The Firefly

At twilight I caught

a flash of yellow light

The firefly blinked and vanished

Alert, I watched for more

But only one

brought the dusk

alive with its light

Memories from childhood

when evening hills glimmered

 with countless fireflies

Pure magic

Now few, they share a fate

with bees and frogs and birds

So sad that single

lonely light

brought a tear

as I settled into dusk.

Dusk at Reelfoot Lake photography by Lisa Ernst

Dusk at Reelfoot Lake
photography by Lisa Ernst

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How To Meditate and Yoga Workshop in Huntsville

For those of you convenient to Huntsville, or anyone who wants to learn how to combine yoga and meditation, please join us on August 24.

with Meditation Teacher Lisa Ernst from One Dharma Nashville
and Suzanne Newton, asana & pranayama instruction
Saturday, August 24th
Early Bird Registration Discount due by August 17
Morning Session 9 – 12noon 
Yoga Postures & Breathing Practices for Seated Meditation with Suzanne & Lisa
Mixed Levels Class, beginners welcome

Afternoon Session 1 – 4PM  
Sitting and Walking Meditation Instruction with Lisa
Q & A session included
Mixed Levels Class, beginners welcome

Yoga Center of Huntsville
500 East Pratt Avenue

Register with Suzanne Newton via email : suzanne.m.newton@gmail.com
Pre-payment by check or cash is due by 8/17/13  (sent to Suzanne)

Morning Class Fee : $40
Afternoon Class Fee : $50
Both Classes Fee : $75, pre-registered or $90 ‘drop in’ if space is available

Balancing the Three Legs of Practice

I often think of dharma practice like a tripod, with three legs that create balance. On one leg there‘s meditation, including daily practice and retreats; on another is mindfulness in daily life; the third is sangha practice.

Let’s start with meditation. For many, establishing a consistent daily meditation practice is quite challenging. It requires making a commitment to carving out time to disengage from the ingrained distractions and patterns that inevitably arise in daily life.  Often when people say they don’t have time to meditate, it’s really that they aren’t making the time, which may otherwise be used to watch television or engage in online and other activities.  Meditation requires that we face ourselves, including all of our imperfections, leaving nothing out. Sometimes our sitting may be lovely and restful, even transcendent, at other times challenging and wobbly. But the key to a consistent practice is the willingness to receive all that arises in our awareness with an open and compassionate heart. This isn’t always easy, but its how the fruits of practice begin to ripen and transform our lives.

For the committed practitioner, meditation retreats are not a luxury but a vital part of deepening the practice. Concentrated time spent away from daily distractions helps us access parts of our minds and hearts that are otherwise out of reach; retreats help us contact our deepest evaded realities. If your life situation prevents you from traveling afar or carving out chunks of time for retreats, take advantage of daylong retreats as often as you can and shorter residential retreats that only last a weekend.

Practicing mindfulness in daily life is also vital to waking up. Some traditions emphasize sitting meditation and forget to focus on “off the cushion” practice. This creates an imbalance in the tripod; it can set up a firewall from everyday life. For our practice to deepen, we need to align what we learn in our seated practice with our daily lives. One of the best ways to bring mindfulness into daily life is practicing mindfulness of the body. This is a deceptively simple yet deep practice: Buddha said that mindfulness of the body leads to enlightenment. We’re so often caught up in our busyness, our activities and thoughts that we lose our connection with this moment. Our bodies are always right here, ready and available to serve as an anchor for our present moment awareness. Bringing mindfulness to your body is an uncomplicated yet powerful practice you can do throughout the day to root your awareness in this moment and disengage from reactive patterns and habitual thoughts.  You can still plan, think and carry out your activities, but you can do it all from a foundation more firmly grounded in presence and awareness.

Sangha comprises the third leg of the tripod. Sangha helps us create a stable support in our lives as we derive strength in our practice through sharing it with others. There is a notable, almost mysterious vibrancy that arises from meditating in a group setting. The collective energy of our concentration bolsters the individual and group simultaneously, allowing us to go deeper into our practice than if we only do it alone. Sangha practice also provides ample opportunities to practice generosity by contributing what we can to support the community of practitioners. We begin to break through the illusion of separation and realize that our practice isn’t only for ourselves, but for all beings. We also have an opportunity to view our habits, biases and aversions in the context of a group. The renowned Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn likened sangha practice to cooking a pot of potatoes. He said that you could wash potatoes one by one or you could put numerous potatoes in a pot and stir them all together: they all rub up against each other, each getting clean in the process and rounding out the rough spots.

When our dharma practice is balanced it includes all three legs of this tripod. If we only focus on only one or two, we expend energy trying to maintain balance without a stable foundation. With our tripod in balance, however, we create the conditions for our practice to fully ripen and transform our lives, just as the Buddha taught.

The Practice of Meditation

The practice of meditation is the study of what is going on. What is going on is very important.
– Thich Naht Hanh

Still Lake with Clouds Photography by Lisa Ernst

Still Lake with Clouds
Photography by Lisa Ernst

    

The Whole World Will Shine

The monkey is reaching
For the moon in the water.
Until death overtakes him
He’ll never give up.
If he’d let go the branch and
Disappear in the deep pool,
The whole world would shine
With dazzling pureness.
Hakuin

Yellow Leaf  Photography by Lisa Ernst

Yellow Leaf
Photography by Lisa Ernst

The Undying

This human form repeats itself

born again and again in numbers beyond count.

A pineapple has needles and fronds and is juicy sweet inside,

how many have graced this world since the first one dropped to the ground?

Trees, flowers, insects and animals repeat themselves

endless reproduction, yet a mystery at the core.

Science tells us how, but can’t get to the rood of why.

Its a a gift of our life

this endless repetition of what we need to live.

