Balancing the Three Legs of Practice

Blue Heron

I often think of dharma practice like a tripod, with three legs that create balance. On one leg there’s meditation, including daily seated practice and retreats; on another is mindfulness in daily life; the third is sangha practice.

Let’s start with meditation. For many, establishing a consistent daily seated meditation practice is quite challenging. It requires making a commitment to carving out time to disengage from the ingrained distractions and patterns that inevitably arise in daily life. When people say they don’t have time to meditate, I find in most cases that they aren’t prioritizing the time, which may otherwise be used to watch television or engage in social media and other such activities. Consider that in 24 hours there are 1440 minutes. If we can’t find 10 – 30 minutes a day to meditate, which comprises about .014 percent of that time, its worth examining how we are using our time and what our true priorities are.

Meditation requires that we face ourselves, including all of our imperfections, leaving nothing out. Sometimes our sitting may be lovely and restful, even transcendent, at other times challenging and wobbly. But the key to a consistent practice is the willingness to receive all that arises in our awareness with an open and compassionate heart. This isn’t always easy, but its how the fruits of practice begin to ripen and transform our lives.

For the committed practitioner, meditation retreats are not a luxury but a vital part of deepening their practice. Concentrated time spent away from daily distractions allows access parts of our minds and hearts that are otherwise out of reach; retreats help us contact our deepest evaded realities. If your life situation prevents you from traveling afar or carving out chunks of time for retreats, take advantage of daylong retreats as often as you can and shorter residential retreats that only last a weekend. But do make them a priority.

Practicing mindfulness in daily life is also vital to waking up. As the popularity of mindfulness has grown, some people have mistakenly concluded that seated meditation and mindfulness in daily life are interchangeable practices. This is simply not the case. For a truly balanced practice, both are essential; we need to align what we learn in our seated practice with activities in our daily lives. One of the best ways to bring mindfulness into daily life is practicing mindfulness of the body. This is a deceptively simple yet deep practice: Buddha said that mindfulness of the body leads to enlightenment. We’re so often caught up in our busyness, our activities and thoughts that we lose our connection with this moment. Our bodies are always right here, ready and available to serve as an anchor for our present moment awareness. Bringing mindfulness to your body is an uncomplicated yet powerful practice you can do throughout the day to root your awareness in this moment and disengage from reactive patterns and habitual thoughts. You can still plan, think and carry out your activities, but you can do it all from a foundation more firmly grounded in presence and awareness.

Sangha comprises the third leg of the tripod. Sangha helps us create a stable support in our lives as we derive strength in our practice through sharing it with others. There is a notable, almost mysterious vibrancy that arises from meditating in a group setting. The collective energy of our concentration bolsters the individual and group simultaneously, allowing us to go deeper into our practice than if we only do it alone. Sangha practice also provides ample opportunities to practice generosity by contributing what we can to support the community of practitioners. We begin to break through the illusion of separation and realize that our practice isn’t only for ourselves, but for all beings. We also have an opportunity to view our habits, biases and aversions in the context of a group. The renowned Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn likened sangha practice to cooking a pot of potatoes. He said that you could wash potatoes one by one or you could put numerous potatoes in a pot and stir them all together: they all rub up against each other, each getting clean in the process and rounding out the rough spots.

When our dharma practice is balanced it includes all three legs of this tripod. If we only focus on only one or two, we expend energy trying to maintain balance without a stable foundation. With our tripod in balance, however, we create the conditions for our practice to fully ripen and transform our lives.

Kindness and Compassion Half Day Meditation Retreat

Saturday, November 14, 2015, 9:00 a.m. – Noon
Nashville Friends House
shylotuscrop3

During the busyness and outward focus that often the lead into the holidays, this daylong retreat will offer a quiet time to slow down, connect with our bodies and extend kindness and compassion to ourselves and others. Slowly, in the simplicity and silence of the morning, we will learn to let go of distractions and touch our experience with a kind and open heart.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this retreat is suitable for newer and more experienced meditators. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, practice instructions and dharma talk.

Retreat fee is $40. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need, please inquire to the email below. Paypal is here. Instructions for paying by check are at this link. Please include your email address. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

Dive In To Retreat!

This is an excerpt from Trudy Goodman’s InsightLA blog about the value of meditation retreats:

We live in a culture that doesn’t teach us how to nourish ourselves in truly fulfilling ways. Taking a day or a week or a month or more for retreat, at home or in a group, can provide the protected, safe space we need to deepen our trust in experience, to discover what we really want in this life, and to fall in love. We fall in love with life, with the miracle of awareness, with this vast reality we inhabit together.

As lay people devoted to a life of mindfulness and awakening, we are creating beautiful contemplative forms that allow us to weave loving awareness into our everyday lives. Learning from our teachers and ancestors, we respectfully bow to the ancient wisdom traditions while experimenting and inventing our own.

