Monthly Archives: December 2015

Mentoring for the 14 Trainings


The exercises are to be completed preferably in a group, as the real fire for cooking insight is in sharing.  The sharing is strictly confidential and remains in the process and is not communicated outside.  This builds trust and protects everyone participating as sangha friends.  The six exercises are to root your experience in sangha practice. You may have specific agendas in front of you at present, however, I think a deep dive into re-examining the 14 Mindfulness Trainings will solidify things for you.

 First Exercise

 Dear Friends,

The first task is to learn and sing “The Incense Offering” and “Invitation to Meditation.” They are the first and last track on the Pine Gate meditations CD. I am sure Carolyn will be happy to help you with the singing! Find someone to sing it with and have fun as you sing it together over the phone.  The second task is to reflect on and rewrite the first two mindfulness trainings in your own words and from your own experience and suffering.  Share this task with others.

The First Mindfulness Training: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.

The Second Mindfulness Training: Non-Attachment to Views

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

Enjoy together.

Dear friends,

I should emphasize that there is no right way of doing the reflecting and rethinking of the MT’s.  It is all in the sharing with buddies – you can rewrite, or paint or make up a poem, dance or song from your insights, prepare a skit, create a photo essay etc.  How you express your own experience of the MT’s is not at all restricted to the written form.  I hope that you feel free to express yourselves as you wish to. It is the sharing process that provides the real “fire” of understanding.  This is a very important point. Take one another’s phone numbers and perhaps arrange a monthly coffee sharing before you come and see me.

There are six exercises in all.  Future exercises will have rewritten/ reformulated Mindfulness Trainings considered along with:

  1. The Heart of the Prajnaparamita – Thay’s updated version/ MT 3 & 4 (Exercise 2);
  2. A Verse from Transformation At The Base/ MT 5, 6 & 7 (Exercise 3);
  3. Sangha Building/ MT 8 & 9 (Exercise 4);
  4. Engaged Practice/ MT 10 & 11 (Exercise 5);
  5. Living Dharma/ MT 12, 13 & 14 (Exercise 6).

Guidelines and pertinent readings for each exercise are provided from my E Books and website –  Click on Articles sidebar.  Check out the pertinent dharma talks that are on the YouTube Pine Gate Channel –

After each exercise provide a brief report, which will be of assistance to others.  Interbeing rocks on!  I hope to create fun and a good environment for the mentoring.  Singing on….

Second Exercise

 Dear Friends,

The second exercise involves your rewriting of the 3rd and 4th Mindfulness Trainings.  Once again drawing on your own experience and words.  This is so the MT’s become personal, not just something you recite by rote.  The meaning to you of each training thus deepens.   Do share the rewritten MT’s with your buddies.  That is a vital stage of the exercise.

The singing continues with the second exercise of the training program, this time with some study.  The focus is on Thay’s new version of “The Heart of the Prajnaparamita.”  First of all learn to sing it, with the bell at the appropriate time.  To study this keystone of practice – read it and sing it through a few times and jot down what insights come to you.  Then turn to the UK sangha’s Manual of Practice.  The UK sangha have produced an excellent manual of mindfulness practice.  Chapters 1 – 4 give explanations of the basic teachings and guidance on following the practice in our daily life.  It is now available as a web based on-line book.

For the Heart Sutra study – be aware that there is a dance between the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.  What does “No attainment” mean in the Historical as opposed to the Ultimate?  If we try to understand it in the Historical we get stuck as it belongs in the Ultimate Dimension.  What does “no eyes, no ears etc” tell you about perception through the senses?  Go deep with this one.

An article that charts my difficulties with these two dimensions is available from my website.  Go to and download “My Practice in the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.”  Take your time with this “homework” and enjoy the exploration together.

The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue. 

