The Emptiness of Breath Guided Meditation

This is a reflection and guided meditation on the breath as a gateway to emptiness.

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Making Friends With Your Mind: Getting to Know Self and No-Self

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

Taking Flightcrop

In this half day workshop we will explore in-depth Buddhist teachings of self and no-self. We will learn how meditation can help us identify and befriend our many “selves” while also touching the ineffable freedom of the unconditioned heart and mind. By seeing through the endless flux of identity, we come to rest in compassion, kindness and clarity.

The workshop will include instruction, experiential practice and discussion. Cost is $40 and can be paid by paypal here. Instructions for paying by check are at this link. Please
include your email address. Scholarships are available, inquire at onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Clear Mind and Open Awareness

“When your mind feels tight and constricted, you can make more space.” You’ve probably heard this before about meditation practice, but what specifically are we talking about here? The problem isn’t that there’s a lack of space, but the way our minds perceive space, which is related to our identity.

Most people think of the boundary of the body as a point of identity. That is, my thoughts, feelings, perceptions, heart, personality, all reside within my body. So the body is home and herein lies myself. This is who I am and where I exist. Everything I’m made of is inside is me, what’s outside is not me, or it may be related to me but still separate.

This boundary is useful and necessary living in the world. But it also has limitations when we only perceive ourselves through this narrow lens.

At times we may know that our hearts, our love, extend beyond the body. We may also feel compassion for the suffering of others and sense the boundary melting a bit. True lovingkindness and compassion function as a relative expression of emptiness or not-self. They are like a river that flows from a reservoir within our heart. But the reservoir doesn’t dry up – it has an infinite source because it isn’t limited to our body.

When we meditate we begin to see this perceived boundary of the body dissolve, we see that what we think of as “me” doesn’t have a distinct beginning and ending point. This is a liberating insight and is often an early aspect of understanding not-self. At times, we may feel less compelled to put so much energy into simply solving our own problems and “fixing myself.” This brings to mind Lenoard Cohen’s famous poem:

“Ring the bells that can still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

If we only view difficult thoughts and emotions and as existing inside “me” there is often a feeling of tightness, a lack of space and confusion about what we should do. When the focus is mainly on myself, other conditions seem to disappear. Yet, as we sit, as our concentration deepens, the mental focus on self loosens up. The sensations of anger, sadness and fear are seen as conditions that arise and pass away and are not “myself,” even though we experience them in our bodies. As this happens, gradually, or perhaps quickly, a feeling of space opens.

When we understand that our minds are not simply in our physical bodies, our mental boundaries open and our awareness feels less constricted. From this perspective, our challenges and pain may still exist, but now the great sky of mind has room to include them all. We have access to our wise heart that sees conditions for what they are, without the limits of “inside and outside,” and our path becomes clearer.

“If you attain your true self, then if you die in one hour, in one day, or in one month, it is no problem. If you only do “fixing-your-body” meditation, you will mostly be concerned with your body. But some day, when it’s time for your body to die, this meditation will not help, so you will not believe in it. This means it is not correct meditation. If you do correct meditation, being sick sometimes is OK; suffering sometimes is OK; dying someday is OK. The Buddha said, “If you keep a clear mind moment to moment, then you will get happiness everywhere.” ― Zen Master Seung Sahn

To open your awareness to this clear mind, try my guided “Mind Like Sky” meditation here.

The Raindrops Are Perfect

Oregon Rain photography by Lisa Ernst

Oregon Rain
photography by Lisa Ernst

The raindrops are perfect
because they’re not.
They fall without ideas
of size and sound
how long or how much.
They just fall,
they touch what’s
exposed and open
and not under cover
like a heart without
a veil or a shield.
It rains in my heart
until we entwine
like lovers
who no longer know
where one ends and
the other begins.
A smile, a tear,
a heart drenched through.

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

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

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.