Let’s talk about our bodies, shall we?

This morning I’ve been emailing with some people who run an outfit called Earth Strength. Without even knowing what it is, doesn’t that sound great? They are based in Tarifa, Spain and offer courses on, well, being outside, actually. You run, jump, swim, climb—not in a gym and not with special equipment and not to lose weight or anything like that. Rather it is an experience of being back in your body with joy, just like you may have experienced as a child. The people who run it are mindfulness practitioners and their teaching is based in breath and awareness. We’re talking about the possibility of me co-teaching something with them next year, which would be awesome.

My interest in doing this is personal. “Outside” is not my natural habitat. I am very solitary. I am a city girl. I was raised in a city and have never lived anywhere but a city. (I remember once going on a solitary retreat in a cabin in the mountains in Colorado. It was off the grid—no internet, no phone, no nada. At the time I lived in New York City. I told the man who drove me there that I was scared and he looked at me like I was mad. “New York is where you should be afraid, not here,” he said. I guess it’s all what you’re used to.) My husband often jokes with me about this. He’ll say things like, “You know if we go to visit  _____ they’re going to want to spend time outside,” or “Do you really feel like going to the movies because to get there you’ll have to go outside.” Then we laugh. But sometimes I am actually deterred.

My life is about the movement of the mind, not about the movement of the body. As a meditator, you too are cultivating and deepening the grace with which your mind moves. It is easy to forget about the body and its wish to move. Instead of joy, I often move my body with a kind of grim determination to “get in shape” or increase bone density. I mean, getting in shape and avoiding osteoporosis are great things. But one has to believe that the body would like a little more than this, sex and dancing notwithstanding. I would like to remember the feeling of freedom in the body that I had as a child. There is no reason that is not possible. So my interest in co-teaching with the Earth Strength guys is piqued.

In addition to feeling kind of sludgy in my body, there is another factor that makes me even more interested in going to Spain and jumping around OUTSIDE.

A long time ago,I was in a very bad accident. (You may have heard me mention this before.) When I say bad, I really mean it. I was hit by a drunk driver late one night and almost died. I was in the hospital for a long time and it took me a good two years to recover. I still feel the residual impact including an ongoing sense of fearfulness in my body. I can sense it as a kind of holding back, a strange sense of not quite feeling like I can locate myself in space, and a super-delicate “startle response” which is common to survivors of trauma. Those of you who have had similar experiences of trauma to the body will know exactly what I mean, but even if you haven’t, you have likely had other versions of trauma and may relate. I would like to work with this fear more directly and I don’t think I can do it on my own. Jumping around outside may be just what the great doctor in the sky ordered. I look forward to this adventure and hope it will come to pass.

I wish I could end this email by saying something bright and cheerful like: And so don’t forget to move around a bit after you meditate!! Get out there and smell the roses!!  But it is not that simple. Just like recovering a connection to your mind, recovering a connection to your body is something that we make room for rather than something we can put on our to-do list. I guess a place to start, as always, is with what is. Just notice. Notice what it feels like when you sit down and when you stand up. Notice how your body lies in bed to sleep and how it feels about walking up the stairs. Just notice. And then see what happens next. I will be right there with you.

Comments? Where is your body and are you able to treat it kindly?

The Most Important Question

What did Albert Einstein say was the most important decision we each must make? And what does that have to do with meditation? Before today’s sit, we consider these points.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.


Love, Susan


Audio-only version can be downloaded here.

Feelings, part two

“A lot of tragedies happen around the world because somebody’s feelings were hurt.”—Sakyong Mipham

I see part of our work together as returning a sense of grace and power to the realm of feeling. For far too long, feelings have been ghettoized as girly, weak, something for losers. Feelings are what you talk about when you’ve run out of ideas, jokes, and stories. When someone says, “I want to talk to you about my feelings,” we gird our loins for battle or try to run away. Anything but feelings! Conversely, however, some of us make a very big deal about feelings and treat them as precious, fragile, even magical. Some kind of middle way is best.

