Wildmind

Honoring five Wildmind authors who are no longer with us

Parinirvana Buddha. Photograph by Ankur Panchbuddhe.

Parinirvana Buddha. Photograph by Ankur Panchbuddhe.

Today, February 15, is known as Parinirnava Day in much of the Buddhist world. It commemorates the anniversary of the Buddha’s death, or Parinirvana. It’s a time for bearing in mind the essential truth of change, instability, and impermanence (anicca).

It’s traditional on Parinirvana Day to read the scriptures concerning the Buddha’s death: especially the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. It’s also traditional to visit temples to meditate, and to remember that our own lives here on earth are limited. Parinirvana Day is also a time for remembering friends and family who have passed, and often we’ll place their images at the foot of an altar.

For me, this blog often acts as a kind of memento mori, or reminder of death. To the best of my knowledge five people who have shared articles here have passed away: two of them I knew personally, while others I’d only exchanged emails with. I wanted to take the opportunity of Parinirvana Day to bring them to mind, to say a little about them, and to encourage you to read their articles.

Suvarnaprabha

Suvarnaprabha

The first is Suvarnaprabha, whose name means “Golden Radiance.” That was a great name for her, since she had a vibrant personality, full of humor, although she preferred to go by “Suvanna,” finding her Sanskrit name a bit combersome. She could be deeply serious, but she often laughed and inspired laughter in others. I vividly remember going with her to see Robin Williams perform in San Francisco, where she lived, and us spending the evening with tears running down our faces.

On Wildmind’s blog she wrote an advice column called “Ask Auntie Suvanna.” The original intent was for this to be a humour endeavor, but as time went by the requests for help became sadder and sadder. Suvanna’s responses were always kind and wise, though, and were often hilarious. I’d suggest starting with her pieces on the Buddhist approach to excess body hair, and On eating vegetarian monkey brains.

She also wrote a piece about teaching meditation in prison, which was very close to my heart as I was doing the same thing at the same time.

Suvanna documented her experience with cancer in two blogs, the first of which detailed her initial diagnosis and treatment, and the second of which, Crap, I’ve Got Cancer, took up the story of the cancer’s return.

Saddhamala (Nancy Nicolazzo)

Saddhamala

Saddhamala (“She who is garlanded with faith”) was someone else I knew personally. We first emailed each other around 1998, when I was at the Rocky Mountain Buddhist Center in Missoula, Montana, and she was at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, although at that time she wasn’t yet ordained and went by her birth name, Nancy Nicolazzo. A few years later I moved to Newmarket myself, and I saw her a fair amount.

She was known as Nancy in her work as a chaplain and volunteer coordinator at a hospice, and it was in a hospice that she passed away. She’d had cancer that had metastasized. Knowing that death was inevitable she’d decided not to seek treatment. She was a talented woman who’d also worked as a consultant. In fact I once employed her to help me make my office space more pleasing and efficient, and the results were wonderful.

Saddhamala wrote many articles for Wildmind. She had done a lot of teaching and tended to distill her suggestions into lists of tips for practice. Sometimes, though, she wrote more personally, for example when she discussed her family background.

Marcus Hartsfield

Marcus Hartsfield

Marcus wasn’t someone I knew personally, and I must have met Marcus on social media. He was a therapist in California, and practiced at the San Francisco Zen Center. One of the striking things about Marcus was the number of tattoos he had — many of them Buddhist themed. I asked him to write an account of his journey on Wildmind’s blog, and so he wrote, Bodhi art: reclaiming the body with Buddhist tattoos, illustrated with a number of photographs.

Marcus passed away in 2013, I think. Not being a friend of his, I never did learn how Marcus died. Someone who knew him said he’d been ill, but she didn’t know anything beyond that.

Hazel Colditz

Hazel Colditz

Hazel Colditz was another Wildmind contributor I never had the good fortune to meet in person. I’m sure I would have liked her. Hazel was a talented photographer, documentary maker, and sculptor of rock and metal. She lived in the Arizona desert. We met on social media when she offered to review a book for me. She ended up writing three reviews in total, for “Taneesha Never Disparaging” by M. LaVora Perry, “Sitting Practice” by Caroline Adderson, and “Jake Fades” by David Guy. I always enjoyed her perspectives, and she was a joy to work with. She passed away in January, 2012, having battled an aggressive form of cancer for several months, and having endured multiple major surgeries.