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop understanding and compassion, we are determined to come home to ourselves, to recognize, accept, embrace and listen to suffering with the energy of mindfulness. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. We know we can realize the path leading to the transformation of suffering only when we understand deeply the roots of suffering. Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer, so we can help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

Third Exercise

 Dear Friends in the practice of mindfulness,

The Third Exercise in the OI training program is to rewrite MT’s 5, 6 & 7 from your own experience and suffering.  The study is for you to take one of the fifty verses from Thay’s book “Transformation At The Base.”  Whichever verse appeals to you the most.  Then make that verse your meditation and contemplation focus for the next month.  Have a notebook handy to jot down insights and questions that arise.

A chapter that appears in Vol II of Keeping Dharma Alive E Book would be useful to examine. The chapter draws on Thay’s Fifty verses in large measure and is titled “Consiousness As Food.”  After you meet together, once more write a brief report and then come to meet with me.  There is a lot to this exercise so take your time with it – can even stretch over two or three months.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Compassionate, Healthy Living

Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, we are determined not to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying nor to take as the aim of our life fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, which can bring much suffering and despair. We will practice looking deeply into how we nourish our body and mind with edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. We are committed not to gamble or to use alcohol, drugs or any other products which bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness such as certain websites, electronic games, music, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. We will consume in a way that preserves compassion, wellbeing, and joy in our bodies and consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of our families, our society, and the earth.

 The Sixth Mindfulness Training: Taking Care of Anger

Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are committed to taking care of the energy of anger when it arises, and to recognizing and transforming the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger manifests, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking to acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We know that the roots of anger are not outside of ourselves but can be found in our wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in ourselves and others. By contemplating impermanence, we will be able to look with the eyes of compassion at ourselves and at those we think are the cause of our anger, and to recognize the preciousness of our relationships. We will practice Right Diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same.

 The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, in all situations. In this way, we will be able to cultivate seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness. We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.

Fourth Exercise

Dear friends,

The fourth exercise is to rewrite the next two mindfulness trainings – 8 & 9 – once again from the perspective of your own experience.  The study portion of Exercise Four asks you to take a chapter from “Friends on the Path” compiled by Jack Lawlor, or a chapter from Thay’s “Living Joyfully.”  Present your thoughts on different chapters to one another with your reflections and insights about sangha building in your own practice community.  Also take a look at the experience of the Pine Gate sangha at:  Then report about the nature of your discussion and insights.

The Eighth Mindfulness Training: True Community and Communication

Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. Knowing that true community is rooted in inclusiveness and in the concrete practice of the harmony of views, thinking and speech, we will practice to share our understanding and experiences with members in our community in order to arrive at a collective insight. We are determined to learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. Whenever difficulties arise, we will remain in our Sangha and practice looking deeply into ourselves and others to recognize all the causes and conditions, including our own habit energies, that have brought about the difficulties. We will take responsibility for the ways we may have contributed to the conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.

 The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumors nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.

Fifth Exercise

 Dear friends,

The fifth exercise brings your attention, experience and skills to mindfulness trainings 10 & 11.  The study portion has its focus on Engaged Buddhism, which is the heart of Thay’s practice and teaching.  There are many books and teachings on Engaged Buddhism.  Select a particular chapter or dharma talk from Thay that appeals to you and use this as the basis for your discussion with your fellow aspirants. There is also a dharma talk about Engaged Buddhism on YouTube.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit, or transform our community into a political instrument. As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body. As a true cell in the Sangha body, generating mindfulness, concentration and insight to nourish ourselves and the whole community, each of us is at the same time a cell in the Buddha body. We will actively build brotherhood and sisterhood, flow as a river, and practice to develop the three real powers – understanding, love and cutting through afflictions – to realize collective awakening.

 The Eleventh Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that contributes to the wellbeing of all species on earth and helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of economic, political, and social realities around the world, as well as our interrelationship with the ecosystem, we are determined to behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens. We will not invest in or purchase from companies that contribute to the depletion of natural resources, harm the earth, or deprive others of their chance to live.

