The Art of Living Wakefully: Wonder, Self‑Expression, Heart

The Art of Living Wakefully:
Wonder, Self-Expression, Heart

May 4, 5, 6, 2021

For Joy of Being Graduates

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There is a story told about the Buddha shortly after he was enlightened. While he was walking down a dusty road, he met a traveler who noticed that this handsome monk exuded a remarkable energy. The traveler said to him, “You seem very special. What are you? Some kind of angel?” “No,” Buddha said. “Then, are you some kind of god? You seem inhuman.” “No,” he said once again. “Well, are you some kind of wizard? Some kind of magician?” “No,” the Buddha once again said. “Well, are you a man?” “No.” “Then what are you?” At this the Buddha answered, “I am awake.”

The word, “Buddha,” means, one who is awake. Another way of saying this is, to be a Buddha is to be one who walks wakefully on this earth.

And what is it to “walk wakefully on this earth?” This is the key question we ask, after having awakened, after having seen newly with new eyes, after having faced one’s Self with truth and integrity, and honesty, after having discerned our thread and designed and lived and continue to live a life fulfilling our purpose on the planet, a life whose forms often constantly change as the we live out our life. And so, with this ancient teaching from the Buddhist tradition, I invite you to participate in the next graduate retreat to The Joy of Being: The Art of Living Wakefully: Wonder, Self Expression, Heart.

Mark Nepo’s voice from Book of Awakening calls to us: “We must swim out past the breakers if we are to know the hammock of the deep. Stay on land or make it to the deep. It is the in-between that kills.”

The purpose of the graduate work to The Joy of Being has been, and is, to provide wide access to a descent into the depths, to that place wherein dwells “the hammock of the deep.” Emerging out of each graduate retreat, having seen and breathed the treasure of knowing ourselves and others deeply, having taken deep dives into reflective and thoughtful conversation and inquiry with each other, having lived into and opened ourselves into new capacities for meaning, having committed to our own development, we travel ever more wakefully, mindfully, enlivened, and in Presence in our days. Some of us cross thresholds that are now ours to cross, or create endings to aspects of our lives that are now ours to end, whether they are conversations, or ways of being, or relationships, or heartaches.

What I said in the very first Joy graduate retreat we ever designed still holds true:

“In The Joy of Being, you ignited the life embers inside of you into a fire and brought those embers into the light of day, designing and manifesting a life (and are, as yet, designing a life) that gives in-the-world expression to your Soul. You, yourself, know, that were those embers to go out, it would “signal some kind of inner death.” So, the necessity of sustaining that fire, while the world relentlessly goes its own way, and building that fire so that your next “epoch” of fulfillment may arrive, is critical for our pilgrimage, our journey, our Way. What is the inhabitation of your life calling for from you now to sustain (and, possibly, expand) its exhilaration? Who are you, now, and what is critical for you to bring to bear, to live as the creative artist, ripening your own life into its next stage?”

The specific purpose of our next graduate offering, The Art of Living Wakefully is that Wonder, Self-Expression, and Heart, become, for each of us, a Way of Being and Living, embodied within us, so that those distinctions accompany us in our travels each moment of our days. As the listening we have for each other in the retreats is priceless, I can declare this purpose, as well:

Through our profound listening for one another and the conversation, and depth of exploration, expansion into and embodiment of self – expression, heart, and wonder, we come to a new place of marrying our Soul, of living our days in a state of spirit, gratefulness, wonder and heart, bringing healing to our lives and to the lives of others.

Spoken as “Blessings,”

May our access to wonder allow us to generate astonishment, gratitude, and amazement, as we move ever more deeply, through Presence, into Life, an experience of timelessness and the Infinite, as we notice the details of the world that bring Life to life. As Mary Oliver says in one of her poems, I was a bridge married to Amazement.”

May our access to Self Expression bring us closer to the pulse of life, to living from the depth of life, in touch with our own depth. May we be (as Mark Nepo says, in his book, Drinking form the river of light, “shaped by life into finer instruments of care and expression. The deeper we go, the more attuned we become and the more we join with everything around us.”

