By BILL MacMILLEN
Last month two other FCM members and I had the great opportunity to travel to India for a pilgrimage to a number of renowned Buddhist sites, including Lumbini, the site of the Buddha’s birth; Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha’s awakening and the legendary Bodhi Tree; Deer Park in Sarnath, the site of his first teaching, and Kushinagar, the site of his death, or paranirvana.
Our group, which included Diana Fish, Chris Gahles and me, had the great fortune of being led by Shantum Seth, an ordained teacher in Thich Nhat Hahn’s tradition, and an extremely knowledgeable conduit of both Buddhist and Indian history. Our path covered 14 days of touring and being with these sites and their history, as well as the cities and countryside of the Indian state of Bihar, the poorest and most populous state in India.
As Shantum said, there is an inner and an outer pilgrimage.
First, a description of the outer pilgrimage:
The pilgrimage was aptly titled, “In the Footsteps of the Buddha.” We literally were in the footsteps walked by the historical person, Siddartha, 2,600 years ago. That aspect alone was very powerful, realizing that this was the land where his birth, awakening, teachings and death occurred.
With Shantum providing both detailed accounts of the history of each site, as well as daily opportunities to meditate as a group at these sites, it made for a very integrated and rich experience, melding the intellectual and the spiritual aspects beautifully. Millennia old stupas and temples, rich with the history of the Dharma were found throughout the tour, each with their own unique details that Shantum described.
Chris Kahles, from left, Diana Fish, Jagdish (the logistics assistant for the pilgrimage), and Bill MacMillan at Nalanda, the famous 6th-11th Century site of advanced Buddhist teachings.
Other than the initial flight out of New Delhi and a return flight there, the transportation from site to site was by bus, and the opportunity to experience the countryside, cities and people was a teaching in and of itself. The level of poverty is severe, with families living along the roadside in what would be considered abject poverty in the United States, with little or no infrastructure support. Cows, goats and dogs abound, mixed with bicycles, tuk-tuks and motor scooters carrying 3 or 4 people at a time, often with women riding side-saddle and carrying a child, with horns blaring constantly.
Although India is an overwhelmingly Hindu country, the Buddhist pilgrimage sites are significant attractions and we found large crowds at most of them, with hosts of street vendors and beggars ever present and desperate. Bodh Gaya in particular, with the famous Bodhi tree and the Mahabodhi Temple, was a cacophony of sound as different Buddhist traditions chanted, often using amplified speakers.
Also in Bodh Gaya, we had a photo taken of us and Shantum with Basudev, a cobbler whom Fred befriended when he was in India in 1975. Basudev was begging in the streets at the tim
e; Fred bought him clothes and shoes and basically acted as his benefactor. Years later Fred encountered him again when he was working at his uncle's shoe shop. He is now the proprietor of that shop!
Shantum and Jagdish, Shantum's employee who assisted us, took us to the shop, where we presented Basudev with a gift from Fred after showing him a photo of Fred with Karuna (whom Basudev met around 2000 when Karuna was in college and studying in India) along with Metta and Leo, Karuna's children. Basudev smiled immediately upon seeing the photo -- a great moment!
The tour group watched the teeming scene along the ghats (steps) on the Ganges River at Varanasi.
We spent a fascinating morning in Varanasi, one of the holiest sites for Hindus, who come to ceremonially bathe as a ritual for a better life in the Ganges year-round, and also where loved ones are cremated along the river in funeral pyres. The ghats are the steps leading down to the river, which is lined with centuries-old buildings inhabited by both people and monkeys.
The walk through the streets to the ghats, even at 6:30 in the morning, had a street festival atmosphere – smells of street vendors cooking, cows meandering hear and there, music playing, teeming with people. After making it to the river, we hired a boat and watched the various unfoldings from the river, with an almost surrealistic feel to it all.
Bill, Diana and Chris, led by Shantum Seth, third from left, stopped at a Thai Buddhist temple in a rural area in India for dinner. Thai temples were selected as rest stops because of their restaurants and clean restrooms. In the rear are a Thai monk and nun from the temple.
