Stability and Clarity Daylong Meditation Retreat

Saturday, February 28, 2015, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Rural West Bellevue
Led by Lisa Ernst

Retreat full, wait list only

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Cultivating clear awareness of our present moment experience reveals insights into the nature of suffering and liberation. We see that everything that arises is not my “self” but a display of impermanent conditions. When the mind sees life through this clarity and is unclouded by confusion, we create the foundation for well-being, joy and equanimity.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this silent retreat is suitable for beginning as well as experienced students. The retreat will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, instructions and dharma talk. Cost is $50. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a dana (generosity) offering to the teacher. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need. Please inquire for details.

You can pay through paypal  here or write a check, made out to One Dharma Nashville, and send to: One Dharma Nashville, 2301 12th Avenue South, Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. Please include your email address. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

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Brothers and Sisters in Suffering

This morning I read an article from Ajahn Sumedho that inspired me to post this excerpt about our shared humanity. Thanks to Geoff Lovettf for the link.

In Thailand they say: “Brothers and sisters in suffering, old age, sickness and death.” When we think of ourselves as brothers and sisters in old age, sickness and death, we stop the foolishness. But if we want to build up an army to fight, we can’t say we’re brothers and sisters in old age, sickness and death. We have to say, `Those people over there are demons. The more you kill, the better. They don’t have any feelings. They like to bayonet babies and butcher old women. They have no respect for anything.’ And then you think, `Oh, I’m going to kill them.’ Propaganda is like that. It’s a way of making you think the best thing you can do is kill them. But in reflective knowledge we see the common bond — from the most despicable human being to the most saintly. That is a reflective teaching. We think, `Yes, yes, that is the truth. When you think about that — brothers and sisters in old age, sickness and death — we’re all getting old and . . . ‘

Excerpted from Brothers and Sisters in Suffering, Old Age, Sickness and Death by Ajahn Sumedho.

Meditation or Medication?

“Allow dark times to season you.” Hafiz

25 years ago I took a hesitant step into a psychiatrist’s office. My boyfriend at the time was worried about my mental state and urged me to seek help. My grandmother had just died, preceded in death by my mother and my father. My grandmother was my last close family connection and I felt utterly alone. I had no idea what was happening to me as I sunk further and further into a dark hole of despair.

The psychiatrist said I was clinically depressed and wanted to prescribe anti depressant meditation. This threw me. I had been living with depression for so many years it seemed like an irreparable part of me. I had come to accept that I was chronically depressed and perhaps always would be. But as we talked, and I assessed my mental state more objectively, I knew in my heart that I couldn’t go on this way any longer. At that very moment I decided I would try meditation. I let the shrink know I would not be taking him up on his offer of medication, but I did agree to begin seeing a psychotherapist to help me deal with childhood trauma and grief from my losses. This was a vital step for my mental well being. But I knew therapy alone wouldn’t be enough. In fact, my new therapist was very supportive and encouraging that I had begun a meditation practice.

Taking up meditation was an easy decision for me. Looking back, I have no idea why I was so confident. 25 years ago there wasn’t nearly the volume of information on meditation and the brain that there is now. But I had always been inspired by Buddha’s emphasis on meditation as a part of the path to freedom from suffering. Intuitively I knew meditation was for me, but I also knew I would have to commit myself to the practice with my whole heart.

As a meditation teacher I frequently meet people who are seeking relief from stress and depression through meditation. Often they’ve read encouraging studies and scientific papers and they hope to see the same results. But it works for only a few. Its not that meditation isn’t effective; what I’ve consistently observed is that only a small number of people truly commit to the practice wholeheartedly. If relieving depression is the only reason to meditate, most people will become impatient and doubtful too soon to experience any significant change. Others will practice only sporadically, yet still expect results. This won’t work.