May our access to heart, to listening “from the ear of the heart,” (St Benedictine), to allowing ourselves to break open through life’s trails and opportunities, to be ever more transparent to our own vulnerabilities, and to “Coeur” – the word, in French for heart, which is the root of courage; may our entrance into courage, into living with heart, give us an opening for belonging to the world in a new way, even when the tide is taken away, even when our hearts are broken.

Writers in the wisdom tradition always speak to the heart as the source of our development. For example, John O’Donohue says,

The nature of the calling can change over time, taking a person down pathways never anticipated. The calling opens new territories within the heart; this in turn deepens the calling itself. The faces of the calling change; what at the beginning seemed simple and clear can become ambivalent and complex as it unfolds. To develop a heart that is generous and equal to this complexity is the continual challenge of growth. This is the creative tension that dwells at the heart of vocation. One is urged and coaxed beyond the pale regions into rich territories of risk and promise.

And, Mathew Fox:

“Creativity takes courage – courage to explore one’s deepest self and to let in the depths of the world’s struggles and joys, torments and agony. … Artists need encouragement, the building up of courage that community can lend us. The artist in each of us needs and deserves attention in order to build up the heart.”

Writers in the wisdom tradition always speak to the heart as the source of our development. For example, John O’Donohue says,

And so, it is with the deepest honor and regard, and a profound bow to John O’Donohue’s words of blessings, to the story of the Buddha, and to You, that I invite you into our next graduate Joy offering May 4, 5, and 6, 2021.

May you travel in an awakened way,
gathered wisely into your inner ground;
that you may not waste the invitations
which wait along the way to transform you.

It is a joy and a privilege to extend this invitation to you, and please know how deeply I (and others) value the treasure of being with you, touching, and being touched by you.

How does this work? (you might ask):

While self-reflection in solitude, exercises, writing, journaling, paired sharing, group sharing, and coaching are all part of the methodology with which we work in behalf of embodying these distinctions, the work of Inquiry, Communion, Rigor and Laughter is at its soul as a chief methodology for the revelation of Pure Wisdom. Given through deep listening, which in turn gives rise to Deep Speaking, Community Inquiry brings each of us to a place none of us have been before. Through the honesty of Speakers we navigate the terrain of our own and each other’s intelligence, life experience (including failures and mistakes), joy, and heart.


The Art of Living Wakefully is a three-day program, through Zoom, on May 4, 5, 6, 2021. The tuition for the Zoom retreat is $1695.00.

Having led this particular retreat, with these distinctions, with a graduate Joy of Being community once, in December 2020, we have all seen that the conversation, and the way the conversation unfolds, allows for intimacy, authenticity, vulnerability, and transformation through this medium. We were all deeply surprised by how powerful the conversation could be, even virtually, and how close to one another we felt, deriving wisdom from each other’s journeys. Every person crossed a threshold through the conversation. Here is what a few participants said afterward:

Having just completed our annual retreat with Amba on Zoom this year, I was blown away by the depth of our conversation and the intimacy we all felt. When we decided to hold our retreat via zoom this year, I wasn’t sure I was going to participate. The thought of “zooming” ALL DAY, well, I just couldn’t imagine how it could come close to the real thing of being together. Boy were my eyes (and heart) opened. Not only was intimacy not sacrificed, it was ENHANCED. Amba’s structure for the conversation, the paired work in break out rooms, and the frequent breaks, all contributed to a depth of conversation, connection, and a contribution to each other that was over-the-top. – James Bailey, Owner Perspective Wealth Partners.

