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Category Archives: Retreats


Me:redbuds:photo                                                                                                                           3/25/20

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in the world is waking us all up quickly! Scientists tell us that we can save our own lives and those of possibly hundreds of thousands of others by ‘sheltering in place’ at this critical moment in time.  The Covid-19 disease spreads from one person’s breath releasing the virus in the air another person breathes.  One person, without any symptoms of the disease can potentially carry the virus to many others, who transmit it to others with whom they share air.  The fact of inter-being, our inter-connectedness to every other being on the planet is so dramatically visual as the speed of the spread of the virus around the world demonstrates. 

What a time to practice mindfulness of our breathing, covering our mouths, washing our hands, changing habits of touching our faces.  Most of us are finding these new practices and keeping 6-12 feet distance from other humans difficult but life-saving in this crisis.  We have great opportunities to slow down, become aware of our habits, practice changing them daily, with the support of our friends.  We have been attending many more Zoom meetings, offering meditation and Qi Gong sessions as the number of deaths rise each day around the world.  Seeing ourselves on video for hours a day gives us the chance to see how many times we and our friends touch our faces! 

The necessity to stay put in our homes, limit our physical contact with others and change habits is not only protecting our own lives.  Our individual actions can help save the lives of family, friends, neighbors, the mail woman, the food delivery person, everyone who shares the same air.  This awareness is deepening my understanding that “taking care of me is truly taking care of the world.”  I am responsible for doing everything I can, everything the scientists (rather than politicians) are urging us to do – NOW.  I could be a carrier of this deadly disease without symptoms, given recent travel and attendance at large events.  I am responsible for not spreading it.  Memories of the AIDS epidemic flood into my mind, reminding me that we learned in the ’80’s that in having sex with one person, we have sex with every person with whom they have ever had sex. 

But fear of the possible outcome of this epidemic can be as debilitating as the illness itself.  A reasonable, current knowledge of what is happening as the disease spreads around the world and in our communities, learning best practices from more experienced countries to lessen its spread is important.  Just feeding fears with repetitive television versions of ‘news’ is not helpful to my mindfulness.  

A local meditation teacher just posted this advice –

“…for all of us who practice mindfulness, the essential challenge in the days, weeks,    and months ahead is neither to succumb to denial or obliviousness on one side, nor to fear and panic on the other. Our primary effort must be to embody and nourish our equanimity, clarity, love, and compassion, as best we can. Only then can we help ourselves and help others.”

This “middle way” is a great practice in the midst of suffering increasing by the hour around the world and in our own lives.  We are seeing how mindfulness can increase our love and compassion for ourselves and others.  When fear of death arises (we have had two friends die in the last two days, one dying of Covid-19 and a niece in chemo for breast cancer), we meditate on “no birth, no death.”  We hold our fears in meditation, as a mother would hold a screaming, fearful child.  We take walks slowly, relishing the cherry blossoms, touching the power and beauty of life within our own bodies and in nature.  We know these blossoms will only manifest for a few days.  We breathe in their fragrance and welcome the tiny green leaves that will push the blossoms off the trees.  Change is constant, beauty transformed into other manifestations.  So, with our lives, our short time on the planet in this form.  What do we want to do with this precious moment in life?  With this precious body, this breath, this smile?  Why not spend more time loving others, doing what we can to allay their suffering, their fears.  Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that all things are impermanent, even war, epidemics and global warming.

How are my husband and I trying to practice even more mindfulness than usual?

  • Silence:  Leaving outside chatter, news from TV turned off.  Limiting the input of news to certain times a day and forms that inform without feeding fear.  Trying to give one another space in our small house, especially in the morning hours, not sharing every random thought that pops into our heads.  Journaling those thoughts, bright ideas and plans instead.

* Listening:  We listen to parents with small children trying to work at home, frustrated, desperate.  We listen to those who are ill, suffering from this disease and others.  We mourn with families who cannot be with their dying loved ones.  We keep our hearts open to the vast suffering, while continuing to breathe and take care of our emotions.

