Finding a way to give people a 21st Century insight to promote an understanding of ancient Buddhist practice is what Alex Lerner and Ken Lenington are offering in a one-day online workshop May 14 called “Cultivating the Dharma, Understanding the Brain.”
The workshop will give participants an opportunity to more deeply penetrate the workings of their minds by understanding their brains. It will have added dimensions beyond what has been offered in the past and will be suitable for practitioners at all levels of experience. It will be from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
“I’ve been exposed to many theoretical models for understanding psychology and mind,” Alex said in a recent interview with Mindfulness Matters,“but I have never come across anything as comprehensive as Buddhism to take on the deep understanding of why we suffer and how that continues to happen in modern life.
“With a mindfulness practice, we have the capacity to counter the deep conditioning that we have cultivated over many years and which causes us to continue to follow a path of suffering and chasing symptoms,” Alex said.
“Our mind is incredibly complex but nevertheless, mutable,” Alex said. “We need to understand why our brain is operating the way that it does and most important, because of the adaptation of neuroplasticity, that it has the incredible capacity to change how it functions. Making the change, however, is the result of an active and deliberate process rather than a passive one, and it therefore, takes intention, commitment, discipline and practice.”
Alex, a retired ob-gyn physician from Tampa, unceremoniously and unintentionally encountered Buddhism after he retired from clinical practice. Throughout his medical career, his orientation had mostly been based on the physical body, but when he retired, he became interested in the mind.
“What is wrong, what hurt, what needed to be fixed was my job as a trained surgeon,” he said. “When I was focused on healing the body, I was trying to make it whole or ‘right,’ but I never thought deeply about making my focus be the impact of the mind.” After Alex took an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class, which was his introduction to meditation, it led him to sangha, which led him to a spiritual path, which was quite foreign to him.
“It is quite remarkable to see how a 2,600-year-old tradition is right in step with 21st Century findings in neuroscience regarding the function of the mind. It is interesting to be reminded that the only thing that the Buddha had to develop his insights and practice was his extraordinary observational ability to see and understand the human condition and how it functioned as people lived. Those observations from 2,600 years ago now align with what we have learned from 21st Century technologies.
“If you can give a person a reason why their brain works in a certain way, maybe we can give that person some assistance to help them understand how to change how they use their brain.”
For the most part, we’ve been conditioned to exist in a material world, which we needed to master on a non-spiritual path. Is that prescribed path to happiness working as promised?
How do you change that which you have trained yourself to do for so long? Were we born stressed and overwhelmed? Why do most of us have a negative bias? Why are we preoccupied with the future?
The workshop will explore these questions as well as exploring our emotions as part of the human condition. People say, “I can’t help it, I’m just angry or anxious,” but where did that come from? What is the Buddhist and neuroscientist's understanding of an emotion?
The workshop will also help participants understand the “self” that Buddhist teachings tell us is a fabrication but that we are conditioned to believe actually exists. Why does it seem so counterintuitive to think that we do not really exist as a separate and independent self? Can we come to see the “self” as a “useful fiction,” designed to help us navigate the relative, or worldly, world as a convenience?
Ken, a retired psychiatrist and addiction specialist from Asheville, NC, will add depth in discussion of Dharma and its correlation to neuroscience.
Both Alex and Ken are ordained members of the Order of Interbeing and are long-time members of FCM. Ken is a leader for numerous workshops, retreats and intensive practices.
By JULIA BERBERAN
“Be here now. Be here now.” I kept saying this over and over in my head the first couple days of the retreat, trying to encourage my heart and mind to be here in my body, in this present moment.
I had found FCM at the end of February when I was searching online for an escape from the world. I’d never heard of FCM (I live in Vermont) but I was going to visit family in Florida at the end of March and was glad to find a silent retreat I could go to first.
I didn't know what to expect. I’d started meditating more regularly in December (doing short guided meditations), and most of my relevant knowledge came from reading Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart multiple times over. I mainly signed up for this retreat because I didn’t want to talk to anyone for a week. I had no idea that the experience would be profoundly transformative.