A particularly meaningful time occurred for me toward the end of the pilgrimage at the Jetta Grove in Sravasti, the location where the Buddha’s itinerant sanghas often stayed during the rainy season and site of a large number of his teachings. Diana, Chris and I each renewed the Five Mindfulness Trainings in a ceremony Shantum conducted in the Plum Village tradition established by Thay. A number of the other members of the larger group with which we traveled also took the 5 Mindfulness Trainings for the first time.
We completed the pilgrimage with a drive to Lucknow and flight back to New Delhi and were fortunate to extend the trip one day to travel to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort before the 14-hour flight back to the States.
Yes, Shantum said it best: There is an inner and an outer pilgrimage, and the inner continues long after the return to one's home. It was a fascinating journey and one that I found has altered my views of life -- in ways I don’t understand yet.
Many thanks to Bill MacMillen of Tampa, Facilities Care Leader, for this wonderful article about the pilgrimage taken with two other FCM members to significant locations in the Buddha's life in India.
Here's a good recipe for Beginning Anew, thanks to a discovery by Susan Ghosh!
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Total time: 15 mins
Smoky beans on garlic toast make a perfect vegan bruschetta. Delicious, healthy, inexpensive and packed with big flavors!
10 slices baguette or rustic bread, toasted
Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Cook the chopped onion for about 3 minutes, until soft.
Add smoked paprika, beans, thyme and salt, stir well and cook for a further 8-10 minutes stirring occasionally. When they're done, smash half of the beans and add the rest of the oil.
In the meanwhile, toast your slices of bread in the oven or in a pan with a little of olive oil, cook for a few minutes until golden. This method adds more flavor.
Rub the toasted bread with fresh garlic, top with a spoon of smoky beans and some black olives (1 olive per slice of bread is fine) a pinch of chilli (optional) and a drizzle of olive oil or extra virgin olive oil.
By CHRIS WITRAK
Have you ever wondered what all those cool young adults you see at Sunday Sangha do at Wake Up? Well, you’re in luck because this article will give you a sneak peek into what this awesome group is about and how its members practice.
Wake Up Tampa Bay members, from left, Jerry Stinnett, Chris Witrak, Samantha Demmi, Brother Fulfillment, Jennica Robe and Ven Kat.
Thich Nhat Hanh created Wake Up so that young adults could have a community where they can practice mindfulness to nourish their own happiness and contribute to building a healthier and more compassionate society. Like the Plum Village tradition and Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, Wake Up has spread across the globe with the Wake Up International website listing 114 Wake Up sanghas.
At FCM, Wake Up Tampa Bay is the primary space where young adults in their 20s and 30s can practice mindfulness among peers.
We begin a typical Wake Up meeting at 7 pm in the Meditation Hall and practice sitting and walking meditation, read an article or book written by Thich Nhat Hanh or another teacher such as Pema Chödrön, and practice deep sharing and deep listening. During deep sharing, whoever wishes to do so can share what resonated with him or her from the reading and share successes and struggles with his or her practice without fear of criticism or judgment.
When I first attended Wake Up over three years ago, I easily took to the group because everyone was very friendly and welcoming. I have met some of my closest friends at Wake Up. After attending for a few months, I also felt comfortable becoming more active within the group since everyone was open-minded and no one forced an agenda.
Both Wake Up Tampa Bay and the larger Wake Up community hold inclusiveness as an important value, and young adults from all religious and cultural backgrounds are welcome in the group.
Attending Wake Up helped me establish a regular sitting practice during my initial months and has helped maintain it. Now that I have been part of the Wake Up for several years, I also have the opportunity to practice by helping newer members establish their own practice by leading meditations.
Wake Up offers Dharma study groups as well for those interested in going deeper with their practice. After establishing a mindfulness practice, participating in the Dharma study groups helped me really begin to heal and transform my mind and also motivated me to become more involved at FCM and sign up for my first intensive.
Today, Wake Up Tampa Bay has a regular attendance of around 15 to 30 people, and a bunch of us have become active in the larger FCM community. If you haven’t had a chance to meet any of us, please introduce yourself! We would love to get to know you. Strengthening bonds within the larger FCM community is one of the best ways to help the Wake Up community strengthen and grow.
If you would like to read more about Wake Up, you can do so on the Wake Up International website by Clicking Here.
