The Idea of Training


Let me describe what my meditation/mindfulness training program has been like over the past six years:

  • intermittent bouts of meditation
  • consistent journaling before bed
  • intermittent reading about: how to feel more like me, live in reality instead of something my mind dreamed up, and living a life that brings satisfaction and joy
  • Monthly gatherings with other women interested in this lifestyle – my dear sangha

I list these because I find it fascinating that your mind requires training just like any other part of your body or activity you take on. And, I wanted to see in a list (and share) what my training looks like. Intermittent seems to be the overarching theme, but I’m ok with that.  As a mother, wife, and freelancer, I know that I do the best that I can (some days I don’t feel that way, but most days I do. cool, huh?). So, this idea of training the mind and how I respond to it is something that I’m just now beginning to understand.

In my Deep Study classes with Elesa we’ve talked about being a “silent observer” to ourselves. In other words, to notice how we’re responding to situations, to try to not get too involved in the thoughts.  It’s a little like parenting sometimes: observing your child work through a math problem, or navigate a challenging experience without getting involved until just the right moment.

This requires patience, and especially during the holidays, I’m discovering how much I lack in patience. But, I’m trying to be kind to myself. Which brings me back to the training…

Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.

To contact Missy, email 

Posted Dec. 9, 2012

Being vs. Doing


I apologize for not posting for so long. The demands of life (work, travel, kid birthday, sick cat) ramped up over the past two months. But, I’m back, and it feels good.

We’ve been talking recently in Elesa’s Deep Study class about living in a place of “being” rather than “doing.” It’s kind of a hard concept to wrap my brain around. But, now that I’ve sat with it for a few weeks, I feel like it’s sunk in a little.

I think it can be compared to living more from your soul and less in your mind, which is a concept that is/was foreign to me.  It’s becoming less strange, but it’s not my “go to” mode of living. It sounds kind of wacky, huh?

But, I’ve found that it’s more peaceful, more comforting to know I have a life force inside of me that I can rely on. My doing brain, which is constantly churning thoughts because that’s its job, is reliable for certain things. But, not necessarily for providing authentic guidance on the more abstract things in life:  being fulfilled, making potentially life/death decisions (like with my cat), making decisions based on reality and not what I’ve imagined people need/want/expect.

Being vs. Doing: there is a way to live our lives more consciously and to deepen our connection with others vs. the way of life that moves fast, stays busy, and perhaps misses out on the very things that bring joy and contentment.

Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.

To contact Missy, email 

Posted Dec. 2, 2012

You Are Not Alone


One idea or theme often expressed in cultures that encourage meditation is the concept that everyone, regardless of skin color, birthplace, or religious background, is considered a brother or sister. That being human, in and of itself, binds us to one another. Therefore, loving everyone (maybe not liking) is a natural, healthy way of being.

But, man, does that sound like a bunch of feel-good, idealistic, unattainable wackiness. It’s something that, at my deepest core, I’d like to believe, I’d like to promote, I’d like to be a part of, but practically everything in our Western culture bucks against this idea. I think back to my teenage years and how I was purposefully full of angst. It was cool to be pouty, unsmiling, and in a constant state of disdain.

What I didn’t realize then was that this purposeful disdain resulted in a “woe is me” place of loneliness where I believed that no one else’s brain worked like mine, for example: making up stories about what people thought of me, or imaging 12 different (mostly negative) outcomes to a particular situation, or simply just not being able to quiet my brain at night.

Looking back, I assumed this “place” was my fate. It’s just the way things were. But, something way down deep inside just couldn’t believe that, couldn’t buy into that. And I was right not to. Purposeful disdain may have a place in the teenage years, but it’s no place to plant your stake. The problem was, when I was no longer a teen, I didn’t know how to find a stake, let alone plant it somewhere.

And then I started meditating and taking classes from Elesa Commerse. This led to a ton of reading and personal exploration and, maybe most importantly, taking conscious responsibility for my life. And, as is very natural and comforting for me, I started talking with my friends and family about my experiences.

It’s here where I finally started to understand that I am not alone. I don’t have to be in a “woe is me place.”  Do you know why? Because practically everyone I talked to about my feelings and struggles felt the same way, regardless of gender, age, or ethnicity. Nearly everyone has a mind that may not be helpful at times, a mind that thinks thoughts that are scary, overwhelming, untrue, or just plain mean.  But, underneath these thoughts is the human spirit – something all of us have – a life force inside that defines us and is ignited and nourished by connecting with others. And, that’s the keystone that binds us all together.

You are not alone.

Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.

