Reflections on Michael Crowder

This is a lovely essay and reflection by Sharon Safer about longtime One Dharma sangha member Michael Crowder, who died on February 18. He was a fixture at our Monday night meditations and his dedication to practice along with the way he lived his life left a deep impression on many:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael since you let me know he had died.

I met Michael through One Dharma years ago.

My first impression was THAT … being impressed by Michael’s dedication to his practice. He was more serious than anyone I’d ever met about a sitting practice, sharing how he would sit for hours on end, and still thinking he needed to sit longer and more deeply. Sometimes, when I encounter folks who are “all that” in other areas of life, I will compare myself to whatever it is that they are “better” at … but not so with Michael. The way that he spoke about his practice, experiences while sitting, and his incredibly DEEP understanding of the dharma were delivered in such a quiet and humble manner that I became more curious than impressed! Not to say that he couldn’t be hard-headed and opinionated on occasion! But that he didn’t brag about his intellectual understanding or depth of practice … that it was just who he was and how he chose to live his life.

Michael enjoyed sharing his understanding of the dharma. I remember going home one Monday night to look up “Jhanas,” because Michael had spoken – at length! – about the Jhanas that night, and I’d never heard of them.

I heard bits and pieces of Michael’s life story, but never his entire story, and that’s ok. I just knew that he’d been through a lot and that he lived with significant physical limitations and discomfort that increased over the years.

Michael rarely asked for … or accepted … help that was offered, but as we got to know each other over time, he would let me drive him home after meditation sessions. Such a simple thing, but I felt honored that he allowed me to take him home – to serve him, who never asked for much.

In spite of Michael’s health and physical limitations and deterioration, I NEVER saw him pity himself or his situation, but rather the opposite. He was determined to live as “normally” as you and me. On retreat at Bethany Hills, he was absolutely determined to walk up and down the hill to the dining hall and to put in his kitchen time just like the rest of us. Towards the end of one of the retreats he pooped out and couldn’t make the trek. Several of us offered to bring him meals, which for the most part he graciously declined, but did let us take him cheese and fruit. One night at Bethany Hills, he had a very close medical emergency, but didn’t ask for help or let on to anyone that night … I’m not recalling whether Lisa and I found out during the retreat, or some time afterward.

Thinking about Michael, after hearing of his death, I see clearly how his wasn’t just an intellectual understanding of the dharma, but it was his way of life. Michael lived the dharma. I missed this about Michael when he was alive, and that makes me sad. I find myself thinking of him every day now, and recalling the way he lived with such grace, humility and dedication. I feel close to him now in a way that I didn’t when he walked with us, and for that I’m ever grateful.

– Sharon Safer

Pali Language as a Gateway to Understanding Buddha’s Teachings

Taught by Jeffrey Samuels, Ph.D.
Thursdays, September 1 – November 17
7 – 8:30 p.m.

Ever wonder what the Buddha really taught? Ever want to read and understand the Buddha’s sermons in their original Pali language? In September we will begin a Pali course that is designed 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 so on. This challenging 12 week course concludes with translating the Buddha’s first sermon (the Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma discourse).

Course fee is $150 – $200 sliding scale, plus $10 for the book, which Jeff will supply. 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 August 25. A scholarship spot is available in the case of financial need.

Jeffrey Samuels started practicing meditation 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 US at the Zen Center in San Francisco and under the Thai teacher Sobin S. Namto. More recently, he has been practicing with One Dharma Nashville and Lisa Ernst.

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.

To register, go to paypal here and enter the amount you will pay. To pay by check, instructions are here. For specific questions about the course, email jeffrey.samuels@wku.edu. For inquires about a scholarship rate, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Mind Like Sky Guided Meditation

I’ve had a number of requests to offer a recorded version of the open awareness guided meditation I often do at retreats, “Mind Like Sky.” This guided meditation facilitates open awareness, a mind as wide and limitless as the sky.

Spring Renewal Retreat Recap: Diving Deep into Forgiveness

In late April we completed One Dharma’s fourth Spring Renewal residential retreat at Bethany Hills in Kingston Springs. We had many returning and experienced meditators, only a few beginners this time. We always welcome people of all levels of experience, but this happened to tip toward a more experienced crowd overall. I’m happy to say that those who were new made it through the weekend like champs.

