Perception, Compassion and The Other

Sometimes during meditation I reflect on those I have put out of my heart. Not necessarily specific people at first: rather opening the doors where my heart feels closed. Whenever I do this I feel the underlying energy of what I’ve locked away. It isn’t pleasant but its totally ok. This practice shows me how “self and other” forms around subtle ideas of who I am and how I perceive others.

Buddha taught that there are three distortions of view – seeing what is impermanent as permanent, what is unsatisfying as satisfying and what is non-self as self.

Let’s look at the third one, seeing no self as self in terms of how we identify with and relate to others. Inadvertently we may use the idea of self to create views about others based on our own karma and conditioning. We make very complex decisions about other people in mere moments. Sometimes our perceptions are clear and intuitive, but often they are distorted simply because of our own conditioning. If we don’t bring awareness to this, we will then concretize those mistaken perceptions into reality. In many cases, the actual person is entirely different from the one in our head.

This hit home several years ago when I attended a celebration of life for a friend who died of cancer at an early age. As people enumerated the ways she touched their lives, I was shocked that the woman they described only vaguely resembled the one I knew, or thought I knew. This taught me a great lesson in letting go of fixed perceptions.

In the course of a day, week or month, how often do we create unexamined value judgments about others? This is far more pervasive than we might want to believe unless we examine it. Often we unconsciously favor those who help us uphold and solidify our sense of self over those who don’t. This can lead to loss of connection, it can also of course lead to prejudice and hatred.

Compassion practice can help us open our hearts to those we ignore or shut out; when practiced deeply, compassion shows us where our hearts are closed. When we are meditating we can examine our perceptions within a more spacious medium that includes our wise heart.

Take a moment to gently identify who you angry or frustrated with, who you have closed from your heart. Who do you ignore or attribute characteristics that you know in your heart may not be true? Sometimes the first step is simply to identify and acknowledge these beings. You don’t need to force people into your heart if you’re not ready. As you investigate, allow any sadness, anger or other emotions to be as they are. What thoughts are associated with these feelings? As you sit with it, does an action present itself, one you already identified but haven’t yet acted on, or an unexpected prompt to take your insight and compassion into the world? If not, that’s fine too.

More than once during challenging times I have discovered that the person who most needs including in my heart is me. First the “self” of my imagining, which allows me to see the ways I distort and cling to identity. Then I see the “imperfect self,” the one who will never live up to my ideals. Awareness dissolves this illusion of self into the open heart of kindness and wisdom.

This practice allows me to let go of self-identity and realize emptiness. As my false ideas of who I am fade away into silence, any rigid perceptions I hold about others also melt away. Interconnection is fully evident here. I’m left with a kinder, more open heart and a way forward that is far more inclusive than when I began.

For more on compassion practices for people we ignore or keep out of our hearts: Invisible People: Why They’re Important in Lovingkindss Practice.

New Dharma Talk: From Zen Koans to Liberation Through Life Inquiry

In this talk I describe my intensive practice with zen koans. I also explain how it laid the groundwork for deep inquiry into challenging life questions and how this practice can lead to insight and liberation. The talk includes a guided inquiry meditation.

Practice Tip: Three Steps to Releasing Difficult Thoughts in Meditation

When we meditate, at times difficult, unresolved encounters with friends, loved ones or co-workers may dominate our thoughts. If we don’t repress them (and normally we shouldn’t) they may instead begin to take over our meditation session as we swing from replaying the encounter to trying to figure out how to address it. So what to do? How do we find the wise middle way between over-identification and repression?

As an example, let’s say you and your boss were brainstorming how to solve a problem and your boss failed to listen to an idea you felt was important based on your firsthand knowledge of the situation. Instead, your boss decided on a plan you knew missed important information. You tried to convey this but your boss wouldn’t listen and ended the session. You left the encounter feeling frustrated and unheard.

The next morning during meditation, the situation came back full force. You replayed the encounter several times wondering what you could have done differently, then tried to figure out the next step, whether to approach you boss about it and what to say. Then you realize 10 plus minutes have passed on the cushion and you were completely unaware of your breath, body and immediate surroundings.

In situations like this, I have found a three step process helpful for creating space to work with unresolved situations. Staying with our example, first recognize the thoughts replaying the meeting with your boss as “past.” This may sound obvious but consciously noting that the thought content is focused on the past, without repressing it, can reduce its seeming solidity. Then notice and explore what sensations and emotions are present that accompany these thoughts.

Now, looking forward to your thoughts of how to address the situation with your boss, note that these thoughts are about the “future” but also be aware of how these thoughts show up here and now. Perhaps when you think back to the encounter with your boss you notice anger or even sadness for not being heard. When you think ahead to your possible next step, maybe you notice anxiety and tension.

