Mindfulness Beyond Borders

9 Wake Uppers

From 4 countries

4 days

5 events

100s of tacos

1 Tijuana

And Infinite Fellowship!


Mindfulness Beyond Borders


Eight of us walked across the bridge, exiting the border patrol, and emerging into the new streets, smells, sounds, language, and people of this neighboring community. Tijuana is as much a next door neighbor, as a long-distant friend for those living in the affluent bubble of San Diego. Crossing the bridge is like walking through a portal to a new dimension, like something out of Dr. Strange, as our eyes, ears, and minds opened wide to absorb and understand the new energy of this realm and culture.

It was quite a shock to our senses that afternoon, in contrast to earlier that morning, awakening to the sound of the temple bell pulsing through quiet mountain misty air of Deer Park Monastery. The last week was spent in the luxury of the great hidden mountain of Deer Park, which was blooming beyond belief. Lilacs infused the air we breathed everywhere we walked, while dharma teachers infused the air with crisp awareness. We had just ended a unique 5-day retreat combining diligent young adult practitioners with seasoned Dharma teachers, and our spirits were raised adequately to meet this new adventure before us.

The eight of us were a mixed flock of Caucasian, Venezuelan, Vietnamese-American, French, and Mexican young adults. We came from many backgrounds, but one thing united us all – our lives were steeped deeply together in the cauldron of practice. We converged at the monastery, but we were heading into new territory, where we could share the magic of our practice together into new corners of our world.


We soon met up with our Tijuana hosts and last members of our cohort, who came to pick us up for the beginning event of our 4 day mindfulness tour. From there, most of us had little idea of who we would meet, the venues to where we headed, and especially the depth of exchanges that lie ahead on our path.

‘Mindfulness Beyond Borders’ - what does this mean? Where does our attention and community of practice get limited, stuck, small, or short-sighted?  How do we share our practice beyond the safe and comfortable borders of our community, nation, personal space, and our ideas of who we and others are? This was the theme driving our aspirations, after all. Only diving into together, could we truly answer these questions.

We arrived promptly at the first venue, a yoga, meditation, and farming center in the outskirts of the city, and had all of our cushions and mats placed promptly for an anticipated crowd. To our surprise and concern, it was time, and only a few people showed up. We came all this way for only a few people to listen and share with us? … We settled into a circle and just sat quietly together. We were here to practice in this beautiful city, no matter who came. We would offer our energetic vibrations of peaceful steps, conscious loving breaths, and ears of Avalokiteshvara, no matter the conditions around us. That was our intention, and I felt myself drawing a stake of aspirations and plunging it straight into the earth beneath my cushion as we sat.

However, 15, 20, and then 25 minutes later, we gradually learned the significance and meaning of the phrase ‘Latin time’. The circle slowly filled with new friends, especially youth. It was a good first test of our intention and heartfulness. We passed that test, and the rest of our events were equally filled with kind souls and hungry, inquisitive minds.


Our brother, Rogelio was on stage that first evening, and here was the first example of one of the greatest delights of this tour – watching our dear friends light up on the stage of practice,  sharing their hearts away, as we’d never seen them before. In English, Rogelio’s sharings never struck me as incredibly charismatic or awe-inspiring. But then again, most young adults don’t have the floor to really teach and share their practice before an eager audience. But now, he was in his element of culture and language, with a wide circle of curious youth, and the rest of us at his side, wholeheartedly. His eyes and hands lit up with bright animation, like a fire spinning show in a dark night, illuminating others with each word and gesture, and then slowly, gently, putting his fire out and quieting our minds into a serene and relaxed meditation.



I had been sitting next to a young man who was radiating a simple but authentic joy and serenity throughout our practice. I admired his composure, while curious about his roots of culture and spirituality. Neither of shared each other’s language, so we just exchanged a few words of greeting and smiles. After the meditation and some fun conscious movement games together, we listened to questions from our new friends and entered into a circle sharing. The exchanges centered around basics of mindfulness practice, but also touched upon cultural issues between the US and Mexico.

