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3 Ways to be Mindful with Your Family This Holiday Sea...

Mindfulness has long been essential to spiritual practice, but recently it’s been embraced by schools at all levels. Recently, as an author visit at a middle school, I saw for myself the results of starting the day with a moment of silence and encouraging students to be mindful of others in hallways. Here are a few suggestions for family mindfulness during the holidays.

Start each day with mindful breathing.

During the holidays, we often wake up with our minds already spinning and busy with a long to do list. Take a few moments, in bed or in the shower, while brushing your teeth or waking your child, to follow your breath. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that we have to be present to be here, fully live each day. Even better, practice mindful breathing with your child.

Light a candle each day.

There’s something magical about lighting a candle. Creating ritual is one way to slow down and be mindful of each moment. It might be hard for busy families to have dinner together during the holidays. And maybe everyone in your house rushes out to the bus or car without sitting down to breakfast. But this time of year, when many of us struggle with darkness, the simple act of lighting a candle can help center ourselves.

Treasure the joy of quiet reading time.

The holidays are a great time to gather together to watch films, but don’t neglect the joy of quiet reading, which nurtures our imagination and allows us to be quiet together. If you have children, it’s a great way to share together. If you’re visiting relatives, take a risk and suggest a read aloud activity. We all love to be read to, whatever our age. And as we come together with those we love in the wonder of books and stories, we are reminded of what we treasure most.


Deborah Hopkinson has a master’s degree in Asian Studies from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, where she studied the role of women in thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhism. She is the author of Under the Bodhi Tree: A Story of the Buddha. She lived in Honolulu for 20 years and practiced Zen Buddhism with the late Roshi Robert Aitken, founder of the Diamond Sangha and Buddhist Peace Fellowship. She lives near Portland, Oregon. For more, visit

The community here at Sounds True wishes you a lovely holiday season! We are happy to collaborate with some of our Sounds True authors to offer you wisdom and practices as we move into this time together; please enjoy this blog series for your holiday season. 

To help encourage you and your loved ones to explore new possibilities this holiday season, we’re offering 40% off nearly all of our programs, books, and courses sitewide. May you find the wisdom to light your way. 



MINDFULNESS 24/7: 5 Simple Everyday Practices

24/7 Mindfulness, Gary GachMindfulness can be defined as the clear and calm energy of an intelligent alertness, spacious and awakening. The good news is it’s present all the time. It’s inherent in our human inheritance. We need only to remember this. Here are five simple everyday reminders for mindful living to try for yourself.

[You don’t need to take them on all at once. As you learn to incorporate each into your daily life, gradually, any one can be a model for all the others.]

1) BREATHE, YOU ARE ALIVE!—Conscious Breathing

Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, the grandfather of modern mindfulness, gives us this brief reminder to remember: “Conscious breathing is my anchor.” This thought stops me in my tracks. With breath now as basis of my awareness, I have returned to the present moment. Even when my mind might wander elsewhere, I can feel my breath in my body is in the present moment, my underwater anchor supporting my awakening mindfulness.

Allowing body, mind, and breath (spirit) to find each other helps me live fully. Paying attention to What Is, as it manifests right in front of my nose, lets me see things as they are, rather than through colored lenses of fantasy and personal cravings, invisible filters of cultural conditioning, and frames of ideology.

Conscious breathing doesn’t require taking a full breath, or any particular kind of breath at all. Rather, just being mindful of breath can amplify concentration which can, in turn, awaken full awareness. This can even lead to the cool, lucid plateau of meta-awareness: awareness of awareness.

See for yourself. Enjoy just three conscious breaths—right now!—and feel yourself solidly grounded in moment-to-moment awareness.

2) PAUSE—Intentional Conduct

To enjoy just one conscious breath means to pause. Pausing opens up a vital space. Between stimulus and unconscious reaction, I have space to discern how I might best wisely respond to what’s at hand. What can I do, right now, that could be harmful, and what might be beneficial? This too is spiritual practice, making evident my values via concrete action.

Throughout the day, I remember to pause, return to my breath, and check intention. A wonderful reminder is to smile. Aware of your breathing, notice what happens if you also give yourself the gift of a smile. Just a faint smile can help me realize I have enough reasons to be happy in the present moment. Earth beneath me, blue sky above, air in my nostrils—life itself! My smile also arouses my sense of taking responsibility, truly being author of my life, to live the life I was meant to live.

