The Essence of Compassion

The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “inside the skin” of the other. We “go inside” their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the subject of our observation. When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, “to suffer with.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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The Power of Contemplative Inquiry: The Art of Embodying Mindful Presence for Facilitators and Practitioners

Daylong Workshop led by Lisa Ernst

Saturday, October 19, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Nashville Friends Meeting

Contemplative inquiry is a vital skill for practitioners and facilitators for cultivating focused, open attention. It is the art of embodying presence and mindful listening, while reflecting a deep and heart-felt sense of kindness and curiosity. These qualities ground and support us in the unfolding nature of experience, expanding awareness and inviting reflection on what we experientially observe. Through the practice of inquiry, we begin to disrupt and release rumination, limiting beliefs and conditioned responses, while bringing more intention and joy to our lives and interactions.

In this daylong you will learn to incorporate inquiry practices inro your own meditation and strengthen your ability to incorporate these skills when working with others. Inquiry practices free the mind from habitual stories, narratives and patterns of avoidance that prevent present moment awareness and compassion from unfolding. These skills are suitable for personal investigation, facilitating groups and working one on one with clients.

This workshop, led by Lisa Ernst, will include instruction, meditation, group interaction and practice in the inquiry process. The cost is $75 – $125 sliding scale. Please pay at the highest level you can afford so that others who need to pay less can also attend. (This is not a “dana” daylong and compensation to the teacher is included in your fee.) A scholarship spot is available. Email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com Payment can be made here.

Fall Residential Retreat in the North Georgia Mountains

Lovingkindness and Interconnection in Challenging Times

Thursday evening, September 19 – Sunday Noon September 22

Led by Lisa Ernst

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How do we keep our hearts open and remember interconnection even when so much of our world is polarized right now? The dharma offers a wellspring of wisdom and tools that can refresh and renew us. Surrounded by the peace of the rural landscape, we will engage in practices that support our mental stability, help us step out of our reactive patterns and reset our hearts to continue our journey with loving attentiveness and wise action.

This retreat, hosted by Red Clay Sangha, will be held mostly in silence. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, daily instructions and dharma talks, q&a and optional meetings with the teacher. All levels of experience are welcome. This is a low cost retreat with additional financial support available to anyone in financial need.

Lisa Ernst is a meditation teacher, visual artist and founder of One Dharma Nashville. She has been meditating for over 25 years in the Zen and Vipassana traditions and received teaching authorization in the Thai Forest/Spirit Rock lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. Lisa offers meditation training and retreats nationally and she is a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.

Go here to register: https://redclaysangha.org/event-3228179

New Dharma Talk: Investigating States, Traits and Identity

The radical teaching of Buddhist mindfulness is cultivating presence when the mind wants to turn away. We begin to remember that all emotions and moods are sankhara – impermanent conditioned states and not our identity. This is a doorway to freedom.

New Dharma Talk: Attention is the Beginning of Devotion

As “devotion” is a loaded of a word some, we can also define it as loving attention and dedication. If you’re a familiar with Mary Oliver’s poetry, you’ll recognize “attention is the beginning of devotion” as a quote from her. In the talk I include a few of her poems that so perfectly reflect how attention leads to devotion through even the everyday elements of life and nature. I also talk about how devotion can be a balancing factor of heart and mind.

Half Day Retreat: Awakening to the Sublime States with Lovingkindness, Forgiveness and Tonglen

Saturday, June 15, 9 a.m. – Noon, Nashville Friends Meeting
Led by Lisa Ernst

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Metta is the Pali word for friendship or lovingkindness. It is taught as a meditation that opens our innate capacity for a joyful, loving heart. Metta is traditionally offered along with forgiveness practices that deepen compassion and equanimity. We will also include the powerful sending and receiving practice of Tonglen. One of the most significant aspects of Tonglen is that we naturally move out of the “self center” where we primarily identify with our own suffering and find a deep sense of interconnection with others where compassion fully comes alive.

These practices support and deepen the development of concentration,
ease and a greater ability to give and receive unconditional love. In these difficult times, our world needs these qualities more than ever.

