This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts where I'll undertake a new and exciting pilgrimage journey to a local religious, cultural, or historic landmark in my immediate area. The purpose of these mini-expeditions is to deepen my faith while broadening my horizons of what it means to live an embodied and committed spiritual life. I hope you enjoy the series and feel free to join the discussion in the comments section below.
A Dharma Destination
I first learned about the Dharma Center of Oklahoma when I was in my initial year of recovery from alcoholism. I had been attending AA meetings regularly and was working my way through the 12 steps with a sponsor. Somewhere around step 11 ("Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out"), I discovered a new world in spiritual life. I started regularly going to the library to check out two or three new books and devoured them like a hungry ghost who was starving from a lifelong lack of soul food. I had stumbled across a few intriguing books about Buddhism, and then I found one that would change my life completely. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield's classic, "A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life" was like nothing I'd ever heard of or experienced before. Jack's depth of wisdom, kindness, and humor, together with systematic practices for healing and wholeness, picked up where the 12 steps left off and launched me into an entire universe of rich inner life to explore. That book is what my soul had been waiting for.
“The purpose of a spiritual discipline is to give us a way to stop the war, not by our force of will, but organically, through understanding and gradual training.”
As I worked my way through the depths and delights of the book, I searched online to see if there were any Buddhist temples in Oklahoma, and sure enough there were. I looked into all of them but felt like the Dharma Center was the place for me to start. Their secular approach and blending of eastern and western cultures was really appealing. From the first few times I visited, I knew this was part of my homecoming. For most of my life, I had felt like an outsider and a stranger even to myself. In recovery that began to change, and when my wife and I moved back to Oklahoma City where most of our immediate family lives, the sense of homecoming was even more tangible. I wasn't raised religious, but had attended Christian churches starting in junior high (off and on), and tried for years to find spiritual enlightenment in the bottom of a whisky bottle. In the end, I found my Divine Home in smoky AA meetings and in the teachings of the Buddha, which then showed me how to commit my life to Christ. Who knew? I couldn't have planned it that way if I tried!
Many Paths One Truth
It wasn't long before I became a member of the Dharma Center. It was so encouraging to find a deep spiritual tradition that also embraced a variety of different paths. As the old Chinese proverb goes, "There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same." Or, as the Japanese say in the Lotus Sutra traditions, "Many in body, one in spirit." Other members were Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, Atheist, New Age, None, and other traditions or combinations. At the same time, the teachings were profound and connected strongly with the Rissho Kosei-kai tradition, which originated in Japan in 1938. It was inspiring to play a part in meaningful rituals, wise and timeless teachings, and practical understanding learned within the context of daily life. I felt that most of this had been missing from my experience with the Christian church up to that point, so it was refreshing to find a truly connected spiritual life which was being lived out in community together.
“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same."
The bell, mokusho wood block, and taiko drum used in chanting services
The Dharma Center street sign, the Buddha, and Kannon (bodhisattva of compassion)
Gone But Not Forgotten
After being a member of the Dharma Center for a few years, I left to join my wife and kids at a local Christian church where it was more practical for us to attend as a family. It was one of the most rewarding times of my spiritual life, and I've made some friends that will last for at least one lifetime. Last year, I was motivated to revisit the Dharma Center by foot in order to set out on my first urban pilgrimage. And I wanted to take along some compelling questions with me for Kris Ladusau, my friend and the Reverend of the Dharma Center, to answer in her own words. The purpose for my journey and these questions was to help me deepen my faith while broadening my horizons of what it means to live an embodied and committed spiritual life. Here's my interview with Reverend Kris:
Me: How do you personally practice living an embodied or committed spiritual life?
RKL: I try to raise conscious awareness daily to realize that every single interaction I have with other people is a chance for enlightenment.
Me: What is the most important thing that people need to know about the Dharma Center?
RKL: I would like people to know that the Dharma Center is an inclusive, welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for anyone wanting to practice the Buddhist tradition, either by itself, or in conjunction with another spiritual path.
Me: What do you think people are looking for in religion or spirituality today? Why?
RKL: I think most people are either looking to maintain a healthy, relevant, spiritual connection or to reestablish one.
Me: What does "life's a journey, not a destination" mean to you?
RKL: I think that hooks back into the earlier mentioning of the continued development of awareness and appreciation.
Me: If you could change one thing in our world today, what would it be? How?
RKL: For me, it's not about focusing on anything changing (because that will occur naturally in this realm). It's more of a wish for all people to acknowledge interconnectedness, and develop insight and compassion to deal with the changes in a healthy manner.
Above: Reverend Kris Ladusau and me standing with the central mantra "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo"
May you be free from suffering.
May you be well in body and mind.
And may you be filled with peace.
What does it mean to you to live an embodied and committed spiritual life? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
"Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it,
I must listen to my life telling me who I am."
- Parker J. Palmer
What is a pilgrimage?
