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Community Gleanings

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  • 14 Oct 2018 4:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Building A Unified Community: Connecting Wake Up and the Broader Sangha

    With gratitude to Bryan Hindert for this article, which was originally published in the Plum Village publication,  "the Mindfulness Bell." Please consider subscribing to the Mindfulness Bell to help support our greater Plum Village community. Visit www.mindfulnessbell.org/subscribe for more information and to subscribe.

    It was a moment of connection across generations.  I smiled.


    At the end of a recent retreat with the Florida Community of Mindfulness (FCM), a sangha in the spirit of Thich Nhat Hanh based in Tampa, a fellow Wake Upper shared an insight during closing circle.  He was surprised to learn that some practitioners older than forty were dealing with many of the same issues that challenged him and his Wake Up friends.  

    The seeds of aspiration to build a sangha where members of all generations could connect, learn from each other, and see they aren’t so different after all were beginning to bear fruit.

    I began my own Dharma journey with FCM, an all-inclusive sangha.  In 2013, my teacher, Fred Eppsteiner, the founder and Dharma teacher of FCM, encouraged me to find a way to help young adults who came to our practice center to connect with our community and to the Dharma.  

    In all honesty, I was not thrilled.  I had been practicing with FCM for a few years and was quite happy being one of the only two or three really engaged young adults in the sangha.  Although I had been making significant transformations in my life and had healed much of my own wounding and mental suffering through the practice, looking back, there was a whole area of life I was avoiding because of the pain it often brought me.  Due to various causes in the past, I would go into a comparing, jealous, and self-critical mind-state when I was around other young adults.  The idea of spearheading a group to invite more young people into our sangha felt counter-intuitive, to say the least.  

    Luckily, I had learned through practice that listening to my thoughts was risky business, and Fred had taught me that to grow in the practice we can’t be afraid to get uncomfortable.  Thus, with Fred’s guidance, and a bit of a nudge, Wake Up Tampa Bay was born.  

    Before we had our Wake Up group, young adults would visit FCM, but they would usually come only once or twice, and then disappear.  Once we started having a Wake Up meeting every other Friday night, when young people would come to the sangha, I or one of the other younger members would personally welcome them and invite them to our Wake Up group.  It became clear that the ability to connect with people their own age was a key factor in whether young adults continued to come to sangha gatherings. 

    Over time, our Wake Up group grew from an initial three members to twenty to thirty participants, a thriving community of young adults supporting each other in living wholesome, mindful lives.  In addition to our Friday evenings, we also began having our own Wake Up Days of Mindfulness, Wake Up Dharma study and practice groups, regular social activities, potlucks, nature walks, and many informal events.  

    In one sense, it seemed that FCM was becoming a more age-diverse sangha.  In reality, however, two separate sanghas were beginning to emerge. In the early days of FCM, most of those who came to Wake Up Tampa Bay were also interested in participating in the activities of the broader sangha.  However, as attendance grew, a shift began to happen.  More and more, the young adults who came to Wake Up seemed satisfied with the peer support and did not seem particularly interested in attending gatherings of the broader sangha.  Rather than being an extra support to younger members in our community, Wake Up had become, in a sense, an island unto itself.  

    While it was wonderful to know that a community of practitioners had developed that nourished and supported mindfulness practice in young adults, it seemed that both Wake Up and FCM were missing out on an important connection by this bifurcation of the sanghas.  To me it seemed that our Wake Up community had much to gain from the wisdom and experience of the older, more seasoned practitioners, as well as an opportunity to deepen our practice through the many Dharma programs and the connection with a teacher that FCM offers.  Likewise, FCM could benefit greatly from having the youthful energy of Wake Uppers join in their activities.  It was also striking that our sangha, while professing to offer an alternative path to the unwholesome elements of our culture, was, in a certain sense, mirroring the division and separateness we often find between different age groups in society.

    Thus, with Fred’s guidance, a few of us Wake Up organizers began a concerted effort to integrate the two divergent groups. While the first few years of Wake Up were aimed at creating a space where young people could come to heal, transform and support each other in mindfulness and meditation, these past few years have been more focused on integration into the larger FCM community. Our intention has been to create a unified, truly age-diverse sangha that offers both peer support for the Wake Up group and the experience of seasoned practitioners. 

    To foster this integration, many initiatives were experimented with, and much consistent encouragement, creativity, and patience have been needed.  There are signs that the fruits of this effort are blossoming as more Wake Uppers are now participating in much that FCM offers.  For instance, at our recent sangha picnic and at our last tea ceremony, we had about as many Wake Uppers as non-Wake Uppers in attendance.  We also now have about thirty Wake Up-age participants who have become formal members of FCM.  With close to 300 FCM members in total, this is still a small percentage, but we have come a long way from the original three young adult members.  We are also beginning to see a good representation of Wake Uppers at our weekly Sunday sangha meditations and Dharma talks, and many are beginning to take part in more of the intensive Dharma programs that FCM offers, working with mentors, and taking advantage of having a Dharma teacher to guide them in their practice.  

    Perhaps most telling, this year we had two Wake Up members take on leadership roles within the larger FCM community.  We in our Wake Up group are maturing in our practice and there seems to be a real thirst for deepening our study and engagement with the Dharma.  Also, as more Wake Uppers are getting to know the older practitioners in a deeper way, there appears to be an eagerness to explore further ways of connecting with them.

    Last February I had the opportunity to meet several other Wake Up Ambassadors at a Wake Up Care Taking Council Retreat at Deer Park Monastery.  In our discussions during the retreat, I learned of the many ways that Wake Up sanghas are watering wholesome seeds in young adults and helping them to heal their suffering, cultivate joy, be of service to others, develop leadership skills, and begin their journey on the path of Dharma.  What also became clear in our discussions was that the division that FCM had experienced between its Wake Up group and the broader sangha is the reality for most of the Plum Village sanghas in North America, rather than a special case of our Tampa Bay community.  Although our experience in Tampa may be somewhat unique, since our Wake Up group was born out of our broader sangha, perhaps it may be helpful to share what we learned in the experience of integrating our two groups.  I believe it is in the best interest for the entire Plum Village community to integrate these two sangha streams, and it takes consistent effort from both ends to make it happen.  