Plus, a smile can be contagious. Here is a fulcrum, so to speak, that can facilitate deep transformation. That is, to my intentionality I add relationality. It’s my intention for myself—and for others. I know my well-being is intertwined with the well-being of everyone else. We’re all in this together.

The Dalai Lama sometimes refers to his “selfish altruism.” That’s an honest way to view relationality. Who wants to live in a world where everyone’s depressed, burnt out, and close the edge!? I recognize I am not free unless everyone else is too.

To check how I’m doing, I use my life as the clear mirror of my practice. For instance, I look in the rear-view mirror of my actions. (I consider actions, by the way, as including thoughts and words, as well as deeds.)

As the East Bay Meditation Center reminds us all, there can be a difference between intention and impact. If my actions have good intentions but are triggering destructive emotions in others, it’s a good cause for engaging in self-examination as to what I still need to work through.

3) DEEP LISTENING—Awakening the Mind of Love

Now you know the three primary reminders I engage with in my everyday life: breathing, smiling, pausing. From that base, I am glad to offer three more.

Living in an Information Age, I feel like I’m being asked to get a glass of water off an open fire hydrant. It’s this way with stimuli in general—too much. Instead, I listen to what’s really important. I hear what’s not being said, as well as what is. This way, I can connect with info more deeply.

How does this work? I listen without my interrupting what’s going on. I’m simply present, without agenda or labels.

I train this skillful listening by being aware of each breath—arising, manifesting, and falling away. My body has been breathing all my life. Now I’m learning to be intimate with it. This awareness then becomes the model for my listening to my emotions and thoughts, as they too arise, take form, and fade away into other phenomena. I pay attention to whatever’s coming up within me, openly, with a nonjudgmental, gentle curiosity.

Just this morning, I had to stop my meditation midway. Difficult emotions and thoughts were arising, and I wanted to quit. Then I remembered not to look away. After all, the only way out is in. After setting my intention to give myself enough self-care to make it through, I returned to my meditation, and listened until I soon heard the key to where I need to go next with some of the current sensitive, vulnerable, juicy, meaty stuff in my life story.  [To Be Continued.]

With the clarity of mindfulness, our heart opens to the realization we all want the same thing: an end of suffering and a life of happiness. When we liberate ourselves from our prison, the prison of the illusion of our separateness (“the skin-encapsulated ego,” as Alan Watts says), the eye in our heart can open: the eye of true love. Then we can see and hear ourselves and life around us as it is—a miracle.

4) SLOWLY, SLOWLY, STEP BY STEP—Walking Meditation

Sitting still may be the most commonly known posture of meditation in the world. You can see it in ancient South Asian statues and Mayan, alike. Yet the body has four basic postures: laying, sitting, standing, and walking. Being aware of our body, whatever position it’s in, is an everyday meditation anyone can practice.

Walking meditation is simply meditation walking. Try it—walking from a car to a door, or walking down a street. Notice your body and its posture. Is it relaxed, yet alert? Can you notice your breathing?

As you walk, notice how many steps for an in-breath; how many for an out-breath.  Maintaining awareness of present-moment breathing, I’m no longer marching, marching off into a fictive future, to attain some abstract purpose. Instead, I’m permeable to what is. As it is. Within me, and all around. With each step, I’m arriving in the present moment—the only moment ever available for me to live.

Rather than trying to get anywhere—I’m almost aimlessly experiencing the miracle of walking. Zen ancestor Rinzai tells us the miracle isn’t to walk on water, nor to walk on coals. The real miracle is to walk on this green earth.

As with sitting, formal walking meditation can take a good 20 minutes before you can feel it digging a well of peace for you to draw from throughout your day. Such formal meditation might be just walking slowly for twenty minutes, as slow as synchronizing your left step to you inhalation, and your right step to your exhalation. Remembering to smile. Being aware of what it’s like to be stepping into the unknown, with eyes born for wonder.


I practice sitting still in the morning and evening, and walking meditation before lunch or dinner. Plus, there’s a meditation you can practice three times a day: mindful meals. When I teach this, I begin with Raisin Meditation: experiencing the whole universe in a single raisin. And mindfulness meditation is as light and common as a raisin.

Anyhoo—you might try out these five basic steps the next time you’re alone at the table for a meal.

First, pause. Look. Smell. Take it in.

As you feel your gratitude arise at the generosity this meal represents, take a moment to express it. Even if it’s just “Thanks!” or “Grace!,” “L’chaim!” or “Bismillah!”—everyone knows how to do this. (And the food knows too, and will respond by tasting better when you give thanks for it.)