The forms of our Vipassana/Mindfulness/Insight meditation retreats have matured to allow us to attune our inner rhythms to the immense current of universal life flowing through us, as us. Finding our way on retreat requires some patience, but it’s well worth it. Yes, it takes effort to stop, to let our guard down, and feel safe enough to let the heart open and the bodymind unwind. Then effort surrenders to relaxing more and more in the wholeness of life as it is, and from this relaxation there can be an illuminating encounter with unknown parts of ourselves, and with the mystery of being – DIVE IN!

For the full post, go here.

 

Daylong Retreat at Insight LA with Trudy Goodman

I’ll be taking my Living the Questions retreat to Insight LA on Sunday, October 13.

Cultivating Clarity though Living The Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot begiven you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”

–Rainer Maria Rilke

Unanswered questions, intractable situations often appear to stand in the way of living from our deepest intentions.  At times we might feel blocked even from knowing what our true priorities are.  But if we take time to turn inward with a spirit of patience and inquiry, instead of requiring the dilemmas to go away, or insisting on immediate resolutions, we can discover the resources that we need.  During this day of sitting and walking meditation, we will have the opportunity to practice opening our hearts to our unresolved inner dilemmas. We will learn to explore our questions more gently and skillfully.  Internal dilemmas contain a rich source of insight; learning to live with them brings about a radical shift that opens the door to clarity and equanimity.

For registration and full retreat information, go here.

Balancing the Three Legs of Practice

I often think of dharma practice like a tripod, with three legs that create balance. On one leg there‘s meditation, including daily practice and retreats; on another is mindfulness in daily life; the third is sangha practice.

Let’s start with meditation. For many, establishing a consistent daily meditation practice is quite challenging. It requires making a commitment to carving out time to disengage from the ingrained distractions and patterns that inevitably arise in daily life.  Often when people say they don’t have time to meditate, it’s really that they aren’t making the time, which may otherwise be used to watch television or engage in online and other activities.  Meditation requires that we face ourselves, including all of our imperfections, leaving nothing out. Sometimes our sitting may be lovely and restful, even transcendent, at other times challenging and wobbly. But the key to a consistent practice is the willingness to receive all that arises in our awareness with an open and compassionate heart. This isn’t always easy, but its how the fruits of practice begin to ripen and transform our lives.

For the committed practitioner, meditation retreats are not a luxury but a vital part of deepening the practice. Concentrated time spent away from daily distractions helps us access parts of our minds and hearts that are otherwise out of reach; retreats help us contact our deepest evaded realities. If your life situation prevents you from traveling afar or carving out chunks of time for retreats, take advantage of daylong retreats as often as you can and shorter residential retreats that only last a weekend.

Practicing mindfulness in daily life is also vital to waking up. Some traditions emphasize sitting meditation and forget to focus on “off the cushion” practice. This creates an imbalance in the tripod; it can set up a firewall from everyday life. For our practice to deepen, we need to align what we learn in our seated practice with our daily lives. One of the best ways to bring mindfulness into daily life is practicing mindfulness of the body. This is a deceptively simple yet deep practice: Buddha said that mindfulness of the body leads to enlightenment. We’re so often caught up in our busyness, our activities and thoughts that we lose our connection with this moment. Our bodies are always right here, ready and available to serve as an anchor for our present moment awareness. Bringing mindfulness to your body is an uncomplicated yet powerful practice you can do throughout the day to root your awareness in this moment and disengage from reactive patterns and habitual thoughts.  You can still plan, think and carry out your activities, but you can do it all from a foundation more firmly grounded in presence and awareness.

Sangha comprises the third leg of the tripod. Sangha helps us create a stable support in our lives as we derive strength in our practice through sharing it with others. There is a notable, almost mysterious vibrancy that arises from meditating in a group setting. The collective energy of our concentration bolsters the individual and group simultaneously, allowing us to go deeper into our practice than if we only do it alone. Sangha practice also provides ample opportunities to practice generosity by contributing what we can to support the community of practitioners. We begin to break through the illusion of separation and realize that our practice isn’t only for ourselves, but for all beings. We also have an opportunity to view our habits, biases and aversions in the context of a group. The renowned Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn likened sangha practice to cooking a pot of potatoes. He said that you could wash potatoes one by one or you could put numerous potatoes in a pot and stir them all together: they all rub up against each other, each getting clean in the process and rounding out the rough spots.

When our dharma practice is balanced it includes all three legs of this tripod. If we only focus on only one or two, we expend energy trying to maintain balance without a stable foundation. With our tripod in balance, however, we create the conditions for our practice to fully ripen and transform our lives, just as the Buddha taught.