The last thing we want to do to someone we care about is hurt their feelings and we will go to great lengths to avoid having our feelings hurt. And for good reason. They can cause relationships to end, companies to collapse, and wars to start. I am not even exaggerating. (I don’t know too much about wars, but I do know something about work and I’ve never seen a great idea fail for lack of funding, positioning, or talent. Great ideas fail because someone’s feelings were hurt.)

Can you imagine what your life would be like if you weren’t afraid of getting your feelings hurt? I’m not saying there is a way to avoid hurt feelings, but there is a way to develop the capacity to meet them as a part of your spiritual practice. Seriously, ask yourself: who would I be and what would I create if I was not afraid of my feelings but saw them as my allies?

You could say that learning how to feel is the foundation of a good life and a good human society. As you develop a relationship with your feelings you create the pathways (Sakyong Mipham’s word) to feel how others feel.

In meditation practice, the pathways create themselves with each moment you spend simply being human. The wider you open the door to joy, sorrow, and confusion, the more wisdom you invite. With each molecule of feeling you allow, you create a molecule of compassion.

In other news, what do you think of this logo for us?

Do you have questions about meditation practice?

Photo on 7-23-14 at 12.08 PM #4









This is me, awaiting your questions.

Please post in comments and I will do my best to offer you a helpful answer.

You are the sky.

When you trust your own happiness, you can allow the entire scope of experience to touch your heart. This is the mark of the spiritual warrior. She can hold sweetness, sorrow, rage, and delight equally and fully. She can watch as emotions rise and fall, notice how she reaches out so some and recoils from others, and know that somehow she’ll find a way to make whatever she experiences a part of the path. Whether her world is friendly or inhospitable, smooth or rocky, she can abide in it wholeheartedly. A joyful mind is as infinite as the sky and, like the sky, can contain sunshine and storms, snowflakes and hail. Conditions are continually shifting, but the sky is always the sky. It never gives up. From within it, the great sun rises in the east, the moon meets the tide, and the circle is always complete.

From “How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life”

Hello, dear Open Heart Sangha members. For some reason, I was thinking about this passage that I wrote for “How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life.” When I read it now, I don’t know where it came from. I didn’t even know when I wrote it, it just came out, and when it did I felt like someone had dictated it to me. It remains the favorite thing “I” ever wrote and I just wanted to share it with you.

We are all working with so much—so much sorrow, so much love, so much confusion, so much longing, so much divine light. The older I get, the more I feel that our work is not to accomplish anything but to make room for it all.

Sending love,



PS I sent you an email last night with the results of our first survey about how this program is going. If you missed it or would like to comment in any regard, I posted it here.

Survey results.

Hello and thanks again to those who were able to fill out the recent survey. I wanted to share some of the results with you.

Q1. Our current practice schedule is: Mon: A short dharma talk plus 10 min meditation Tue/Wed/Thu: 10+10+10 practice plus a short email message from Susan Fri: A Buddhist teaching dharma talk plus 20 min meditation How is it working for you?

Too little: 2%
Too much: 27%
Just right: 71%

So, the majority of you feel fine at this point with the frequency. Still, for nearly a third of you, it is too much. Some of the reasons given were:

—It’s summer and you’re not spending as much time indoors
—Unexpected circumstances
—You’re also taking other online programs with me

If you’re too busy enjoying summer or you’re having an unexpected family issue, please, please go easy on yourself. Just do what you can and when you’re able to return to the proscribed schedule, please do so.

If you’re also taking other programs with me, while I appreciate it, I strongly urge you not to do so. The work we are doing together is special. It is meant to help you focus and deepen and it requires some breathing room. If you still subscribe to the free newsletter, I suggest you cancel that subscription for the meantime. (You can always resubscribe or check in with the latest video on my blog now and then.) If you’re interested in taking one of my online courses, please wait until you have a strong groove going with this 5-day practice. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It is best to focus.

Q2. What is your favorite part of the program?

Being able to interact with others even if it is asynchronous.
The10+10+10 practice
(variously described as “magical,” “surprising,” “fantastic,” and yielding “unexpected results”)
The dharma talks.
The longer dharma talk on Friday.
Learning more about Buddhism
The contemplation emails / the short written insights / essays
The sitting.
Having a structure.
This particular combination of elements.
That it exists!

