Anger: How to recognize it, work with it and gain wisdom from it

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode 125

Acceptance of the anger inside of us is vital in our training for a few reasons. Let’s face it, when we realize the anger we carry around, the anger we foster, the anger we feed – all of it can lead us in directions that we don’t really want and make us do things that afterwards we might look at and wonder how that ever happened.

Anger is your ego lashing out in a ‘how dare you do that to me’ kind of way or it can be in a repressed darker shadow way leading you down a different path. Anger is fueled by fear, fear of believed attack, fear of a wounded ego, fear of a lot of things – what comes out the end of that can be anything from seething rage to instantaneous anger.

Anger has a way of transforming itself in us and becoming other things.

Understanding where anger comes from is good but better is recognition of our anger. Facing it. Accepting it and then using it as a tool to both cultivate compassion but also to aid in our training in a way that will take us to see parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.

Most people walk through life and just think that they are one person. Just an single individual but as you learn to recognize the inner workings of this human being you start to see that we are all like a layered human onion with all these different aspects, different voices, different versions of you.

For most of us, even realizing the anger we feel can be hard to reckon with. Who wants to admit they are angry? I mean sure, someone cuts you off in traffic or says or does something and we get upset but anger can have a whole different face to it that loves nothing more than to live inside of us and slowly control more and more aspects.

Believe it or not though, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When we realize that we have anger in us and aren’t afraid to look at it, really deeply look at it and find its root some pretty amazing things can happen especially when we learn to channel or let go of that anger and its associated attributes.

What I have found beneficial is two things, learning to let go of attachment to things that happen and the view that things are somehow happening to me.

This me-centric thing is so common these days. I myself have come to realize just how much of my own life I viewed as having had things happen to me, this person did this to me, that situation did that and so on. All of this leaves you carrying around a heavy rucksack filled of a whole lot of shadowy, dark garbage that you don’t need, that makes you act ridiculously, make bad decisions and choices and more than anything makes you react. This reacting, especially when out of anger whether it is new or old, anger  rarely makes any sense in retrospect from the vantage point of rooting out the anger.

Here is a shocker for you. Very little actually happens to you. Things just happen. Even when people do something seemingly to you it is almost always coming from the result of something else.

This is one of the reasons that we have to elevate our training and strive to – at the very least – not get balls rolling ourselves that go in directions we don’t really want. Of course, guess what, we are all human, prone to mistakes, impulses, and just plain idiocy. Few of us escape this life without shaking our heads in wonder at the things we have done.

Now, when you are able to look at your life and your failures, mess-ups, outbursts or whatever else and hopefully show yourself some compassion, so too should we start to realize that the anger we can carry or rage from can just as easily be used to build training in compassion and understanding.

And yes, turning anger into compassion isn’t always easy. What it is though is better than carrying around resentment, feeding fuel to a fire burning within likely for zero good reason.

You might tell yourself, ‘oh I’m angry at this person or this thing for a very good reason, because of A, B or C’ and you may well have yourself fully believing it but here is the thing, whatever it was not only happened because of something else but more importantly it is 100 percent in the past. It is done. Over. Gone.

Why cling onto something is done? Why make yourself miserable or start a whole new chain of anger and assorted other results over something that literally doesn’t matter anymore?

When we start to make one of the primary cornerstones of our training stillness in the present moment we will start to see not only the results of not having that being in the moment ground floor truth of reality but how we can end up being reactive to the influences outside of that present moment.

For me, I think it is vitally important to stay grounded in the present. To let go of the past. To let go of a lot of what we all cling to. And then, probably equally important is to make compassion and sending lovingkindness back out to the world.

There are plenty of exercises and visualizations and breathing techniques we can do to help us to deal with anger and life in general. What is probably more important though is to truly examine your life. Start to see it for what it really is. Learn to be still. Learn to perceive what you are actually perceiving. Expand your awareness. Let go.

When we begin to do this. When we begin to actually train what we find is that all the external things that once felt like arrows being shot at us now have no ability to harm us. We start to see the actions, decisions, outbursts or mistakes of others as nothing different than or external to us. And as our training teaches us how to let go, how to accept our failings, how to learn, how to grow, so too do we realize how to show compassion and understanding of others. Our anger may still come but it won’t be as overpowering, it might start even to be a source for us to turn it into compassion to ourselves and others.