When time allowed, I shared my experience of the evening. While motioning to my neighbor I said, “Although we don’t speak the same language, and weren’t born in the same land, we both communicate in a similar ancient language. That’s the language of peace. We’re Peace Brothers.” He and I beamed smiles at each other, as we waited silently for the translations. I continued and spoke to the entire group. “Others may be using their energy to try to build walls. But right now, we’re already dismantling the walls within our own hearts. And we’re building bridges too, and we know how much joy that offers us. We can’t always control what our political leaders may say or do, but we can still be happy to sit, breathe, walk, listen, and smile together. Our government leaders don’t look very happy building walls. Maybe if they were to join us here, then they’d be happier, like us.”  I could say that at the moment, because our joy was palpable that evening. You could feel it throughout the room.

Fortunately, we saw this young man very often during our tour of events in Tijuana. And now we had this special bond, so that whenever we saw each other, it was always “Hey Peace Brother!” or “Hey Hermona Paz!” He became a great friend to us.


(One of our many amazing 'Peace Brothers' on our Tour)

At almost every event, I or someone else shared similarly about us being there in the context of our countries’ political circumstances. At the end of our last event, overwhelmed by the generosity and warmth of our hosts, I couldn’t help from sharing what was on my heart: “Thank you so much for welcoming us so generously and lovingly into your space, and to participate in your community. Please allow me to humbly apologize for the ways that our political leaders are currently acting and speaking. We ask you to please forgive their arrogance and ignorance. They do not understand how to appreciate and enjoy the gifts of your land and your ancestors, as we are able to enjoy now today.”

The elders and hosts nodded, smiled and with gracious hearts, said, “Don’t worry, we already have. And our political leaders are quite the same.” I can’t say for sure, but I thought I saw some of their faces soften, and their eyes seemed to really see me in that moment. I hope that they were able to lessen any resentment and hurt they may feel towards the US and especially our government over the last few months. Acknowledging that their government isn’t always much better, we all moved into a lighter space of acceptance and compassion for each other.


Our last full day in Tijuana, we had the morning free - so we hit the beach! Eight of us spent three hours lounging, sipping coffee from the many cafes along the boardwalk, and eating a brunch combo of fruit, bread, seed and nut-butters, homemade Mexican jams, and treats. We felt like kings and queens that morning with nothing to do and nowhere to go, except to simply be present with admirable friends. Is this not the ultimate luxury of our time?

Even as we delighted in the ocean, sand, and sunshine, and felt the buoyancy of other’s stories and laughter, something could not escape our attention throughout the morning. About a quarter mile north of us, the brownish-black pylon fencing looked small in the distance, but we felt its heaviness in the landscape of pristine coastline. Eventually, we knew we were destined to walk in that direction. Our curiosity, compassion, and practice took us there. We took light-hearted, but determined walk together northward, while still enjoying the sand beneath our toes, and the pervading smiles and laughter between our group.

Finally, we reached the wall, which extended about 200 feet into the ocean, and without visible limit in the other direction. We peered our heads between the pylons and gazed at the unbounded beaches ahead, and watched a few couples walking casually and freely on the other side. We were so close to them, yet we also felt strangely in different universes. We could shout to them, see them, hear them - but we could not fuly enter into their universe. Suddenly, without conversation, as if we were of one mind, we started sitting next to each other against the wall. We lined up, rooting ourselves into the earth, and into our community.  It was the only meaningful response before us….

Sitting, breathing, and touching life in a way that transcends all borders of our mind and world.

Sitting in this way, we touch the mind of no beginning and no end, no here and no there, no you and no I, no countries among us, and no borders between us.

Sitting there, we transcend the wall. We become the wall, as well as the sound of the waves crashing and lapping at the shore, the sun rays pouring over us, the ocean breeze flowing between us and between the pylons, the sand on both sides, the barbed wire, the people walking on both sides, the border patrol, the air we breathe on both sides, and the time that erodes and crumbles all walls.