* Qi Gong: Getting up after a long meeting on Zoom, we stretch, shake our bodies, do some QG exercises.  “Snackersize Qi Gong” all day, reminding one another when we see our partner has been sitting too long.

  • Meditation: Setting up Zoom gatherings for sitting meditation together with our communities, readings, sharing about how mindfulness can keep us rooted in the present moment, doing the next ‘right’ thing.  Stopping throughout the day to pause, breathe, relax, come back to our bodies in the moment.  Supporting one another, especially those experiencing illness and death in their families, unable to attend funerals.
  • Walking Mindfully:  We have more time and motivation for long walks in the neighborhood, staying 10-12 feet apart from others, appreciating the cherry blossoms, seeing friends who live closer to us than we realized, neighborhood children.  
  • Eating Mindfully:  more meals together, carefully planned to use products tucked in the back of shelves, eating slowly, knowing we have enough food for weeks of this sheltering in place, letting go of “wants” that are not necessary or available in shuttered stores.  Aware of refugees, people in Yemen and Syria who have little to eat and are in much greater danger from Covid- 19 infection in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
  • Sharing with Friends on line:  Grateful for Zoom recovery meetings every day, creative ways of connecting with family and friends more often than usual, relishing each precious moment we have with them.  
  •   Playing music:  Pat practices his guitar every day already, but he is finding new pieces arising with more time to practice.  He is also participating in a 40-day Guitar Craft Course At a Distance, with exercises on line.  Fortunately his new CD is available on line – The Call by Patrick Smith on Amazon and CDBaby.  I am trying to revive my piano practice, singing songs from A Basketful of Plums.
  • Mindful work:   Many of our retreats, Qi Gong classes and conferences have been cancelled or postponed.  My husband was scheduled to give a talk on “Mindfulness at Work” to a national conference for food professionals in June in Las Vegas. My Women’s Meditation Retreat in May has been postponed.  So we are working to create alternatives on line, practicing with video versions of our Qi Gong classes, sharing with other meditation teachers how we might lead Days of Mindfulness and retreats for you virtually.  
  • And there are those three books I’m writing that always get moved to the back burner!  I need to finish Dakota Winds, (a novel about my father’s life) edit and publish The Power of Love: How a Nun became a Revolutionary and Loving Mindfully: Finding Happiness in Relationships.  And draw and paint, artistic work I find very meditative and absorbing.  We are very fortunate to be retired from paid work, so don’t need to work on a boss’s schedule, unlike many of our friends working at home under stressful conditions.  Savings, of course, are diminished greatly, so we don’t waste time looking at the stock market.
  • RETREAT” rather than Quarantine mentality:  Using this time as much as possible for spiritual growth, taking care of our minds, bodies, emotions.  Slowing down.  Exercising more, losing weight.  Reading good books, listening to spiritual teachings on podcast.  Today we begin a five day retreat with some of our favorite Buddhist teachers in the Plum Village tradition.  They will help us schedule our days and use this time as an opportunity rather than a ‘burden.’

The Goddesses to whom I had been praying, writing affirmations to make the retreat happen, to send the right people, CAME THEMSELVES!!!  Without the participants, there would be no retreat!  I am so, so grateful to each person who came, the ones who considered it but couldn’t come this time, to all who’ve come in the past and returned, to all the new women who had the courage to experience something new, to bare their souls, share their suffering, affirm their desire to transform that suffering into precious jewels that radiate peace, joy and freedom for themselves and others!

We practiced mindfulness meditation in various ways – guided meditations, silence overnight, QiGong at dawn in the ballroom, sitting, walking and eating meditation, exploring the woods meditation, sharing in small and large groups, deep listening and mindful speech, stopping and breathing when we heard the bell, hugging, singing, holding one another’s joy and pain.  We became one, a community of recovering sisters.