In the end, our anger or anyone else’s anger doesn’t bring much of value into this world. No great things were done through anger. But when we transform that anger into something positive for ourselves and the world good can come from that.

Maybe you won’t think this is all that important. Maybe you like your anger or don’t believe you have any. Maybe this is all too much and too hard to do.

For me though, I’m learning every moment to let go more. Sure, things still upset me – I’m human too – but what I have found is that turning that rising rumbling into something positive is far better not just for me myself and my training but for what I put back into this universe.

I think that is enough.

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

Tap Into The True Potential Of Human Nature

One of the best things we can do is start to recognize that everything human is natural

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By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #123

You might think you train for a whole lot of reasons.

Maybe you think you want to get into shape.

Maybe you think you want to learn to defend yourself.

Maybe you want to find an outlet from the stress of daily life.

Maybe you want something more.

But maybe you have a feeling that something is missing. Missing from your life and missing from all of our lives.

Here is the thing, there is something missing and it is long overdue that we as a society start to recognize that it is missing.

Whatever it is that drew you to training – and likely to this podcast for that matter – is the simple fact that you feel that loss that lingers on the fringe of your awareness. That missing thing.

Some people choose to look the other way when it comes to this feeling. Some people fill their life with the need to entertain themselves so that they won’t have to think about any of it – and likely none of the things that we talk about here.

That’s ok. Just like your dog doesn’t care about the bills being paid, there are some people who don’t quite see what the priorities are, or should be, in living a life.

Most people never quite grasp even the smallest glimpse of what their lives really are, what truly it is all about or what they can do to actually see their lives for the first time. They think they are normal. That life is mundane. They don’t stop to think about the simple fact that they shouldn’t even exist and that by existing they have tremendous potential to change, well, everything – and already do so in their own blind following the blind way, changing everything without any concept of what they are doing or if it was for good or not.

Humans have been on a trajectory away from their true nature for a while now.

There is a disconnect between who we are and what we are as human beings.

This disconnect separates us from our potential. It separates us from our nature. It separates us from our past and all the things that our ancestors – who were all very smart and capable – knew to be true. The stories they told, the beliefs they had, they all told of something more. 

This more is a vast ocean. Most of us at best conceive of a bucket or two of water, some lucky ones who do the work, maybe a few more. But what is there waiting is much more expansive, its depths and the realizations to be drawn from them far beyond the understanding of most.

It isn’t that people don’t want to see what is actually there. It is more like they have been living life believing they are using their eyes but only one day realize they have never opened them and even then can only see a small portion of what is around them.

You can only blame society, cultural concepts, technology or the rise of social media so much. When it comes down to it, most people are content with the life they believe themselves to be living. Content to just stumble around. Content to not see. Content to not understand. Content to live in the dark.

This path isn’t for everyone. It is hard to come to terms with seeing how much delusion and illusion we both live in and create.

It is equally difficult for people to see how much potential they have to be the animal, the demon, the thief, the murderer – just as it is their potential to be far more and far greater than any of that.

Most of the time we aren’t even aware of what our place is in this world. We aren’t aware of who we are. We aren’t aware of why we do what we do. We aren’t even aware of what we are actually aware of and what we have completely lost touch with.

There are moments though. Maybe you are outside on a summer’s night and look up and realize that you haven’t ever seen a sunset as beautiful as what is above you and you feel something inside of you like a whisper. Or maybe you watch a hummingbird hovering in front of you and can’t believe how you have never noticed the beauty that is all around you all the time.

When we are training properly, when we actually learn how to meditate and find stillness, when we are able to turn off the chattering monkey that holds sway between our ears and causes us to be impulsive, to lash out, to be reactive and judgemental – in those moments we find a feeling of unity, calm and interconnection.

This interconnection is actually what training should be all about. A lack of training is chaos and disharmony. Train in whatever you want; be it meditation or jiu-jitsu or anything else physical or metaphysical and your prime focus needs to be in seeking union, harmony, instead of isolation.

