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Welcome to The Midwestern Buddhist!

What You Seek

With realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world.
--Dalai Lama

The First thing to understand about the universe is that no condition is “good” or “bad.” It just is. So stop making value judgments. The second thing to know is that all conditions are temporary. Nothing stays the same, nothing remains static. Which way a thing changes depends on you.
--Neale Donald Walsch

Why life is so hard? What if whatever we wanted just came to us? What if what we were seeking was also seeking us?

I say it is.

Remember when you dreamed about what you’d be when you grew up? How about when your mother said not to make that face because you might freeze like that?

Well, she was right.

The other day I heard Pema Chodron’s talk on fixed identity. She reminds us how much time and energy we spend clinging to solid ideas of who we are—but the only two things that are ever certain are that everything changes…and that we will die.

Just recalling this has slowed my frantic thoughts and fears on days when I was very upset about some aspect of my life. Because it’s true for everyone, everywhere. Once you can let go of expecting any other outcome, this can actually free your soul to experience…well, everything.

Sometimes it’s external ideas about ourselves we cling to: how our body looks, the clothes we wear. Other times it’s roles we play in our lives. And in still other instances it’s concepts--both of ourselves and our place in the world around us.

But rather than address the incalculable ways we limit ourselves by clinging to fixed ideas of who we are, I’d rather discuss why we do this. It’s really very simple. We do it because it’s just too frightening to do anything else.

If, for instance, a person gave up the idea that they were simply someone’s mother and that this is all that defined them, they’d be forced to face the fact that they have a serious amount of potential in other areas that’s being wasted. No one needs guilt and pain like that, right? Except using the excuse that there’s no time and strength to accomplish anything else because you’re a mom allows you to live in the comfortable illusion that sooner or later your child will not grow up and leave you...thereby forcing you to realize the reality that everything changes much too late to avoid even more pain and suffering.

Let’s take another example: you lose your temper--a lot. As long as you cling to the fixed idea of yourself as being someone who flies off the handle, in essence you are denying that you have the power to create (or destroy) the quality of the relationships in your life. Of course if you give up that fixed self you have control over your role in those same relationships--but you also have a lot of responsibility for changing, don’t you? The question is simply this--when do you want to start? Now? Or when everything around you changes?

These are the arguments for why you should give up a fixed idea of yourself to avoid extended suffering. But...are there things to be gained? You bet. Here are a few:

Let’s say you are a person who--by your own concept--is too heavy or too thin. What if you gave up the idea that this is true OR is just who you are. What would that mean? Maybe a lot of work. On the other hand, do you remember playing dress up as a child? Wasn’t it fun? You could be anyone you wanted and loved it. I’m going to throw a concept at you now--ready? Catch!

You can be anyone you want! Yes, you.

Oh, I hear the conceptual arguments already: but Joy, I’m too old to be an astronaut! Maybe--but you can still write about being an astronaut. Fiction writers, in fact, are great examples of how to let go of the fixed self. Just use your imagination. How about: but I don’t have the money to start that business I always wanted. How did you get the money you have now? You probably applied for a job with someone by essentially saying, “I think I can do this. I have these qualifications and I promise to try.” Do that with yourself! Start small, use what little money you have. Find the free stuff available to you until you have more. It’s out there. Stop convincing yourself things are impossible. Remember--what you are seeking is also seeking you. So stop making that face.

Make a brand new one.

Who will you be, starting today? I want to hear about this! Comment to this article or e-mail me.

Innate Spiritual Intelligence

Only when faced with the activity of enemies can you learn real inner strength. From this viewpoint, even enemies are teachers of inner strength, courage and determination.
--The Dalai Lama

When walking my dog the other day, I was able to notice the way autumn is winding down quickly toward winter. At first, fall is pretty in Ohio. The leaves are blowing all around, the sun is shining and the trees are so colorful. But this was the ugly, moldy, wet and gray-sky time of autumn, when the last leaves are trying desperately to keep from ending up underfoot and the wind threatens snow and ice any day. The sun is huddled behind a cloud bank and everything seems oppressive.

The trees, however, tolerate the season’s end every year. But when something is uncomfortable in our world, people shiver and complain; we hurt others with our actions and they blame us and withhold their forgiveness.

Why can’t we be like trees? I thought. Why do we hold on to feelings that don’t serve us?

