Category Archives: Newsletter

DO NO HARM/TAKE NO SH*T: A Buddhist Lesson on Boundaries

I just recently arrived back home from a 5-day meditation retreat I was leading in Romney, WV, and I need to admit that I love our new retreat center, Peterkin, so much that I’m already really missing it. 

It was a truly wonderful retreat, and I honestly just wanted to stay for a little while longer!

During our last day there, I offered a longer q&a session, and one thread of inquiry that seemed to keep coming up was this:

When we perceive that some sort of harm is being done – either by another person, people, or even on a more national or even global level – how can we best confront this without nurturing aversion in our own hearts, or letting it consume us in some way?

Along with this was the question: how can we avoid taking on our aversion as a kind of identity – maybe as an angry or mean person, for example – when we experience that need within us to take a stand, or to say “no”, or maybe, “that’s enough.” 

And, how can we use our mindfulness practice to best discern when (and when not) to take a stand about something?

So, for this month’s talk, Do No Harm/Take No Sh*t: A Buddhist Lesson on Boundaries” I thought I’d expand on my answers a bit, and explore what the Buddha taught us about how we can use our meditation practice to help us to say “no” or “stop” without doing further harm to either ourselves or others, or allowing our aversion to shut down our hearts. 

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

Also, a few important heads up!:

1) We’re so happy to be heading back to the beautiful, peaceful Bon Secours Retreat Center in MD July 6-10 for a 5-day retreat on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, one of my favorite topics! FYI: This retreat is about 3/4 full and has been filling quickly, but there is still time to join us!

2) The June 8 meditation retreat is full, but there is still an online option available, and still room in the next retreat, “True to Your Heart” on Aug. 17!

In the meantime, I’m sending many kind wishes, and my hopes to see you soon! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

What Would Buddha Do? Taking Refuge In The Beloved

Just recently, one of my new managers and I were having a follow-up talk about a retreat she just helped me with, and the question that naturally arose was: 

“How do we flow back and forth between occupying our role as either teacher, or safe space holder, and then back again into a sense of self that is more defined as ‘me.’?”

I really loved her question, because the answer truly applies to all of us.

It involves asking ourselves: “How can I flow between all the different roles, hats, or identities that I place on myself every day … and that kind, wise, compassionate presence within me that is actually ‘free’ of all of those often limiting identities, or beliefs about who I think I ‘should’ be?”

And if we think about it, this is really exactly what our practice is urging us to do: to start to identifying more and more with that part of us that is experiencing the whole of our life from a place of wisdom, compassion, and openness, rather than from some sense of identity, or from some label we’ve stamped on ourselves as “someone,” or “something” – which as we know is never really the same, or even accurate.

So, for this month’s talk, “What Would Buddha Do? Taking Refuge in the Beloved,” I thought I’d expand on my answer a bit, and dive into an exploration of how we might use our meditation practice to loosen our strong grip on all of our toxic “shoulds,” and uncover and find comfort in what is often called our Buddha Nature, or, the truth of who we really are. 

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

Also, a special heads up!:

Spots have been filling quickly for the MAY 2-6 RETREAT Keep Calmly Knowing Change,” – just three weeks from now! at the beautiful, peaceful Peterkin Conference Center in Romney, WV, our newest residential retreat venue.

I’m so excited to be back there! Please see some testimonials about this wonderful center, below! I hope you can join us. 

With joy and kind wishes, and my hopes to see you soon! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

It Takes A Long Time To Grow Young: Nurturing Contentment

🙏🏽 A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine and I were talking, and after many hours of sharing a seemingly-never-ending lists of all the things we want and don’t want, all of our fears and regrets, we recognized that what we’re truly longing for is a sense of acceptance or ease with what actually IS … right now, in the present. 

In other words, a sense of contentment (or passaddhi, in the Pali language).

After we’d named this, my friend shared a quote she’d recently learned about from the artist Pablo Picasso, who apparently said, “It takes a long time to grow young.” 

This not only rang true to me, but immediately reminded me of a story about the Buddha’s enlightenment, which as the story goes happened very soon after he’d remembered what contentment had felt like to him, as a young child. 

In fact, this very memory is what suddenly made all the difference, and led him not only to enlightenment, but to the profound teachings of The Middle Way itself – the whole thing.

So, for this month’s talk, “It Takes A Long Time to Grow Young: Nurturing Contentment,” I thought I would explore how the Buddha was led to this understanding, along with some of his teachings on how we can train ourselves to experience even more of this precious quality in our lives. It includes a 10-minute meditation at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, just few heads up! 

1) In just 2 months from nowI’ll be offering a new 5-day retreat “Keep Calmly Knowing Change,” at the beautiful, peaceful Peterkin Conference Center in Romney, WV, our newest retreat venue – which was very well-received in October, and has been filling! The center is excited to have us back, and has hired a host of new kitchen and facilities staff to help grow and care for this wonderful center. We are so joyful to be a part of this!

2) I’ve finally honored my longtime promise to record the “Either Way, I Am & Really Will Be Okay” meditation – a 30-minute retreat favorite, designed to help us get in touch with the quality of equanimity (or upekkha, in the Pali language) which is considered the “fruit” of our practice. I hope it will serve!  

With joy and kind wishes, and my hopes to see you soon! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

“It’s All Yours” – Responding to Disrespect & Anger

Traditionally, the holiday season is a time when we’re asked to remember and honor our intention to nurture a sense of peace within ourselves, our families, and our world. 

