Claudia Cummins

Inspiring health and happiness in body, mind and spirit

Holiday Restorative Workshop

December 1, 2016
To my local friends: I hope you'll consider joining us this Saturday, December 3, for our annual holiday restorative workshop. We'll meet at MindBodyAlign's Butterfly House from 2 to 4, and will spend time moving gently, breathing with ease, and settling into some of the most gloriously relaxing poses that yoga has to offer. The fee for the session is $20.

I love this opportunity to steady and fuel ourselves for the wonderfully crazy holidays ahead. My hope is that the workshop will fill us with peace and goodwill that will shine brightly all the way into the new year!

Choose Love

November 11, 2016
Here's a proposition to offer you on this beautiful new day: In any given moment, we have a choice about how we respond to the world around us. We can live out of love or we can act out of fear. We can anchor our response to the happenings around us in tenderness and optimism, or we can live in a more hollow and grasping place of negativity and anger.

If our intention is to add a healing helping of love to the world, the answer is obvious: We need to ally ourselves with the forces that hold all of us up rather than smack us down. We need to keep close to kindness and tenderness and patience and care. We need to climb out of our small-mindedness and into a sense of greater community with the world around us. We need to stay rooted in our deepest loves, and we need to act in love on behalf of everyone around us.

This sounds so obvious and straightforward when written in a tidy paragraph like the one I've just offered. And yet, as we all already know, this can sometimes feel like the hardest job in the world. When we’re overwhelmed or off-balance, our grasping habits move front and center. When we're surrounded by negativity, we can so easily be pulled down into our own grumbly space. When we feel buffeted by life's fiercer winds, we can lose touch with our innate wisdom and friendliness. We can almost feel the doors and windows of our hearts slamming shut.

Acting out of lovingkindness, then, must become a choice we make moment-by-moment, as we move through our days. It can be a practice, an attitude and ultimately a way of being in the world. It can be a beautiful way to keep our eyes trained on healing ourselves and the world, and it can teach us where our lives are flowing and where we are stuck.

Here's a simple strategy that may help us move in that direction: When you face a decision, when you're struggling with how to respond, when you're trying to figure out what to do next, whisper these two words: Choose love.

And then act accordingly, responding in whatever way you feel adds to the world's bounty of love and care. This will be easy, of course, when we're feeling happy and abundant and open. And it will take a little practice when the road feels a little more bumpy.

Even when it's difficult, though, it is still worth it. Choosing the low road, after all, hurts not just others but also ourselves. Maligning another doesn’t help anyone and it doesn’t feel good to us. Trying to keep track of who we like and who we don’t saps our time and vitality. Remembering which grudge we are holding against whom takes energy that could be more productively spent in raising us all up and keeping the planet spinning in a healthy way. Holding tight to stories about how and why we have been wronged only reinforces our sense of despair and deepens our sense of separation from one another.

"I have decided to stick with love," Martin Luther King, Jr., once wrote. " Hate is too great a burden to bear.” I’ve posted these wise words to my bathroom mirror so I have a frequent reminder of the choice we make to incline our minds toward love or hate. If King’s words speak to you, then you might do the same.

Allying ourselves with love doesn't mean we need to abandon our principles or roll over in the face of injustice, of course. Instead, it challenges us to live our truths from a place of empathy rather than anger, in a way that heals rather than deepens the divisiveness and rancor already so entrenched in the world. Isn't this a beautiful call to action? Let us live in love and on behalf of all, without dividing the world into "us" and "them," without creating enemies or demonizing others.

Today and every day, why not open wide our hearts and our arms, and ally ourselves with everyone and everything, choosing the side of light? How can we possibly go wrong with more love?

As you explore this lovely and simply instruction, watch closely to what happens. Do the words "choose love" jolt you out of a rut and into a more enlightened way of being in the world? Do they convince you to abandon those harsh words in favor of a sweeter retort? And how do you feel when you are able to follow through in this way?

And when you just can’t muster up the most loving response and ill-will rears its angry head instead (which happens to us all from time to time), why is that? And what happens? And what can we do in our lives to make it more likely that we can err on the side of love in the future?

As we move forward in the days ahead, let's choose love, in happiness and in sorrow, in joy and in despair. Let's invite our words and actions to be beacons of love and understanding, lighting the way for ourselves and for others. Let's lay down the burdens of hate and ill-will. Let's open our arms and welcome in the whole wide world. And then let's move forward together, with tenderness and care, on behalf of all beings, everywhere.

