Pain – By Ven. Kittisaro

paintingBuddhism swings you right out – the First Noble Truth – to look right at pain or unhappiness. It is the same thing as when Jesus said, “Pick up your cross.” We’ve got to bear the cross: the whole symbol of surrendering, rather than using his powers to fly up into the sky. We turn to pain and look right at it, feel it and investigate it: “What is it?” Notice how thoughts say, “This is pain – this is horrible. I can’t take this anymore.” We begin to watch the nature of these ideas that we tack onto the pain: making it my pain, and unendurable.

Mysteriously, once we start to look at pain it changes too, because it’s not a solid thing. So, this is what the physicists are learning: just the act of observing something is actually participating in changing it. By looking at suffering, we’re actually part of the transformation of it. Understanding it, standing under it, bearing with it, we become free from false notions of pain and pleasure. By investigating it, already we see it as something that appears to us, and then dispassion arises. – Venerable Kittisaro

*Painting by Brenna Garens




The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter. – Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda



Ritual in the Present Moment

roman bathAncient Roman Bath

I am starting to understand the concept “live in the present moment.” The present moment is all that we have. There is no past or future – only the present moment. I admire people who live each day as if it’s their last.

There needs to be some qualities to living in the present moment. Mindfulness is one of the most important qualities. Be mindful of your thoughts, words, and actions. Also, ritual should be a something created in the present moment. Life is sacred, so we need to honor it. Remember “ritual” is part of “spiritual.”

Each religion has its own rituals, but you can create your own. I do my rituals in the morning and in the evening before I go to bed. In the morning, I do yoga and meditate. I light a candle and burn incense to create sacred space. In the evening, I recite mantras while I sit or lay in bed.

Here is a ritual that I created for one of my classes in the Holistic Health Studies masters program at St. Catherine University in Minnesota:

Personal Healing Ritual: Spiritual Bath

  1. To create a spiritual bath it is important to use the four elements:
  • Water (to heal emotions/feelings) – represented by the bath water.
  • Fire (to spark imagination, passion, and enthusiasm) – represented by the candle.
  • Earth (to promote spiritual growth) – represented by the Dead Sea salts or Epsom salts.
  • Air (to increase effective communication and to increase intellectual abilities) – represented by the essential oils.

2.  Choose the type of bath that you want:

  • Uplifting and invigorating – use tangerine or lemon essential oil.
  • Calming and relaxing – use lavender or chamomile essential oil.
  • Focus – use rosemary or frankincense essential oil.
  • Cleansing – use a combination of tea tree, eucalyptus, and peppermint essential oils.

3.  How to create the spiritual bath:

  • Make sure there are no distractions or interruptions.
  • Fill the bath with water and add some Dead Sea salts or Epsom salts under the running water.
  • Add 10-15 drops of essential oil.
  • Light the candle and set an intention.
  • Integrate your senses by taking some deep breaths, gaze at the candle, or feel the warmth of the water surrounding your body.
  • Before getting out of the bath, create a healing intention. For example: May the water heal my body. May the burning flame ignite my passion and determination in my heart. May the salts aid me in my spiritual growth. And may the oils unite me to my brothers and sisters.

Namaste, world.




Gina meditating

God be with me.

This week I brought the concept of God back into my life. I think that there can be a middle road. Even the Buddha teaches us to follow the Middle Way. The belief in God is a personal decision. In India, they say there are thousands of Gods (millions now). That’s because everyone has their own personal God.

I remember the quote, “We are living proof that God exists.” Human beings are amazing.  We are intelligent and creative. We are too good to be true, so there must be a God. We have a beautiful, mystical world, so there must be a God.

Every day I silently say to myself, “God be with me.” I seek support and guidance. I feel secure when I know that a master being exists. This week I tried to substitute different words instead of God. I said, “Universal energy be with me,” “May the force be with me,” and “May Reiki energy be with me.” Nothing could substitute for the word God. Like I said in my previous blog post, the concept of God is hard-wired in my brain.