    For Wake Up organizers who would like their Wake Up groups to benefit from a connection with the broader Plum Village sanghas, I would suggest to begin by asking which of your Wake Up activities are key to meeting the needs particular to young people, and which do not necessarily need to be age specific. Our Wake Up organizers have taken several steps to cultivate a connection with the rest of FCM.  We:

    • Host regular “meditations and mixers” where we invite older practitioners to spend an evening with us in meditation, deep sharing, and communing over tea. 
    • Invite our Dharma teacher and more experienced practitioners to offer Dharma talks and answer questions about practice at our Friday Wake Up meetings every other month.
    • Discontinued separate Wake Up Days of Mindfulness and instead are encouraging attendance at FCM Days of Mindfulness.
    • Schedule fewer Wake Up only social events and are encouraging attendance at FCM social events.
    • Organize Wake Up hang out time after an FCM activity, such as a work meditation day, giving us the space to connect with our peers while also participating in FCM events.
    • Organize community involvement activities such as volunteering at a local community farm and invite the broader sangha to join us.

    I encourage my fellow Wake Up organizers to consider the importance of integrating our Wake Up groups into the broader sangha for the health and well-being of the Plum Village community.  Although the initial development of separate Wake Up groups has allowed the space for young adults to experiment and find their own connection to the practice and lineage, the broader sangha needs our energy, creativity, and excitement for the practice in order to continue beautifully into the future. 

    For practitioners from the broader Sangha who would like to support and connect with Wake Up groups, the following efforts have been fruitful in our community:

    • Our Dharma teacher and experienced practitioners act as close mentors in practice and sangha-building for our Wake Up organizers.
    • We have a monthly “Tea with the Teacher,” giving Wake Up-aged members of FCM a chance to seek Fred’s guidance in an informal setting.
    • Experienced practitioners in FCM lead Dharma study groups to support Wake Uppers interested in going deeper into Dharma teachings and practice.
    • Older members of the sangha invite Wake Uppers to dinners, teas, and other informal ways of connecting.  

    In general, I would also encourage all-age sanghas to understand the need of young adults to have space to support each other in the practice and experiment with how to bring the practice into their lives.  I encourage giving young practitioners a chance to take on responsibility in the sangha and, when ready, to take on leadership roles. When young adults are given this opportunity, I believe they both step up to the occasion and take more ownership of the sangha. 


    From a personal perspective, these past five years of sangha building with Wake Up and FCM have helped me to untie many internal knots and heal emotional wounds I had developed around interacting with my peers.  The act of doing something meaningful in my life while taking care of and transforming my suffering has allowed me to feel whole again.  I now enjoy spending time with both younger and older people equally and have many Dharma friends of all ages. Through this experience, Fred has taught me to set aside my personal preference and to instead do what is most beneficial for the sangha, and what is most beneficial for beings.  In putting aside my personal preference, I have also found a truer happiness and well-being than I could have ever found from staying in my comfort zone.  

    In the Dharma,

    Bryan Hindert

    True Legendary Opening

  • 08 Oct 2018 7:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Angie Parrish for this article, which was originally published in the Plum Village publication,  "the Mindfulness Bell." Please consider subscribing to the Mindfulness Bell to help support our greater Plum Village community. Visit www.mindfulnessbell.org/subscribe for more information and to subscribe.

    It is summer 1994, Plum Village, France. Thay speaks the following words as he transmits the 'Lamp of Wisdom' to Fred Eppsteiner, giving him the Dharma name ‘True Energy’:

    “Brother True Energy, this lamp has been transmitted to us by the Buddha himself and so many generations of teachers and ancestors. Now it’s been entrusted to you. Please practice in such a way and live your daily life in such a way that this lamp is kept alive, always shining. You have the duty to transmit it to your children and grandchildren in the blood family and in the spiritual family.”

    Although Fred had been a student of Thay’s at this point for 20 years, it is with this ordination almost 25 years ago that Fred began to share the Dharma and create a sangha in Florida that would eventually become what is today the ‘Florida Community of Mindfulness.’

    After the ceremony in France, Fred returned to his home in Naples, Florida, a community then untouched by the Buddha’s teachings, and began to slowly introduce the Dharma, initially through all-day introductory mindfulness workshops. Seeds were planted, and a small sangha began to blossom in Fred’s living room, meeting at first monthly, then bi-weekly, weekly and eventually twice a week.

    Across Florida, others who had attended Thay’s retreats formed small sanghas and began to seek out Fred as a Dharma teacher, including individuals in Tampa Bay, Miami, and Daytona Beach. The Tampa sangha, of which I was an early member of, was fairly typical of these small groups, comprised mostly of newcomers to both mindfulness and Buddhism. At our weekly gatherings, we meditated and took turns leading discussions of books by Thay and other Buddhist teachers. Our enthusiasm was strong, although I smile when recalling how eclectic our ‘Dharma’ was in those early days; it was not unusual for our weekly discussion to sometimes meander away from the path of practice into an intellectual wasteland! Discovering Fred, an authentic Dharma teacher ordained by Thay, was just what we needed, and we began to make regular “Dharma Road Trips” to Naples for Days of Mindfulness and retreats, as did practitioners from other small sanghas across Florida.

    By 2001, there were often 25-30 cars parked along Fred’s residential street in Naples for the weekly sangha gatherings in his living room. While he had happily “birthed” the sangha in his home, Fred realized that the group had matured to the point that it was time for them to take responsibility for the care of the sangha. After much discussion, they decided to incorporate as a not-for-profit religious organization and moved from Fred’s home to a rental space at a Naples yoga studio. Not everyone in the sangha was happy with this move;  Why leave the easy, comfortable space in Fred’s home and have to worry about leases, money, and finding others to step forward to care for the sangha? Nonetheless, the move was made and the sangha blossomed further as many new individuals found the more public space and profile to be very accessible and welcoming.