A number of deep and probing questions were posed during the q&a sessions and I’m sure many participants will be digesting them for a while. On Saturday night we did a guided forgiveness practice and during the closing circle many shared that the practice had a strong impact on them. In particular they discovered a deep and unexpected need to forgive themselves.

Related to forgiveness practice, I have a couple of striking experiences I’d like to share: one from the retreat and another from my own past experience. One person at the retreat gradually discovered that forgiveness is not linear no matter how strong his desire to forgive. Through the guided forgiveness practice, he discovered that he simply wasn’t ready to release a major betrayal, no matter how deeply he wanted to let it go. This was a major breakthrough that helped settle his heart and allowed him to accept his true feelings as a path toward healing.

We may go through a process of forgiveness and feel a release, only to experience the hurt and anger arising again. Many people believe they must forgive at all costs in order to be freed from anger and attachments. Perhaps
in a simpler world, liberation would come this easily. But adhering to this model often leads us to push past the pain or hurt to reach an ideal of forgiveness. In this case, nothing is truly resolved; we only encounter a veneer of forgiveness that is ready to crack at a moment’s notice.

When we can’t forgive, we may find that the hurt and sadness that arose from a particular event is still present in our hearts and calls to be acknowledged, even honored. We need to offer compassion to ourselves, to the pain, before we can begin to let go. This may take while. But gradually this process opens the door to deeper, more genuine forgiveness. When we see our own suffering more clearly, we can more readily see the others pain too and a doorway to true forgiveness may crack open. Or open wide. This doesn’t mean we allow inappropriate behavior from people after we’ve forgiven. We may need to set strong boundaries. Forgiveness does mean that we don’t continue to carry anger and hurt in our hearts in a way that weigh us down. We can’t force the timing and may need to return many times to our broken heart, our anger or pain until the heart at last finds release. Ultimately, forgiveness is done for ourselves, to free us from bondage to the past.

On the other side of the coin, we may at times cling to anger and hurt in a righteous way, reinforcing a feeling of separation of self and other: “I’m right and you’re wrong, and until you acknowledge it, I will hold it against you.” There’s something perversely satisfying about holding on to this narrative even though it keeps our inner needle stuck on anger. When we cling in this way, we can’t access our tender hearts in the present moment, where the hurt can be touched and released.

At one retreat I had a dream about a friend who I felt had betrayed me. In the dream we were squabbling over petty things, each trying to prove the other wrong. I watched myself clinging to my idea of what she should have done, and she kept pushing back that I was wrong. In the dream we never reached resolution, we were stuck in a tug of rope with no winner. When I awoke I saw the absurdity of the situation and realized it was time to let go. Through my dream, my heart was telling that I was ready and soon after our friendship resumed. This situation helped me I realize how precious good friendships are and how much time can be lost over disagreements that aren’t at the heart of the relationship.

So whether you are pushing yourself to forgive before you’re ready, or clinging to a perceived wrong that is keeping your heart imprisoned, finding the way to freedom means honoring what is most true for you in this moment. When we understand that forgiveness is not always a linear process, we can see that it requires patience, courage and compassion. This helps to bring us back to ourselves, to our wise heart, which can reveal the true way to forgiveness.

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Last Morning of Retreat

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Our weekend group, some stayed on for a few more days.

June Daylong Meditation Retreat

Stability and Clarity Daylong Meditation Retreat
Saturday June 11, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Nashville Friends Meeting
Led by Lisa Ernst

Please join us for a day of sitting and walking meditation at a beautiful Nashville location. Cultivating clear awareness of our present moment experience reveals insights into the nature of suffering and liberation. We see that everything that arises is not my “self” but a display of impermanent conditions. When the mind sees life through this clarity and is unclouded by separation and confusion, we create the foundation for well-being, joy and equanimity.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this silent retreat is suitable for both beginning and experienced meditators; it will include sitting and walking meditation, practice instructions, and a dharma talk. The retreat will close at 3:30 with refreshments. Please bring a bag lunch.

Cost: $50, plus dana (donation) to the teacher. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need. A deposit of $50 can be paid by Paypal here. If paying by check, instructions are at this link. Be sure and include your email address. Directions and additional information will be emailed prior to the retreat.

Please contact onedharmaretreat@gmail.com with any questions.

