Cleaning Up the Junkyard

Over time, if we don’t cultivate awareness through a consistent mindfulness and meditation practice, our minds may become cluttered like a junkyard. Maybe long ago the junkyard was just a pretty field in the country surrounded by trees, grass, and flowers in the spring. Then gradually we began to collect old thoughts, like tarnished, broken down cars. If we grow too accustomed to them, we may even cling to them like ancient treasures.

Slowly they begin to rust and old fluids leak into the ground, polluting the soil so that nothing can grow. But we may not even notice until the day we decide to plant a garden. Taking a fresh view of the yard, all we can see is junk from one end to the other: not one spot for planting

 With this perspective we have to take a closer look at our collection of old thoughts and beliefs, to find a way to make space for a garden. But how? It’s not as simple as doing a quick clean up and replacing all the old rotting cars we’ve accumulated for years or decades with a nourishing vegetable garden. We have to start with what we’ve already got—to take time and really see the junk in the yard, to spend time with it, to live there for while. Not to drink the contaminated water in the ground, but to make our way through the clutter, to see each and every thing we’ve clung to and refused to let go.

The amazing thing about this practice is that we don’t need to make an aggressive project of clearing out the junkyard, even if we’re totally surrounded. Once we begin the practice of genuinely seeing our mess, but not adding to it, the debris begins clearing out on its own. Soon there’s a little spot for a garden, and new plants grow that nourish us. Pretty soon the field has more open patches as the junk inhabits a smaller space. Some debris is still there, and that’s ok. We don’t have to have to clear the entire yard to begin growing our garden. Even if we’re still left with some old hardware, we may appreciate the patterns and colors of the rust, and we may find uses for the old tires.  Perhaps a tree swing would be nice, just over the garden.


A bird in a secluded grove sings like a flute.

Willows sway gracefully with their golden threads.

The mountain valley grows the quieter as the clouds return.

A breeze brings along the fragrance of the apricot flowers.

For a whole day I have sat here encompassed by peace,

Till my mind is cleansed in and out of all cares and idle thoughts.

I wish to tell you how I feel, but words fail me.

If you come to this grove, we can compare notes.

Ch’an master Fa-yen

New Year’s Half Day Retreat

The Power of Intention: Clarifying Your Path for the New Year

January 1, 2014, 8:30 a.m. – Noon, 12 South Dharma Center

Led by Lisa Ernst


“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

Please join us for a half day of sitting and walking meditation at the 12 South Dharma Center. At the beginning of a New Year, it is customary to take stock of our lives, 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 $35 and is due by Tuesday, December 24.  You can pay through Paypal here. Please use the “donate” button. Alternately, you can bring your payment to one of our meetings or send a check, made out to One Dharma Nashville to: 12 South Dharma Center, c/o One Dharma Nashville, 2301 12th Avenue south, suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. For questions, email

Making Friends with Your Stress

A recent TED talk by Kelly McGonigal about stress reminded me of a short article I wrote about fear with a complimentary viewpoint — its not the stress or fear that is the real problem, but our relation to it. When we view it as the enemy, something to get rid of, we set the stage to increase our tension and anxiety until it actually is a problem. But there are ways we can create a healthier relationship to our fear and stress.

As Fearful as You Need to Be: Joy in the Midst of Fear

There’s a popular saying about how to eliminate fear, I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Choose love, not fear.” This is reassuring; it makes people feel that they always have a choice not to be afraid if they can love instead. It is the principle of replacing what’s considered a negative, fear, with a perceived positive, love. But it doesn’t always work, if it works at all. Sometimes we just feel afraid and there’s nothing we can do to eliminate the fear. We can try, perhaps we can do it for a while, but often the fear just pops back up in another way, just like grief or anger. Maneuvering to get rid of it can have unwanted repercussions and often intensifies the anxiety.

So what do you do when your maneuvering fails? Be as fearful as you need to be. Open to it, feel it, don’t try to get rid of it. Stop viewing it as a problem and approach it as a friend. But also be aware of the thoughts and projections that are feeding the fear. You don’t have to nourish those thoughts. What would happen if you just let your fear live inside your body for a while, just as it is? What if you quit viewing fear as the enemy, something to get rid of? Would it overrun you and eat you up? Not if you cultivate a steady mind and an open heart in the presence of the fear. Take a few deep breaths and step in. Through this practice you can reach a still and open dwelling place. You can freedom in the midst of fear, and maybe even joy.

Here’s a link to Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk: The Truth About Stress

Mindful Photograhy Calendar Update

Image by Gay Mayes

Image by Gay Mayes

The calendars have arrived and will be available for sale at the 12 South Dharma Center starting this Saturday, November 23 at 10:15 a.m, before our bi-weekly intro to meditation. class. You don’t need to attend the class if you only want to purchase calendars.

Calendars are $20 each and are a fundraiser for One Dharma. You can also purchase them on Monday nights at 6:30, before our regular weekly meditation session. I hope you will support this fundraiser; your calendar purchase helps to fund One Dharma’s ongoing presence in the Nashville community, where we ensure that meditation, dharma classes and retreats are accessible to all.

One Dharma 2014 Mindful Photograhy Calendar

Our calendar is on order and will be available for sale on November 25. We have ordered only a limited quantity, and they’ll be sold at the 12 South Dharma Center during One Dharma’s meeting hours. Here are a few images:

Photo by Patsy Cutillo

Photo by Patsy Cutillo

Calendar Cover, image by Tracy Wilson

Calendar Cover, image by Tracy Wilson

Special thanks for Shelley Davis Wise for putting together these wonderful images.

December Refuge and Five Precepts Ceremony

Once again this year, One Dharma will a Refuge and Precepts Ceremony each December for committed practitioners. If you’re interested, here is some general information:

About the Refuge Ceremony
Taking refuge means relying wholeheartedly on the Three Jewels of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to inspire and guide us toward a constructive and beneficial direction in our lives. The real taking of refuge occurs deep in our hearts and isn’t dependent on doing or saying anything. Nevertheless, we may wish to participate in the refuge ceremony by requesting a dharma teacher  to formally give us refuge. The refuge ceremony is simple: we repeat the passages after the teacher and open our hearts to make a strong connection with the Three Jewels. The ceremony also “officially” makes us a Buddhist.

About Taking Precepts
Precepts are a joy, not a burden. They aren’t designed to keep us from having a good time and to make us feel deprived. The purpose of taking precepts is to give us internal strength so that we won’t act in ways that we don’t want to. Having understood that killing, stealing, selfishness and so forth only lead us to harm ourselves and others now and in the future, we’ll want to avoid these. Taking precepts give us energy and strength to do so. Therefore, it’s said that precepts are the ornaments of the wise.

To help people overcome their disturbing attitudes and stop committing harmful actions, the Buddha set out five precepts. During the refuge ceremony, in addition to taking refuge in the Three Jewels, we can take any or all of the five precepts, and become a lay Buddhist.

The five precepts

1. I observe the precept of abstaining from the destruction of life.

2. I observe the precept of abstaining from taking that which is not given.

3. I observe the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.

4. I observe the precept of abstaining from falsehood.

5. I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.

The refrain “I observe the precept of abstaining from …” which begins every precept clearly shows that these are not commandments. They are instead codes of conduct that lay Buddhists undertake out of clear understanding and conviction that they are good for both themselves and for society.

If you are interested or have questions, please contact