Based on my own past experience, I can tell you that much of the reason is because we want acknowledgement. We want others to see and understand—especially the person that hurt us. We want to know how someone could justify hurting us. And we want to protect ourselves from being hurt again.

But, just for a moment, let’s return to trees. It’s no coincidence that they are able to withstand weather below freezing each winter with little or no damage. It’s because of a natural internal process called hardening that happens each fall as temperatures drop. These same trees would die from temps just below freezing if they happened in summer. That’s because the reverse process, or dehardening, occurs in spring, to assist trees and shrubs in producing new leaves and flowers.

If winter never came to Ohio, the trees here would remain forever soft-barked and vulnerable to pests and summer weather that otherwise they could withstand. No child could ever climb one. No tree houses would be built. They would stand alone and it wouldn’t be long before they died.

Similarly, if humans never got hurt they too would never be able to tolerate the harshness of today’s world. I can tell you that although it was terribly painful at the time, had I not been raised from childhood in an atmosphere of adversity, if I had not been hurt many, many times in my life, I would not be here today.

But what I know now is that every time my heart has been broken, it’s grown back stronger.

And yet, even though we know these things, we still don’t forgive. We don’t, because we are afraid we’d be saying that somehow we deserved what happened to us. But that’s not true. The two things can be separate. We can forgive what a person did without condoning it.

We also do not have to forget what happened. In fact, that’s often foolish, if we want to keep ourselves safe.

And forgiveness does not have to lead to reconciliation. Often it can’t, as in the case of my mother, who I did not forgive until she was long in her grave and I realized the only person still suffering from our unskillful relationship was me.

True forgiveness also takes time. Time is needed to sort through your feelings, fully acknowledge them, and try to see the other person’s point of view, if possible. (Sometimes it’s not, but often it is.)

A danger while working through feelings is that you may begin to look at forgiveness as making you morally superior. If you feel this way, you are not yet ready to truly forgive.

It’s also important to note that forgiveness does not automatically equate to trust. Forgiveness is in your power to give, but trust is earned, and this takes even more time.

One thing you can always trust, however, is that everything that happens in our lives is there to strengthen us, eventually. We just might not be able to see it, at first.

Sometimes, it just isn’t the right season.

So—how will you know when it’s the right time? For that matter, how do trees know when to harden and when to deharden? The answer is a form of innate spiritual intelligence. Just as your finger knows to start healing after you get a cut, your heart knows what to do. The healing process is a complicated thing that deserves the respect of all the time you need. Don’t rush things.

Just as autumn inevitably arrives, spring does too. Trees know this. And so does your heart.

Confessions Of A Judge-aholic

“The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgment.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti

“When one experiences truth, the madness of finding fault with others disappears.”
― S.N. Goenka

“By judging others, you make yourself easy to judge.”
― Ashly Lorenzana

Earlier this week, I caught myself judging and labeling someone, and now that I really examine that, I realize that I have been weighing and balancing their behavior from the moment I first encountered them. I read something they posted online, and when I did I pronounced them crazy.

Most people that read this column probably think I spend a good deal of time on a cushion somewhere meditating. I don't. I have a life that at some level is pretty much like yours--I get up in the morning and stagger to the coffee pot, drink coffee until I can see not to bonk into walls, rush to care for my husband and pets before heading into the office and hope I remembered everything I was supposed to do on the way. I do meditate, but often it's a rushed affair with little time to consider what I'm trying to solve.

And in fact, that's how I spend most of my meditation time--trying to get answers. Answers to things that come up every day. Answers like why do we judge? Is there any value to it? Of course, there is the practical side of judgment--do I speed up when I see the yellow light or slow down? Do I give my change to the panhandler on the street? Do I pay that bill in full or juggle part of what I owe until next month? What is the best thing to have for dinner? We all make judgments all day, every day.

But what happens when we judge another person? Moreover, what if we do it in front of other people by gossiping or posting to a public forum? The dynamic changes, certainly. But why? How? Why do we do it in the first place? The answer, for me, is that I want to see if others feel as I do. I want to make a connection. Sometimes, I’m ashamed to admit, I do it because I’m trying to be funny.

Why is this important? Because the fact of the matter is that when we make a judgment about another person, we also judge ourselves. This truth is deep and inescapable: the very people that judge others also are harder on themselves than people often realize. I’m not sure I fully understood this until recently, when a friend forgave me and came back into my life after I had misjudged her—and I went right on, struggling with and judging myself over the situation. Try that sometime if you want a quick headache!