I hear a lot of people say, “Whatever God wants” or “God will lead me.” We tend to put our lives in God’s hands. But then we are not taking responsibility for our own lives. We are always looking for someone to tell us what to do instead of following our own heart and mind. Going forward, I want to find the middle ground with my concept of God. I want to embrace the mystery of God and yet empower myself.

I have one hospice patient who is 88-years-old. She has bright blue eyes like the sky. When I was visiting with her, she kept looking out the window saying how beautiful the trees looked. I asked her about God. She said, “If we don’t trust God, then who can we trust?” Who can we trust? Who is in our corner? Who cares about us? Again, I want to take the middle road. We can trust what is in the present moment. We can trust ourselves, the people around us, the sun, the trees, and the animals. God is all around us.

Human beings have consciousness. We are creators of our own lives. Therefore, God lives within us. God can be the universal field, too, because God can be anything and can be anywhere.

I plan to keep an open mind and an open heart. I plant these seeds of thoughts in my mind. My thoughts will grow and evolve as my life travels down the path of wisdom.

Namaste, world.




My Salvation

image of woman in a white dressFor the past week, I lived every day without the concept of God in my mind. I am a Buddhist, and most Buddhists do not believe there is a God somewhere in heaven or up in the sky. They believe we are truly on our own. Buddhist monk K. Sri Dhammananda says, “Salvation in Buddhism is an individual affair. You have to save yourself just as you eat, drink, and sleep by yourself.” You are responsible for your mind, body, actions, speech, and energy.

The concept of God is hard-wired in my brain. I was raised Catholic and taught that God created everything. So, what do you mean there is no God? It seems impossible. But for the past week, I took God out of my mind and out of my life. I wanted to see how I would feel when I was responsible for my salvation.

After contemplation, I know how I feel. When there is no God, I feel like there is no one watching me. I am free to be myself. I no longer look to God, I look to myself. My life belongs to me, not to God. My thoughts and actions are my responsibility, and I am the judge of my own life. There is a shift in my consciousness.

The concept of God is fuzzy. Who is God? I have held this concept in my mind, but nothing to show for it except for my imagination. Most Catholics believe God is our father and looks just like a human being. According to K. Sri Dhammananda, “For more than 2,500 years, all over the world, Buddhists have practiced and introduced Buddhism very peacefully without the necessity of sustaining the concept of a creator God.”

This past week I felt a lot of gratitude for my life. Since I am the only one who can save myself, it puts everything into perspective. I want to live my life! I want to be kind, loving, calm, and wise. I want to meditate every day to make my mind strong.

Going forward, I want to enjoy my life…with or without God.

Namaste, world.





Inner Drishti

DSC_0386 (2)About five days ago, I woke up with mild vertigo*. I get vertigo occasionally. Sixteen years ago while I was swimming in the ocean, a wave crashed down on my head, and I hit my head on something. Ever since then, I am vulnerable to getting vertigo. A head cold or stress can set it in motion.

If you have ever had vertigo, you know that the room can spin around. It can be scary. When I have dizziness, I use a drishti to anchor my gaze. A drishti is a focal point. I stare at one spot or object. I do not let my eyes off the object or spot. According to Wikipedia, a drishti, or focused gaze, is a means for developing concentrated intention. It relates to the fifth limb of yoga (pratyahara) concerning sense withdrawal, as well as the sixth limb dharana relating to concentration.

When I teach yoga, I instruct my students to use a drishti; especially for balance poses. I say to my students, “Steady eyes…steady pose.” And when I have vertigo, I must use a drishti. It is the only thing that keeps me from spinning around and around.

This past week when I had vertigo, I thought about what if I need to close my eyes. For example, if I am resting or sleeping or even during an emergency situation. So this week I practiced using an inner drishti. And when I did use the inner drishti, I found comfort and stability. I felt like I could manage my vertigo symptoms and it eased my fear of vertigo.

