Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Making Space to See the Purity of Your Being

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

One of my spiritual teachers – Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche – recently disappeared.  On purpose.

He was just entering into a three-year retreat.  Then, one day he vanished from his room leaving only a letter behind.  He left without money, credit cards, extra clothing, or smartphone.  No one knows where he is.

Rather than practicing in closed retreat in one location, as most dedicated retreaters do nowadays, he’s adopted the approach of a wandering yogi.  He says:

“As demonstrated by the great yogi Milarepa, there is also a tradition of wandering from place to place, staying in remote caves and sacred sites with no plans or fixed agenda, just an unswerving commitment to the path of awakening. This is the type of retreat that I will be practicing over the coming years.”

Not only is Mingyur Rinpoche an extraordinary spiritual teacher with a dedicated community of followers, he’s a New York Times best-selling author.

And he was one of the long-term meditators invited to the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin in 2002, where Richard Davidson, Antoine Lutz, and other scientists examined the effects of meditation on the brains of advanced meditators.

In other words, he had all the trappings of ordinary success.

So why would a successful person drop their normal life and activities to pursue spiritual awakening in such a radical way?

I find this a powerful question for reflection so I offer it here.  It’s a question that might be of value whatever your spiritual orientation.

After all, contemplation in solitude is not the exclusive domain of Buddhism.  Contemplative practices are at the heart of all major religious and spiritual traditions.  St. Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Hindu yogis, Emerson, and Thoreau are a few contemplatives that come to my mind.

This might even be a provocative question if you are thoroughly embedded in the material world.

Are You Making Space in Your Life for Your True Nature?

I feel deeply moved by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s courage, commitment, and clarity of vision.  Moved to tears at times.  Yet I feel more connected to him than ever.

But, more important than my emotional reaction, is the way his decision is influencing me to realign my own priorities.  While it’s common these days to complain about digital fatigue – for good reason – here’s someone who’s left it all behind.  That’s got me thinking.

In his parting letter, Rinpoche prompts us to consider if we are making adequate space in our life to nourish our basic nature:

“All that we are looking for in life — all the happiness, contentment, and peace of mind — is right here in the present moment. Our very own awareness is itself fundamentally pure and good. The only problem is that we get so caught up in the ups and downs of life that we don’t take the time to pause and notice what we already have.

Don’t forget to make space in your life to recognize the richness of your basic nature, to see the purity of your being and let its innate qualities of love, compassion, and wisdom naturally emerge. Nurture this recognition as you would a small seedling. Allow it to grow and flourish.”

On Tuesday, I posted my current focus of reflection, which relates to the idea of making space for inner exploration in one’s life.

Do I want to live in the world of concepts or do I want to live in the world of direct experience?

Most of us live in the world of concepts.  We seldom experience the world directly.  Perception rapidly sparks conceptual thought which, more often than not, triggers afflictive emotions.  These easily evolve into hardened preferences and rigid values that define our world.

So we end up living in a fabricated world of concepts and emotions instead of experiencing the gift of life directly.  This only brings suffering and takes us further and further away from any sense of genuine happiness and contentment.

To live in the world of direct experience requires dedicated training of the mind.  It takes time.  And that means making choices.

Meditation and contemplation – including the skillful use of the conceptual mind – are two ways to intercede and unwrap the spiral of confusion and gradually return to the natural state of mind.  Being in natural mind is living in the world of direct experience free of fabrication and labels.  Of course, we also need to bring the clarity of mind we gain in meditation into daily life.

You may never be ready to enter into a three-year retreat like Mingyur Rinpoche.  That’s not the point.

The real question is what can you do?  Can you carve out ten minutes of solitude each day?  Thirty minutes or an hour?  Whatever amount of time you dedicate to inner nourishment will move you in a positive direction toward living in the world of experience.

There’s no question I want to live in the world of direct experience.  But I know years, maybe lifetimes, of dualistic thinking and habitual patterns take time and practice  to break.  And time is a limited commodity in one sense.

At the end of my recent personal retreat and digital sabbatical, I wondered, “Am I wasting too much time?”

The answer is “yes”.  The inspiration and insight I experienced during the retreat and Mingyur Rinpoche’s radical departure have impelled  me to reassess and realign my digital engagement.  My intention is to free up more time to focus on my inner evolution.

I’ll be sharing my process of reassessment and realignment and the practical steps I am taking in my post next Sunday.

Do you find it challenging to make space to nourish your true self?  How do you make the the time?