Thanks to Chris Witrak, a member of the Tampa Sangha and Wake Up Tampa Bay, for this informative article.
In reflecting on years of our practices, Sam and I noted a mysterious turning toward something, a sense of a commitment to a view. While not initially knowing what this view was, we realized our old way of living and seeing life was not how we wanted to live our lives. What was it we saw?
I did not know and yet kept moving toward something over the years.
Something, like a knowing that is deeper than the thinking mind -- a seeing deeper than the episodes of the day, a mystery about what this knowable “something else” is. What is it? I don’t know. Yet when I am still and quiet, there is something.
We recall as children a peace in nature away from relationships and events, a calm. Somehow knowing there is something else. What is it I have been recognizing in nature, in some people who had an inner peace? We would gravitate toward these places and people over the years, not knowing why.
And so we commit.
The teachers of this 2,600 years of practice and study have looked and seen the mind movements and developed guidance for us on how to develop in practicing training the mind, so that we can learn to live a life with more understanding and compassion.
The Lojong slogans are to help us recognize where we are in our aspiration to live a life of meaning in the midst of so much we may not yet know of this mysterious mind. The slogans help us learn to develop an intelligent interpretation of our experiences and see the way we use our thoughts and emotions in our lives. We begin to see that how we use experiences is always up to us -- whether we use them for betterment or for continuing old familiar habits. The Buddha offered us encouragement and wisdom teachings, and the teachers of Lojong slogans guide us with specific slogans, such as making a commitment to the mind training.
This making of a commitment is different than other commitments in our lives.
When the teachers guide us to commit, and recommit, it is not a commitment like we have made in the day-to-day usual world, of promises made and broken, then feel guilt.
This is a different relationship with commitment.
A deeper voice making a promise we hear, of a way knowing that may not always be apparent in our days of failures and distractions, afflictive emotions, entangled relationships. Somehow there is this knowing like we experience this evening sitting together, still, an experience of being with one another and a view of living.
As we sit with support of a guided meditation, supported by each others’ attention, we cultivate qualities of our natural mind, and we touch this experience of calm, of space. There is a knowing deeper than the thinking mind, a view beyond day-to-day events. Whatever is happening outside does not affect this mind.
Then with the Metta practice, we wish this wellbeing for not only for ourselves, but also for others. How amazing the experience of heartfelt wish for our happiness and for others, realizing the effect of our wishes result in experiencing a connecting, a oneness. A mystery. Of what is this experience of such wellness?
When we gain some space for a wider view, the mind trainings give us opportunity for a moment to stop and not blame ourselves or others. An opportunity to look at ourselves and commit not to continue rehashing old stories, for this moment, and this moment, and this moment. And so we seek out the teachings, we seek out teachers, we seek out other people to be with and soak up their peaceful stable minds.
To strengthen our resolve, a certain amount of commitment is an essential element, a commitment to resist the seductions of old tendencies. Time and time again to deliberately think about our commitment to our intentions and the mind trainings and reaffirm our determination to do something meaningful and purposeful with our lives.
With recommitting, we become more aware and attentive to our daily situation and notice how many opportunities we ignore while ensnared in personal dramas. When we commit to capitalize on situations as they arise we see most of them are capable of bearing fruit. And so we commit: Whatever happens in my daily life, I will use every opportunity to practice training the mind.
Our thanks to Marilyn Warlick for this article drawn from a Dharma talk given by herself and her husband Sam at the Naples Sangha in November. Sam, led by Fred, recently gave FCM's first Mind Seeking Way talk in Tampa.
By JUDE SMITH
My name is Julian (Jude) Smith, and I believe humanity is very young. I recently attended the first of our three non-residential retreats on a Friday and Saturday, Mindfulness of the Breath and Body.
This was my first retreat and the longest I have ever attempted to concentrate continually.
I had some caution as the retreat started but was energetic and confident that I would be able to make use of the whole time. I did make use of the whole event, but my caution was warranted. This was difficult!
We talk a lot about how awareness is the natural state of mind, and that we are simply returning to it, but we all must choose to practice that. When we live the way we do day to day, we adapt to the conditional nature of our daily tasks. If we practice mindfulness to help bring some clarity and context back into our awareness, although we are returning to the natural state of mind, it is a profound shift in experience. It takes work!
