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

OregonCoast

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

Advertisements

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.

Why Are Retreats a Vital Part of Practice?

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!

Trudy Goodman
_________

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.

Lisa Ernst

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.

Half Day Compassion Retreat: Heart Practices for Challenging Times

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

radnorsunbeams

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.

IMG_2359

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.”

Summer Retreat at Southern Dharma

Intimate with All Things: Awakening with Breath, Body, Heart and Mind
July 8 – 12, 2016
Southern Dharma Retreat Center, Hot Springs, NC
Led by Lisa Ernst

4c159-lotusblossom

Please join me in a beautiful, rural location in the North Carolina Mountains for a four night summer meditation retreat. Southern Dharma is located in Hot Springs, North Carolina, a picturesque four hour drive from Nashville and Atlanta. Full information and registration are here.

Daylong Meditation Retreat: Cultivating Clarity Through Living the Questions

Saturday, January 28, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Birdsong Retreat Center, Ashland City, TN
Led by Lisa Ernst

birdsong

Birdsong Retreat Center

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Please join us at a beautiful, rural retreat location for a day of practice. During the winter months it is customary to look inward to clarify our deepest intentions, yet unanswered questions may stand in the way of knowing what our true priorities are. During this day of practice, we will have the opportunity to practice opening our hearts to our unresolved questions and inner dilemmas. These questions contain a rich source of insight; learning to live them brings about a radical shift that opens the door to clarity and equanimity.
This retreat is appropriate for all levels of experience.

Led by Lisa Ernst, the retreat will include sitting and walking meditation, practice instructions, and a dharma talk. Cost is $50 plus dana (donation) to the teacher. A scholarship option is offered. Paypal is available here. Instructions for paying by check are here.  Be sure to include your email address. Retreat information and directions will be provided in advance of the retreat. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Pali Language as a Pathway to Understanding Buddha’s Teachings

Online Interactive Course Taught by Jeffrey Samuels, Ph.D.
12 Week Course starting January 26
Thursdays, 7 – 8:30 p.m. 2017

Ever wonder what the Buddha really taught? Ever want to read and understand the Buddha’s sermons in their original Pali language? In January we will begin a Pali course that is designed specifically for students of Buddhism interested in reading Pali Buddhist texts. The course text that we will use for learning Pali grammar and vocabulary is focused on a wide range of Buddhist literature including sermons, verses from the Dhammapada, passages from the disciplinary texts, the Questions of King Milinda, and more. This challenging 12 week course will conclude with the completion of half of A New Course in Reading Pali, a book designed to have students reading a variety of Pali material.

This course is being offered online through video conferencing that enables a full classroom experience with teacher and group interaction. Each class lasts1.5 hours. The sessions will be recorded in case you need to miss one of the classes.

Course fee is $150 – $200 sliding scale, plus $20 for the book, which can be ordered online. Please pay at the highest level you can afford so we can accommodate those who need to pay less. A $50 deposit reserves your spot with the balance due by January 19. A scholarship spot is available in the case of financial need.

Jeffrey Samuels is Professor of religious studies at Western Kentucky University. He received a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from the University of Virginia in 2002. He has been teaching courses on Buddhism and Pali at WKU since 2001. He began meditating in 1987 under the Thai Forest monk Ajahn Buddhadasa. He has completed several long meditation retreats in Thailand under Mahasi Sayaadaw teachers as well as retreats in the U.S. under the Thai teacher Sobin S. Namto. Most recently he has been practicing with One Dharma Nashville and Lisa Ernst.

To pay by paypal, go here. To pay by check, instructions are here. Be sure to include your email address. For specific questions about the course, email jeffrey.samuels@wku.edu. For inquires about a scholarship rate, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com. Please note that course refunds are not available after the payment deadline of January 19.