Navachitta

Navachitta

Navachitta was part of the Auckland, New Zealand sangha of the Triratna Buddhist Community. She was ordained into the Order in the summer of 1990 in Taraloka, in Shropshire, England. I never new her personally, although we corresponded periodically by email for many years, and I always appreciated her support and encouragement.

Navachitta was a therapist who worked in private practice and was very active in the recovery community. You can read more about this aspect of her work in an interview she did with a representative of North West Buddhist Recovery.

One wonderful anecdote: While living in Britain, Navachitta once went to a builder’s merchant, saying she was looking for sacks. But hearing her New Zealand accent, the men she was talking to unfortunately thought she was looking for “sex.” Hilarity (although to the best of my knowledge no sexual intercourse) ensued.

Before her untimely death she only had time to write three articles and reviews for Wildmind’s blog. One, entitled From drama to Dharma, was on addiction to drama. Her second piece, Looking for the silver lining of our dysfunction, is about the connection between addiction and the potentially beneficial trait of novelty-seeking. Her final piece was a review of a book of poems by a fellow Order member, Satyadevi. The poems were inspired by natural and industrial disasters that had taken place in New Zealand.

Navachitta passed away in London at the age of 62 from a severe bacterial and viral infection.

***

I hope these stories have encouraged you to explore the work of the five individuals I’ve drawn attention to.

But on a deeper level, all five of their deaths were unexpected. I know I make assumptions about how long I’ll live (late eighties to early nineties?) and how I’ll die (either in my sleep or in a hospital bed?), but none of us ever knows when our time will come. It could be today.

And so the Buddha encouraged us to be mindful that death can come at any time, not so that we become afraid or depressed, but so that we be inspired to make the most of this precious opportunity to practice.

Life is swept along,
next-to-nothing its span.
For one swept to old age
no shelters exist.
Perceiving this danger in death,
one seeking peace
should drop the world’s bait.

We’re also asked to bear in mind, even more pithily, the remembrance, anicca vata sankhara : “Impermanent, indeed, are all created things.” Let’s mourn our losses, while tempering them with an awareness of their inevitability. And above all, let’s take them as an inspiration to live the best lives we can create.

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A letter to Jacob

picture of mailboxes

I get some interesting emails. Usually they’re kind and appreciative. I particularly enjoy hearing from people who have found things I’ve written, or guided meditations I’ve recorded, to be helpful. Often people ask questions, and I’m happy to reply to them to the best of my ability.

Sometimes the emails I get are critical, though, and this one that arrived just a few days ago falls into that camp.

It’s from someone who called himself Jacob, although I don’t know if that’s his real name. I don’t know if it’s your real name, I should say, since this blog post is my reply to you, Jacob. (You used a fake email address, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to address your comments directly.)

Here’s the email you sent. You’ll find my reply below:

Name: Jacob
Email: FAKE ADDRESS @outlook.com
Message:
Do your supporters know they are in fact supporting your living in a 400K condo, STEPHEN?
You are hardly a Buddhist with a begging bowl, now are you? Unless and until you make full disclosure online of this hithertofore undisclosed material fact to those supporters you are in my view being unethical.

Isn’t that a Buddhist no-no? Tis odd how you have never mentioned this before…

[link to my apartment’s Zillow listing removed]

So, Jacob, you did your homework and tracked down my home on a real estate site! More about that in a moment.

And you also found my family name, which was indeed Stephen until I legally changed my name after my ordination in 1993. So that hasn’t been my last name for a long time.

I believe this is called “deadnaming,” where a person insists on using someone’s former name. It’s like if a woman gets married and changes her surname, yet someone insists on using her maiden name. The point of doing this is to cause offense by refusing to recognize something that is important to the other person. So that’s not a good start, Jacob. You’re forgiven, though! This has happened to me many times, and it really doesn’t bother me.

Let’s get back to the house thing, though. Yes, you did your homework and looked up my home address online.

Unfortunately you didn’t do your homework very thoroughly. The reason I have never mentioned that I live in a “$400k condo” is because the address you linked to in your email is actually the rented apartment that I share with my partner.

