Life is a balance of effort and letting go. This talk explores how we engage in our practice without over striving and find the sweet spot of the middle way.
Led by Jeffrey Samuels
February 23, from 8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Nashville Friends Meeting
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 email@example.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.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Meeting Once Monthly in Nashville, January – December 2019
Course Full email for the waitlist, email@example.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.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most times, what we think of as “self” is in foreground, the driver’s seat. Our identity, who we believe we are with our attendant desires, opinions, thoughts and feelings, is often running in a dream state. Usually this orientation operates unconsciously, with little or no awareness on our part. One reason many of us practice meditation and mindfulness to hone our lens of awareness to see through this dream of a separate self.
Through practice, the unconditioned mind, the unborn, as Buddha called it, is occasionally consciously accessed. With deeper practice, it comes forward, it advances on its own. As practice matures, the switch has been flipped for longer periods of time.
When we cultivate smadhi (meditative absorption) our awareness becomes established in the unconditioned mind for a time and “self” may try to come forward but doesn’t easily take hold.
When no-self is foreground, this is the mirror switch. From our mind’s perspective, they are two sides of a coin, front and back. Usually the unborn seems to be at the back, out of our conscious awareness and “self” in the driver’s seat. Of course it is only an illusion but our human perspective will give us a reference point that creates this appearance. So we practice and use tools as best we can to bring us to the unconditioned. This is as Buddha intended.
As a new Zen practitioner, when I had encounters with emptiness and no-self , the experience felt fragile and tentative, like something I needed to hold on to for as long as possible. But of course it always faded away. It took me a while to see the fluidity of this awareness and to realize it wasn’t a problem.
At a recent retreat I was enjoying an extended time of ease and equanimity. Self referential thoughts were not operating at all and the mind was spacious, responsive and awake. During meditation, I noticed subtle thoughts popping up about plans, ideas and self referencing but didn’t follow them. I saw the mind trying to engage, like an engine trying to start but without the fuel of desire and craving, it wouldn’t ignite. The mind of awareness kept the fuel from entering the engine of the self creating process.
During the retreat I happened to read this passage from Joseph Goldstein’s Mindfulness and found his experience and description nearly identical to my experience of subtle thoughts and self referencing trying to ignite the engine of self:
“On a recent retreat I had a revealing experience of how easily we fall under the spell of ignorance and how, in a moment, we can wake up from that spell. You are probably familiar with the experience of waking up in the morning and then, perhaps, slipping back into a dream state for a few minutes before waking again. This might happen just once or maybe several times before we’re fully alert. On this particular retreat, I was noticing that phenomenon very clearly. Then, later in the day, in times of walking meditation, I began to notice more clearly how often there is a thin layer of background thoughts, images, fragments of stories, floating like a thin layer of clouds across the mind. This stream of thoughts is really the hardly noticed but ongoing creation of the world we inhabit. And almost always the thoughts were self referential in one way or another, memories, plans, likes and dislikes. What struck me forcibly at the at that time was that the experience of slipping into and out of these background thought worlds was the same experience of slipping back into a dream state after being awake. I realized that we are simply dreaming the self into existence. And I found that occasionally repeating the phrase during the day “dreaming myself into existence” reinforced the strong aspiration to stay awake and notice more carefully the dream.”
During retreats and any time we have time and capacity for deep Samadhi, the experience of no-self advances to the foreground of consciousness and we can more readily see the mind dreaming itself into existence – we can observe the “self” grasping at returning to the foreground. Awareness can occasionally catch it before this fabrication takes over our equanimity and spacious great nature. This is not an easy practice and is more likely to be accessible during extended retreat, when distractions and external stimulation are minimized.
So you may ask if there’s any value in this practice when we are engaged in our busy daily lives. Yes, because once the mind has settled for a time in the unconditioned we can return home with fewer hooks, see our lives with new eyes and act from a more skillful, responsive place. Equanimity allows us to see our habits and self referential behavior and not immediately fall back into old, familiar patterns, at least for a while.
Buddha taught that true liberation is the end of craving – unchecked thirst, desire, longing and greed. As humans, we will invariably be driven by forms of craving. To try an eliminate it completely is not a path most of us will take. But we can cultivate awareness when craving is the primary driver that brings us back to self absorption and self referential thoughts. Unconscious craving, when acted on, leads us to drink salt water when we’re thirsty. When our awareness opens to wisdom and we see the futility of this craving, the effort to relieve the suffering of self identity, we have more room for a compassionate response to life.
Compassion is the active form of wisdom, which takes root as we let go of unconscious craving and our usual self referencing perspective, and open the lens of awareness to the truth of our interconnectedness to all of life.
With practice we can put down our craving for “something else, somewhere else,” for a while and instead allow our thirst to be quenched with the clear water of our true mind that is always right here.
Why Are Retreats a Vital Part of Practice?
Retreats are powerful. They give you a chance to reset, refresh, and de-clutter your mind. They offer time to resolve unfinished things in your heart, to learn to see yourself and the world with eyes of compassion and forgiveness.
Retreats help to attune to your inner rhythms and to the immense current of universal life flowing through you as you. On retreat you can let your guard down, let your heart open and your bodymind unwind. In the safety and refuge of community, you learn to relax and rest in the richness of life as it is. And at the end of the retreat the benefit is visible: whether it’s a day or a week or longer, everyone looks younger, more open, clear-eyed, and radiant.
Take a moment now and ask yourself: is it time for a retreat? Can a retreat serve you? What might be stopping you from taking time to support your being in this healthy way? Retreats can be healing, transformative and profound, so I encourage you to dip your toes in and explore. You’ll be glad you did!