Sitting, breathing, listening, not a word. This was the only true response we could offer to this space and moment. And we could only offer this as a true community.

We traveled in our 2 car caravan to several other events around the city, to share our practice and the vibrant energy of mindfulness within our mobile Sangha. We presented at a small conference of Tijuana therapists, a yoga and meditation community, and students at Ibero University. But the University faculty and administrators were so excited about our presentation, that they wanted to join as well! At each event of our tour, we were struck by the interest and wholehearted engagement of so many friends. We may live in different countries, but we share the same suffering and stress of life, and the same curiosity and determination to awaken our hearts and minds.


On the last full day, we visited the yoga community studio, where the Tijuana Sangha meets each week. The day before we were scheduled to facilitate, they offered us the option to either share our practice, or have someone treat us to a traditional Cacao Ceremony. We accepted the invite immediately!  We had  been offering the jewels of our tradition throughout the last several days, and now it was our turn to receive the gems of their Mayan ancestral heritage. And who offered this ceremony? To our delight, it was our ‘Peace Brother’ from our very first gathering.

Scholars estimate that cacao has been used as a health elixir and ceremonial medicine as far back as 1900 BC by the ancestors of Central America, the Olmec people, before becoming a ritualistic medicine used by the Aztec and Mayan cultures. And we thought that Buddhism was old!  Signifying both life and fertility, raw ceremonial grade cacao has been used for centuries to unlock euphoric states, release negative emotions, and connect to pure heart energy. As Wake Uppers, we were totally down for this kind of fun. Cacao is considered a heart opener, due to certain active ingredients, primarily theobromine, which expands the release of dopamine, the ‘pleasure’ hormone. Another primary actor is phenethylamine, the ‘love’ compounds of cacao, known to create heightened sensation and empathy, as well as help relieve stress and depression. When taken in ceremonial doses, it’s a powerful stimulant that opens the heart chakra. But this evening, we journeyed light with cacao, and just got a small dose of its flavor and sacred power.

The Cacao Ceremony reflected our practice in so many ways! We started with playful movements, so that the energy and innocence of our child heart spirits could manifest in our circle – this is essential in Mayan spiritual tradition our host explained (much like Wake Up!). Then we wrapped bundles of sage with different colored yarn while setting prayers and intentions for our time together. Our ceremony facilitator poured a few cups of raw cacao into a wooden bowl filled with agave nectar, and proceeded to share his prayers and blessings while stirring the bowl and grinding whole cacao beans into the mixture. Passing the bowls to his right, we each were given the opportunity to do the same, and offer our heartfelt blessings. After a round of this, we were all invited to stir the bowl again and hand grind more fresh cacao bits, all while singing our love to the bowl and to the community (very Plum Village-ish once again). All the singing, gratitudes, playfulness, and sweetness of the cacao reminded us of our Plum Village tea ceremonies! But the cacao dessert at the end was unlike anything we’ve ever tasted - surely one of the most exquisite tastes of my life. The flavors were rich with the love of the evening.


Enthralled by the beautiful rituals, sharing and lightheartedness of the evening, we could not believe it lasted 3 hours! And our energy reflected it! Now we were not only Dharma meditation high, but we were Cacao high too!  Not only were we fully present, we were Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah present! As the 8 eight of us waited outside for more friends to join us, we started singing, beat-boxing, playing our imaginary instruments, and everyone was dancing like a circus troupe parading down the elevator, stairs, parking lot, and beyond into the evening.

The local Sangha members got a kick out of us! They loved hanging out with us after events, so we joined for a last evening of tacos to finish off the amazing evening of meditation and cacao festivities together. After enjoying tacos and guacamole of our dreams, we parted and shared goodbyes wholeheartedly with many of our Tijuana beloved friends. Amazing that just 4 days earlier, most of us had never even met.