As soon as I walked into FCM I was warmly welcomed by the kind folks inside. I felt the peacefulness of the people and the grounds. During the week I was moved by the sweetness of all of us greeting one another with a bow; the generosity of other retreatants helping me with my work meditation tasks; the beauty of the late afternoon sunshine bathing the Meditation Hall in golden light; and the vibration of the bells pouring into the cracks in my heart. I felt like I belonged here.
On the final day of the retreat Fred asked us to close our eyes and envision what we were going to take forward from our retreat experience. I saw myself in a cozy room inside my chest. It had orange floors, a comfy chair, a warm blanket, a little table with a salt lamp, and my favorite mug of tea. My heart was there too, as tall as myself.
I remembered that on the first day of the retreat my intention had been to welcome myself home. I had told myself to “be here now” to try to make that happen. But I realized during the closing circle that I hadn’t ever had a home inside myself to welcome myself into. Now I do. This retreat helped me create a home for my heart, and gave me the tools to maintain it.
When I remember to go slow; to feel the ground beneath my feet; to pay attention to my breath; to savor my food; to hear irritating sounds as “the voice of the Buddha;” to look deep into the core of my emotions and reactions and to be kind and gentle with myself— I’m tending to my home inside this body. I made a little Thich Nhat Hanh-style art for the walls of my heart’s home, it says “this is only the beginning but I am here.”
And I am here now. I have a lifetime of learning to do, and maybe I’ll always be at the beginning, but I’m so grateful to be here. Thank you.
Julia Berberan, a new FCM member who lives in Burlington, VT, aspires to spend more time in Florida.
By MITCH SCHAEFER
St. Pete Friends on the Path recently learned about sustainable gardening practices and lent a hand harvesting produce at the edible garden operated by Daystar Life Center, a nonprofit organization that serves the homeless and others in need in St. Petersburg.
Daystar helps to fight hunger, poverty, and hopelessness by providing the necessities of life to neighbors in need. They provide food, clothing, and personal hygiene items, as well as educate and empower the community through promoting healthy nutrition, good health, and financial literacy. Daystar also connects individuals with resources in the community that can help them get back on their feet. On a typical day, Daystar provides help to an average of 100 people.
Among the many inspiring programs Daystar operates is an organic edible garden which grows more than 50 varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs to provide a healthy diet to people in need. Daystar also provides nutrition information and healthy cooking classes, as well as guidance on how to create and sustain a backyard container garden.
During the visit, members worked in the garden alongside Robin Clemmons, Daystar's head gardener, learning about sustainable gardening practices, including the basics of container gardening in Florida, and how native plants benefit us and local ecosystems.
Members also harvested produce and prepared and bagged food for distribution to the homeless and others in need.
Friends on the Path have begun to cultivate new friendships during gatherings at Crescent Lake Park by sharing about their spiritual journeys ad the profound impact that Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings have had on their lives. One of the topics they have discussed was the opportunity to practice engaged Buddhism by working joyfully together to help those in need in the community.
Mitch Schaefer lives in St. Petersburg and participates in many programs at FCM's Tampa Practice Center.
By CHRIS BIRD
With the pandemic waning, I was grateful for the opportunity to attend this four-day silent retreat at FCM's Tampa Center on the 14 Verses on Meditation in honor of Thich Nhat Hanh. Previously, I had only recently started watching Fred’s Dharma talks online and joining the the weekly Zoom meetings of the Gainesville Live Oak Sangha.
My prior understanding of Thay‘s teachings was limited to reading some of his books, the Plum Village app and podcasts, and days of binge watching his transition ceremonies. I left the retreat with new tools to unpack my suffering and an inspiring image of the sandhill crane, migrating smoothly over danger below.