Mindfulness Meditation Workshop for Adults with ADHD

Saturday, May 14, 9 a.m. – Noon
Led by Lisa Ernst and Terry Huff
Nashville Friends House

Lisa Ernst, meditation teacher and founder of One Dharma Nashville, and Terry Huff, LCSW, psychotherapist specializing in adults with ADHD and author of Living Well with ADHD, will offer a meditation workshop for adults with the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. The workshop will include lecture, practice, and discussion and will address the following:

1. Why meditate if you have ADD/ADHD?
2. Basics of practice
3. Different practices for
a. selective attention (focusing)
b. open awareness (expanding)
c. compassion (for self and other)

Research shows that mindfulness practice improves concentration, attention regulation, self-observation (of mental activity), working memory, and emotion regulation.

The workshop will be held at The Nashville Friends House, 530 26th Ave N. Cost is $50. Payment can be made by check or paypal to One Dharma Nashville. For paypal, go here.  A reduced fee is available to anyone who can’t afford the full fee.

Contact ernst.lisa@gmail.com or tmhuff@comcast.net to inquire. Terry’s book is available here.

Spring Renewal Residential Meditation Retreat

Stability and Clarity
Thursday Evening, April 21 – Noon, April 24, 2016
Optional extended retreat through noon April 26
Bethany Hills Retreat Center, Kingston Springs, TN
Led by Lisa Ernst

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 This retreat is full but you are welcome to put your name on the waitlist by emailing onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

Please join us at a beautiful, wooded retreat site just outside of Nashville for this three or five night retreat. Cultivating clear awareness of our present moment experience reveals insights into the nature of suffering and liberation. We see that everything that arises is not my “self” but a display of impermanent conditions. When the mind sees life through this clarity and is unclouded by confusion, we create the foundation for well-being, joy and equanimity.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this silent retreat is suitable for newer as well as experienced students. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, instructions, dharma talks and private meetings with the teacher. Retreat fee includes lodging and all meals.

The 3 night retreat is $220 if paid in full by March 23; after $245. If you wish the stay through the 26th, the retreat fee is $365 if paid by March 23; $395 after. A $75 deposit will reserve your spot. Please indicate if you will be attending the three or five night option. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a dana (generosity) offering to the teacher. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need. Please inquire for details.

Lisa Ernst is a Buddhist Meditation teacher in the Thai Forest lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. She is the founder of One Dharma Nashville. In her teaching, Lisa emphasizes both transformational insight and everyday awakening as an invitation to embrace all of the path’s possibilities. She leads classes, workshops and meditation retreats nationally.

Payments can be made through Paypal here or mailed to One Dharma Nashville, c/o 12 South Dharma Center, 2301 12th Ave. S. Nashville, TN 37204. Be sure to include your email address. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Buddhist Geeks Weekend in Nashville

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February 19 – 21, 2016
Hosted by One Dharma Nashville

Public talk by Vincent Horn, February 19, 7 – 8 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1808 Woodmont Blvd. Nashville

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A Practical Method for Reprogramming the Mind
If we look at meditation–and mindfulness as one of its core aspects–as a way of programming the mind it becomes helpful to explore the different ways we can reprogram our reality. In this talk we’ll explore multiple training paradigms that come from both the Buddhist and Mindfulness traditions. We’ll look at how the perspective of each is different and why they’re designed to lead to different results. We’ll explore how our own intentions line up with these different training paradigms and consider ways we can change or enhance how we’re practicing.

Suggested donation: $20

Mindful Awareness Workshop with Emily and Vincent Horn, Saturday, February 20, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Nashville Friends Meeting

In this workshop we’ll explore both the practice of mindfulness–actively noticing what you notice as you notice it–and awareness–simply being. We’ll use guided and silent practices as well as interactive social meditation. By learning these different techniques we move closer to being able to meld them into an integrated whole. Mindful awareness is the coming together of effortless being and active investigation. It’s being able to differentiate what’s arising in our experiential field while also resting in an undifferentiated awareness of it all. When we can move between mindfulness and awareness, merging and blending the two modes together, we become more responsive to our experience of life.

Workshop cost is $50 – $75 sliding scale plus dana (donation) to the teachers. Registration due by February 15. More info and registration here.

Sunday Meditation with the Buddhist Geeks, Sunday, February 21
9:30 – 11 a.m. Co-hosted with Against the Stream Nashville, 3816 Charlotte Ave.