    In addition to weekly meditation and talks, Fred began to bring all the Florida groups together spiritually in a common path of practice by offering “Intensive” Buddhist study/practice programs, typically lasting three to -six months at a time. We also grew to know our sangha brothers and sisters throughout the state by coming together frequently for Days of Mindfulness and retreats.

    By 2005 our Tampa living rooms were becoming very cramped. At the same time, Fred was increasing his teaching time in Tampa but with the proviso that we needed to move out of our living rooms and find a public meeting space. So we took what felt like a huge step and rented space in a local yoga studio for two hours each Thursday evening. Once again, there were a number of people who were more comfortable with the living room group, but we realized that our vision of sharing the Dharma and reducing suffering in the world called on us to step out of our comfort zones. The Tampa sangha continued to grow, as individuals seeking an alternative to their stressful and often unsatisfying “worldly” lives found us, primarily through word of mouth.

    Fred’s move to Tampa in 2006 brought a much greater quality and consistency of Dharma teachings, and within a couple of years we began to look at expanding our offerings to create more doorways for those seeking change. How could we best serve this growing appetite for the Dharma? Should we offer more classes? More opportunities for meditation? More opportunities to connect as community?

    Fred and a core group of about 25 members met to explore possibilities in 2010. Should we add more hours to our weekly rental arrangement? Should we rent our own space full time? We wereIt was 2010, deep into the recession and its resulting low real estate prices, and a member ventured, “Now is the time to buy a building.” Some reacted with shock and fear, some with excitement and enthusiasm., in response! What if we were able to own our own space?: What would we do with it? How would we pay for it?

    With Fred offering vision and support, this core group decided to explore the purchase of a “home” for FCM. Paramount to embarking on this exploration was having an established, cohesive, and growing core group of members. Some of these core group members were newly retired or approaching retirement, and were committed to offering significant “selfless service” to support the establishment of our new center. We canvassed the larger sangha and discovered that there appeared to be strong financial support for the purchase of our own building.

    With enthusiasm and perhaps some initial naivety, we began to look at properties, soon learning about the many City of Tampa code requirements for parking, occupancy, and other use factors. High prices and limited parking quickly re-directed our search away from our original target locations. One day a member who had been volunteering at a rundown and mostly abandoned church in a very poor area of town called Fred to ask that he come look at the property, which included three buildings and over 7,000 square feet of usable space. It might be available for a very low price! We visited the property, with many of us taken aback by the seriously neglected state of the buildings and overgrown grounds, as well as by the very visible “‘street business”’ that was occurring nearby. Could it be possible to make this property, in this neighborhood, into a home for FCM? Once again, Fred helped us to imagine what might be possible, and where better, he asked, than on this street of obvious suffering to create a haven of Dharma refuge and beauty?

    On August 1, 2012 we closed on the purchase of our new home! Having successfully raised 100% of the funds needed to purchase it and complete the first phase of rehab, we embarked with much joyful effort on painting, plumbing, window replacement, wiring, floor refinishing, altar creation and much, much more, finding our meditation seats amidst the dust and slowly creating a beautiful home and garden for the sangha. We began to more deeply understand the meaning of ‘selfless service’ and community as we created avenues for caring for our grounds and facilities and serving our sangha through various programs.

    We realized that it was easy to look like Buddhas when we came together in rented space for two hours each week. Being together much more frequently to clean the bathrooms, work in the kitchen and gardens, and otherwise serve the sangha taught us how to bring our practice more deeply into relationships, let go of our egos, and to begin anew when on occasion our speech and actions may have been unskillful. As more members embraced the practice of service to others, our Order of Interbeing sangha also grew and today numbers just over 50 ordinees and aspirants.

    As we settled in, we found that having a physical ‘home’ gave us great flexibility for offering more meditation programs and Dharma teachings, classes, spiritual friends groups, a Wake-up group, family and teen programs, and more. We now also offer three concurrent Intensives for practitioners at different experience levels.

    We have also found that people are very hungry for community, and that the warm and welcoming attitude of our members draws in many individuals who wish to spend meaningful time with like-minded individuals in a community that practices the way of harmony and awareness. Fred has always emphasized the importance of community, and we are very deliberate about how we engage, mentor and otherwise care for our members. We now have nearly 300 members, while many non-members also attending many our various programs.

    While we have historically held three retreats a year at a nearby Catholic center, demand for the transformative experience of retreat has continued to increase, and we realized that having a residential capacity at our Tampa center would be very beneficial. Once again, Fred’s vision and leadership helped guide the Board through an exploration of the possibility of replacing our small and aging caretaker’s cottage with a new 4,000 square-foot residential building. After a lengthy petition to the City Council, our plans to construct ‘Great Cloud Refuge’ were approved and funds were raised to make this vision a reality! When completed in early 2019, we will be able to offer six to 12 retreats per year, for groups of 24-42 people.

    Fred never set off to build a large community and a Dharma center, but simply took to heart his teacher Thay’s instruction to transmit the Dharma. His great wisdom, skillfulness as a teacher, and compassion for all have attracted and benefited so many beings, and the members of the Florida Community of Mindfulness are honored and deeply grateful to be on this path of transformation and service with him. We are also grateful to the other centers and Buddhist practitioners who have shared their wisdom and experience with us, and will happily share what we have learned with those who might benefit from our experience, as well. 

    P.S: As instructed by Thay, Fred has brought the practice to his children and grandchildren and his 100-one hundred year- old mother, Ruth, the matriarch of our community!

  • 03 Sep 2018 1:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Andrew Rock for this sharing

    This past week FCM members Carol Green, Nancy Natilson and Andrew Rock were among the 140 practitioners at the Earth Holders Retreat at Camp Courage on Clear Lake, Minnesota. The retreat was organized in fruitful and generous collaboration by the Earth Holder Community’s Caretaking Council, three local Minnesota Plum Village sanghas, and monastics from Deer Park Monastery. Four monks and four nuns from Deer Park led the retreat. It was inspiring and joyful to be with the monastics, each of whom manifested their practice and happiness in her or his own unique way of speaking, singing, walking, eating, and sitting.