– James Bailey, Prospective Wealth Partners

I am far from an expert. I have taken many courses over the years, and though on zoom might seem more of a hurdle, I experienced it as simply a different experience. Not better, not worse. Some of the positive aspects was the ability to see all of the faces of everyone in the class, even Amba is always looking right into my eyes which really brings me into the conversations. I also appreciated the ability to move, or shift, in my seat and not interrupt the entire class. Being on mute, clearing my throat wasn’t a distraction as it might be in a classroom setting. Things like this might seem small, but when you are involved in a deep conversation and listening deeply, I found it much better to focus on what was being said. I would also say that the ability to jump into a one-on-one conversation and back to the group at the top of a hat was an efficient way to have that one-on-one sharing and brought me closer to the individuals I got a chance to work with. Sure you give up on the side conversations on break, or miss out on letting someone know how powerful their speaking was during lunch, or getting to know others more. But all in all Amba has made the crossing into the on-line experience with flying colors.

– Joel Larway, Market Operations, Town & Country Markets

The level of connection, trust, companionship that you so masterfully created during our retreat was beyond any I have experienced in any medium.  The fact that it was done in Zoom is truly amazing.  After the retreat I found myself trying to decode how you did it.  It is clear you were truly committed to creating a profound and transformative experience.  And you succeeded. Going back to my normal Zoom experience was like going back to a black and white TV after experiencing color for the first time!

– Eric Cress, Principle, Urban Development Partners

The decision to do our retreat this year took a bit of development in and of itself. 

Not being able to be together, in person, in the same room, would we be able to fulfill on the experience we have created over the years, for what this time provides, or would it be a disappointment?

As it turns out, no real surprise, Amba is reliable for creating the deep and strong foundation of relatedness needed through the intention of the design, whatever the format.

We had a great time, found things we really liked about the independence of this year’s setup, and connected with each other and the opportunity the retreat offers. 

To stop for a moment and ‘let our souls catch up,’ to laugh at our common human experience is such a gift. Most of us said it was the best ever!

– Rick Pedersen, Special Projects, Town & Country Markets

Participant Comments from the Retreat Community:

Continuing with the Joy of Being retreats has been a marvelous opportunity for me. To say they have directly contributed to my life would be an understatement. The Joy retreats have opened up so many wonderful journeys into words, distinctions, opportunities, and shifts in my life. Together the community takes different cuts into three different words/phrases. At a glance one might wonder how can one entire day be spent on one word or phrase. By end of the first day I realized that it is only the beginning of my new found understanding of how these distinctions show up in the world around me and how many other delightful and challenging doors are now open. If you do choose to continue to with this course I would suggest that you pack curiosity, humility, vulnerability, transparency, and love.

– Joel Larway, Market Director, Town & Country Markets

I first experienced The Joy of Being in 2009 and have been living into the space that it created ever since. I have revisited and refined my life design many times as I have uncovered new insights in this “undiscovered territory.” The graduate retreats always accelerated and deepened my inquiry in ways that I could not. Beyond that, there is nothing better than opening myself and being received by others committed to the same fundamental question of their purpose. I have had the honor of working with Amba for over 30 years and there is no better way to experience her wisdom and loving support than in the graduate community.

– Rich Duncombe, Managing Director, Innovation Catalyst Group

If Joy of Being gives you a life map, then the graduate community joins you on the path. This community of wise partners lightens the way, exposing the crossroads in your life that you might otherwise pass without notice. The graduate community is a family of trained coaches. We support each other throughout the year. My community of graduates repeatedly transforms my perspective on life and, in turn, I practice transforming there’s, such that I am able to employ the practice in my daily life for the benefit of myself and others.

– Eric Cress, Founder, Urban Development Partners

I was recently asked the question, “What are some of the things you can’t live without in your life?” Coffee came to mind first. And then, amazingly, the retreat community came to mind next – not that it came to mind, but rather popped up directly from my heart. What makes the retreats so powerful are both the topics of exploration and the community exploring them together. The distinctions explored at a retreat (for example – love, faith, integrity) are daily engagements. As such, your life will be profoundly different after engaging in a retreat conversation. Like all Amba’s offerings, through rigorous exploration, you grow exponentially – broadening and deepening your way of being.

– James Bailey, Owner, Perspective Wealth Partners


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