I got through that challenge with some compassion for myself. I let it be okay that I wasn’t as strong as I thought I could be.
I let the experience be what it was without needing it to be “better.” Lo and behold, that thought of “better” was the main distraction from the present moment. By doing my best to simply be present, after multiple sessions of sitting, I experienced a mental clarity that was finer than my usual state of mind.
The Buddha teaches in the sutras that when a person truly experiences the Dharma, the change in him or her is great and can occur quickly. While I haven’t even scratched the surface of where this practice can take me, I found it incredible how much can change with only a couple days of sincere effort.
The opportunity to practice for these extended sessions is an awesome one that shouldn’t be passed up. The stillness of the hall and the clarity of the teachings helped a great result take place for me, and I felt a sort of “aliveness” that I rarely felt before without intense adrenaline. Although in instances of great stress or excitement, I have felt a natural imperative to be conscious, the effortlessness of natural clarity born of calm and focus has a far stronger impact.
The constant reminder of the practice, second by second, reaffirmed with each breath, serves as a confirmation of that awareness. In this sort of clarity, life is not simply issuing a challenge to be awake but is expressing its very "awareness" through us in a way that is utterly stable. The phrase "sit like a mountain" comes to mind. How different from riding the gusts of the world's winds!
The goal of this practice is to end distraction and experience the true state of reality. This is very attainable. The nature of life is right here and now if we choose to observe it. It just takes a little practice to break our habit of running.
The world we live in is filled with running people. There are people running after rewards, mental or physical, which suggests they are incomplete. There are also people constantly running away from stress, which only provokes the experience of being unequipped to deal with an issue, or that the stress in question is simply at odds with a livable life.
If we can break this habit and embrace every moment as it is, then we can realize every event in life is natural and purposeful, and we can be really free.
So the chance to sit is a precious one, and I can’t emphasize enough what an opportunity it is to have a community that provides events like these. I encourage everyone to take part.
Our thanks to Jude of Winter Haven, a member of the Tampa Sangha, for sharing his insightful first retreat experience. He joined FCM in March of this year.
By SCOTT NISSENSOHN
What does it mean to be on retreat? To me it’s a letting go of anything and everything and immersing myself in the practice. The retreat was a special weekend of teachings with special friends in a special place. Sangha is always a special place, but spending 14 hours a day for three days during the nonresidential retreat on the Four Seals of Buddhism was truly special. For someone that has always felt out of place, Sangha is home.
I was hesitant about signing up for the retreat at first because it was nonresidential and I live about a half hour from Sangha and let’s face it, Nebraska Avenue is a far cry from the Franciscan Center and the Hillsborough River!!
My hesitation was alleviated within five minutes of arriving on Thursday night. Settling in at dinner with old friends, I felt the weight and stresses of the world lift away as we sat down to what would be our last talking meal for four days. Bryan Hindert, Carol Meyer and the other kitchen helpers outdid themselves with one incredible meal after another.
It was an interesting experience leaving Sangha in silence and heading home each evening. What if I ran I to my neighbors? Would they think me rude for not speaking? Waking up in time to make it to Sangha by 7:00 am was a challenge, and Friday morning I walked into the foyer just as Marilyn was ringing the bell -- what a letdown, starting the first day in the foyer while my sisters and brothers were chanting. Lesson learned: I would arrive much earlier the remaining days!!
The more I settled into retreat and the quieter my mind became, the more at peace I was with myself and the world. There is something magical about being on retreat at FCM; the love and the energy is just wonderful.
The highlight of the retreat for me was my interview with Fred. As I sat in the chair waiting for Fred to ring the bell, I kept thinking, “What am I going to ask?” “What incredible insight have I had that I can share?” As I sat and watched my thoughts, I decided I would go into the interview with no agenda and see where it went.
It amazes me how within 15 seconds Fred can be right at the core of whatever is going on in your world. With a couple of pointed questions and his wise guidance I came to the realization that I’m not living an engaged life, that due to previous pain and suffering, I had disengaged from life. I’ve done a lot of healing over the past few years but I still haven’t fully engaged in Sangha and aspects of my personal life.
