Howard Cohn has practiced meditation since 1972, and has led vipassana retreats since 1985. He leads a weekly ongoing class in San Francisco. Howard has studied with many Asian and western teachers of several traditions, including Theravada, Zen, Dzogchen and Advaita Vedanta, and has been strongly influenced by contact with the Indian master H.W.L. Poonja. He has done postgraduate work in East/West Psychology and has a private counseling practice.
In 2003, I started the Awakening Joy course so that the Buddhist teachings that I’ve so benefited from could be made accessible to and practiced by anyone whether or not they were interested in Buddhist philosophy. My approach has been to present these principles and practices with a particular emphasis on how they can lead to true happiness. I’m grateful that the course has become more popular than I ever could have imagined, with thousands of people from all over the world practicing the principles it offers.
I lead Awakening Joy workshops, often with my wife, Jane, at Esalen Institute, Omega Institute, and other venues in the United States and abroad. In 2010, with Shoshana Alexander as co-author, I wrote Awakening Joy, a book based on the course.
I would say that a central theme in my life has always been to find and experience true happiness and then share it with others. As an elementary school teacher for twelve years it was rewarding not only to help students learn the curriculum but, even more, to help them see their own goodness. Although teaching can be a very demanding job, I found that when I was able to be present for the students and encourage them to bring out the best in each other, it was a tremendously fulfilling experience. I’m happy to say that many decades later, since the arrival of Facebook, I’m still in touch with students who’ve contacted me with the query, “Could you be the Mr. Baraz who was my 6th grade teacher in Astoria, Queens?”
In 1974, I discovered mindfulness meditation and Buddhist philosophy. This was a turning point in my life. Because I was acutely aware of how my mind was so filled with confusion, insecurity and self-judgment, I started practicing in earnest as a way to find an inner peace that I longed for. It was clear early on that there was something to this meditation stuff. I was becoming more at ease and actually feeling good about life. I’d found something that was miraculously leading me toward more genuine well-being and happiness.
As I deepened my practice, I had a natural urge to share what I was discovering with others. I didn’t know how that would happen, but shortly after I moved to San Francisco in 1977, I was invited to teach a meditatio class at Holistic Life University. With the support of my teachers, Joseph Goldstein and Ram Dass, I began leading weekend retreats as well as starting one of the first insight meditation groups in the Bay Area. I also began to organize longer intensive meditation retreats for Joseph and Jack Kornfield, so that others could experience the same benefits I received from intensive meditation practice. With the encouragement of my teachers, I started teaching longer retreats myself in 1982 and have been doing that ever since.
In 1980, I met the love of my life, Jane, who has a similar dedication to conscious living. Our marriage has been based on our commitment to help each other grow and shine. Towards that end, I’ve been blessed with the perfect partner.
As interest in meditation grew in the 80s, I was part of a group that founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, which has become one of the most respected mindfulness meditation centers, supporting thousands of practitioners since 1986. At Spirit Rock, besides serving on the Board of Directors and the Governing Teachers Council, I’ve been involved in a number of programs to support others in their practice.
Jane and I started Spirit Rock’s thriving Family Program in the early 90’s. In 1997, I created the Community Dharma Leader (CDL) program, leading the first three 2 1/2-year trainings (the last of those with Tara Brach as co-leader). Those programs trained over 200 senior students to teach meditation in their communities throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. After those first three trainings, other teachers from our community have subsequently trained hundreds more leaders in communities around the US and internationally.
I also started a network of meditation support groups (Kalyana Mitta Network) throughout the United States that have been a strong support since 1995 to many people in their meditation practice.
In addition to teaching at Spirit Rock, I’ve taught mindfulness meditation at Esalen Institute since 1983 and have led retreats and workshops throughout North America and internationally.