You’d have seen that it was a rental apartment if you’d dug around a little more in the Zillow listing.

Here’s the relevant part. I’ve circled where it mentions the rent. Just below that it uses the word “tenant.” I admit it’s a little confusing, since it also mentions “condo dues” for reasons I can’t guess at, except that my landlord’s secretary is a bit of a character and a little odd in the way she writes things — maybe you can get a flavor of that in the listing! She *loves* asterisks!! And exclamation marks!! It’s kind of fun!!

(It’s also odd that she says that the apartment is available August 19th. I’m assuming this is an old listing, since we’re still living here!)

Image

Anyway, no, I do not live in a $400,000 condo. I don’t own a house. I can’t afford one at present.

I rent an apartment with my partner. It’s not a luxury apartment: the rent is $1,765, including a $50 fee for our two dogs and a surcharge because my kids stay here part-time. (Landlords, eh? They’ll get you for everything!) We’d like to own our own place one day, so that our dogs can have a yard to run around in, and we’re trying to save for that. Of course I’ll be in my 90’s by the time the mortgage is paid off, if we can ever find a place we can afford.

I said our apartment is not a luxury apartment. It’s a decent place to live, although it’s not in the nicest part of town. Until a couple of months ago we had a couple of meth addicts living downstairs from us. They weren’t too much trouble except when their cigarette smoke and weed came up into our apartment. Fortunately they didn’t burn the place down before they left. I took a walk-through after they’d gone and while the apartment was being gutted, and the carpets were covered in cigarette burns. Oh, and dog shit from their pit bull! So, not a luxury apartment, and not in the best part of town. Good news: our new downstairs neighbors are a lovely young couple!

It’s not the worst part of town either, though. We’re right beside some woods where I like to walk the dogs.

But even if I had lived in a $400k condo, what would that mean, Jacob? It could have been inherited. It might be my partner’s. I might have bought it at some time in my life when I had a high paying job and now be living in poverty. (Although there’s never a time I had a high-paying job.) I might be sleeping on the couch in a friend’s house. There are lots of possibilities one could consider.

Also, a minor point: in the area where I live, a $400,000 house is well below the median house sale price of $550,000 (crazy, eh!), which is why I’m renting. So if I had owned this place it would be a below-average house in a fairly working-class town.

You demanded that I “make full disclosure online of this hitherto-fore undisclosed material fact,  Jacob. So here it is. I can’t disclose that I live in an expensive condo, because I don’t. But I do disclose that I live in a rented apartment, splitting $1,765 of rent with my partner.

And no, I’m not a Buddhist monk with a begging bowl. (Although I am a Buddhist.) I have two adopted children and two rescue dogs, and (as mentioned) a partner. I’m not rich, either. I recently bought a five-year-old Prius C (a hybrid electric/gasoline vehicle) that I got from a friend at a good price. It’s replaced my previous car, a 12-year-old Mazda6, which I bought used eight years ago, and which has 216,000 miles on the clock — most of them from the previous owner, who did a lot of driving. I have virtually no savings because I just gave them to the friend who sold me the Prius. (By the way, I’m absolutely loving the fuel economy and I’m glad to know that my carbon footprint has shrunk.) Oh, I have no pension plan either.

I basically just scrape by, and often experience anxiety because I have to juggle bills. So it’s kind of ironic to be accused of being wealthy.

Apart from three years in Scotland when I worked for the Community Education Department in Lanarkshire, I’ve spent my entire adult life either as a student or working full-time to teach meditation and Buddhism. It’s not a lucrative way to make a living. When I ran a retreat center in the Scottish Highlands, or an urban Buddhist center in Edinburgh, or worked in a Buddhist right livelihood business I basically got my food and board covered, plus some pocket money. Things are better now, but it’s still often a struggle to get by. It’s been worth it, though. Even though I don’t have any savings and will probably never be able to retire, I enjoy what I do. I especially find it heart-warming to know that I’ve helped people become happier.

Anyway, It’s very easy to jump to conclusions, Jacob. We’ve all done it. If you’d just asked a question and given a real email address, I’d have been happy to reply with the information you were seeking. I imagine that you have concerns about “gurus” making vast sums of money, and there are good historical reasons for having those concerns. But believe me, that’s not my situation in the slightest.