    As with other Plum Village retreats, we spent most of our days in mindful silence, beginning in the meditation hall with sitting meditation and chanting, and guided meditations, or sutra readings. We also had a Touching of the Earth and a reading of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Letter to Mother Earth. After breakfast we sang outdoors in a circle, followed by wonderful group meditation walks along the beautiful paths of Camp Courage, through cool green forests, along the lake and across wooden walkways over little streams. Each day my body and mind felt more peaceful and easy, each step on the earth truly a miracle.

    The daily Dharma talks given by the monastics were a true continuation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and presence, delivered with clarity, wisdom and humor. In a talk on the Five Mindfulness Trainings, Brother Phap Ho spoke of how mindfulness helps us to make choices better aligned with our aspirations and to practice happiness and gratitude for the conditions we already have. If we want to address climate change and the suffering it brings, we can become more aware of the afflictive habit energies we still carry that lead to patterns of consumption that are toxic for us and for the world.

    Each afternoon we met in small family groups for deep sharing and deep listening, each group facilitated by a monastic and named for a Minnesota river in keeping with the retreat’s theme, “Going as a River.” As in the retreat generally, groups were a mix of new and old practitioners, many from the Twin Cities area and the Midwest, and members of the Earth Holder Community that was founded in 2014 by lay and monastic members of the Plum Village community. We shared how our minds were gradually calming as we silently sat, walked and ate our tasty vegan meals in mindful community, and the happiness we felt as we became more attuned to the nature around and within us. We also shared about our challenges at home and in practice, our fears and even despair at the degradation of our environment and societal discourse.

    As the days passed and our minds settled, we spoke more of how our practice of nurturing openness, peacefulness and compassion can contribute to our individual and collective engagement with the world in a way that is skillful and even joyful. And as the retreat progressed we saw that we were part of a kind, caring community, and that we were truly present for one another and for Mother Earth and all her children.

    By the end of the retreat I felt that I had found peace with a question I had obsessively pondered and struggled with for the last few years: what does engaged Buddhism mean in the context of accelerating climate change and the suffering it brings? Is the practice of meditation and mindfulness sufficient, or should I – and other practitioners who wish to help heal Mother Earth and her children -- place equal emphasis on action?

    I had understood intellectually that the answer, at least for me, is both meditation and action, that the practices of calming and opening, concentration and insight would organically lead to actions appropriate to the situation. I had heard our teacher Fred say that we could not hope to have a more peaceful world if we were not peaceful people, or a more just and kind world if we ourselves were angry and judgmental. But I nonetheless continued to resist, to feel uneasy about what I saw as an imbalance between practice in the meditation hall and action in the world.

    Now I have finally realized and accepted that the real question is whether we can show up in life the way we want to, with equanimity, compassion and openness. As Fred recently said, “Life is where we practice, but the cushion is where we learn.” When we are truly present, we can see what is unfolding, and we will know how to be and what to do.

    The 2018 Earth Holders Retreat ended with a beautiful and moving ceremony. Standing in a circle by the lake, the community was invited to each find a one or two word aspiration to take with us from the retreat. One by one around the circle, each of us shared our aspiration as we poured a bit of lake water from a pitcher into a big bowl. When we were finished, Brother Phap Ho carried the bowl down to the lake, and mindfully poured it in, to go as a river with the waters that would ultimately flow into the mighty Mississippi.

    May our collective aspirations truly go as a river, carrying our practices of mindfulness and community, understanding and compassion, happiness and healing into our communities and our world.

    Andrew Rock

    True Collective Healing

    Sept. 1, 2018

  • 26 Aug 2018 9:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member David Royal for this sharing.

    In late June, I was fortunate to be part of a group of FCM members who, along with our teacher Fred Eppsteiner, did a retreat at the Dorje Khyung Dzong (DKD) retreat center in rural southern Colorado. This retreat was a bit of a hybrid in that, although we travelled as a group, it was primarily a solitary retreat. DKD is rather unique in that it is truly set up for solitary retreats. It consists of 8 cabins, spread out so that you don't really see or hear your neighbors. Each cabin has a dedicated walking meditation trail, again ensuring that you can truly practice in solitude. The facility is maintained by a couple (Dan and Sheila) who have been there for a little over 5 years. We didn't see much of them, but they are wonderful hosts and really try to make sure that everything is taken care of, so that retreatants can focus on their practice.

    Each day, we were asked to do at least 8 hours of formal meditation practice. I usually took a short walk after breakfast, before it got too hot, but other than that I was either in my cabin or on the meditation path outside. Each afternoon, just before dinner, we gathered as a group for an hour in the shrine room. During this time, we asked questions and shared about our experiences. This was a change from the daily one-on-one interviews that I'd done on previous solitary retreats, and I found it really beneficial. Hearing my fellow practitioners share their insights and struggles, and watching Fred guide them, was extremely instructive.

    Practically speaking, days at DKD were simple. Without running water, I collected water from a nearby hydrant and I had a "mindfulness bucket" under my sink that I emptied periodically. Each cabin had its own outhouse and there was a camping toilet for use overnight. Every other day, I got icepacks from the shower house for my cabin's cooler. Since I didn't have refrigeration, I cooked single portions. DKD is also very, very dry, so drinking lots of water (w/ electrolytes) was very important. Honestly, I found all of these tasks (gathering water, emptying waste water, cooking small batches, etc.) to be truly pleasurable mindfulness practices. I was particularly struck by how much I enjoyed the details of cooking simple dishes, as cooking has always been just a means to an end for me.

