Category Archives: Meditation

Sangha on the Shelf: A Path with Heart


“In undertaking a spiritual life, what matters is simple: We must make certain that our path is connected with our heart. Many other visions are offered to us in the modern spiritual marketplace. Great spiritual traditions offer stories of enlightenment, bliss, knowledge, divine ecstasy, and the highest possibilities of the human spirit. Out of the broad range of teachings available to us in the West, often we are first attracted to these glamorous and most extraordinary aspects. While the promise of attaining such states can come true, and while these states do represent the teachings, in one sense they are also one of the advertising techniques of the spiritual trade. They are not the goal of spiritual life. In the end, spiritual life is not a process of seeking or gaining some extraordinary condition or special powers. In fact, such seeking can take us away from ourselves. If we are not careful, we can easily find the great failures of our modern society – its ambition, materialism, and individual isolation – repeated in our spiritual life.

In beginning a genuine spiritual journey, we have to stay much closer to home, to focus directly on what is right here in front of us, to make sure that our path is connected with our deepest love.”

~ Jack Kornfield, “A Path with Heart: a guide through the perils and promises of spiritual life”

My own copy of this book is well-thumbed, with folded over pages and passages highlighted. I return to it again and again. If you stay with this path long enough, you will experience the highs and lows, the bliss and the disappointments, heartbreak and healing, rich periods of discovery and deserts void of a single drop of inspiration. Kornfield’s guidebook offers sage advice for every one of them.

Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma and India, perhaps most notably with the Thai Forest master Venerable Ajahn Chan. The book opens with the story of his return in saffron robes to the United States in 1972. He waits for his sister in law at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door salon. All eyes are on the Westerner in the saffron robes. The moment is a turning point for him. He instantly realizes that if he can’t integrate what he’s learned into modern American life, its not going to work. This experience drove him to give up his ordination, and his work as a teacher continues to address the need for our spirituality to be relevant and real.

He is a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, along with Sharon Salzman and Joseph Goldstein, and also the Spirit Rock Centre in Woodacre, CA. He has led international gatherings of Buddhist teachers of all traditions, including the Dalai  Lama. He holds a PhD. in clinical psychology, is a father and activist. There’s a good chance that the meme you just shared on Facebook with the lotus that says its the words of the Buddha are likely from Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book”.

The book is laid out in a progression that matches the stages of going from zealous newbie, intermediate practitioner learning to integrate wisdom into life experience, and the hallmarks of a mature practitioner and human being. Each chapter ends with a meditation or exercise to explore the thoughts and ideas contained there in a hands on way.

Part 1 is titled “A Path with Heart: the fundamentals”. Before going anywhere near the nuts and bolts of meditation, he asks us to compassionately examine our own hearts and reflect on our most human motivation to practice. I often find it helpful to return to square one with these early chapters, to check the roots of my practice, and remind myself of what’s really most important.

Part 2 addresses “Perils and Promises”. How to turn difficulties into the fodder for our practice, dealing with recurring issues (he calls them “insistent visitors”), what to make of unleashed energy, or passing through the “Dark Night of the Soul”.

Part 3 is “Widening our Circle” – the running theme here is how we relate to the wider world through our spirituality. There are chapters on how to leave retreat or intense periods of practice and re-enter the world, and how to breakdown our ideas of boundaries between our “practice” and our “real life”. Kornfield explores how our sense of self come to bear in our relationship with others, and how to deepen our compassion. This section wisely addresses working with a teacher, as well as how psychotherapy may intersect with meditative approaches.

Kornfield does not shy away from the all-too common phenomena of breakdown in spiritual communities, including abuses of power, sex, money, drugs. As responsible practitioners, we must also turn the light of awareness on our own communities, to honestly evaluate both the good and the bad, recognize the shadow side of the particular sangha and practices we’ve chosen, and to examine how our own habits and behaviours may contribute to dysfunctional dynamics. The Insight Meditation Teachers Code of Ethics is included as an appendix. Most organizations only create such a document in hindsight out of painful necessity once problems have already occurred. Perhaps this code may be useful in helping other communities avoid such problems before they arise, or to individual students who are feeling unsure about the actions of their own teachers.

Part 4 brings us to “Spiritual Maturity”. In the final analysis, its not how many hours of meditation you’ve sat, or how long you spent in retreat or the number of mantras you’ve said. The real question is, how has your heart changed over time? Kornfield provides an outline of 10 qualities of spiritual maturity that we can all aspire to and cultivate, no matter where we are on the path. The final chapters eloquently ask how we bring our own contribution to the mystery of life, what Kornfield calls “The Great Song” and what it means to touch the intimacy of life moment to moment.