Fred helped me to see that I excel at work, that I’m fully engaged and thriving there, so why can’t I carry that over to my personal life? Fear. Fear of rejection, fear of not being accepted, not fitting in. I made the commitment at that very moment that I would live an engaged life. I would be more present and engaged when at Sangha, with my kids and with my friends. Fred showed me there was nothing to be afraid of, that it was my “self” that was afraid and that I needed to let that go. How powerful and freeing!!
Another highlight of the retreat was the closing circle. Listening to my brothers and sisters share their experiences and what they would take home from the weekend was truly special. Everyone shared from deep within their hearts, new folks and elders sharing what they had learned and what they hoped to take with them.
Once Great Cloud is complete and we will be able to hold residential retreats in Tampa, retreats will be taken to a higher level. To be able to stay on the grounds and roll out of bed into the Meditation Hall will be magical. I’m looking forward to spending that first retreat with y’all.
Thanks to Scott Nissensohn of the Tampa Sangha for this insightful article and to Alex Lerner for panoramic photo in the Meditation Hall above.
By NED BELLAMY
In the six years since FCM members began sharing the Dharma with a few inmates in Florida state prisons, the Prison Dharma Program has grown from offering regular programs at one prison to now meeting with prisoners at four institutions.
It began in 2013 with Chris Gahles, who, with encouragement and guidance from Rick Ferriss, shared Dharma with a few inmates. Then, Alex Lerner and Nancy Cunningham visited a prison, followed by many others, who began to faithfully visit institutions on behalf of FCM and continued for many years.
Recently, Ned Bellamy of Clearwater has transitioned to replace Chris Gahles into the role of program leader and is implementing regularly scheduled bimonthly visits to each of the four prisons. In the weeks when no visits are scheduled, the prisoners have DVDs of Fred’s Dharma talks available to view and discuss.
Now, the program is ready for more volunteers. We are inviting FCM members to consider joining our current team of eight volunteers to help us continue to nourish the seeds that have taken root in these parched prison settings.
FCM volunteers travel once or twice a month to meet with small sanghas at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution (ZCI), Polk Correctional Institution (PCI) at Polk City, Sumner Correctional Institution (SCI) at Bushnell, and Charlotte Correctional Institution (CCI) at Punta Gorda. Each two-hour session in prison includes sitting and walking meditation, chanting, a Dharma talk by one of the FCM visitors, and an opportunity to share and listen deeply.
Because most of us are a little apprehensive about visiting a prison for the first time, all new volunteers are accompanied by more experienced FCM hands for two or three months. Beyond the gates, we cross well-landscaped interior grounds to meet in the chapel with perhaps three to seven Dharma brothers seated on cushions. It is surprising how quickly we feel welcomed and even at home.
The chaplain and his staff are usually working in their offices down the hall and other services are often held in adjoining rooms. Ideally, each FCM team includes two people, with at least one male. The addition of women as team members has been especially effective and is encouraged.
We are looking for volunteers who have been FCM members for at least two years, with a daily practice, and who have participated in some retreats or intensives. We invite you to contact any of our volunteers to learn more about the Prison Dharma Program or contact Ned Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-642-5900.
A deep bow to Ned Bellamy, head of FCM's Prison Dharma Program, for this article.
Perhaps you would be interested in volunteering to help the FCM Prison Dharma Program, but how could you know? Perhaps listening to the voices of a few of our prison sangha brothers and then some FCM volunteers will give you a better idea of the experience of working in the program.
“This week, our two least favorite guards totally tossed my cell again. I don’t even get mad any more. Things are just as they should be: the guards’ causes and conditions lead them to toss my cell. My causes and conditions lead me to put it back together again. At least until their next shift on Tuesday.”
“Because my job is inside cleaning our dorm, I can arrange to sit in formal meditation for a couple of hours every day and read a lot about the Dharma. I live like a monk since I joined the sangha.”
On Easter Sunday after a heavy rain, the sun was shining over a flock of sandhill cranes, the prison gardens, and the lush green courtyard. A long-time practitioner walking beside us said, “Yeah, it is beautiful. And you know what? For the last 20 years, every single morning here has been beautiful.”