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s book The Joy of Living:  Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness is one of the best introductions to meditation and the nature of mind available today.  I recommend it highly. [not an affiliate link]

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  You can also connect with me on Google+ or the Always Well Within Facebook Page.  With love, Sandra


Freeze or Flow?


Breaking Routine


  1. Gosh! I, too, really admire the courage and commitment of such a decision to follow the path of direct experience in the present. I think it would be the ultimate freedom. Such an act would take years of preparation to arrange one’s life free of responsibilities…children, jobs, animals, everything else…and is just not even imaginable for the rest of us. The challenge is how to incorporate this attitude into our lives with moments of mindfulness and contemplative practice. I look forward to reading your thoughts on doing this.

    • Hi Debbie,

      Thanks for your thoughts, Debbie. I too feel that Mingyur Rinpoche’s retreat can be an inspiration for all of us though we might not be able to embark on the same path ourselves.

      Yes, it does take a lot of preparation to embark on a retreat like this. He planned it out carefully as he has a following of students that he is responsible for; he made sure that they will be well cared for in his absence.

      There are Westerners who are also engaging in three year retreats, so it’s not just extraordinary teachers or Asians. It’s so exciting to see people’s dedication.

      This doesn’t minimize our on efforts to incorporate meditation in life. We can also make progress and transform our mind and emotions through daily meditation and contemplation practice as you suggest as well as integrating mindfulness as best we can throughout the day.

      The key is to rejoice in whatever amount of meditation practice we are able to do!

  2. How can I not stand back and admire Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s committment to the continuing unfoldment of enlightenment in his life? And how can I not be grateful for the wondrous example his actions bestow upon those of us left watching, wondering, pondering. And your interpretation of his departure, especially your summary title -‘Making Space to See the Purity of your Being’, and your questions leave me longing, again, to find a way to live my life in accordance, in alignment with the purity whose presence you have previously alerted me to. I wait with bated breath for your next blog post, and I hope that your considerations do not deprive your readers of your gentle wisdom, though if that turns out to be the ultimate outcome, then that action too will hold its own lessons. Sending you much love and abundant blessings as you consider your next step.

    • So nice to “see” you, Edith. I’ve been thinking of you and was glad to get your message.

      I’m rejoicing with you and also admire Mingyur Rinpoche’s intentional disappearing act! It’s said that when we rejoice for the positive actions of another, we receive the same merit too.

      I’m not going to stop writing my blog, which I do to be of service to others. I will reduce my online time in other ways that have actually become more like distractions. I also hope to do more 1 week retreats (like the one I just finished) between courses and perhaps a longer one next summer. So no radical changes!

      Thanks for your good thoughts. All my love.

  3. The path of direct experience is one that unravels itself through the experience of the moment. Once the decision is made to follow it, the universe aligns itself to your request, and provides, whatever experience is needed for you at that very moment.
    It is done instantly and requires no actual planning, except the constant practice of connecting, listening to the inner voice, trusting its directives and acting upon it.
    Of course easier said than done.
    I look forward to reading some more. Thank you

    • Hello Carmelo,

      Being in the moment is surely the first step on our spiritual journey. I admire your dedication and your approach.

      In my tradition, it is said there are other levels of meditation beyond being in the present moment. Mingyur Rinpoche is already an accomplished master who has completed two three-year retreats. His departure signals to me that it takes dedicated practice to actually abide in our true nature. As you said, “easier said than done”!

      I know nowadays there are spiritual teachers who say all you need to do is be in the present moment and that you don’t need to do meditation practice at all. Maybe that’s true for some people, but, for most of us, like you said “easier said than done.” I know that accomplished masters like the Dalai Lama continue their formal daily meditation practices. This is the model I follow, as I personally find that formal meditation is the best foundation for being able to be more mindful, spacious, and aware in life. This is just the approach I follow.

      At the same time though, I greatly admire anyone who is trying to be mindful, aware, and compassionate in the daily life.

  4. Hello Sandra,
    Nothing rivals direct experience. I reserve two time slots every day for solitude, contemplation, and meditation and I rarely fail to utilize them. I found when I commited to those two timeframes I needed to reschedule my life around them. I also found that I’m becoming better at retaining mindfulness and a balanced attitude throughout the day because I utilize them. I’m looking forward to reading your practical steps article.

