Three Night Residential Retreat with Lisa Ernst

Making Peace: Being Self and Emptiness
Residential Retreat September 24 – 27, 2015
Sponsored by Red Clay Sangha
Sautee Lodge, Sautee Georgia

“Live in the nowhere that you come from, even though you have got an address here.” -Rumi

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Please join us in the beautiful North Georgia mountains for a residential 3 night retreat. In this silent retreat we will explore the nature of our identity and sense of self that we use to live in the world, as well as the wise space of heart and mind that lets go. As we practice meeting all of the activity of self with mindfulness, steadiness, and kindness, our insight and compassion grow. The more we make peace with our ego the more we dwell in our boundless, empty nature.

This retreat is recommended for both new and experienced meditators. Retreat fee is $150 plus dana to the teacher. Scholarships are available if you can’t pay the full fee. For more info and registration, go to here.

Lisa Ernst is the founder and guiding teacher at One Dharma Nashville. She has been meditating for over 25 years in the Zen and Vipassana Traditions. She received dharma transmission in the Thai Forest Lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. In her teaching, Lisa emphasizes both transformational insight and everyday awakening as an invitation to embrace all of the path’s possibilities. As a practicing visual artist Lisa also incorporates Dharma into painting and contemplative photography.

Cultivating Lovingkindness, Compassion and Equanimity

This dharma talk includes a guided forgiveness meditation at the end of the track.

Riding Free

Its like you’re throwing away your canoe and oars and are riding the waves of emptiness. Its scary at first, you’ve no control. You feel vulnerable and completely without knowledge of where you are going, or even where you are. So you have to surrender completely to the waves when they come. It may take a while. It may take weeks or months or years. You may ask, “what if I drown?” Then I ask you, “who and what drowns? What do you lose? And what might you gain?”

You may decide to climb back into your canoe if you can. But if you’re truly on this path, the water will draw you in again and again until finally you drown and then you’re riding the waves and those waves are you, and you are the waves, there’s really no difference any more, and you arrive exactly where you need to be, where you always have been, but just didn’t know it until now. You are home.

~Lisa Ernst

Morning Beams

Morning Beams

Flowering Lotus Lovingkindness Retreat Recap

Last weekend I led a lovingkindness retreat at a beautiful retreat center in Magnolia Mississippi, a place I’d never been before. Magnolia is a small town aptly named – the minute we entered the city, blooming magnolias were everywhere. Founded by Dolores Watson about 5 years ago, Flowering Lotus Retreat Center has grown considerably and has hosted teachers such as Phillip Moffitt, David Loy and John Orr. Dolores is a remarkable and energetic woman who so obviously loves the dharma. I first met her last November when she attended my seven day residential retreat here in Middle Tennessee. I wasn’t at all surprised that the care and thought she has put into the center shines through in every detail. She has her own bold and unique style, which I loved.

Dolores Watson Meditation Hall The experience level for this retreat ranged from four or five people who had never meditated before to several with extensive retreat experience, and everything in between. We focused on lovingkindness (metta) practice for the weekend, which I always appreciate teaching. Watching hearts open and barriers dissolve, seeing people finally realize its ok to offer kindness and love to themselves, is a deeply fulfilling experience for me. I remember how hard it was the first time I tried it many years ago, how I felt guilty and even selfish spending so much time giving metta to myself. But when my heart finally cracked open, I was able to receive and extend love to all beings for the first time. That has stayed with me ever since when I practice metta. At this retreat, as we moved our metta outward to loved ones, family friends, indifferent and difficult people, some at the retreat got a taste of the heart that is not separate from all beings, the heart that can love unconditionally. This is the realm of true compassion. Lodge at Flowering Lotus May all beings be free from suffering. May they live in equanimity.

2015 Spring Renewal Meditation Retreat Recap

One Dharma just completed our fourth Spring Renewal Residential Retreat at Bethany Hills. Each April I especially enjoy our time in this beautiful and natural setting where our hearts can open in tandem with the flowers and leaves after spring rains.