This essay was originally offered as part of Claudia's 2016 online 
immersion Dwelling in the Heart: A Month of Lovingkindness.

How To Grieve

November 9, 2016
Turn off the television. Turn off the phone. Close the door.
Find a safe spot near the earth, and settle in.
Smother yourself in blankets, if you like, and surrender to gravity's embrace.
Let yourself feel everything. Let go. Let anything happen.
Just let it wash over you, through you, again and again.

Close your eyes. Let the tears quietly flow.
Let yourself be stunned, scared, shaken to the core.
Let everything fall apart until it feels like there is nothing left.
Let the truth of the moment settle in just as slowly as it needs.
All the while, keep breathing, and be gentle with yourself.

You may feel like the world will surely end, but it won't.
You may feel like you're not strong enough, but you are.
You may fear that life will never shine again, but it will.
Your steady heart and the faithful earth will carry you.
Life will flow again.

Return to your deepest loves - wherever, whoever, whatever - they may be.
Find your tribe, your loved ones, and hold each other tight.
Gather together if you can. Send soothing words of love back and forth if you can't.
Grieve together. Comfort one another.
Remind yourselves that you are not alone.

Hold your children close, and tell them that everything will be okay.
Gather up your favorite poems and seek refuge in their sparkling, hopeful truths.
Immerse yourself in music, with sounds that give voice to your sorrow.
Surround yourself with beauty, which soon enough will restore your vision.
(A little chocolate here might help.)

Return to your own beautiful heart. Have faith.
Practice lovingkindness, for yourself and for the world.
Start with small, sweet loves that light your life,
and let that warmth rekindle your heart's deeper fire.
Practice more lovingkindness, and then even more.

Rest there. Breathe.
Let feelings of tenderness and care wrap themselves around you
and guide you all the way back to the source of the values you hold most dear.
Trust that a more brilliant love will flow again, in good time and in good measure.
Remember that kindness, compassion and fearless love will heal the world.

When you're ready, when you've emptied completely, go bigger than yourself.
Go outside and sit among the leaves and grass.
Look up. Watch the birds, and the passing clouds.
Widen your focus more, and then even a little more.
Let the wide world comfort you.

If you can, shed your too-small skin for a while, and dissolve in the vast sky.
Stay here until any sense of self or other, us or them, friend or enemy dissolves.
Stay here until you remember that everything is going to be okay.
Stay here for a long, long time, until you feel enlivened and made whole.
(Feel free to return to the beginning, any time this feels like too much.)

Sometime soon - or maybe later - you will feel ready to return to the world.
And when you do, you will rise up stronger, brighter, more whole.
Your deep sorrow will have stripped away all that is inessential,
and will have left behind a stronger, steadier light.
You will be wiser and softer, and even kinder still.

You will have learned that it is possible to be devastated and then made whole again.
You will have been returned to your deepest values and clearest truths.
You will know how deeply the world needs your wisdom and your light.
You will have learned how to heal, how to grow, how to save your own life,
and perhaps, in some small way to help save the greater world.

You will plant your feet fully into the earth.
You will stand tall.
You will, of course, "go high," no matter what.
You will lean toward the light.
And you will shine again, in radiance and love, in service to all.

Happiness Right Here, Right Now

October 24, 2016
We are primed in our culture to believe that happiness lies somewhere "out there" in the future and that fulfillment will surely be ours when we finally get all of our ducks lined up in a perfect row. We are primed to believe that happiness may be ours some day if we earn it with the perfect job, the perfect mate, or the perfect family. Only then, we are trained to believe, will a golden cloak of happiness descend upon us. And we will finally breathe a sigh of relief, and contentment will be ours forevermore.

Meditation - thankfully, beautifully - teaches us just the opposite. It teaches us that happiness lies within us, inside the soft folds of the present moment. Clear seeing shows us that happiness is not a commodity, a thing to be gained or lost, but is rather an attitude and a choice. Meditation reveals to us, through devoted practice, that ease and contentment can be ours in any single moment of our lives.

The key to such undying happiness lies in the quality of our attention, in our willingness to immerse ourselves squarely in the present moment, to be truly present in our lives.

Think about it. Right here and now, in this moment, in the very place you are, it is possible for you to be happy and content. Right here and right now, the world waits to reveal its incredible beauties and mysteries to you.

All you need to do is settle into the moment and let your busy mind quiet enough so that you can see clearly the bounty that surrounds you. All you need to do is adapt an attitude of acceptance and openness. All you need to do is open your eyes to the truth of the moment.

