Class Review – The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

I took the Four Foundations of Mindfulness class recently. It was taught by a buddhist nun Ani Lodro Palmo, who recently left Gampo Abbey after nine years to return to Montreal and teach, so I was in for a wonderful surprise. Although I have found all of the teachers at the Burlington Shambhala Center to be great, there is no comparison to someone who has studied intensively for such a long time with Pema Chodron. We were truly blessed to spend the weekend with Ani Lodro. 

The class covered four main topics: Body, Feelings, Mind, and Mental Contents. It started out with connecting to our bodies using an exercise of looking in the mirror and then taught us six different methods to connect. I find it very easy to become disconnected with my body so I appreciate having some new tools to bring mind and body together. The practice I have taken with me the most is simply scanning the body and checking in at the beginning of meditation. 

Next, we learned about feelings. I have always equated feelings with emotions but Ani Lodro pulled them apart by explaining that feelings don't have any judgements attached. They can simply be classified as painful, agreeable or neutral. We can have contact with something which creates a feeling and stop there. Or, we can keep going to creating a concept around the feeling and next creating a story to with the concept. When we don't attend to the feelings, that is when we end up at the concept and story stages. But, we can train on the cushion to "Touch and go" so that we can acknowledge the feeling and let it go. It has really worked for me and I have realized that by sitting with a feeling until it softens, I can just release it and not drag it around with me. My favorite part of this section was an exercise that we did which helped us with people we don't like by really stepping into their shoes and figuring out what they need. 

In the mind section we first were asked "what is the mind, really?" It was interesting to think about how often your mind changes and think that maybe the mind shouldn't be taken too seriously. Three types of mind were introduced: 1) sem – the ordinary or thinking mind, 2) rikpa – the wise, sharp mind and 3) yi – the coordinator. Then, we expanded on the mind section to cover the obstacles and neurosis that keep us from being awake. From this section, I enjoyed the discussion of "right effort". I could relate fully to the two examples of how conventional effort usually goes, either the worm chewing through the tree without joy or vision or the roadrunner always jumping to the next thing but not really getting anywhere. This conversation has sparked a lot more reflection time in my life to determine the right path for any given situation based on what is most fruitful for everyone instead of simply plowing ahead to solve a problem. 

 If you have a chance to take this course, I highly recommend it. And, if you can get to the Montreal Shambhala Center to take a class from Ani Lodro Palmo, it will be a treat. If you don't have access to the class, the concepts are presented in The Heart of the Buddha by Chogyam Trungpa. 

 ~ Jillian Avey,


The Way of Shambhala – Level 1 Class Review

When I signed up for the Level 1 class, I wondered how much I would get out of it since I had taken three classes already at the Shambhala center in Burlington, VT. I don't know what I was thinking because you don't master meditation in three classes. I had nothing to fear, there was plenty for me to learn. This is one of those activities that you don't master, it just keeps getting better. And, three classes is just scratching the surface of what the curriculum has to offer. 

IMG_0220 I had been in a bit of a slump with my meditation, struggling every day to focus and wondering when it was going to come together again.  While I know distraction is normal, often I couldn't get past one breath before I was on to another thought. It was a major accomplishment when I could count to 3 breaths. I thought that a class might get me back on track. Fortunately, I was right. 

The class started and ended with two separate evening sessions that were part teaching and part discussion. The first talk was on how laziness causes depression (not in the clinical sense but as far as loss of energy, feeling down, etc). 

In the middle was an all-day session on Saturday. It included a lot of meditation practice where we put the teaching into action. After lunch, we had individual interviews where we talked to the teachers in private about how it was going and got instruction on posture. In my interview, the teacher told me not to worry if my mind wandered, it is the coming back part that is most important. While I know this bit of information, it still made a big difference to have a master meditator tell me again that it's ok. 

