Meet a Teacher: Willa Miller

Meet Buddhist teacher Willa Miller.

Willa Blythe Baker
26 September 2015
Painting by Michelle Laporte.

I grew up in a blended counterculture family in Berkeley, California, in the 1970s. My mother was a cell biologist with spiritual leanings, and my father was an English professor and organic farmer.

In 1985, I went on a college exchange program in Nepal, where I lived in a two-room house with a family of six Tibetans who spoke no English. After returning to the States, I moved into a monastery overlooking the Hudson River and stayed there for 15 years, studying Buddhism, becoming ordained, and completing two three-year retreats.

Now I live in Boston with my husband and two dogs, and I teach with Natural Dharma Fellowship. We recently converted a large old estate house in rural New Hampshire into a retreat center called Wonderwell Mountain Refuge.

What is your practice tradition?

Tibetan Buddhism, the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages. But mostly I practice the tradition of being human.

Favorite meditation practice?

Dzogchen and hiking in the wilderness, especially in tandem.

What is your current or next project?

There’s a dharma book in process, the topic of which keeps morphing from compassion to adversity, from the body to awareness. We’ll see what happens.

Your favorite virtue?

Kindness. A tender heart cannot turn away from suffering. When I meet someone kind, I feel like bowing down. Kindness is a deep discipline.

Your chief characteristic?

Trust. I’m inclined to trust the basic goodness in people. It has generally served me well but has occasionally caused me grief, because I can err on the side of naiveté.

Your principal poisons?

Self-doubt and fear.

Your idea of happiness?

Being in a loving community.

Your idea of misery?

Thinking that misery is the problem. Suffering can be a wake-up call.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Underfeeding pigeons in a biology lab.

If not yourself, who would you be?

A psychotherapist, or possibly a forest ranger.

Name three of your heroes.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Gandhi, Joanna Macy.

Recommended dharma books?

I’m currently reading Longchenpa’s The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena, and it’s awesome. Lately I’ve been recommending Anam Thubten’s The Magic of Awareness, most anything by Pema Chödrön, and John Makransky’s Awakening Through Love.

Your favorite current TV show?


What’s for dinner?

Quesadillas with guacamole and an IPA.

A motto that represents you?

We’re standing in a rain of blessings. Why hold an umbrella?


photo of Lama Willa Blythe-Baker

Willa Blythe Baker

Willa Blythe Baker is the founder and spiritual director of Natural Dharma Fellowship in Boston as well as its retreat center, Wonderwell Mountain Refuge, in Springfield, New Hampshire. She is an authorized teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, having completed two three-year retreats, and the author of The Arts of Contemplative Care, Everyday Dharma, and Essence of Ambrosia. Her forthcoming book explores the body’s natural wisdom.