Look around you. Consider your beautiful eyes that are reading this and that are capable of letting the outer light of the world in. Consider the miracle of your breath, which carries you through life without complaint and with such steadyness.

Consider the faithfulness of birds that return every spring without fail. Fresh air that smacks your cheeks. Sunrise. Chocolate. Tenderness. Jasmine. Sweet chirping voices of children. The blaze of autumn. Soft wrinkles of old age. And, of course, the love that courses through your veins and shines out through your skin and your voice to those around you.

All of this is yours to unwrap - or not - if you like. And if all of this is not enough to bring a sigh of ease to your heart, what will? As zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck once said, "You cannot avoid paradise. You can only avoid seeing it."

Here's the amazing and terrifying proposition: Whether you are happy in this one moment is completely up to you. It is not dependent on circumstance; it cannot be given to you by anyone or anything else. It is yours to welcome or to spurn. It is your choice.

True happiness is unshakable and loyal. It does not come and go based on outer weather. It is a constant companion that buoys you from within. It looks more like contentment than pleasure. It feels like quiet joy that has deep roots in the here-and-now. It looks like equanimity and ease. It comes from a deep understanding that this moment is somehow perfect and beautiful just as it is (even if it is not at all what you were looking for).

Challenging, yes? A radical reversal of all that you think you know about what makes you happy, perhaps? But a hopeful proposition, too. You need nothing more than this moment to be happy!

What about sadness, what about death and dissolution and illness and the dark underside of life? Where does all of this fit in? The masters have that covered, too, although I admit it takes a big leap of faith, because it requires us to welcome pain and sorrow into our lives. The world's sages teach us that true happiness requires that we broaden our hearts enough to understand that we can still be happy even when we are not pleased with life.

This vision requires us to be understand how happiness and sadness are not opposites, but that each lies deep within the folds of the other. We are required to accept that every life comes with servings of both pain and delight. As the Buddhists say, "All lives come with ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows." Or, as my seven-year-old puts it, "In each and every day, sad moments and happy moments weave themselves together."

Trying to erase the sorrows, then, is a denial of life itself, and a sure path toward discontent and unhappiness. And a life well-lived embraces as part of the journey both exhilarating happiness and heart-wrenching sorrow.

Even though I must admit I'm not quite there in the embracing-all-pain-and-sorrow department, I still find the possibility both beautiful and hopeful. I love the idea that happiness can be so vast that it includes sadness rather than pretends to oppose it. I love the truth that happiness and sadness weave themselves together into the beautiful tapestry of the world. And I especially love the promise that sadness is not a punishment or a sign of imperfection, but rather an integral part of all of life.

Let's stay on the lookout for simple moments of happiness and delight. Maybe the relief of just sitting quietly with no to-do list will feel particularly beautiful. Maybe the light will fall through the window in a particularly splendid way. Maybe you will notice that the sounds of the house waking up feel full and poignant and lovely.

There is something magical about a little quiet and calm. The fogginess that clouds the window of the mind clears, leaving us awestruck by the beauty and amazement of each passing moment we are blessed to embrace. Sometimes when the mind grows especially calm and unrestricted, everything we see seems to almost shimmer with radiance and energy, a radiance that has been there all along of course, but that we have only now grown eyes clear enough to see. In these moments it becomes perfectly clear what Simone Weil meant when she wrote that "absolute attention is prayer."

Slowing down and sitting still will help open our eyes to the beauty all around us. Paying close attention will help, too. And inclining our minds toward joy will especially help make the most of happiness that comes your way. We may be surprised, when we look for them, how many glittering jewels of joy are scattered all about us. All we have to do is quiet our minds and clear our visions enough to truly see the happiness that lives within us.

Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says that "the difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention." Why not whatever we can to incline our field of awareness toward happiness and joy?

Some people keep gratitude journals. Some count their blessings when they're feeling a little glum. Others take pictures of sparkling moments. Some share their happiness with others in any way they can. Anything that helps you stop, look and listen when the good life comes your way will help deepen and enrich those feelings of well-being and contentment that accompany them.

In our family we have a tradition of shouting out "Happy!" whenever we realize we are having a happy moment. Usually, this chant is echoed by the rest of us, and we smile. Wow, right here and right now, in this one moment, happiness is ours.

