Janet Solyntjes, MA, is a Certified MBSR teacher and serves on the faculty of the Center for Mindfulness at UMass. She is also on the faculty of the Engaged Mindfulness Institute and a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. Janet has offered MBSR courses in Colorado since 2000 and has been leading mindfulness meditation retreats in the U.S. and internationally for over 20 years. She is co-founder of the Boulder-based Center for Courageous Living, a small business committed to promoting the inherent goodness of individuals and groups through a variety of supportive services, programs, and retreats.
What do I do best?
In my personal life I have, since childhood, been good at the discipline of training body and mind. When I was in high school I spent hours at a local dance studio several nights a week. In college, I continued to train as a dancer and also underwent training as a classical pianist. In the years since I left behind these two artistic disciplines, I have devoted time every day to the formal practice of meditation. Discipline has brought joy and steadiness to my life.
In my professional life, as teacher and mentor, I have a sincere interest in cultivating environments where individuals and groups can open to what is genuine and true. I am good at being spacious and inquisitive.
What makes me the best version of myself?
I am still learning how to relax and re-discover the best version of myself! I attribute so much to my contemplative journey—to the practices and teachings of Shambhala Buddhism.
The “best version” is, as far as I can tell, the one that is happening in this moment. Nothing to prove or improve when touching into the fundamental nature of our humanness, exactly as it is right now. Nevertheless, I trust that I will continue to mature.
What are my aspirations?
The irony of the reflection on goals, ambitions, and desires is that I have been taught to abandon ambition, to see the path as the goal, and to look into the nature of desires (rather than follow them all!). Nonetheless, I aspire personally to embody the principles of human kindness, compassion, generosity, and patience. In my professional life I aspire to support others in the remembering and re-discovering of their basic goodness.
My Biggest Success?
In the past 10 years I have felt outer “success” in doing work I love and seeing how this work of teaching mindfulness has positively influenced many people’s lives. To be honest, I don’t know if I accomplished this success. It seems to be the result of many causes and conditions, none of which I can claim as “me.”
On an inner level, a challenge that held me captive for many years was an eating disorder that began when I was around 15, just a few years after the sudden death of my father. The inner struggle related to food and image lasted a decade. Without the journey of meditation, I don’t know if I would have successfully overcome these habits. The feeling of success grew slowly as fear and doubt about my worthiness and goodness were acknowledged and eventually liberated from their power. As we say in the meditation community, seeing thoughts as thoughts, not “my thoughts”, is the path to freedom.
My Most Challenging Moment?
Decisions often become challenging when I want to hold onto what is familiar and seemingly secure. I imagine this is true for everyone. The decision that had a meaningful impact?—perhaps there are two that are worth mentioning. In 1988 I decided to attend a 3-month Buddhist seminary. The time away from any form of work coupled with the cost of attending the program made it a challenging decision. I recall asking a roommate why she attended the program several years prior. Her answer was a single word: Suffering. Somehow, in that raw and honest moment I knew that I would leap over the challenges and commit to undergoing the training. The second decision that had impact occurred when I was leaving a job as the director of a non-profit and decided to leave a gap for myself before thinking about applying for another job. Friends encouraged me to apply for openings at other local non-profits. “You are so good at this!” But I knew that another 9-5 administrative position was going to be the death of my spirit. As the months went by I gained courage to expand my opportunities as a self-employed mindfulness teacher. It worked!
What comes to mind is a slogan from the Buddhist mind training (lojong) teachings of Atisha, “Of the two witnesses, hold the principle one.” The two witnesses are others and yourself. Who else but the “principle one” knows what is exactly going on inside? We each know our personal history better than anyone else. We each have an intuitive sense of our journey in life, of the interplay of motivation, intention, action, and result. As Pema Chodron comments on this slogan, “So work with seeing yourself with compassion but without any self-deception.”
So whenever I feel misunderstood or have been accused of something that I don’t believe is true, I reflect on this slogan. It helps me settle my attention away from the outer drama and into compassionate self-inquiry.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
My mother was a role model for living life with contentment and simplicity. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been a role model for daringness, commitment to a purpose, and eloquent articulation and translation of an ancient tradition into modern times. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche has influenced my life in the most profound way.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Of all the places I have traveled I long to return to the lush tropical islands of Bali and Hawaii. My favorite place for meditation retreats is Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado. It’s my second home.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
“Well-made” is what brings anything into this category for me. Beautifully designed clothing, furniture, flower arrangements, curriculums, computers, etc. Of the things I currently own, I particularly appreciate a few hand-painted silk scarves. My favorite tool is mindfulness.
My Current Passions?
Engaging and exploring the principles underlying a good human life and good society.