This silent retreat will include sitting and walking meditation, instructions and q&a. It is suitable for all levels of experience. Cost is $50, payment can be made by Paypal here. Instructions are here if paying by check. Be sure to include your email address. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Update – 2019 Buddhist Tour of India

Please join me for an adventure of a lifetime to India. On this tour we will be visiting some of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites as well as many other points of interest. We will meditate under the Bodhi tree, a descendant of the very tree where Buddha was enlightened 2500 years ago.This was one of the highlights for me of the 2017 tour and an experience not to be missed while in India. Pilgrims from all over the world travel here and it is truly an amazing experience to be at ground zero for the awakening of Buddha and Buddhism.

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Resident Monk Meditating on the Rocks Overlooking the Himalayas, Sangha Choeling Monastery, Sikkim, est. 1701

We’ll also visit Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon. Sarnath is close to Varanasi, where the famous Aarti ceremony is held every night at sunset on the Ganges. This is another not to be missed highlight that can’t be fully captured in words. In addition, a tour of India wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Himalayas. This year, we’ll travel to Dharmsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community in exile. Finally, there’s an optional two day extension to visit Amritsar and the Golden Temple.

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Young Monks Studying at the Sangha Choeling Monastery, Sikkim

The tour is guided by expert local guides in India, and I will offer meditation and dharma discussions along the way in various locations, from hotel gardens to Tibetan monasteries.

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Enjoying the Sunrise Ceremony on the Ganges in Varanasi

It is a fun adventure and is open to everyone interested in Buddhism and meditation. (No experience required.)

For the full itinerary and cost, go here. If you are considering this tour and would like to talk to me directly, feel free to email ernst.lisa@gmail.com.

February Day Retreat: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Led by Jeffrey Samuels
February 23, from 8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Nashville Friends Meeting

Retreat full

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A key Buddhist text outlining the practice of Mindfulness are the “Mahasatipatthana Sutta” and its the shorter version, the “Satipatthana Sutta.” These texts are often translated as the “Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness.” This text is, in fact, the very ground for mindfulness meditation practice. The Buddha himself called Satipatthana the direct path to awakening. In this text, the Buddha outlines four specific foundations of mindfulness and describes the best way to cultivate them correctly.

In this day retreat, we will explore the four foundations of mindfulness theoretically and practically, with chances to reflect on and work through each of them. By looking into these teachings more deeply, we can begin to understand clearly what leads us out of suffering and into greater ease and joy in our lives. We will also have the chance to explore different approaches to mindfulness itself, including focused attention and open awareness.

The retreat is suitable for newer meditators as well as more experienced practitioners who wish to refresh and deepen the foundations of their practice. The day will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, instruction and discussion. Cost is $50 plus donation to the teacher. A scholarship spot is available. Email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com to inquire. Payment can be made through Paypal here. Instructions for paying by check are at this link. Be sure to include your email address. For questions about the retreat email Jeffrey.samuels@wku.edu.

Jeffrey Samuels completed his first meditation retreat in Thailand in 1987 under the direction of Ajahn Buddhadasa. Since then he has completed a number of retreats in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and the United States, both in the Mahasi Sayadaw and the Thai Forest traditions. He also completed a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies at the University of Virginia in 2002. He has been studying with Lisa Ernst since 2012 and completed biannual retreats with her since then. He is currently a Professor of Buddhism at Western Kentucky University.

A Phantom and A Dream: Social Media, Connection and Loneliness During the Holidays

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Oregon Rain
photography by Lisa Ernst

As I scrolled through social media the day after Thanksgiving, I saw numerous photos of people celebrating the holiday with family and friends. I shared their joy as they basked in the warm glow of their loved ones. Yet I couldn’t forget the people who had not posted, some who were either alone or lonely.

For the most part, people who share their holiday moments on social media have no ill will or intent to arouse jealousy. Often these photos are quite meaningful to distant family or others who appreciate seeing their friends in joyful times. But because people who feel less fortunate are unlikely to share, a false picture emerges. We can easily overlook that these feeds hardly represent the full spectrum of human experience – we may forget to extend compassion to those who need our kindness or to simply acknowledge that not everyone is celebrating.

