Claudia Cummins

Inspiring health and happiness in body, mind and spirit

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.


Dwelling in the Heart

August 15, 2016

I am thrilled to invite you to join me in my latest online adventure called Dwelling in the Heart: A Month of Lovingkindness. In this course, we'll join together for the month of September to cultivate a deeper sense of love, understanding and joy in our lives.

My motivation for offering this online immersion stems from anxiety  I've felt these past several months about the state of our world. Violence and ill-will seem to have worked their way into the fabric of our lives, both far away and close to home. It feels to me like collectively our societies are losing touch with the kindness and care that virtually all spiritual traditions offer as the bedrock of a life well-lived and a community that thrives in good health.

My intention in Dwelling in the Heart is to help keep our eyes trained on the possibility of love and peace, so that we may live with greater kindness toward those around us and with an ever-deepening sense of ease in our own lives. My plan during our course is to offer practices that keep our eyes trained on the possibility of living through love and in love, helping to keep the planet spinning in a more positive and supportive way.

My hope is that my offerings will be meaty enough to incline our minds toward love but simple enough to fit into our busy lives with ease. Along the way I hope to inspire us all to commit (or recommit) to the practice of lovingkindness meditation, which helps anchor the mind and heart in love.

Here's how the course will work: Each weekday day I'll send out an email with the day's dispatch from the land of good heart. I'll offer tried-and-true practices as well as some less traditional ways of living with a friendly mind and a wide-open heart. And I'll feed us all with inspiring resources from around the web and beyond. (All of our materials will also be posted on a private website, so that you can easily find inspiration any time you need it.)

I'll also urge us all to find time in our days to sit quietly for at least a few moments to explore the traditional practice of metta, or lovingkindness meditaion. I'll do my best to keep our minds focused on our shared journey and to inspire us all to stay true to our commitment to fostering a deeper love and care in our lives.

In keeping with the low-key nature of my immersions, there will be no formal assignments or time requirements. You will be invited to move at your own pace and integrate the teachings into your life in any way you like.

Ponder the offerings while sipping your morning coffee, save them to read during your lunch break, share them with a friend while walking down the lane, or offer them up as dinnertime conversation. If you have a contemplative practice like yoga or prayer or meditation, you might look for ways to sprinkle into it some aspect of our lovingkindness practice. The possibilities are endless, and I hope you will find your own unique way to make the offerings your own.

I am thrilled to offer this course and I hope you will consider joining me. Lovingkindness has become a bedrock practice in my own life, and I relish the opportunity to share its gifts with you in a way that I hope will add clarity and happiness to the world.

I have set a suggested fee of $45 for the course, but if that feels excessive for your budget you are welcome to set your own price. To enroll in the course via credit card or Paypal account, please, click the "Buy Now" button below. If you have questions, prefer to sign up via check instead, or if you would like to join the course but would like to pay less than the suggested fee of $45, please email me using the contact form on the right side of this page.

Thank you so much for your interest. I hope to dwell in the heart with you this September and beyond.

Presence: An Online Meditation Immersion

March 17, 2016
I am thrilled to invite you to join me in an online adventure called Presence: A 30-Day Meditation ImmersionIn this course, we will join together for the month of April to explore the twin practices of meditation and mindfulness in a way that I hope will nurture a new-found sense of unshakable happiness and ease in your life.

Presence is an opportunity for both new and seasoned meditators to dive into the well of life within that sustains us through ever-deepening balance, clarity, wisdom and joy. Through formal and informal meditation practices, we'll explore the wisdom of slowing down, the power of paying attention, and the sweetness of listening deeply. We'll find ways to quench our thirst for a more genuine sense of ease and balance in our lives, and we'll cultivate a deeper feeling of being at home in both ourselves and our world.

Together we'll commit to opening ourselves to the deepest gift meditation offers: reclaiming the clarity of mind and purity of heart that is our natural birthright and that naturally appears when the mind is calm and our vision is clear. We'll cultivate an abiding sense of presence that opens us to an unconditional faithfulness and peace that sustains us through both difficulty and delight.

And we'll explore the great truth of life that all the world's sages have taught: that our small and personal lives are deeply rooted in a far more vast and brilliant play of light and life that illumines the entire world. Out of this profound insight comes a natural urge to participate in life more deeply, to serve as a source of comfort and support to everyone and everything around us.

A private website will be the course's home base for the month and the virtual town square around which we will congregate. Everything needed for our time together can be found there. Participants will find all the course updates, dispatches, meditation instructions, guided practices, question-and-answer sessions, poems, images and meditation resources somewhere on these pages. I hope the shared space will feel like home and I hope you will breathe a sigh of sweet relief when settling in there.

Here's how the course will work: Each day I'll send out an email with the day's dispatch from the sweet land of presence and peace. I'll offer formal meditation practices and also ideas for slipping informal mindfulness practice into one's daily life. I'll also send along updates with guided audios, poems, quotes and images that I hope we'll hold close. 