Sixth Exercise

 Dear friends,

Almost done – for now anyways!!  The final three mindfulness trainings – 12, 13 & 14 – are the last trainings for you to think about from the standpoint of your own experience and suffering.  You have traveled a long way from the first exercise and you should be encouraged by the diligence and intelligence you have brought to this mentoring program.  Also know that your fresh eyes and insights have enriched my own understandings in so many ways.  I thank you all deeply for this. The study portion of the final exercise asks you to explore the issue of “Living Dharma.”  Thay talks about this in Chapter 3 of “Joyfully Together.”   There is also a dharma talk given in Plum Village by Thay on January 19, 2003 that addresses “Living Dharma.”  You can access this through the website:

“The Small God Limited Dharma Syndrome”, which is a chapter in “Keeping Dharma Alive” addresses these issues in the context of conservative and fundamentalist hierarchies within North American spirituality.  It is available from and will also be sent to you as a Word File.

The Twelfth Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life

Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, compassion, and the insight of interbeing in our daily lives and promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, ethnic and religious groups, nations, and in the world. We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life, prevent war, and build peace.

The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating generosity in our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: True Love

[For lay members]: Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends. Seeing that body and mind are one, we are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and to cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness for our own happiness and the happiness of others. We must be aware of future suffering that may be caused by sexual relations. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with compassion and respect. We are determined to look deeply into the Four Nutriments and learn ways to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will regularly meditate upon their future environment.

It has been a privilege to share this journey, a deep bow to each one of you.

With metta,

Cymbals at vesakDharmacharya Ian



Mystic Training

January 26, 2008, was the peak of my training in Remembering, the letting go of resistance to all that Trailing Sky Six Feathers meant to me. She was an 18th century medicine woman from the American southwest and sought my attention in the 21st century. A trusted and gifted astrologer friend, Shera, had repeatedly insisted that this date was mega significant for me and I had noted the day in my diary with a large underlined asterisk. It completed a two hundred and thirty one year cycle stretching back in time from January 26, 2008 to 1777, where I died in a prior life cradled in the arms of Trailing Sky Six Feathers. She vows to find me in a future time, to help complete my purpose. Needless to say there was insurmountable resistance from my intellectual and logical mind to remember that pledge in present time. She initiated a dream vision on January 26, 2008 that culminated my slow process of remembering a clear mosaic of experiences stretching back in time over this rare cycle of two hundred and thirty one years.

I also had a healthy skepticism about astrology, yet learned how brilliant a scientist Shera was, with a mystic’s gift of startling insight. Her accuracy was uncanny, detailed and constantly surprising. Her science was rigorous as she used the ancient texts for me, in addition to standard reference material. What struck Shera very forcibly as she researched my intersecting charts was Pluto peaking in Capricorn in every one of my 2008 astrological charts. She also noted, with some relief, that this signified the end of struggle for me. The internal battles were done, karma reversed, so I could look forward to ease and alignment. This date of January 26, 2008 was the major watershed of my lives.

It so happened that in the week leading up to January 26, 2008 I was at Fish Lake on the west side of Orlando, Florida. My friends and hosts had a beautiful home on the shoreline of this conservation lake at the end of the Butler Lake chain. They invited me to their home each year to offer teachings to the Buddhist community in Orlando. Neither they nor I had any inkling of how significant this particular visit would be. There were few houses on the lake and so many wonderful creatures. All I needed was a pair of binoculars and a mug of coffee on their deck for paradise to unfold. The delight of seeing so many animals, birds, otters, possums and the occasional alligator was almost unspeakable.

With the approach of the 26th looming up in my diary I had decided to prepare by fasting and meditating deeply. There was actually no choice. I came down with stomach flu. Nothing that went into my mouth would stay down. Whatever bug had railroaded me, I actually welcomed it, as the fast was definitely on, accompanied by a gentle entry into prolonged meditation that took me into deep humility and gratitude to be in such a rare cradle of nature. But I was not tuning in at all to this two hundred and thirty one year cycle that my astrology friend Shera had been so emphatic about. No radical insights emerged, just jumbled rubbish dreams. Perhaps a clearing of my garbage was taking place due to Pluto crashing into Capricorn with its usual uprooting panache. The only thing I noticed on the evening before January 26 was that my focus suddenly became enlarged, as though my mind had moved from a small TV screen to a huge HD model. A heightened lucidity that I attributed to being ill and light headed from the fasting. During the night I had a vivid dream vision and remembered every exact detail. It was accompanied by a narrator speaking to me, which I found odd.