    In terms of the practices, we followed the text "Clarifying the Natural State" by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal. Like "Moonbeams of Mahamudra," also by Namgyal, this wonderfully clear and concise text lays out the Mahamudra path of meditation, starting with the preliminaries, then moving into shamatha (tranquility) and vipashyana (insight) meditation. Even though some of the practices were familiar to me, they felt very fresh. Following such a clear practice text in such a supportive environment was quite powerful. I felt a degree of ease and equanimity over the course of those 10 days that I have never before felt in my life. Past solitary retreats (not to mention my everyday life) have been marked by lots of ups and downs for me, periods of joy alternating with depression and anxiety. This time, to my surprise, there was none of that. Everything felt profoundly OK, moment after moment, day after day.

    Every time I go on retreat, I experience more deeply concepts that I understood intellectually, and this retreat was no exception. I felt gratitude for my precious human birth more deeply than ever before, being moved to tears of joy several times on this retreat while reflecting on my good fortune at having found the dharma, a sangha, and a teacher. I also felt that I was truly able to rest in ease and equanimity, both on and off the cushion. Doing this really solidified my confidence in the effectiveness of meditation. So many of the choices I have made in my life have been driven by a desire to find lasting peace of mind. It is wonderful to see, definitively, that this is peace always here.

    Another thing that struck me about the text was that, despite it having been written by a Tibetan monk in the 1500s, it was undeniable he and I were working with exactly the same mind. This, too is a source of relief and confidence for me. If we do all truly have the same underlying awareness, then the practices and wisdom that have liberated other practitioners from suffering over the past 2600 years can also work for me. I truly believe that now.

    I wasn't sure what it was going to be like to come off this retreat. What would it be like being back with my family? What would it be like at work? I'm happy to report that, while in some ways it is very different being back in the world, I have found it easier to maintain a sense of balance and equanimity, regardless of what is going on. I still lose my cool some times, but at the same time, I know that whatever happens is fine, and that I don't need anything more to be OK.

  • 30 Jun 2018 7:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Carol Green for this sharing

    “We don’t have an environment to fix,” Heather Lyn Mann said at a panel discussion on climate change consciousness and behavior at the Tampa Friends (Quakers) meeting house.  “We ARE the environment.  We inter-are; we ARE nature. We want to take care of our beloved as we want to take care of ourselves.”


    Also, there is impermanence, she said. Things manifest when conditions are just so.  Civilizations come and go.  This thing called “climate change” is also impermanent.  If we can see it is also made up of non-climate change elements, we can untie the knots and not be too discouraged.  When we look deeply into root causes, we find spiritual pollution – greed, consumption, transportation of goods… When we see the path in, we also see the way out.


    The interfaith panel discussion was one of several events at which Mann of Charleston, SC, a founder of the Plum Village tradition’s Earth Holders, recently led discussions about climate change, hope and resiliency.  Earth Holders is an organization in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition that sponsors retreats with Plum Village monastics during their annual U.S. tours, publishes quarterly newsletters and offers information and dharma-related insights into lessening harmful climate change.  Their website, www.earthholders.org, is a resource for plant-based nutrition. Mann’s talks were sponsored by the Buddhist Climate Action Network, led by FCM’s Andrew Rock.


    Multiple organizations in the Tampa Bay area are attempting to organize to deal with questions arising from climate change, but so far, they are operating mostly in silos, the panel said.  A Florida Interfaith Climate Action Network has formed to attempt to coordinate efforts. Groups are exploring individual steps that can be taken through various programs. Mann recommended working with simple steps in small groups to prevent burnout.

    Transformation has to happen in us so we can receive the gifts of the world, said the Rev. Russell Meyer, pastor of New Parish of Tampa/St. Paul and Faith Lutheran Churches and executive director of the Florida Council of Churches.   “If you have craziness inside you, you will give craziness to the world. We take carbon out of the Earth and throw it into the air.


    “Tampa Bay has risen an average of one inch a year (during the last several years).  When we have a conversation about retreat, we say that’s where our tax base is – on the shoreline.  The craziness inside us is related to the craziness outside us.


     “Government action is usually about property rather than people,” Rev. Meyer said.  “Our language is the economy, but I think we should talk in the language of love. I see a rising collective consciousness saying, ‘I don’t know where you came from, but I am related to you,’ and that is the language of love.


    “I am aware of how traumatized we all are, and the biggest (government) decision makers are children of profound trauma.  This leads to compassion. We need to practice it with an open heart,” he said. “We are in a profound transition in this nation from Anglo-Saxon male leadership to minority moving into the majority.  It’s inevitable.  There are serious issues with status loss and fear.  I think it’s a temporary fever. We need to be sensitive to the fever.”


     Beverly G. Ward, field secretary for earth care at the Southeastern Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), said there is a moral and ethical responsibility to deal with care of the Earth.  “How do I stay in a place of love?” she asked.  She said she was reminded of her childhood in Alabama during the civil rights movement. “If I prepare myself and show up, I’ll be told (spiritually) what to do.  I keep trying to listen, and the way opens.


    Transforming climate consciousness “is a transformation we must talk about,” Ward said.


    Mann said she believed transformation “at the base,” among people will be most effective. “The pendulum seems to be swinging in one direction, but I think people are getting sick of it, and it will swing back farther in the other direction than it otherwise would have.” In the meantime, she said, “none of us has to invent this from scratch.  Do work in your own home and find out what else is going on.”

  • 30 Jun 2018 7:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Diana Fish for this sharing about the June 2018 FCM retreat at Southern Dharma Retreat Center, north of Asheville, NC

    From the time I joined FCM five years ago, I looked forward to having an opportunity to attend the Southern Dharma retreat in NC led by our teacher. After hearing sangha members talk about it each year, it seemed to have an almost mythical significance - not to be compared to any other retreat. Why? Apparently the synchronous fireflies, the lush landscape, cool nights, and mountain views were part of it, but mainly as a backdrop for the deep teachings that went on every summer around the beginning of June. Still, it was difficult for me to justify being gone for a full seven-day retreat so soon after school let out for my son.

