Practice Tip: Three Steps to Releasing Difficult Thoughts in Meditation

When we meditate, at times difficult, unresolved encounters with friends, loved ones or co-workers may dominate our thoughts. If we don’t repress them (and normally we shouldn’t) they may instead begin to take over our meditation session as we swing from replaying the encounter to trying to figure out how to address it. So what to do? How do we find the wise middle way between over-identification and repression?

As an example, let’s say you and your boss were brainstorming how to solve a problem and your boss failed to listen to an idea you felt was important based on your firsthand knowledge of the situation. Instead, your boss decided on a plan you knew missed important information. You tried to convey this but your boss wouldn’t listen and ended the session. You left the encounter feeling frustrated and unheard.

The next morning during meditation, the situation came back full force. You replayed the encounter several times wondering what you could have done differently, then tried to figure out the next step, whether to approach you boss about it and what to say. Then you realize 10 plus minutes have passed on the cushion and you were completely unaware of your breath, body and immediate surroundings.

In situations like this, I have found a three step process helpful for creating space to work with unresolved situations. Staying with our example, first recognize the thoughts replaying the meeting with your boss as “past.” This may sound obvious but consciously noting that the thought content is focused on the past, without repressing it, can reduce its seeming solidity. Then notice and explore what sensations and emotions are present that accompany these thoughts.

Now, looking forward to your thoughts of how to address the situation with your boss, note that these thoughts are about the “future” but also be aware of how these thoughts show up here and now. Perhaps when you think back to the encounter with your boss you notice anger or even sadness for not being heard. When you think ahead to your possible next step, maybe you notice anxiety and tension.

Now bring it all into the present. Of course thoughts only exist in the present moment. While we may think about the past or future, every thought is only arising in the present moment. So now we see the past and future thoughts as “present” and our physical responses, sensations and emotions as “present.”

Past, future and present are all just this moment of awareness. As we see them coalesce, chances are they will lose their grip, soften and begin to settle. The sense of me against the other begins to fade. From this more settled, less self identified place, we have more possibility of seeing the situation clearly and with insight. This is not about passivity. In fact, a clear plan of action may arise from this emptier, steadier state. (If nothing arises, that’s fine too.)

You can use this three step process for most situations that begin to dominate your meditation. Occasionally a situation may be too charged to work this way. In that case, its fine to move to a more neutral focus of attention such as the breath, body or sound. Only return to the investigation if you feel able.

This practice can help us let go of the sense of self at the center of our narratives. Seeing our challenges with the clarity of present moment awareness broadens perspective, reduces the suffering of reactivity and opens new possibilities.

A Preview of Lisa’s 2020 Retreats

Links included for events already open for registration


2020 Residential Retreats

Spring Renewal Residential Retreat, 3 or 7 night option, April 23 – 26, extended option to 4/30, Bethany Hills, Kingston Springs TN

Heartwood Refuge Retreat Center Residential Meditation Retreat, The Power of a Tender Heart, June 24 – 28, Jeff Samuels teaching assistant. Registration open, info here.

Big Bear Retreat Center, Big Bear California, Making Peace with Your Ego: Finding Freedom through Letting Go, co-led with Gullu Singh, August 4 – 9. Registration open, info here.

Fall Retreat with Red Clay Sangha, September 23 – 27, Location in Georgia TBA

Late Fall Residential Retreat at Bethany Hills, Kingston Springs, TN. December 3 – 6 with extended option to 12/8.

Special Event

Buddhist Tour of India, March 14 – 28. Varanasi-Bodhgaya-Dharmsala-Armitsar. Full information here.

Daylong and Half Day Retreats, Winter – Summer

The Power of Intention: Setting Your Course of the New Year and Beyond, Half Day Retreat, Jan. 1, Nashville Friends House, details soon

Mindful Meditation Workshop for ADHD and Anxiety, February 1 with Terry Huff

Daylong Meditation Retreat, Deepening your Practice, May 23 in Nashville

Spirit Rock Meditation Center Daylong Retreat with Trudy Goodman, The Dharma of Desire: From Longing to Loving Presence, July 19

Additional daylong and half day retreats will be added as scheduling permits.

 

Concentration and The Jhanas: A Primer for Deepening Practice

Saturday, November 23, Nashville Friends Meeting
9 a.m. – Noon, Led by Lisa Ernst

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Right Concentration is the final leg of the Buddha’s eightfold path but it is frequently misunderstood. Concentration and mindfulness differ, although right mindfulness is a support for meditative concentration. Skillful concentration often leads to the jhanas, the eight altered states of consciousness that can deepen joy and improve your insight practice. In this half day retreat we will explore meditation through the lens of concentration and the jhanas as a path to awakening.

