The Dharma of Writing and Meditation Workshop

Saturday, February 2

10 a.m. – 4 p.m., 12 South Dharma Center

Led by Lisa Ernst

IMG_0585Please join us for a day of mindful writing and meditation practice. We will cultivate writing inspiration through meditation and exercises that help us open our hearts to the truth of what we most want to express.  These practices will also help us to communicate more eloquently from our authentic voice, both in written and verbal from. In addition, we will have an opportunity to share our writing in an atmosphere of compassionate support.  This workshop is suitable to beginning and experienced writers and meditators.

The class will be limited to twelve participants. Cost is $75. Two reduced fee spots are available for those in financial need. Registration is due by Friday, January 25. Please make checks out to One Dharma Nashville and send to 12 South Dharma Center, c/o One Dharma Nashville, 2301 12th Avenue South, Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. If paying by PayPal, go to this address and use the first “donate” button. For more information or to confirm your spot, email

Lisa began her meditation practice in the late ’80’s in the Zen Buddhist tradition, studying closely with two Rinzai Zen Masters and attending numerous meditation retreats. Lisa has also studied and practiced in the Theravada tradition since the late 90’s. In 2005 Lisa was given authorization to teach by Trudy Goodman, founder and guiding teacher of InsightLA. Lisa received full dharma transmission from Trudy in 2010 in the lineage of the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah. Lisa has written for magazines, newspapers and newsletters since 1990. She was the technical editor for the current edition of Meditation for Dummies. Her blog includes many essays and poetry:

Happy Holidays: Live it Up in Loving Awareness

This is from an InsightLA blog post by my teacher and friend Trudy Goodman:

Live It Up!

Recently I’ve been teaching about women in the dharma, about the “Feminine Principal,” as Andrea Miller wrote in her article in Shambhala Sun this past month. I want to tell you a story about Maurine Stuart Roshi, who was my heart teacher from 1979 when I first met her until she died in 1990. A story for this holiday season.

One February night in Cambridge, Maurine was resting on the couch in her living room. It was one week before she was to die. I came over to bring her some supper. I felt close to her. We were intimate in the way you may know from sitting together — you know this from letting go of whatever holds you back, from stripping down to the aliveness and radiance of who you truly are.

Straightening up the cooking magazines on her coffee table, I decided to go for it — maybe it’s my last chance to ask her what I most wanted to know: “After a whole life of Zen practice, teaching and deep enlightenment, what’s the truest thing you can say to me now?” And she didn’t miss a beat. Speaking with her usual authority and power, she said simply, “Live it up!”

I was surprised. After all those years of sitting in the fire….“Live it up!”? This is the wisdom of my Zen teacher, so close to her dying…but what does she mean, exactly? Eat, drink, be merry?

True mindfulness IS living to the hilt, living it up — because it includes everything. When our mindfulness gets strong, nothing is too crazy, too weird, too exciting, too scary, too sad, too upsetting, too tragic, too overwhelming or too huge to be held in our loving awareness. Living it up is living fully, taking the time to look deeply, making the effort to recognize and stay with what’s true for us moment by moment. Like a mirror reflecting just what’s happening, like the water of a pond reflecting the blue sky and the passing clouds. Only here the mirror is awake and sees, and the water is responsive. Our mindfulness, this loving awareness, is our own consciousness actively participating in the ongoing process of being alive — Live It Up! And may your week be graced by moments of boundless love and freedom.

Trudy Goodman

To Make Sense of The Suffering?

The unfolding immigration tragedy that has left children separated from their parents, detained in prison-like cages, has provoked one of the strongest outpourings I’ve seen of grief, despair, anger and confusion, along with fierce protests and calls to our politicians to end the practice immediately. Through these efforts we’ve seen some movement on this issue but know there’s much more to be done. Even in the midst of this energetic effort, I’m reminded that we also need to remember that there is no “other” out there, or anywhere, to hate. Otherwise, weariness and despair can easily overtake us. We can protest, speak out, call our politicians; we can also remember our interconnected nature at the deepest place in our hearts. We are capable of both. Recently  I was moved by a quote from Phillip Moffitt and want to share it here:

“The Buddha said, “Hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate.” By holding the truth of our interdependency and refusing to participate in this endless cycle of hatred, you can help to heal the wound of the world. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. But if you love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back, then your reward will be great.’

No one can accuse Jesus or Buddha of being cowards in the face of injustice; therefore, their teachings are about how to hold the difficult in the heart. You have to decide if you share their beliefs, and if so, you practice living in this manner as a reflection of your deepest values. It is a proactive, courageous way to live. This does not mean responding passively when you encounter wrong action, for you should always act to stop those who harm others.”

