only thing we can control), our body, and our senses is a start. It may include surrounding yourself with visual reminders of these invitations or reaching out to dear friends. Most importantly, finding this place of rest in the middle of things creates an integration between your life and the world around you because this place is part of your world. This may mean offering some vulnerability as others see you seeking rest when they are panicked and scared


Cultivate Don’t Know Mind – This one is a little different. Don’t know mind is a reflection of receptivity. Replacing judgment with curiosity and wonder. This approach is very forgiving because we aren’t set in our ways, beliefs and opinions. We perceive an error in our judgment and we move on by adjusting it based on new information. With this mindset, we aren’t spending as much time building a narrative of our suffering and injustice and reinforcing it through confirmation bias. We become less reactive and more welcoming with others. There is an intimacy and a surrender in allowing oneself to just not know.” 

Sign up today for fall offerings from Your Mindful Coach

Men’s Programs
These men’s group offer a safe, comfortable atmosphere to join in fellowship while sharing our universal stories and connections.

Mindful Men Meeting First Thursday each month beginning September 7, 7:30-8:45pm. Practice and discussion to support a regular mindfulness practice.

camp-fire1Men Sitting By A Fire Third Thursday each month beginning September 21, 7:30-9:00pm. Inquiry-based discussion group focused on male identity, roles and responsibility.
Bravery & Courage Retreat Friday, November 3 at 7pm to Sunday, November 5 at noon. Men’s residential mindfulness retreat for beginner and experienced participants.

cultivating a heart.jpg

General Programs
Meditation for Beginners: Cultivating The Heart Sept 25, Oct 3 (Tues), Nov 27 & Dec 4, 7:30-8:45pm. Instruction to support focus, calm and life balance through meditation.


Ostaseski closes his book with a poem from Sono, one of the people he supported in his hospice work. Sono lived on the edge of poverty, barely surviving. As her life ended, she asked Ostaseski to learn this poem by heart so that it would live with him. Here is her poem:

Sono’s Death Poem

Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray,
soon enough the seas will sink your little island.
So while there is still the illusion of time,alone.jpg
set out for another shore.
No sense packing a bag.
You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.
Give away all your collections.
Take only new seeds and an old stick.
Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.
Don’t be afraid.
Someone knows you’re coming
An extra fish has been salted.

— Mona (Sono) Santacroce (1928-1995)

Get Busy Living, Part 1

Get Busy Living, Part 1

“It comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living or get busy dying”
– Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

When Andy Dufresne offered the choice “get busy living or get busy dying,” he was stuck in a physical prison. All too often however, we live in our own spiritual and emotional prisons. There’s a story that illustrates this from Tara Brach. It tells us a beautiful white tiger Mohini, in the D.C. Zoo in the 1960s. At the time, most animals in the zoo occupied a small 12 by 12 foot cell with a hard concrete floor and little natural environment. 


Mohini paced back and forth in this small cell, day after day, as visitors looked on. A new approach called immersive design brought changes for Mohini as they built him a vast new habitat fulls of vegetation, trees and many acres to frolic. Onlookers waited to see how Mohini would make a new home. Brach writes, “But it was too late. The tiger immediately sought refuge in a corner of the compound, where she lived for the remainder of her life. Mohini paced and paced in that corner until an area 12 by 12 feet was worn bare of grass.”

Several years ago, I found myself frustrated in my job, unable to run due to an injury and generally feeling like I was “past my prime“. My poor wife had to hear me complain about this incessantly. If success in that job and in running were going to be the yardstick, I was probably going to come up short. It wasn’t until I let go a little bit, started volunteering in a different field of work and walking (instead of running) with an organization named Back on My Feet, that I got out of my 12 by 12 cell of habitual behaviors and responses. I stopped trying to accomplish goals from my past and started living in the present with a bit less expectation. This was a true awakening.

We can create a own prisons in our minds. Prisons that may have protected and supported us in the past but prevent authentic living in the present. We all have these patches of worn grass in our experience. What is yours?

