When I met Trudy Goodman eight years ago, I was mad at meditation.
A mutual acquaintance suggested that rather than stay mad, I ought to talk to Trudy, a noted psychologist and Buddhist mindfulness/meditation teacher who had moved to Santa Monica from Cambridge, Mass. for family reasons and founded InsightLA to carry on her work.
Some folks enjoy meditating; I am not one of those folks. I wanted to know when I could expect the so-called miracles of Vipassana meditation -- clarity! sounder sleep! no more suffering! everything is going to be great! -- to replace the sense that I was just spinning my contemplative wheels. Where was the unfettered joy, I asked Trudy, that I deserved after hundreds of painful hours on the cushion?
She reminded me that the surest path to more suffering was expecting to "get something" from meditation, but that regular practice can reduce stress and allow one to deal more effectively with life's inevitable pain. After all, she said, it's worked for billions of people for more than 2,500 years.
I stuck with it and sure enough, I do sleep better -- not great, but better -- and have more clarity. And when things go bad there's usually a moment of awareness that lets me step back, take a breath (literally) and understand that this horrible moment will pass.
This fall, InsightLA celebrates its 10th anniversary -- a decade during which Trudy and an ever-growing band of colleagues have helped change the lives of thousands of Angelenos, from garden-variety neurotics like me to health care professionals, schoolteachers, neuroscientists, artists, CEOs, youth and adult prison inmates, graduate students, university professors, and members of the clergy.
A series of celebrations, programs and events kicks off with an Oct. 13 fundraiser hosted by actress Sandra Oh at the Beverly Hills home of Jefery and Pamela Levy. Instead of the usual self-congratulation, attendees will gather for meditation and to hear dharma talks by Trudy and InsightLA Board member Jack Kornfield, an internationally-acclaimed author and teacher and one of the key figures in bringing Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. If meditation isn't your cup of herbal tea, there'll be lots of food, music and interesting people too.
Jef Levy, a filmmaker, has also created a series of short film clips in which a variety of experts -- Trudy, Jack, neurobiologist Dan Siegel, Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio and author of the book A Mindful Nation), InsightLA teacher Christiane Wolf and Beverly Berg, a therapist who uses mindfulness in her work -- talk about the power of mindfulness. Levy says his goal is "to explain, in a simple way, what mindfulness meditation is, how to learn and practice it (and what the term 'practice' means in this context) and to identify and explain the proven benefits of the practice."
While Buddhist teachings underpin InsightLA's mission, the programs offered are, for the most part, secular and practical. There's a six-week Basics of Mindfulness Meditation class and an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) program based on the Jon Kabat-Zinn model which has been taught all over the world. (Kabat-Zinn worked closely with Trudy for years in Cambridge.) Other offerings include frequent sittings and retreats and a speakers series, which has featured Congressman Ryan, Tara Brach, Phillip Moffitt, Sharon Salzberg and other leading mindfulness personalities.
InsightLA also serves as a training institution, producing a diverse core faculty of mindfulness teachers that includes an M.D., a master Yogi, a film producer, a marketing professor and a lawyer.
An essential element of InsightLA's mission is that no one is turned away for lack of resources. Program fees are modest. The organization relies for funding on donations and, for retreatants, the ancient practice of dana, in which you give what you can when you can.
To accommodate demand, InsightLA is adding a second classroom around the corner from its main office in Santa Monica, Calif. Outreach to a broader swath of LA has begun with classes in Los Feliz and Studio City. Longer term, Trudy envisions a retreat center in a beautiful natural setting that will allow Angelenos to practice in silence for longer periods.
Jack Kornfield calls Trudy "one of the freshest voices for mindfulness in the West. And InsightLA, which has blossomed under her guidance, is relevant, immediate, connected to the world we all live in, working, driving, loving, shopping, eating -- wisdom you don't have to go to the Himalayas to find."
(Disclosure: I am on InsightLA's Board of Directors.)