Perhaps you, too, can find your own brand of "rejoicing practice," where you incline your eyes toward the light, where you practice gladness in the here-and-now. Perhaps you can transform some of your grumbly, complaining energy into the energy of uplift and amazement. Each time you do, you are not only transforming the small moment you hold in your hands, but you are training the mind in the direction of peace and positivity. You are making happiness a habit.

Gradually, over time, you may even find yourself able to find small moments of happiness and love tucked into what appear to be very sad and painful ones. While sitting next to a loved one in a hospital bed, for example, you might take a deep breath, settle into the here and now, and look around. You may find yourself able to marvel over some small delight: the softness of the frail hand you're holding, a passing smile as water soothes parched lips, the kindness of a nurse passing through, the love that holds you both so close. Even within dark moments, I truly believe, there is still the possibility for beauty and love.

And when you are able to move in this direction - perhaps not feeling 100 percent happy all the time, but at least opening your eyes more and more to possibilities for joy and amazement sprinkled throughout your day - your life will feel far richer and fuller than you could ever have imagined.

Life is an amazing adventure, a precious jewel to be cherished and adored. The here-and-now can be your doorway into this deeper amazement and appreciation for all of life. The present moment can become a sanctuary that holds and steadies us when we feel buffeted by the craziness and unpredictability of life. And in this spirit, we are able to embrace with whole heart and whole spirit the journey of our lives, even when (and perhaps especially when) we have no idea where it will lead. As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Happiness is available. Please help yourself."

This essay was originally published as part of Presence, Claudia's 2015 meditation immersion.


Listening as an Act of Love

October 17, 2016
It’s early morning, just at first light. The house is still and heavy with sleep. You’re the first one up, and recognize the possibility of this quiet moment.

You creep downstairs, put the kettle on, stealthily prepare your tea, and slip out the front door. You settle onto the front steps into a seat of peaceful repose, half of you still heavy with sleep. You sip and you soften into the ease of the waking day.

Your mind understands that it’s too early for to-do lists or ambition of any sort. There is not a thing you need to do quite yet. You exhale, and without even thinking, you settle into a receptive and open state. Nothing needs to happen, you recognize, and yet anything might.

And so you sit, watching the day slowly stretch her arms. The birdsong begins, the light begins to shift, the sky begins to glow. You hear the house creak, you feel the breeze whispering by, you feel your body rise and fall with each breath.

You sense an awakening in your soft heart, a renewed bloom of the shy light that shines within, a willingness to fall in love with the world yet again. You remember theologian Paul Tillich's words, "The first duty of love is to listen," and you know that in this soulful moment you have found your way into deep knowing of what he meant.

In these quiet moments of the morning, receptive and open and easy, you sense in your bones the necessity of listening, of opening yourself wide to the mystery and the grandeur of the world. You understand the importance of opening your mind and heart so wide that life pours into you with all its delicacy and strength. You sense the possibility of participating deeply in the world without needing to speak a word.

And you promise to remember this quieter way of being, even later, when the day begins to burn bright with activity and bustle. You commit to staying close to this whispering flame that flickers in your heart. You consider the possibility of listening to others just the way you’ve listened to the dawn, with the doors and windows of your heart open wide.

You smile as you sense how full and tender way of being feels within - expansive, curious, open to every thought and every sound. You understand the gift of bearing witness, of listening without judgment. You sense the healing balm of a soul who listens, truly listens, with a mind clear and a heart wide open.

And then you remember Mary Oliver’s words, “Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness," and you feel like this wise poet is sitting right beside you, smiling. You vow to move forward with Oliver’s words on your lips all day as an offering to the greater world.

This very morning, it seems, you have  been given a new pair off ears that allow you to listen deeply to the song of life. And you sigh in profound happiness. Somehow, before the day has even lurched into action, you have been made whole.

You pledge to hold you close to love and loveliness, leaning in close to life and listening well. You promise to carry this openness out into the day ahead. Perhaps it will be a gift to others, just as it has already been for you.

The house begins to stir and you take one last sip of tea. You take a deep breath, listen to the morning song one last time, and promise to incline your ears, your eyes and your heart toward the world with openness, with ease, and with love that shines from the quiet, listening place within.

This essay was written for Dwelling in the Heart, Claudia's 2016 online lovingkindness immersion.


Fall 2016 Classes

September 21, 2016
I'm so excited for our Fall 2016 session of classes to begin. We will be moving to MindBodyAlign's Butterfly House, which I'm sure will feel like a homecoming even though the studio is brand new. So much love and care has been put into the space - I know it will be a beautiful spot to practice.