My inner drishti is a red rose. I picture in my mind the beautiful rose, like the photo above. I remember my time walking through the Wilson Rose Garden at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I steady my eyes on the rose. I can see its delicate petals. I remember its fragrant smell.

I encourage everyone to pick an inner drishti. Practice using it. Maybe when you do the tree pose or some other balance pose, you can close your eyes and practice your inner drishti. Or practice using it before you go to sleep. Pick one image. It must be something beautiful, something you love. It should also be something you can see in nature or real life. Why? Because I think it will connect your brain with a positive memory, and this will trigger a pleasant sensation.

You have a powerful mind. You can use your inner drishti as a tool to calm your mind, increase concentration, and reduce fear.

Namaste, world.

*Suggestions if you have vertigo: get the over-the-counter medication called Bonine, receive physical therapy, wear Sea Bands (acupressure bands).






Tips for Aging Well & Living Longer


Most of my patients are in their late eighties, nineties, and I have one patient who is 101 years old. Some of these patients lived full, healthy lives. How did they age so well? Here are some helpful tips on how to age well and live longer:


  • Strong family support. I love it when my patients have tons of pictures on their walls. People who have strong family support live longer and healthier.
  • Positive attitude. I have one patient who is 94-years-old. She has severe restless leg syndrome. I told her that I’ve experienced restless leg syndrome and that it’s terrible. But she said, “There can be worse things. There’s nothing that I can’t handle.” Wow! What a positive attitude! She chose to reflect strength and perseverance instead of self-pity and negativity. I am so impressed by her!
  • Perseverance. People who search for their own answers persevere. They are strong advocates for themselves.
  • Help people. Some of my dying patients wished that they would have helped people more. Helping others fosters a sense of purpose in life, and this can help us live longer.


  • Exercise (mainly walk, lift weights, and stretch).
  • Put lotion on your feet every night. As we age, our feet become dryer. I had one patient who was in his late eighties, but his feet looked like they were in their thirties. He was a professor and a pastor, and he put lotion on his feet every night. Also, our feet have very important reflexology points. So there’s a double benefit to putting lotion on your feet.
  • Drink a lot of water. As we age, we become less thirsty but our need for hydration increases.
  • Eat well and take vitamins. I have one patient who is 87-years-old, and he took vitamins and herbal medicines his whole life. He told me that he thinks they kept him going all these years.


  • Play an instrument. A lot of my patients who lived a long life played an instrument.
  • Do crossword puzzles or games to stimulate your brain.
  • Do art or crafts. Creativity creates new brain cells.
  • “Go with the flow.” My patient who is 101-years-old goes with the flow. She is patient with life.
  • Share your feelings with someone that you trust. Tension creates high blood pressure and stress. Stress is the leading cause of disease (“dis-ease”). Expressing your feelings relieves tension.
  • Have a sense of humor. Some of my patients laugh at life. They do not take life seriously. Having a sense of humor adds playfulness to life. Playing can help us age well.


  • Most people who live longer have a religion and a faith-based community. I think it’s the community that sustains us. Most of my patients believe in God.
  • Pray or meditate. It is important to trust yourself and trust the divine.
  • See life as an adventure. Make sure that you do all that you want to do in your life. Then when your life comes to an end, you will be ready.

Namaste, world.

Gina M. Gafford is a Certified Massage Therapist (specializing in Hospice Massage), Registered Yoga Teacher, and Amateur Photographer. Gina has her master’s degree in Holistic Health Studies from St. Catherine University.





Death is the ultimate surrender to the unknown. People go inward for their final journey just like the caterpillar. The caterpillar prepares itself for transformation without knowing the outcome. We, too, prepare for the unknown, and yet, just like the caterpillar come out with wings…angel wings.                – Gina M. Gafford