I recently discovered a site called Brain Pickings, created by Maria Popova. Here’s a snippet from the “About” section:

“Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are.”

One of the latest stories features a new children’s book called You Are Stardust (I just ordered it for my son). Popova describes it as “an exquisite picture-book that instills that profound sense of connection with the natural world.”

And this connection – to the earth and to each other – is what we all yearn for. It is something I want my son to understand and appreciate early. Below is a short excerpt that made my heart leap. 😉

Be still. Listen.

Like you, the Earth breathes.

Your breath is alive with the promise of flowers.

Each time you blow a kiss to the world, you spread pollen that might grow to be a new plant.


Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
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Posted March 10, 2013

The Uses of Sorrow


The Uses of Sorrow by Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift


This week during The Deep Study, Elesa gave me this poem to read aloud to the group in celebration of the life and work of the great poet, Mary Oliver. What Elesa didn’t know, at the time, was that I already knew this poem.

This verse was floating around Facebook many months ago and the words haunted me for days. You see, I had just recently opened such a box in my romantic life and was struggling to make sense of it, though I never did.

Now, months later, the same person who gave me that box — someone I thought was long gone — has resurfaced, reopening that dark place within me, touching tender points so deep and painful, I barely recognize them as mine.

The Buddhist teachings say that sometimes difficult people appear in our lives to help us work through some of our own karma, and that they may KEEP popping up until we are finally ready and able to resolve it. Or, they can be a mirror reflecting the truth about where we are in our spiritual development, offering the opportunity for clarity and growth.

In my own meditation on this sorrowful relationship, the word “forgiveness” kept coming up. At first, I thought I was to forgive him for the way he treated me, and so I did. Then I thought, I was to forgive myself for my own inability to set healthy boundaries, and so I did. But something still didn’t feel complete.

Could it be that I actually needed to ask HIM to forgive ME? But what had I done? Wasn’t HE the one who hurt ME? And so, in my meditation, I tried asking him to forgive me, for the role I played in our little drama, for my habitual desire to hurt him back, for responding with anger instead of compassion.

THAT was difficult. And I am still working on it.


Posted by Andrea Klunder, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
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Posted March 2, 2013

To Share Mary Oliver


If the smell of fresh, cool air crossing your nostrils…

If the sight of tulips and daffodils stretching towards the sky…

If the silence of falling snow on a quiet walk…

give you pause, then you must know or come to know the poet, Mary Oliver. Two of her poems are below. May they feed your soul as they feed mine. This second one is for you, Dear Ceily.


Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”


Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
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Posted Feb. 17, 2013

A New Path to Success


Earlier this week, I was listening to the NPR radio show On Being, which had an interview with Seth Godin, a well-known entrepreneur and author.  He believes that the rapid development of technology is changing how we navigate life both professionally and personally.

This rapid change, though, has caught our society off guard, confusing us and tripping us up. Because we still operate with an industrial-era mindset – that to be successful we must do what we’re told, follow the rules – in a nutshell, conform.

So, this is what I’ve been battling against, or trying to climb my way through and around? I feel like someone has finally cleared away some of the sticky, gooey, tiring mess that was clogging up the maze of my life. To be successful today requires risk taking, requires connecting, requires a level of authenticity. The path through my maze suddenly feels springy, bouncy and challenging in a great way.

During his interview, Mr. Godin said:  “Doing something that might not work is art.”

And, art is something we all hope to create, deliver or become…right?


Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
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Posted Feb. 10, 2013

Be Not Afraid


At this month’s Deep Study class, I heard a definition of anxiety that I had not heard before.

“Anxiety is experiencing failure in advance.”

How perfect/poignant is that definition?  As someone who has struggled with anxiety, this definition succinctly sums up my state of mind at times. There is a groove in my brain – a well-worn path – that goes to a future place of disappointment or setback or dissatisfaction. It wasn’t until I began learning to observe my thoughts rather than get involved in them (which is easier some times than others), that I became conscious of this pattern, this go-to way of life.

I remember distinctly when I first recognized it. I was driving in my car. I don’t recall what the exact thoughts were, but I remember kind of having an “ah-ha” moment. I felt a sense of liberation – of being freed from a habitual pattern that I wasn’t even conscious of. Pretty wacky, huh?

On Saturday, I surprised myself at the Deep Study class I reference above. We were asked what we’ve gotten out of this internal investigation, and I used several words to describe the journey including “beautiful, awful, exciting, inspiring, scary and freaking hard.” And, then I said – this is the surprising part – “I don’t ever want it to end.”

I would not have said that a year ago. But, I’m happier now. More fulfilled. And, I would not have made this progress I so desperately was searching for without purposefully trudging through the difficult crap, honoring the little things that make me who I am, remembering to be kind to myself, and diligently training to stay in the moment.

This very moment is the only moment we can control. This. Very. One. Lessen your anxiety by staying in it as best you can.

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

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Posted Jan. 15, 2013

Bird by Bird


I’m reading Bird by Bird, a book by Anne Lamott, and came across this passage.

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

It’s also one of the best metaphors I’ve heard for being present in your daily life. Enjoying each moment as it happens makes the whole experience – your life – vibrant and memorable.

I’m going to try and focus on the two or three feet ahead of me, especially during this holiday season. I hope you’ll join me.
Posted by Missy Baker, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.

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Posted Dec. 24, 2012

The Art of Self Value


Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World
Thich Nhat Hanh

I cannot imagine that the Connecticut school shooter felt peace in himself. And the shooter in Oregon. And the shooter in Denver. And the shooter outside of Milwaukee, Wis.

Although the above were also mentally ill, it feels like there are more people in this world lacking inner peace than those that do. And, I think it’s obvious that living without inner peace can lead to a life filled with turmoil.

So, what is inner peace? How can we understand this notion? How do we get to its very core? Here are some of my thoughts (the first one is the most critical).

  • Value who we are and our contribution to this world. The alternative is a path of needless suffering. We all have a choice on how we live our lives – it may not be easy, but it is a choice. (I can testify to the not easy part – I can also testify that this work has helped in giving me a life worth living)
  • Take responsibility for every moment in our lives – actions and thoughts. Be conscious and aware of our behavior both internally and externally.
  • Understand that, as humans, we are more alike than we are different.
  • Feed your inner soul/heart/spirit with what brings you joy.
  • Share that joy with others.

My big question right now: is there an opportunity to teach self value in a more formal way to today’s kids? To hopefully help avoid more turmoil and tragedy?

Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World
Thich Nhat Hanh

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

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Posted Dec. 16, 2012


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.

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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.

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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