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

Maintenance for the Mind

Sometimes meditation students ask me if taking time out for retreats is truly worthwhile. In my own experience, I have found retreats to be one of the most important things I do to refuel and replenish my mind. Often in the West, we understand how to take care of our key possessions such as our cars, yet many of us put less emphasis on deep maintenance for our minds.

In caring for our cars we perform routine practices such as cleaning the windshield, keeping enough gas in the tank, checking tire pressure.  For dharma students, daily meditation is a basic, routine maintenance for the mind along with sangha practice once or twice per week.  Daylong sits are akin to getting the oil and filter changed – we’re taking the time to fuel and replenish parts of ourselves that might be running on low. Longer retreats are mind and heart tune ups, going much deeper into the workings of our being and getting the parts functioning harmoniously and smoothly.

If you’re on the dharma path and meditation is an important part of your life, all of these steps, from daily sitting to weekend retreats and longer, will lead to a fuller, more complete practice. They help to insure your mind and heart are running optimally and you’re better equipped to meet the challenges of everyday life.

Three Day Spring Meditation Retreat

I’ll be leading a weekend mindfulness meditation retreat in April. This retreat is appropriate for newer and experienced meditators. Here’s the information:

A Weekend of Mindfulness

Spring Renewal Meditation Retreat

Thursday Evening, April 26 through Sunday Noon, April 29

Led by Lisa Ernst

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,

 A cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.

If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,

This is the best season of your life.

-Wu-men

Please join us at a beautiful retreat site near Kingston Springs Tennessee for a three day silent mindfulness meditation retreat. The practice of mindfulness brings us into a deep awareness that sees and touches life with an open and unbiased heart. In this weekend of sitting and walking meditation, we will have the opportunity to embrace this time of renewal as we enliven and deepen our practice. We will cultivate continuous inspiration for meeting all aspects of life with greater openness, lovingkindness and compassion.

The retreat will be held at Bethany Hills Retreat Center beginning Thursday at 7 p.m. and ending at noon on Sunday.  Retreat cost is $165 if paid in full by March 23; after March 23, the cost is $190. Full participation for all three days is required. The retreat fee includes lodging and meals. There will be an opportunity at the retreat to make a dana offering (donation) to the teacher. Two sliding scale spots are open for those who need financial assistance. Please make your retreat check to One Dharma Nashville and send to: One Dharma Nashville c/o 12 South Dharma Center, 2301 12th Avenue S., Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. Include your email address. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Lisa Ernst is the founder and guiding teacher at One Dharma Nashville. She began meditation practice in the late ’80′s in the Zen tradition, studying closely with two Rinzai Zen  Masters and attending numerous mediation retreats. Lisa has also practiced in the Theravada tradition since the late 90’s. In 2005 Lisa was given teaching authorization by Trudy Goodman, founder and guiding teacher of InsightLA. Lisa received full dharma transmission from Trudy in 2010.

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. It is the practice of dana that has kept the Buddhist tradition alive for more than 2,500 years.

A Day of Mindfulness Retreat

Cultivating Clarity though Living The Questions
Saturday, January 28, 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., sponsored by One Dharma Nashville

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Please join us for a day of mindfulness retreat at the 12 South Dharma Center. During the winter months it is customary to look inward and clarify our deepest intentions, yet unanswered questions may stand in the way. During this day of mindfulness, we will have the opportunity to practice opening our hearts to our unresolved questions. These questions contain a rich source of insight; learning to live them brings about a radical shift that opens the door to clarity and equanimity.

This retreat is appropriate for newer and more experienced meditators who wish to deepen their practice. Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, the retreat it will include sitting and walking meditation, practice instructions, and a dharma talk. Please bring a sack lunch. Cushions and chairs are available at the center.

Cost: $35, plus dana (donation) to the teacher. Reduced fees are available in the case of financial need. Reservation deadline is Friday, January 20. Please contact onedharmaretreat@gmail.com to reserve your space or for questions. Please mail a deposit of $35, made out to One Dharma Nashville, to: 12South Dharma Center c/o One Dharma Nashville, 2301 12th Ave. South, Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. Alternatively, you can bring your deposit to one of Monday sits. Please include your email address with your deposit. Additional information will be emailed prior to the retreat.

Living the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This poem is striking to me in its simplicity and truth. For many of us, it’s so easy to tangle up our energy in trying to solve questions that need to be lived instead. I had been formulating an idea for a New Year’s (January) retreat when I saw this poem and realized it was a perfect fit for the day’s focus.The retreat will be a silent mindfulness meditation retreat, but there will be instructions on how to work with unresolved questions in the midst of the  practice. The approach can open us up to a much deeper clarity and wisdom than we can achieve trying to resolve our questions by figuring them out.

The retreat is scheduled for Saturday, January 28 at the 12 South Dharma Center. For retreat details, go here.