Peterkin from the sky

Sept. 26 – Oct. 2, 2024 Weeklong Meditation Retreat: 5 WAYS TO LET GO: Releasing the Hindrances

The Buddhist teachings warn of 5 main challenging and complicated mental states that block, confuse, or “hinder” our ability to more fully open our hearts and minds, and prevent us from finding freedom from suffering.

And while these hindrances are painful, they are also natural expressions of the heart and mind when we are suffering, and knowing how to work them is exactly how we can experience more relief and release, and deepen our spiritual path.

During this silent weeklong retreat, we’ll explore a variety of different ways that we can use our meditation practice to more clearly recognize these five mental states, discover how to work with them, and eventually learn how to loosen our grip on them in order to nurture more joy, freedom, and ease in our lives.

Our time together will include daily dharma talks, guided meditation, silent meditation, walking meditation, and q&a sessions about these transformative practices. In order to nurture a sense of stillness and deep listening, silence will be maintained throughout the retreat.


Excruciating, and Wonderful – A Meditation Student’s Description

A few weeks ago, as people were arriving for a 9-week meditation workshop I’m leading, a handful of students started telling their classmates that they were both nervous and excited about joining me at an upcoming 5-day meditation retreat I was getting ready to offer in Romney, WV.

More specifically, those who were new to retreat were asking those who had done it before what they might expect.

Suddenly, the whole room became silent, and one student answered, “It’s excruciating,” – which prompted an explosion of laughter, and I’m guessing even more nervousness!

When the laughter had died down, this same student added, “And … it’s wonderful.”

And I thought: just perfect; exactly – it can really be both.

But here’s the thing: the hard part isn’t usually about any arduous logistical difficulties – we’re almost always retreating in a beautiful, quiet setting in nature, and offered comfortable beds, hot meals, and warm showers. Plus, we’re given the opportunity to spend ample time with ourselves in the silence, and asked to set down all the distractions that come with our lengthy “to-do” lists, relationships, and even our phones.

And yet, this is often exactly why it can sometimes feel difficult, or even “excruciating.”

Because at some point during retreat, it suddenly dawns on us that we can’t escape ourselves. In the silence, we find ourselves faced very intimately with our own thoughts, judgments, and opinions – along with all those pesky emotions that we may have been avoiding, too.

And this is also just perfect – because being willing to sit, or “stay” with these difficult thoughts, judgments, and feelings is essentially what our meditation practice is urging us to do.

The beauty of this is that, when we can train ourselves to not look away, and to bravely confront and investigate all those things that we’ve been avoiding, or distracting ourselves from – this is the time when retreat can suddenly become “wonderful.”

In fact, more than wonderful:

After each retreat ends, almost every student I speak with seems to be glowing with emotion and gratitude as they recall what they’ve discovered about themselves in the silence, and along with “wonderful,” tend to offer words like “life-changing,” “transformative,” and simply, “I have no words.”

Regularly, people tell me that their hearts have opened “like a dam breaking,” and that they feel like something fundamental has forever shifted in them – all due to their own willingness to stay with themselves, and their hearts, when at times it felt difficult.

So, if you’ve never been on a meditation retreat before, please know that it’s truly a mix: there can absolutely be times of intense peace, gratitude, and joy … alongside times of grief, frustration, and sadness … and, in the end, a sense of incredible release, relief, and growth.

I hope you might join me! 🙏🏽💕

The Sacred Healing of Noble Silence

Anyone who has probed the inner life, who has sat in silence long enough to experience the stillness of the mind behind its apparent noise, is faced with a mystery. Apart from all the outer attractions of life in the world, there exists at the center of human consciousness something quite satisfying and beautiful in itself, a beauty without features. The mystery is not so much that these two dimensions exist – an outer world and the mystery of the inner world – but that we are suspended between them, as a space win which both worlds meet … as if the human being is the meeting point, the threshold between two worlds.” ~ Kabir Helminski

I so love the above quote, which reflects a vital practice and qualitythe Buddha called Noble Silence – something precious and multi-faceted, like a jewel, and not simply about being quiet. 

For those who are new to practice, trying to enter this more sustained silence can often feel frustrating, or maybe even impossible.

On the other hand, those of us who have experienced the incredibly calming, healing, and transformative aspects of being in the silence for longer periods can very often need a strong reminder to step back into it.

It’s like … even though we’re aware of the great benefits of being in and nurturing the silence, we tend to get so caught up in the swirl of our busy lives that we either neglect it, or, sadly, sometimes forget about it completely.

For this month’s talk, “The Sacred Healing Power of Noble Silence,” I thought I’d explore not only how we can experience the Noble Silence more often, but how we can slowly learn to live our lives from within this peaceful space of silence.  