The theme of this retreat was “self-compassion.” We invited the women to relax, take it easy, stop struggling for just two days and take good care of body, mind and spirit.  We offered some exercises to look at self-critical thinking, develop acceptance of ourselves as we are and nourish positive affirmations.  Mindfulness practices helped us stay in the present moment where we were safe, together, enjoying gorgeous fall days.

We watched transformation happen as we shared, opened our hearts to one another and gave ourselves a chance to look deeply into our own suffering and water seeds of happiness and peace.   One person had very recently lost her husband, another was grieving through a recent divorce, another struggling over custody of her children.  Many had either been neglected by their mothers or had become mothers who neglected their children because of addictions.  The mother/daughter theme emerged as such a deep suffering that we are considering doing a workshop on it next spring.

The healing was tangible, faces and bodies relaxing, tears and smiles mixing, a woman who considered leaving dancing in the fall leaves instead.  This is what I love, being with people, especially women, forming a group where sharing on a deep level is possible, where healing of our bodies, minds, emotions and hearts can happen, continue.

So, I feel GOOD!  even though one of my legacies of the weekend was a cold from hugging some sick folks.  This will pass.  I am resting, drinking water and tea, taking lots of vitamins and trying to follow my own “self-compassion” advice.



Peace is possible – HERE and NOW in our hearts, in this beautiful fall day, with one another.

“As human beings our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as being able to remake ourselves.” Gandhi

This remaking process is life-long, our main task perhaps, to recognize more and more deeply the wounds and gifts transmitted to us by parents and ancestors and to transform ourselves into a gift to others. To understand and love ourselves, to understand and love our neighbor.

I have been aided in this process in the last few months by Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett-Goleman. This book was one of the inspirations for the women’s retreat I made in Florida in February and that Ruth Fishel ( and I will use for an upcoming retreat in WV May 31-June 2. Working with Bennett-Goleman’s notions of “schemas” or a “habits the mind uses to organize, store and act on a given task,” I have discovered some old, deep views of myself and patterns of behaving that no longer serve me. The author urges us to use mindful meditation as a prime tool for awareness of our patterns and also for changing the patterns.

Recently I had an experience that helped me look more deeply into one of my “schemas.” I heard that others had made a plan that I felt ignored my stated needs. I felt anger welling up in my throat and said, “No, that won’t work” in a way that afterwards seemed unnecessarily abrupt and defensive. Although I was glad that I had spoken up for my needs, I knew I would owe someone an amends for my anger. Following the recommendations of my meditation teachers, I immediately went outdoors to sit for a moment in the beauty of a spring morning and breathe. I had ten minutes before the person called back and in that time, calmed my body with conscious breathing, feeling the anger, recognizing my “subjugation schema” and opening my mind to my connections to the earth, the sky, the lovely redbud tree, the air coming into my body. My life was not being threatened. What I felt was an old, deep habit of feeling powerless and helpless, controlled by a church that dominated my every thought, word and action. My usual reaction was either grudging compliance (trying to be the good little girl who wouldn’t go to hell if she just behaved, pleasing the unreasonable god of my youth) or rebelling in anger that my needs and feelings didn’t count. “Ah,” I thought, it’s my “subjugation schema” acting up. I recognize you, have called you other names – the character defects of fear and anger. I have often acted upon these instincts and gotten myself into trouble. Now I have many tools and friends to help me change these deep patterns in my brain, my body, my mind and actions.

Throughout the week, there were other calls about the same issue, more drama, increased demands. Although I made other mistakes along the way, I was eventually able to extricate myself and find another solution. I now feel I’ve learned something to share with you.

Mindful breathing helps me no matter what the situation or feeling. It is a tool that I can use anywhere, any time to bring calm and peace to my body and mind. I stop, pause, try not to give a quick answer to a new proposal. I seek advice from teachers, mentors, friends who know me and love me. I pray to the Universe to remind me that I am never alone, that I am connected to all the wise ones, to the best in my ancestors, to all the beauty and freedom of the earth, that I have choices in my thoughts, feelings and behavior. It helps me greatly to have a firm daily meditation practice every morning, so that I remember to turn to meditation when I need it during the day.

