In this talk I describe my intensive practice with zen koans. I also explain how it laid the groundwork for deep inquiry into challenging life questions and how this practice can lead to insight and liberation. The talk includes a guided inquiry meditation.
When we meditate, at times difficult, unresolved encounters with friends, loved ones or co-workers may dominate our thoughts. If we don’t repress them (and normally we shouldn’t) they may instead begin to take over our meditation session as we swing from replaying the encounter to trying to figure out how to address it. So what to do? How do we find the wise middle way between over-identification and repression?
As an example, let’s say you and your boss were brainstorming how to solve a problem and your boss failed to listen to an idea you felt was important based on your firsthand knowledge of the situation. Instead, your boss decided on a plan you knew missed important information. You tried to convey this but your boss wouldn’t listen and ended the session. You left the encounter feeling frustrated and unheard.
The next morning during meditation, the situation came back full force. You replayed the encounter several times wondering what you could have done differently, then tried to figure out the next step, whether to approach you boss about it and what to say. Then you realize 10 plus minutes have passed on the cushion and you were completely unaware of your breath, body and immediate surroundings.
In situations like this, I have found a three step process helpful for creating space to work with unresolved situations. Staying with our example, first recognize the thoughts replaying the meeting with your boss as “past.” This may sound obvious but consciously noting that the thought content is focused on the past, without repressing it, can reduce its seeming solidity. Then notice and explore what sensations and emotions are present that accompany these thoughts.
Now, looking forward to your thoughts of how to address the situation with your boss, note that these thoughts are about the “future” but also be aware of how these thoughts show up here and now. Perhaps when you think back to the encounter with your boss you notice anger or even sadness for not being heard. When you think ahead to your possible next step, maybe you notice anxiety and tension.
Now bring it all into the present. Of course thoughts only exist in the present moment. While we may think about the past or future, every thought is only arising in the present moment. So now we see the past and future thoughts as “present” and our physical responses, sensations and emotions as “present.”
Past, future and present are all just this moment of awareness. As we see them coalesce, chances are they will lose their grip, soften and begin to settle. The sense of me against the other begins to fade. From this more settled, less self identified place, we have more possibility of seeing the situation clearly and with insight. This is not about passivity. In fact, a clear plan of action may arise from this emptier, steadier state. (If nothing arises, that’s fine too.)
You can use this three step process for most situations that begin to dominate your meditation. Occasionally a situation may be too charged to work this way. In that case, its fine to move to a more neutral focus of attention such as the breath, body or sound. Only return to the investigation if you feel able.
This practice can help us let go of the sense of self at the center of our narratives. Seeing our challenges with the clarity of present moment awareness broadens perspective, reduces the suffering of reactivity and opens new possibilities.
Links included for events already open for registration
2020 Residential Retreats
Spring Renewal Residential Retreat, 3 or 7 night option, April 23 – 26, extended option to 4/30, Bethany Hills, Kingston Springs TN
Heartwood Refuge Retreat Center Residential Meditation Retreat, The Power of a Tender Heart, June 24 – 28, Jeff Samuels teaching assistant. Registration open, info here.
Big Bear Retreat Center, Big Bear California, Making Peace with Your Ego: Finding Freedom through Letting Go, co-led with Gullu Singh, August 4 – 9. Registration open, info here.
Fall Retreat with Red Clay Sangha, September 23 – 27, Location in Georgia TBA
Late Fall Residential Retreat at Bethany Hills, Kingston Springs, TN. December 3 – 6 with extended option to 12/8.
Buddhist Tour of India, March 14 – 28. Varanasi-Bodhgaya-Dharmsala-Armitsar. Full information here.
Daylong and Half Day Retreats, Winter – Summer
The Power of Intention: Setting Your Course of the New Year and Beyond, Half Day Retreat, Jan. 1, Nashville Friends House, details soon
Mindful Meditation Workshop for ADHD and Anxiety, February 1 with Terry Huff
Daylong Meditation Retreat, Deepening your Practice, May 23 in Nashville
Spirit Rock Meditation Center Daylong Retreat with Trudy Goodman, The Dharma of Desire: From Longing to Loving Presence, July 19
Additional daylong and half day retreats will be added as scheduling permits.
Saturday, November 23, Nashville Friends Meeting
9 a.m. – Noon, Led by Lisa Ernst
Right Concentration is the final leg of the Buddha’s eightfold path but it is frequently misunderstood. Concentration and mindfulness differ, although right mindfulness is a support for meditative concentration. Skillful concentration often leads to the jhanas, the eight altered states of consciousness that can deepen joy and improve your insight practice. In this half day retreat we will explore meditation through the lens of concentration and the jhanas as a path to awakening.
The morning will consist of instruction, meditation and discussion. This retreat is suitable for all levels of experience although an existing mediation practice is recommended.
Cost is $50. A reduced fee, scholarship spot is available in the case of financial need. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire. Payment can be made through Paypal here. donate button or by check here . If paying by check, be sure to include your email address. Venmo is available @onedharma.
Silent Residential Meditation Retreat
Thursday Evening, December 5 – Sunday Noon 12/8 with Optional Extension to 12/10
Bethany Hills Retreat Center, Kingston Springs, TN, Led by Lisa Ernst
Please note: As of 10/9 we have one three night spot and one five night spot still open
All of our joys and sorrows, thoughts and feelings arise and fall away in a field of awareness that is clear, expansive and open. In this retreat we will explore how mindfulness, concentration and open awareness support each other. We will learn how developing the capacity to rest in awareness creates a wider container to meet even our most challenging and stressful thoughts and emotions with insight and compassion. It also stabilizes concentration (samadhi) and strengthens insight (prajna). This retreat is designed to invigorate and nourish, not only our formal mindfulness and concentration practices, but also our daily activities.
This silent retreat is suitable for all levels of experience. It will include sitting and walking meditation, instruction, dharma talks and private meetings with the teacher. Retreat cost is $330 if paid by November 7; $360 after. The five night option is $465 if paid by November 7; $495 after. A $100 deposit holds your spot. Fee covers lodging and all meals. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a *dana offering (donation) to the teacher. Email email@example.com for questions. Please note that your registration isn’t complete and we can’t hold your spot until you process your deposit fee.
Lisa Ernst is a meditation teacher in the Thai Forest/Spirit Rock lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. Lisa leads classes and retreats nationally and is a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.
Cancellation Refund Policy: More than four weeks from retreat start date – $30 cancellation fee; four weeks to 20 days from start date – $100 cancellation fee. No refunds are available for cancellations less than 20 days from retreat start date.