Without the trees, the flowers, the bees and the fruit, we die.

Yet the sun in our world doesn’t repeat itself

it doesn’t birth new suns — all we need is one.

What is always here, with us now

undying

what doesn’t repeat itself?

– Lisa Ernst

A Three Way Stop of Awakening: Intersecting Dependent Arising, Equanimity and Emptiness

For many students of Buddhism, reaching an experiential understanding of equanimity and emptiness is quite challenging. Throw dependent origination into the mix and it may lead to all out confusion. But pulling the three together into an understanding of how we suffer and how we get out of suffering may simplify the matter.

Let’s start with dependent origination, also known as Buddhist psychology. Buddha taught that everything arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions, that nothing exists as a separate, independent object or entity, including ourselves. Because most humans perceive and react to circumstances as if there were an isolated, distinct cause, we easily become trapped in a chain reaction of suffering. We usually see a situation only through our personal viewpoint and conditioning, only a small part of what’s arising. If we then try to control, change or get rid of it, we create problems for ourselves and others. But when the illusion of a separate, independent self dissolves, we begin to see conditions more clearly. Our vision expands beyond our limited viewpoint, which leads to wise view, insight, and right action when necessary.

For example, when something arises, say, a twinge in your knee during a meditation retreat, you may initially tense against it, try to ignore it, or begin worrying that the pain will get worse. You may analyze where it came from, what you could have done differently, etc. Soon you are lost in and suffering. If you just return to the discomfort, see that it has already arisen, recognizing that many conditions led to that pain, and just let yourself experience it directly, you begin to dismantle the suffering. How? If you don’t nourish your reactivity through resistance and habitual thoughts, there’s nothing to feed your karma and ingrained patterns. The duality of you against the pain begins to dissolve. What’s left is an ever changing pattern of sensation. But you have to be willing to take down your protective veil of separation from the pain itself to reach this insight.

The protective veil arises from a sense of self against the external world. Our boundary of the skin, or somewhere just beyond that, creates a perception of separateness. Of course, that relative boundary is very important in many situations for protection and care of our health and well-being. But suffering occurs when we believe this boundary of self is fixed and unchanging. In reality our bodies and minds are constantly in flux and the concept of our identity is also subject to perpetual change. Just look back ten years and see if your identity, who you believe you are now and who you believed you were then, are exactly the same. There may be an underlying awareness or spark of life that feels unchanging, but is this something fixed to your self-identity?

Quite often, people who haven’t yet experienced no-self will call Buddha’s teaching on emptiness a concept. Yet how many of us refer to our sense of self as a concept? It’s easier for most of us to perceive the self as real and emptiness as an esoteric idea or concept. In reality, if we reverse the two we will be closer to a genuine understanding.

It helps when we can meet our experience, what arises in the moment, with equanimity. People often mistake equanimity for indifference or detached neutrality. But it’s actually the ability to stay present with our situation without reactivity, or if we do react, to see it and stop feeding it. If we experience a loss, for instance, meeting the pain of that loss with equanimity doesn’t mean we don’t feel the pain. Instead, we allow the arising of that pain without interference, and eventually it passes on its own.

To pull the three together, equanimity, dependent origination and no-self, I’ll share an example from my own experience. For many years I was in an unstable romantic relationship. I was sure he was “the one” and did everything I could to ensure his long term commitment. Yet, he kept pulling away. I would go through waves of pain and suffering whenever he left and rely on my therapist to help me find the root of the problem so I could get on with life.  She was quite helpful to me, yet each time I reached a point of acceptance, my boyfriend came back. Again and again I took him back into my life while ignoring the troublesome patterns inherent in our relationship. “This time things will be different,” I repeated like a mantra. Regardless of my hopeful attitude, our old patterns always reemerged along with his restlessness.

This pattern went on for a number of years.  Through therapy and meditation, I learned to work with my reactions, clinging and desires until significant space opened up. I felt more relaxed and less needy, I dated other men and felt relatively content. But just when I felt truly ready to get on with my life, he asked me to move in with him. Intuitively I knew it was a bad step. But the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that we had both changed enough to make it work. Soon, however, our new level of togetherness revealed our incompatibilities even more acutely. I stubbornly persevered until one night we had an irreconcilable disagreement. Suddenly all my years of effort and therapy, everything I did to make it work, came crashing down. I had been so focused on trying to control the situation, to make it right, to fix the “cause” of the problem, that I ignored the obvious and deeper conditions that prevented us from being compatible. In my limited view of the situation, I missed to the full spectrum of conditions that were beyond my control.

I had been blinded to dependent origination because I craved his attention so badly. I thought his love would complete my identity, my sense of self, even though living with him didn’t fulfill me at all. I finally saw the disconnect, the broader conditions that made our relationship incompatible. At last I had the courage to completely let go. I realized I had been holding on to a fixed idea of my identity as someone who needed to be in a relationship no matter how flimsy it was. And most of all, I was finally able to meet the situation with equanimity. The truth hurt but I didn’t push it away. I quit trying to cover it over with a worn out narrative about how one more step, one more effort at self improvement, would unlock the door to our love.

This awakening was one of the most liberating moments of my young adult life.  I realized that this “self” didn’t need someone outside of me to validate my very existence. There was nothing fixed about my identity; moment to moment my “self” was in flux, yet also worthy of kindness and compassion. This realization didn’t mean I quit longing for a loving relationship. But I realized that it wasn’t essential to my existence or happiness. Living this moment brought true fulfillment, with an open heart, in sadness and in joy. At last I could embrace my loneliness, my broken heart, something that had been with me long before I met and lost my “ideal” man. Through accepting that broken heart with equanimity I found for the first time in my life the joy I had been seeking for so long.

– Lisa Ernst