Besides focusing on being present for all the joys in life, I also feel it’s essential to deal skillfully with life’s challenges and sorrows. In the fall of 2013, I co-led a new two-year program exploring how we can become more conscious in working with aging, illness, and dying, (known in Buddhism as the Heavenly Messengers) to support personal exploration as well as service to others as they face these unavoidable facts of life.
I have two sons and three grandchildren, and live with Jane in Berkeley, California, where I also lead a meditation community, the Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley (IMCB). All in all, since I was first motivated to find happiness and share it with others, it’s been quite a journey. As my mother, Selma Baraz famously says, my life is truly blessed.
Ever since I discovered the power of mindfulness practices and principles in my own life, my vision has been to share them with others, not only for their own personal benefit, but as a way to bring more consciousness to humanity and our planet. As a friend says, “We’re in a race between fear and consciousness.” I believe that consciousness is stronger than fear and it is a joyful responsibility to awaken consciousness as much as we can in the world at this time. I invite you to see the Awakening Joy course in that context.
Booker brings her heart and wisdom to the intersection of Dharma + Embodied Wisdom + Activism. She shares her expertise nationally as a guest lecturer at conferences, universities, and Dharma centers, on expanding our vision around culturally responsive teaching, and changing the paradigm of self and community care. She has spoken at Mind & Life Institute’s International Symposium, Contemplative Minds in Higher Education, Mindfulness in America, and Omega Institute’s Mindfulness in Education conferences, along with other pioneers in the mindfulness field such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dr. Daniel Siegel, Linda Lantieri, and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Booker has been a featured speaker and facilitator at the Fetzer Institute, Vassar and Pitzer Colleges, as well as with the Peace Corps and Teacher’s College at Columbia University, and the Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia.
She began sharing practice with vulnerable populations in 2005, and was a senior teacher and Director of Teacher Trainings with Lineage Project, where she worked with incarcerated and vulnerable youth for ten years. During this time, she also facilitated a mindfulness and cognitive-based therapy intervention on Riker’s Island from 2009-2011, a partnership between New York University and the National Institute of Health.
She is a co-founder of the Yoga Service Council at Omega Institute and the Meditation Working Group of Occupy Wall Street. Booker is a co-author of Best Practices for Yoga in a Criminal Justice Setting, a contributor to Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality’s report: Gender & Trauma—Somatic Interventions for Girls in Juvenile Justice, YOGA: The Secret of Life, and Sharon Salzberg’s book Happiness at Work. She is a graduate of Spirit Rock’s Mindful Yoga and Meditation training (2012), Community Dharma Leaders’ Training (2017), and will complete Spirit Rock’s four year Retreat Teacher Training in 2020.
Sharda Rogell has been practicing meditation since 1976 and teaching worldwide since 1987. She serves on the Teachers Council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Along with her training in the Theravada tradition, Sharda has been influenced by the non-dual teachings of Advaita and Dzogchen and has been a student of A. H. Almaas in the Diamond Approach since 2002. Her primary interest is integrating the awakening of the heart/mind with embodied presence. For more information, visit www.shardarogell.com
Terry Vandiver has led mindful movement and gentle yoga at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California for 35 years. She studied with the Iyengars in India and has taught Iyengar style classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and internationally. She has practiced Buddhist meditation for 35 years and has studied classical Indian singing and devotional chanting.
September Insight Meditation Retreat
This retreat emphasizes quieting the mind, opening the heart, and developing clarity and depth of practice. Traditional instructions will be combined with a spirit of loving-kindness and silent sitting and walking meditation, dharma talks, and meetings with the teachers.
Suitable for both beginning and experienced students.
Financial assistance is available for all Spirit Rock residential retreats. Our scholarship rate is $40/night and available for all those with financial hardship with special funds allocated to People of Color (POC), folks with serious medical conditions, and young adults (age 18-26). Scholarship funding is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Scholarships are budgeted per retreat and because they are in high demand, can run out quickly. We encourage you to register for a retreat as close as possible to the registration opening date (lotteries are an exception).