We would love for you to join us for a morning of practice. There will be a 30 minute guided meditation, a short Dharma Talk, and time to ask questions and chat. Suggested donation: $20

Vincent Horn is part of a new generation of teachers & thinkers translating age-old wisdom into 21st century code. Vincent has been called a “power player of the mindfulness movement” by Wired magazine. He is the co-founder and CEO of @BuddhistGeeks and @MeditateIO.

Emily Horn is a meditation teacher trained by Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. Her teaching style is influenced by Mindfulness meditation and revolves around the interwoven nature of contemplation, personal unfolding, and daily life. She is the director of operations at Buddhist Geeks.

Please join us for any or all of these events. To pay for multiple events, go here and enter the amount you will pay, then email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com with the events you’ll attend.

For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Mindful Awareness Workshop

Emily and Vincent Horn, The Buddhist Geeks
Saturday February 20, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Nashville Friends Meeting
Sponsored by One Dharma Nashville

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What is the difference between mindfulness & awareness? Both mindfulness and awareness reveal different features of our conscious experience, while remaining inseparable. Depending on which lens you peer through it changes how you see.

In this workshop we’ll explore both the practice of mindfulness–actively noticing what you notice as you notice it–and awareness–simply being. We’ll use guided and silent practices as well as interactive social meditation. By learning these different techniques we move closer to being able to meld them into an integrated whole. Mindful awareness is the coming together of effortless being and active investigation. It’s being able to differentiate what’s arising in our experiential field while also resting in an undifferentiated awareness of it all. When we can move between mindfulness and awareness, merging and blending the two modes together, we become more responsive to our experience of life.

Workshop cost is $50 – $75 sliding scale plus dana (donation) to the teachers. Please pay at the highest level you can afford so that we can also offer reduced fee spots. Please pay at Paypal here and enter the amount you will pay. To pay by check, instructions are here. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

Emily Horn is a meditation teacher trained by Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. Her teaching style is influenced by Mindfulness meditation and revolves around the interwoven nature of contemplation, personal unfolding, and daily life. She is the director of operations at Buddhist Geeks.

Vincent Horn is part of a new generation of teachers & thinkers translating age-old wisdom into 21st century code. Vincent has been called a “power player of the mindfulness movement” by Wired magazine. He is the co-founder and CEO of @BuddhistGeeks and @MeditateIO.

Identity, Healing and Unconditional Love

Identity, Healing, and Unconditional Love

Lisa Ernst Retreat I attended a meditation retreat last weekend on the subject of identity. It offered immediate lessons I want to share, because I think they offer a very useful framework for looking at how we function in the world. Beyond that, though, the retreat gave me a lot to think about, some in the light of the recent post on “The Problem of Taking Yourself Too Seriously“, and more deeply on giving and receiving love. I think these lessons, if you are able to move towards them, have the power to change your world.

Examining Our Identity

Lisa Ernst, a Buddhist teacher from Nashville who led the retreat, delivered several talks on identity. She set up a framework of a two-layered identity which she described using the analogy of clothes:

  • Outer Identity: Like our everyday clothes, “business casual”, sportswear, monastic robes, or formal suits, this is the identity we wish to show the world. It is how we want people to think of us;
  • Inner Identity: This is our private identity. Like our underwear or sleeping attire, it is a personality we show only to a handful of intimate people. It is the person we think of as the “real” me.

We believe that the inner identity is our core and has some level of permanence to it, and that our outer constructed identity is one over which we exercise control, one which we can shift, if not quite at will, then pretty close to it. But actually, as we will see, the outer identity is far from under our control, and the inner identity is a lot less permanent than it might seem.

Tension in Identity

How do your inner and outer identity compare? Are they pretty similar or very different? Do you allow the world to see your strengths and weaknesses? To extend the clothing metaphor, do you allow people to see your dirty laundry?

The whole point of the inner/outer identity bifurcation in this analysis is to acknowledge that you don’t bare all your secrets to the world, that you reserve some for yourself. The outer identity is both a mask to protect parts of you that you don’t want to allow to be hurt, and also a practical persona that serves your external purposes in the world. For example a cheery, professional demeanor is an expected norm in a business meeting and will allow you to close the deal or wow your management with a presentation far better than allowing your sloppy, maybe somewhat crass or course inner persona to emerge.