Mudita, or sympathetic joy, is the capacity to appreciate the success and good fortune of others without reservation. When I scroll the feeds and see happy, fulfilled faces of friends and relatives surrounded by loved ones, mudita arises in me. But if you are alone or lonely, as I was for many years, it’s not so easy to summon sympathetic joy. Social media can amplify feelings of disconnection with its easy access to images of warm, happy gatherings on the screen, even though not all of these images paint a true picture. In fact, this is a good time to remember Buddha’s teaching in the Diamond Sutra that this fleeting world is but a phantom and a dream.

Having spent many holidays alone when I was younger, I became quite intimate with the seasonal pressure to be joyful and connected. That’s partly why I’m sensitive to those who may not communicate their loneliness or feelings of detachment during the holidays.

Although I wasn’t raised Christian, growing up I immersed myself in the spirit and excitement of the holidays. When I was 13 my mother died in the fall and I moved to Nashville to live with my grandmother. Even with my mother gone I prepared for the season with great anticipation. It would only be Granny and me, but that was enough. When Christmas finally arrived, we started the day with Gran’s whipped cream custard and presents. As the day progressed, however, she fell into grief for what she had lost: her only child and her husband. She began drinking heavily and I spent the rest of Christmas alone in my room, devastated that the day didn’t live up to my expectations.

This pattern would repeat itself for years. My disappointment, at its core, reflected the grief and loneliness that I couldn’t yet face. I unconsciously hoped that the warm promise of the holidays would wash away my pain. When my father died from alcoholism a few years later, my holiday loneliness only intensified and extended well in to the grey, wet Tennessee months of January and February. Often relief came only when the longer, sunny days of spring finally arrived.

After struggling with loneliness and depression for many years, I started to address my losses, aided by meditation and therapy, which helped me untangle from my holiday gloom. The shame of being alone slowly lifted. During meditation, I began to feel a deep heart connection to all that is present, or as Dogen put it, intimacy with all things. In my daily life I cultivated friendships and relationships that nourished me. Slowly, the holidays and those dark grey winters that followed were easier to bear.

These days I’m grateful to have loving people in my life. Yet my heart still touches that deep loneliness from time to time. Mostly I have room for it now; I can feel both connection and loneliness in the fullness of my heart. And I remember that, despite the images we see on social media, some people are lonely and grieving this year. If you’re one of them, may your heart find peace; may you know that you are not alone.

Winter solitude –
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
-Basho

A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as if it Were Your Last

Meeting Once Monthly in Nashville, January – December 2019

Course Full email for the waitlist, ernst.lisa@gmail.com

Led by Lisa Ernst

In our death adverse culture, few of us reflect on the inevitability of our death or that it could happen at any time. Yet the Buddha recommended that we use death as an object of contemplation, not to frighten us, but to help us awaken to the fragile, fleeting, and precious nature of our lives.

Contemplating death as part of our meditation practice and inquiring together in community encourages us to be more real, more clear about our priorities, less self centered and more courageous. Paradoxically, many of us discover that contemplating our mortality is vital to putting us in touch with a deep sense of gratitude and a way of living that is more fully in alignment with our values, bringing forward our best, truest self.

We will meet once a month for 12 months to explore the values most vital to us when we recognize our time is limited. Each monthly class meets for 2 hours and is organized around a theme – from looking at our ideas and beliefs about death, to reflections on impermanence and emptiness, to writing a life review, to re-imagining our life purpose, to preparing for death, and most importantly, fully engaging our lives here and now.

This course is inspired by the book, A Year to Live, by the late, beloved teacher Stephen Levine. The book will be our guide, supplemented by source material, inquiry, meditations, deep listening, and writing exercises.

You will participate in a setting where everyone can safely explore their views about mortality and feel supported by compassionate, wise community. Guiding teacher Lisa Ernst will oversee the course and participants will have an optional chance to prepare and present some of the material. During this year we will have the opportunity to rise to the level of our deepest aspirations. Please join us!

Cost: Sliding scale $375 – $575. Please pay at the highest level you can afford so we can support those who need to pay less. A deposit of $100 reserves your spot with the balance due by 12/30. Please indicate the total amount you will pay. Paypal is here. Scholarship rates and payment plans are available in the case of financial need. An existing  meditation practice is required to join this course and a commitment to participate for the full year. For questions, email Ernst.lisa@gmail.com.