Yet as we all know, sometimes being with others can trigger the very opposite of this quality – especially when we feel in some way hurt, disrespected, or insulted.

According to the Buddha’s teachings, though,this is exactly the time when our practice can really help us hone our intention, especially as it involves our response – even if this is only in our own minds and hearts.

This is so important: because if our answer is even more aversion, unkindness, or maybe retaliation, we only need to look to history to know where this will lead – which is to more pain, harm, and division.

And of course, this is true whether we’re talking about political party vs. political party, nation vs. nation, citizen vs corporation, or individual vs. individual …

It all comes down to how we work with protecting our own hearts from hurt, aversion, and hatred – which in turn is going to protect others as well.

So, for this month’s talk, “It’s All Yours – Responding to Insult and Disrespect,” I thought I’d dive into the Buddha’s wise trainings in morality – or sila, in the Pali language – because they include precise instructions for exactly this.

As the teachings show us – over and over – even though it can be incredibly difficult, we never ever want to let another person’s disrespect, anger, or meanness harden our own hearts.

Instead, we want our practice to serve as a kind of guard for our hearts – a strong shield that can protect us against the power that other people’s unkind behavior can often have over us. 

It includes a meditation/inquiry at the end

As always, I hope it might serve.

Also, just few heads up! 

1) There’s only one week left to join us for the upcoming 8-week course on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness  JAN. 7 – FEB. 5, 2024 in Winchester, VA. This is my very favorite workshop! And it will be the last one I’ll be offering in 2024 – I really hope you might join us!

2) The next daylong retreat on Sat., Jan. 27, “Living From Your Deepest Intention is now more than half-full! Save your spot! 

With joy, and kind wishes for a blessed 2024! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

EMPTY OF EXPECTATION: Exploring “Beginner’s Mind”

As we head into the holidays and new year, not only are our metaphorical plates likely full right now, our minds might also be filled with various goals for ourselves – for what comes next. 

It’s just a very natural time for us to do this. 

For me, I’ve always felt this pull acutely,since December also happens to be the month of my birth, and my husband’s, along with about a handful of other close friends and relatives who all chose this busy end-of-the-year month to be born.

So especially when I’ve been meditating lately, what I’ve been noticing is how much my mind has been leaning forward into the future.

And while the Buddha assured us that it’s healthy to be aware of all our different intentions, he also suggested that once we’ve planted the seeds of our plans, our practice becomes surrendering to any determined outcome – to truly let go, of all of it.

Not easy! Which is why this teaching lies at the very heart of our practice, because ultimately, it’s exactly what we’re training ourselves to do – to let. go. 

This month’s talk, EMPTY OF EXPECTATION: Exploring “Beginner’s Mind”, is aimed at helping us to let go more and more often by inviting us to see all things as new – including all situations, people, and especially ourselves – rather than clinging so tightly to our preconceived beliefs and expectations, which tend to keep us stuck.   

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

Also, just few heads up!

1) I’ve recently made the decision to give myself a little more time next year, for rest, and will only be offering one in-person workshop next year … an 8-week course on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Jan. 7 – Feb. 5, 2024 in Winchester, VA. Spots are limited! 

2) The Dec. 9 daylong retreat in Berryville, VA, FULL SURRENDER: Learning to Ride the Waves” is now FULL with a short waiting list.

3) The next daylong retreat on Sat., Jan. 27, “Living From Your Deepest Intention is open for registration! Save your spot! 

With joy, and kind wishes for Happy Holidays and 2024! 

~ Shell

Content in the Center: Exploring the Buddha’s Middle Way

During a 5-day meditation retreat I led in West Virginia earlier last month, I had an interesting insight:

After speaking with many different students, what occurred to me is that no matter what each of us is currently struggling with, we all seem to be seeking a sense of balance in the midst of all the chaos – whether this is our own personal chaos, or the chaos that’s happening all around us.

I also noticed a related struggle, which involves our ongoing effort to strike a good balance between being there for others, while at the same time being there for ourselves.

And, in almost all cases, what’s actually the most helpful for us is to find and nurture a place of rest, right in the center of all of it – good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant.

So, since that retreat ended, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the Buddha called The Middle Way, which is actually how he described the entirety of his teachings.

In fact, the Middle Way was not only what he discovered when he became enlightened, but it was also the way that he got there, to enlightenment itself.

And the idea is that: the more we practice the Buddha’s Middle Way, the more realize that contentment resides at the very center of our wanting and not wanting, and, at the center of our indulgence or deprivation. 

This month’s talk, Content in the Center: Exploring the Buddha’s Middle Way, addresses how we can use our meditation practice to “walk in the middle” more often, and discover more joy, ease, and balance in our lives. 

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

Also, just few heads up:

1) After many years, I’ve finally and happily given in to requests for a WEEKLONG RETREAT, and will be offering one next year Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2024 at the wonderful Peterkin Conference Center in Romney, WV: 5 WAYS TO LET GO: Releasing the 5 Hindrances. Registration is now open!

2) The next daylong retreat in Berryville, VA, on Dec. 9, FULL SURRENDER: Learning to Ride the Wavesis now more than 2/3 full!

3) I’ll only be offering two in-person workshops next year … starting with an 8-week course on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Jan. 7 – Feb. 5, 2024 in Winchester, VA. Spots are limited!

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

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

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

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