In the dream I was standing on the lip of a cave high in a canyon in the Red Rock country of Central Arizona. An eagle flew up to me and alighted on my back. She wrapped her wings around me. The gentleness of the talons on my back and the embracing wings across my chest showed me that it was a female golden eagle. Her head was above mine, looking out from the cave. I could see through her eyes. Then the narrator’s voice said, ‘This is the protection of the great eagle. Trailing Sky Six Feathers gives it to you.’

Then the mountain lion bounded into the cave and I heard a different voice in the dream, Trailing Sky speaking through the eagle.  ‘This is the heart and courage of the mountain lion that I now give to you.’ The deer came in, followed by owl and bear, all medicine gifts from Trailing Sky. The wily coyote trotted in, the gift of strategy and discernment. The narrator spoke again, “This goes on throughout the night as you sleep. The gifts of Trailing Sky Six Feathers are given to you. Remember well, she is the greatest medicine woman the South West has ever known. Remember well, she is the direct expression of the highest universal plane. She had only one wish when you died in her arms two hundred and thirty one years ago and that was to find you. Receive the gifts she could not give to you before you died. They arose in her to fill the void of your passing from her life. She has been waiting a long time. You promised her the last time you were in the cave sanctuary that you would understand and not resist.”

“You now carry Trailing Sky’s medicine bundle. Your illness was sent by her, so you would prepare without resistance. She connects to holy beings in all traditions. Guidance from her is not trivial and cannot ever be taken lightly. Your responsibility is to honor this. Your insights into the reality of Trailing Sky will become clear”

When I awoke next morning, I recalled the dream vision in precise detail. Suddenly I had a searing vision of Trailing Sky Six Feathers holding me in her arms as I died in 1777 at the medicine wheel on the rock bluff above the weeping willow tree. I was harrowed to the bone by her grief. I felt her fierceness and anger at the other-worldly beings for failing to revive me. Then felt her anger release as she concentrated on my passage through time and space. I saw how she sat in the medicine wheel holding my dead body as she chanted our journey. I watched her hair turn grey, then white. Then saw her majestic communication to The People. I remember before death, looking up at her and smiling my love through my eyes to her and can still hear her say, “I will find you my husband. I will find you.”

And she did, two hundred and thirty one years later. I could not at first believe this or fully accept it. Yet the eagle wings around me were her arms, the eagle head above mine her vision and fierceness, the talons digging gently into my back to ensure that I understood. In that instant I totally surrendered to this relentless Muse that never gave up on me. I gave up all resistance, realizing that Trailing Sky had kept her word from 1777, “I will find you.” Even now, as I write this memory down, I cannot stop the tears. I am both here, with the dream vision and there, dying in the medicine wheel, as she vows to find me. All my reservations and doubts become as nothing. She had offered her medicine gifts. I had finally fully “Remembered.” So much from that time was flooding my mind. My life changed forever after that dream vision took me back to Trailing Sky’s prophecy. I recalled to memory her last step across the lip of the cave when she stopped and went into a trance. I remembered stepping closer to support her from falling. She had turned and spoke in a voice scarcely her own. “You will return to this cave in dreamtime, though not in this lifetime. Hear me now, understand the vision and do not resist what it teaches. Hear me and promise me.”