    This year I decided to take the plunge. It was exactly what I’d heard it would be, and more. The opportunity to practice with many sangha members from our community in such a magical setting, where fireflies illuminate simultaneously after a warm-up of individual flickers, gradually coming together in a beautiful display of inter-connection. Walking up the hill after the last meditation of the evening, seeing this synchronicity amongst insects while birds sang their last songs of night, everything just made sense. Like our walking meditation, which felt like a flowing stream on the covered balcony of the meditation hall, the week flowed with meditation and deep wisdom teachings. On the second evening of retreat, sheets of rain poured down like the cascading waterfalls in the woods. The sound was almost deafening, so we meditated on the rain. As Fred told us, the rain is falling, but there is No One who is listening.

    For the first several days, we contemplated Traleg Rinpoche’s writings on the Buddhas’s teachings on the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to the Dharma and Mipham Rinpoche’s The Wheel of Analysis and Meditation That Thoroughly Purifies Mental Activity.  We gradually peeled away the layers of projections, created in our minds, which cloud our perception and keep us in a fog of delusion. We were being skillfully led out of this fog.  Why were we in a fog of delusion? Grasping and clinging to things that are impermanent, attachments, samsara, and our inability to understand and recognize karmic cause and effect. These teachings were the backdrop for the main text of retreat, The Flight of the Garuda, by Lama Shabkar, written in 1891.

    The foundational shift for me came during the fourth evening’s dharma talk. I had been carefully following Fred’s teaching on recognizing our thoughts as thoughts, not as reality, but as mental projections on our interpretation of reality. Suddenly, I could feel Shabkar’s instructions in my bones:

    “This so-called “mind” thinks, and knows this and that,

    And moves to and fro’.

    If you pursue it, it isn’t caught, but vanishes as elusive as mist… “

    By seeing clearly, without a veil of habitual preference, suddenly everything was vivid and focused. It was a choice. It was as easy as turning on a light switch, or as fireflies illuminating.

     “Observed, it is primordially empty; there is nothing there to grasp.”

    Looking directly at a thought, examining it closely, the thought simply vanished.  It didn’t require careful examination anymore, or carefully choosing an “antidote” to an aversive emotional state. Suddenly, I could clearly see a path which flowed as naturally as the cascading waterfalls along the mountains. I could see the vast potential for unfettering my natural mind.

    The pure joy of retreat is an opportunity I hope everyone will have. It’s a gift we give ourselves. Away from our usual lives, we allow the teachings to be absorbed deeply, alongside our sangha family of serious students of the dharma. We let go of our habit energies and open to a whole new realm of possibility.

  • 14 Jun 2018 2:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Carol Green for this article

    The environmental community has gone after big issues, like scientists’ reports about melting permafrost in the Arctic and rising seas, but has not brought them down to the personal level, said Heather Lyn Mann, Buddhist spiritual ecologist who spoke recently to the Florida Community of Mindfulness and other groups in the Tampa Bay area.

    This big-picture reality is frightening and creates fear and division, she said.  There is another, more mindful, way to look it. Yes, it is reality, but there is hope, and there are things individuals can do by taking a mindful, dharma-based approach.

    Mann, of Charleston, SC, is a co-founder of Earth Holders, an organization in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village tradition that sponsors retreats with Plum Village monastics during their annual U.S. tours, publishes quarterly newsletters and offers information and dharma-related insights into lessening harmful climate change.  Their website, www.earthholders.org, also is a resource for plant-based nutrition. Mann’s visit was sponsored by the Buddhist Climate Action Network, led by FCM’s Andrew Rock.

    Five million people live in 2.5 million homes less than four feet above sea level in the U.S., she said.  Sea level is expected to rise two to seven feet in this century. “Notice what happens in your body when I say that,” she said.  “Do you feel angry?  Sad? Notice what comes up for you. Sometimes we push away, disagree with each other.  This is multiplied across the world. This is what the early stage of climate discovery looks like.

    “I use tonglen. I breathe in that strong emotion, and I breathe out compassion. I encourage you to stay with reality and look at the causes and conditions that brought us to this point. Deep looking requires changes. We have the delusion of separate self in our society, a separation between self and others and separation between self and the Earth. It is a dangerous dualistic form of species arrogance that we can commodify resources and exploit other people for our own benefit. We think we can tolerate harm to the climate because America will be ok and other countries won’t.  But America won’t be ok. Our objectifying is grounded in other-making.

    “What is our relationship to the planet?  I hear environmentalists say our species is horrible, or sometimes they say we are superior.  That doesn’t fit for me.  Also, we are not equal to nature; we have to have an ‘other’ to be equal to it. We ARE nature. We are dependently co-arising.  The inside and outside dissolves. We can embrace our reality and oneness. Carl Sagan said, ‘We are the Universe contemplating itself’.

     “In Earth Holders, we approach happiness as the cure for the climate crisis, and one of the ways we can be happy is to fall in love with Mother Earth all over again.

    “Falling in love with Mother Earth is equal to heaven on earth.  It’s sacred all the time.  When you are one with the Earth, you can see it has qualities of endurance and stability and accepts everyone without discrimination.  We do not worship it; that would be to create an ‘other,’ but we can be one with it, which puts us in deep communion. Love means ‘to be one with’.”

  • 27 May 2018 8:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With Gratitude to FCM Member Carol Green for this Article

    Sailing the Atlantic in major gales and life-threatening disasters offered lessons in reflecting about the terror of the unknown future of climate change, said Heather Lyn Mann, spiritual ecologist and co-founder of the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition’s Earth Holders Sangha, in a recent series of presentations to the Florida Community of Mindfulness (FCM) and other groups in the Tampa Bay area.

    You don’t really know you have been sailing (or confronting the desperate fear of climate change) until you have been deeply frightened, but if you can stay safely in the moment, you may be able to make a significant difference, she said. Balancing facing reality with maintaining hope, she led discussions with FCM, students and faculty at the New College in Sarasota and the Shambhala Sangha in St. Petersburg. Her talks were sponsored by the Buddhist Climate Action Network, headed by FCM’s Andrew Rock.