Arriving at the FCM practice center was like summer camp for the first time. Despite my inexperience, I immediately felt at home. Fred, the amazing volunteer staff, and my fellow retreatants help me connect with support on a peer level. The retreat ran like clockwork, with a sense of timelessness. The programming was balanced between intense practice sessions and relaxing personal space for reflection. The facilities and grounds were immaculate and uncluttered. Tasty and nourishing vegan meals inspired mindful eating. The mindful movements, guided meditations and work sessions helped me settle down into my body and distanced me from my thinking. The retreat invited stillness, deep looking, compassion, and laughter in the present moment. Hearing the beautiful voices of the morning and evening chanters, the invitings of the bell, and the smell of incense, with eyes closed I could have been sitting at Plum Village instead of Nebraska Avenue.
Fred’s Dharma talks were powerful and inspiring. During the Q&A sessions, I was moved with the skill of his loving kindness in assisting practioners to learn how to look in the mirror to understand their suffering. I was encouraged by my own baby steps in stopping and looking to begin unpacking and embracing some of my deeper seated afflictions. As Fred pointed out, in the present moment, you can only deal with one affliction at a time. Another of my takeaways is the importance of sangha to support my practice.
During the last two evening sessions, Fred encouraged us to devote an hour to solitary meditation. What manifested for me was a new object of meditation. I visualized a sandhill crane, gliding high in the sky with a steady tail wind, calmly migrating after a perilous winter in overdeveloped Florida, toward the refuge of a pristine prairie in Canadian summer.
Breathing in, wings up, breathing out, wings down. With stillness and ease, looking through clear skies, keeping the turbulence and dark clouds of thoughts and feelings at a safe distance. Deep looking on a smooth flight path toward the other shore.
Video of Sandhill Cranes Flying and Calling
Chris Bird of Gainesville recently retired from an environmental career implementing community-based best practices for climate and water resiliency. Chris’ spiritual path started with Kripalu Yoga and the Temple of the Universe led by Michael Singer, and currently the practice of mindfulness as taught by Fred Eppsteiner and Thich Nhat Hanh. He especially enjoys incorporating mindfulness into dog walking, paddleboarding, and hiking.
By KASHA WILLIAMSON
When I traded in my corporate suit for a pair of carpenter shorts, baseball cap and work
gloves, I had no idea how deeply my life would change.
My husband, Kelly, and I got into handywork with my Dad when we moved to Naples in 2016 after both quitting our office jobs. I had worked in corporate communications and organizational development, and Kelly was a chemical engineer.
It was during this transition that I learned the process of working meditation. When I work as a handylady, most of my projects require 100 percent of my attention, particularly when they are on a ladder 12 feet off the ground or assisting my husband in changing out electrical lines.
I have been practicing mindfulness on the cushion and in life for about 10 years after learning about mindfulness through my children’s high school when the school was looking for volunteer mindfulness facilitators. Fast forward to 2016: I jumped into study and deeper practice with the Naples Sangha of FCM when we moved to Naples.
Since then, I have moved to Eustis, FL, but maintained my membership in FCM. During a chat with fellow member John McHarris, I learned about the part-time residency selfless service program at FCM -- a way to help out around the FCM grounds, while also having the luxurious opportunity to live on the campus, meditate and, for me, recharge my spirit while being of service to the Sangha.
After a few emails to Bill Mac Millen and David Braasch to see what types of projects needed assistance and to coordinate calendars, I set up a few nights, packed up my tools (although the campus has just about every tool needed), and headed to Tampa.
I stayed at Great Cloud Refuge four days and three nights. My daily schedule was pretty simple: morning meditation, breakfast, mindful service, lunch/rest, a little more mindful service, free time/walking meditation/personal study, dinner, meditation or join a talk if one was available that evening. I was fortunate to be able to join the Tuesday night discussion in the Meditation Hall during my stay.
I fixed door hinges, door closures, repaired drywall from a leak, touched up paint, and repaired/rebuilt an old wood cover on a water pump. I found great joy in every project I worked on at FCM, mostly because I was doing each “job” with a heightened sense of mindfulness and attention. I worked at a slower pace, even taking “bell” moments to reflect and to see where my mind was while mixing drywall mud or measuring out wood cuts.
