guided meditation

Meditation at Juvenile Hall

By Soren Gordhamer

It took eight months to begin meditation classes at the local Juvenile Hall-seven months of talking about it and one month of letters, phone calls, and meetings with the director. The director was not sure the kids would go for it. He said if we expected them to sit down, cross their legs, and watch their breath for forty-five minutes, we were mistaken. My co-leader was a former resident of the hall and works as a drug rehabilitation counselor with a similar population. He said, "We could teach basket weaving and if we are genuine, they will go for it. They watch you, not what you say." The director gave us a more clear warning: "You need to be a master of your art. If you show signs of weakness or doubt, they will see it and blow you away. They won't hold back." I was not sure what to expect.

The first night, we walked through three locked gates and a quad to arrive in an all-purpose room which would serve as a meditation hall. As we put the chairs in a circle, a worker asked, "We got some kids who misbehaved and are in lock-down. You want them in here?" "Sure," we responded. "Also, Johnny is planning on coming. He has the attention span of a fly. You sure you want him in here?" "Yes, of course."

Ten boys and girls finally meandered through the door. They were primarily between the ages of 14 and 16 with about an equal number of boys and girls. Some had tattoos, others had funky hair styles, and all had a particular toughness about them. We introduced ourselves, went over the guidelines of the class, talked about respect, and then spoke in simple terms about meditation-finding what is true, being with the moment as it is, developing mindfulness. We then went around and asked what they wanted out of the class.

"An ability to levitate," said the first kid. Everyone laughed. Most of the others talked about wanting to better control their anger. Juan sat back in his chair and announced, "I love two things in life: marijuana and violence. But violence gets me into trouble. I know when I get out of here it will be easy to get back in a gang and start busting people up. I don't want to do that anymore." Anger was the primary theme of the class. We led them in a guided silent mindfulness of breathing meditation which went fairly well. No one walked out, yelled, or made too many wise cracks. Johnny, with the short attention span, nervously shook his leg the entire time, but hung in there. Most of the kids kept their eyes closed and did their best. For many, sitting still is probably the hardest thing to do.

Next we conducted a short lovingkindness meditation, focusing on sending love to oneself then spreading it out into the world. This seemed much easier. Since this was the first class we did not ask for comments about their experiences. We wanted to let the kids keep the experience to themselves. However, after the lovingkindness meditation, Audrey looked up and spontaneously said, "That was tight." "You mean you were tense?" I inquired, uncertain what she meant. "No, it was tight. That means it was good; it was cool." "Oh."

In the following five classes, the kids taught me a great deal. They had seen and experienced intense suffering and they had deep questions. Our class had its difficult moments, however. Johnny, in particular, made a lot of wise cracks and disrupted the group occasionally. I was not experienced in dealing with such behavior in a meditation class. Finally, Audrey had all she could take. During one supposedly silent meditation, Johnny decided to eat an orange loudly. I thought of Thay's tangerine meditation and said nothing, but Audrey was fuming. After the meditation, she pointed at him across the room and shouted, "He's f-ing up my meditation." I was dumbfounded. I had never heard the F-word and the M-word used in the same sentence. No one had ever cussed or shouted in any meditation group I had been in. Should I get mad at her for cussing or at him for making noise? I did the only thing I could think of at the time: sat there with my mouth open. The girl gave him an ultimatum: "F-ing take this seriously or else f-ing leave." He left. A great weight lifted from the class. Everyone seemed much more committed and focused. Something had cleared. I was confused by this. While much of their cussing was hard to take, there was a directness about these kids that I liked and I was happy that Audrey cared enough about her meditation to defend her right to sit quietly.

The classes were rarely what I expected. Once during guided meditation, we encouraged them to see their thoughts arising and passing away as if watching train cars pass by. After the meditation, Juan said, "That was great. I was just sitting there smoking a joint and watching a train go by." Not exactly what I had in mind, but what do you say? Strangely, Juan seemed to get more out of the classes than anyone else and expressed the desire to continue the practice after he got released.