I knew that the medicine gifts received from Trailing Sky during the dream vision required that I nurture the skills within me to use them wisely. I entered deeply into silence, meditation and reflection about the dream vision, keeping this all to myself. From my training in different wisdom traditions, I brought together the power inherent in them into the mental medicine wheel taught to me by my Native American mentors. This was the altar, the preparation to honor this great being Trailing Sky Six Feathers. In the centre of the medicine wheel mandala our daily conversations began. I had to take time and care to place the insights from Trailing Sky in appropriate vessels for understanding and communication to others. My remaining time at Fish Lake, surrounded by nature and solitude, provided the uninterrupted space to allow this to deepen, so I could fully integrate the portent of the dream vision. I was very quiet, living simply in a disciplined and light manner, cultivating the vessels. I also had some unexpected help. A magnificent osprey, fish eagle, had roosted at the top of the dead tree in front of my bedroom window.  He was there every sunrise during this time of fasting and insight. I would go out to the balcony on waking up and he would be right there. Not fishing. Not flying. Just there, staring in my direction. He would stay until noon. On a hunch on the third morning, I walked over to the tall dead tree and found several feathers. On the fourth morning, right after the dream vision, I stepped out on to the balcony and there he was again. He stretched his wings, preened his feathers and let out a high-pitched squawk

“I guess you are there to make sure I got it about the dream vision and Trailing Sky’s prophecy.”

Whether he picked my thoughts out of the sky I will never know, but with a resounding high pitched screech he spread his wings and flew in a huge circle over Fish Lake and then headed west up the chain of lakes. I got dressed and headed over to the tree where he had perched. There were more feathers. I picked them up and added the feathers to my collection. I had not counted them, but when I did there were exactly six feathers. I started to laugh and had to sit down on the bed as tears of joy and understanding ran down my face. I got the message, and chuckled at the osprey who could count. I was in awe of the dream vision, the medicine gifts, and the narrator. The implications for my life were enormous. All my reservations and doubts were as nothing compared to the gifts bestowed upon me by Trailing Sky Six Feathers. I did not take the six feathers home with me. They were a communication, not a keepsake. I enjoyed a quiet paddle through the lake system and buried the six feathers, bound by grass, at the foot of a tree containing a huge osprey nest.

This was my gratitude.


2015 Poetry Prize at OIW

At the Ottawa Independent Writers 2015 Poetry competition my “Ancient Tree in Winter” won first prize. This poem was inspired one recent winter by a river walk at Carleton University. An oak tree had been swept over Hogs Back Falls and ended up stuck at the stretch of the Rideau River rapids at Carleton University. Throughout the winter on my daily walks from the bus stop to my office – I would stop and observe this beautiful tree trapped in the rapids. Until one day it was gone, The spring floods released it for the next phase of its journey.


Ancient Tree in Winter                                                                                                                                            

 Ancient Tree in Winter,

where did you come from?

Now trapped,

cleft by rocks at river’s edge.

Water eddies carve your shape.


Ice mires your branches,

snow creeps fingers across the river

as your body disappears under deep laden snow.

Decaying sculpture of existence.


Death and birth are there.

Yet your journey carries you through,

While ducks stand on your broken limbs

Preening their feathers.


Did you once stand tall and majestic

in a soft Rideau River valley?

host to birds, small animals,

insects and whispering breeze?


Were you alone on a high bluff

shading thundering rapids

that pulled you to their embrace?


What felled you,

so that you now lie here


Cleft by rocks.

Exquisite beauty of my winter river walk.


Waiting for spring’s flood

To set you free.






Dialog with the Inner Child

Emotional, physical and sexual abuse during childhood creates a lost, frightened and frozen child within us.  If we are unable to reach this lost and wounded child we may never heal ourselves.  We prefer not to remember the sufferings of childhood, so we bury them and hide.  We run away from seeing deeply into the causes of our suffering.  Whenever the memories arise, however fleetingly, we think we cannot handle them and deflect them into the deepest realms of our unconsciousness mind. This results in the wounded child not being seen for a long time simply because we are terrified of further suffering.


Although we may now be adult, there is also a little boy in us, a little girl in us, who is so afraid and suffers deeply, no matter what kind of happy pretend face we present to life.  This suffering child within our adult frame colors everything we do, generating our fears, insecurities and self-loathing, wounding us in our relationships and life.  That wounded child is you, is me, and we must extend a different energy to him so that the energy of childhood suffering can be understood, defused and transformed. Mindfulness is the way through to the inner child. We have to embrace him, embrace her exactly where they are caught by the past – in fear and with anger at being neglected for so long. Moreover we have to be very skilful.