We’ve all been there feeling alone. Feeling isolated. This actually has its basis in our deluded view of our lives. The reality of our lives is the opposite.

So how do we start to see this connection or better yet, truly understand it and make it integral to your life and your training?

Stillness. That simple.

Stillness.

Now stillness – and I mean true cultivation and acceptance of actual stillness without any judgement, interior monologue, fantasy or monkey mind swaying from the trees of the mind is a tough thing to do. You’ll think you have it, you will be sure of it, only months or years later will look back from more time practicing and realize that you didn’t have it at all.

Stillness means starting to see the perceptions as perceptions, not necessarily what is there. It means opening yourself up to sensory input in a non-judgemental and non-thinking standpoint.

It means simply being there. In the moment. Feeling it fully. No critical thought, no judgemental thought, no grasping. Just stillness.

When we begin to touch this place we find there is no room for judgement, no room for living in the past, no room for dreaming of the future, no home for an inflated self-image.

There have been times in my life where I thought it would be easier to train and live in the woods or in some remote place where life was somehow easier and more natural. Of course you could do this, lots of people now and in history have retreated from society but it is unnecessary when you start to train yourself to tap into the fact that everything human is natural. What we need to learn to do is to figure out how to live in this world in a more sane way. Our training needs to be about living in this universe but through the filter of what is real, not bound to all the fake and false views; being part of society but not necessarily buying into the aspects that would take your true humanity from you.

Each of us already has everything we need, we just have to find it.

When we start to do that we realize that the training is in everything we do. It is not just done on the mats or on a zafu. It is in how we brush our teeth, walk down the street, water the garden, feed the chickens, file that report or help a customer. The training is the way and the way is the training – it is our lives.

It is an ongoing process. One that will show you just how perfectly imperfect we all are and why our core of training needs to be in cultivation of compassion for ourselves and for all things which in the end are all part of us as well.

So right now, slow down, breathe, feel the energy within you and around you. Start to see what is there. Start to actually see who and what you are.

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

In this podcast episode we talk about Alan Watts’ book The Meaning Of Happiness: The Quest For Freedom Of Spirit In Modern Psychology And The Wisdom Of The East. Get a copy here

The transformation of the Hero’s Journey

Growth and change grows from adversity

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #122


It isn’t every day that you hear of ordinary people who go on to do extraordinary things.

The story of Joe Medicine Crow and his incredible transformation from just some guy working in the shipyards to answering the call and not just going to war but knowingly offering himself up complete with war paint and eagle feather beneath his uniform to achieve the requirements of the Crow War Chief are nothing short of the Hero’s Journey.

And while Joe Medicine Crow I personally think should be a household name and I can’t honestly understand for the life of me how there isn’t some blockbuster Hollywood movie about him, the Hero’s Journey is something of importance for anyone who is serious about transforming their lives or training in a way that is unlike the depths that most dive down to.

From my own view, I see the Hero’s Journey as an inner alchemical process where a person feels or is given what is called the ‘call’ then through what most people who write on this sort of thing they receive or find supernatural aid, break through a threshold which starts the transformation process. Here is where the waters get choppy, the person on the Hero’s Journey is generally challenged, tempted, often fails and hits rock bottom where they enter the abyss. The abyss is the place of pass or fail, they suffer and push through death to rebirth and then transform. After the transformation that can be radical as in the case of Joe Medicine Crow, there is atonement and the return from the unknown back to the world. The person who takes part in the Hero’s Journey, whether in myth or in real life is never the same – they are different. They are like the Padawan who undergoes the trials to become a full Jedi Knight. They are the young private who becomes the Crow War Chief.

It is possible for you listening to this to go through your own Hero’s Journey. I’ll caution you though, you might not like it.

Walking a certain path and dedicating yourself to it means that you are telling the universe you not only want to be different but you are up to the task. I myself have found that the when you do this the powers that be are going to help you get there but it will be through exactly this process. What you get on the other side of it is a completely different you. This in itself isn’t so special, every moment that passes changes us but sometimes these trials of death and rebirth are radical and you are left, through this alchemical process with something that no longer seems like what there was before it.

