Michael Stone and The Dharma of Sudden Endings

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Michael Stone with Sylvia Boorstein and Teja Bell, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, 5/21/17

I met Michael Stone, a popular and beloved Buddhist meditation teacher, while teaching at Spirit Rock in May. We had a lovely dinner together and I got to know him just a bit. His death in July of a likely drug overdose resulting from bi-polar disorder was a shock to the international yoga and dharma community. Here I share my reflections on dharma, death and my brief but memorable encounter with Michael.

Notes: The photograph was taken by me at Michael’s request. The formal dharma talk ends at 19:05.

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Fall Residential Retreat in The North Georgia Mountains

Take the Backward Step: Relaxing into Open Awareness
Four Night Residential Retreat, Wednesday, 10/4 through Sunday 10/8
Sautee Lodge, Sautee Georgia, Sponsored by Red Clay Sangha
Led by Lisa Ernst

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“Take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward.”
– Dogen

How we pay attention, both on and off the cushion, determines our experience. When we take the backward step, letting go of grasping and chasing after experience, the body and mind relax and the heart responds with compassion and clarity. We release the limiting stories of who we are and reconnect with our boundless, empty nature. We rest in the vastness and silence of awareness itself.

This residential 4 night retreat, held mostly in silence is recommended for both beginning and experienced meditators. Format will be Vipassana style sitting and walking segments and will include daily instructions, dharma talks and discussions. For additional details and registration, go here.

New Dharma Talk: Closing the Gap by Stepping In

In this dharma talk, Lisa explores the gap between expectation and reality, perception and direct experience. Through minding the gap and stepping in, we release our ideas of how things should be and find freedom and intimacy with life in its essence.

Mind Like Sky: An Open Awareness Daylong Retreat

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Saturday, August 26, 2017
Nashville Friends Meeting, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Led by Lisa Ernst

All of our thoughts and feelings arise in a field of awareness that is naturally spacious and open. In this retreat we will explore how open awareness practice creates a wider container to meet all of our thoughts and emotions with kindness and compassion. As we deepen into this practice the boundary between inside and outside dissolves and we experience intimacy and interconnection with all things.

This retreat will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, instructions and dharma talk. We will explore the way focused and open attention in meditation support each other. We will learn how open attention can invigorate and sustain, not only our formal practice, but awareness of our daily activities. The retreat is appropriate for newer and more experience meditators.

Cost is $50. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need. There will be a separate opportunity to practice dana (generosity) toward the teacher to support her time and efforts.

Payment can be made by Paypal here, or by check. Instructions for paying by check are at this link.  Please include your email address. Additional retreat information will be provided prior to the retreat. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Mindfulness Meditation Workshop for ADHD and/or Anxiety

Saturday, July 29, 2017, 9 a.m. – Noon
Nashville Friends House

Lisa Ernst, meditation teacher and founder of One Dharma Nashville, and Terry Huff, LCSW, psychotherapist and author specializing in adults with ADHD and author of Living Well with ADHD, will offer a workshop on meditation and ADHD and/or anxiety. The workshop will include lecture, practice, and discussion and will address the following:

1. Why meditate for ADHD and/or anxiety?
2. Basics of practice
3. Different practices for
a. selective attention (focusing)
b. open awareness (expanding)
c. compassion (for self and other)

Research shows that mindfulness practice improves concentration, attention regulation, self-observation (of mental activity), working memory, and emotion regulation.

The workshop will be held at The Nashville Friends House, 530 26th Ave N. Cost is $60 and is due by the July 21 registration deadline; after $70. A reduced fee is available to anyone who can’t afford the full fee.

Payment can be made by check or paypal. For paypal, go here and enter the amount due in the “price per item” box. To pay by by check, instructions are at this link. Please include your email address.

Contact ernst.lisa@gmail.com or tmhuff@comcast.net to inquire. Terry’s book is available at terrymhuff.com.

An In Depth Look at November’s Buddhist Tour of India

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For those interested in joining our tour to India in November, here is a closer look at some of the main places we will be visiting.

Bodh Gaya

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After touching down and catching our breath for a day in Delhi, our first stop will be Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained nirvana sitting under a Bodhi tree. A descendant of that same tree marks the supposed exact spot, and next to it sits the magnificent Mahabodhi “Great Awakening Temple.” It is a very powerful place for meditation and contemplation.

Bodh Gaya is the holiest site in Buddhism and Bodh Gaya has been the most important pilgrimage place for Buddhists for thousands of years. Most Buddhist nations have built a temple here in their own style, and it is also the site for the Dalai Lama’s annual Kalachakra “Wheel of time” tantric initiations.

Varanasi

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From the peace and quiet of Bodh Gaya we will head to the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, on the banks for the holy river Ganges.

Here we will wander the alleyways of the ancient city, take a boat ride on the Ganges, and witness the aarti prayer ceremonies, where flowers and floating candles are released onto the river.