Second, as you bring it to your lips, pause to regard each bite.

Third, as you chew, please consider how this is a messenger of the whole cosmos. In any slice of food is present the gift of earth, rain, air, sun, and many hands. Awaken to the marvels of the interconnectedness of all things—interbeing—enabling this meal.

Fourth, remember to put down the fork. (Don’t reach for the next mouthful while still chewing the present one.)

Fifth, from time to time, pause between bites. Be mindful of how your body knows how to perfectly extract the nutrients from food . . . exchanging enzymes and aminos . . . adding to and supporting your life and your practice of the way of awareness. (Will somebody please say, “Amen!”?)

So, whether you’re a newbie, or wish to take a deeper dive, I hope any or all of these simple practices will water your roots and extend your wingspan.

Enjoy the journey!

Gary GachGary Gach has hosted Zen Mindfulness Fellowship weekly in San Francisco since 2009. He’s author ofThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism and editor ofWhat Book!? — Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop. His most recent book is PAUSE, BREATHE, SMILE: Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough. This brings mindfulness full-circle, back to its roots as a spiritual as well as secular path for complete awakening. It’s available both in paperback and as an audio book. His work has also appeared in over 150 periodicals, including the Christian Science Monitor, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, the Huffington Post, In These Times, The Nation, The New Yorker, and Yoga Journal, as well as a couple dozen anthologies, including Language for a New Century, and Technicians of the Sacred. More info: Copyright © 2019 by Gary Gach. The author wishes to acknowledge Nick Aster for publishing a schematic draft of this listicle in GatherLAB.

Buy your copy of PAUSE, BREATHE, SMILE at your favorite bookseller!

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Pause, Breathe, Smile by Gary Gach
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Larry Ward: Mindfulness in Action, in Business

Larry Ward is both a Baptist minister and a teacher of the Buddhist dharma, personally ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh. A lifelong advocate for nonviolent social change, Larry draws his main inspiration from the life and works of Martin Luther King, Jr. He will be a featured presenter on Sounds True’s Year of Mindfulness program. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Larry discuss how to tap into inner reservoirs of resilience and the factors that keep us from performing our very best work. They consider issues of race and ancestral healing in a time when these questions are prominent in the wider culture. Finally, Larry encourages listeners to develop a “fierce equanimity” and explains just what that means in day-to-day life. (64 minutes)

Moving with Mindfulness: Five Free Video Practices to ...

Mindfulness practice is often thought of as a static or seated activity. But cultivating present moment awareness is something that can be done as a moving practice as well. In Moving with Mindfulness, you will experience five engaging excerpts from our esteemed video archive that will help you unify body and mind, clear energy blockages, and stimulate your body’s innate healing ability.

Download Moving with Mindfulness now.

Practices include:

1. “Mindful Movement #1: Raising the Arms” by Thich Nhat Hanh from Mindful Movements

Thich Nhat Hanh guides you through the first of ten meditative movements used daily by the monks and nuns of Plum Village as a complement to their sitting practice.

2. “Shoelace Pose” by Kim Eng from Yin Yoga

Kim Eng teaches us a gentle sequence called “shoelace pose” to cultivate presence, receptivity, and acceptance toward each moment just as it is.

3. “Qi Massage” by Lee Holden from Qi Gong for Self-Healing

Discover a practice that stimulates qi flow throughout the body, removes stagnant energy and blockages, and activates the immune system.

4. “Classical Sun Salutation” by Shiva Rea from Yoga Shakti

Shiva Rea guides you in this classical yoga practice to connect to your own vitality, strength, and fluidity.

5. “Dance of the Four Elements” by Wyoma from African Healing Dance

Experience Africa’s unique dance heritage through this enjoyable dance intended to connect us with the earth’s energies.


Digitization – Friend or Foe?

We have an ongoing debate in our house about how digital our world is becoming and whether our increasing digitization is a benefit or a curse. You’ve also likely seen studies about how use of mobile devices is causing us to become disengaged from one-on-one interactions, how 66 percent of people suffer from nomophobia (fear of being without a cell phone), or how “face time” is now better known as an iPhone app than a tangible experience.

As a high school English literature teacher, my husband is very much in the camp of those who are concerned about the potential detriments of digitization. It’s often hard enough to get students to put down their cell phones during one class, much less to get them to read an entire book. And, these trends don’t just start in high school—there are three and four year olds out there who could teach me a few things about iPhones and iPads! While there is no wrong or right answer, this trend has caused many to question the impact that this world of instant gratification and constant connectedness will have on the attention spans of future generations.