Starting in October, my weekly schedule will include classes on Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday mornings, and Thursday evenings. In addition, I will be participating in several afternoon workshops in the coming months.

Please visit my Classes page to learn more. I hope our paths will cross at one of these gatherings!


September 9, 2016
My friend Emily died recently. She was 89 years old and she had lived a long and beautiful life, but still her passing left a hole in my heart. The planet seems a little wobbly without her.

Emily was one of those rare souls who seemed to shine more intensely than the rest of us. She was filled with spirit and goodwill. She was kind and thoughtful and fearless and bold. She became your friend the instant she shook your hand for the very first time (no matter that she might be forty years your senior). She delighted in even the smallest cup of afternoon tea and also in the grandest proposals to change the world. Her devotion and good will convinced us all that the world was even more beautiful and wondrous than we had already thought. In addition to all her other gifts, Emily knew how to sing the praises of this life.

I worked with Emily at the White House when I was still in my twenties, and my brightest memories there include Emily and her strong Yankee presence and zest for life. Her spirit and her delight were magnetic and infectious. She could find the good in anyone and anything. She said yes more than no. And she seemed able  - through sheer, magnanimous will and delight - to make just about anything happen.

Emily managed to get the Queen of England to plant a tree on the White House lawn. (We got to watch.) She convinced the president to urge us all to plant trees to help create a greener world. (And she managed to get us into the motorcade to hear the speech in person.) Cheered on by youthful interns, Emily even befriended the Grateful Dead and took her younger friends with her to a concert with her VIP tickets and backstage passes. (No matter that she was sixty - she introduced us to John Barlow during the intermission and later marveled at all the stoned teenagers in the parking lot.) There was no delight too small for Emily and no cause too large to embrace.

Sometimes when the world seems dim and small, I imagine I am sitting once again with Emily by my side. I remember how safe and sheltered I felt in her orbit, and how wonderful, too. I remember how my vision would shift when I was with her, with everything seeming to sparkle just a little more than I had noticed before. I try to take on her vision and see the world through her eyes.

I wonder what we would talk about. I imagine what small detail in the life before us she would marvel at. I lean in to hear what brilliant musing she would share with me. I hear her chirping voice and her strong laugh, and feel my heart brighten just a bit, as Emily’s sparkling presence returns me to a place of wonder and delight.

Perhaps you, too, have an Emily in your life, someone who helps you see the world in living color, who reminds you that you are larger than you thought you were, who reassures you that the beauty will inevitably outshine the despair, and who returns you to your own good heart.

And if so, perhaps you might use that dear one as a muse, just as I hold Emily close to me, coaxing your heart out of hiding and reminding you to savor each morsel of delight that comes your way. When your vision is dim, perhaps you can call upon the eyes of your friend and let that person remind you how to rejoice in the blessings of the world.

Or perhaps you don’t even need a muse. Maybe rejoicing comes naturally to you and you can lift your gaze and find a delight that lifts you back up onto your feet. And maybe you will even live your way into being a "rejoicing muse" for someone else.

Either way, let’s take up rejoicing practice with whole heart and soul. Let’s take time each day to marvel, to give thanks, and to sing out in joy. Let’s marvel over an extraordinary act of kindness, the sweet crunch of the blueberry muffin, the shape of the wind just as it shifts across the landscape just now. Let’s exercise our muscles of delight and stay in close touch with the many mysterious beauties of the world.

Let's take to heart poet Wendell Berry's words: "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks."

Like my friend Emily, let’s sing out and share these wonders with those around us. Let's not keep life's glories to ourselves. Let’s change the course of the day by naming its delights. Let’s help one another through those moments when our vision begins to falter. Let’s direct one another’s eyes toward the brilliant and the bold.

We can start right now, by naming ten beautiful things we can rejoice over in our lives. We can sit down next to someone we love and whisper to them three wondrous things we love about them. Like Mr. Putter in those classic children's stories by Cynthia Rylant, we can pull out a piece of paper, write down, "Good Things," and start a list of all our loveliest loves. We can even offer "Happy Reports" at the dinner table, as my family learned to do from this wonderful essay by the ever-wise Katrina Kenison. The possibilities for rejoicing are endless.

I have a feeling that as we do this, our love for the world will deepen even more. Life will shine just a little more brightly. And together we will remember what a gift it is just to be here, now, together, celebrating this singular moment of goodness and glory. This truly is a moment for rejoicing.

This essay was written for Dwelling in the Heart, Claudia's 2016 online lovingkindness immersion.