New Year’s Half Day Retreat

The Power of Intention: Clarifying Your Path for the New Year
Sunday, January 1 2017, 9 a.m. – Noon
Blooma Yoga, 4107 Charlotte Ave.
Led by Lisa Ernst

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“One of the Buddha’s most penetrating discoveries is that our intentions are the main factors shaping our lives and that they can be mastered as a skill.” – Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Start your New Year on the cushion by joining us for a half day intention setting retreat. At the beginning of a New Year, it is customary to take stock of our lives and the world we live in, to review the previous year and set our intentions for the upcoming twelve months and beyond. Bringing this evaluation onto the cushion, to look with fresh eyes and an open heart, can help us refine and clarify our direction and to live from the truest part of ourselves.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, the retreat will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, dharma talk and discussion. Cost is $40 – $50, sliding scale and is due by Wednesday, December 28. A reduced fee option is available for those who need financial support. Paypal is available here. If paying by check, instructions are here. Be sure to include your email address For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

Compassion For All

This dharma talks explores finding ground in groundlessness and why its important to keep our hearts open to compassion for all. This includes lessons from my own personal experience and from spiritual and civil right leaders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King, Jr and John Lewis.

“Hatred Will Never Let You Face the Beast in Man”

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I’m seeing two trends since the election that are ultimately in opposition to each other. The first is that people are feeling galvanized to get involved, to take action and speak up when they see injustice, to connect and engage with communities that need our support. Right now we truly need people who are willing to get involved and not remain silent. This is an ideal time for Buddhists to engage and not leave our wisdom on the cushion.

The post election down side is that many are using this situation to justify division, intolerance and even hatred. “Its different this time,” I see again and again. But whatever their justifications, this mindset can quickly lead to escalated division, fear and hatred. To me, this is both disturbing and sad.

What’s a better approach? First, we need to understand that standing up for what’s right and helping those who feel vulnerable (including ourselves) is not incompatible with unconditional compassion and “loving the enemy.”

Many of our greatest spiritual leaders have emphasized this point, even while they spoke out and took a stand. On Saturday I heard a beautiful message from civil rights icon John Lewis on this point, as he referenced the role model of non-violent resistance they used during the civil rights movement, Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the downward spiral of hating those who hate you. “In a real sense all life is inter-related,” he wrote in “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” This is up to all of us.

Buddha taught us that we must cultivate compassion for all beings, without exception. This doesn’t mean that we stand by passively while people trample over us, or behave with hatred and violence toward those who are vulnerable. Compassion isn’t incompatible with firm boundaries that declare, “this is not ok.” If we begin to justify holding hate in our hearts, we become no different from those we feel in opposition to. The Dalai Lama understood this, even as he was exiled from his homeland of China. And Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.”

Thich Nhat has been one of the most eloquent voices advocating that we always remember interconnection and that we love our enemies. Not that it’s an easy easy path. We have to overcome habitual tendencies to create division that naturally arise out of fear.

Here’s Recommendation, a powerful poem in which Thich Nhat Hanh encourages compassion for all, without exception.

Recommendation” by Thich Nhat Hahn
Promise me,
promise me this day,
promise me now,
while the sun is overhead
exactly at the zenith,
promise me:

Even as they
strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you
like a worm,
even as they dismember and disembowel you,
remember, brother,
remember:
man is not our enemy.

The only thing worthy of you is compassion –
invincible, limitless, unconditional.
Hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.

One day, when you face this beast alone,
with your courage intact, your eyes kind,
untroubled
(even as no one sees them),
out of your smile
will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
will behold you
across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.

Alone again,
I will go on with bent head,
knowing that love has become eternal.
On the long, rough road,
the sun and the moon
will continue to shine.

This poem was written in 1965 in Vietnam for the School of Youth Social Service. This group rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. They worked with the Buddhist principles of non-violence. Thich Nhat Hahn was banned from his homeland in 1966. He has never become bitter or let hate fill his heart even as he became a great teacher for the world. If he had not had this heart of compassion and interconnection, its doubtful he would have risen to the stature he has. His mind and heart were bigger than those who  created division, destruction and war. May we all remember to keep love and compassion in our hearts, even while answering the call to step up and make a difference in these challenging times.