This is what growth and change is all about.

Most people these days don’t understand the true power of training. They don’t listen to the words of the old masters. They don’t believe in what our ancestors knew as fact.

Transformation is there for all of us. We just have to open ourselves to it, do the work, fail, learn and continue on.

Most of you listening to this are already on this path, especially if you are serious about your training.

This doesn’t mean that your own Hero’s Journey is going to be anything like the amazing story of Joe Medicine Crow – it doesn’t have to be, it will be your own. What you need to do though is listen to his story and dig into it and truly understand it and what it means.

The thing about Zen or martial arts or any worthwhile path is realizing that you yourself need to open yourself up to change, you yourself need to do the work that is required and you yourself are faced with decisions in your life that will make all the difference and whether you pass or fail the tests and trials that come your way you will be given the change to stand back up, dust yourself off and continue on, do better, be stronger and become someone far greater than you even realized that you could become.

It starts right now. It is fueled with bravery, courage, stillness and calm.

Treat yourself and all others with kindness and compassion.

And just imagine all the amazing things you can do. You just have to take this one step and then continue along the path.

It is a path that will change everything. But only you have the choice. Joe Medicine Crow didn’t have to do any of the things that he did. He could have just been the greyman as a private in the war – but imagine a world without people like him. Imagine a life without the inspiration of others who are lights in the darkness.

We don’t need to do things in the level of some epic Hero, our transformative process can be much smaller and more personal. What it will be though, and this I can guarantee will be something that at the other end you will look back on and say, well, that was tough at times but I am so glad it happened and I am not the same as where I was when this all started.

That is the amazing thing about both life and training in a real way with a conscious understanding at breaking through the chains that would otherwise bind us, training in a way that pushes us through delusion, training in a way that is about everything that our ancestors knew well and understood. It makes it all worthwhile.

It isn’t for the faint hearted though. It probably isn’t for everyone. But then again there is a reason there are heroes and all the rest of us mortals who look at their examples and strive simply to do them proud.

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST EPISODE AT WARRIOR’S WAY PODCAST

Understanding Selflessness — And Why It Is Important

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By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #121


We all have a choice to make.

We can make it right now.

We can spend the rest of our lives living in the light or we can do the opposite.

Maybe the rest of your life is too long to think about, how about this moment? If you can commit 100 per cent to being a light in the darkness right now then that is getting somewhere.

If you can do it right now, this idea of what right now really means can become a way of life, and this idea of being a true light shining in the darkness can start to make some major impacts not just in your life but in the world and maybe the universe itself.

Most people walk through life with blinders on. Maybe they don’t want to or are unable to see the truest nature of reality. Maybe they are just so caught up with the delusion that swirls around them that is fed by culture and society and the endless churn of information we get flooded with.

You see, the society or better yet, the view of reality that we are all fed is nothing but a lie. The truth of our lives and our reality is far different than most will ever really see – to get there you have to get down to some fairly serious training.

I’m not going to get into what that means right now. But let’s just say that our self-centered view of reality, the I, I, I, me, me, me is not only the central aspect of our delusion but maybe the beginning of a radical shift in your view of things, what causes so much trouble in all of our lives.

We cling to things. We want things. We worry about things. We fear things. All of this happens in the shifting sands of how we see life. Generally we spend way too much time dwelling on the past or fearing and fretting about the future. Here is a little mind-blowing secret: none of that exists. The past is gone and of no value to you. The future isn’t here and also of no sense worth worrying about. What you are left with is right now in this moment.

When we start to understand that all we have is now and there is no guarantee of anything else and add to this that all the other myriad of things around us also face the same fact but end up suffering from skirting the magnitude of this mixed with an obsession with self, what you are left with – if you really want to be a light in this world instead of just more darkness – is that there is just one option left; to help.

The level of helping can be in big ways or in small ways. You can make a conscious effort to mitigate the level of harm you cause in the world – of course you won’t be able to completely avoid it. Wash your hands and you are killing things, walk down the sidewalk, the same, eat food, yup, more death and destruction.

What I try to do is balance it.