It includes a meditation at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, just few heads up:

1) The next daylong retreat in Berryville, VA, FULL SURRENDER: Learning to Ride the Wavesis now almost half full. I hope you can join us!

2) The date for the 5-day spring retreat at one of our new retreat centers, Peterkin, has been changed to May 2-6, 2024: KEEP CALMLY KNOWING CHANGE: Embodying the 3 Truths. I’m really looking forward to plunging into this retreat topic, one of my favorites.

3) I’ll be offering another 8-week, in-person workshop, THIS IS IT: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, in Winchester, VA Jan. 7 – Feb. 25, 2024. Spots are limited! (P.S. Because this is truly a summary course of our whole practice, it really is designed for all!)

In the meantime, I hope you might join me soon!

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

What Am I ‘Really’ Offering Myself and Others? An Exploration of Dana

☀️ A few weeks ago at a party, I found myself very mindlessly opening my mouth and interrupting someone who was right in the middle of speaking. 

Thankfully, I was able to apologize, but my behavior felt so surprisingly unkind, ungenerous, and painful that it inspired me to dive even deeper into the profoundly important practice of dana, or generosity – which along with metta (or loving-kindness) is considered the very foundation of our practice.

The reason for this is that: our whole practice of dana essentially comes down to our practice of letting go, or non-clinging.  

And, our deepening wisdom of this non-clinging eventually brings us around full circle to our letting go of a sense of a solid, unchangeable, separate self, which as the teachings show us is the main cause or root of almost all of our suffering – when we are clinging so tightly to this sense of me, or mine, and believing that we are somehow separate. 

This month’s new talk, What Am I Really Offering Myself and Others? explores how we can use our mindfulness practice to become more kind and generous not only to others, but also to ourselves, by honestly revealing and investigating all the ways in which we might not be being as kind, or as generous as we may think. 

It includes a 10-minute meditation at the end. 

As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, just few quick important notes

1I won’t be offering the intensive Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) workshop again until 2025, and there are still just a few spots open in the upcoming series, offered Sept. 10 – Nov. 12 on Sunday afternoons in Winchester, VA. 

2) The new 5-day retreat on Oct. 5-9,LOVING YOURSELF: Nurturing the Heart Practices is now almost full! … I’m really excited about our new beautiful, secluded retreat center (Peterkin) in Romney, WV, and hope that you might join us for this.

3) I have a new weekly blog! I’ve been encouraged to start one of these (long overdue), and so have made a commitment to do so as a practice. Along with copies of the newsletter, it will include weekly dharma insights and meditation tips. I hope that it will serve! 

In the meantime, I hope you might join me soon!

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

METTA: A Reminder to Be Kind

About 14 years ago now, when I first moved back to Virginia from New York City, one of the first things I needed to do was to go out and buy a car – something I hadn’t needed in the city.

And to my great surprise and delight, I was able to choose the ancient Pali word “Metta” as my license plate.

I was thrilled, actually, because I knew that attaching that word directly to my car would essentially serve as a daily reminder for me, to practice what it preaches.

The most basic definition of this incredibly complex and important word, metta – a verb – involves the practice of offering our loving-kindness (or goodwill) out to others, to all the situations we find ourselves in, and especially, to ourselves.  

And again, it’s a practice – because as we all know, this isn’t at all easy.

In fact, particularly for those of us who grew up in the West, studies have shown that we seem to do the exact opposite – which is to give ourselves an unnecessarily hard time.

Sadly, unfortunately, we tend to do this especially during those times when our own kindness and compassion is what’s most needed.

For me, I often like to recall a great example of this kind of Western mindset, which showed up very vividly during one of the first international Buddhist teacher meetings about 30 years ago, where the Dalai Lama was the main speaker.

During a q&a session with this great Tibetan spiritual leader, a group of western teachers asked him how they might help their students work with feelings of un-kindness towards themselves, which manifested in various forms of unworthiness, self-criticism, shame, and self-hatred.

But apparently, the Dalai Lama was totally confused about this; he just couldn’t comprehend words like self-hatred. He was so baffled, in fact, he spent a full 10 minutes conferring with his translator, trying to understand.

Eventually, he asked this large group of teachers if any of them had experienced these same feelings themselves, personally, and was shocked when each one of them nodded.

“But that’s a mistake,” he told them. “Every being is precious!”

That story never fails to remind me: I am not alone in suffering sometimes from my own lack of self-kindness; it’s just the water that we’re swimming in, if you will.

It also reminds me that, again, metta is a practice, not a perfection.

And because of this, it can be really beneficial for us to have some sort of daily or ongoing reminder, one that can help us to actually offer it out – not only to others, but especially to ourselves.