It’s perfectly natural and even healthy for there to be differences between your inner and outer identities, but what happens as the difference between the two stretches? If your outer identity is vastly different from your inner, then it takes a great deal of effort to maintain it, and that effort creates stress. On top of that tension – which is palpable to those observing the outer persona – you will not be able to keep the two completely separate, and at times the inner identity will surface.

By way of example, I’d like to contrast my life today with that four or five years ago shortly before initiating divorce proceedings, ending an important business relationship, and severing the relationship with my spiritual teacher. You won’t be surprised to know that I was under a lot of stress back then! So while I think I manifest the same external identity today as I did then, the inner identity – the identity we think of as fixed – was very different in important ways. What today is peaceful and at ease, four or five years ago was swirling confusion and anxiety. So the gap between the external and internal identity back then was far greater. I thought I was pretty good at sustaining my outer identity when I was in a business meeting, but those with whom I interacted knew that something was wrong. For example there were far fewer “buy” decisions back then, largely, I am convinced, because the people I spoke to subconsciously registered the inter-identity tension in me.

The Arising Of Ego

When you take your inner identity to be permanent, you create an ego and you can become attached to it. But if you let yourself get attached to your identity, you can become stuck on it and create a problem. You move into the territory of taking yourself too seriously!

When we see someone with serious physical or mental condition who smiles and laughs, who delivers motivational speeches, who inspires and encourages others, we praise them and think them remarkable. They probably are remarkable, but beyond that they are people who have not allowed themselves to get stuck on their injury, their condition, the labels of their lives. They have not over-identified with such matters as their permanent self. Rather they have chosen to see possibility and opportunity. And in that they are a lesson to the rest of us. They are an inspiration that however tough it might be to look beyond what you see as your permanent inner self, it is possible to transcend it.

Don’t Completely Lose the Ego

A word of caution or acknowledgement before we move on: while it is important to hold the inner identity lightly and not to let it calcify into a fixed ego, equally it is important not to let it go completely. Just as functioning effectively in the world requires an outer identity that fits with the environment, so the outer identity must be founded on some inner core, some inner identity. And it is important, also, to examine the ego and see those elements that pop up from time to time. For example, you may occasionally express impatience or control tendencies that come from an inner anger, though without looking closely you may never have realized the source. And that anger itself could be a mask for some deeper identity which you don’t know.

The Importance of Falling Apart

If you take the long view, you can see the arc of your life from infancy through childhood, youth and adulthood into old-age and death. You can see that the outer identity you assumed as a teenager is very different from your outer identity as a lover, a business person, a parent – or whatever roles you move into through your life. And you can similarly see that your inner identity has shifted over time, perhaps as a result of being the victim of a horrible personal invasion, an illness or accident, or conversely as a result of a wonderfully intimate partnership which gave rise to children, grandchildren, and a vastly different world than you had ever imagined could be possible. You know that your identity shifts over time. But it is nonetheless all too easy to find yourself holding on to your inner identity and not wanting to let it shift.

But when you hold on to inner identity you allow do not allow your “real” self to shift with the shifting circumstances of your life and of your understanding. To hold on to your identity, your hold it down and wrap it up. You do not allow yourself to grow and open. You do not allow yourself to flower as a human being.

Healing and Love

We all want to receive unconditional love but most of us, in some way, have had this withheld from us. Most of us feel damaged in some way and want to be healed. And most of us look to relationships with others to heal us. Whether we had an abusive father or an alcoholic mother, whether it was parental expectation of academic or sports success or it was, we all carry forward scars that we want healed.

Identity is a practical tool in the world, but it is also a way of protecting our hurt, of hiding our damage, maybe even hiding it from ourselves.

Healing can be extraordinarily difficult, for the pain and suffering may be immense. It may be that you are not truly ready to deal with your suffering, and that is fine. But if you think you are, then know that it can never be truly healed from outside. The only way of healing your hurt is to allow yourself to be with it without judgment. And before you can do this, you must first see your suffering, which in turn requires allowing yourself, your ego, that scaffolding you have created to protect yourself, in a sense to fall apart.

We all want to receive unconditional love, but in doing so we misunderstand. What we need is to give unconditional love. We have been raised to believe that our love must be validated by another, but that is not true. Your love need only be validated by yourself. If you can allow your identity to soften, you can start to see this. And once you do so, all the rules change.

To visit Gareth’s informative and reflective blog go here.