This experience made me realize I could do this same practice when on a client site or working on one of our properties. It reinforced my practice IRL (“In Real Life”). I am very grateful for the experience and opportunity, the time spent with people around the campus, and the library was like a candy store!
Many types of projects are available at FCM. Check out https://www.floridamindfulness.org/Volunteer to learn more.
Kasha Williamson of Eustis, FL, Source of Ceaseless Aspiration, joined FCM in 2018 when she lived in Naples, and now practices with the Tampa sangha.
By NANCY NATILSON
“Who would like to share their own direct experience of deciding to end a pregnancy?” Fred asked. He continued, “We will practice deep sharing and deep listening, without judgment and without expressing or holding on to our views. Abortion is a very divisive topic in America these days, and we need to learn how to be open to listening without judgment and to engage in compassionate dialogue, especially with those who hold views different than our own.”
The next hour of our Tuesday evening “Applied Buddhism: The Practical Application of Buddhist Ethics in Daily Life” was one of the most heartfelt, courageous sharing sessions I have heard at FCM. Women told about the circumstances that created the need to make a decision about their pregnancy. Some were in a stable relationship (and even married), but the timing wasn’t right; others were either not in a relationship, or in an unstable relationship, or with a partner who would not have been a good father. Some felt they were too young to begin a family; others already had children and felt they didn’t have sufficient resources to raise another child.
Regardless of the reason, all expressed a certain amount of sorrow about the loss – of the potential son or daughter that never was born; of the opportunity to be a mother; of the dissolution of the relationship either because of the pregnancy or over the decision to end the pregnancy.
The other common emotions expressed were guilt and/or shame – at having ended a potential life; at doing something that relatives and society considered unethical and wrong. And because of the shame, many of the women who shared had never had the opportunity to talk openly about their experience and reflect openly and honestly. They all felt they had made the right decision, but the impact lingered on.
The most poignant aspect of the evening for me was the willingness of one woman after another to bow in and reveal her experience of deciding to end a pregnancy and the lasting effects of having made that decision. One woman said, “While I had originally intended to simply be present and listen, I was very moved to speak by the sharing of others. I felt the loving support and understanding that I had longed for but did not have access to so many years before, when I had to make this difficult decision.”
Trust in the sangha allowed for sharing of previously undisclosed deep feelings. The impact of knowing that others were not going to judge them gave the women the courage needed to let what was in their hearts be revealed.
The collective sharing was healing to those who had had abortions and also very moving to those who listened to the stories. Many admitted in real time that the heavy burden of shame and/or guilt they had been carrying around immediately felt lighter. All agreed that the sharing was the beginning of their healing journey and they were very grateful for this opportunity given to them by FCM. Those who listened deeply agreed that the conversation opened their hearts; they were able to reflect with compassion and felt a closer bond with their courageous sangha sisters.
Nancy Natilson, a long-time member of FCM, is ordained in the Order of Interbeing. She has volunteered at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Tampa for many years, holding the hands of countless women during their abortion procedures.
By REBECCA MEDINA
When I first heard of Thay’s transition, I knew that it would be a special time of deep practice for all of his students and everyone who had ever been touched by his noble compassion. I virtually attended the meditation and the memorial service to honor Thay through FCM. My aspiration the next day was to show up to life with gentleness in the way I walk, softness with the way I talk, and a vow to love more purely in honor of our beloved teacher.
I have been a member of the FCM parenting group, led by Karuna, for about five years. We have a monthly topic that is practiced between meetings. Using these practices has been instrumental in parenting my now 7- and 3-year-old. Karuna sent an email after Thay passed for the group to focus on Hugging Meditation for the next meeting. What a sweet way to honor our teacher and continue his teachings! I shared the intention of my commitment to Hugging Meditation with my Dharma Buddy and got started right away.