This reflection on interdependency reminds me of an article I wrote a few years ago after I watched a movie about a woman who was stoned to death in Iran. As the movie ended, I was overwhelmed and struggled to get to sleep that night. During the next morning’s meditation, however, I gradually remembered that the mental creation of good and bad, enemies and friends just brought about separation that prevented my heart from bearing the pain of this act. In remembering the truth of interconnection, I found that I could open my heart to the stunning pain I felt at the stoned woman’s plight and to feel compassion for the great suffering of her entire community, even the perpetrators. To experience interdependency at this level in no way precludes wise action to stop suffering. While there was little I could do personally to stop the practice of stoning in Iran, there is much I can do in this country to help turn the tide away from cruelty. I can’t know if my efforts will succeed, but I know they are worth doing.

The One Who Casts the Stone and The One Who is Hit

by Lisa Ernst

Recently the impending stoning death of an Iranian woman made worldwide headlines and sparked international outrage. The pressure on the Iranian government to change her sentence has been immense. For most of us, it is incomprehensible that death by stoning is still a form of capital punishment in some parts of the world.

I was especially moved by the cause of this woman because I had recently watched a movie about the stoning death of another Iranian woman, “The Stoning of Soyora M.” The movie is based on a book of the same name, the true story of a woman falsely accused of adultery and stoned to death in her home town in the 1980s. This movie depicted the woman’s stoning in a very accurate, unflinching way and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched on film. She was dressed in white and marched through the streets of her home town while men lined the way, rhythmically clapping stones together as a prelude to the execution. When she reached the stoning ground, her arms were bound to her sides and she was buried to her waist. A perimeter line was drawn, perhaps 20 feet away, behind which everyone in the town stood to stone her or to watch. A barrel of stones had been collected so the townsmen could all have their turn.

For a stoning execution, the stones are chosen for their size – not too large to kill the person immediately, but not too small as to do little harm. In Soroya’s case, I had hoped that her suffering would be brief, but stonings are deliberately stretched out over a period of time to create a gruesomely painful form of torture. The woman’s dignity was completely stripped away as her husband, her sons, and the men in her community threw stone after stone at her head, as she cried out in pain and disbelief, fell over to the ground, yet continually lifted herself back up with whatever strength she could muster. Slowly her white dress became completely stained with red. Finally, after perhaps an hour she was dead.

As the movie ended, I sat stunned and speechless, as tears spilled down my cheeks. It was just before bed and I wondered if I’d be able to sleep after witnessing such heinous torture. Somehow, I was able to fall into a restless sleep. The next morning I got up to meditate, having briefly forgotten what I had seen the night before. As I settled into meditation, the stillness of the morning and the sweet birdsong brought my heart fully awake. Then, in this place of stillness and open heartedness, the stoning images of the night before returned. There was great sadness in my heart, yet I didn’t close down or turn away. What I’ve learned through my practice is that when my  heart fully awake, it has the capacity to accommodate not only great love but great suffering. This is the “door of compassion” that Thich Nhat Hahn beautifully speaks of in this poem:

“Please Call Me by My True Names”
I am the 12 year old girl, refugee on a 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 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 up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and
my 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 open the door of compassion.
– Thich Nhat Hahn

Buddha taught that there is no inherent self separate from others; no self separate from all phenomena. This is called  emptiness. Through committed meditation practice, we gradually increase our capacity to experience emptiness.  We begin to understand at an experiential level that all of existence is none other than our own true nature. This insight is the basis for recognizing that all beings are Buddha, the awakened one. But what is often not stated, yet cannot be otherwise, is that we also are the pirate who rapes the 12 year old girl, and the man who stones his wife. If we selectively associate our understanding of non-separation with the highest of good, choosing to see only what we like and admire, we risk closing off our hearts to the often unspeakable suffering of our own humanity. Unconditional compassion and love can only arise when the heart is open to the full spectrum of experience, from great kindness to profound cruelty. This is true non-separation. Admittedly however, this kind of open- heartedness is not always easy;  there are times when we may see or experience suffering that is beyond our heart’s capacity to bear.  During these moments, some compassion for our own inevitable limits can soften the edges of our pain. At other times we may find the way to truly open our hearts and no longer look away:

You can hold back from
suffering of the world,
you have permission to do so,
and it is in accordance
with your nature,
but perhaps this very holding back
is the one suffering
you could have avoided
Franz Kafka

With a compassionate heart, we may weep at the inconceivable cruelty of this world and feel joyous when witnessing a deed of true kindness.  During the quiet of the morning when my heart touched the great suffering inherent in the act of stoning, for a few moments I could see without flinching the depths of  unkindness that is part of human nature. The same heart that fills with joy upon hearing a symphony of birds greeting the morning sun, also breaks for the woman who died the most unimaginable death at the hands of her own husband and community. They are all none other than me.