    With love,

    • timethief ~ I think you’ve hit on an important key for me, which is scheduling my online life around my meditation rather than the other way around. I too have a morning and evening practice. As I reassess my digital engagement, I am recommitting to meditation first before any online activity. It’s also my experience that formal daily meditation naturally enhances my ability to be mindful and present the rest of the day. Thanks for your reinforcing message.

  5. Sandra – hope your post next Sunday is not your parting blog post:)

    I may be getting ready for a spiritual retreat myself – not for 3 years – maybe less but do we need to go to that degree for self evolution? can this be done in our regular lives? and every day? i’m using practices to incorporate these ideas into daily life. and for now, not write any parting letters.

    • Vishnu,

      Thanks for your kind wishes. I am not going to stop posting on my blog. I am only going to stop wasting time online in other ways!

      I think we can accomplish a lot by establishing a daily meditation and / or contemplation practice and then practicing integrating our insights and mindfulness in daily life. A lot of self-evolution can take place without doing retreat.

      I know from my own experience though that my mind becomes very different in a retreat in a way that is markedly different than in daily practice. So I think retreat is a great enhancement, but of course, we don’t need to start out with a three-year retreat! A one-day, one-weekend, or one week retreat is a good place to begin.

      For someone who aspires to a high state of realization, longer retreats may be necessary. But we need to start where we are. And celebrate whatever we are able to accomplish.

      • Sandra thanks for your thoughts and comments. I am definitely considering a long retreat – there are certain times in a person’s life when one is due:) but I’ll let you convince me out of it – or convince me to do it (I guess only I’ll really know when the time is right) once I get my blog up and explore this more.

  6. Hi Sandra, I´m sitting here reading your post and noticing how my thoughts are distracted. There is still a lot to learn about focusing and direct experiencing. But even though my thoughts are floating your words hit something inside of me and I feel a bit more present. Thank you for your thoughts and for the tips about the book!

    • Hi Tom,

      Yes, mind is easily distracted! The key point though is that you are aware that your thoughts are distracted and this is the awareness that we need to cultivate. Simply being aware of whatever arises in the mind and letting it pass, as best we can. It’s a good sign when you know you are distracted.

      I’m glad you connected with this post. Warmest wishes to you.

  7. Sandra,
    Each time you write about the insights you had during your digital-free retreat I’m tempted to cut way back on all social media. It is many times – a time waster in our lives. How many books could I have read this summer if I hadn’t been so compelled to check email or tweet, post on walls and now google+ myself all day! Are we really living – really – by doing all of these things? I feel so empty sometimes…..the computer isn’t the same as having real company is it?

  8. Angela,

    These are excellent questions! Asking probing questions like these has been one aspect of my digital reassessment, which I am going to sum up in next Sunday’s post. My problem isn’t writing for my blog or responding to comments. It’s all the social media time. I am definitely in the process of cutting back. I took one day off last week. I’ll share more about how I’m doing that in my upcoming post.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a social media presence – if that’s what one wants – but, like you, I don’t want to waste too much time on it.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I really see this topic is touching you strongly.

  9. Two weeks ago, during a period of 28 hours, I spent 12 hours on the banks of my favorite river fly fishing. 10 of those hours were in solituded. This time in nautre, which life unfolded for me (as Carmelo mentions above), allowed my mind stop and simply be. The day prior I had completed an intense healing and clearing session with a channeled healer/medium. I was overwhelmed with new feelings, practices, information and quite frankly was stuck. There was too much “good” happening I couldn’t let it in.

    Then the opportunity to spend a huge chunk of time in my busy life appeared. I was able to let everything go, including much of the work I did the day before and absorb the that which needed to get in first. After this personal retreat I found myself ready to return to my keyboard to write, intrigued to explore my own development further, accept that which I could and release until later, that which I wassnot ready. And that was okay. It was an amazing period in my life, even though it was short in duration.

    Knowing this space for us exists is a wonderful thing. Going there alone is a different decision altogether. I am glad I was granted the opportunity. It has made mountains of difference for me.

    • Dean,

      What a wonderful story and nourishing experience. Thank you for telling us about it. I’m glad it made such a huge difference for me. I’m also very happy you were able to relax with all the feelings that emerged and information that appeared during your healing session. Sometimes it can take months to integrate such a powerful healing. I wish you the best with this. This is a great example for all of us.

  10. Hello Sandra, I have seen you about on other blogs and so it is nice to find you at your homestead. To answer your questions I personally don’t find it challenging to find time and / or space as I have always been conscious of the fact that it is of such high importance to me that I always accommodate it into my life.