This means touching the seeds of childhood suffering from an adult state of being mindful and aware, knowing that we must make it safe for that child to come out from hiding behind the closed doors of suffering and pain.  It is we as adults who must no longer run away.  We must have the courage and awareness to bring healing to our hurt inner child and thereby produce a transformation for ourselves.  The steps we take are not only to heal ourselves, we somehow connect to all wounded children – those in our ancestors and descendants and elsewhere in the world.  For once we cultivate the seeds of mindful healing in ourselves, the energy of these seeds continues on into all that we interconnect with. A quantum leap from our cellular memories to everyone else’s throughout time and space. With awareness we take our inner child into our daily life, on picnics, walks, sitting at the dining room table and doing the dishes together. Patiently realizing that we are on a splendid adventure to bring the cycle of suffering to a close, for it may have persisted over generations. Thus we are healing and transforming generations of ingrained patterns transmitted from our ancestors and continued through us to our descendants. Such patterns build up like corrosive rust through time and amplify the fears and suffering of the wounded inner child


There are many methodologies of therapy that address issues of the inner wounded child.  The one I am going to describe is simple and anyone can do it.  It is a first step and I recommend that it be practiced under the guidance of a therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.  You are going to start a diary or log book for you and the inner child to write to one another.  The adult you will write using the hand that you normally write with.  You begin by saying “hello” to Little John, to Little Allison.  Then go on to say how sorry you are for having been away and neglectful; that you are grown up now and strong, and that you are going to do everything to make it safe for Little John, for Little Allison.  They will be safe, loved and cherished.  Write in your own words along these lines.


Then with your other hand, the one you do not write with, allow the inner child to express herself.  Do not edit.  Just write down whatever comes out.  It may well be angry, blaming and abusive words that come out, and it is your job not to be shocked or defensive but to provide constant re-assurance, love and guidance.  You bring to this communication with the wounded inner child all the qualities of love, compassion and wisdom you can muster.  These are the seeds of mindfulness you consciously bring to support the wounded child inside you.  The energy of these seeds works on the energy of the traumatized inner child to reduce his pain and suffering.  Talk to him through writing in this way – with total love and acute mindfulness. Then read your diary entries out loud – placing yourself in your adult shoes and then in your inner child’s shoes. This simple act of reading out loud is a way for both of you to be heard. On a daily basis register with how deeply your understanding and love is getting through to the wounded child, for she is listening carefully to every word and knows that you are now listening to her. You draw closer – the adult and the inner child – as you bring awareness, love and healing to the suffering and pain of the child.


Details of trauma may be revealed that you did not know about, which is why you need the help and guidance of a trusted therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.  This is to support you being a wise and loving parent to your wounded child.  And with time you will notice shifts and changes in patterns of expression as the child becomes trusting and starts to grow, eventually merging fully with you as an adult.  (You also learn to write very well with your other hand!)  In your letters tell your inner child about yourself and your life, take him on outings, treats and give to that child all the care, attention and love you feel you did not receive when you were a little boy, a little girl.  The suffering will diminish and you will experience such a transformation, for you discover that your relationships with co-workers, friends and family start to change, and your fears of the past and anxieties about the future do not have the same driving force.  When you notice things like this tell your inner child: “Thank you for being with me.  That makes me so happy.”   The experience of being with the inner child in the healing journey is a stimulus for this kind of happiness.  There are times you may cry, or feel total joy and also suffer despair, which is why guidance and support is necessary on this beginning journey of reclaiming yourself.  You need that wise spiritual friend and teacher to keep you steady and mindful.  I know, for I went through it.  I am happy to say that it worked for me, as I experienced the painfully slow establishment of trust, then the exhilarating joy of safety and integration, until finally my inner child was the adult me, integrated with a freshness and vitality that I continually treasure.  Ultimately there is only one pair of shoes!