Now bring it all into the present. Of course thoughts only exist in the present moment. While we may think about the past or future, every thought is only arising in the present moment. So now we see the past and future thoughts as “present” and our physical responses, sensations and emotions as “present.”

Past, future and present are all just this moment of awareness. As we see them coalesce, chances are they will lose their grip, soften and begin to settle. The sense of me against the other begins to fade. From this more settled, less self identified place, we have more possibility of seeing the situation clearly and with insight. This is not about passivity. In fact, a clear plan of action may arise from this emptier, steadier state. (If nothing arises, that’s fine too.)

You can use this three step process for most situations that begin to dominate your meditation. Occasionally a situation may be too charged to work this way. In that case, its fine to move to a more neutral focus of attention such as the breath, body or sound. Only return to the investigation if you feel able.

This practice can help us let go of the sense of self at the center of our narratives. Seeing our challenges with the clarity of present moment awareness broadens perspective, reduces the suffering of reactivity and opens new possibilities.

A Preview of Lisa’s 2020 Retreats

Links included for events already open for registration


2020 Residential Retreats

Spring Renewal Residential Retreat, 3 or 7 night option, April 23 – 26, extended option to 4/30, Bethany Hills, Kingston Springs TN

Heartwood Refuge Retreat Center Residential Meditation Retreat, The Power of a Tender Heart, June 24 – 28, Jeff Samuels teaching assistant. Registration open, info here.

Big Bear Retreat Center, Big Bear California, Making Peace with Your Ego: Finding Freedom through Letting Go, co-led with Gullu Singh, August 4 – 9. Registration open, info here.

Fall Retreat with Red Clay Sangha, September 23 – 27, Location in Georgia TBA

Late Fall Residential Retreat at Bethany Hills, Kingston Springs, TN. December 3 – 6 with extended option to 12/8.

Special Event

Buddhist Tour of India, March 14 – 28. Varanasi-Bodhgaya-Dharmsala-Armitsar. Full information here.

Daylong and Half Day Retreats, Winter – Summer

The Power of Intention: Setting Your Course of the New Year and Beyond, Half Day Retreat, Jan. 1, Nashville Friends House, details soon

Mindful Meditation Workshop for ADHD and Anxiety, February 1 with Terry Huff

Daylong Meditation Retreat, Deepening your Practice, May 23 in Nashville

Spirit Rock Meditation Center Daylong Retreat with Trudy Goodman, The Dharma of Desire: From Longing to Loving Presence, July 19

Additional daylong and half day retreats will be added as scheduling permits.

 

Concentration and The Jhanas: A Primer for Deepening Practice

Saturday, November 23, Nashville Friends Meeting
9 a.m. – Noon, Led by Lisa Ernst

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Right Concentration is the final leg of the Buddha’s eightfold path but it is frequently misunderstood. Concentration and mindfulness differ, although right mindfulness is a support for meditative concentration. Skillful concentration often leads to the jhanas, the eight altered states of consciousness that can deepen joy and improve your insight practice. In this half day retreat we will explore meditation through the lens of concentration and the jhanas as a path to awakening.

The morning will consist of instruction, meditation and discussion. This retreat is suitable for all levels of experience although an existing mediation practice is recommended.

Cost is $50. A reduced fee, scholarship spot is available in the case of financial need. Email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com to inquire. Payment can be made through Paypal here. donate button or by check here . If paying by check, be sure to include your email address. Venmo is available @onedharma.

 

Cultivating Wise Attention: Awakening into Insight and Awareness

Silent Residential Meditation Retreat
Thursday Evening, December 5 – Sunday Noon 12/8 with Optional Extension to 12/10
Bethany Hills Retreat Center, Kingston Springs, TN, Led by Lisa Ernst

Please note: As of 10/9 we have one three night spot and one five night spot still open

All of our joys and sorrows, thoughts and feelings arise and fall away in a field of awareness that is clear, expansive and open. In this retreat we will explore how mindfulness, concentration and open awareness support each other. We will learn how developing the capacity to rest in awareness creates a wider container to meet even our most challenging and stressful thoughts and emotions with insight and compassion. It also stabilizes concentration (samadhi) and strengthens insight (prajna). This retreat is designed to invigorate and nourish, not only our formal mindfulness and concentration practices, but also our daily activities.

This silent retreat is suitable for all levels of experience. It will include sitting and walking meditation, instruction, dharma talks and private meetings with the teacher. Retreat cost is $330 if paid by November 7; $360 after. The five night option is $465 if paid by November 7; $495 after. A $100 deposit holds your spot. Fee covers lodging and all meals. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a *dana offering (donation) to the teacher. Email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com for questions. Please note that your registration isn’t complete and we can’t hold your spot until you process your deposit fee.