A prisoner with a violent past quietly shared his new aspiration. “I want to continue to reduce my anger, bit by bit, so that when I die in here, one person in this whole prison might come to my service to say I was a good man.”
“I have 69 roommates, many with mental health problems, so coming together in our small sangha is literally a refuge. Supported by friends, the sound of the bell brings us all home to the present. I’m encouraged by the teachings that remind me of what is possible for us, even during our stay.”
“Before I was incarcerated, I tried to meditate once, but was so wired, I couldn’t sit still. My levels of stress and vigilance dramatically increased in the chaos of this prison, until I came to Buddhism and meditation. Now, when my surroundings feel the most overwhelming, I’m learning to go inside.”
“I’ve been in foster homes, jails and prisons for 45 years. I was hopeless when two Buddhist teachers began to visit us regularly. They were the very first people who had ever noticed, much less believed in me. Inspired by their practice and teachings, I turned my life around and have been a committed practitioner ever since.”
“Sixty days of solitary is really tough because in this prison, writing and reading material is forbidden. Then, the Chaplain agreed to bring me two Buddhist books. I re-read them many times, and began meditating. I think they saved my life.”
“I’m new in here and facing a 40-year sentence. I have only three tasks: attend to my AA meetings, to my court appeals, and to my Buddhist practice. Period.”
Chris: What could possibly be better than sitting in a small circle sharing the Dharma?
Susan: No way to tell any difference between us. Who’s teaching? Who’s learning? I always leave with some treasure.
Alex: It’s satisfying to help them learn that their last freedom is the attitude with which they meet their day.
Kevin: The ‘guys’ inspire me to practice, and their gratitude for having FCM members share the Dharma with them is palpable.
Kerri and Dan: To share our experience of the teachings requires diligence and focus in our own practice.
Ned: These walled compounds are constant reminders that my old habits and beliefs imprison me in barbed wire of my own making.
Brian: Their deep and rich practice in very difficult circumstances is moving and inspiring.
Thanks to Ned Bellamy, head of the Prison Dharma Program, for this article.
By BEATRICE BOLES
The very first time I crossed the threshold of FCM was on a Thursday evening for Extended Meditation. That was over three years ago, and I continue to be a “frequent flyer.” Extended Meditation, with or without an optional private interview with our teacher Fred, is one of the most precious to me of FCM’s many activities.
If I’m going to have a deep meditation at all during the week, it is likely to be here. Structure, silence, and the support of the teacher and the group give me the self-discipline I need to make my best effort. For me, it’s a mini-retreat.
As the saying goes, “Structure provides the container that holds the practice.” Two senior students generously facilitate to ensure that the evening runs smoothly. Time is controlled by bells, whose sonorous tones announce the start and end of seated and walking meditation periods. And for those members who choose to opt in, on some evenings the noise of a tinkling bell carries the invitation for a teacher interview.
Other than the bells, there is near-perfect silence. I love it that there’s no talking at all in the Meditation Hall during the two hours (except for a few short instructions from the bell master and a dedication of merit at the end). Once I’ve entered the hall, I’m committed. So I just relax, rest my mind, and resolve to go deeper.
If sometimes the length of the two 40-minute seated periods seems challenging, and if tension or pain arises in my body, I’ve learned that it’s best to just observe the sensations -- and they will transform. There are no outside distractions, nothing to think about or plan, and no words to formulate. As the sun sets, the light in the room silently changes.
All I have to do is sit, walk, and sit again. Bow. And leave, carrying the silence home.
On many evenings, after about 20 minutes, members are given the chance for an interview with Fred. (It’s completely optional.) For those of us who are reticent, it can be challenging to take the plunge when interview time is announced and to stand up to take a seat in the interview line. Once we’ve broken the ice and done it a few times, we develop more of a relationship with the teacher -- so it gets easier.
At the sound of the teacher’s summoning bell, when it’s my turn, I walk downstairs. Following the traditional formality of “dokusan,” I bow at the door of the little room, enter, close the door, and take a seat. Then we talk till he signals the end of the interview. He and I bow, he rings his small bell, and then I exit with a bow at the door. Returning to my seat upstairs, I usually feel lighter.