My first realization was that I had stopped hugging my daughter as much as I had when she was younger. We still hugged daily, but it seemed to be in passing as she got off the bus or ran out the door to play outside with friends. With intention clearly set, I sat on the sofa with her and held her in my lap. She wrapped her arms around my neck and we just hugged for several breaths completely present to the love we had for one another. I knew then that the way I would hug her going forward would be with more presence and purpose than the way things had been with our busy lives. There was a closeness as we hugged -- a deep connection was back in our every day lives.
The next day, my 3-year-old son was having a meltdown. My initial reaction was impatience before I quickly remembered my commitment. I stooped down on his level and asked him for a hug. He slowly walked toward my open arms, wiping away his tears. Upon our embrace, anxiety was eased, all fear softened, and anger melted away for us both. Through Hugging Meditation, I learned it would be pretty difficult to truly hold someone close in the space of awareness while simultaneously being irritated and annoyed with them. In that moment my heart was full of gratitude for Thay, Fred, and the Sangha. Thay’s teachings continued in me and I was passing the Dharma to my children through my actions. Knowing Thay was living on through me was a profound realization.
My son sometimes wakes at night for me to rock him back to sleep. Normally, I hold him, half asleep myself, wishing for him to doze off quickly so I can get some rest. That night, I answered his call for “momma” and held him in the stillness of the night as we swayed back and forth. His peaceful nursery, the feeling of my feet grounded beside his crib, and the warmness of his little body against mine made me wish that the moment could go on forever. My mind then turned to the notion of impermanence, and I went back to just breathing, fully aware of the moment, full of gratitude for our embrace. Now in the middle of the night I use the practice to remain present when he awakens.
Applying Hugging Meditation to my daily practice has helped me shift to a place of stillness. There has been an expansion of connection and well being with my children and a calmness that lingers since adding it to our daily lives. I am wholeheartedly honored to connect with my family through the teachings of our dear teacher Thay, who taught us to love with open arms.
Rebecca Medina moved from Tampa to Charlotte NC in 2020. She has been practicing for about eight years and has been a member of FCM for about six. She is a member of the Parenting Spiritual Friends group and attends the monthly family program via Zoom. Before children, she was involved in Wake-Up.
By MATT DOBBINS
What happened in those three days was nothing less than an elucidation of the very "parts that make a person," their sequential exploration, and
the dismantling of illusion within each.
It was in the recent retreat, "Loosening the Bounds of Self: Exploring the Five Aggregates of Clinging," led by Angie Parrish, that this dismantling of illusion and resulting ungluing of what we call the "self" came to pass.
Very patiently, so warmly, and rather gracefully we were given a path, a means by which to unfold layers of assumption, remove habitual seeing, and look -- and experience Reality. A key to transformation was shared with all of us.
What makes a person? A body? I described the Charnel Ground Meditation as shockingly disturbing, as I was guided to witness the natural stages of decay to my form -- from waxen to bloated, fetid and feasted upon, through parched bone and then dust, carried away by wind, chalk erased from the board. Ultimately, there was an appreciation for the miraculous, the magic of animated form.
The Five Aggregates, or Skandas, or Heaps, as they are sometimes called:
Embodied Form -- All bodies arise and disappear (like foam on water).
So, if it is not a body, what makes a person? A mind?
Feeling Tone -- The briefest of immediate experience of a sense object (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) arising and disappearing (a bubble).
Perception/Recognition -- Is it true? Is it a deception? Arising and disappearing (a mirage).
Mental Formations -- Thoughts, feelings, seeds manifesting, inclining the mind to wholesome and unwholesome ends, arising and disappearing (a hollow tree).
Consciousness/Cognizance - Awareness of what's present to the senses; what's getting attention? Arising and disappearing (a conjurer).
No inherent self is to be found in any of these "parts."
Observe, observe, observe, to know and remember, "not clinging to anything in the world."
How important is this? The Dalai Lama wrote, "Buddha pointed out that without knowledge of the emptiness of inherent existence of self there is no possibility of attaining freedom from our miserable state."