    Earth Holders is an organization in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village tradition that sponsors retreats with Plum Village monastics during their annual U.S. tours, publishes quarterly newsletters and offers information and dharma-related insights into lessening harmful climate change. Their website, www.earthholders.org, is a resource for plant-based nutrition.

    Mann and her husband, Dave, had been dreaming of sailing for years, and when they finally had saved enough, she looked deeply at her fatigue from her work in developing conservation land trusts and knew it was time. They embarked on a journey that ultimately took them six years on the Wild Hair, a sailboat, around the “Great Atlantic Teacher,” learning lessons in mindfulness and the power of the planet that served her well as she wrote a memoir, Ocean of Insight: A Sailor’s Voyage from Despair to Hope, and now leads a spiritual ecology movement in Charleston, SC.

    They made basic sailor mistakes on their voyage, yet reflected on those mistakes to extract larger teachings. Just as they survived despite their sailors’ errors, in spite of mistakes in over-consumption and thoughtless choices in using the Earth, we can still have a positive impact, she said.

    “There is passive hope, where you sit and wish that things were different,” she said. “And there is active hope, where you are always listening to reality, being clear about the world you want, and, when you have the opportunity, act without weighing whether you will be successful or not.”

    She described an incident in which her husband drifted away from their marooned sailboat in a dinghy without a motor or supplies, possibly never to be seen again. All she could do was issue mayday calls on their radio and wait. He survived. “In some ways, I was powerless, I had no influence, but I still had dominion over my own actions. I mobilized support. Evolution gave me awareness, volition and choice originating from within. These are superpowers.

    “Even the tiniest deed sparked into action can spark a revolution,” she said. “We can just do the simple thing in front of us to do. Thich Nhat Hanh had already figured that out and he took refuge in the earth. It’s a giant Dharma door.

    “The way we treat the planet and the way we exploit people happens because we forget we are interconnected,” she said.

    Organizations are now attempting to translate science into an understanding that laypersons can act on. Earth Holders and its website www.earthholders.org was born with the blessing of the Plum Village monastics and now is about to expand to a larger community including other movements, such as climate justice organizations, she said. This communications and resource hub holds monthly online meetings, issues a quarterly newsletter and has a practice manual that covers many topics, including how to write “love letters” to government officials and giving tips on plant-based eating.

    Mann began an organization called Higher Ground in Charleston to re-frame discussions about changing lives and policies of that city as coastal flooding encroaches. Her work frames the issue as not just an environmental/ecological crisis, but a spiritual crisis, as well, asking, How can we live lives of meaning during this challenge?

    To speak to people with opposing views, Mann recommended finding ways to find common ground: talk about air pollution, flooding in shared communities, how we all care about the country we inherited, concerns about our kids’ futures, rather than “climate change.” She recommended reading the works of Katharine Hayhoe, a conservative Christian scientist who writes and speaks about why evangelicals should care about climate change.

    Mann recommended that those concerned about climate change do the “inner work,” first getting clear that mindfulness is their foundation. She cautioned that we have to do “twice as much inner grounding” as outside work to maintain the equanimity required for the long haul. Then, if we decide to take action, we can tackle the matters that we can directly impact, rather than becoming frozen and despondent about the big picture. She recommended forming small groups using the book Low Carbon Diet: A 30-Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds, by David Gerson, published by the Empowerment Institute. It provides simple, everyday steps that individuals may take to reduce their carbon footprints, such as drive more slowly, don’t use clothes dryers, and take shorter showers.

    We have to bring a “don’t know” mind to our ecological practice, constantly asking, “Am I sure?” Mann said, drawing a parallel to a judgment error that she and her husband made as their sailing venture drew to a close in the Bahamas, where they almost lost their lives. “We have to let go what we think we know. You can get swept into your predictions of what you think is going to happen in the future. Insight and meditation sometimes lets us absorb what is beyond our perceptions. The future is yet to be written. Scientific studies are weather reports, and many things can open up.

    A Yale University study distills it:

    1. Climate change is real.

    2. It’s bad.

    3. It’s us.

    4. 97 percent of scientists agree.

    5. There’s hope.

    “In the next 25 years, things will be seesaw: wet and dry, hot and cold, fewer storms but more intense, flooding will occur in coastal states. Our brothers and sisters in island nations, most of Africa, polar regions, the deltas of Africa will be on the front lines. Pope Francis says we have a debt to the poor, not to wallow in guilt but to create a world with more fairness going forward. How can we breathe in the sensations of discomfort and breathe out compassion and the possibility that we can build a completely different route going forward? What simple actions can we manifest today as a life mantra, as a mindfulness practice?

    “Turn to your beginner’s mind and look at reality. We must stop ourselves from leaping forward. Stay in the present moment. Notice what’s right. Let go of notions about politics -- no judgment, no blame -- empowering yourself.

    “Our response to the climate challenge should not be rushed. This is the time to stop and consider how to influence things within our reach. They don’t have to be big and grand, just within our reach.”

  • 07 May 2018 12:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Mitch Schaefer for this sharing

    As I walked along the Hillsboro River on the first evening of the Spring Retreat, I reflected upon my aspirations for the next three days. I decided they were: 1) to deepen my understanding of the four nutriments and develop a greater moment to moment awareness of what I am consuming; 2) to leave the retreat with clarity on where I am going to reduce consumption of the things that are harmful and contribute to my suffering, and where to increase those which are more wholesome; 3) to strengthen my meditation practice by increasing my ability to (more effortlessly) focus on my breath, and by becoming a more objective observer of my thoughts; and 4) to feel gratitude for the journey I have traveled since becoming an FCM member last year- for my deepening spiritual practice, my new Sangha friendships, and for the peace I am experiencing from a regular meditation practice.