Sign up today for fall offerings from Your Mindful Coach

Men’s Programs
These men’s group offer a safe, comfortable atmosphere to join in fellowship while sharing our universal stories and connections.

Mindful Men Meeting First Thursday each month beginning September 7, 7:30-8:45pm. Practice and discussion to support a regular mindfulness practice.

camp-fire1Men Sitting By A Fire Third Thursday each month beginning September 21, 7:30-9:00pm. Inquiry-based discussion group focused on male identity, roles and responsibility.
Bravery & Courage Retreat Friday, November 3 at 7pm to Sunday, November 5 at noon. Men’s residential mindfulness retreat for beginner and experienced participants.

cultivating a heart.jpg

General Programs
Meditation for Beginners: Cultivating The Heart Sept 25, Oct 3 (Tues), Nov 27 & Dec 4, 7:30-8:45pm. Instruction to support focus, calm and life balance through meditation.

In a busy, over-stimulated world, it is all too easy to switch into an automatic pilot mode, mechanically going through our to-do lists and obligations, denying the humanity of our mortality. Or we may wear a mask to cover our real identity, conforming to social and cultural norms at the expense of our well-being. With mindfulness, we can transform our habitual reactions into thoughtful responses and choices. We may endure a frustrating job, stay engaged in a challenging relationship or stay present with our mistakes and failures instead of trying to run away from them or avoid risk-taking.100-authentic.jpg  I see it as a choice to live authentically despite voices calling on you to escape and consume to avoid the inevitability of change, loss, and death. As we choose life, we remain aware of how easy it is to come back to the 12 by 12 space in Mohini’s new home. Through our habits, we break free of that well-worn patch, expanding our possibilities for meaning and purpose.

Enjoy the podcast below or stayed tuned for Part 2 of this post in late August.

Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” – Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

The Intimacy of our Experience

The Intimacy of our Experience

maryoliver_dog1In her poem, Wild Geese, Mary Oliver writes about self-compassion. But she is also talking about the true meaning of mindfulness, stripped of its commercial and aspirational ornamentation. It is a true intimacy with our experience, both internal and external:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

You are in for a real treat if you listen to Jack Kornfield interviewing teacher and author Frank Ostaseski on the Heart Wisdom Podcast.

THE-FIVE-INVITATIONS-book-2.pngAside from talking about his new book, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, Ostaseski shares his thoughts on how mindfulness that has found its way from the temple and retreat into the boardroom and the military. Instead of teaching mindfulness, awakening, realization and enlightenment, Ostaseski instead now thinks of his practice and teaching as one of cultivating intimacy. Becoming familiar with one’s experience and letting it all in. Leaving nothing out. No need to try to make things a certain way. The clarity that comes with intimacy of one’s experience can point the way to wise action.

A challenge to modern day mindfulness is that it is so easily co-opted to become yet another thing to strive for, another things grasp. It can become an intellectual exercise. Not to say that it isn’t valuable but to me mindfulness can represent a thinking presence, a constructed narrative and world, compared with the knowing presence that is intimacy.

A fellow teacher recently described a student who was getting meaningful stress relief from the practice of mindfulness. But instead of resting in this relief, the student kept asking, “But what does it buy me?” It is tempting to try to use mindfulness to get somewhere, to achieve something. But as Richard Rohr says, “You can’t get there. You can only be there.”


Unfortunately, in a culture encouraging perfectionism, mindfulness can appear to be yet another thing for us to master. In a seventh grade class I teach, we use three questions as a tool when we find ourselves under stress or in a difficult situation:

What am I doing?           Is it right?           What will I do next?

cuddle-selfWhen I ask a student to remind me what the three questions are, they get the first two correct. The third question, not so much. Invariably, the third question contains a value judgment as opposed to a choice. Students suggest “Why don’t I do the right thing?” With intimacy, it is different. Instead, as Mary Oliver writes, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” You won’t always get the next action or word correct, but you are on an intentional path. But to connect with one’s passion requires patience, stillness, time and a forgiving heart.

One way to become more intimate with your experience is to share in fellowship with others. Oftentimes, common threads are shared that can be woven together for insight.