Throughout the book, Jack Kornfield weaves rich stories, anecdotes, poems and quotes from a wide range of wisdom traditions. It’s all presented with humility, humour, wisdom, and of course – heart. An indispensable handbook for life on the spiritual path, regardless of where yours takes you.


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Learn How to Meditate this Fall

photo (credit unkown) via Wikimedia

Curious about meditation but just don’t know where to start? Or what to do with yourself once you do? Or you tried it and fell off the wagon?

I discovered meditation years into my yoga practice. I began my home meditation practice rather secretively, in the early morning hours before my family was awake – partly for the quiet, partly because I was a bit afraid of what they might think or say. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, but enjoyed the peaceful time and regularity of it. I started with just a few minutes a few times a week. Over time and with some good, solid instruction from experienced teachers, it became a daily practice that’s deepened, become a true pleasure rather than an obligation, and a foundation for wellness and happiness in my life.

I’m offering an introductory workshop at The Yoga Sanctuary Danforth twice this fall that will help to de-mystify the whole thing. You’ll leave with some simple techniques for use both on and off the meditation cushion (or yoga mat).  We’ll talk about the benefits, what meditation is and isn’t, how to fit it into your busy life and how to know if you’re making any progress.

Whether you want to learn to meditate or deepen your practice, you’ll find this workshop provides meditation methods that research suggests can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewiring your brain. You’ll learn practices for both “on” & “off” the mat that will reduce your stress levels, improve your concentration and increase your well-being.

This class demystifies meditation and shows how this ancient practice is easy and can successfully work into anyone’s busy life. You’ll leave the class after practicing several types of meditation and takeaway just the right practice for you. Curious? Or just want to enhance your practice? 
Join us for this practical and enjoyable workshop.

Pre-register here.

Learn How to Meditate

This workshop will be presented twice:

Sat Nov 21 from 9:30am-12 noon

Sat Dec 12 from 9:30am-12 noon

at The Yoga Sanctuary Danforth – 95 Danforth Ave, 3rd floor (at Broadview)

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Falling in Love with Your Breath

Wind and Wave, by Franz Stuck (1863-1928). Public domain via Wikimedia


What is your relationship to your breath? Something to contemplate…. on the yoga mat, on the meditation cushion, on the subway or in line at the grocery store.

To think of your breath as the Beloved – how would  you treat your Beloved? Would you restrict or obstruct it? Would you push it? Would you let it become ragged? Would you indulge one part of it but not another?

Or would you surrender to and enjoy each breath in all its fullness. With gentleness. With trust. With love.


“In Chan [Chinese Zen], you fall in love with the breath.

You think about the breath while you’re sitting, eating, and walking. After you finish your work, you think about the breath. The breath comes to your mind. You want to get close to the breath. There is a tenderness, sweetness, and intimacy that you want to share with the breath. You want to give your time to the breath; you want to give your whole self to the breath. You want to take care of the breath.

The breath, being your most loyal and loved one, will not desert you. It will not stop searching or looking for you when you are lost. It will find you; all you need to do is just be still.

When you cannot find the breath, you don’t get angry, in the same way that when you cannot find the person you love, you don’t get angry; you just keep thinking: Where is she? Similarly the breath, being your most loyal and loved one, will not desert you. It will not stop searching or looking for you when you are lost. It will find you; all you need to do is just be still, and it will come to you by your side.

Give yourself to the breath as if you are giving to the person you love. Give it your life. Your everything. Have this kind of intimacy, longing, and fondness for the breath. Forgive the breath when it becomes short and rough. Do not rise up in anger against it. Accept the breath as it is. Love and accept it.

Falling in love gives you energy. It is the same when you fall in love with your breath. You think about the breath when you wake up. You are enthusiastic. You have energy.

Falling in love with your breath is called the meditation of love. People sometimes think that in Buddhism love is something that is frowned upon and relationships are no good. This is because relationships necessarily involve attachment and grasping, and Buddhism often teaches us to detach.

Chan teaches us to love with no attachment. To care without imposing. To love in the way we love the breath.”

~ Chan Master Guo Jun, from “Essential Chan Buddhism: The Character and Spirit of Chinese Zen”


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Global Day of Yoga for Nepal May 28

Global Day of Yoga for Nepal

***CHANGE OF VENUE FOR SAT MAY 23 MEDITATION*** Please note that the tong len group meditation on Sat May 23 from 7:00-8:00pm has been moved. It will now take place at The Yoga Sanctuary College (not the Danforth location). Full details at the bottom of this post.