So now that I know and have seen for sure that judging others hurts me, how do I get a handle on my speech and actions and stop the madness? Well, first I think a distinction needs to happen between judging situations and judging people. After all, if that wasn’t true then we’d get stuck trying to decide whether to turn left or right out of the driveway in the morning. Next, we need to draw the line when making a judgment that keeps us safe—otherwise we’d allow ourselves to be led into every dark alley from which a stranger beckons.

The problem isn’t even what goes on in our heads—it’s what happens the moment we open our mouths—and believe me, I tend to do this more than most people! I was listening to a talk by Pema Chodron the other day. One I’ve heard many times, actually. But often I find it takes me hearing something over and over to really get it. She was saying that at the first moment you feel a sense of righteous indignation—that’s the time to “remain like a log” (not react.) That really sunk in for me, and I have found it an excellent rule to follow.

So—we feel righteously indignant—and we find ourselves judging a person. What do we do?

It seems to me the simplest thing is to ask ourselves these two questions:

1.) Does what I am about to say or do have the potential to get me hurt?

2.) Does what I am about to say or do have the potential to hurt someone else?

If the answer is yes to either of those—SHUT UP. Hey, I’m talking to me here.
If it helped you too, that’s a bonus.
Thanks for reading.

Time For A New Poll

Well, loyal readers, it's that time again--time that I asked you which recent articles you like best, so I can send new samples of my column to local newspapers... Here we go!

Poll #1860374 Query Letter Samples

Which were your favs? Please choose at least 3.

Sparrow In The Rain
Make It Happen!
Prison Or Palace?
Three Bites—But Only Three?
Bark Less, Listen More
You Are The One
Interdependence Day

Thanks everyone! :D Have a namaste!


Interdependence Day

If we extend this logic of dependence further—from the family out to the community and society, to the national and international levels, and even to the economy and environment—then we can see how interconnected we are, how interdependent the world is… I'm not talking about God or Buddha. I'm talking about understanding and appreciating this highly complex and interdependent world.
--The Dalai Lama

Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured; this is its interrelated quality.
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If the Earth were only a few feet in diameter, floating a few feet above a field somewhere, people would come from everywhere to marvel at it. People would walk around it marveling at its big pools of water, its little pools and the water flowing between. People would marvel at the bumps on it and the holes in it. They would marvel at the very thin layer of gas surrounding it and the water suspended in the gas. The people would marvel at all the creatures walking around the surface of the ball and at the creatures in the water. The people would declare it as sacred because it was the only one, and they would protect it so that it would not be hurt. The ball would be the greatest wonder known, and people would come to pray to it, to be healed, to gain knowledge, to know beauty and to wonder how it could be. People would love it, and defend it with their lives because they would somehow know that their lives could be nothing without it.

If the Earth were only a few feet in diameter.

--Joe Miller ~ Moab, Utah 1975

Here in the US, we recently celebrated Independence Day with its usual exuberance of hot dogs and fireworks—this despite the fact that baby, it was hot outside, reaching record high temps all across the country.

In stark contrast, I recently saw an Omnimax film, To The Arctic. Although I thought I knew, I really had no idea what danger the creatures living in this part of our world are in. Do you know that due to reduced pack ice for them to stand on while hunting seals, polar bears are resorting to eating their own young?

I also recently read about the oil boom in North Dakota. All I could hear in my head was Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park saying, “What's so great about discovery? It's a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world.” I realize that using alternative, natural forms of power aren’t the easiest way. But I was appalled that this news story never mentioned the environmental impact of oil drilling.

I believe responsibility for our environment equals spiritual maturity. Many lessons can be learned in popular fiction and television:

Long before Disney’s Wall-E, I got a pang reading a Red Dwarf novel where Earth had become “the garbage planet”. Must art imitate life? While we as a species engage in petty squabbles over imaginary lines drawn on our little world, fellow creatures die all around us. We are killing the place where we live, without even attempting to explore new options.

In the 80’s remake of The Twilight Zone, a story entitled A Small Talent for War illustrates this. An alien appears at the United Nations, announcing mankind has failed its potential, and citing the fact that we have been wasting hundreds of years fighting with no resolution. Therefore, he has come to destroy Earth. Terrified, world leaders in twenty four hours sign the first ever world wide peace agreement. But when the alien returns, he begins to laugh. “You’ve completely misunderstood us!” he says. “We wanted one power on this planet to prove its strength and take over…but now we have to kill you because you’re too peace loving!”