Hopefully this has set your mind at ease, if you’re reading this. I hate to think that you’re out there suffering because you mistakenly believe I’m some kind of rich guru. And maybe other people think the same thing?

Money is tricky when you teach meditation. Much of the time in the past I’ve taught courses that had suggested donations, with plenty of leeway for people who couldn’t afford the full amount. Right now the bulk of the income that pays my rent and bills comes from monthly contributions from supporters. These are people who appreciate the teaching I do, and who pay a sum each month to Wildmind (the amount varies from person to person) to make it possible for me to explore and teach meditation. This is what I do full time. Being supported in that way is my dream!

Unfortunately the amount that comes in from supporters isn’t enough to cover my expenses, so I have to do other bits and pieces of work in order to make ends meet. I do long for the day when I no longer have to worry about money. (And I’d love my dogs to have a yard to run around in.)

So if you’re reading this, Jacob, and I haven’t annoyed you too much (that’s not my aim at all), and you see some value in what I teach, do feel free to consider becoming one of Wildmind’s supporters. I appreciate all the support I receive, because it allows me to do what I love, which is to teach meditation and help people live happier and more fulfilling lives. If you are interested, you can click on this link.

I hope you’re having a great day, Jacob — and anyone else who’s read this far.

With love,
Bodhipaksa

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Our 10 most popular meditation articles of 2017

We missed the anniversary, but Wildmind’s blog is now ten years old. Perhaps we should provide a list of the 10 most popular posts of the last decade, but that’s kind of unfair to our more recent work, since something written several years ago has had much more time to garner page views. So instead here, in reverse order, are the most popular articles on meditation that have been posted in the last 12 months.

10. Self-compassion is not self-indulgent

We might imagine that when faced with doing something difficult, being “kind” to ourselves means that we’ll let ourselves off the hook. But that’s the opposite of what actually happens. Self-compassion means giving yourself support, understanding, and encouragement when you face difficult experiences. It helps you to face your difficulties.

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9. The body-wide wave of breathing

Focusing on just a small area of the breathing just doesn’t give the mind enough to do, and because the mind doesn’t like being under-occupied it invents distractions for itself. When we pay attention to many different sensations the mind has plenty to do, is less likely to go wandering, and is more engaged and absorbed.

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8. Fully embracing this present moment

Our mental reactions are attempts to escape or fix unpleasant situations. It seems counter-intuitive to turn toward painful feelings. But turning toward our suffering reduces our suffering.

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7. The eyes have it

When the eyes are more relaxed in meditation, we’re able to take in the whole “scene” of our breathing. This is a far richer experience, not just because there are more sensations to pay attention to, but because we can see the connections between various sensations. For example we can see how sensations in the abdomen relate to sensations in the nostrils, and how those relate to the sensations in the back. Our experience is revealed as dynamic, interconnected, and even sensual.

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6. Happy new breath

A whole lifetime passes in each breathing moment. What we do in each moment impacts the next. With every inhale there is an exhale until the last breathing moment. The past connects to the present, and the present connects to the future. Just like the inhale and exhale. By having awareness of every breathing moment we can impact this flow of reality.

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5. When in doubt, breathe out – the power of breathing properly

Make a fist with one hand. Notice what’s happened to your breathing. You’ll probably notice you’re holding it. Now imagine breathing into the fist. What does it want to do? You’ll probably find it wants to release a little. The fist in this exercise is a metaphor for any kind of discomfort or stress. When we are not aware, we automatically tense against the stresses of life with associated breath holding.

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4. Let the breathing observe you

You can be aware of the body as a living, breathing, animal presence — a presence that has its own intelligence and awareness. And just as you are aware of the body, the body is aware of you. Allow yourself to be seen.

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3. The power of gratitude

When we start to notice, acknowledge, and appreciate what’s going right in our lives we feel much happier. In fact psychologists say that being grateful and appreciative is one of the main things we can do to be happier in life. I read about one study in which participants were asked to spend 30 minutes writing a letter of appreciation to someone who had benefited them. The scientists conducting the study found that people who did this exercise were measurably happier a month later.