Dawson’s Desert Legacy

Dawson was a wisdom holder of many traditions – Ojibwa, Hopi, Lakota and the Native American Church. He did have a second name but preferred Dawson. He was a legendary figure in Central Arizona and left a lasting impression on everyone he met. I have encountered many people at conferences and talks all over North America and when it emerges that I have spent a considerable amount of time in Central Arizona desert country, I am always asked if I know a man named Dawson. He had met all kinds of people in his capacity as a guide and teacher. Yet his attention and presence never wavered in its intensity as he welcomed all into his orbit of wisdom and patience. I first met him in 1987 on a day long ethno-botany field trip he offered in the Sonora desert region of Central Arizona. I was the only person to turn up, yet this did not deter him. He generously extended his knowledge of plants and hidden sources of water in the scrubland of the Sonora desert. His field trip skirted ancient medicine wheels created centuries ago. He talked about plant cycles within the teachings of the medicine wheel for both ceremony and healing.

Dawson was a slender yet muscular man in his sixties, though he seemed to be much older. His manner was slow and deliberate, gentle but firm though his light blue eyes carried a steely glint that spoke legions. He loved movies and would always sit there in the cinema until the end of the credits rolled past and be the last person to leave. He would stay there with his eyes closed, making a point of downloading the full feeling of the movie. That was also how he was with people, animals and the desert. He brought a sense of gentle intensity and intimacy to every relationship. The initial connection from that first field trip and movie experience warmed into a friendship. I did numerous sweat lodge ceremonies on his property near the township of Cornville, though it was the desert that always drew him out.

One evening, two years after our initial meeting, I was basking in the outdoor hot tub of the Quail Ridge Resort in Oak Creek Village, having traveled down from Canada, when I received a call from him. He asked if I would pick him up two hours before dawn the next morning. “Wear hiking boots,” he said. I drove in the early morning dark to Cornville and found him waiting outside his house. I followed his directions to take various forestry roads leading to a reserve on the northern fringe of the Sonora desert. After parking we hiked for approximately thirty minutes into the desert scrubland.

It was still dark when he gestured that we should sit. He had a flask of coffee that he shared. We also shared the intense silence of the desert, interrupted only by the slither and scurry of lizards and small animals. As daylight slowly emerged he gestured for me to look in the direction of three large cacti directly in front of us. The sun rose and I could vaguely make out the flowers on the cacti opening. It was so unusual and surprising that I really did not see them at first. Then Dawson pointed them out. They were absolutely stunning in their unreal beauty, ranging from yellow to dark violet. We sat there for over an hour, as the morning sun rose.

“You had to see this before you travelled home to Canada,” were his only spoken words as we sat close to the splendour of the cacti flowers. But it was not yet over. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, it quickly became very hot. Out of nowhere a sudden hailstone storm was upon us. We put our packs over our heads and ran quickly to the shelter of the nearest rocky outcrop. The hailstone squall lasted only for ten minutes or so. The hail stones were not small, making quite an impact on any unprotected area of the body. Dawson looked at me strangely.

“That sure is some kind of acknowledgement from the past, and it aint for me. What have you been up to Mister Ian?”  Dawson said with a shrewd glance my way. I just shrugged, as I had no intimations of cause. We walked in silence to where I had parked the car. The hailstones were not to be found beyond a hundred yard perimeter of where we had been sitting. “Beats the hell out of me,” said Dawson, as he peered at me out of the corner of his eye. These were the last words I heard him speak. As was his custom we drove in silence. He got out of the car by his property, waved once and was gone. That was the last time I saw him. On a later journey in 1992 to that region of Arizona, when enquiring about him, I discovered to my dismay that he had been killed one year prior in a car accident outside Phoenix. I was deeply saddened by this loss, thinking about all that he had so patiently taught me. I drove to where I had last walked with him, to pay my respects to this extraordinary teacher, remembering the way almost without thinking. It was not the time for the cacti to flower but I treasured once again the gift he had shown me. The hailstone storm was still a mystery to me. I wondered who he had passed on his vast knowledge to. The very small piece I had received from him had been put into place in the hermitage where I lived, in the Gatineau Forest in Quebec, across the river from Ottawa.