For years, we have been enhancing our ability to steal our world’s resources when we need to think simultaneously about preserving them and expanding where our natural environment really should be—space and other worlds. Independence is to be celebrated, but it’s only one step on the road to interdependence—with each other, our communities, our countries and our world.

Things seem impossible. But buying into that is what holds us back--because interdependence is our true strength against such odds. Baby, it’s hot outside—but not just here and it didn’t just start. The way things are going, it’s not going to get any cooler, either.

The question is: what will you do about it? And when?

Helpful links:

What to do.
Why to do it.

You Are The One

“I know you're out there. I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid... you're afraid of us. You're afraid of change. I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to hang up this phone, and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

“Why do my eyes hurt?”
“You've never used them before.”

--The Matrix

“Compassion is most important for happiness. We must treat fellow human beings as equal, that is very important, but also all beings who have capacity for feeling. So the innate desire for happiness that is the basis of human rights extends to all sentient beings, including animals and insects.”

--The Dalai Lama

When our greyhound, Seba, first came home—they call it “going into retirement”—I learned they must be taught about things like stairways, glass doors and shiny floors. Previously, this has not been part of their life experience. At the time, I quipped, “Wow, it’s like we just unplugged her from The Matrix.”

Greyhound racing began in 1912 when the mechanical lure was invented. Today, tracks still operate in seven US states (Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Texas, Florida, West Virginia and Iowa)—despite well publicized reports of animal cruelty, poor care and restricted daily lives of the dogs. How is this allowed to go on, you ask? One word: money. And lots of it.

When I was deciding which greyhound would be right for us among the available recent rescues from Queen City Greyhounds, I was provided a link to Seba’s pedigree. Curious about her parents, I came across a photo of her father wearing a banner showing that he had won $50,000 for his owners in a race. That’s when I really got it—these dogs are nothing more than money makers.

Much like in the fictional Matrix, tens of thousands of greyhounds are bred each year for one purpose to energize a “winning” bloodline. Their racing careers are generally over at four years, but they may be kept longer if they are fast or killed by the track at any age if they are injured or lack racing potential.

Seba was rescued at less than two years. I believe she was retired because she prefers to stay with the pack when running instead of lead it. But for every dog that comes home, thousands more are still killed each year—often by gunshot, bludgeoning, abandonment, and starvation. Only a few are humanely euthanized by a vet.

Those that are allowed to live and race spend most of their lives in too small crates. Their kennels are not climate controlled so they suffer from heat and cold exposure. They are fed raw 4D meat (this is meat from dying, diseased, disabled and dead livestock) and are hosed down, not given baths. They are infested with ticks.

It is unclear how many of these dogs are still destroyed each year because there are not enough homes to accept them. Current estimates range from 3,000 to 8,500. This includes culled puppies and "retirees" who were not rescued. They may be sold to research labs, used for breeding or sent to foreign racetracks with even more appalling conditions.

Unlike animal breeding, zoos, circuses, and animal transportation via airlines—greyhound racing is not governed by the federal Animal Welfare Act. The Humane Society of the US investigates industry abuses and initiates legislation to ban greyhound racing. But they need your help. Here’s what you can do:

Tell everyone.

Consider a greyhound if you are interested in adopting a companion animal.

If you can’t adopt, volunteer your time or donate to a rescue organization.

If you live in a state that operates greyhound racing tracks or your state has not yet banned it (Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Oregon or Wisconsin) write to your state officials. Contact The HSUS for model legislation to ban greyhound racing.

Distribute copies of these web pages:

The Facts About Greyhound Racing


Every time I look at Seba, out in the back yard tossing a toy around and running to catch it, leaping about like a happy gazelle, she makes my heart sing. Every dog should have this life. And just like Neo of The Matrix, YOU ARE THE ONE who can make that happen.

Don’t give up—for all their sakes.

Bark Less, Listen More

Seba and Castle

“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.”

“Do not examine the limitations of others. Examine how you can change your own.”
--Dakini Teachings 1

My husband and I recently adopted a six month old Brittany and a year and a half old retired racing Greyhound. Thank goodness we admire Cesar Milan and are steadily devouring everything on the psychology of dogs.