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2. How to calm your mind, quickly and easily

We can use our attention in two ways: either as a flashlight or as a candle. Which we choose makes a radical difference to the quality of our experience, both in meditation and in daily life.

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1. The most important thing you need to know about life, according to Buddhism

Arguably the central teaching of Buddhism, without which the others make no sense, is that things change. While “things change” may seem like a commonplace observation, made by dozens (at least) of philosophers and religious teachers over the last few millennia, the Buddha wasn’t content simply to pay lip-service to the concept of impermanence, but followed through the implications of this fact as far as he possibly could.

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So there you have it: the ten most popular articles published on Wildmind in 2017. I hope you enjoy these highlights, and that you’ll benefit from what we bring you in 2018. Thanks for reading!

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Relearning the art of stillness

still lake scene

Our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is doing well. At the time of writing, with 23 days left to go we’re already 51% funded. The graphic below will give you a live update.

What’s it about? Glad you asked! To keep things simple, I’ve included below some information we sent out to our 17,652 subscribers in a special newsletter today. Please do read this important message!

***

Last week we launched a crowdfunding effort to help us bring you four highly effective meditations Bodhipaksa has developed over the years. What we’re suggesting is essentially that you buy our forthcoming CD (or the MP3 version of it), in advance, to help us cover the production costs. (Although there are other donation options as well.)

In Case You’re Not Sure, This Is What We Do

We do a lot. More than 1.5 million people visit our site each year. Our most popular web page (not counting the home page) has been read more than half a million times. Our most popular blog post has been read by more than three hundred thousand people. Hundreds of thousands of people have learned to meditate with us — for free. We also publish guided meditation CDs, which help fund our activities, and those have also reached hundreds of thousands of people.

And here’s how your support helps. The more CDs we publish, the more financially stable we are, the less time we have to spend worrying about money, and the more we’re able to provide resources to help you become happier in your life!

About the Meditations On This Album

These meditations have been road-tested with many, many people, who have found them to be powerfully transformative. Both those who have used them for their first ever meditation and those who have been meditating for years have expressed surprise and gratitude. Here are some comments we’ve received.

Kate, in Maine
That was astonishing. As a high-anxiety person, I stumbled on this while seeking help in focusing on tasks. Wow. I feel so peaceful and yet ready to tackle the tasks awaiting my attention. Thank you!

jennifer, coloradoJennifer, Colorado
This is a favorite. Bodhipaksa’s voice is very calming. I can definitely feel a positive difference in my body when I open up my awareness as suggested in this meditation.

care, seattleCare, Seattle
Wow. This way of becoming present was new to me. It helped lift the weight from my heart. Thanks!

ryan, floridaRyan, Florida
Excellent. I’ve had trouble calming my thoughts while attempting meditation. When it was mentioned during this session I was surprised that my mind was already calm.

gina, floridaGina, Florida
Very calming and effective in such a short amount of time.                     
        

Over his decades of teaching, Bodhipaksa has developed many different techniques that very rapidly and easily calm the mind, reducing the amount of intrusive thinking and creating a sense of peace and spaciousness. When we started to list all of these methods, we found there were almost 20! So we’re actually going to be bringing out a series of CDs (and MP3s, of course). Our next album, Guided Meditations for Inner Peace, is just the first. That’s what we’re raising funds for.

About Our Crowdfunding Campaign

Crowdfunding helps dreams become real. It helps creators share their vision with the public, who in turn can offer support, usually receiving “perks” in return. In our case the perks we offer include early access to these guided meditations (and optionally to alternate versions of them). Whatever level of contribution you choose, and whichever perk you select, if any, you’ll experience the good karma and warm glow that comes from supporting an organization that does a lot of good in the world.

We do hope you’ll support us, both by becoming a donor and by sharing our project with your friends and social media contacts. You can check out and support the Creating Inner Peace project at our Indiegogo page.

Thank you!
Mark, Mary, and Bodhipaksa at Wildmind

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A Year of Going Deeper

A Year of Going Deeper

I just wanted to share with you the graphic that we’re using for our Year of Going Deeper, which is a year-long program of meditation events here on Wildmind.

The Year of Going Deeper will offer opportunities to learn basic meditation techniques as well as to refine how you work in meditation so that you can cultivate deeper states of tranquillity and insight.