The power of your yoga & meditation practice can change lives. Believe it. Do it.

Join me and yogis all over the world on as we help for those affected by the recent earthquakes in Nepal. I’ll be offering a number of classes to support relief efforts, as yogis unite to rebuild.
tys danforth

My regular Hatha Flow class on Sat May 23 at 8:30am at The Yoga Sanctuary Danforth will be a pay-what-you-can. This class is suitable for all levels.

Later that same evening, join me at The Yoga Sanctuary College (please note the change of venue from Danforth) from 7:00-8:00pm also on Sat May 23 for a special meditation to benefit all those affected by theearthquakes. I’ve give some short instruction on the meditation  known as tong len, then lead the group through the meditation. Tong len means “giving and taking” in Tibetan – we practice seeing ourselves eradicating other’s pain and then sending them everything they need. No meditation experience is necessary, and this practice is suitable for any spiritual practitioners. The Yoga Sanctuary is my “home studio”, and I’m very happy to extend this opportunity to help to the TYS community. 

On Sat May 28, I’ll offer a special 2 hour practice at The Yoga House from 6:30-8:30pm. A 75 min gentle, heart-opening hatha flow series, followed by 45 mins of tong len meditation. Suitable for all levels, no experience necessary. The Yoga House is THE most beautiful boutique studio I’ve ever seen, right here in my Danforth East neighborhood, steps from the Coxwell subway, opening out onto the towering oaks of the Merrill ravine. If you’ve never experienced the incredible peace and beauty of the magical space that yogi Celeste Shirley has created, now is the time!

yoga house

the yoga house

All events are by donation, whatever you can give happily. If you are unable to offer money, please come and offer the power of your intention through practice. All proceeds will go to the 108 Lives Project, who have been changing the lives of the destitute in Nepal since 2008. They have the on-the-ground relationships to reach those most in need, including to remote rural areas that foreign aid often misses, and they’ll be there long after too. The 108 Lives Project was founded by members of my extended Dharma family based in NYC, and I am so happy to have this opportunity to support the incredible work they have been doing for years.

If you are interested in hosting your own yoga event on May 28 for the 108 Lives Project, please check out their FB page. If you are unable to contribute financially or join us in person, please take some time on May 28 to dedicate your own personal practice to ending the suffering in Nepal. There are so many in need, and YOU can make a difference.

Global Day of Yoga for Nepal

Sat May 23 from 8:30-9:45am – Hatha Flow

The Yoga Sanctuary Danforth – 95 Danforth Ave, 3rd floor (at Broadview)

Sat May 23 from 7:00-8:00pm – Tong Len meditation

*** PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF VENUE *** Now at The Yoga Sanctuary College – 2 College St, 3rd floor (at Yonge) 

Thur May 28 from 6:30-8:30pm – Hatha Flow and Tong Len meditation

The Yoga House – 7 Copeland Ave (Coxwell & Danforth)

By donation – what you can give happily

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Practicing Compassion

diamond in the rose

“If you  want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

~ His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

This fall, I’ll be offering two complimentary workshops at The Yoga Sanctuary College. While each workshop stands on its own, attending both will allow you to expand your understanding and experience of these two practices, one meditation, and one a physical asana series. Both practices are designed to open our hearts and increase our compassion and happiness.

Breath of Compassion meditation workshop

Sun Sept 21 from 12 noon-2pm at The Yoga Sanctuary College – 2 College St, at Yonge

$25.00 + hst. Click to preregister.

In the meditation practice known as Tong Len, or giving and taking, we actively use our breath to take away others’ suffering and send them happiness and healing. In the process, we create the causes for our own wellbeing and deepen our capacity for compassion. A powerful and useful practice that can be done both on and off the meditation cushion, as we encounter suffering in our world.

Tibetan Heart Yoga workshop

Sun Oct 5 from 12 noon-2pm at The Yoga Sanctuary College – 2 College St, at Yonge

$25.00 + hst. Click to preregister.

This yoga series from the lineage of the Dalai Lamas embodies the Breath of Compassion meditation practice. This is a compact practice using meditation, mantra and asana that can be done in under 45 minutes, perfect for our busy modern lives. You will find familiar yoga poses in this series, as well as some unique to the Tibetan tradition. The series is designed to release the energetic knots surrounding the heart, increase our compassion and dispel feelings of separation. Suitable for all levels.

