The Breathing Space is hosting a fundraiser for our InSchools public schools program next Saturday, September 9. A Day of Inspiration is a meditation and movement fundraiser featuring a day full of fascinating workshops and classes by some of the best teachers in the area (including representatives from InStill), as well as food from the Till & Grill food truck. So please, come along and support a great cause, while also feeding your body and soul.
It is well known in mindfulness circles that things change. Constantly. Finding peace with this incontrovertible fact is, in many ways, the core objective of mindfulness itself.
Here at InStill we are noticing a lot of changes: changes in space, appearance, and activity.
Last week we moved into our new office at the Floyd Center of the Arts. We feel this will enable us to better interface with the public, both through greater visibility and accessibility, and also because we should be able to utilize this location for regular mindfulness classes and other activities. We are very happy to be here, and our arms are open should you wish to drop in and say hello. We need to make a few finishing touches, including some floor coverings and art for the walls, but we’re off to a good start with a table and bookshelf designed and donated by The Natural Woodworking Company, as well as a desk and filing cabinet donated by InStill board members Swede McBroom and Steve Weber.
Thanks to friend and supporter Parrish Lee, we also have a new logo, which we are very happy with. Our original logo was designed by our Executive Director, Jamie Reygle, who is the first to tell you he is not a designer. Fortunately, Parrish is. He has been working with us to design everything from flyer templates to business cards, and came up with this logo based on the Japanese minimalist ensō (or circle). Since we’re always gathering in circles at InStill, this seemed like a great symbol to represent us.
And finally, we’re looking at how to most effectively deliver our programming. We have received some wonderful feedback from our last semester working with thousands of middle school students, with one survey indicating:
- 95.9% of them enjoyed the classes;
- 87.7% of them said it had a positive effect on their experience of school;
- 85.9% of them said it had a positive effect on their self-esteem; and
- 79.5% of them said it had a positive effect on their relationships!
It is so rewarding to know our work is having a positive impact, and we are always looking at ways to deepen that impact. One thing we have found is that it is imperative to have as much buy-in as possible from teachers – not just in supporting what we do, but immersing themselves in it as well. For this reason, we are currently in discussions with Pure Edge, with the intention of delivering their proven professional development programming here in southwest Virginia, which will then enable teachers here on the ground to develop their own mindful classrooms, and instill mindfulness in their students and colleagues on an ongoing basis.
Change is in the air, and we are breathing it in!
In this semester alone, we have been scheduled to deliver nearly 300 classes to students and teachers at Blacksburg Middle School, Christiansburg Middle School, and Shawsville Middle School. Not only is this funding helping us fulfill our vision of instilling mindfulness in southwest Virginia, but it is also providing valuable experience to the ten teachers delivering this programming, including three graduate students from the Counselor Education program at Radford University.
From everybody at InStill—staff, teachers, board, and advisory board—we would like to extend a deep bow of gratitude to the Lenz Foundation, and also to the Radford Counselor Education Department and MCPS, for making this possible.
One thing we have been discussing with our teachers recently is the idea that everything is an invitation. So often, we push against what is presented to us. We have an idea in our head of what we want, and when reality doesn’t meet that idea, we react. We also spend a lot of time chasing the things we think we want. In both instances, we are not seeing what comes before us as an invitation, rather we see it as a hindrance to our objectives.
What if we are wrong about what we think we want? What if what we think we want is not actually in our best interests? And how would we know if it was or if it wasn’t? What if everything was indeed an invitation? What if we saw everything that way? How would life be different?
But first, let’s be clear: nobody is saying you need to accept an invitation. We have all RSVP’d No at some point. The key is in recognizing that everything is an invitation. As always, no choice is possible without awareness. With awareness, the choice is yours, whatever it may be.
Picture yourself seeing everything as an invitation. Who are you when you’re in that space? How do you move through life surrounded by invitation? And how does this compare to living life with an agenda?
Give yourself some time to sit in the invitation space. Give yourself some time to sit in the agenda-driven space. Which is more comfortable? Which is easier? Which is more peaceful?
Or does your mind go straight to the place where you think, Well, that might be fine for some people, but I need to get things done. Here’s the question: who’s to say you wouldn’t get things done in the invitation space? Sure, they may not be the same things you’re getting done now, and who’s to say which things would be more important? Do you really know best? And if you don’t, who exactly does?