Q3. What is your least favorite part of the program? What have you found challenging or lacking?

I don’t like the writing.
I totally understand that some people just do not enjoy writing! However, please try to stay with it for the Beta program. You may be surprised by the way it develops.

It’s hard to find time for the 10+10+10.
Yes, everyone is so busy and I also fail to get to my practice from time to time. However, the full benefit comes from consistency and I encourage you (and myself) to see if you can make time. If there are days where it is just not possible, do a 5+5+5 practice or even a 1+1+1 practice. And if even that is not possible, make your practice for the day be the practice of non-shaming. (Meaning, don’t beat yourself up! This is an important practice.)

I had suggested keeping a practice log as part of this program, but I’d like to rescind that. I think it is just too much. So if you have felt burdened by this, feel free to make it an optional aspect of your practice.

The final 10  of the 10+10+10…it doesn’t take 10 minutes to answer the four questions!!
Some of you reported finding it hard to fill the third 10-minute slot, that answering the four questions was simple and fast and you weren’t sure what to do after that. Great point! If this is you, there are two options:

1. Go into more detail about each of our answers.
2. Please do a 10+10+4 practice instead, i.e., 10 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of free writing, and four questions answered in whatever detail you like.

It’s hard to find time in general.
See above.

Finding a rhythm / settling in overall
Yes. Give yourself time. It will happen.

Meditating with eyes open.
I recognize that this is a common difficulty. You are the best judge of what kind of practice works best for you, however I encourage you to follow this particular technique. I can better support your practice if you follow my basic instruction. Also, it is extremely supportive to others if we all do the same practice. All that said, this is truly your call.

Phone check in was unfocused; too unstructured.
Agreed. Next one will be more structured.

Susan changed the time for the check in at the last minute.
I apologize. This was my fault. I got confused about my schedule that week.

The website is difficult to navigate.
Agreed. I’m thinking very hard about how to structure it and if you have specific requests/suggestions, please don’t hesitate to email them to me.

The forum is difficult to navigate / not robust enough
I could not agree more. I am unhappy with it and am looking for alternatives. In the meantime, please use blog posts for comments as I won’t be posting new topics to the forum.

Someone suggested a “virtual members tea” which I think is a fantastic idea. Let’s do this! I will think about how.

I truly hope that the next iteration of our forum will make it easier for you to get to know each other and create whatever conversations you like. Please stay tuned.

I do the 10+10+10 in the evening and the four questions are not as appropriate.
Great point. Being an inveterate morning person, this did not occur to me. You could do one of two things:

Change the questions to the past tense. (“Today, I was happy about…” etc)

Change the questions to be about the evening. (“This evening, I am happy about…” etc)

Please let me know if this helps or if there is another way to tweak the questions to work for you night owls.

Technical problems with videos.
If you are having such problems, please check in with Michele. Perhaps the two of you can figure out what the issues are.

Q4. Are there any suggestions for improvement to the program? More videos, more interaction with other members, less material, etc.

The Tue/Weds/Thurs make me feel stress/pressure to read. Not you, totally me…
I appreciate you mentioning this and I feel so strongly that you should either put the emails away for another time or simply DELETE. It is much better to do one of these than for them to become burdens!!

Recommendations for books and other ways to study / a way to go into more depth on some of the topics.
Great idea. I’ll work on putting together a resource list. Also, as I think about rolling the program out to the larger audience in September, I’ve had ideas for more ways we could work together. I have to be very careful with this, though. No matter how many times I say that something is optional, many people feel compelled to say yes or stressed by saying no. So if you have any suggestions for how I could word things to avoid this, I’d be grateful to hear.

That aside, one of the ideas I’m toying with is a 100-day meditation “challenge.” Another is to offer Sangha members periodic courses as part of the membership on topics ranging from Buddhist philosophy to how to apply the mind of meditation in relationships. It might also be fun to have a book club. Please stay tuned.

Also, one of you suggested a “members tea” (mentioned above) which I think is a fantastic idea. There are all sorts of ways to organize this and I look forward to thinking it through with you.

More ways to interact with each other.

More dharma.