            Over a period of five months in the spring and summer of 1994 I experienced very intensive shamanic journeys with an Algonquin shaman that I prepared for through fasting, meditation and sexual abstinence. On five separate journeys I met in turn and dialogued with the ancient shaman from the East, the ancient shaman from the South, and the ancient shaman from the West. Then, I journeyed to the ancient shaman from the North and finally to the ancient shaman of the Center. I figured at first that this was an experience with five facets of the same archetypal material from my deep unconscious – though there were major surprises I had not anticipated. Each shaman carried the force of a distinctive unconscious energy within me, though interconnected to the other four. In each journey I was always met by the same beautiful female figure, who then led me to the ancient shaman.

In previous writings I had stated that primary access to the collective unconscious for males in western civilization was through the female archetype, the anima. The significance of this scholarly assertion was right before me in the experience of being met by a female figure in each of these five journeys. Yet I did not make this connection until much later, when I reviewed my field diaries more than a year after these particular journeys took place. It was with an almost visible shock that I noticed I had missed something so significant. There it was, Carl Jung’s anima staring me in the face from my field logs. That intellectual insight was only a half-way house to understanding what was taking place. This “anima” was much more significant and had been incorporated into my training long before I was prepared, or capable, of recognizing the significance.

At my hermitage in the middle of Gatineau Park Forest in Quebec, I had a small circle of large stones in my front yard with beautiful ferns growing at the center. I had an overwhelming compulsion that summer of 1994 to build a medicine wheel with this circle of stones as the interior circle. I had been taught by Dawson the appropriate mind-state and procedure of respect to construct a medicine wheel. I had also learned the importance of the center of the wheel and I had planned this to be right where the ferns so beautifully displayed themselves. Dawson had instructed me about the central circle of the medicine wheel. It could only be truly experienced when connection to the sacred mystery was intact. The four cardinal directions, East, West, South and North, were the organizing axis for this ultimate fusion. At the time I did not know why I took the utmost care of the ferns in the central circle of stones, though Dawson had explained to me about the fusion of the mystery at the centre. It had sunk into my intellect only. It did not reach my heart until much later.

To construct the medicine wheel in my garden, I enlisted the assistance of two friends who shared my respect and training. We carried out the appropriate ritual, reverence and construction. As we proceeded on a very hot and humid summer’s day, a silence settled on all three of us in a tangible way. Something was happening inside and around us while we were creating this architecture of incredible grace, power and beauty. I had collected the stones for the medicine wheel from my garden and the surrounding forest. They were some of the most ancient rocks on the planet, the hard granite of the Canadian Shield, and were part of the very ground where the medicine wheel was being built.

After wheeling in fresh earth from the rest of my garden to fill in the four quadrants of the medicine wheel, we contemplated what had been created. I realized with a start that it was completely related to my five shamanic journeys over the previous months. The cardinal points of the wheel are the four directions, North, South, West and East, all leading from an outer circle to an inner circle at the Center.  The five ancient shamans I had journeyed to meet. It did not register with me at the time, but the beautiful ferns at the centre were an appropriate symbol for the feminine muse to deliver me to each one of the five ancient shamans. It took me a long time to wake up to that insight.  What I did realize, however, was that I had constructed a symbolic map of my internal experience. I was re-inventing the wheel from my journeys to meet the five Ancient Shamans, yet also ensured that the beautiful ferns remained intact at the centre of the medicine wheel.

I started to smile at how this medicine lore and knowledge had gradually seeped into my consciousness from Dawson. I could feel his intense blue eyes watching me at this moment and perhaps he permitted himself a smile too. He had known that I would eventually understand, and had instructed me five years prior in the precise construction of a mental medicine wheel and quietly informed me at that time about the space at the centre being the locale where I would seek counsel from the internal feminine – the beautiful ferns at the centre no less.