During these classes, I found myself listening much more than speaking. I knew if we were going to work together, we needed to trust one another and listening develops trust. I needed to learn about their world-where they came from, what issues were central in their life, what struggles they were facing . I had gone in thinking that I was going to "lead" a meditation class. I did guide the meditations, but the rest of the time I felt like I was in "Youth Issues 101." I learned about the medications they were taking, what life was like in the hall, whose parents had disowned them, how it was to be locked up.

The story for many youth today is not a happy one. The rate of suicide in American adolescents has quadrupled since 1980. Violent crime among juveniles has quadrupled in the last 25 years. Weapons offenses for children ages 10 to 17 have doubled in the last decade. Kids are being incarcerated at younger and younger ages. Youth are raised thinking that money is everything and it does not matter how one goes about getting it. In a June 1997 Time Magazine poll, 33% of Generation Xers agreed with the statement 'The only measure of success is money."

Youth today face gangs, violence, and drug addiction problems without easy answers. Any remedy must include elders who are willing to make themselves available. We do not need the greatest wisdom or expertise, but we do need to show up. We need the passion and determination of youth, but for youth to use these energies wisely, they need the help of elders. For many youth, elders are nowhere to be found. Among the 1.4 million people incarcerated for substance abuse offenses are parents of 2.4 million children. Dharma centers can playa central role in offering alternative ways to explore one's mind, body, and heart, but youth must first feel invited and welcomed.

Thay has said certain problems are too big for one person and must be addressed by the entire community. The challenges and struggles of youth are such issues. The current trend is to either lock up youth or think their every need will be satisfied by a new technology, without ever addressing their inner life or exploring ethics. Dharma practice can help provide ways to nurture the inner life and an outer sense of responsibility. There are no easy answers as to how mindfulness practice can be offered so that it speaks to and benefits challenging populations, such as youth at Juvenile Hall, but any creative effort made with joy and mindfulness has a good chance.

Soren Gordhamer is working on a meditation book directed to young adults. He has taught meditation for teens through Spirit Rock Center, Kaiser Hospital, and at Juvenile Halls. He lives in Soquel, California.

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Awareness of the Body in the Body

A Massage Therapist Practices the First Establishment of Mindfulness

By Pamela Overeynder

I have been a massage therapist for many years. I have practiced mindfulness for many years yet somehow it took a long time for me to realize that these are not two separate practices. In the past I did massage very unmindfully. I would mentally drift, led along by endless thoughts or I would go into a vague trancelike state. I was in a passive state and not practicing at all, even though I thought I was at peace. Sometimes I worked very hard to remove adhesions and pain in my client as though it were my responsibility single-handedly to fix the person. After such sessions my body was tired and tense. I often had the feeling I had given away my energy. One day I had the insight again that living in the present moment means breathing with awareness in every activity. It means being with things just as they are without trying to change or fix them but allowing the energy of awareness to be the transforming force.

Slowly I have begun to transform my own practice of massage by observing and working with the first of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, awareness of the body in the body. I began to notice how often I hold my breath while I work, how often my tummy is contracted and tense, how often I allow my mind to roam away from the body. I saw how much unnecessary force I used to "help" my client. I could see that working unmindfully caused my own body to suffer. I wasn't treating my body with compassion. Lack of awareness of my body, lack of kindness for my body was affecting my health and the quality of the massage I offered. These realizations (still unfolding) naturally led to the desire to share elements of the practice with my clients.

Early on in my massage practice I recognized that in those rare moments when I am completely present and aware of my body and breath, my clients benefit in some intangible as well as tangible ways. For a long time I avoided unnecessary talk while giving massage. I wanted to offer silence. One of the fruits of my own work with the First Establishment of Mindfulness is a willingness to share the practice of awareness of the breath and body as a kind of guided meditation. I don't use Buddhist language. I simply tell the client that I will guide him into a deeper state of relaxation using our collaborative awareness. This practice has been received enthusiastically by almost everyone, and the visible result is a much deeper relaxation and joyful smiles of appreciation at the end of the massage.

I am aware that when someone comes to me for massage, the pain and tension in the body are externalized manifestations of internal states. We live in difficult times. Stress is widespread and has devastating effects on the body. As a massage therapist I see the effects of stress on the physical body and, of course, I have the experience of my own body. Very few of us know how to adapt to challenging external conditions without producing unhealthy stress.

