New Dharma Talk: From Zen Koans to Liberation Through Life Inquiry

In this talk I describe my intensive practice with zen koans. I also explain how it laid the groundwork for deep inquiry into challenging life questions and how this practice can lead to insight and liberation. The talk includes a guided inquiry meditation.

Practice Tip: Compassion For Unwanted Thoughts


Normally when we direct self-compassion toward our suffering or challenges, we find the places inside where we feel stuck, inadequate or hurt. This includes identifying where the discomfort shows up on the physical body. But to do this, we need the capacity to pause and investigate what is happening.

Sometimes that’s hard when the mind is caught in the rapids of thought, rushing ahead, seemingly out of control. Most of us have certain thoughts that get caught on continuous loop, reactive, negative, critical or comparing. In traditional mindfulness training, we’re taught to find the place in our bodies where we feel the corresponding sensations to help us stabilize our attention in the present moment. This is very effective. Sometimes the mind is so busy, though, that finding this stopping point is difficult. Or we may do this briefly then get caught again in the rapids, perhaps thinking, “there’s that thought again, I wish it would stop but it won’t.” When you see this, why not pause briefly and offer compassion to unwanted or unwelcome thoughts rather than try and stop them? This may seem counter-intuitive, but just a moment’s pause can help slow the rapids.

We are simply directing our compassionate awareness to the mental activity that is present. This practice will begin to create a different relationship to the unwanted thoughts. Instead of aversion or over identification, just meet the thoughts with compassion and kindness. Once there is a little stability, you can then begin to expand the compassion to include your body and heart.

Remember that thoughts are not you, but are generated by some aspect of your conditioning. Liberation always begins where you are. Kind awareness, even toward unwanted thoughts, goes a long way when all else seems unworkable.

Lisa Ernst

Meditation and Intention-Setting before the March for Science and Climate

Saturday, May 4, 8:30am at Nashville Friends Meeting (530 26th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37209), then we will be taking the bus/carpooling to the March for Science and Climate, 10am-12pm
Led by Keila Franks

March for Science and Climate. Photo by Tennessee Photographs.

Through meditation, we begin to more deeply understand the interconnection of everything, which leads to a deep sense of caring and compassion for all living things. This means that our hearts often break when we see how human heedlessness has caused enormous damage to our planet, threatening the wellbeing of all of the living creatures on it. We may feel called to translate this mindfulness of the suffering of the world into actions to stop climate change and protect the environment.

On May 4, we will gather to meditate and set intentions before attending the March for Science and Climate together. Through a guided meditation, we will be encouraged to notice our sense of the interconnection of all things, and how our deepest intentions of wanting to alleviate suffering come from that sense of interconnection. We will then break into small groups to discuss our intentions for attending the March for Science and Climate, and how we want to bring those intentions forward into our lives, even after the March is done.

All are welcome to attend! Even if you are new to meditation or haven’t ever attended a march or a rally, we hope that you will join us. Suggested donation for the meditation is $5 – $10. For questions, email

Facilitator: This session will be led by Keila Franks. She is the Field Director at the Tennessee Justice Center, focusing on advocating for protecting and expanding Medicaid in TN. She started meditating over 10 years ago through One Dharma Nashville while in high school. She has been an active member of the One Dharma community since returning to Nashville in 2015. She completed One Dharma’s 2018 Mindfulness Meditation Instructor and Facilitator course, and she is one of the facilitators of One Dharma’s Introduction to Meditation classes on Saturday mornings.

Logistical note: The bus stop is a ~10 min walk from the Nashville Friends Meeting. It will cost $3.25 to get an all-day pass, allowing you to get to/from downtown on the bus. If you plan on taking the bus, please bring that amount in cash (and try to bring as close to exact change as possible! Change is given on a change card, not in cash.) You may also drive yourself or carpool downtown to attend the March.

Check Out One Dharma’s New Website

Updated, easy to navigate, a greatly improved site. Click here to visit One Dharma’s new site.

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Our New Meditation Space

Here are some photos of One Dharma’s new Nashville meditation space. Its spacious, serene and quiet. We also love the raised ceiling and skylight. If you live in or near Nashville and haven’t come by yet, please come see the space in person and join us for meditation. We meet Mondays, 7 – 8:30 p.m. Directions and additional info here.



Low light for meditation.


Mostly Smooth Sailing

Every retreat has its own flavor for its participants, both individually and collectively. Our Spring Renewal retreat was mostly smooth sailing with a dedicated and focused group of practitioners. After Thursday’s hard afternoon rains most participants were able to arrive in time for our 7 p.m. meditation.  For the rest of the retreat we enjoyed sunny, although somewhat chilly spring weather.

At our previous retreat, the site still needed cleaning when we arrived and a few of us pitched in to insure the facilities were ready. This time, to our great appreciation, the camp manager spared no effort in assuring we arrived to spotless facilities. At this retreat people really wanted to sit — usually most everyone was in place a good five minutes before each session’s start time. I had the feeling that some would have happily stayed on for additional practice days, schedule permitting.