Here’s a clue: do you love your life right now? Could you love your life right now? And who is more likely to be of greater service; someone loving their life or someone suffering miserably? If everything were an invitation to you, which one of these people would you most likely be?
So here’s an invitation: next time you find yourself experiencing some kind of stressful emotion—sadness, anger, frustration, contempt, disgust, etc.—ask yourself how the thing that elicited this response could somehow be an invitation. You don’t need to come up with an answer right away—indeed, if you’re experiencing a full-blown stress response, that’s the last thing that will come to mind. But in time, with that surefire benefit of hindsight, you may well see the invitation presented to you. And if you can do it once, you can do it again.
So here’s another invitation: spend a day with the intention of seeing as many things as possible as an invitation. And while you’re at it, notice whether you’re more likely to accept or decline these invitations; and as the day progresses, notice if anything within you changes.
Who knows? Maybe this is the invitation we’ve been longing for.
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
A beautiful sunrise this morning—red-purple clouds hovering before a golden glow—stunning to see. And then it was gone. Just like that—looking away for a few moments—then back up again, and only a pinkish tinge fading fast to grey remained. Gone.
Life is like that. Nature is like that. The Earth is like that. The universe is like that. It’s all a matter of perspective, and within the infinite reaches of eternity everything that we know to exist remains but for an instant.
As we grow older, this becomes more evident—every half-life seems to be as long, whether it be from the ages of two to four, 22 to 44, or 44 to 88. That time is relative appears proven simply from the experience of life itself.
How do we reconcile this impermanence with our existence? How do we move forward through a thousand deaths, great and small? Stephen and Ondrea Levine once said, “When we recognize that…our body is already broken, that indeed we are already dead, then life becomes precious, and we open to it just as it is, in the moment it is occurring.”
There is so much beauty, so much wonder, to fill our short time here. In every single moment, in every single thing, lies an infinite source of fascination, if we take the time to look, to feel, to hear, to taste, to smell.
But only if we take the time. Most each and every one of us has somewhere we need to be, something we need to do, and in this rush to accomplishment we miss so much, so very much. Can you slow down for just a minute? Can you stop and notice?
Where are we going anyway, in this instant of existence? What can we possibly achieve that will alter time’s indomitable march? What goal is there to reach that won’t sometime be attained without your determined help?
And if there is nothing to aim for, does this cause us to lay down and cry, a wallflower without a wall? Or does this free us to be all that we could possibly be?
Time is a limitation, after all. If time is governing our every move, then we are being governed by limits. A slave to time is a slave indeed, shackled and whipped and used and abused by a master we invented, with mechanics we devised.
Time is but a construct we built to constrain us, to confine us within 12 lousy hours on a dial. One moment passes into the next, it’s true; all things age and pass away; but to call each moment a second abbreviates its beauty so much, we miss most all of what it really is.
What is this before you now? What contains you, and what do you contain? Worlds within worlds within worlds within worlds are yours to behold, arising and fading, being born, dying, spinning and whizzing and drifting by.
But where are you? Are you already caught in a future-past of your imagination? Are you engaged in a dialog that’s never going to happen? Are you calculating, preparing, planning things that work themselves out without you?
If your mind is not here, now, then you are quite simply not here, now. Look! You’re in an alternate universe that exists only inside your head. The brief period in which you exist has just been shortened by a thought.
How many thoughts have come between you and this? How many more will you allow? Eternity exists in every moment, where time stays still. Every moment, exactly like the last, and so, so different.
Slow down with me. Be in peace. At ease. Be at one with what is. See. Hear. Taste. Touch. Smell. Breathe. Breathe in this moment, for it is the last one ever just like this. And the first. It is the only, the one and only.
That breath. This breath. Oxygen from everywhere. Life! In this breath is all there is; a million moments morphing into one. History oozes in, through air breathed by billions—it’s all a part of you, and all you had to do was breathe.
The world will come to you if you let it. Allow, be open. Inhale. Here is the world, and it is yours. Here is the universe, and it flows through you. There is nothing it cannot do, if you let it, if you but let it be.
Breathe in, be open. Breathe out, let it go. Breathe in, take it all in. Breathe out, let it be. Feel it flow; feel the flow; be the flow. Flower now, then fruit. For fruition comes from surrender: the plant seeks not its pollinator.