Many people share their emotional suffering with me—i.e., "I just left my husband, our baby is sick, I lost my job, my work is so stressful." My job is to listen deeply without judgment or solutions, simply reflecting the pain I hear in their voices and feel in their bodies, and to assist them with words and touch in letting go in the way that is most appropriate for them. As Thay says, our job is to listen deeply so that the other person can empty her heart. Sometimes the client doesn't say anything at all but I can see suffering in her face and feel the lack of ease and presence with the body. I know the right medicine is awareness and I try to relax and allow the transformation to occur. Each session begins with gentle contact and silent metta: "May he be safe and well. May he be peaceful. May he be filled with light." Often I continue the metta throughout the massage. Every session is different because every human being is unique. I use my intuition to decide what to say and how to say it. Sometimes I do an extended meditation on the parts of the body, the organs, etc. as we do in the practice of Total Relaxation. Sometimes, I say very little, simply encouraging the person to be aware of her body and breath.

I let the client know I will be following my breath and maintaining awareness of my body even as I am encouraging her to do the same. Together we will enjoy our breath and stay present in order to move towards greater ease, relaxation and transformation of the body's suffering. I use my voice as a soothing tool to help establish basic awareness of the breath and body and to maintain that awareness. Of course, this supports my practice as well.

Often I use gathas. "As you breathe in, know that you are breathing in. As you breathe out, know that you are breathing out." I encourage the client to follow the physical sensations of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Sometimes I continue with deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment - but very slowly throughout the massage. Sometimes I follow my instinct and simply remind the client to return to awareness of the breath - "Observe your breath rising and falling like waves on the ocean," or "Notice how your body is feeling now. Do you feel tension or holding in any part of your body?" or "Imagine as you breathe in that your whole body is breathing in—breathing through every pore of your skin." Or "Return to the present moment. This is a wonderful moment."

I often invite the person to send his breath to a tight spot and allow the breath to melt the tension. Frequently people acknowledge that they were holding their breath. I remind the person there is nothing for her to do, nothing to fix, nothing to do but relax into the present moment and feel the wonderful joy of simply breathing in and out. Usually, when I call attention to the breath, I can feel the client physically let go of more of the tension. This is palpable and real. In the last few minutes of the massage, I invite the client, whom I now feel bonded to in friendship, to offer gratitude to her body and to offer the medicine of a smile to her body. People often chuckle out loud at the thought of smiling to their body.

Many of us do not fully inhabit our bodies. People often tell me they are not aware that they are holding tension in the body. To be intimate with one's own body is to be aware of tension when it exists, to hold the tension lovingly, to seek its causes, to realize that the conditions for relaxation also exist and the seeds of relaxation can be nourished with our awareness. "Breathing in, I'm aware that my body is tense. Breathing out, I smile to the tension. Breathing in, I realize my shoulders are hugging my ears. Breathing out, I enjoy my out breath." Mindful massage encourages us to come home to the body as it is in the here and now. We befriend the body, befriend the tension and the pain and then, as if by miracle, the tension and pain lessen.

This summer at the Amherst retreat I had a profound experience with the healing power of mindfulness of the body. On the morning of the ordination ceremony for the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, I woke up with an upset stomach. Because of my deep desire to be present in support of sisters and brothers receiving the Trainings, I decided to go. As I slowly walked to the meditation hall, I held my upset stomach in my hands and recited the gatha "Calm/Ease" while breathing very consciously. When I arrived my stomach was much calmer and I was able to be fully present for the ceremony. A delicious fruit of the practice often comes when my mindfulness is strong and the client is open enough. In those moments a deep intimacy arises between us. Zen teacher, Issan Dorsey used the phrase "abiding in ultimate closeness." To me ultimate closeness means no self and no other. It means no separation. It means deep intimacy. One of the many benefits of mindful massage is that these apparent physical boundaries melt away and, at least briefly, there is only one body, part of the vast Buddha body. In this state of oneness compassion flows naturally.