Here are some the lessons I learned from looking more deeply at an old habit formed in childhood, seeing how it harms me and others today and finding some actions to take to change my behavior (with the support of loved ones like you):

1.Trust my gut, my best instincts.

2.When someone offers a plan I don’t feel right about or am too tired to make a decision, say “I’ll let you know later.” NOT “Ok.”

3.I don’t have to do ANYTHING I’m uncomfortable doing, unless I think it’s the RIGHT thing to do and need to walk through the discomfort to grow.

4.I have needs. I usually know them, but if I need time to feel what they are and articulate them, it’s fine.

5.If I feel anger or frustration rising, I can say, “I’ll get back to you” and hang up. Then BREATHE, look at my feelings, try to understand what’s going on in me.

6.I don’t need to adopt other people’s plans, drama and urgency as mine. I work hard to keep drama out of my life (except for films and novels).

7.I have a “subjugation” schema that either leads to anger or conceding to things I don’t really want to do. I need to speak my needs clearly and do my own work to meet my needs.

8.I can change these schemas and be FREE!

9. I spend much time relieving stress in myself and others, so why would I deliberately put myself into a stressful situation?

Just as those tiny redbuds burst forth from seemingly solid wood, so can fresh new habits form, new brain waves grow, new freedom emerge.




For the last several years a friend and I have been offering women’s meditation retreats that are very powerful and transforming.  I had just returned from one in Florida to hear that the dates for our May retreat in WV had been taken by another group.  This news was upsetting because we had advertised widely and begun receiving deposits.  Was there another weekend open?  Would the retreat happen?  The retreats are very important to me, one of the main ways I have found in retirement to give to others some of the great gifts I have received in meditation, tools that keep transforming my life.

The anxiety and frustration I experienced waiting to hear from my contact at the retreat venue for the next 24 hours was a great opportunity to “practice what I preach” on the retreats.  My partner and my husband reminded me to BREATHE, relax, take it easy, not struggle, trust.  Ruth ( was very confident that new dates would work out fine.  I used Qi Gong to keep my vital energy moving, meditation and prayer to calm my mind and help me think clearly.  I focused on taking care of my feelings instead of bugging the person from whom I wanted an answer NOW.  What was going on beneath the surface?  Ego? Fear of embarrassment?  Of not getting what I wanted?  Losing the respect of my women friends? I even knelt down (a desperate posture for this ex-nun) and turned the problem over to the God of my understanding, the Force of Love, the great Mother Earth, the Universe that is bigger than all of us, holding and caring for all our needs.  I wrote “May retreat” on a tiny piece of paper and put it in my God box.  To “turn it over,” I called up the image of Life as a rushing river in which I had the choice to cling stubbornly to a boulder in the middle or “let go” and “go with the flow” of its energy.

Then I noticed that other opportunities were flowing in at the same time – a location for our free Qi Gong class in May, a good movie, a great meeting.  I could give my attention to other people and their needs, letting my anxiety take a backseat.  Waiting is one of the hardest things in the world for me to do – hence my vast need for the tools of meditation, relaxation, patience, ego reduction, a sense of humor that brings perspective.

Relief came eventually, a call last night assuring me that a new date had been scheduled for our retreat.   I need these oases of nourishing peace, joy and calm as much as any of our retreat participants.  And there must be Forces greater than me involved in all the good that flows from them.

“Want to make God laugh?  Show her your plans.”