The lasting impression, the take-away for me, something that can breathe on its own after the nutriment rich air of retreat disappears, is watching the arising of the sticky self. It adheres to the identity of a form, a form that believes it has lasting values and accurate perceptions, concerned about and paying attention to...itself.
I will watch and recognize the arising of self in these dynamic ingredients, these empty Heaps, amalgamations, Aggregates. I'll watch it form, and I'll practice watching the self...thus loosening its grip.
Matt Dobbins, of Ocala, formed an interest in meditation in the 1980s, was introduced to the works of Thich Nhat Hanh in the 1990s, and most gratefully joined FCM a few years ago in the 21st Century.
By HEATHER STAMBAUGH-MUKHERJEE
Practicing with anger has been a big part of my path over the last year-plus, and I recently
continued on this path of transformation by attending FCM's workshop, "Loosening the Knots of Anger."
The workshop offered the perspective that anger happens on a spectrum, from mild annoyance at one end to full-blown rage at the other. I have never seen myself as "an angry person." Most people who know me would likely say the same. But an internally annoyed and perpetually irritated person whose mind gripes endlessly about how nearly everything should be different than it is? Yes, there's no denying that!
It was beneficial that the workshop reiterated the simple lesson of watering seeds -- my mind gripes and feels irritated because those are the mind states that were conditioned in me and that I have since nurtured.
But by approaching all phenomena with kind investigation, I am learning to water wholesome seeds. When I notice my mind asking, "Why didn't my husband take out the trash last night like he said he would?!" (complete with the interrobang of frustration at the end), I can breathe, look deeply, and see that he worked late. I can soften as I remember his exhaustion at bedtime. I can ask myself if there is another possible explanation for the trash transgression besides "He doesn't want to pull his weight around here!" (Spoiler alert: There are hundreds of other reasons, and they all make sense given his causes and conditions!)
Of course, some days since I attended the workshop, the irritated seeds have popped up when I'm not practicing diligently. Annoyed rumination waters the seeds when I don't see my thoughts or emotions.
The workshop taught the importance of noticing various signs of anger, including body sensations. I'm realizing that my awareness has largely been disconnected from my body during an experience of anger. Now I'm making an effort to notice that I experience a clenched jaw when I'm annoyed, and that this sensation of tension is a "bell of mindfulness" to check my mind. This "bell" reminds me to relax my entire face, breathe, perhaps even smile, and touch a sense of calm presence.
And sometimes with this practice, there is not a calm presence. As was taught in the workshop, sometimes emotion underlying the anger arises. I've found lately that these underlying emotions for me are hurt and fear. When I become aware that what's present is actually a feeling of wounding or vulnerability, I can then choose a caring response, like RAIN or Metta.
I am deeply grateful for the wisdom, compassion, and skillful teaching that I find in sangha at FCM, and the "Loosening the Knots of Anger" workshop offered exactly that. As I write this, I'm reflecting on what life would be like if I had not found FCM, had not begun to wake up to my perpetual irritation... And I'm struck by a sincere wish that all may know the joy of healing and transforming their anger.
Heather Stambaugh-Mukherjee of Lakeland came to FCM in 2020 after practicing mindfulness-based psychotherapies in her private practice for several years and noticing a spiritual pull toward personal transformation. She has participated in a number of Dharma offerings over the past year, and is currently participating in the Four Immeasurables Intensive. In her spare time, Heather enjoys spending time in nature, making art, snuggling her pets, and baking sourdough bread from scratch.
Every Tuesday morning, Wi Piyasawat drops her husband, John McHarris off in Fort Myers so he can catch the bus to Tampa.
close friend, neighbor and FCM member Lindsey McCaskey picks him up and takes him home.
John is living an ordinary life in Naples half a week and a life of service in Tampa the other half, an arrangement blessed by a supportive marriage
and the Dharma.
John, co-leader and community care leader of the Naples FCM Sangha, is at present the only participant in the selfless service residency program at the Tampa FCM campus. Since September 1, he has been living three nights a week in the newly opened Great Cloud Refuge in Tampa while he helps to support the sangha at its headquarters, performing service ranging from pulling weeds to providing kitchen help for retreats.