All the events will be free, although donations are welcome.

We’ll be announcing more details about the program. Stay tuned!

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A year of going deeper

news
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A year of going deeperWe have exciting plans for next year. We kicked off 2013 with a 100 Day Meditation Challenge, and then continued with 100 Days of Lovingkindness. Lots of work went into these, and for the second event I managed, somehow (mainly by sleeping very little) to produce a blog post for every one of the 100 days.

I loved the focus that this gave to the blog and to our practice. Many, many people participated in these challenges and experienced big breakthroughs with their practice.

I also loved the fact that over the course of 100 days I managed to write 90,000 words on lovingkindness practice. That material is going to evolve into a book, for which I already have a publisher lined up. And that book, once it’s published, is going to end up reaching even more people. I love synergy!

Inspired by the good that came from these two events, I want to run even more special events in 2014. We’re calling this our Year of Going Deeper. So we’re running even more events, and this will give a wonderful focus to our practice. It will also lead to me developing a large body of blog posts and guided meditations that will be freely available as a gift to the world. And we’ll also end up with more books, CDs, etc.

Soon we’ll be announcing how these events will work, and how you can sign up for them (they’ll all be free, although donations are encouraged), but I want to give you a sneak peek at what’s coming up. Here’s the program we’ve put together:

  • Jan 1 – 28 Sit : Breathe : Love (A 28 Day Meditation Challenge)
  • Jan 31 – May 10 100 Days of Lovingkindness
  • May 13 – Jun 9 Sit : Breathe : Love (A 28 Day Meditation Challenge)
  • Jun 6 – Aug 10 60 Days to Jhana
  • Aug 13 – Sep 9 Sit : Breathe : Love (A 28 Day Meditation Challenge)
  • Sep 12 – Oct 23 42 Days: 6 Elements (An exploration of the 6 Element Practice)
  • Oct 27 – Nov 23 Sit : Breathe : Love (A 28 Day Meditation Challenge)
  • Nov 28 – Dec 25 4 Weeks of Insight

We decided that although a 100 day meditation challenge at the start of the year was a wonderful thing for those who participated, it was also daunting for many people, which meant that they didn’t even try. So we decided to start with a 28 day challenge in 2014 instead. The aim is to help people develop a habit of daily sitting.

And so that people don’t feel that they’ve “missed the boat” if they can’t get on board for the first challenge, we’re repeating the challenge throughout the year. The 28 day challenges will focus on mindfulness practice.

The program follows the traditional approach of exploring samatha approaches to meditation, which help us develop calm, concentration, and emotional positivity, before exploring vipassana (insight) approaches to meditating.

In the end what we’ll have is a whole program that gives you everything you need, meditatively speaking, to reach awakening.

I hope you find this program as exciting as I do.

But here’s the thing: I have way too much on my plate as it is. This program can only happen if I’m freed up from some of my administrative responsibilities so that I can concentrate on writing and teaching.

And that’s why we’ve set up the Free Bodhi project, where we’re raising seed money so that I can employ a business manager. We’re trying to raise enough to employ a business manager for six months. What about after that? Well, having a business manager (actually he has a name — Mark), will help Wildmind become more financially stable. Our publicity will be better, so that more people will attend the events I’ve been telling you about. And with more people, we’ll receive more donations. I’ll also be freer to develop books and CDs, which we’ll sell through our store and through Amazon. So within six months we project that we’ll bring in enough extra revenue to support Mark indefinitely.

There’s more I could say. I’ve been thinking much more long-term about Wildmind, and what we’re doing. But I’ll save that for another blog post.

In the meantime, I invite you to contribute to our Free Bodhi project so that the program above can become a reality.

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Practice Meditation in New Hampshire

meditation3Madison Kramer, nhmagazine.com: Day planners are filled to capacity with scribbles on every line. Work days have never felt so crammed. To-do lists are longer than ever before. We are busy and we can feel it — in our bodies and in our minds. Although our society has made the idea of burning the candle at both ends sound fulfilling, the reality is that we just feel drained.

We know we can’t fix the cause. Life does not slow down. Business must be done. No one has figured out a way to add more hours to the day or an extra day to the…

Read the original article»

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