You Don’t Have to Get Rid of Your Discomfort

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Since the election many people have reported feeling edgy, very unsettled and uncomfortable and the feelings are not going away. Most of us have been taught since childhood that these are not good feelings and we should try and get rid of them. Even as meditation practitioners, we may feel that this discomfort is something to “meditate away.” But that’s not a skillful outlook.

It’s ok to feel uncomfortable right now, it’s a completely appropriate response that doesn’t need to be assuaged or mitigated. The problem comes when we are at odds with it, when we feel we are “wrong” in some way for these feelings or if we act out in harmful ways to ourselves or others because we don’t know what to do.

Since the election, I have felt acutely uneasy for over a week. I had to avoid the mindset that I should be at peace and at ease. Growing up I experienced a significant amount of trauma and it stayed with me many years into adulthood. My father was an alcoholic and when he drank he was often violent and engaged in bullying, sexual abuse. and body shaming. After the election this trauma reemerged. But having spent years in therapy and with a meditation practice, I have the capacity to recognize and meet old trauma so that it doesn’t engulf me. I spent time with this response until it eased. Some may not have this capacity and discerning that is important. If you are continuing to feel traumatic discomfort, you may need to get help.

The discomfort I feel now is not traumatic but it brings me to an edge where I need to be awake to it, to continue cultivating my willingness to be present in the midst of it and not tell myself I should change the feelings in some way, or that there is something wrong with me. This is all about changing my relationship to what’s arising, not getting rid of it. This discomfort keeps me from feeling complacent; it keeps me awake. It is an edge that I have come to welcome and trust. When I have a welcoming relationship to the discomfort, I am in a better position to discern wise and compassionate action that is in alignment with my values.

I invite you to welcome your discomfort and let it be a teacher to you.

Election Fallout Reflections

The election is over but for many the fallout continues. Many have shed tears, have experienced anger and fear and have shared their voices and mobilized into action. Just after the election, Leonard Cohen died, a great voice of love, loss and dharma. His words and songs have rung out over the last several days as people have listened to and shared their favorite songs and quotes. Many are so applicable to where we find ourselves at this time, and his words are also timeless. One that particularly resonated for me at the moment is “if you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be drowning every day.” This is not an easy practice, but in one sentence it brilliantly sums up dukkha and freedom from dukkha.

The day after the election I was heartened by a spontaneous act of love and kindness in our old neighborhood, the 12 South area, at the Islamic Center of Nashville. I have known the Islamic Center to be a wonderful part of the community. President Rashed Fakhruddin in particular has been a strong organizer for shared community, Interfaith connections and events. He has also been an outspoken voice for prevention of abuse against women.

A mother and son in the neighborhood took their chalk and wrote on the sidewalks in front of the Islamic Center. In her words: “This morning Hudson and I took our chalk down to the Islamic Community Center on 12th. We wanted to tell our neighbors that we love them and stand with them. A lot of folks stopped by and added their own messages of love. It was great to meet people and work together. To my Muslim friends and community members: I stand with you now, and if things do get worse, I will stand with you then too.” May we all stand with those who need our support.

Over the last month or so, my dharma talks have largely reflected my experience of the political climate. These talks have been focused on finding a skillful response to the situation, internally and externally. It is not always easy. Some of us may have to ask ourselves, “how do I digest broken glass?” “How do I stand where there is no ground?” When we truly experience groundlessness, new ground emerges. But even then we can’t cling. As the ground shifts, the appropriate response may change as well, it is not fixed. This fluidity, the recognition of impermanence, is vital to clear seeing in each moment and wise action.

My talks and blog posts over the last month have reflected the unfolding of events as I saw them. I’m not one to simply hand out cookies or bromides of hope (even though many of you know I do give out chocolate chip cookies after daylong retreats). I do suggest we do our best to take a courageous, no blinders look at what’s going on both internally and externally and to the extent we can, find a way to contribute and to keep compassion and kindness alive in our hearts.