To contact Missy, email 

Posted Oct. 7, 2012


Smash Those Paradigms


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
-Theodore Roosevelt

The above quote is from a speech Theodore Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910, but I was introduced to it by reading a new book by Dr. Brene Brown titled Daring Greatly. Dr. Brown is a researcher who has spent years studying shame and how people effectively (or ineffectively) manage it. Her work is fascinating and inspiring. It’s changed her life and literally countless others. Check out her TED talks when you get a moment. Good stuff.

Yesterday at my monthly The Deep Study meditation class, we talked about our personal paradigms. A paradigm is a theory or a group of ideas about how something should be done, made, or thought about. So, personal paradigms are our assumptions about life, and often, they are the very things that hold us back from being ourselves.

I didn’t quite know what to say about my personal paradigms. I felt like I had a thousand to share. But, when it came time to discuss, I stated something that I wasn’t quite expecting. I realized that my most instilled paradigm is that it’s better to “go with the flow” and “not rock the boat” than to voice my thoughts/needs/desires. And, boy, this puts up the most ginormous, reinforced, 25-foot-thick steel wall in terms of Daring Greatly.


How great are those four words? Talk about a paradigm shift. How awesome is it to realize it and see it in writing, in all cap letters…love it.

I’m ready to dare greatly. I’m ready to feel more in my life – more connection, more intimacy, more tingling in my toes when I’m about to do something out of my comfort zone. And, I feel more prepared to take on inevitable failures, criticisms, and “errs.”

Think about joining me…what do we have to lose except staying in the same place.

Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
To contact Missy, email 

Posted Sept. 24, 2012



Creating An Inner Truss


I came across a concept the other day that gave me pause. What can I rely on inside myself that will help when things in my everyday, external life change – change either for the worse or the better?

For me, it’s probably a deep-seated trust in who I am.


Just writing that gives me a sense of awe. How cool would that be?

And, also a belief that my life is important. That I’m not some small, scared little girl anymore. I’ve been searching for a way to “combat” the scared little girl feeling. Maybe “combat” is not the right word. It’s a little too harsh (see previous “personal kindness” post 🙂 ). Counteract is better – some way to neutralize a way of being that no longer serves me. On the flip side (yes, I did just reference Davy Jones. I think from a Brady Bunch episode), I love my inner girl! She celebrates silliness, loves the color pink, and beams like the sun keeping me warm inside.

Can I trust who I am – my inner girl rather than the scared little girl – when life throws me a curve ball? I think I can, and I think it’s because I’ve deliberately chosen to slow down, get quiet, and turn inward on a regular basis. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes.

Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
To contact Missy, email 

Posted Sept. 16, 2012



Personal Kindness


Why are we more kind to other people than we are to ourselves?

When I first had this thought, it blew my mind. Why could I find a seemingly endless well of kindness for friends, family and others, but I could barely find any for myself? It was like a light bulb went off in my head.

A ha! So, that’s a piece of the emotional well-being pie I was missing.

A ha! How crafty and sneaky this way of life can be. This personal harshness had woven its tendrils into my every day life in ways that surprised me…and kind of made me mad. How dare this happen! How could I let this happen? (See – a perfect example of its sneakiness!) So, I would say to myself gently “be kind, be kind, be kind,” and try to feel the words. What happened inside – because I’ve learned that a feeling tells you more about yourself than the mind – was an opening up almost like the unfolding of a flower – that made me physically feel lighter, an opening up that was like a burning beacon of light.

At the end of the day, all I’m trying to do is a live a life that has meaning to me, that makes this beacon of light stay burning. And, paying attention to how my life feels vs. how my brain is rationalizing my life is a whole new way of living for me.

I want to feel kindness toward myself. I need to feel kindness toward myself. This is the only life that I know of – why spend this precious time being unkind to me?

Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
To contact Missy, email 

Posted Sept. 8, 2012


Why I Journal and Meditate


So, I’ve never written a blog before. I’ve written a lot of things for a lot of other people, but never for myself. Unless you count journaling. Journaling is an interesting exercise. I find myself writing all kinds of things: some mundane, some insane…but they are things that my mind is producing and/or things that my spirit needs to express. Journaling helps me fall asleep at night because it helps me, for the most part, understand my day a little better – get some peaks of blue sky through the whirlwind of daily life.

And, ultimately, that helps me live more purposefully – to understand who I am and then, perhaps most importantly, to revel in it. I say most importantly because I’m tired of being emotionally battered around by the word “should.” I say most importantly because I’m tired of being imprisoned by other people’s expectations. I say most importantly because I’m tired of assuming the worst about myself. I’ve made the choice to really understand who I am; to love AND like who I am. It is really, really hard.

Not because I don’t value myself. Not because I’m depressed. But to spend time examining who you are requires strength and perseverance. It’s soooooooo much easier to pick up a book, turn on the tv, call a friend, get on Facebook, play Words with Friends, do laundry, go see a movie, listen to podcasts…I could go on forever.