At times I don't feel connected to my client. I may not feel at home in my body. I may be too tired or distracted, demanding too much of myself. Her body may feel impenetrable and I realize she may have less awareness of and compassion for her own body. She may treat her body badly with poor diet, alcohol, lack of exercise, etc. When I come back to treating my body with compassion, I have the chance to transmit some of what I feel to her and she will begin to have more awareness and appreciation for herself. I am aware that I'm planting and watering seeds of awareness in my client and myself at the same time. I realize this person is not separate from me, that he is part of my Sangha, that his happiness and well-being is my happiness and well-being.

In the beginning I spoke of the tangible and intangible benefits of mindful massage. The tangible benefits are deeper relaxation with increased physiological benefits, a greater feeling of connectedness between self and other, and more peace and joy. Friendship is a tangible benefit. Even if I never see this person again, we are friends. The first client I shared mindful massage with told me later that it had made her realize how important it is to treat her body with loving-kindness. The intangible benefits are harder to talk about. Sometimes I have the feeling my client has touched her true nature even though she may not have words to describe it. One beautiful young woman left the clinic and came back a few minutes later to deeply thank me and to express that she had not realized how profound massage could be. I believe she touched her true nature. I don't know what the long-term effects of mindful massage are because I work in a spa and don't usually see clients more than once. This may be a disadvantage but it is also how life is. We touch the lives of others. We all plant or water seeds and we may never see the effects. I do know from my own experience that every time the seed of awareness of my body is watered, it grows stronger. Many different people have watered those seeds and I'm grateful to them all.

I began this article a few days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Today I saw something written in large white letters on the rear windshield of the car in front of me. lt said, "Choose compassion and forgiveness. Reject violence and vengeance." This is how Thay teaches us to respond to violence. As I write these words I see that they apply equally to the physical body. If we offer the physical body compassion and forgiveness, we will have no need for violence and vengeance on the individual or the collective level. As Thay says, "Peace is every step." The First Establishment of Mindfulness supports us in cultivating peaceful steps by teaching us to live with awareness and appreciation of the physical body. I have never felt more committed to helping others make peace with their bodies because I know when we come home to our bodies, replacing judgment with acceptance, violence with compassion, the world will be a safer and more peaceful place.

Pamela Overeynder, True Sun of Understanding, practices with Plum Blossom Sangha of Austin and the Texas Hill Country Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

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Letting Go and Being Happy

By Ben Matlock mb38-Letting1Seven members of our Sangha volunteer as Buddhist chaplains at a large, local hospital. We visit Asian and Western Buddhist patients, consult with staff, and lead a weekly meditation in the hospital chapel, mostly attended by staff members.

I have noticed that much of the suffering I encounter in the hospital is created when the patients and staff cling to the image of the patient’s formerly “well self.” Much sadness arises in patients who see their illness as changing them permanently, and much energy is spent by staff trying to restore that state of supposed wellness for the patient, often in vain.

My personal practice includes exploring the areas of belief where I try to hold on to my ideas and perceptions at all costs. I wrote the following guided meditation while traveling on the subway to lead a session at the hospital. Somehow during that journey, the implications of continuing to hold on for dear life to the very things that make me unhappy became much clearer to me than they had before. I realized that I even had to convince myself from time to time that I actually wanted to be happy.

We used this meditation at Sangha on the Wednesday before the presidential election. We each agreed to spend the following week looking deeply and becoming friends with one of our attachments. Then we envisioned what life might be like were we to let go of that attachment. The third step was to investigate with compassion what is keeping us from letting go. In sharing this guided meditation with you, I hope you find this process of deeply looking freeing and transformative.

Guided Meditation On Letting Go

Breathing in, I see the need I have to control my life. Breathing out, I let go of the need to control my life.

Breathing in, I see that control is an illusion. Breathing out, I relax in my inability to control.

Breathing in, I see how critical I am of myself. Breathing out, I let go of the need to be critical.

Breathing in, I see all the goodness in me. Breathing out, I relax in the knowledge of the goodness in me.

Breathing in, I see the many ambitions I have for myself. Breathing out, I let go of the many ambitions I have for myself.

Breathing in, I see that I am sufficient in all ways. Breathing out, I relax in knowing that I am sufficient in all ways.

Breathing in, I see that I crave many things. Breathing out, I let go of the need to crave many things.