    The decisions I make today are based around the acquired knowledge that whatever I do there must be space and time or I don’t take on board that which doesn’t allow for it.

    People structure their lives around what they perceive is important, love, money, sport…
    They often don’t appreciate the benefit of time and space and getting to really know who they are until life is a haze of unmanageable activity and they read about inner knowledge and peace from people like you and Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. But it is not necessary to go to his lengths and of course it is impractical for most, but with commitment no start is too late or too small.

    • Pea,

      I’m glad you have such clarity about allowing time for space in your life! Compared to the average person, I have quite a bit of space in my life too. I feel very fortunate.

      I agree > whatever commitment we can make to more quiet and inner reflection is a great start, however small it might be. We all have to start where we are!

      Thanks for stopping by and making a connection. I appreciate hearing from you.

  11. You have written many excellent posts, and this would be right in the very top group. I had to read it twice just to soak it in. The first time I was so surprised and unsettled by this bold action. The second time I was humbled and curious.

    I understand more now about what you mean by direct experience v. concepts. I, too, realize that I spend a lot of time in my head and online. Last week, I had an epiphany of sorts and came to the conclusion that I want to readjust my priorities and how I spend my time. Less ambition and more reflection. Less doing and more being. Less planning and more paying attention. Less outside and more inside.

    You are always such an inspiration to me. Thank you for your gentle guidance and wisdom. I look forward to your next post!

    • How wonderful, Galen…we can make the journey together. Thinking is a big habit of mind (and probably most of us). The wonderful thinking about my retreat is being able to watch it gradually all settled away. It doesn’t mean there’s never any thoughts, but there’s lots more space and less inclination to engage with them so strongly.

      I’m very in tune with your new agenda. I look forward to seeing how it unfolds for you!

  12. I’m glad you’re not giving up blogging, although I would understand if you felt like you needed to. It does take up an inordinate amount of time and energy to blog! I’ve been thinking about your Google plus post about measuring the amount of time you spend online. I haven’t done it because I know it would be a massive, scary number for me — a majority of my waking hours, only some of which is for work. I do still have plenty of personal time for walking in the woods, baking bread, and doing pottery, but other things have gotten squeezed out by the internet.

    I think I’ll let you go first and then see how you did it. 🙂 Looking forward to your next post.

    • Jennifer,

      It’s been eye-opening! But also empowering to just see and sit with the truth of it. It’s giving me the basis to make changes. The internet is not necessarily “bad”. It’s just a question of how much time we want to spend there. I’m glad you still have time for walking in the woods, baking bread, and doing pottery. Those are such nourishing activities.

  13. Hi Sandra

    Fantastic series of questions and reflections for each of us to consider, and the example set by Yongey. This is what really stood out for me and resonated soooo much: “Do I want to live in the world of concepts or do I want to live in the world of direct experience?”

    I have been reflecting on this for a few months in both direct and indirect ways. I have even found myself over the past year, less inclined to read many consciousness expanding books, as I did in the past, for they all summed up to me one thing – concepts.

    I have also found it hard to express or explain often what I am feeling or living, for when I try to put it into words, it just seems so lessened, so stripped, so not it.

    And so when the warm weather of the summer season came, I have been drawn to the outdoors and nature, to be, to experience, to live, to go beyond concepts and immerse myself in living the awareness, in living the meditation, in living the stillness, peace, compassion, love and joy, rather than talking or reading about it. And it has been, what I can simply explain as a peaceful nourishing of the soul and connection to the perfection that is found in the gift of all life.

    I definitely treasure experience of every kind, for in the end, the truth can only be lived, not told. So I go with that, where my inner being calls, for it is beyond any physical or material success, and the only riches that can never be lost, destroyed or taken away from our heart & spirit.

    • Evita,

      You are such a beautiful writer, Evita. Such a feast of inspiration in your comment! It seems like your journey in this direction has been evolving for awhile now as I think of your move to live closer to nature. I love reading and studying. Books can really speak to us in profound ways. But you are right, at some point we have to give up the books and the concepts and have the courage to simply be and abide by the pure awareness of our mind. That doesn’t mean we’re wedded to solitude forever. The spiritual masters I’ve known have done many years of retreat when they were younger and then returned to teaching and write prolifically and to also engage in the preservation of the lineage. As you express so well, it’s a question of listening to the call of your heart and knowing what it right for a particular time in one’s life.