Varanasi is also the site of the deer park where the Buddha delivered his first sermon, the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma at Sarnath. Today it is still an important place for Buddhists and a well maintained park centered around the ancient brick stupa, with an excellent museum exhibiting millennia of Buddhist history.

Sikkim

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From Varanasi we have a train journey and a drive up to the mountain region of Sikkim in the Himalayan foothills, sandwiched between Tibet, Nepal, and the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. Buddhism continues to thrive in the Himalayas, and this is where we will spend the final leg of this tour, to experience life in a living Buddhist culture.

We will be staying with families in village homestays, meeting the monks, and meditating in the local monastery temple. There will also be time for contemplation in the peace of the region, as well as visiting nearby temples and ruins with stunning Himalayan scenery.

Full details and registration can be seen on the website here, and please get in touch with either Lisa at ernst.lisa@gmail.com or Soul of India at nathan@soulofindia.com if you have any questions.

 

 

Dharma Talk: Delusion and Enlightenment are Not Separate

This dharma talk explores the intersection of delusion and Buddha Nature, how the awakened heart/mind is always available, even in the most difficult moments.

Half Day Compassion Retreat: Heart Practices for Challenging Times

Saturday, June 3, 2017, 9 a.m. – Noon
Nashville Friends Meeting
Led by Lisa Ernst

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Please join us for a half day of sitting and walking meditation. Compassion and wisdom are the two wings of practice that bring our hearts to liberation. But how do we consistently practice compassion and kindness toward ourselves and others in challenging times? How does our wise heart lead the way? In this silent retreat we will explore several lovingkindness and compassion practices that refresh our hearts and open us to our innate freedom and kindness.

Led by Lisa Ernst, this retreat is suitable for newer and more experienced meditators. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, instructions and dharma. Cost is $45 and is due by Monday, May 29. A reduced fee spot is available, please inquire. Paypal is here. If paying by check, instructions are here. Please include your email address.

Additional details will be provided to registrants in advance of the retreat. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Delusion and Buddha Nature Are Not Separate

One recent morning while meditating, I was reflecting on the nature of delusion. 2017 started off as a difficult year for me, and having struggled with a multiplicity of challenges, I felt at times as if I were drowning in delusion. Then, a moment of remembering and I was at peace: the awakened mind is nowhere but here, right in the very midst of seemingly impenetrable delusion.

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This is my reflection:

Delusion and Buddha Nature are not separate. Our human nature includes delusion and clarity. When delusion is fully seen and known, this is enlightenment. What allows this alchemy? Letting go of identification with a fixed “self.” A simple shift in perspective and the seeming duality of delusion and enlightenment dissolve.

When we think we have a self that we need to endlessly polish, hone and improve, we get caught in the illusion that awakening is elsewhere. Yes, we need our practice to help us remove what clouds the clarity of mind. As Suzuki Roshi said, “Enlightenment is an accident. Practice makes us accident prone.” Yet in the very midst of delusion, if we see it fully, we are free.

How does this happen? As the mind and heart become still, desire and grasping fall away and there is only this moment and no one needing to do anything, change anything or even see anything. Here there is no self to fix , no self to enlighten. Here is the place of peace. I’m reminded of a quote from Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy.”

Shortly after I wrote this reflection, I vaguely remembered this teaching from my very early years of practice in the Zen tradition. At that time, my understanding of this teaching was beneficial to me, but it only occasionally extended beyond my meditation practice into daily life. A google search brought me to Dogen’s Genjo Koan. Here’s a short piece:

“Delusion and enlightenment are originally inseparable. What is called delusion is as it is and what is called enlightenment is as it is. Delusion should not be detested and enlightenment should not be devoured. They are as they are and they do not get in the way at all. They are inseparable. This is what is reverberating beyond words and you should not overlook this.

If Buddhas recognize themselves as enlightened there is polarization of self and other. This is not enlightenment. You realize enlightenment through delusion and you are deluded through enlightenment. At the place of seeing, knowing perishes and the mind is stilled.”

Balancing the Three Legs of Practice

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I often think of dharma practice like a tripod, with three legs that create balance. On one leg there’s meditation, including daily seated 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 seated 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. When people say they don’t have time to meditate, I find in most cases that they aren’t prioritizing the time, which may otherwise be used to watch television or engage in social media and other such activities. Consider that in 24 hours there are 1440 minutes. If we can’t find 10 – 30 minutes a day to meditate, which comprises about .07 to 2% percent of that time, its worth examining how we are using our time and what our true priorities are.

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 their practice. Concentrated time spent away from daily distractions allows 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. But do make them a priority.

Practicing mindfulness in daily life is also vital to waking up. As the popularity of mindfulness has grown, some people have mistakenly concluded that seated meditation and mindfulness in daily life are interchangeable practices. This is simply not the case. For a truly balanced practice, both are essential; we need to align what we learn in our seated practice with activities in 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.