I find Fred very easy to talk to. He seems patiently accepting of wherever we are on our developmental path, even as he stirs us on and offers his great insight and encouragement.
My ideas about life sometimes differ from his, and when I’ve been confrontive, he’s handled my challenges cheerfully and respectfully. With Fred’s coaching I’m learning to release my grip on concepts and ideas, and this has been freeing.
Overall, these interviews have helped me to deepen my practice and become a better human being. Extended Meditation is an ongoing, rich opportunity on Thursday nights. I’m grateful for my mini-retreat.
A bow of gratitude to Beatrice Boles, Tampa Sangha member, for this thoughtful article.
By MARILYN WARLICK
Through the years with the FCM community, I have seen my relationship with selfless service develop as my meditation practice develops.
While from the outside, the “to do” lists appear the same, over the years the very same tasks have grown into a flowering of joyful efforts and from heartfelt gratitude now comes a desire to give.
Now this may seem a superficial statement.
How can computer work from home or making the drive to the meditation center for meetings, or selfless service on work days grow into flowers of joyful efforts? I find mindful experiences offer a cumulative effect of touching my practice and life deeply.
FCM selfless service, for me, began upon my arrival in Tampa from North Carolina in 2012 to help clean and remodel our newly purchased practice center. I had practiced with FCM for many years through distance membership and brief retreats. Now Sam and I were living on the grounds with the community 24/7!
Helping with this new beginning was exciting; however, I was also seeing familiar mental afflictions of “fitting in,” “getting it right,” or “seeming competent.” The second arrow, “but this is a mindfulness community, so I should not be having these afflictions rise?!” of course added to the energy of the doubts and anxious thoughts.
Developing a mindfulness practice within a community made a big difference for my life. This community of brothers and sisters were all aspiring to cultivate mindfulness energies and use practices such as working gathas and mindful breathing to nourish wellbeing for all of us, including myself. The joy that also arose in these first days and months was quite amazing.
So this mixture of joy and suffering in these early months was interesting, and I wanted to learn more.
For example, as I began to learn to invite the bell, I saw familiar afflictions rise -- my desire to be seen as competent and appreciated. But this time, this effort to learn a new skill was in the light of mindfulness and of a community supporting awareness. As a result, increasingly these afflictions were actually seen as “friends rising.” I could gaze with mindfulness and come to know these afflictions. In sharing our experiences as brothers and sisters, I could gaze in a much more friendly light of mindfulness upon these familiar companions in life.
As we all gave time and energies to cleaning, helping with various events at the new center, I had the opportunity to further learn. With any task, stopping, relaxing and calming were key, whether it was inviting the bell, or picking up trash left by the homeless neighbor who slept on the grounds last night. Mental afflictions arose and increasingly dissolved.
In the light of mindfulness, these afflictions while seemingly small or petty, actually had been a source of a great deal of suffering over the years. Now, in a mindfulness community, I could see the risings and learn to sit with and let go of these afflictions around work, acceptance of others, or self-criticisms.
As afflictions lost their energy, a rising of gratitude became present and generosity in giving service was energized. I could more clearly see and reflect upon the subtle mental chatter as the years rolled by. This was the chatter that, for decades, I had followed in my work, my relationships, my private time, this non-stop mental chatter.
Selfless service has helped me learn to be in the moment. The work gathas remind me to come back to just this moment. The brothers and sisters I spend time with enliven my heart and mind with joy as we share an intention to bring peace to ourselves and peace into our world. This common intention is like fuel in the body-mind to energize actions, try something new, make time in my life for one more task.
Earlier in life, taking on tasks would mean becoming so busy in the doing I would forget what I was doing or where I was. Now, selfless service is a welcome opportunity to come back to my breath and practice remembering what I am doing and where I am. I am in the present moment, a beautiful moment.
Marilyn Warlick is a member of the Tampa sangha, a retired mental health professional, founder of FCM's Death Cafe, and leads various workshops for FCM.
Florida Community of Mindfulness, Tampa Center
6501 N. Nebraska Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
Click below to learn about:
St Petersburg Sangha