We chose to adopt two younger dogs because for the past few years we had been caring for an elderly basset hound who was slowly failing in health. When we lost Ziggy it broke our hearts. But since we had brought him home as an older adult, we knew in advance we wouldn’t have him long. We felt lucky to have been able to know him at all for the last five years of his life.

Just yesterday, a friend and I were discussing how dogs are like kids. First they’re so young that all they want is to be with their mother and to eat when they’re hungry. Then they progress to a stage where everything is a source of curiosity. Everyone they meet is a friend and life is one long play session.

But once they reach adolescence, things suddenly change. Not only do hormones set in, confusing how things feel and how they respond to others of their kind—but now more is expected of them. They must behave a certain way, or quickly be corrected by the pack. Now they also want more. And finally, they must find out where their place is in the society in which they live. Is it any wonder that the young behave in such a frustrated, even irritated, manner?

Being a good member of any pack depends on the ability to understand and follow its social norms. But what does that really mean? We often forget that “normal” is defined by being average. Certainly when we are adolescent there is a tendency to want to be the same as everyone else (run with the pack), but another side emerges that wants to define its unique place in the world. Like so many things in this time of life, it’s a contradiction that sometimes creates conflict—not only within the self, but in the world around us as well.

One of the first lessons I learned was about the leash. When we walk with our pack, it is simply a cord that helps us communicate with our dogs. Instead of marching them down the street, I’ve learned to listen to the tension when they pull, and see what it is they are trying to tell me.

For Castle, our little Brittany, learning to walk on leash at all was difficult. She came from a farm in Indiana, where in puppyhood she was permitted to run freely without even a collar. The first time we used a leash, she lay down, rolled over and refused to move. Seba, our greyhound, was leash trained in her foster home for two weeks before she came to us. But these dogs are bred for lightning fast sprints, not walking sedately. A training harness helped get Castle to her feet and moving. But with Seba it was more a matter of her learning the slower pace required. Our job became understanding that dogs communicate more with body language and eye contact. All the words in the world mean nothing to them.

Seba, being a sight hound, will stop and look around if she hears something new. Raised in a crate most of her life at the track, absolutely everything was frightening to her at first. But now, if she can see what it is making the strange noise, she calms quickly. Castle is a bird dog, so she is more distracted by the flutter of wings or the hopping of a robin on the lawn than noises. Over time, we’ve learned to stop briefly when we feel tugging until each dog has had a second to show us what they want us to see. There’s still that moment when we need to communicate that we decide when the walk continues, not the dogs—just as a parent must discipline a child. But we have learned that leashes are primarily instruments of communication, not control.

As pet lovers everywhere can attest, our furry children teach us so much about ourselves and how to deal with our human pack members as well: get excited about welcoming others into your life! Play a lot! Run with the pack! Be yourself and celebrate your own special breed!

Bark less.

Listen more.

Three Bites—But Only Three?

I find it helpful to discover new ways of practicing mindfulness and sending metta that do not have to involve sitting quietly before my altar for the eternity which fifteen minutes can seem on some busy days.

For a few years now I have enjoyed the teachings of Pema Chodron. Recently I came across an instruction where she illustrates mindfulness while eating. In this practice, with the first bite, you enjoy what you’re eating while you “offer” it to and contemplate someone you admire/aspire to be like as a teacher. With the second bite, you contemplate and offer the food to someone who has helped you. And with the third you contemplate and offer the food to someone who is suffering.

A side benefit of this practice is that it slows me down long enough to actually enjoy my food and eat less of it. And I’ve found a great deal of truth in what Dr. Andrew Weil teaches—that one of the reasons we tend to overeat is that the food we select doesn’t satisfy us in all the ways it should.

Many believe spirituality cannot be connected to enjoyment of the physical world, or it is blasphemous. But I would argue just the opposite! Who reading this has not smelled a flower, tasted chocolate, enjoyed a kiss or been transported by music? Who has not enjoyed a painting or a sunset?

Still—how does one go about deciding who to offer food to in this way? I can think of at least three people right now I aspire to be more like when I grow up! So many people have helped me over the years I couldn’t begin to remember them all. And as for the people and animals that are suffering, don’t get me started. The good news is you don’t have to do all this at one sitting!

In fact, this Buddhist practice is not unlike the Christian “saying of grace” before a meal, or the Jewish Birkat Hamazon, which is performed after eating certain foods.

The Catholic Lenten tradition of “giving up” often focuses on food (although it doesn’t have to). But many Catholics practice this “dying to the self” by giving up their favorite junk foods, soda pop or sweets as an act of sacrifice during this time.