While leaving, I motioned to my ‘Peace Brother’ how cool his pants are, perfect for meditation. Then he motioned to me how he liked my shirt too, and then his face lit up. He raised his eyebrows with an idea. We were on the sidewalk of a busy street near our cars, but before I knew it, we were both taking off our shirts in front of everyone, and offering them to each other with ecstatic smiles. Mine was a Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirt, a perfect Southern Cali gift. His was a custom handmade shirt in traditional Mexican design from the region of Chiapas, both simple and beautiful. I have to say that his gift to me was the better offer, but we knew that that wasn’t the true value. Simply to exchange a part of ourselves with the other was the real gift.  And now we remember and embody each other’s spirit every time we wear them. Thank you, ‘Peace Brother’!  But this won’t be the last time we meet, I’m sure. Upon leaving, he promised me that during our next trip down to Mexico, he’ll offer us a different Cacao Ceremony, which is deeper, with more energy - spicy cacao ceremony as he called it. Well, we’ll see you soon, Peace Brother!


Special thanks goes to our dear Sangha sister, Denisse Aguilar, who was at the hub of this Tijuana Wake Up tour and mindfulness adventure. Deep gratitude for all of your wholehearted courage, perseverance, and love that you poured into this tour and your Sangha. We love you! 


Also, deep gratitude and love for all nine of our brothers and sisters who adventured with us, offering your unconditional joy, harmony, and sincerity of practice. You made this mindfulness tour really come alive and sparkle at each moment for everyone, even when we least expected it...


Wake Up Retreat at Morning Sun

July 28, 2016

Orientation has just ended for the Wake Up retreat here, as we begin this four day campout retreat on the majestic land of Morning Sun. We will use much of the 240 acres, to hike, build bonfires, swim, have discussion groups on the edge of ponds, mindfully walk as a community through forests meadows.

What a treat it was to arrive on Monday, three days before we begin the Wake Up retreat, which precedsd the Family retreat a week later. I've been surprised that we've worked so little in the last few days! We've worked a few hours in the monring, and I cooked dinner for this opening night. But the biggest intention for the staff is to hold a solid and fresh container of deep practice, attention, and support for the many young adults arriving. That is our biggest contribution! And done enough to beautifully set up things at the same time.

Since arriving on Monday, it's been a glorious display of nature and community. Or rather I should say, community within this nature preserve. So far, every morning we meditate together at 7am, followed by yoga together. This is my new favorite practice... resting until 7am meditation! Brilliant, I say! Why not be fully rested and awake throughout the day after a long and satisfying rest into the early morning.

What I've enjoyed so much is that the atmosphere is so intimate here during our staffing retreat. Each day, we spend so much time together, among the 6 of staffing and with the teachers. Michael and Fern have been so present every day, sharing themselves with so much care, brightness, and affection for all of us here. And with just 8 of us in total, it feels like we have known each other and been building bonds for weeks, if not months already, during this time.

After our silent breakfast each day, we gather for a short dharma talk and read two or three few mindfulness trainings. Then we discuss among the 8 of us the significance of the trainings to our lives, and share our reflections and understanding of the dharma talk. It's been such a delight to begin the day in this way, focusing on the dharma and nourishing our minds from the get-go. We prioritize this first, before beginning working medtiation. Isn't this the proper order of our ideals... beginning the day with meditation, breakfast, and study of the dharma... before launching into work and goal orientated matters?

After our “dharma study”, we head into a work meeting and take care of various tasks and projects around the community, such as staining outdoor furniture, watering the gardens, mowing grass, cooking lunch, and cleaning the facilities. We're encouraged to work in a spirit of love and joyous contribution for our community, as our highest collective intention is to build an energy of love in the environment at Morning Sun. We are invited to take a break and rest for a bit if we overwhelmed or exhausted and fall out of that spirit. For myself, such encouragements, give me more energy to put my heart and sweat into the tasks at hand.

Just after working meditation we have lunch at the pond, or on a small hill just overlooking the pond, where we are covered by the shade of pines and decidious trees.