Essentially a pilgrimage is a journey. A journey that changes you. It would seem that human beings have made pilgrimages as long as they've been able to walk. The Greeks, Israelites, Mayans, Chinese, Christians, Muslims, and a variety of other peoples and religions throughout history have always taken long, often arduous, journeys toward some new understanding about their lives and the world they lived in. The journey itself was just as important as the destination, if not more so. Our ancient ancestors may have something to teach us about ourselves in our own times.
In today's world, pilgrimage has taken on new meanings for those who may or may not identify with a particular faith tradition. Millions of people increasingly identify as "spiritual but not religious" or may classify themselves as "nones," no religion at all. But at the same time, an estimated 300 to 330 million "spiritual tourists" visit significant religious sites every year. Why is this? What are they looking for?
They're looking for different things: from reclaiming a faith long abandoned, to hopes for healing, or clarity around an overwhelming decision. People today, just as much as at any point in history, are looking for something more than the status quo when the status quo can no longer sustain their lives. They're searching for new perspectives, relief from unending busyness, and deeper and more meaningful connections to themselves and their work. They want to encounter a simpler way to be in an increasingly complicated, and an ever more rapidly changing, world. They're hoping to go away on a journey that will bring them back to some greater sense of what it means to be at home in this life.
“Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.”
Charles Gosset is a Certified Professional Life and Leadership Coach (CPC) and founder of Full Integration Coaching, LLC. He helps big-hearted people with huge drive lead exceptional lives. You can find out more about him and the transformational services he offers by visiting: www.fullintegrationcoaching.com.
For those of you who are musicians that play at a competitive level, most you totally get this already. In fact, ANYone who does ANYthing at a high competitive level likely gets this. When I asked these kids what stresses them out most about playing the piano, here are a few of their responses:
"I have a fear of big crowds."
"The pressure to always be improving."
"Not playing a right note."
"The domino effect. One thing goes wrong and the rest falls behind it."
"Being judged or critiqued."
"Never feeling prepared enough."
Sound familiar to you? It does to me. As a guitarist, singer, public speaker and person who has come to terms (most of the time) with performance anxiety, all of these responses have resonated with me at one point in time or another.
To be fair, there were also two kids that said "nothing stresses me out about it." That represents about 5% of the total responses and is wonderful to hear. However, a large majority of these students have some level of stress and anxiety around the instrument that they spend a significant amount of their time with every week.
Another favorite practice was one I call "Take a Minute to Have a Seat." I literally asked the kids to take a full minute to sit down in a chair. To do the practice yourself, start off by standing in front of a chair. Set a timer for one minute and begin slowly sitting down, noticing what it's like to sit down in a more conscious - if not hilariously awkward - way. Check in with your timer and try to wait until the entire minute has passed until you are finally completely seated. What are your thoughts like? What feelings come up? How does your body respond to sitting down in this way?
For camp, I added a little excitement to the activity and gave each group a "secret challenge." I asked them to do this exercise in another one of their sessions at camp without telling the instructor what they were doing. One group accepted the challenge and didn't let on until they had taken a full minute to sit at their keyboards! It was a great way to let everyone know that mindfulness isn't about taking ourselves too seriously, and that we can practice it wherever we are and with whatever we are doing. Because to me, mindfulness is essentially being fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, with an interested an accepting attitude. And who of us couldn't use a little more of that?
"Mindfulness is being fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, with an interested and accepting attitude."
At the end of the week, I received several letters from the students that moved me and reinforced the fact that these practices change our lives in important ways. Here are a few of my favorites:
"Thank you for teaching us about mindfulness! I suffer from anxiety and it kind of gets in the way of my life. But the tactics you gave me will definitely help me not only with piano but in my life as well."
"Thank you so much for teaching mindfulness this week. I'm [active in another competitive sport] so I get REALLY nervous before I go to a competition. Some of the exercises that you taught me might help me not get so nervous."
"Thank you so much for doing mindfulness class! I loved it! It was awesome to relax for a couple of min.! I have been having trouble sleeping lately because I could not calm down. Mindfulness helped me a lot!"
"Thank you so much for coming to camp and helping us with mindfulness. It really helped me with performance anxiety."
"Charles Gosset is a natural while working with all ages, children and adults. He provides a service desperately needed in today’s busy, noisy, hi-tech environment. Today’s students simply don’t know how to quiet their minds, and redirect their thoughts. Charles has helped our students become 'mindful' of their environment, and quiet thoughts that get in the way of their studies, and performances. Our students talk very highly of his class, and of the 'new' tools they have learned. They have described his classes as 'life changing!' I agree!!"
Terri Hlubek, NCTM
Director, Kamp Keyboard
"Charles Gosset is an incredibly perceptive man who gently helps individuals dig in to their potential. He has helped my piano students that attended Kamp Keyboard with their performance anxiety through practical exercises and meaningful discussions on awareness of the body and mind. He provides the perfect environment for individuals to open up and explore how their minds work in order to be aware in various situations as well as how to accept our human responses to them. He is great for all age ranges and backgrounds and makes everyone feel welcome and safe to grow. I would definitely recommend Charles to professional musicians and athletes as well as children with any kind of anxieties related to performing and group participation."