Help as many people and things as I can. When given an opportunity to help something, you do what you can.

Are you going to always succeed? Nope. You’ll fail and you’ll fail some more. What you can do is turn these failures into lessons and opportunities to expand your world, expand your perception, expand your view of life and your place in it. And the best part of failing is learning and doing better as a flawed human.

In the Army when I was in training and throughout my career we were bombarded with the concept of service before self. This means putting serving your country and its peoples ahead of your own desires and in some cases your own life. In military terms this means being willing to put your life at stake for the greater good.

Interestingly enough, this same concept is what Buddhism pretty much is pointing at as well, albeit from a different angle. This path is one of putting the liberation or the relieving of suffering of all living things ahead of all other things so that it is literally what you are looking at as a huge part of your training. It is what some call the Bodhisattva path.

Now some of you might be like, yeah, ok whatever, I’m not a Buddhist. Well, you don’t have to be. What you can be though is a super person who makes selflessness the central tenet of whatever training you make yours.

You train in the martial arts? Great, instead of focus on how to destroy someone, how to harm someone, make your training be about how to defend yourself for sure but to mitigate the damage you would do to someone else. Make violence itself something that you avoid. Ask yourself how you can do kickboxing or jiu-jitsu or karate or whatever else but from the standpoint of protection of others, of not letting your ego grab hold, of helping others first and foremost.

When you make this what your training is about and less about building yourself up, less of competing with others, less of a self-focussed view of training and more of a view of what you can do to help others you will find your whole training change and more importantly, your whole life will change.

What things can we all do to help cultivate this self-less approach? Well we can judge less, we can be critical less, we can gossip less, we can be mean and thoughtless less. We can smile more. We can be kind more. We can help more.

An amazing thing will happen when we start down this path to help spread light in this world. We will find that it changes our outlook and not only that, it makes you less likely to react to things as you once did, it will make you smile more, it will make you actually look for ways to help more.

So here is a little practice that you can do anytime of the day, it just takes a few slow breaths. As you breathe in, think about the people and things in your life, even those you have issues with, and send them and visualize them being surrounded and getting loving-kindness. See them in that light.

You want this to be a thing that you think of regularly.

You see an ant wandering down the sidewalk, send it loving-kindness.

Some woman in the grocery is dealing with a screaming kid, loving-kindness.

You are getting choked out in jiu-jitsu, defend yourself but then send loving-kindness.

You can work this in whatever way you want. Sometimes when I’m out for a walk or riding my bike and I pass someone or see something I just say to myself, “I hope you have a life of happiness and joy.” I’ve known Zen masters who make it a practice to make a more formal bow and recitation when they pass things.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. It is similar to how I was raised in the martial arts that when you bow to someone in the dojo you think to yourself of how grateful you are for them to be here training with you, that you have gratitude for them being in your life and that you hope they never have to use what you will be training in together and that you do your utmost that nobody is injured in training.

We take this same concept we use in the dojo and expand it to mean even more in life.

For me, in the past few years I’ve really amped up this aspect of my training and have found that it makes a huge impact. Give it time and it changes the way you see most things and how you react to them as well.

When it comes to training, whatever that means to you, we need a kind of practice that actually has an impact on our lives. One that changes us and for the better – without that we will find ourselves habitually following the same patterns we always have, spinning our wheels in the mud.

I want more from my life. I remind myself constantly that even the dimmest light in the darkness beams outward.

See how it goes. Better yet, let me know.

We can add to the darkness and delusion of this world. We can be ambivalent to it. Or we can decide right now to be a light casting all of that away.

What are you going to do?

I know what I will be doing.   

 Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast    

How To Find True Freedom

…And How Not To Be Like A Dog Chasing Hornets, Getting Stung And Then Chasing More Hornets

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #118


We are creatures of choice. Perhaps that is one of our defining features. Humans make choices. Of course just as in the biblical story of Adam and Eve and the apple, sometimes we make good ones and sometimes the choices we make are less so – all choices have consequences though.

This seems like common-sense but how many of you have made a decision to do something, or not do something, and then afterwards you felt like kicking your own butt around the block a few times – or more than a few times.

