Mindfulness is being in the present moment in an open and friendly way. It's both mind-training and heart-training.You can start right where you are.
Monday, in the prison meditation circle, I talked about what it means to be free. I spoke about my early years in academia, where it felt like I had no choices. Driven by unrealistic inner-expectations, I worked long hours, provided many and varied extras to students, said “yes” to every committee, and attended all events. Eventually, I was exhausted and irritated.
A quick glance at the news tells us what’s wrong with the world: political wars, violent acts, and natural disasters. These are not to be ignored. We live in a complicated world and to make a difference we must face hard truths. But if we focus solely on what's wrong, we become scared, frustrated, and hopeless.
In our prison meditation circle, there’s a new member. He’s young and earnest. He keeps showing up, week after week, even though he’s scared. Recently, I had a one-on-one visit with him. Wide-eyed, he spoke about the fear he experiences each time he walks into mindfulness class. I inquired about this fear. He said he’s worried about making mistakes and not getting it right.
I’m reading Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy. His words regularly bring me to tears. He’s a beautiful writer and, more importantly, he’s an honest, compassionate, work-for-justice person. He details varied ways we harm one another; the awful things we abide by and do. And much of this happens within institutions.
In last week’s Truth Tuesday post, I wrote about my terminated YouTube channel; about the frustration, blame, and disbelief that arose in me, and about my path back to perspective, intention, and love. As a follow-up, I recorded a video, calling people to “protest” YouTube (and all automated or uncaring decisions) by being the change we want to see.
On Sunday, I received an email from YouTube. It was a terse message that my “Born Joy: Mindfulness” channel was terminated for repeated violations of the community guidelines. My first thought: This is a phishing email. Upon closer look, I saw it was legitimate. Then came my second thought: Someone hacked my account.
A wandering mind is an uneasy mind. When our attention is split between many things or when we can't focus on the one thing right in front of us, we feel anxious and uncomfortable. This result is shown through direct experience as well as through scientific studies.
I grew up with a purple lilac bush. During springtime, I remember its colorful blooms and vibrant aroma. When my parents downsized to a condo, I expressed interest in the lilac. Not to dig it up (it was far too big), but to propagate a child of the plant here in my Wisconsin backyard.
Last Monday, after my long prison day, I felt a new understanding of impermanence. We did meditations on body sensations—noticing how they shift, pulse, and vibrate; how the changing nature of our bodies is okay. It’s not wrong, it’s natural. On my drive home, I listened to a dharma talk that encouraged more investigation: watch the nature of sensations, then open awareness to death—what if I no longer exist? In my expanded awareness, I was okay because I was present, alive in the moment.
On Monday, in prison pastorals and groups, I witnessed rich and varied stories: An inmate struggling to love himself (even like himself). This motivated him to practice loving-kindness inward. He easily expresses compassion for others yet realized how little he has for himself. Now he does daily compassion prayers inward. Through tears he said, “I don’t know why it’s so hard. I don’t know why I feel so undeserving.”