🙏🏽 (If you’re interested, on Sept. 16, I’ll be offering a daylong meditation retreat on the practice of metta in The Plains, VA. I hope you might join me!) 💕

What’s The Best Time to Meditate?

Whether I’m leading a meditation workshop or a longer retreat, one of the first questions I tend to receive from newcomers during any q&a session is: what is the best time to meditate?

And my answer is always: whatever time is set in stone on your daily schedule.

Because the hard truth is that, no matter our preference for this, if we haven’t already chosen a very particular time slot dedicated to our meditation practice, we’re not likely to ever get around to it.

It’s very similar how we can often make a commitment to ourselves to exercise “some time” during the day.

For many of us, if we’re honest, this rarely ever works.

This is because, if we don’t have something firm written into our day calendar, even mentally, we tend to fill up our day with our regular busy-ness until bedtime rolls around, and by then, it’s too late.

So, if you are struggling to commit to a daily practice, I encourage you to first pick what you believe might be a good time period for yourself, then add it directly to your calendar. You might even set an alarm or reminder, to prompt you to remember.

After you’ve done this, you can then experiment, and decide what time slot works best for you.

As a lifelong night owl, I prefer to start my sits at 10:30 in the evening, since it’s when I tend to feel the most calm, and clear. I also find that it helps me to fall asleep easier.

If you’re an early bird, you might try getting up 15 minutes – an hour earlier than usual, so that you can roll out of bed, and practice during those more quiet hours, before you go to work, or before others in your household begin to rise.

If you can’t seem to find any quiet time during the day, you might try meditating during a lunch break at work, in places you may not have considered … like, maybe your car, or some other quiet space outdoors.

And if you can only get in 5 or 10 minutes of practice – perfect. You can always choose to increase this over time.

The important thing is to make sure you do it every. day, at the same time, so that eventually, it becomes a solid and reliable pattern, one that feels as easy and matter of course as brushing your teeth.

What You Resist, Persists: Working With Aversion

A confession: the theme of this month’s newest talk resulted in large part due to a difficult experience I had in the recovery room of the hospital, following a surgery I had in late June. 

In fact, my resistance was so fierce, so un-wielding, and so persistent, that it surprised me. It was an intensely powerful sense of just. NO – of not wanting, not accepting — on any level — what was actually happening. 

Sadly, this aversion was aimed directly at my own body, and what was happening within it – which was a strong sense of “unpleasant.” 

And of course, as the Buddha tells us, this quality of not-wanting – or, not accepting what’s happening, not accepting the reality of the moment, which might be unpleasant – is one of the main ways that we create suffering (or dukkha) … not only for ourselves, but also for others. 

In the Pali language, the spoken language of the Buddha’s time, this quality of resistance or aversion to what IS is called dosa

And because this dosa tends to cause so much unnecessary pain and stress in our lives, the teachings urge us to use mindfulness practice to get to really KNOW our dosa, at all levels – from the most minor ways that we resist to the most troubling, and destructive. 

This month’s new talk, “What You Resist, Persists: Working With Aversion,” explores all the many ways that we can start to notice when we’re in some way resisting, and start to let BE, instead of being so aversive to other people, life itself, and of course, ourselves.

It includes a 10-minute meditation on dosa at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

P.S. Please take a look at our newest retreat center in Romney, WV! I was finally able to obtain a few new photos of this beautiful residential campus, which includes 1,400 acres of forest, mountain streams, and miles of hiking trails. 

I’m really excited about being there this Oct. 5-9, when I’ll be offering a 5-day retreat on nurturing the heart practices, “LOVING YOURSELF (*update: it’s now more than 3/4 full.) 

I’ll also be offering another 5-day retreat there March 14-18,  KEEP CALMLY KNOWING CHANGE: Embodying the 3 Truths

I hope you might join me! 

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

A Quick Short Story, and Some News

🌼 A quick short story: On June 23, I went into the hospital for a 4-hour post-cancer follow-up surgery.

A week later, after happily getting the thumbs up from my surgeon, my husband took me to the library so I could pick out some “recovery reading.” 

He dropped me off at the front entrance, and as I sat on a bench, waiting, I watched a 5-year-old with tears in his eyes being soothed by his mother. 

After a few minutes, the boy walked beneath a giant magnolia tree I hadn’t noticed until then, reached into the fallen leaves, and picked up one of the seed pods like a rattle. 

Still curious, he pointed up at one of the huge blooms, and his mother lifted him high so he could take a closer look, and smell it. And when he did, he smiled. 

After they walked away, I went to the tree myself, and found a big bloom within reaching distance. To me, it looked like a woman wearing a red necklace, with many different arms, dancing (*see photo). 

She’s getting old, I thought, and will soon lose all her petals … but right now, she’s still dancing, still offering out what she can, and hopefully, will leave something behind that can be held, something that can help soothe the heart. 