After dinner together, some of us head for a swim in Blueberry pond, which is the closest one, just adjacent to the community center. What a more pleasant way to wash away the day's sweat, and play with each other to end our day. Then, we gather again at 8pm for an evening meditation in the meditation hall, as we bring our day to full circle, in contemplative stillness together.

First Sights at Morning Sun Community

After a red eye flight from Vancouver to Boston, a few Morning Sun friends picked up three of us retreat 'staffers' at the airport and train station. What a gift to be picked up by dedicated and absolutely lovely Sangha friends, who I had yet to meet! After a few hours ride and lunch together, we arrived at Morning Sun in the late afternoon, ready to begin the program that evening. I was exhausted, so how fortunate to arrive with dinner just prepared, followed by Fern leading a total relaxation for all of us on staff that evening. The magical orientation and structure of their meditation hall, overlooking the lake, and the gentleness of Fern's words and voice lulled me to sweet dreams of Mornign Sun that first evening. I couldn't imagine a more perfect way to enter a new place and retreat. No orientation, no busyness, just resting, relaxing, and eating nourishing food.

Upon waking this morning, I stepped outside of the yurt in the forest, which I have all to myself. The sun was peeking up over the forest, warmly greeting me with such temptation, that I couldn't help but take off my shirt at 6:30am and bask in the warm bright sunlight over the green marshes and pond below. Fortunately, we don't begin meditation until 7am, which allowed our traveling bodies to setttle I slowly and rest deeply in this quiet green haven called Morning Sun.

Upon entering the hall, candelights offset the dark foresty mood in the hall.. As little glowing bodhissatvas sorround the room, especially next to Thay's calligraphies on the altar: I Have Arrrived, I am Home. Yes, I have, right here, and now. The second one, Enjoy the Present Moment, also sets the intention of this increcidbly gorgeous and intimate dharma hall. Then we listened to Michael offer the Morning Chant. To hear it at Morning Sun, in this candlelit room of 8 of us, sounds 1000 more beautiful than any digital version I've heard many times before.

Breakfast in silence. Fresh blueberries, different nut butters, pecans and alonds, soy and coconut yogurt, oats and bread... the meals are vegan, simple, but luxurious.

What a perfectly ironic name, Love in Action Retreat. From the first 24 hours, I remember little else than sleeping, deep resting, eating deliciously nourishing food, swimming in the lake after dinner, and taking in the beauty of nature in every direction. But I suppose that for action to be really filled with love, we have to offer such basic love to ourselves first. This is the first teaching of one's stay at Morning Sun. Come home, and love oneself in most simple and nurturing ways.

July 27, 2016

In the afternoon, we've had various activities together. Yesterday, we took a 'mindful hike' silently and serenely through the forests to Middle Pond, and Lily Pond, two pristine bodies of water, located in the nature preserve of Morning Sun. We walked freely and let the Earth nurture us, as much as we have been caring for her. She offered us wild blueberries along our path, puddles and streams of fresh fallen leaves to our bare feet, and delicious views of her ponds. As we made our way into the forest, Michael stopped us at a certain point and said that beyond a certain marker, we are not on ''our” land anymore. That is to say, the land belongs to the animals, plants, and all species of the wild there. 181 acres of Mornign Sun are protected in this way, free from human development. It's Morning Sun's commitment to preserve these beautiful lands for countless generations.

We stopped on “Coyote Rock”, with its stunning view of Lily Pond. We just listened silently for a good while to her afternoon pond animal songs, of birds, trees, and insects, which were all new to my ears. Then, we enjoyed a dharma discussion there for an hour. Having contemplative discussions in such a magically beautiful place, invites a caliber of vulnerability and truth that is often hard to reach at other times.

It feels as if the land, community, and teachers of Morning Sun are wooing me and each one of us, to take deeper breaths, steps, and lives here at Morning Sun each day. Every day is like a vacation into nature and meditation retraet in one. Like others, I find myself also asking, Shall I too live here one day, and place my roots down in the soil of this land and community?