For some, meditation isn’t the right path, at least not initially. Certain mental illnesses need to be treated clinically and sitting in the midst of grief and depression may overwhelm or intensify anxiety. Some may combine medication with meditation initially. Longer term, meditation can be a wonderful way to further steady the mind and begin to see and relieve the roots of human suffering, of clinging and aversion.

When I began my meditation practice, I committed to sitting a minimum of 30 minutes each day. I gave myself no leeway at all on this. No matter what, I meditated daily. Sitting through grief, anxiety and fear, along with joy, equanimity and bliss. The practice itself stabilized my mind enough that I could stay present in my experience without being overwhelmed. As Thich Nhat Hanh explained, “when we go home to ourselves with the energy of mindfulness, we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the energy of suffering. Mindfulness gives us the strength to look deeply and give rise to understanding and compassion.”

I quickly forgot about whether meditation was helping with my depression. I became so interested in the process itself that my mental state actually took a back seat. Not that it was unimportant, but it wasn’t my primary focus. Studying and seeing my mind, as well as the world around me, in such an intimate way each day fascinated me. Those moments when I broke through a barrier to deeper insight into my heart and mind had a liberating and profound effect on me.

Gradually, almost without even noticing it, my depression lifted and I became less isolated and lonely. Even today, daily meditation is a foundational element of my mental health even though it isn’t the primary reason I’ve continued to practice.

Some people will take up a serious meditation practice at a very dark and desperate time in their lives and it works – they begin feeling better and slowly their meditation practice falls away. Maybe it was all they needed and they had no further aspiration with this form of practice. Personally I’m glad I didn’t stop. I so appreciate the clarity that arises when I witness and experience the myriad manifestations of thought and emotion I encounter. Most of all, this path has helped me deepen compassion for myself and others, to pierce the illusion of a separate self, which allows me to be more kind, open and receptive to life in its ever changing forms.

Half Day Forgiveness and Compassion Workshop, Saturday, January 17 in Chattanooga

Led by Lisa Ernst, hosted by the Center for Mindful Living, Saturday, January 17, 1 – 4 p.m. Forgiveness is not simple and it can’t be forced. At times, it may even seem impossible. Yet our ability to forgive allows us to access equanimity in our hearts and minds. We learn to meet our suffering as well as the suffering of others with kindness and compassion. In this workshop, we will deepen our capacity to find forgiveness and compassion for ourselves and for others. Cost is $25 for members, $30 for non-members. Registration is here.

Meditation Series at Nashville Library Branches

I’m doing a series of mindful meditation classes for the Nashville Public Library. These classes include instruction, guided and silent meditation and time for questions. There’s no registration or fee, you can just drop in. Here’s the current schedule:

Downtown: De-stress during lunch, 12:15 – 12:50 p.m. every second Monday of the month. Next meeting coming up on January 12.

Mindful Meditation Class at the Green Hills Library, Thursday, January 22, 6:30 – 7:30  p.m.

Mindful Meditation Class at the Bellevue Library, every first Wednesday of the month, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Next meeting coming up on February 4.

If you’re in Nashville I hope you’ll join me for any of these sessions that work for you. Here’s a link to the local public library system events list.

The Dharma of Writing and Meditation Workshop

Saturday, January 31, 2015

9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Nashville Friend’s House

Led by Lisa Ernst

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Please join us for a day of contemplative 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 form. 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. Cost is $75 – $100, sliding scale. Please pay at the highest level you can afford so we can accommodate those who need reduced fee, scholarship spots. For a scholarship spot, please inquire to the email below. You can pay by Paypal here using the donate button. If paying by check, please make it 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.  Please include your email address.

Lisa has been meditating for 25 years in both the Zen and Vipassana traditions. She is the founder and guiding teacher of One Dharma Nashville. In addition to regularly teaching meditation classes and retreats, Lisa has written numerous articles for magazines, newspapers and newsletters. She was the technical editor for the current edition of Meditation for Dummies. Her blog include essays and poetry: www.thelotusbloomsinthemud.com. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com