Click Here to Register

Lisa Ernst is a meditation teacher in the Thai Forest/Spirit Rock lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. Lisa leads classes and retreats nationally and is a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.

Cancellation Refund Policy: More than four weeks from retreat start date – $30 cancellation fee; four weeks to 20 days from start date – $100 cancellation fee. No refunds are available for cancellations less than 20 days from retreat start date.

 

 

Fall Retreat Next Weekend!

Lovingkindness and Interconnection in Challenging Times

Thursday evening, September 26 – Sunday Noon September 29

Led by Lisa Ernst

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Note: This retreat was rescheduled on very short notice because of a scheduling mixup with the retreat center. If you can get away on short notice, spots have opened up due to the date change. This is a very low cost retreat, $175 for room and board!

How do we keep our hearts open and remember interconnection even when so much of our world is polarized right now? The dharma offers a wellspring of wisdom and tools that can refresh and renew us. Surrounded by the peace of the rural landscape, we will engage in practices that support our mental stability, help us step out of our reactive patterns and reset our hearts to continue our journey with loving attentiveness and wise action.

This retreat, hosted by Red Clay Sangha, will be held mostly in silence. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, daily instructions and dharma talks, q&a and optional meetings with the teacher. All levels of experience are welcome. This is a low cost retreat with additional financial support available to anyone in financial need.

Lisa Ernst is a meditation teacher, visual artist and founder of One Dharma Nashville. She has been meditating for over 25 years in the Zen and Vipassana traditions and received teaching authorization in the Thai Forest/Spirit Rock lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. Lisa offers meditation training and retreats nationally and she is a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.

Go here to register: https://redclaysangha.org/event-3228179

How to Recharge Your Practice with a Tried and True Inquiry

Even if you’ve been meditating for many years, you probably encounter old patterns that seem impervious to your mindful awareness. Maybe at times these patterns are dormant, but during challenging moments they reappear and perhaps feel intractable. Often these patterns become entangled in identity – stuck and unfixable with no space between the knots. It may seem no amount of meditation can penetrate this mess.

What to do? I suggest bringing out a tried and true inquiry. When you first began meditation practice, you may have engaged the simple practice of asking, “who am I?” Done correctly, this inquiry penetrates and quiets the analytical mind since there is no logical answer. You access something truer and more immediate. You can also bring this inquiry to your stuck places, the patterns that often feel impenetrable. Here are a couple of inquiry examples: “who is the one who is always anxious?” or “who is the one reacting, the one who has always reacted?” You’re asking the question here and now, but you’re applying it to a narrative that has persisted for a very long time, has a history and a story.

This inquiry can momentarily stop the reactive pattern and the attendant thoughts. Its not designed to bypass anything but to create a different vantage point, to dis-identify from a strong and ingrained sense of self that gets entangled in the pattern. Then you have space to experience how the dilemma shows up in present time in the body and emotions. This is the ground of insight. Deep, limiting beliefs may come to light that may have been obscured in the reactivity.

When I engage this inquiry practice, I often feel lighter and less stuck; at other times a deep sadness may arise from witnessing how a pattern has perpetuated itself for so long. But in every case I clearly see how the “I” and “mine” of the narrative have contributed to and further entrapped me in the pattern. Once the entanglement is seen and self-identification released, there is space to respond from a wiser, more compassionate part of myself, I find freedom to act in accordance with my truest values and insight.

 

The Essence of Compassion

The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “inside the skin” of the other. We “go inside” their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the subject of our observation. When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, “to suffer with.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

The Power of Contemplative Inquiry: The Art of Embodying Mindful Presence for Facilitators and Practitioners

Daylong Workshop led by Lisa Ernst

Saturday, October 19, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Nashville Friends Meeting

Contemplative inquiry is a vital skill for practitioners and facilitators for cultivating focused, open attention. It is the art of embodying presence and mindful listening, while reflecting a deep and heart-felt sense of kindness and curiosity. These qualities ground and support us in the unfolding nature of experience, expanding awareness and inviting reflection on what we experientially observe. Through the practice of inquiry, we begin to disrupt and release rumination, limiting beliefs and conditioned responses, while bringing more intention and joy to our lives and interactions.

In this daylong you will learn to incorporate inquiry practices inro your own meditation and strengthen your ability to incorporate these skills when working with others. Inquiry practices free the mind from habitual stories, narratives and patterns of avoidance that prevent present moment awareness and compassion from unfolding. These skills are suitable for personal investigation, facilitating groups and working one on one with clients.

This workshop, led by Lisa Ernst, will include instruction, meditation, group interaction and practice in the inquiry process. The cost is $75 – $125 sliding scale. Please pay at the highest level you can afford so that others who need to pay less can also attend. (This is not a “dana” daylong and compensation to the teacher is included in your fee.) A scholarship spot is available. Email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com Payment can be made here.