Ferns by the Pond at Bethany Hills

Ferns by the Pond at Bethany Hills

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Altar Flowers by Frankie Fachilla

I appreciate all of nature’s seasons but spring is my favorite. In my twenties, during some of the darkest, loneliest years of my life, immersing myself in spring each year gave me a sense of possibility that my life could be more than the sadness and grief I lived with daily. As I witnessed newly leafed trees growing greener each day, purple wild iris opening along the water’s edge, and birds breaking into a melodious but raucous symphony every morning as the sun rose, I allowed my heart to open completely, to release my armor and touch the warmth and vulnerability of new life. This tenderness of heart nourished and fortified me through this otherwise long and lonely season of my life. Slowly, as the years passed and I reached my 30’s, the possibility of renewal that had once seemed so removed from the rest of my life blossomed at last. This awakening enabled me to live my life more fully, to move through my grief and find friends and love again. Thank you spring for sustaining and warming my heart when I had no other way to touch this moment with love and gratitude.

Double Web

Double Web

These two lovely poems, speak to the retreat experience of opening heart and mind in this moment. Both were written by attendees at our spring retreat.

Water Meditation

Water extinguishes fire
Takes away the angry,
burning desire to eat
everything in its path.
Be water,
drown in this moment.
Watch the world and its stories
pass like waves.
They aren’t yours to grab.
Try to grab them and
they disappear like
scattered stars,
reforming later, still
constellations of emptiness.

Instead, let the waves
crash over you,
their powerful fingers
tear at you then recede
into foamy nothing.
Crash and recede, crash and recede.
Nothing to do
but feel the sun.

– Andrea Hewitt

Cattails by Pond

Cattails by Pond

The retreat ended, rain stopped.
The geese have landed at the lake,
Sun shining thru clouds, I see clearly.

– Jeff Miller

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Clear Skies Reflected in Pond

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.

When Peace Will be Born

This is a beautiful guest post from Najmeh Jami, a student and practitioner at One Dharma and reflects the fruits of compassionate dharma practice.

“When Peace Will be Born”

I’d been waiting all my life for a moment, for a moment that shouts itself “Hey! Look at me! I am clear. Hey! Look at me, I am perfect.”

I missed a lot when I was waiting. I missed the pain behind my mom’s eyes when she was expecting me to do “nonsense” and I called that moment imperfect. I missed my dad’s suffering when he was angry, really angry and I called him an imperfect dad. And I missed a lot of beauties and joys when I was judging the imperfection of those moments waiting for that clear, perfect moment.

Some got clear, while I was still busy waiting for the perfections to happen.

Those moments happened again, my dad got angry, my mom expecting me to do “non-sense”. I wasn’t thinking about perfection or non-perfection. I was seeing that clarity; I was dissolved in my mom’s pain and my dad’s suffering; There’s no pain, no suffering, no me no dad, no me no mom. It was a pure clarity and it was perfect.

Some didn’t get clear. But I have already made my decision. I am not looking for clarity or perfection. I am just dying in the moment with love and the moment gets clear, the moment gets perfect. The moment IS clear, the moment IS perfect. We just need to die in the moment with love, and it gets clear and it gets perfect. And that’s when peace will born.”

– Najmeh Jami

Listening to Your Thoughts Like a Friend

Meditation teachers in the West rarely emphasize thought as a primary object of meditation, even though mindfulness of mental factors is the fourth foundation of mindfulness. There’s a reason for this – from the time we’re young children, many of us are taught to revere thought above all else. When we first come to meditation we may feel as though we’re lost in the rapids of thought, tumbling down a treacherous river with no escape. Initially, establishing awareness at the breath and sensations of the body helps to calm these rapids. But not entirely. The thoughts don’t and won’t stop.

So why not learn to listen to your thoughts like you listen to a good friend? This means bringing your full awareness, with kindness, to your internal dialog. From this perspective, listening practice translates well from hearing external sounds like bird song or passing cars to awareness of the tone and quality of your thoughts, not simply the content. The practice may sound simple, but it takes skill to listen without reacting, judging or getting caught again in those rapids.

We can categorize our thoughts as positive, negative or neutral, just as we can with feelings and sensations. This can help us dis-identify with the specific content of the thought so we can simply observe. Most of us spend a lot of time problem solving, strategizing and planning. Often this activity is necessary and useful. But at other times it diverts us from our present moment experience. Listening to thought can help us to discern when we are using thought to escape and when we are using it wisely.