Photo from Stillwater Mindfulness Practice Center website (

Recently I had two opportunities to offer healing guided meditation to friends who were suffering from physical ailments. One had a persistent pain in her leg which was worrying her because she was about to embark on a trip that would involve much walking. The other had a serious physical problem that was causing stress and inability to focus on work. In both cases, my friends were getting medical treatment, testing and physical therapy. I am no doctor and don’t give medical advice. But each of us had experienced the power of meditation to deal with pain, illness and stress. So, the first woman only had time for a short meditation by phone and the second asked me to come to her home to guide her in a deep relaxation meditation. In each case, I began and ended with the sound of a bell, invited my friends to assume comfortable positions (one sitting, the other lying down) and begin following the breath. As we moved through the body, breathing energy and relaxing, I tried to concentrate on the particular areas of discomfort. Breathing in energy from the Universe; breathing out pain, relaxing.

I love doing this work and do it best when I am also breathing slowly, aware of my in breath and out breath, relaxing my body as I am directing others to do the same. Becoming aware of places where I am holding tension, and relaxing that muscle. I would not be able to instruct anyone else to relax and breathe, to concentrate on images or experiences that bring peace to body and spirit if I did not do the same for myself on a daily basis. I also allow others to guide me in deep relaxation and my husband to guide me when he notices tension or suffering in my body and spirit. We “inter-are,” so my meditation affects him and his affects me.

The practice is very simple, something that anyone can do, anywhere, anytime with oneself or others. Breathe, follow the particular breaths, in/out, relax each part of the body…..concentrate on an area of the body or mind that needs attention. Sit with the discomfort…..feel the feelings….watch them move and change…..we are still sitting and breathing, alive!

The Buddha taught that each living being has within the potential to become awakened, aware, alive in the present moment. Guided meditation is a tool for awakening, one that gives to both the giver and the receiver at the same time. I plan to do a deep relaxation meditation at a day of mindfulness next week and several forms of guided meditations on our upcoming retreat for women in May.

Perhaps these guided meditations might become my next book. Something that helps people trust the spirit within themselves to find the words to help themselves and one another breathe, relax and awaken.

What do you think?

We just received pictures from our women’s retreat in February on the Mannatee River, south of Tampa, Florida. Memories flood back of the beautiful mornings doing Qi Gong at sunrise together under palm trees hanging with Spanish moss. What a wonderful way to greet the new day, in silence, moving our bodies with the warm breezes. Some people have difficulty being completely still, just observing the breath coming into the body and going out. While I love sitting meditation and do it every day, I also incorporate Qi Gong and other forms of moving meditation. I suppose the ultimate delight would be to live in mindful awareness of our breath, our body, feelings, mind and actions every moment of the day. Most of us need both concentrated periods of mindfulness and also reminders, mindfulness bells, during the day that help us become aware whatever we are doing.

Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are all forms of mindful movement, ways to focus on and be as fully aware of our breath and the movement of energy in our body as possible. The gentler forms appeal most to me now, as arthritis reminds me that kneeling, certain bends and stretches are no longer helpful. So, my husband and I usually do about a twenty minute session of movements together, varying them and ending with a “word for the day” written in the air in large calligraphy with our arms and imaginary ink flowing from our fingers.

The most ideal conditions existed at this retreat – to do Qi Gong together in a beautiful setting in the morning sunrise, bringing the energy of earth, air, water and sun into our bodies.

Good morning, sun. I know you are there behind the clouds, giving us life and energy.

This past weekend the world celebrated the coming of spring with a dramatic full moon, closer to the earth than it has been in decades. My husband and I attended a beautiful retreat with Ahn Huong and Thu Nguyen on a farm in W. Virginia where the moon shown brightly over the barn on Saturday evening. We stood beneath its light, holding hands, stunned by its beauty and closeness. The next morning, we learned a song, “The River is Flowing” that contained the verses

“The moon she is waiting
waxing and waning
The moon she is waiting
for us to be free.

Sister Moon, watch over me,
your child I will always be.
Sister Moon, watch over me,
til we are free.”