Theirs is a FCM family. In addition to his leadership role in Naples, John and Wi regularly attend Tampa Sangha via Zoom, and their son Max recently completed an eight month in-person residency program in Tampa.
John chatted with Mindfulness Matters about his service in Tampa.
MM: How did your decision to live and serve part-time with FCM in Tampa come about?
John: I wanted to serve more, and I wanted to be closer to my teacher. I think Fred perceptively sensed this, and watered those seeds. The OI (Order of Interbeing) was also emphasizing selfless service. I knew that residing in Tampa part-time would strengthen existing friendships and make new ones possible. I was becoming increasingly aware that my tendency to be "happy as a pea in a pod" spending time with myself was limiting my development and opportunity to make a change for the better. Lastly, I had long been observing a small number of members generously provide a disproportionate share of community service, and that didn't sit well.
I was fortunate because of my personal situation. I had retired early and was active in caretaking Mom, but when she passed away last year, that opened up free time. And especially support from Wi, my wife. I feel so fortunate. I was thinking about it, reflecting about it for a while, not sure I would have her support, so when we talked about it, and she said she would support it, that was really big. Not every partner or spouse would support it.
Also, our son, Max, did a residency program from late 2020 to August 2021 and I had heard him talking about what it was like. He did a lot of selfless service. He was developing friendships and becoming more integrated with the community, and that piqued my interest.
So I started asking myself, what really are the constraints? Is it really the distance and the drive time (2.5 hours from Naples to Tampa)? It's not that far. I found a bus service that was convenient, comfortable, and affordable. I immerse myself in reading and listening to the Dharma while on the bus. The bottom line is I can be very integrated both with the Naples and Tampa communities. I think I also began to realize that the "constraints" were self-constructed as opposed to real.
MM: What does one do in the FCM residency program?
John: There are four areas where selfless service work is needed – gardening, grounds, housekeeping and kitchen – and I have performed work in all of them. Sometimes, I’ll dust or sweep, sometimes pull weeds, and I assisted in the kitchen during a retreat in September.
Today, I was on a ladder pulling ivy away from the retreat center walls and gently placing it on a trellis so it wouldn’t damage the walls. The strands of ivy are very intertwined and tangled, similar to my mind at times. Untangling is good practice.
MM: How does your residency and work integrate with your practice?
John: When I pull weeds, I think about the weeds in my mind, how deep-rooted they are. It’s important to pull them gently from the base. When I'm cleaning a room I also remember the practices related to cleaning my bowl (mind), which definitely needs tending to.
When I’m working with others, there are good opportunities to practice deep listening and right speech and things that make for good relationships. I walk down to Publix for groceries and eat a lot of salads. When I chop carrots in the kitchen for my dinner, I just chop carrots.
Staying in Great Cloud is like being on a retreat. I’m sleeping in a small room. It’s small and minimalist, but I have everything I need. When I’m home in Naples, it’s a much bigger living space, but there are distractions, like TV. Here the whole campus is built for practice. There are fewer distractions. Minimalism is good. It helps me remember how little I need. It feels lighter.
MM: What advice do you have for others who may be considering doing something similar?
John: Do it, if your situation allows! Everybody has other commitments. The advice I would give is ask yourself, Are the constraints that you think you might have hard and fixed, totally non-negotiable, or just challenges? Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking that certain barriers are bigger than they are. I urge everybody to do whatever you can, whether Saturday selfless service days, or coming up for a couple of days. You’ll be nourished by the environment. It’s very unlikely that somebody would come away disappointed by this experience.
MM: How long will you continue this arrangement?
John: It’s indefinite. Until they kick me out!
In addition to his other responsibilities, John McHarris also is secretary of the FCM Board of Directors, a member of the current three-year Dharma Transmission Program, an OI aspirant, and has led several Dharma-related programs for FCM.
Florida Community of Mindfulness, Tampa Center
6501 N. Nebraska Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
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