We all make choices — every moment actually. Some choices you are going to decide are good. Some you will decide were stupid. Some you’ll not even think about.

Regardless of the fact that I have been training for decades, I can honestly say that it has taken me all this time – now in my 50s – to truly see how the decisions we make or fail to, each and every single thing we do actually, has consequences.

In Buddhism we call this Karma. What it is though is cause and effect. Every breath you take causes an effect, every action you make causes an effect. Think about that for a second or two – everything you do as a living and breathing thing sends out ripples that change everything.

It isn’t just the so called bad choices — everything we do sends out ripples. Everything changes everything. Forever.

I am first to admit I have made a lot of ridiculous choices in this life. And I’m not naïve – so have you, so has everyone, so has my dog for that matter. My dog loves chasing hornets, she will leap and bite at them in the backyard for hours if I let her and yes, those same hornets will sometimes sting her and in pure dog form, a few seconds later she will be right back at it, snapping and jumping and running.

How often are you and I like that? Virtually mindlessly doing things that make no sense to anyone watching?

Maybe you engage in gossip without thinking about it.

Maybe you drink too much.

Maybe you do any other shopping list of things that someday you are going to look back on and be like, ‘hmm, interesting, why on Earth didn’t I know better?’

I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about any of it.

For one, what is in the past is in the past. Learn from it and move on. The second is that we are all just simple and flawed human beings doing are best to get by. Sometimes we are like my dog chasing hornets not realizing what is going to happen next – the thing is though, we need to train ourselves to be better, and most importantly, to learn from our mistakes.

This goes for everything we do.

I’ve been involved in the martial arts for about 40 years and in that time I’ve met so many people who want to believe their own hype and act like training in the martial arts makes them into some sort of big screen superhero. They walk around like they are imbued with super powers; invincible, better than anyone else. Of course this is ridiculous. Actually beyond ridiculous.

Do you think that the belt that someone has given to you makes you any different than anyone else? It is ludicrous. Does the fact that you train in whatever martial art make you unbeatable – they also thought the Titanic was unsinkable.

I’ve known people who are stellar martial artists who have been killed. I’ve known people who were certain they were a cut above everyone else brought to their knees by life. I’ve known people who you’d think were ok thanks to their training who took their own lives.

I myself have been through my own share of usually naively self-created life drama.

These days though, I have taken a different path.

I first off try to do as little harm as possible. This means a lot of different things. I am a vegetarian, I try my hardest not to speak against others or gossip, I make cultivation of compassion my central training, I try my best to think first and act second, I remind myself about a thousand times a day that right now is all I have so don’t fear the future and don’t live in the past, I remind myself as well throughout my day that everything is impermanent and try to grasp what that means. Added to this I aim myself down a road where I try very hard to not be angry, not be selfish, not be cruel, not be critical.

Of course this is all very, very, very difficult.

The difference though is that if I don’t try to steer myself down this path. To understand that this is the Way. That I will realize I’m just like baby shark-dog snapping at hornets that bite back and then bite back at them because they are biting at me.

Nobody said training is easy.

To be honest, the world is full of people who give it all half an effort. And by that, I’m not talking about just training, I’m talking about life.

When all is said and done though, I think most of us want to leave this world a better place for having been in it. We can be mindless or we can be mindful.

We can be unkind or we can be kind. We can be uncompassionate or we can be compassionate.

I know the choice I’m making.

I pass and I fail all the time. The thing is, I learn from it now like never before.

My aim in this life is to be, as I’ve said before, a light in the darkness. Sometimes that light will hopefully be blazing bright and sometimes a subtle glow but light in the darkness is far better than simply bringing more darkness.

What are you going to do?

What are you doing today?

You can sit and meditate. You can kick and punch and choke people out. This is all well and good but ask yourself, what use is any of it if you are mean, cruel, angry, judgemental, selfish and cold?

Instead, how about you make your central aspect of training to be about more than something superficial. How about you make your training about being a light in the darkness.

Imagine if everyone decided today to leave the past and all those dumb choices behind them and made the present something far greater?

What are you going to do?

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

This week we talk about author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. Pick up her book Real Change here.