Vivace Piano Studio
"The mindfulness and performance enhancement sessions Charles led at Kamp Keyboard were well received by our piano students. He was able to share practical ways to combat stressful situations that we all go through as musicians, and even just as human beings. There is a positive energy about Charles, and it’s one that puts everyone at ease in his sessions. This helped the students feel comfortable to share their experiences with each other - there is no wrong answer! I was fortunate enough to sit in on these sessions with the students. I learned many helpful tools about being mindful and dealing with stress that I’m able to use in my daily life, and have also been able to share with my students. I would definitely recommend Charles to people of all ages, and experiences!"
Voice & Piano Instructor
Studio Z Music Lessons
"Charles Gosset is a man full of compassion, understanding, empathy, grace and love for people. His ease with working with individuals of all ages is a rare ability. I have attended a pilgrimage retreat led by Charles and found it to be a peaceful time allowing me to reconnect to Divine. I have also witnessed Charles interacting with students. It gives me great joy to see how well he connects with them. The meditation and breathing exercises he shares with students have been a wonderful lifeline for many. The reflection time he brings to his classes allows the students to be still and to learn how to be comfortable in who they are in that very moment. The skills that he is sharing with the students not only helps them during practice and performance sessions, but he shares ways that these skills are useful in every area of their life. Mark 10:21 says that when a young man asked a question of Jesus that Jesus looked on the man, loved him and then spoke. I believe that Charles Gosset approaches every relationship with that same approach – he sees, he loves and then speaks."
Melissa Johansen, NCTM
Kamp Keyboard Administrator
Johanaen Piano Studio
The opportunity: Mindfulness can help you to improve focus, reduce stress, and stay connected and engaged at home and on the job.
The solution: Use these mindfulness tips and resources to help you be fully present and aware without being overly reactive and overwhelmed.
Let's start with a definition. There are dozens of definitions of mindfulness out there today. The one I'm working with right now goes like this:
On top of all of this, we have a running commentary in our brains from that little voice that is always giving us opinions and offering advice on any and every thing that we experience. Some of us (like me) have entire committees giving us their input, whether we ask for it or not. It's a wonder we're not all completely insane!
to sit quietly in a room alone."
- Blaise Pascal
• lower stress
• reduce anxiety
• lower blood pressure
• reduce chronic pain
• improve mental clarity
• increase emotional awareness
• increase engagement in activities
• form deeper connections with others
BEGINNING A REGULAR MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
FORMAL MINDFULNESS - MINDFULNESS MEDITATION (10 to 20 mintues daily)
*You can also follow along with the guided "Mindfulness of the Breath" meditation below.
1.) Set a timer for 10-20 minutes. Find a place that is relatively free from distractions. Sit comfortably in an upright chair or on the floor. Make sure that your back is straight and that your spine and neck are supported. You should be alert but not rigid. Give yourself permission to be here now. You can close your eyes or keep them opened and softly focused.
2.) Take several deep breaths in and out. On the in breath, you may want to quietly say in the back of your mind, "peace." On the out breath, you can say "stress." Continue breathing in "peace" and breathing out "stress" until you feel that you are mostly present and centered. Give your attention to this meditation session in a way that is genuinely interested and accepting of whatever happens.
3.) Begin to breathe normally. Pay attention to where you feel the breath as you breathe in and out. Do you feel it at the tip of the nose? The back of the throat? The chest or abdomen? Also, notice the temperature of the air as you breathe in and out. When is it warm? When is it cool? Wherever you notice the breath most strongly, keep your attention there as you continue to breathe normally.
4.) The mind will wander. This is normal. To help your mind stay focused, you can softly say in the back of your mind, "breathing in" and "breathing out." Each time your attention wanders, simply return to the breath by using these words along with noticing where you feel the breath most.
5.) Continue breathing normally and keep coming back to the breath when your mind wanders. We all get lost in our thoughts and stories during meditation. The important point is that you keep coming back to the breath. Every time you return to the breath is actually a moment of mindfulness. Avoid criticizing yourself or trying too hard to figure this all out. Practice makes progress.
6.) When your timer goes off, return your attention to the space where you are seated. Take one or two deep breaths and then go about the rest of your day, bringing a little more mindfulness into everything you do. You may want to journal about your experiences following your meditation sessions to deepen your practice and to review your progress over time.
Along with meditation, it's important to practice mindfulness as a part of our daily tasks and routines. Try one or two of these informal mindfulness practices per week and as often as possible each day. Simply keep your attention on the task itself, and when your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the task.
• brushing your teeth
• taking a shower
• eating a meal
• opening doors
• composing an email
• answering a phone call
• checking social media
• stopping in traffic
If you would like help bringing more mindfulness into your life and work, CONTACT me to schedule a free 30 minute session to see if coaching could be right for you.
Click below for an 8-minute guided meditation covering mindfulness of the breath.
Listen to my Blog Talk Radio interview about mindfulness with host Sharissa Sebastian.