Awareness of Breath by Ajahn Chah

Here’s a lovely and precise instruction on how to practice breath awareness by Ajahn Chah:

Just be aware at the breath. You don’t have to be aware of anything else. Keep making your awareness more and more refined until it feels very small but extremely awake.

Keep watching the breath get more and more refined until there’s no more breath. There’s just awareness, wide awake.

Let go of everything, leaving just this singular awareness.

Don’t worry about the future; don’t worry about the past.

Stay right here.

– Ajahn Chah


Awareness is Your Refuge

Especially In honor of the people who will take refuge and the five precepts this Thursday, December 20, at One Dharma Nashville, here is a lovely reflection on refuge by Ajahn Sumedho:

Awareness is Your Refuge

Awareness of the changingness of feelings,

of attitudes,  of moods,  of material change

and emotional change:

Stay with that, because it’s a refuge that is


It’s not something that changes.

It’s a refuge you can trust in.

This refuge is not something that you create.

It’s not a creation. It’s not an ideal.

It’s very practical and very simple, but

easily overlooked or not noticed.

When you’re mindful,

you’re beginning to notice,

it’s like this.

True Refuge Meditation Retreat Recap: Flies and Buddhas

Our True Refuge residential retreat is now complete and the retreat was truly about refuge in all of its forms. Several of us arrived early, on Wednesday evening, to practice an extra day. Thursday was overcast but mild and I had an opportunity to hike one of the trails after breakfast. The landscape in December couldn’t have been more different from the last time we were at Bethany Hills in April. From the warm and sunny days, incredible spring greens and flowers in the fields, to grey skies and barren trees, I barely recognized the place. At first the contrast was jarring. Then as I hiked the trail, I gradually settled into the stripped down winter world and felt a deep appreciation for the stillness and stark beauty. The crunch of the dead leaves on the path opened me to deep gratitude for the opportunity to spend time there on retreat.

I began the afternoon rounds of meditation settled and appreciative of the extra day’s practice. About halfway through the first sit, unexpectedly a fly landed momentarily on my lips. I recoiled and immediately brushed my lips before I realized that I was only spreading around any germs. I began thinking about what might be on my lips, worrying about whether the germs were making their way inside my mouth. Then I clearly saw my reactivity and brought my mind back to the present. I inquired, “how do I find refuge when a fly lands on my lips?” This wasn’t an intellectual inquiry, but rather one of seeking an answer from the place of insight within. Immediately my reactivity stopped and I dropped my worries about the germs. There was nothing I could do at that moment except sit. A few minutes later the fly landed squarely on my nose. I blinked just slightly in surprise, but was aware and nonreactive now, having found refuge in the way things are, even with a fly hovering by my head. It buzzed around me for about five more minutes. By now the fly had become, if not a friend, at least a guest I was willing to welcome. I do admit that after the meditation session ended, I went to my room and washed my face! I spoke of the fly during my dharma talk the next night, and discovered after the retreat that the fly had visited many people. They said they were grateful that they had an opportunity to make their peace with the fly, that it had been a good teacher in learning to cultivate non-reactivity.

Issa, a Zen poet, wrote about flies this way: “Where you find humans, there you’ll find flies and Buddhas.” This is our human condition, to continually experience the shifting movement from pleasure to pain, samsara to awakening, joy to sorrow and back again. When we are able to cultivate non-reactivity to the changing collidescope of experience, we can begin to taste true equanimity. Sometimes we are visited by Buddhas; sometimes flies. Sitting still for long stretches and walking the same ground over and over, we face our experience in every way imaginable. At times it may be painful or boring, other times joyful and transcendent. As our hearts open more deeply to this practice, we begin to appreciate all that life has to offer and we can welcome both flies and Buddhas.

One of the most welcome parts of the retreat was the amazing, ever changing weather during our practice. We had no sun during this retreat, but we enjoyed periodic rain, wind and lightning. The weather was warm enough to walk outside all weekend. Saturday evening we enjoyed a dusk meditation on the deck to a symphony of thunder and light rain. It was a magical moment of being in the midst of nature on our cushions as darkness fell, protected by the deck’s large overhang, yet still immersed in the wiles of the weather. Meditation outdoors allowed us to open our lens of attention to accommodate the wide world of nature in our practice, to take it all in with a receptive mind.

Many people found the retreat challenging, and it is designed to be. At the closing they reported finding an opening into their practice that was very rewarding and far deeper than what they had experienced during their home practice. Most discovered the joy of meeting their visitors, whether flies or Buddhas, with an open, undivided heart. Our next retreat is scheduled for April 11 – 15. You’re welcome to join us.

After the Rain

After the Rain


Historic Cabin

Historic Cabin