In the sangha, I experienced the truth that “healing is always collective, never individual.” Much suffering was expressed after the morning meditations – family members dying, children struggling with drugs, conflicts with loved ones. We were aware of the continued suffering in Japan and the bombing in Libya. As we meditated, ate mindfully in silence, walked slowly, smiled, hugged one another and shared in small groups, we felt the community strengthening, uniting. We came together from many parts of the country, from different socio-eonomic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Yet, the sangha we formed was real, safe, powerful to heal much suffering in the light of the full moon and the love in our hearts.

The light of the full moon was able to reach the entire world. With all our hearts, we united with its light and beauty to send peace and a transformation of suffering to all the people on the planet.

Photo by Rob Warde

My heart is singing with the joy of two powerful spiritual paths converging in me, finding voice and words that are of use to others. We just finished a deep conversation with a good friend and teacher that clarified how important it is to me to continue the work of meditation retreats for women. In preparation for a meeting with my co-leader of the next retreat, I spent time this morning in my journal listing similarities in the two paths. The similarities include freedom for the individual, strong community, deep looking at one’s own suffering, listening, prayer, meditation, service, discipline and real ways of relieving the suffering of others. What gratitude I feel for having both of them in my life!

My journey has been a long one, from convent to atheism to despair to freedom. Along the way, I have suffered deeply, experienced great joy, felt separated from all human understanding and found connection beyond space and time. I feel so happy with the gifts in my life that I want to dance, to share it with you, to shout, to sit in silence, to smile.

That moment when all the suffering in one’s life has meaning and becomes transformed into a jewel that can be of use to someone else is a moment of great happiness. This moment. Thank you, my teachers, my parents, ancestors, fellow sufferers, community members.

by Xavier Fargas

2010 has been a wonderful year, full of accomplishments and new beginnings for me and my family. Pat has begun recording another solo guitar CD (see his blog). I finished the third draft of my book and am a quarter of the way on the fourth draft that starts with the DC9 action. Some firsts: I joined the Writer’s Center and received great support and advice from courses there, did a public reading from the book and started this blog. I organized several meditation retreats and workshops for women and gave private meditation training. I attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and a Guitar Craft Course in Italy. My granddaughter is teaching me games on her Ipod. Learning and growth continue.

So, hopefully 2011 will allow me to maintain my awesome life and relationships and to keep growing, learning and “shipping” my writing to agents and publishers. Thank you, to each of you who have read and responded to my blog posts. Perhaps this is the year The Power of Love: How a Nun became a Revolutionary or the Mini-Skirted Nun or whatever the final title might be is PUBLISHED! Wouldn’t that be terrific!

It will only happen if I treat each day as a new beginning, a new opportunity for growth, love and service to people I meet along this path called life. I will plan without planning the results, living in gratitude for each precious moment as it is. Happy New Year, New Day, New Life.

Photo by LT

I am leading a workshop on November 6 about relaxing and relieving stress during the holidays, celebrating in ways that feel right for us, letting go of old paradigms from family dysfunction. The producer wanted to put my picture and name as the “lead” for the workshop poster. It still feels weird. Although I am writing this blog for the whole world to see (although mostly friends and the porn folks are the ones finding it), I am shy about promoting myself! The part of me that suffered from negative press during my trial, the part that wants to enjoy my quiet and private life screams “NO” at self-promotion. The budding Buddha in me that knows all things pass, that there is no “separate self” to promote. It is important to keep the focus on the message, the people I am serving, the work, the writing, the workshops, not on my SELF.

I love giving workshops and retreats. I want my book to sell, to be successful, to reach people who need inspiration to solve today’s problems. So, this promotion and “shipping” stuff seems to be part of it all. Life is short. I have a little candle to shine with all the other candles in the dark night. So, my granddaughter and I spent the morning Saturday posting the flyers on telephone poles, in store windows and on bulletin boards in our wonderful neighborhood. We had fun!

So, do come. We’ll have fun there too, reducing stress, relaxing, laughing at our silly selves, enjoying the fact that we are so interconnected in our feelings and contradictions. For more info see 10% off for the next FIVE DAYS!!!!

Do you have issues with “self-promotion”????????? Share!