Self-compassion is vital during the early hours and days of meditation retreats, when participants are adjusting to the silence and intentional lack of external distraction. Often people feel that they are alone in their struggles, possibly doing it wrong, even imagining that others are swimming through the hours with joy and ease. “Comparing mind” rears up and leads to self-criticism and even self-loathing for some. At this vital point, learning to extend compassion to all parts of ourselves, especially the broken, pained and imperfect, can soften the heart and mind enough to accommodate our immediate experience. Then the resistance begins to ease, just as Buddha taught. This allows us to settle into the practice, to truly appreciate this moment just as it is.

Some people struggled a bit with the walking mediation, which is pretty normal at Vipassana style retreats. Walking slowly yet going nowhere for 30+ minutes at a time feels awkward and counterintuitive to some, especially at first.  Without a target, a specific destination, people have to let go and rest their attention only on their immediate surroundings along with the movement of their bodies, one foot and one breath at a time. It is a deep and profound practice once the restlessness and resistance is gone. Concentrated walking meditation can reveal deep glimpses into interconnectedness and no-self. Some people are more naturally attuned to sitting and it may take patience and time for them to appreciate the walking practice. For those who prefer Zen style line walking, we always include one session of this practice in the evenings.

Meditation retreats may challenge us in ways we have never imagined; yet they can also open us to extended periods of joy and ease. Retreats can reveal glimpses and even deep insights into the unlimited and boundless nature of true mind that is our birthright, that is always here and ready for us to receive whenever our minds and hearts are fully present.

Altar Flowers by Frankie Fachilla

Altar Buddha by Frankie Fachilla

Walking Path at Bethany Hills by Frankie Fachilla

Walking Path at Bethany Hills by Frankie Fachilla

Early morning light at Bethany Hills by Lisa Ernst

Early morning light at Bethany Hills by Lisa Ernst

Reflection by Lisa Ernst

Reflect 2 by Lisa Ernst

December Refuge Ceremony and The Five Precepts

Last year One Dharma held a Refuge and Precepts Ceremony for dharma practitioners who wanted to formally take the vows and reflect their commitment to the Buddhist path. We will be offering this opportunity again in December. Generally, at least one year of Buddhist practice experience is recommended before taking the precepts, although there are exceptions. Here is some general information:

About the Refuge Ceremony
Taking refuge means relying wholeheartedly on the Three Jewels of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to inspire and guide us toward a constructive and beneficial direction in our lives. The real taking of refuge occurs deep in our hearts and isn’t dependent on doing or saying anything. Nevertheless, we may wish to participate in the refuge ceremony by requesting a dharma teacher  to formally give us refuge. The refuge ceremony is simple: we repeat the passages after the teacher and open our hearts to make a strong connection with the Three Jewels. The ceremony also “officially” makes us a Buddhist.

About Taking Precepts
Precepts are a joy, not a burden. They aren’t designed to keep us from having a good time and to make us feel deprived. The purpose of taking precepts is to give us internal strength so that we won’t act in ways that we don’t want to. Having understood that killing, stealing, selfishness and so forth only lead us to harm ourselves and others now and in the future, we’ll want to avoid these. Taking precepts give us energy and strength to do so. Therefore, it’s said that precepts are the ornaments of the wise.

To help people overcome their disturbing attitudes and stop committing harmful actions, the Buddha set out five precepts. During the refuge ceremony, in addition to taking refuge in the Three Jewels, we can take any or all of the five precepts, and become a lay Buddhist.

The five precepts

1. I observe the precept of abstaining from the destruction of life.

2. I observe the precept of abstaining from taking that which is not given.

3. I observe the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.

4. I observe the precept of abstaining from falsehood.

5. I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.

The refrain “I observe the precept of abstaining from …” which begins every precept clearly shows that these are not commandments. They are, indeed, ethical codes of conduct that lay Buddhists willingly undertake out of clear understanding and conviction that they are good for both themselves and for society.

If you are interested or have questions, please contact For planning purposes, I’ll need to hear from you by November 8. If you’d like to see photos from last year, click on this link.

Rocks and Mind Ripples

What do you notice when you throw a rock into a lake? Most likely you see the ripples created on the surface. The rock is usually obscured by the water itself. The deeper the lake, the murkier the water it is, with nothing visible beyond those surface ripples. Our minds resemble the lake in this way: we usually only see the surface disruption when life throws us a rock. What happened? The rock is present, but obscured by the murkiness of our mind ripples. We miss the rock sinking into our hearts or even deeper into our guts.

This is where our practice serves us well. We need to bring our attention to where the rock has settled inside and let it rest there.  Take a few deep breaths and steady your mind. Gradually the ripples will begin to subside and not pull your attention away.  As you feel how the rock sits in you body, it may seem foreign and uncomfortable, like something you need to remove. But as you remain present, you will begin to see that, like the lake, you have the capacity to accommodate many rocks.  The heart/mind is vast and wide. Rocks won’t destroy you. Gradually they settle into the ground and become part of the terrain.  Like rocks at the bottom of a lake, they  strengthen the foundation of your very being.