      This is so lovely: “…it is beyond any physical or material success, and the only riches that can never be lost, destroyed or taken away from our heart & spirit.”

      Thank you for blessing us with your inspiration.

  14. This post reminds me of my love for silent retreats and how I feel the impact when I don’t make time for them. I had 3 booked this year, but cancelled 2 due to life circumstances. Looking back would I (and the people close to me) have been better served if I had gone? It’s a question I often ponder.

    • Sandi,

      I’m so inspired to hear of your love for silent retreats and how nourishing they are for you. I hope your life unfolds in the coming year in such a way that it allows time for all the retreats you would like to engage in. I have no doubt that they not only nourish and benefit you but amplify the positive you are able to bring to others. Life does throw us curve balls sometimes and we sometimes need to make adjustments to our plans. The great thing though is we can then get back on track for the coming year. It’s wonderful to get to know this facet of you!

  15. Your story about Mingyur Rinpoche reminded me about my mother-in-law, who has already passed away. She was American, who became a Buddhist nun in her later years. One fine day, she announced that she was going to India for a period of two to three months. She decided to go without a cent, luggage or phone. She wanted to know how it was like in the way of the Buddha. She wanted the direct experience.

    Prior to her departure, my mother-in-law had the good sense to buy a return ticket. Well, she finally returned on the planned date. Unfortunately she suffered from an unexplained illness (probably linked to poor digestion) as a result from staying in the streets in India and begging for food. She passed away a few months after her return.

    I am not sure if I will ever have the guts to do what she has done. However, for now, I am committed to regular meditation sittings. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche sounds pretty amazing! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Evelyn,

      I’m sorry for your loss. You’re mother-in-law must have been quite remarkable and dedicated to give herself to such an endeavor. I’m sorry she suffered from this illness. It’s not easy to live in India as a Westerner. I was sick a good part of the time I was there too, but not to the same degree.

      Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche has lived in the Himalayan regions and in India so he’s more acclimated to the physical environment than a Westerner would be. He’s also very grounded, practical, and intelligent. But still life has not guarantees. We never know what will happen one moment to the next. It’s not uncommon for spiritual practitioners to encounter illness. We can keep him and his safety in our prayers and good thoughts.

      I’ve gone on a long retreat, but I don’t think I would ever have the guts to do what your mother has done either. Like you, I am committed to daily practice and some short retreats too.

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I’m glad you feel inspired by Mingyur Rinpoche’s story.

  16. Hi Sandra,
    Thank you for an empowering, insightful article! So many layers to explore, I had to read through a few times and allow it all to soak in…
    I wanted to fully immerse myself in my mini vacation, so I told those around me I would be unplugging from social media and would not be carrying my phone for those few days. I unplugged and did not carry my phone..still, I received multiple texts and voicemails of people wishing to connect, in disbelief that I actually unplugged..
    Not even close to the actions of your teacher, but I understand him completely. As I read, I Feel we are not put on Earth to experience “normal” life; often we become distracted by “normal details” and trappings of success…This man is leading by example from the heart not with words which may be manipulated or misunderstood, but through action…I think he doesn’t want us to read it, he wants us to “be it”…We may look to his journey and allow these reflections to motivate us beyond “normal” to authentic peace as we create within our own lives..
    His example–and the timing of your article–challenges me to move beyond the norm to my allow access to flow through my purpose in life, rather than allow life to move me…

    • Hi Joy,

      I’m glad you’ve had a mini-vacation and time away from digital media. It’s funny how hard it is for people to believe (or maybe remember) that we have disconnected.

      Mingyur Rinpoche is amazing. I agree, he is definitely leading by example and has the courage to take the next steps on his spiritual path of awakening. I find it a great inspiration to reconsider what I really need and what I can let go of and how I can create more space in my life. The interesting thing though is that while a master like this is willing to give up everything, they are also willing to engage in the world full on. It’s not a matter of clinging to one or the other but have the clarity of mind to see when the time is right for each path. I feel very fortunate to have met spiritual masters like this.

      I really like what you said: “…to flow through my purpose in life, rather than allow life to move me…” You are an amazing inspiration too.

  17. Hi Sandra — I liked what you said about experiencing the world directly, as opposed to through beliefs or ideas about it — this is really what I crave in my life — just the opportunity to sit across from someone and experience them in this moment, rather than extrapolating from their past who they are right now, or making assumptions based on how they look.

    • I appreciate and share your heartfelt aspiration. How different life might be if we were all able to do this a bit more!

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