Meditation Series at Nashville Library Branches

I’m doing a series of mindful meditation classes for the Nashville Public Library. These classes include instruction, guided and silent meditation and time for questions. There’s no registration or fee, you can just drop in. Here’s the current schedule:

Downtown: De-stress during lunch, 12:15 – 12:50 p.m. every second Monday of the month. Next meeting coming up on January 12.

Mindful Meditation Class at the Green Hills Library, Thursday, January 22, 6:30 – 7:30  p.m.

Mindful Meditation Class at the Bellevue Library, every first Wednesday of the month, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Next meeting coming up on February 4.

If you’re in Nashville I hope you’ll join me for any of these sessions that work for you. Here’s a link to the local public library system events list.

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.

Mindful Meditation and Photography Workshop

Contemplative Photography and Meditation Workshop

Cultivating Clarity, Receptivity and Joy With a Camera

Saturday, September 22, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Led by Lisa Ernst

Led by meditation teacher and artist Lisa Ernst, the workshop is suitable to new and experienced meditators. We will awaken contemplative awareness in our photography, supported by periods of meditation and walking practice.  The wooded, private grounds at Mercy Retreat Center, in Northeast Nashville, include open fields, wooded hills and some interesting architectural elements.

Please join us for a day of mindfulness as we combine meditation and the practice of contemplative photography. There’s no need for expensive equipment or technical knowledge, just a willingness to meet the moment in an open and receptive state.  A simple, yet profound joy often arises in this alliance of mind and heart, camera and surroundings.

Led by meditation teacher and artist Lisa Ernst, the workshop is suitable to new and experienced meditators. We will awaken contemplative awareness in our photography, supported by periods of meditation and walking practice.  The wooded, private grounds at Mercy Retreat Center, in Northeast Nashville, include open fields, wooded hills and some interesting architectural elements.

The retreat cost is $75. Two sliding scale slots are available for those who need financial assistance. You have the option of bringing a sack lunch or purchasing an onsite buffet lunch for $8. The buffet is not vegetarian, but there are plenty of options if you prefer a meatless meal.

The workshop deposit without a buffet lunch is $35; with lunch its $43 (advance planning is required for the buffet meal). Deposits are due by Friday, September 14. To pay online through Paypal, go here and scroll to the bottom of the page. If paying by check, please make it out to One Dharma Nashville and send to One Dharma Nashville, c/o 12 South Dharma Center, 2301 12th Avenue South, Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. Be sure to include your email address. Additional details and directions will be provided in advance of the retreat. For more information or to reserve your spot, email

Seeking Completion

“Humans are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma.” -Huang Po

Recently I was taking an afternoon hike at a local state park when I came upon a hiker a few yards in front of me. Instead of trying to pass him, like I usually do, I saw a bench ahead and decided to sit down for a few minutes and simply enjoy the stillness. As I approached the bench, an image came to mind of all the benches that I pass with people sitting on them, seemingly waiting for something, occupying themselves with their smartphones or tablets. Even in nature.

I appreciate my iPhone and iPad. They serve me well and when used wisely, enhance communication and connection. But I never carry my phone on hikes, its one of the places I prefer to disconnect completely. As I sat down on the bench undistracted, I sank into the fullness of the moment, the song of the birds and the wind rustling through the leaves  emanating from my very heart, joyfully interconnected. I felt deep gratitude for the beauty of this moment, perfect and complete.

As I returned to my hike, I felt a moment of wistfulness for the dying art of just siting on a bench with nothing in hand. Humans seem to be loosing the capacity to simply enjoy the present moment, just as it is, without the need for constant stimulation. I believe that’s one reason why mindfulness meditation is becoming ever more popular. We instinctively know we are missing something essential, even as many of us grow increasingly dependent on our electronic devices and other distractions to fill the hours, to plug what appears to be empty.

Distractions aren’t new. Throughout history, humans have always found ways to divert their attention from the present moment.  Most of us recognize that our diversions aren’t simply external, but a reflection of our often restless and seeking minds. Now, however, it seems these external distractions are growing exponentially so that we never need spend a moment in stillness and silence. At some point, we need to reflect on this emptiness that calls to be filled. How often do we stop in the midst of our attempts to satiate the void, mindfully slowing down long enough to take a closer look? Could it be that the very feeling of emptiness we want to escape, when no longer resisted, is actually a source of fulfillment and joy?

Seeking completion is a key element of the human condition. From one perspective, we view our individual self as fixed and permanent, yet simultaneously we feel incomplete.  Something is missing. So we seek ways to make ourselves whole.  For most people, it’s a quest with no end. As soon as we achieve the imagined completion, such as finding a mate, career and financial success, or even spiritual achievement, the fullness dissipates and the self again seems incomplete. Our quest begins anew. The constant need for affirmation and recognition can’t really touch the deep emptiness inside; it only skims the surface with a shallow illusion of fulfillment. Even our journey on the Buddhist path will only go so far. As long as we continue to pursue completion of the self, we will feel an uneasy sense of emptiness at our core.

The way to fill the self is to release our attempts to complete it. This may sound easy, but in practice it requires a radical and courageous opening, again and again, in the midst of our myriad distractions as well as our deepest fears.  We need to come face to face with the fear that “I” don’t exist, the driving force that keeps us seeking fulfillment in every nook and cranny of our lives. In our willingness let this self go, to repeatedly face this fear, we at last have the chance for true fulfillment. When we realize that the self we are trying to complete is empty, we find completion in the joy and fullness of this moment.

– Lisa Ernst