How often are your thoughts angry, comparing or judgmental? How frequently do you carry on internal dialog with someone who has hurt you or made you angry, but you never verbalize those thoughts skillfully or resolve the conflict? What narratives do you cling to as undisputed truths about yourself or others that narrow your possibilities? As your awareness deepens, you may notice how often your thoughts support the mistaken belief that you are a fixed, separate self, at odds with the outside world. Though listening practice, you may also become aware when compassionate and generous thoughts arise from a sense of interconnection and find opportunities to cultivate more of these. Deep concentration, Samadhi, during meditation practice helps support our insights into interconnection, which we can then bring into our daily lives.

Through listening practice I have discovered that whenever I feel a strong sense of self and other, my thoughts tend toward self-clinging or judgment. When I feel an intuitive sense of interconnection, my mind naturally opens to a more compassionate way of thinking about my life and the world. I am able to listen from the heart and respond with kindness, rather than though old thought patterns that reinforce separation.

True Nature, No Nature or Buddha Nature?

“The luminosity of the mind, the nature of clarity of the mind, is something that I cannot simply explain in words to you. But if you undertake this kind of experiment on your own, you will begin to understand.” – Dalai Lama

After practicing meditation for 25 years I rely less and less on words to describe the awakened state, such as “Buddha Nature” or “True Nature.” In reflecting on this, I find I’m not satisfied with any word that conjures up an idea of this unconditioned, unnameable experience. There is often some taint of fabrication that tends to accompany these names. That’s inevitable as its how language works: words and ideas mingle and no matter our best intentions, create an inevitable separation from our actual experience.

So what happens when you experience deep peace and interconnectedness, when you encounter incomparable clarity and luminosity? Usually the mind will quickly weigh in with names and labels or try to create a context for the experience. That’s what the mind does; it usually happens so fast we don’t even see it until the clarity and luminosity are obscured. This is actually a matter of capacity – when we first encounter this luminosity, it is so far from any previous experience we’ve had that our mind quickly veers into fabrication. Only after practicing for some time can we simply dwell in this unobstructed peace without trying to label or contextualize. Our capacity to abide without words or labels grows.

“If you’re primed to look for innate natures, you’ll tend to see innate natures, especially when you reach the luminous, non-dual stages of concentration called themeless, emptiness, and undirected. You’ll get stuck on whichever stage matches your assumptions about what your awakened nature is. But if you’re primed to look for the process of fabrication, you’ll see these stages as forms of fabrication, and this will enable you to deconstruct them, to pacify them, until you encounter the peace that’s not fabricated at all.” – Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The key is to be alert to the mind’s tendency to construct and conceptualize. This is another, more subtle stage of mindfulness, to see when we obscure our experience with ideas about Buddha nature or emptiness. As your practice deepens, you’ll begin to see how readily the mind creates names and fabrications, even for that which can’t be named or classified. The awareness will help you to release any clinging to words or explanations and abide in this mind, clear and luminous beyond words.

 

 

Functional Identity and No-self

Every morning we put on clothes that allow us to function within our daily activities and obligations. For early exercisers, workout clothes are the first clothing of the day. Others begin the morning with work clothes or simply day clothes. We all wear clothing that gives us a functional identity in the world, whether a standard uniform, jeans and t-shirt or more formal work clothes.

In the same way, we take on functional identities in our lives to fulfill needs, aspirations and obligations. We may be a parent, a friend, a spouse, a programmer and an artist, all in one day. We may also be a meditator and yoga practitioner. Take a look at what you do each day and see how fluid your identity is based on your activates and interactions. I call this functional identity because it serves a purpose but is not fixed; it is subject to change over hours, days, weeks, years and decades. If you cling to identity as concrete and unmoving, you will suffer through the inevitability of change and impermanence.

Most of us don’t cling to our clothes, at least not for long. We change them as needed and realize they aren’t who we are. We recognize the impermanence of any particular set of clothes. If only we could view our perception of self in the same way, our suffering would decrease significantly.

When you realize experientially that the identity you cling to is subject to change and impermanence, that there is no fixed self, you will taste liberation. Your functional identity serves a purpose and doesn’t need to be denied or eliminated, but it is ultimately a kaleidoscope of change over the course of a lifetime. It’s no more permanent than your clothes.

What is your true nature, what is your mind? When you let go, you will find joy and equanimity in this very moment. You will begin to wake up from the illusion of a fixed self and know freedom within the endless flux of experience, of activity, of living and dying.

“I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide Earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.”
~~ Eihei Dogen