It’s not so easy to make the conscious decision to carve out 20 minutes of alone time to sit. It’s not so easy to ask the significant other for that 20 minutes where he/she can watch the kids, walk the dog, watch TV without you. And, once you’ve made that request and find yourself with that 20 minutes, it’s not so easy to just be quiet or still. But in that quiet or stillness is exactly where my “shoulds” disappear, my prison doors release, and my assumptions become golden rather than ashen.

For me, finding a sense of purpose or meaning in my life starts with this quiet.

“To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is.” Pema Chodron

Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
To contact Missy, email 

Posted Aug. 15, 2012


Chicago Tribune – Dec 2010


Meditation isn’t just about relaxing

By Julie Deardorff
Meditation is a brain-boosting, stress-busting activity that is now embraced by everyone from the U.S. military to corporate executives. And if you’re living a busy, hectic life — and can’t fathom finding time to sit cross-legged in a quiet room — you’re an ideal candidate too.

“If you don’t have 30 minutes to meditate, you probably need an hour,” said Tamara Gerlach, a San Francisco-based meditation student and teacher. “The people who race through their life are usually the ones who could use some focus and serenity.”
Your mind is a muscle you can train; meditation is the tool used to focus it or quiet it down. Every day thousands of thoughts zip through our heads, something Gerlach likens to a jar of dirty water: Keep shaking up the jar — or your head — and it will remain clouded. But “if we set the jar down, letting the dirt particles settle to the bottom, it leaves clarity at the top,” she said.

Meditation will not stop your thoughts. It will not empty your mind. Instead, proponents say, it teaches you how to replace the mental chatter in your head with stillness. This ability helps us live more consciously in the present moment.

“Through more mindful attention, we can make wise choices,” said Joseph Goldstein, who has been leading meditation retreats worldwide since 1974 and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society. “As the Vietnamese meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh remarked, ‘Happiness is available. Please help yourselves to it.'”

Still confused? Take a long, slow, deep belly breath and read on.

Q What is meditation, exactly?

A It’s the “art and practice of being present for your life,” said meditation teacher Elesa Commerse. The key words here are “art and practice.” Meditation requires effort and an ocean of patience, especially in the beginning. One of the biggest obstacles for beginners is that they get bored or expect Dalai Lama-like results overnight. Meditation can be relaxing, but relaxing isn’t meditation. Meditation is sitting with a purpose.

Q How does meditation work?

A There are many forms, but all involve focusing on a single stimulus, such as your breath, a particular word, or an image. Get your body in a comfortable position. When random thoughts barge into your head, label it as “a thought” and bring your attention back to your chosen stimulus, such as your breath. “It’s like training a puppy,” Jack Kornfield said in “Meditation for Beginners.” “You say ‘stay’ but after a few breaths, the puppy wanders away. You go back and gently pick it up and bring it back.” Kornfield says the practice of learning how to sit still and become mindful is one of the most important forms of meditation.

Q Who can benefit from meditation?

A Anyone who feels stressed, tired, overburdened, has a chronic injury or illness or who doesn’t want to miss out on their life. “Meditation is a way to plug people back into the deepest part of who they are,” said executive meditation coach Mark Thornton. “It will reconnect you to parts of yourself you’ve forgotten about or lost.” Meditation is increasingly being used in the health care field; Doctors treat stress-related illnesses using a meditation technique called mindfulness-based stress reduction, created by meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Q When should I meditate?

A Whenever you can; when you wake up, in the shower, during your morning commute, or during a board meeting. Once chief operating officer for JP Morgan, Thornton found that taking micro-meditation breaks while moving during the day could be just as profound as going on a retreat. “I thought meditation was something you did on your own; in fact it can be an integral part of the day,” he said. Constantly interrupting the mind to make a stillness connection can “interrupt suffering and create peace,” said Thornton, author of “Meditation in a New York Minute.”

Q Can I meditate while I ride a bike or run?

A It’s possible to practice mindfulness in any activity, said Goldstein. “It means paying attention to what we’re doing, rather than having our minds wander.”

Q How do I fight boredom?

A Actually, boredom is a sign that meditation is working. “It means you’re learning to shift your attention away from your mind which wants complex puzzles to solve,” said Thornton. If you’re bored, you may have lost sight that every moment in life is unique, Commerse said. “When you’re in the present moment, “every leaf, blade of grass, brush of wind, bird song, baby’s cry, every everything becomes magical, alive, discoverable and infused with the ability to transform your life,” she said.

No time to meditate?

You can use meditation techniques wherever you are, including the shower, said corporate meditation coach Mark Thornton.