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“But I’m too busy to meditate…”


“The affairs of the world will go on forever. Do not delay the practice of meditation.” ~ Milarepa (Tibet, 1052-1135)

See? Even in 11th century Tibet, people were complaining that they couldn’t meditate, because…. they were too busy. Even without smart phones, wifi, or Netflix.

Milarepa is the wild yogi poet of ancient Tibet. His luminous poems are among the most revered of literary treasures in Tibet. But he started out as one bad mother – after some family infighting, his mother convinced him to dabble in black magic and he killed a lot of people. He repented, found a teacher, and  practiced the Dharma with diligence and reached total awakening. In his later years, he subsisted on nettle tea (giving his skin a greenish tinge) and lived out his days in deep practice.

Don’t think that he just sat in that famous cave of his all day in deep states of meditation. Milarepa was a busy guy. Before his teacher Marpa would even begin to instruct him, he had Milarepa build a 9 storey tower. Then Marpa told him to pull it down. Then build it again. Oh, and pull that one down, too. Milarepa built the tower 4 times in all. Yet, somehow, he still found the time to meditate.

So before you start thinking that you are facing insurmountable obstacles in your pursuit of finding (or making) the time to meditate, remember that its not a new problem, unique to our crazy, modern lives.  The affairs of the world were already going on in 11th century Tibet. And they are still going on today in the 21st century. It doesn’t look like they are going to stop anytime soon either. If we waited til things slowed down, til our affairs were all tickety-boo, til conditions were perfect – well, we’d never get anywhere. We would just stay stuck and unhappy.  As my own teacher once chided me, “so, what – you’re not going to do the practice?”

As our environment becomes increasingly distractable, meditation may well become a survival mechanism. If we want to stay sane and healthy, we won’t be able to afford not to meditate. You don’t have to look far in the mainstream media these days to read about the evidence of meditation’s benefits – increased happiness, improved neuroplasticity and brain health, lower blood pressure and improved immunity, to name a few.

So – just do it. Decide to become a good meditator. Experience the benefits for yourself.

  • Start with 3 minutes a day. You cannot reasonably tell me that you can not find 3 minutes in your day – that’s one less cat video on Youtube. I had been meditating for a few years, but still hadn’t managed to make it a daily event. I joined a “meditation challenge” where I committed to meditate for a minimum of 3 minutes a day. That was the thing that pushed me over. More often than not, the days that I said to myself, “I just have to sit down for THREE minutes”, those 3 minutes invariably turned into 5 or 10 or even 15 minutes. So right here, right now – I challenge YOU to 3 minutes of meditation. Starting now. Every. Single. Day.
  • Meditate first thing in the morning. Just get it out of the way, before it becomes filled up with the affairs of  the day. If possible, go straight from a gentle waking to your meditation session, with minimal activity in between. Brush your teeth, take a drink of water, and skip checking email or Facebook.
  • If you fall off the wagon, just start over again. And again. And again. Meditation teaches us to start from here, now, where we are, over and over again.
  • Find a teacher. While there are countless wonderful books, CDs and Youtube videos on meditation, nothing replaces the guidance of an experienced teacher. If you wanted to master any skill – playing the concert piano, fixing a motorcycle, woodworking – there are some intangible things that you will only learn at the side of a living, breathing being who’s already mastered what you want to do. A good meditation teacher can inspire you when your practice is dry, help you through roadblocks, and keep you from wasting precious time with ineffective methods or concepts – and potentially much, much more.

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Setting the Stage for Meditation


Meditation: The Six Conditions

with Rhondda Smiley

6 Wednesdays 4:45-5:45pm, from Jan 15 to Feb 19, 2014

Our inner and outer lives are fundamentally interconnected. With shifts in our relationship with our world, we can create positive conditions for meditation practice.

In this six week course, we will learn how to cultivate the key conditions that support inner growth for greater freedom and happiness. The Six Conditions are based on the teachings of the ancient Indian yogi Master Kamalashila’s The Stages of Meditation circa 750AD.

Each week we’ll cover one condition, with discussion of how they apply to our modern lives. Each session will include guided meditation using the breath to develop single-pointed concentration. Beginner and experienced meditators alike are welcome.
At The Yoga Sanctuary – 95 Danforth Ave, 4th floor
Full course $120.00 + hst, drop-ins welcome $22.50 + hst

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We are Silent

We are Silent

For Thursday April 18, my daughter and I have taken a vow of silence, to stand up for children who have no voice and are denied their basic human rights.