Whatever you are chasing is not forever. Only forever is forever, and that is what this is. Beyond appearance, beyond perception, beyond time, beyond our thoughts—beyond every limitation we set—forever sits patiently waiting.
Find forever now. Find forever in now. Forever is here, for it never ever left. Forever is everywhere, for that is what it is. Forever is forever is forever is forever, and here it is, right now.
We have been seeing a lot of memes lately talking about how much people want to forget 2016. For many, this was a terrible year.
For us, not so much. This is the year we were incorporated, received our nonprofit status, and completed our first pilot program—the InSchools program at Blacksburg Middle School. We were offered grants from local donors and the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, and thanks to all this support, we are heading into a year in which we are increasing our InSchools program six-fold and commencing our InSide program with the Department of Juvenile Justice, in which we will be working with teens on probation. No, for us 2016 was a great year, but not just for these reasons. Let’s look at a few more that hopefully you can relate to:
- Trees are growing faster today than they have for millennia, thanks to global warming.
- President-elect Trump will be the first President since Hoover to not accept a salary.
- Violence is being committed at a lower rate globally than ever before.
- We are currently experiencing a record period of continued job growth in the USA.
- The people of the world are more interconnected than we have ever been.
- Mindfulness is becoming ever more popular, and its biggest supporter in Congress, Tim Ryan, is a rising star, who this year challenged Nancy Pelosi to be House Democratic Leader.
- Correspondingly, research on the effects of mindfulness is growing almost exponentially.
- Communities everywhere are opting to be recognized as compassionate cities.
- The US crime rate is at a historic low.
- The standard of living has increased steadily in the US over the past eight years.
- There is a far smaller percentage of the global population living in poverty than ever before in recorded history.
- World hunger has dropped considerably over the past 20 years.
- The popularity of farmers markets around the US continues to grow, suggesting that we are—as a nation—eating healthier, fresher food than we have for a long time.
- Renewable energy is now providing nearly a quarter of the world’s power.
- You took somewhere around eight million breaths this year, and your heart beat about 40 million times. That’s nearly 50 million times your body kept you alive just this year. Now, that’s a great year!
While it is highly probable that most people in the mindfulness community did not vote for our President-Elect, it is also clear that many people in this nation did. Who are these people, and what is their connection to mindfulness?
At InStill, our vision is to instill mindfulness in every workplace and public institution in southwest Virginia. If you’re not already aware, southwest Virginia voted heavily for Trump. These people are our constituents.
It has been very easy for many to lump all the Trump voters together: racists or misogynists or ignorant or uneducated, for instance. Similarly, these same people are known by many as rednecks or hillbillies or trailer trash by those who really know nothing about them. Indeed, poor white rural people seem to be the one group of marginalized people in this country who are still fair game for derogatory stereotyping by those who should know better (including many in the mindfulness community).
There is no one type of person who voted for Trump, just as there is no unique reason so many people did so, but that condescending outlook by what many of his voters might term ‘elites’ has not gone unnoticed. In many ways, it appears from here in southwest Virginia that the election was a reaction to years of overlooked downward mobility and neglect from those very ‘elites’. While championing the gradual upward mobility of every kind of minority imaginable, they completely shunned those in the heartland who have lost almost everything except their dignity (and often that as well). When the downwardly mobile meet the upwardly mobile on socioeconomic terms—as has happened to the people of Appalachia in relation to many minority groups—a backlash must be expected. That backlash is called Donald Trump.
At InStill, we are reaching out to the forgotten people whose forebears did so much to make this country great in the first place. These people worked their fingers to the bone in mines and factories and on difficult terrain. They did so largely without slaves; and they did so quietly, keeping to themselves and not asking for much. They built strong communities and bred resilient offspring. In so many ways they provided the resources that fueled the American dream.
We are connecting with these people; honoring them; being humbled in their presence. We are not judging them because of the way they vote, or opinions that city folk may consider unenlightened. Mindfulness isn’t about viewpoints, as variable as they can be. Mindfulness is about uncovering the truth within, which is invariable and kind. Mindfulness provides an opportunity to connect on a much deeper level than discourse will allow, and it is that universal kinship that we are helping the good people of southwest Virginia uncover.
Politics is dependent on duality: us versus them; left versus right; good versus evil. Mindfulness is steeped in the universality of consciousness: may the divine in me see the divine in you. We are choosing to witness divinity rather than foster duality, and we extend the invitation for you to do the same.