Becoming the Ocean

Leonard Cohen died yesterday. Many of his songs and lyrics have been shared on social media and I came across one I haven’t seen before, one that perfectly reflects my mood today: “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.”

Right now it’s hard to become to ocean. I often feel seasick and keep reaching for the raft. But the raft has holes in it. When I hear of heightened bullying, I feel grief and fear for my LGBT friends and people of color, for Muslims and for people who have been traumatized by bullies and sexual predators. The last two include me. Everything is upside down and I am drowning.

But then, in the quiet, surrendering to my grief, to the groundlessness, I remember that I am the waves, the ocean. My heart comes to rest for a while and I’m no longer seasick.

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I wrote “Riding Free” at another time when I couldn’t stay afloat. This surrender is what serves me in the roughest waters when the boat doesn’t hold. From this place I can find my way again, I can swim and I can serve.

Riding Free

Its like you’re throwing away your canoe and oars and are riding the waves of emptiness. Its scary at first, you’ve no control. You feel vulnerable and completely without knowledge of where you are going, or even where you are. So you have to surrender completely to the waves when they come. It may take a while. It may take weeks or months or years. You may ask, “what if I drown?” Then I ask you, “who and what drowns? What do you lose? And what might you gain?”

You may decide to climb back into your canoe if you can. But if you’re truly on this path, the water will draw you in again and again until finally you drown and then you’re riding the waves and those waves are you, and you are the waves, there’s really no difference any more, and you arrive exactly where you need to be, where you always have been, but just didn’t know it until now. You are home.

Staying Right Here

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Before I think about moving forward, about kindness and a wise response, I need to stay right here. In this place of groundlessness, of vulnerability, of deep concern for the world and how things are today.

We talk a lot about practicing with groundless in the dharma, about letting the bottom fall out. That time is now. Do it if you can, let it happen. Don’t turn from your grief and fear, allow it. You don’t need to force yourself to think hopeful thoughts just now. This isn’t yet the time for that. Let yourself weep and know it deep in your heart, for yourself and the world.

Words aren’t enough right now, really nothing is, but here’s the poem that speaks to me in this moment, that cracks my heart open, as it often does in times of strife and suffering.

Please Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Anxiety, Election Fallout and Finding Calm in the Storm

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Over the past month or so at One Dharma we’ve been talking about our practice in relation to this election. Many people have reported feeling challenged at a level they rarely, if ever experience. Anger, fear, discord in relationships and remorse. We’ve covered a lot of practice approaches to work with these. And remembering self forgiveness when we simply can’t act out of our best intentions in the heat of the moment.

While the divide in our country won’t be erased just because the election ends, we can continue to consciously work on our relationship to our inner and outer terrain, especially when its rocky, and find a path to be of help in whatever way we can. Jack Kornfield shared this short quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that is very timely to our current situation:

“Remember the story Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh told of the crowded refugee boats. “If even on person on the boat stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”

Embracing “don’t know mind” has been an important practice for me, the willingness to hold in open awareness what I can’t understand. This practice allows me to access my heart rather than just staying in my head and trying to figure it out. It also helps me to let go of what I can’t control and find a calm spot in the middle of the storm.

I’ve read some good articles that have analyzed the political divide we’re engulfed in right now. Many of the articles make a case for trying to understand and empathize with people who we disagree with and remember our shared humanity, our interconnection. I wholeheartedly agree with this. But I’ve also found these articles are too general about demographics. They speak of the people who are angry and feel left behind, usually pointing to older white males without college degrees. Yes, we need to try and understand their pain. But deeper demographic analysis shows that many privileged people are angry too and want radical change, regardless of what it is or how dangerous it might be.

Because I can’t understand it all through reading articles and analysis, I find that an open ended question is helpful to me – what is the most beneficial response right now for myself and others? This is coming home to my own heart. It takes the edge off my fear. It shows me what I can and can’t control and a compassionate way forward while being rooted in the present.

May all beings find peace and the causes of peace.