Breathing in, I see that I have enough. Breathing out, I relax in the knowledge that I have enough.

Breathing in, I see that I am too busy. Breathing out, I let go of the need to be too busy.

Breathing in, I want a less hectic life. Breathing out, I relax in the quiet of this moment.

Breathing in, I see that letting go can make me free. Breathing out, I am free.

Breathing in, I see that by being free I can be happy. Breathing out, I am happy.

Ben Matlock, True Equanimity of the Sangha, lives in Roxbury, Massachusetts and practices with the Boston Old Path Sangha. An administrator at Episcopal Divinity School, he is the father of Adam, a nineteen-year-old college sophomore, and was married this summer to Ted Todd, also an Order of Interbeing member.

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Heart to Heart

“Heart to Heart” is a new section of the Mindfulness Bell, where we will publish short pieces on a given topic. Keep your writing personal and concrete, focusing on the fruits of your mindfulness practice. Preference will be given to shorter pieces, under 500 words. All submissions will be edited. Submit via email to mindfulness.bell@yahoo.com.

The topic for the Winter/Spring 2007 issue will be: what you would like to write to a suicide bomber (see Thây’s words about this on page 12). We would prefer to receive submissions by October 15, 2006.

Here is a list of future topics and tentative deadlines, set in advance with the hope that things won’t change too much between now and then... Happy writing!

Issue Topic Deadline
Winter/Spring 2007 Letter to a suicide bomber October 15, 2006
Summer 2007 Second Mindfulness Training February 15, 2007
Autumn 2007 Third Mindfulness Training June 15, 2007
Winter/Spring 2008 Fourth Mindfulness Training October 15, 2007
Summer 2008 Fifth Mindfulness Training February 15, 2008

To launch this section, we present some heartfelt (and even humorous) writings on the First Mindfulness Training.

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Committed to compassion and learning ways to protect lives of people, animals, plants and minerals...

Our delightful Tibetan Terrier, Dharma, is under quarantine by the county animal control officials for a severe, unprovoked biting attack on an innocent hiker here in our mountain paradise. It is our custom to daily amble over these magical trails among some of the world’s oldest peaks and valleys. Dharma, a feral Humane Society rescue animal, had been captured as a pup in the wild almost two years ago after rampaging through the highland wilderness during two great hurricanes. She is particularly fearful and unpredictably aggressive with small humans. We have five such small-bodied grandchildren. Visits are always fraught with peril and anxiety and constant vigilance. Four previous bites to adults had not yet resulted in serious harm, nor has this current bite done permanent damage, but we fear the operative phrase is “not yet.” Dharma is ever on guard, is anxiety-ridden during these visits, and in the year-and-a-half we have loved her into the darling companion she is, she is still only to be trusted with my wife, myself, and our amazing dog sitter. All of the experts we have consulted, including Tibetan Terrier Rescue, agree: Dharma should be euthanized.

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Earnest practitioners that we fancy ourselves to be ought not to be killing, ought not to let others kill–yet we definitely also ought to cultivate compassion and protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. Unfortunately, especially for Dharma, our world is not only the beautiful, peaceful, controlled environment of our little cottage and dharma hall, it is also the wider world of strangers and children, constant visitors, and uncontrollable circumstances. I have always felt that the precepts, the Mindfulness Trainings, have a certain edge of impossiblity to them. And I have also come to feel that it may be precisely because of this “impossibility” that I practice them.

Thus, for every single thing that lives, In number like the boundless reaches of the sky, May I be their sustenance and nourishment Until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering. –Shantideva, Indian Buddhist Teacher, 8th Century, A.D.

Philip Toy Black Mountain, North Carolina

Surrounded by her loving family, Dharma was gently euthanized on July 31, 2006.

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The colours of my childhood shimmer green and yellow. Dandelions and grasses in a hot July sun. Cold, crisp white sheets warming to the gentleness of the night. Lilac, intoxicatingly sweet, drifting indoors. The colours of my childhood belong to a time long gone, and a person now dead. They belong to my Nanna and the neat council house on a tatty neglected street she inhabited. From her I learned the tenacity of a heart enveloped in kindness and equanimity. Patience and high moral standards held equal sway. Rosaries at dawn, evening contrition, and masses her comfort and strength.