    The retreat gave me everything I hoped for, and more. Here are just a few of the many moments which I found valuable:

    The opportunity to journal throughout the retreat was a very meaningful approach for capturing insights during the dharma talks and jotting down reflections on my patterns of consumption. I left the retreat with strong commitments of where I intended to make changes in each of the four nutriments - specifically, where I was going to reduce consumption and what I was going to replace it with.

    There were several visualization exercises that were very powerful for me. One took place in the Meta Garden, where I had the opportunity to offer "meta flowers" to myself and other people in my life. The imagery and emotions associated with this exercise were filled with warmth, spaciousness and compassion. The other exercise was a visualization sitting by the river-bank, watching various boats (i.e., thoughts) float by - each with their own stories and adventures. Following this exercise, I was able to "observe" the boats go by without getting pulled onto them from the shore. Weeks after the retreat new images and metaphors continue to arise in my mind, creating a feeling of spaciousness and light-hearted moments.

    The opportunity to learn from senior students who have been studying with Fred for so many years was truly a gift. Their understanding of the dharma runs very deep, yet at the same time, they shared their daily struggles on the path with honesty, humility and humor. This made the teachings feel so real and accessible, while demonstrating the self-compassion we each need to offer to ourselves on our spiritual journeys.

    And then, we had the good fortune to have our venerable Zen Master (aka, Fred) lead the Dharma teachings each evening and take our understanding to new depths. We talked about the body as a vehicle to transport us through our journey in this life, and how we wish to care for it. We explored the cumulative affects consuming a constant barrage of input through our senses has on our emotional well-being. Fred challenged each of us to examine if we were truly willing to let go of our never-ending pursuit of pleasure - and commit to the possibility of simply enjoying a pleasurable experience, without attachment.

    And, we discussed the importance of choosing which of the seeds that have been planted in our storehouse consciousness over the years we want to focus on watering, with the understanding that..."what we take in conditions our mind, which ultimately conditions what we take in."

    As our weekend came to a close, perhaps the most practical insight we discussed was that despite our high aspirations, transformation will not occur if we do not have a clear understanding of our "employer-employee" relationship with our 'guard at the gate'. We were challenged to assess what type of employer we are, and how to ensure our guard stands mindfully by our side, alert yet with compassion, ready to help us make the right choices. And that we should not be too generous with his or her vacation time.

    Though the three days passed quickly, I left the retreat with a feeling equanimity and a renewed sense of volition to make better choices. I also departed with deep gratitude to Angie, Betsy, Diane, Fred, and my fellow retreatants for the experience we shared together. And to think that the majority of our time together was spent in "noble silence".

  • 16 Apr 2018 5:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Jacqulyn Schuett for this sharing

    Sharp sounds of the han emanating from the meditation hall’s back porch invited everyone to gather around the site of the Great Cloud Refuge, FCM’s soon-to-be-built residential home. The patch of dirt that was once the caretaker’s cottage was surrounded by colorful prayer flags and on the east side stood an altar with four clear bowls of water. Participants heard the han quicken to a flurry of piercing sounds and come to an abrupt stop. Then came the more familiar sound of the large temple bell as the ceremonial procession emerged from the meditation hall.

    Incense led the way for our teacher, four monastic guests and five FCM members who followed, carrying beautiful consecration vessels. Members of the procession offered incense on behalf of the entire community as the vessels were placed on the outside altar. A prayer of gratitude acknowledged the people of the past who have used the land and expressed the aspiration to bring benefit to the ones in the future who will inhabit the grounds – that they, and the beauty of the Refuge may contribute to the harmony of the neighborhood and the world. The community joined Fred in reciting The Three Refuges – the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Using the bowls of water that had been offered on the altar and long-stemmed red roses, blessings were bestowed on the site by Brother Radiant, Brother Dharma Emptiness, Sister Flower Adornment and Sister True Practice.

    While the community chanted the Heart Sutra, the monastics accompanied Angie, Betsy, Fred, Sam, Rich and Alex as the four blue treasure vessels were placed in the ground at the four corners of the future Refuge and the fifth one, larger and adorned with butterflies, was lowered into the ground at the center of the site. Inspired by the words of Patrul Rinpoche, Fred offered a most beautiful dedication prayer affirming the heartfelt intention for transformation and liberation to be realized through this Refuge and the continuing efforts of the Florida Community of Mindfulness. Then aspirations written by members of the community filled the air as they were read simultaneously from the four corners. The words ‘may we be well’ concluded the ceremony with everyone joining Tim Hamm for the Metta Song.

    April 8 marked the auspicious occasion of the Great Cloud Refuge Consecration Ceremony. Our community had the good fortune to host the Board of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation at just the time when a ceremony was planned. The lay and monastic board members provided a tangible connection to the greater Plum Village Community. The connection to the Tibetan stream of Dharma was heard as Fred read his adaptation of Patrul Rinpoche’s dedication prayer. A few people noted another, perhaps, auspicious sign when the colorful and gilded ceramic incense bowl cracked as Fred read the prayer.

    Countless hours, gifts and acts of generosity led up to this beautiful ceremony. In the days preceding the ceremony many precious articles were left at the Center to be placed in the consecration vessels – small Buddhas, tiny prayer flags, precious gems and semiprecious stones. People made tiny scrolls of miniature copies of sutras and Buddha images. The aspirations shared by sangha members were sweetly calligraphed so that they would be exquisitely articulated within the vessels. On Saturday the meditation hall was cleaned and prepared. The grounds were groomed and the flags were hung. The precious objects and little scrolls were delicately placed in treasure vessels with reverence and deep aspiration.

    Early Sunday the outdoor altar and its adornments were completed as the tech team positioned the sound equipment. At the same time, the vessels were beautifully sealed with copper by skilled mindful hands and brought to the altar in the meditation hall so members of the community could meditate in their presence – offering their energy and intentions for what Great Cloud will become.

    During his Dharma talk just before the ceremony, Brother Radiant referred to the beloved community. All who shared in and contributed to this experience know the preciousness of ‘the beloved community.’ Deep gratitude to the Three Jewels and to our dear teacher.

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