And I'll feed participants with lots of inspiring resources from around the web and beyond. I'll urge us all to find time in our days to sit quietly for at least a few moments. And I'll do my best to keep our minds focused on our shared journey and to inspire us all to stay true to our commitment to fostering a deeper sense of presence in our lives.

None of this is required, of course. There will be no papers to write or tests to study for. Any or all of this can be done at your own pace and in your own way. The offerings will work best, in fact, if they are considered suggestions and explorations rather than commands and demands. Save the emails for a quiet moment in your day, or ignore them completely and just head on over to this site when you have a chance. Skip over a practice that doesn't appeal to you (although it's always a good idea to be curious about that which you resist). Return to practices that nourish you, over and over.

Come when you like, stay as long as you can, catch up in any way you like. You can even take your time, stretching out this journey into six weeks, or two months, or whatever schedule best fits your life. Shape these explorations to your own life in your own unique way, crafting a personalized practice that becomes a good friend that sustains you day in and day out, through thick and through thin.

Previous participants in Presence have called the course food for the soul. Many have said that after years of trying to learn to meditate and failing, the course has finally inspired them to commit to practicing regularly. And some longtime practitioners have said that through the course, practices that had begun to feel like chores once again felt like cherished gifts.

Others have said that through Presence they have found new ways to cultivate clarity and wisdom not just while sitting quietly, but also within the folds of their daily lives. And some students have called the shared website a balm and a comfort, a place they have turned to for a healing dose of reassurance, clarity and peace.

I am thrilled to offer this course and I hope you will consider joining us. Meditation has been a source of comfort and sustenance to me, and I relish the opportunity to share its many gifts with others in a way that adds clarity and happiness to the world.

I have set a suggested fee of $50 for the course, but if that feels excessive for your budget you are welcome to set your own price. To enroll in the course via credit card or Paypal account, please, click the "Buy Now" button below. If you have questions, prefer to sign up via check instead, or if you would like to join the course but are hoping to pay less than the suggested fee of $50, please email me here.

Thank you so much for your interest. I hope to meet up with you in the land of Presence soon.

The Gift of the World

December 27, 2015
I am so happy to invite you to join me in The Gift of the World, an online New Year's immersion. In this offering, I will share a series of 20 essays delivered during the month of January that I hope will inspire us all to live happily and wisely in the year ahead.

I've designed The Gift of the World as an alternative to the practice of setting New Year's resolutions. My experience has been that on January 1, we set goals for ourselves that we secretly know we'll likely never attain. We take the beautiful blank slate of the new year and fill it with promises that usually last for a few short weeks. And when the new year slips behind us into the horizon, we are left with our same old selves, disappointed that yet again that we failed to perfect our lives as we had imagined in the promise of the new year.

Instead, I've decided to use the new year to focus my mind on the values that I hope will guide my thoughts and actions not just in 2016 but in all my days ahead. I've spent a little time exploring the gifts that fuel my own life, and the ways I can nurture and nourish those gifts each and every day.

In the process, I've written a series of short essays that focus on how I'd like to live in the world. They focus on values, attitudes and practices - like beauty, simplicity, kindness and ease - that I would like my life to embody. And now that they are written, I would love to share them with you.

The offerings of The Gift of the World are part meditation, part instruction, part pep-talk and part blessing. They aren't prescriptive how-to guides, but my hope is that they will inspire us all to live in ways that feel truer our core values and deeper loves. My hope is that they will keep our eyes and our hearts trained on what is most important to us, so that we may live each and every day with wisdom and love.

I've kept this offering simple by design. I'm offering no homework, no recommended resources, and no links for further study. Instead, each weekday in January I will send you an offering in the form of a short essay, delivered early in the morning to your inbox, for you to read and contemplate in your own way and in your own good time.

My inspiration for this project comes from a passage in the introduction of To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O'Donohue. In it, he writes:

There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing

Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is welded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as blessing.

We enter the world as strangers who all at once become heirs to a harvest of memory, spirit, and dream that has long preceded us and will now enfold, nourish, and sustain us. The gift of the world is our first blessing.

My hope is that The Gift of the World will help us reconnect with that "quiet light" that fills our days with passion and that recognizes our lives as the blessings they truly are. My hope is that our month together will inspire us to reclaim our lives and the world, so that we may live deeply with our hearts wide open for all the days we are blessed to shine.

I have set a suggested fee of $40 for The Gift of the World, but if that feels excessive for your budget you are welcome to set your own price. To enroll in the course via credit card or Paypal account, please, click the "Buy Now" button below. If you have questions, prefer to sign up via check instead, or if you would like to join the course but are hoping to pay less than the suggested fee, please email me.

Thank you so much for your interest. I hope to share The Gift of the World with you in the new year.