I can certainly attest to the power of retreat in my own life. One week after my first time on a meditation cushion I attended a daylong meditation retreat. It was challenging and much of the time I had no idea what I was doing. But as I walked to my car at the end of the day, I felt a clarity and lightness that I had never known before. I knew right then that I would make retreats a priority in my life. They became an oasis of calm and lucidity during a turbulent time in my life. I continued to retreat regularly as my life settled down – they served as vital maintenance for my heart and mind. They still do.
For the committed practitioner, meditation retreats are not a luxury but an essential part of deepening their practice. Concentrated time spent away from daily distractions allows access to parts of our minds and hearts that are normally out of reach; retreats help us contact our deepest evaded realities.
Retreats of various duration are available year round, anywhere from half day or daylong retreats to 7 or 10 day retreats (or more). If your life situation prevents you from traveling afar or carving out chunks of time for retreats, take advantage of nearby half-day and daylong retreats as often as you can and shorter residential retreats that only last a weekend. But do make them a priority as you deepen and sustain your practice.
Thursday Evening, April 19 to Sunday Noon, April 22; Extended Option to April 26
Bethany Hills Retreat Center, Kingston Springs
Led by Lisa Ernst
Retreat full, email email@example.com to join waitlist
“Enlightenment is Intimacy With All Things” – Dogen
Each spring the earth awakens from its winter slumber as the days grow warmer and longer. Surrounded by newly leafed trees and rolling hills, we will renew our minds and hearts in the simple yet profound practice of sitting and walking meditation. Gradually this practice will lead us to intimacy with all of life as we touch the present moment with a kind and open heart.
This silent retreat will include sitting and walking meditation, instruction, dharma talks and private meetings with the teacher. Retreat cost is $240 if paid by March 21; $265 after. The seven night option is $495 if paid by March 21; $525 after. A $100 deposit holds your spot. Please indicate if you will be attending the three or seven night option. Fee covers lodging and all meals. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a dana offering (donation) to the teacher. A scholarship spot is available if you need financial assistance. Paypal is available here. If paying by check, instructions are at this link. Please include your email address. For questions or to join the waitlist, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Ernst is a meditation teacher in the Thai Forest lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. She leads classes and retreats nationally and teaches meditation internationally. She is a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.
*Dana: According to the Buddha, generosity, or sharing what we have, is one of the central pillars of a spiritual life. In the act of giving we develop our ability to let go, cultivate a spirit of caring, and acknowledge the inter-connectedness that we all share.
D: Hi Enlightenment, I’ve been waiting for you, where’ve you been?
E: I have been here all along, but you rarely recognize me. You look right at me, but you don’t see me.
D: I thought you were over the next hill or two and that I have to keep searching. I catch glimpses of you from time to time, but you always disappear.
E; That’s what everybody says
D: To tell the truth, I’m surprised you’re here. I’m not good enough for you. Probably never will be. I’m trying to be a better person but I feel like a failure.
E; Yeah, I hear that one a lot too. Go ahead and work on being kinder and more compassionate, but do it for others, not me. Do it for the world.
D: Thanks, but that might be hard. I seem to be stuck in a lot of, well, delusion.
E: That’s ok, I’m not going anywhere. I don’t care how deluded you are.
D: Really? Is my practice a waste of time then? I’ve got a long to do list and I need to get on it.
E: If you don’t meditate, you won’t see me as much, you won’t recognize me. But now that we’ve met, if you think you know me, you’ll be mistaken. You’ll be stuck with only memories. That’s fine, its not my business, but it will make you miss me even more – its your nature to miss me.
D: Then how do we work together?
E: We are together, we’re not separate. I’m always here, even in your most deluded moments. You can’t get rid of me and I can’t get rid of you so let’s make peace.
D: Ok, that sounds good. But can I check my phone first?
At times like this, you may be tempted to let the momentum of anger and outrage pull you away from meditation practice. In fact, sitting still with anger can be very uncomfortable. But don’t let that stop you. Keep sitting – not to get rid of anger, if that’s what you’re feeling, but to become intimate with it. Welcome the discomfort. In the stillness we can allow our awareness, our love, to embrace the anger. What is it telling us at the heart level? Perhaps as we sit, as the dust settles a bit, we become more aware of the fullness of the anger and what accompanies it. For me, right now I encounter sadness and fear for our country. I also encounter a love that can’t be vanquished by hate. Tears flow and I find room in my heart for it all. The beauty and the ugliness – they all serve to awaken my heart and remind me to remain steadfast in love while standing against hate, prejudice and separation, whether in my own heart or in the world.
I’m reminded of these verses from the Shambhala Warrior training:
“In the crucible of meditation, bring forth day by day into your own heart the treasury of compassion, wisdom and courage for which the world longs.
Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it. Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that.
Do not set your heart on particular results. Enjoy positive action for its own sake and rest confident that it will bear fruit.
When you see violence, greed and narrow-mindedness in the fullness of its power, walk straight into the heart of it, remaining open to the sky and in touch with the earth.
Staying open, staying grounded, remember that you are the inheritor of the strengths of thousands of generations of life.
Staying open, staying grounded, recall that the thankful prayers of future generations are silently with you.
Staying open, staying grounded, be confident in the magic and power that arise when people come together in a great cause.
Staying open, staying grounded, know that the deep forces of Nature will emerge to the aid of those who defend the Earth.
Staying open, staying grounded, have faith that the higher forces of wisdom and compassion will manifest through our actions for the healing of the world.
When you see weapons of hate, disarm them with love.
When you see armies of greed, meet them in the spirit of sharing.
When you see fortresses of narrow-mindedness, breach them with truth.
When you find yourself enshrouded in dark clouds of dread, dispel them with fearlessness.
When forces of power seek to isolate us from each other, reach out with joy.
In it all and through it all, holding to your intention, let go into the music of life. Dance!”
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.
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.
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.”