This summer, Your Mindful Coach is offering two fire circles that do just that. Email me today for details and location of

Men Sitting By A FireJune 26, July 11, August 1 and August 27 at 8pm in Wayne, PA

Teachers Sitting By A FireJune 29, July 13, July 30 and August 20 at 8pm in Wayne, PA


You may also enjoy guided meditation practices from the 7 Mindful Minutes podcast series including Setting An Intention and Can You Soften This

Years ago, I was trying to build a self-compassion practice and found myself recording my level of self-judgment every hour. The response to “What is happening?” was boiled down to a number between 1 and 10. What was so useful in this practice is that I could evaluate it as a warning sign. Several hours of “I’m not good enough” would generally lead to an argument with a loved one or similar unwise choice. As I became intimate with this unpleasant sensation, I could learn to avoid confrontational situations in that state but also to soften and take care of myself.

jabbawockeezmask_front_large__53841_zoom.pngIn this week’s podcast, Uncovering the Intimacy of Our Experience, I describe the universal process of creating an identity and the “masks” we wear to hide the emotions and identities that seem to contradict the self we share with the world. One way to practice intimacy, seeing behind the mask is to sit quietly and silently ask yourself the following questions: “What is happening?” and “Can I be with it?”. As my friend and fellow teacher Josh Gansky writes, this practice is one where we notice and allow.  In this way, we become more intimate with our internal experience.




Cultivating the Heart of Compassion

Cultivating the Heart of Compassion

When you open yourself, you get it all. That is part of what it means to be a loving human being. To grow your capacity to be present for this incarnation and its mystery in an openhearted way. . . The point of meditation isn’t to perfect yourself but to improve your capacity to love.” – Jack Kornfield

How critical compassion is in a world full of mistakes, losses, grief and struggle. It is also one of the great tools that can be cultivated with meditation practice. One of my teachers, Michael Stone recently observed “if you are trying to destress so that your heart doesn’t keep breaking, this isn’t the right practice for you.” Compassion is fierce but it connects us and can heal us.crack-light-copy

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

-Leonard Cohen, Anthem

In his book, Mindful Compassion, Paul Gilbert reflects on the dictionary definition of compassion: “being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to try to prevent and relieve it.” Compassion is made up of two pieces. The first is an openness to the experience of suffering. We can accept and allow such challenges as a part of life without trying to immediately fix them or ignore them. This openness brings with it an empathy and a witnessing if we have the courage to “run towards the fire”.

The second piece of compassion is an intention and action to relieve suffering. Gilbert argues that these are two very different brain processes that can become skills through practice. How to be build this skill of compassion? One way is through the compassion meditation wherein you offer compassion to yourself and others which you can practice yourself in guided meditation below.

In a compassion meditation, you create an image in your mind of a loved one, a friend, a neighbor, someone who is suffering or perhaps even a difficult person in your life. You combine this image with an intention and a silently repeated phrase representing this intention:

May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and suffering.
May you be at peace.

This practice can be most powerful when we apply it to ourselves  through techniques like Kristin Neff’s self-compassion break:

This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of the human condition.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.


david_gerbstadt_be_kind_button_3_hearts_3_cm_round_badge-ra74f514ebd1045f3b5b876d6adab6a18_x7j12_8byvr_324Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Small acts of connection and kindness can be so meaningful. Everyday kindness shared with a smile or friendly greeting is a perfect example. I recently met artist David Gerbstadt. David’s groundbreaking work has brought a smile to the faces of countless individuals young and old. I first learned of his work when my friend Ann approached me at the Women’s March wearing the “Be Kind” pin pictured to the left.

David Gerbstadt

I purchased a couple dozens pins myself and have been thrilled to share a pin whenever someone compliments the one I wear on my shirt each day. David has endured many challenges related to an accident many years ago but is able to share his gift and use this experience to bring out compassion in his community and beyond. He has launched innovative ways to share his art including Pay What You Want For My Art and the Dollar Art Project that get his work into the world and to those who can benefit from it.

There are so many ways we can practice compassion. As we open our heart to witness our experience and the experience of others, we heal and become strong.