Buddha quotes: are they gathered anywhere along with attributions?
One of you wondered if there was a book about the Buddha’s quotes and which ones were authentic. I don’t know of a book per se, but there is an AWESOME website called Fake Buddha Quotes that I love.

Include a dharma talk and a short meditation in the phone check-in.
I like this idea. I probably won’t do this during our beta period as the check-ins are meant to be about your practice and how the program is working for you. But after this period is over, sure!

More videos
I think we’re probably good for now. I don’t want anyone to feel pressured.

Emails don’t arrive in time for me to use in Europe (in the mornings). They used to.
This is totally legitimate and totally my fault! I promise to be more consistent about getting them to you by 7a your time.

The website is hard to navigate and to find the talks I want to listen to.
I could not agree more. The site needs some overhauling to make all the materials easier to access. My current website is not up to the task. It turns out that trying to “glue” a membership site onto what was constructed as an author site is inadequate. I’m looking for alternatives but it is very complicated to institute such changes, not to mention very expensive, even in the tens of thousands of dollars. I have to plan this very carefully and I respectfully ask for your patience—and your ideas. If you know of any membership sites that are elegantly structured and user-friendly, please don’t hesitate to send links.

Can we write before the meditation in the 10+10+10 practice?
BY ALL MEANS! Feel free to do the free writing first if you feel so inclined.

Q5: The community forum is a new feature to our website. Have you visited the OHPM forum yet? Have you found it useful or do you think you might as we go forward?

I’m not going to enumerate your responses because they basically all said some version of nooooo. From unreadable type to no notifications of new comments, you nailed it. We’re looking for alternatives.

In the meantime, please make comments and conversations via the website, as blog comments. The forum will stay up for the meantime but I’m not going to add new conversation topics to it.

Q6: What should we call ourselves?

Open Heart Sangha is the clear front runner!

Q7: Anything you’d like to add?

I enjoy the feeling of of having a community and a teacher.

Maybe a short quote or contemplation for the weekend, but only if it’s not too much work.

Maybe a longer retreat session every few months?
I love this idea. Yes, look for this once the program launches.

A five-minute meditation for super busy days.

Thank you, thank you!

One of you mentioned being willing to serve as a sounding board or consult in some way based on previous experience developing online communities. YES! I don’t know who you are since no names were attached to the survey. But please email me!

One of you mentioned that you have less time for this program than you thought you would due to family reasons. Please, please don’t feel compelled to do anything you can’t and you don’t have to wait until the program is over to drop out and go back to the free program. Just let me know!

One of you invited me to stay with you if I come to the part of France that is close to Geneva. THANK YOU!!! How lovely. If I ever get to that part of the world, I will let you know.

Thank you again. I am so grateful to you for investing your time in this program and for the willingness to work together to make it as helpful as possible. Your feedback means so much to me.

With love,


Reminding yourself who you are

I recite four lines before I practice and I find that they remind who I am, why I practice, and where it is all going. These four simple lines point to the whole path and before today’s practice I share them with you.



Audio-only version can be downloaded here.

Everyone struggles to get to the meditation cushion

Everyone! We all encounter obstacles in our quest to become meditation practitioners. We are too busy. We think it’s not “working.” We don’t think we’ll ever get good at it. And so on. Classical Buddhism has actually categorized and described these obstacles. The primary obstacle is called “laziness” and it may not be defined in the way you imagine. There are actually three kinds of laziness and only one involves lying on the couch watching Real Housewives of New Jersey. For five hours. ;-)

Before today’s practice I describe the three kinds and how to deal with them.



Audio-only version can be downloaded here.

Elephant’s tears, suffering, and liberation.

I had an experience the other day that I’m sure you too have had–suddenly the whole world and all its suffering became too much. I started sobbing at the super market. (I seem to be doing a lot of crying lately.) The experience caused me to reflect and I share some of these reflections with you today before our 10-mintue practice.


Audio-only version can be downloaded here.

The Dharma of Depression


Having trouble viewing the closed caption version? An un-captioned version can be found here:

Before today’s 10-minute meditation session I offer a few thoughts about depression, sadness, and how meditation can help us work with difficult emotions.


Audio-only version can be downloaded here.