  • 215 million children are forced to work as child labourers and are denied the right to attend school.
  • One in every three children in developing countries is malnourished.
  • One billion children are deprived of essential services like food, water, education, or health care.
  • 58% of deaths in children under 5 are caused by infectious disease.
  • 300 million children under the age of 5 are living in areas of armed conflict.
  • 1 in 3 children in developing countries is malnourished, suffering up to 160 days of illness in a year.

In this world of dependent arising, the existence of something in my world must logically mean that its absence is also possible. For every basic need, comfort, convenience and blessing I have in my life – food, water, safety, freedom, health care, education, play – there is the possibility, and the all-too-obvious reality, that there are those who are living without.

We are Silent is Free the Children’s annual fundraising and awareness campaign that began in 2004 and challenges participants to stand in silent solidarity for 24 hours with children whose voices are silenced by not having their rights upheld. Every year, tens of thousands of participants stand up for children who are being silenced by the denial of their basic human rights, collecting pledges as they take a vow of silence. All over the world, young people will go silent for 24 hours to raise awareness and funds for children without a voice. The campaign can be done as an individual, group, school, or even an entire silent city.

My daughter’s class and school have supported Free the Children over her time in elementary school. Activites have included read-a-thons, penny drives, bake sales and selling loot bags at Valentine’s Day. While Free the Children’s mandate is partly to help disadvantaged children, it is equally to help kids here discover that they have the power and responsibility to make a difference in their world right here, right now, no matter their age. It has provided our family with so many valuable opportunities for thought-provoking discussion, education and action around real, tangible problems in the world.

So, tomorrow, Thursday April 18, here is my vow for We Are Silent. Each commitment pertains to an article of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  • I will give up my voice for 10 continuous hours. From waking until I go into work at 4:30pm. My daughter has vowed to keep silence from waking til the end of her day at school at 6pm. (From Article 12 – Express views and Opinions: The right to freely express an opinion.)
  • I will do some tedious working task to help me understand exploitation and child labour. I will spend one hour of my day in picking up trash at the beach and surrounding parks. (From Article 36 – Protection from exploitation: The right to protection from all forms of exploitation.)
  • I will maintain a vegan diet for the day. I will limit myself to bathing from one basin of water for the day.  As Canadians, we’re among those who use more of the earth’s water than any other on a daily basis. Upon doing a little research, I found out that the biggest area of water consumption comes not from bathing or washing but from food production. Massive amounts of water are required to raise livestock. My dauther commits to a one minute (!) shower and to keep a vegetarian diet for the day.  (From Article 24 – Food and Water: You have the right to the best healthcare possible, safe water and nutritious food.)
  • I will give up play for 10 hours. No Facebook, no playing music for me. Since drawing is her favourite activity, my daughter is giving this up for the day. She says she will run at recess. (From Article 26 – Play: The right to play and rest.)
  • I will give up the right to education. I will not use Google or other search engines for 10 hours. (From Article 29 – Education: The right to education that prepares him/her for an active responsible life.)

I hope that giving up for a few hours the things that I so take for granted will help me to think more about those who are doing without these things and so much more. I hope that it will lead me to a greater appreciation and gratitude for what I have, and some small understanding of the lives of those without. That recognition is only really useful if I put it into action to change the situation though.

Please consider making your own vow in some way – for 24 hours, or even part of your day – or make a pledge to Free the Children. Consider what actions you and your family can take to increase your own understanding of other’s pain and problems, and in what ways you can take action to alleviate it.

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Buddhism 101 starts this Sunday!

Please download the course outline and reading from the attached link. Download Course Materials

If you need a ride from Toronto, please email me at We have space for you!

And a reminder that drop-ins are most welcome for this course. Come to one or all of the classes.

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Buddhism 101

Buddha headshot

Dharma Essentials 1: The Three Principal Paths

with Rhondda Smiley

NEW DATES!  Sundays from 11am – 1pm, from April 14 to May 5

Are you interested in Buddhism but overwhelmed by all those lists (The 4 of This, The 8 of That…) and don’t know where to start? Join us over four Saturday mornings for an overview of the complete Buddhist path. Find out how to follow the steps to enlightenment and blissful living.

Each class leads with an open discussion based on readings translated from original ancient Tibetan texts that are time tested and go back at least 2500 years. These include instructions on the steps to creating the good life and will include a short guided meditation designed to empower any spiritual practice and enhance your life.

Everything you need to know to begin, renew, or enhance your spiritual life! No previous background in Buddhism required.

at Bikram Yoga Toronto East – 111 Island Rd. Parking and entrance at rear.

Offered by donation – what you can give happily.

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