Did I learn to be a better person because of her? Do I teach my children what she taught me? Or do I take the easy, lazy path of modern parenting, beset and submerged by demons? Modern parenting differs so vastly from the austerity of a Yorkshire childhood in the early 70s! Sometimes I long for simpler, less morally perplexing times. How does the Bodhisattva ideal sit comfortably with Barbie and Gameboys? consumerism and killing games?

Ask any parent or caregiver what is the greatest challenge they face, and they’ll answer unhesitantly: “nits” (head lice). Not tests, not bullying, not the rising cost of uniforms. This tiny, almost insignificant insect raises enormously complex, soul-wrenching problems. With the central moral principle of non-harming and compassion as one’s life’s principles, how exactly is one supposed to react when one’s cherished offspring is sent home from school, menagerie riding aloft, and not allowed back without a clean head?

No other insect or animal raises this issue for me. Ants, silverfish and spiders merrily waltz around the house as if they own it. The mouse in the attic over-winters as content as a maiden aunt soaking in the warm Mediterranean. Worms are rescued, spider nests painted around, birds fed, plants grown for butterflies.

Head lice are an itchy curse to any school-age child, and schools take the position that no child can return until they are louse free. What to do? Options are limited, traditional shorn heads not sitting well with six-year-old divas. Kill them quickly and humanely, snapping their little bodies with a deft flick of a fingernail, and a heart filled with contrition and atonement? Silent prayers for the dead and dying in a scented bathroom. Comb them out? Each released to its own destiny, karmic fine teeth refusing to take responsibility for their eventual demise. Or, most drastic of all, pungent chemicals shrivelling and desiccating innards and limbs? Modern chemicals absolved of ancient worries and intransigencies.

I doubt a satisfactory answer to the dilemma exists. My Nanna, template of compassion, never faced the issue with us, bereft as we were of “friends.” Probably she would have tutted and placed human health paramount; chided me for being “soft”; and sent me outside to play, dandelions yellow and grasses green swaying in the breeze. Simpler times, poor preparation for complex modern conundrums.

Kathryn C. Hallas Wakefield, West Yorkshire, U.K.

After reading the book Seeds from a Birch Tree by Clark Strand, I discovered that writing haiku poetry is a very lovely way to practice mindfulness. I attempted to distill the First Mindfulness Training to only 17 syllables and humbly offer my effort as encouragement to others to try writing haiku. At the very least, you will have a little gatha to remind you of the mindfulness training.

vowing not to kill — I carry an ant outside on a newspaper

Beth Howard Cheyenne, Wyoming

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Earlier this year, a group of practitioners came together as the Ripening Sangha under the guidance and support of Dharma Teacher Brother Phap Tri at Deer Park Monastery. The group includes Order of Interbeing members and aspirants, and we are studying and practicing the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Once a month, we visit Deer Park for a Day of Mindfulness, the Fourteen Mindfulness Recitation Ceremony, and a class that focuses on one Mindfulness Training per month. We have also begun enjoying quarterly Weekends of Mindfulness together.

Each month, we write about our study and practice of the Mindfulness Training of the month. We write journal entries and gathas, rewrite the Mindfulness Training from our own experience, and use other methods to deepen our practice.

In April, I wrote a guided meditation to practice with the Twelfth Mindfulness Training (equivalent to the First of the Five) during my morning sitting meditation time. This guided meditation integrates my practice of yogic breathing, in which one inhales the qualities and aspirations one most wants to embody and exhales the qualities one most wants to release or, in Thây’s most recent terminology, “throw away.”

Breathing in, I bring looking deeply in Breathing out, I release narrow-mindedness and my need for premature closure (my need to make quick decisions and premature judgments) Breathing in, I bring compassion in Breathing out, I release judgment (of myself and others) Breathing in, I bring understanding in Breathing out, I release disappointment (that things aren’t the way I want them to be or think they should be) Breathing in, I bring acceptance in Breathing out, I release attachment to outcome (especially the outcome I want) Breathing in, I bring peace in Breathing out, I release blame and violence (toward myself and others)

Karen Hilsberg Culver City, California

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