During the interviews the rest of us meditated, alternating sitting and walking. The time went fast but it was almost two hours of meditation broken up only by the interview. Due to time constraints, I am a sprinter not a marathon runner when it comes to meditation so long sessions are a treat. While it was certainly challenging, I think it was the most powerful part of the class for me. Through that long meditation I ran the gambit going from total synchronicity to total scatterbrain. In the last half hour it was difficult for me to sit still. In the end, all the struggle of the session paid off. The next day, I had the best meditation in months and felt a new alignment of my mind and body that wasn't there before. It inspired me to step up my sitting to a half hour each day from 10 minutes. The half hour is enough time to go through a little struggle and it seems to be working my mind harder. 

  ~ Jillian Avey, 

Visit the Shambhala website for more information on Shambhala Training class Level I



Class Review – Meditation in Everyday Life

I took Meditation in Everyday Life as my third Shambhala class although it is the first in the series The Way of Shambhala. While it would be better to take it first, I thought the class was valuable even though I wasn't quite a beginner anymore. Since you never really master meditation, it always helps to be reminded of the basics. 

The class runs for 5 weeks in the evening at the Burlington, VT Shamabhala Center but might be a weekend program at your local sangha. The readings for the class are from Turning the Mind Into an Ally and Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior. There were three articles provided from the magazine Shambhala Sun: Meeting Pain with Awareness by John Kabat-Zinn which talks about managing pain with meditation, Mindfulness of Mind by Michael Stroud who addresses treating depression with meditation, and Mindful Society by Andrea Miller who talks about how meditation is being used in five different areas of American society: health, caregiving, organizational leadership, teaching, and  prisons. The three articles can be found by clicking on the links above. The readings provided a solid foundation for starting a mediation practice, showed how it can work for your life and demonstrated some of the benefits of meditation. 

The class covers how to get to the cushion and what to do when you get there. Each class is structured to have some lecture, plenty of time for questions and some activities to demonstrate the teaching. We had very good discussions on topics such as the correct posture and whether to keep your eyes open or closed. We also got to bring up all those feelings we have and found that everyone in the room was having a similar experience. It seemed that everyone had a hard time focusing on their breath and everyone got uncomfortable or their feet fell asleep. It was really helpful to hear that you aren't alone and some tips on how to deal with the issues. 

My favorite session was the one titled "Obstacles and Antidotes". This is the information that I wished I had when I started so I would have known better how to handle the inevitable roadblocks. The one that particularly struck home for me was how busyness can be a form of laziness. When you use your list of things to do to procrastinate from sitting on the cushion, it is really is just being lazy. While it may feel like you are getting so much done, the priority has to be on sitting first, then doing the list of things that will still be there when you are done. 

To find a class nearby, visit the Shambhala website Find A Center page. 

~ Jillian Avey,

Fearlessness at Work, Karme Choling


I attended a retreat this weekend at
Karme Choling in Vermont called Fearlessness at Work. It was taught by Michael Carroll who wrote the books Awake at Work and The Mindful Leader. This was my first weekend retreat and really I was just worried about making it for three days on a cushion. I didn't do any research on the teacher or subject matter before I arrived. Fortunately, as I suspected it would be, the teaching was top notch. Michael's sense of humor and business savvy made the weekend both interesting and fun. I enjoyed getting to know the other participants as well. It was a small group which made it so that we all got to know each other and had some great discussions. 

The exciting part of the subject of using mindfulness at work for me is how to use mindfulness to perform better. Before I started meditating, I thought that if I really mastered it, I wouldn't want to do well anymore, like I would just be so peaceful nothing would matter. While I have to admit that two years into meditating I don't care as much about how I rate against others, I put even more effort into my passions than before. But now, it's from a creative energy rather than feelings of inadequacy. Being with a group of people that also wanted to excel in what they do, yet maintain their sanity while doing it, made me realize that success and mindfulness are not contrary to each other. Instead, I see that mindfulness can foster success. 

The class used the second book, The Mindful Leader as the guide which I am glad I have to read cover to cover. The most important topics for me were those of synchronizing with your surroundings and opening up your awareness to really see what is going on in any situation. I can see how it might take a while to incorporate everything but that each little step in using the learning will make small changes. My meditation practice has also taken a big leap forward with the advice and counseling from Michael as well. 

~ Jillian Avey,