Here are some other interesting prayers before meals from around the world I thought you might enjoy:

I’m an Indian.
I think about the common things like this pot.
The bubbling water comes from the rain cloud.
It represents the sky.
The fire comes from the sun,
Which warms us all, men, animals, trees.
The meat stands for the four-legged creatures,
Our animal brothers,
Who gave themselves so that we should live.
The steam is living breath.
It was water, now it goes up to the sky,
Becomes a cloud again.
These things are sacred.
Looking at that pot full of good soup,
I am thinking how, in this simple manner,
The Great Spirit takes care of me.

Bless, O Lord, the plants, the vegetation,
and the herbs of the field,
that they may grow
and increase to fullness
and bear much fruit.
And may the fruit of the land
remind us of the spiritual fruit
we should bear.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it.
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Before grasping this grain,
let us consider in our minds
the reasons why
we should care for and safeguard this body.
This is my prayer, oh God:
May I be forever devoted at your feet,
offering body, mind, and wealth
to the service of truth in the world.

Once again, I am struck by how similar are the devotions of many seemingly disparate cultures. I know that the next time I sit down to a meal, to perform the three bites, I will remember this. And I hope you will, too.

Bon appetit! Da kana! On egin! And Namaste!


Prison Or Palace?

Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail.
--John Donne

Some have encountered intolerable suffering. They have spent up to twenty years in prison, and yet some of them have told me it was the best time of their lives, because they were able to do intense prayer, meditation, and virtuous practice.
--The Dalai Lama

I wonder if anyone truly realizes what a gift it is to be alone. Where else can one appreciate the depth of one’s soul? Of course, most of us wouldn’t choose to go to prison to discover the benefits, but being alone has been given a bad rap—and often I find that people who cannot stand to be alone just don’t like themselves very much.

Until you are alone you cannot hear the still inner voice--you know it, the one that says things like: You’re really a jerk, you know that? And it’s also the one that says: I love you and I respect you and you are really incredible.

Aside from the usual jokes about hearing voices, in my experience people refer to these inner thoughts in many ways: calling them messages from angels, spirit guides, channeling, talking to God, etc. I don’t think any of that really matters. What matters is there is real and powerful wisdom in these thoughts. And without enough time alone we may never hear them.

We know that too much time alone is bad, but what happens if we don’t get enough time? Without enough time alone, a kind of pressure builds—thoughts and feelings need to be acknowledged or we risk bringing them out in inappropriate ways—acting out, yelling, all kinds of things. And who really wants to behave like that?

Also, I find that a good number of people have lost a sense of who they are—perhaps never really knew—and they don’t know what they’re here on the planet to do. So many people seek outside themselves for the answers, when truly they are always within.

Sure, you can talk to someone that can trigger what you already know is wisdom at some deep level within yourself—after all, I hope I’m doing that right now with some of you out there! But you will find that the best spiritual teachers are the ones that encourage you to do inner work on your own.

Too much time alone can also be bad of course—or time spent lingering over things said or done that have not been handled skillfully. Why do we do this? We wouldn’t take ourselves into an alley and flail away at ourselves physically—so why do we do that mentally and emotionally? When we have done or said something we regret, when we use our alone time for this, it’s like paying twice. Don’t do it.

So I recommend that everyone reading this schedule some alone time—and do I mean REALLY alone. There are other times you can go halfway between being alone and in a crowd of friends that comfort and uplift you. But there is no substitute for truly being alone with your own thoughts.

You also might be surprised at the ideas that come up when you make time to tune out all the flack of the day, concerns about other people, noises. Soft music is all right, but nothing you would find distracting.

If you have never tried this, do it for an extended, regular period—start with a week for fifteen minutes per day. At first, as with monkey mind, you may see random thoughts come up…but try to direct your soul into a place where you can ask questions and feel safe to know you will get the answers you need.

Mind you, they might not be the ones you expect or want to hear! But they will be honest. You might not be able to trust anyone else—but you can always trust yourself. And if something comes up that feels bad, just be gentle. Ask yourself what you wanted to accomplish when you did or said the thing, and how you will correct the issue or prevent it in future. This time is not about beating yourself up—it is about seeing what you need to see, accepting and releasing it.

Above all, don’t look at being alone as a sentence. It’s just not. In fact, it’s truly a gift!