  • Start by noticing sensations. Listen to the sound of the water, notice the fragrances of soaps and shampoos. How do your shoulders, neck, legs and arms feel as you bathe them? Then, try to “widen your attention” and to experience all the sensations at once.
  • Make a conscious decision to take a complete break from your mind. If you’re bombarded by thoughts, choose to return to them later.
  • Try tai chi showering. Move your body in slow motion and notice the sensations. Take a moment to be still, close your eyes and notice how the body responds.
  • Sing! Notice the vibration in your throat, chest and other body parts.

Yoga Chicago – DVD Review



Finding Your Way: Expert Help in Navigating The Breast Cancer Journey Elesa Commerse 

Reviewed by Debi Buzil

Elesa Commerse is making a difference in people’s lives. I know this as fact, for she has made quite an impact upon mine. After I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Elesa gave me a copy of Finding Your Way: Expert Help in Navigating The Breast Cancer Journey. I felt that I had found a comrade traveling these uncharted waters, often frightening and unknown. I experienced the crazy twist and turns the mind and body can take. Elesa’s wise work and words lessened the suffering, bringing peace to my world, which often felt out of control. Elesa is a nationally know meditation teacher and breast cancer survivor. Through her caring words and generosity of spirit, she has become my beacon of light.

Finding Your Way is a comprehensive 2-DVD set that includes more than eight hours of programming, almost half of which focuses on hands-on practices of movement, meditation and yoga. There are nine featured presenters, including Elesa’s meditation course and guided Yoga Nidra ( Yoga Nidra is on audio CD). Topics explored include the medicine of breast cancer, nutrition and lifestyle, acupuncture for symptom relief, physical therapy, lymphodema, movement and gentle yoga. Each segment features a specialist who is at the top of her game: Dr. Nora Hansen, the director of the Lynne Sage Breast Center at Northwestern Hospital; the beaming yogini, Phoenix Rising yoga therapist and holistic health nurse Sudha Carolyn Lundeen; and others, as well as truly inspiring, wonderful women who share their breast cancer journeys (in Spanish and English).

Elesa lost her mother, Evelyn Winslow, to breast cancer after an eight-year battle. Evelyn was not only a mother (a big enough job, if I may say so myself) but also a teacher and friend. Finding Your Way is dedicated to her. Elesa’s grandmother, at 100 years of age, is a breast cancer survivor! In a similar vein, my “Bubbe” is 92 years old and was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer more than 50 years ago. She is vibrant and healthy, a jazz pianist and a good cook to boot. Sadly, her daughter (my Aunt Cheryl) passed from the same disease at 41 years old in the 1980s. Breast cancer is no longer a death sentence, but it is a mixed bag. Today, with early detection and better treatments, it is manageable. So here’s where I ask you, dear reader, to take care of your health: do monthly self-exams, and schedule mammograms when it’s appropriate. And men, please do your screenings as well!

As I experience life, there are markers that have been transformative to me: birth, loss, marriage, my children’s milestones, anniversaries, retreat and travel. Now I have the cancer marker: life before cancer and life after the “little c” diagnosis. Things have changed. I know deeply that we are more than just this body. Finding Your Way solidifies the wholeness inherent in all of us. It is uplifting and realistic and acknowledges medical facts with dignity and compassion. Elesa lets us know that a diagnosis is simply that. And that all of us are “Forever Whole.”

Elesa has set up an amazing way to circulate her knowledge of the cancer trip. Through the generosity of the Illinois Department of Public Health, Office of Women’s Health through Ticket for the Cure Funds, The Colonel Stanley R. McNeil Foundation and private donors, thousands of copies of Finding Your Way have been given away free to under-resourced women. And for each copy sold, another copy makes its way into someone recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The power in this endeavor is stunning.

I am at the tail end of the intense part of my personal journey. Last night I lay awake, unable to sleep. Then, I hear a voice guiding me into a wellspring of calm, a transformative and restorative place of rest. I enumerate the points of my body. I practice alternate nostril breathing. This is Yoga Nidra , the last gift of the Finding Your Way series. Elesa’s gentle, firm guidance lessens my anxiety. I, in turn, hope to make a difference in someone’s life, to lessen their suffering and offer guidance in some small way to walk the path with grace and equanimity. Thank you, Elesa Commerse, for helping us all find our way.

This article is dedicated to yoga teacher Barbara Becker, who transitioned as these words were written. She had breast cancer.


Debi Winston-Buzil leads the kirtan group Devi 2000.  She firmly believes that you’ve got to get up to get down, sitting around is not an option, and has blogged about her cancer journey under the same name.

She sees herself beyond the label as a “survivor,” but as one who thrives, enjoying all that life has to offer.