As I leaned down to inhale the unique sweetness of magnolia, I was reminded of two things: 

The first – my own deep vow: to offer out whatever I can that might help soothe the hearts of others. 

The second – the truth that I, too, need something to hold onto.

According to the Buddha’s teachings, this is really the essence of what the heart practices are aimed at showing us: how to become that bloom – one that can offer out its peaceful, compassionate qualities to both self, and others, equally, without discrimination, just as the scent of a flower can be enjoyed by all.

On October 5-9 this year, I’ll be offering a 5-day retreat on nurturing the heart practices, “LOVING YOURSELF,” in Romney, WV. I hope you might join me! (Update: it’s now more than half full …)

In the meantime, in an effort to offer myself my own compassion, I’m forgoing the dharma talk this month so that I can focus a little more on my recovery. I so appreciate your understanding … please look for a new talk soon! 

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

Buddha and flowers

Is Meditation Selfish? Advice from the Acrobat Sutta

“You do not have to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” 

The above idiom is one I confess I need to reflect upon often, to remind myself of its truth, and also its sound advice … and, I know I’m not alone.

During a recent 5-day retreat I led in Maryland over Memorial Day Weekend, I found myself repeating this same phrase over and over during private meetings with students.

This is because, regardless of our own personal circumstances, it seems the vast majority of us tend to grapple with what is considered an ancient human torment: the challenge of trying to balance a need for self-care, along with a strong sense of feeling responsible for helping others, or the world in general – a particular push and pull that can often be so painful. 

Happily, for us, the Buddha was also aware of this struggle 2600 years ago, and offered us some very sage advice about how to work with it, in many different ways. 

For June’s talk, “Is Meditation Selfish?” I thought I’d explore just one of his teachings on this, The Bamboo Acrobat Sutta, which is truly one of my most favorite of his sermons.

I dearly love it, because it not only contains incredibly rich and transformational advice for how we can conduct ourselves in this world – especially in relationship – but because it also shows us how we can find a more harmonious and peaceful balance between what can often feel like two conflicting needs. 

As always, I hope that it will serve.

FYI: Spots have been filling quickly for the next 5-day residential retreat, “LOVING YOURSELF: Nurturing the Heart Practices,” in Romney, VA. (It’s about 1/2 full!) 

In the meantime, I hope you might join me in practice soon!

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

July 6-10, 2024, 5-Day Meditation Retreat – THIS IS IT: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

For thousands of years, the famous Satipatthana Sutra has been used as a powerful and profound spiritual road map. Contained within it are the rich teachings on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which the Buddha himself called the “direct path to enlightenment.”

In essence, this sutra is the very basis and ground of our entire practice, and diving deep into its teachings is exactly what can lead us out of suffering, and into more freedom, joy, and ease in our lives.

During this 5-day silent meditation retreat, we’ll be exploring each of these four in more depth by spending a full day on each – contemplating the body, feelings, mind states, and dharmas.

Our time together will include daily dharma talks, guided meditation, silent meditation, walking meditation, and q&a sessions about these transformative practices.

Some meditation experience might be helpful, but the practice and its teachings is applicable to all, and all are welcome.

In order to nurture a sense of stillness and deep listening, we have secured exclusive use of the full retreat center, and silence will be maintained throughout the retreat as we experience a variety of dharma talks, silent and guided meditations, and walking meditation on the beautiful grounds.


May 2-6, 2024: 5-Day Meditation Retreat – KEEP CALMLY KNOWING CHANGE: Embodying the 3 Truths

A summary of the entire practice of meditation, from master and scholar Bhikkhu Analayo

For thousands of years, meditation masters throughout the world have told us that if we can tap into a deep, experiential knowledge of what is often called emptiness, or sunyata, we can understand the entirety of the Dharma, the whole thing – and discover the Maha-Sukha, the Great Bliss.

And the good news is: this profound freedom isn’t far away, or unattainable – it can be tapped into in every moment, if we know how to look for it.

Vipassana (Insight) meditation – the oldest form of Buddhist meditation practice – shows us how to do this.

The root meaning of vipassana is “to see things as they are,” which means to know and experience our entire universe and everything in it as constantly and forever changing – including ourselves.

During this 5-day meditation retreat, we’ll explore how we can use our practice to begin to “see things as they are.” We’ll do this through an exploration of the 3 Truths of Life: impermanence (annica), suffering (dukkha), and anatta (the concept of no-self), along with the crucial teachings of the 5 Remembrances – and by getting a taste of the Great Bliss that comes with letting go.

Our time together will include daily dharma talks, guided meditation, silent meditation, walking meditation, and q&a sessions about these transformative practices. In order to nurture a sense of stillness and deep listening, silence will be maintained throughout the retreat.