As a member of the publishing industry—and a company that is currently forging its way into the digital frontier by way of ebooks, apps, and downloadable everything—and a wife who always loves a good debate, I can’t help but think of all of the benefits that digitization has afforded us. I’m not saying that I disagree with the negative aspects of technology addiction, mind you, but I do believe that the digital world has afforded some profound and unparalleled opportunities that simply cannot be ignored.

For instance, many organizations, such as Now Clinic, allow people to connect with physicians and other medical professionals through the internet and outside of traditional business hours. The National Voices Project has similarly been exploring ways to provide mental health services via Skype to those who would otherwise be unable to access such resources. On a personal level, we’ve been able to remain in constant contact with family and friends all over the world—and we’ve seen their children grow between visits. We’ve partaken in talks and concerts and festivals from across the globe. We’ve accessed mindfulness practices and meditation bells directly from our iPhone apps. We’ve engaged with the teachings of spiritual teachers far and wide (try it for yourself and watch our free Refreshing Our Hearts live stream with Thich Nhat Hanh on 10/26).

Finally, as someone who is currently learning to speak Portuguese, technology has unlocked an invaluable world of tools and resources. I take lessons via Skype from a woman in Lisbon, have an iPhone app that acts as a deck of flashcards (complete with proper pronunciation!), I stream Portuguese radio throughout the day, and there are online communities like The Mixxer designed specifically for people who want to practice speaking new languages with one another via the internet—none of which would exist without the digital world.

The bottom line is that things are always evolving. In fact, change is one of the only constants in our lives, so why not embrace this new frontier with an open heart?  It comes to this: Can we be grateful for it as well as cautious of it?

So, what is your opinion? And, how does technology act as a benefit or a burden in your own life?


There is no “there” there

Of course, like most people with even a rudimentary exposure to spiritual teachings, I have heard that the only moment is the present moment. I thought I understood this. But I have to tell myself the truth: I might understand this theoretically and even deeply in certain moments of heightened aliveness, but all of me doesn’t live this way. I know this because I have just uprooted a portion of my being that has been orienting toward a future “Promised Land”, a promised land that turns out is totally fictitious (I even have a new motto, “There is no promised land”).

Here’s how I discovered this: We have a new leadership team at ST and some part of me has believed that this new team was like “heavenly super stars” or a basketball team destined to win the championship and set all types of new world records in the process. And the fact is we do have a powerful new team that will bring the company forward in all kinds of new ways. But this new team is made up of HUMANS not heaven-dwellers. And there is no end to difficult business challenges and the complexities of human dynamics.

There are people in my mediation community who often take an attitude “don’t you know nothing ever really works out?”  And I have had a response inside that goes something like, “that is such a negative attitude….maybe it doesn’t work out for you because you are so negative in the first place.” But I think I understand now what is being pointed to in a statement like “nothing ever really works out” — not that wonderful things don’t happen but that our fantasies of some perfect future are just that – fantasies.

I was sharing all of this with my partner Julie before we were going to sleep the other night, sitting up in bed together on our new bright turquoise silk sheets. And I said “There is no promised land”. And she said to me “The promised land is right here.” And at that moment, our eyes met and the space of the room opened up, and it felt like we were melting into eternity. The edges of Julie’s body started dissolving into the space of the room and she looked like a deity to me, sitting on a bed of turquoise silk with pink and gold curtains behind her. And I knew she was right about the promised land, that if it exists at all, it is only because it is right here, relaxing into the beauty, brightness and space of the moment.

So now I am asking myself these types of questions: When I build up some vision of a promised land, why am I doing this? What ego need am I trying to have met by this or that fantasy? What is it about the present moment that I just can’t bear such that I need to create a vision of some idealized future? Why do I continue to invest in “there” when there is no “there” there?

I remember listening to Thich Nhat Hanh teach walking meditation. He offered the teaching that with each footstep touching the ground we could say silently to ourselves “I have arrived.” He pointed out how most people are always rushing ahead to some future moment, and he said, let’s look at this logically, the future moment you are rushing to will eventually be your grave. What’s the big hurry?

And what amazes me about the dharma is how endlessly deep it is (I heard Thich Nhat Hanh teach on this almost two decades ago and I thought “arriving in the present moment” was something I understood). I feel humbled (from the root word “humus” or earth) to have a fantasy bubble popped in such an obvious way, and to be returned to the earth, arriving right here in the groundless space of this moment, in the only promised land there is.