The morning will consist of instruction, meditation and discussion. This retreat is suitable for all levels of experience although an existing mediation practice is recommended.

Cost is $50. A reduced fee, scholarship spot is available in the case of financial need. Email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com to inquire. Payment can be made through Paypal here. donate button or by check here . If paying by check, be sure to include your email address. Venmo is available @onedharma.

 

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.

Cultivating Wise Attention: Awakening into Awareness and Insight

Three or Five Night Silent Meditation Retreat
Thursday Evening, 12/5 – Sunday Noon 12/8, Optional Extension to 12/10
Bethany Hills Retreat Center, Kingston Springs, TN
Registration opens September 3

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All of our joys and sorrows, thoughts and feelings arise and fall away in a field of awareness that is clear, expansive and open. In this retreat we will explore how mindfulness, concentration and open awareness support each other. We will learn how developing the capacity to rest in awareness creates a wider container to meet even our most challenging and stressful thoughts and emotions with presence and compassion. It also stabilizes concentration (samadhi) and strengthens insight (prajna). This retreat is designed to invigorate and nourish, not only our formal mindfulness and concentration practices, but also our daily activities.

This silent retreat will include sitting and walking meditation, instruction, dharma talks and private meetings with the teacher. Retreat cost is $330 if paid by November 7; $360 after. The five night option is $465 if paid by November 7; $495 after. A $100 deposit holds your spot. Please indicate if you will be attending the three or five 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.

Click here to Register

Lisa Ernst is a meditation teacher in the Thai Forest/Spirit Rock lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. Lisa leads classes and retreats nationally and is a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.

Cancellation Refund Policy: More than four weeks from retreat start date – $30 cancellation fee; four weeks to 20 days from start date – $100 cancellation fee. No refunds are available for cancellations less than 20 days from retreat start date.

 

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

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.

Spring Renewal Residential Meditation Retreat

Thursday Evening, April 18 to Sunday Noon, April 21; Extended Option to April 25
Bethany Hills Retreat Center, Kingston Springs
Led by Lisa Ernst

Retreat Full, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com to join the waitlist

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“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 $295 if paid by March 21; $325 after. The seven night option is $595 if paid by March 21; $625 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. Email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com if you wish to be added to the three night waitlist or for any other questions.

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 is a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.

Cancellation Refund Policy:  More than four weeks from retreat start date – $30 cancellation fee; four weeks to 20 days from start date – $100 cancellation fee. No refunds are available for cancellations less than 20 days from retreat start date.

*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.

New Year’s Half Day Intention Setting Retreat

The Power of Intention: Clarifying Your Path for the New Year
Tuesday, January 1 2019, 9 a.m. – Noon
Nashville Friends Meeting
Led by Lisa Ernst

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“One of the Buddha’s most penetrating discoveries is that our intentions are the main factors shaping our lives and that they can be mastered as a skill.” – Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Start your New Year on the cushion by joining us for a half day intention setting retreat. At the beginning of a New Year, it is customary to take stock of our lives and the world we live in, to review the previous year and set our intentions for the upcoming twelve months and beyond. Bringing this evaluation onto the cushion, to look with fresh eyes and an open heart, can help us refine and clarify our direction and to live from the truest part of ourselves.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, the morning will include instructions, periods of sitting and walking meditation, dharma talk and discussion. Cost is $50 is due by Friday, December 28. Paypal is here. To pay by check, instructions are here. Additional details will be sent in advance of the retreat to all registrants. A reduced fee option is available for those who need financial support. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

Mindfulness Meditation Instructor Training

This program will help you deepen your own practice and learn the vital tenants of Buddhist mindfulness meditation in a format for skillfully sharing it with others. You will also learn how to lead effective guided meditations, give meaningful talks about mindfulness and meditation and answer questions skillfully. You will benefit from an engaged learning environment with peer and teacher support.

This course provides:

24 hours of teacher led class time, 30+ hours of course study, practice and peer engagement, guidance for daily study, teacher support and review. Our study guide for this class will be Mindfulness by Joseph Goldstein.

Eligibility:

A minimum of two years consistent meditation practice, meditation retreat experience, participation in a sangha or other such community.

This program is not a lineage empowerment to teach the Buddhadharma, which requires years of study, teacher mentoring, deep commitment to daily practice and numerous meditation retreats. But for those interested in this path, the program can serve as a step along the way. For others the training will provide a foundation for deepening your own practice while learning how to effectively share it with others.

On successful completion of the course you will receive a certificate from One Dharma and Lisa Ernst verifying that you have been trained and approved to facilitate and instruct others in essential mindfulness and meditation practices. Opportunities through One Dharma and the greater community will be available.

If you are interested, please email Ernst.lisa@gmail.com for full course description, fee, class dates and application. The class will begin on June 21, 2018.