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.
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.”
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.
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’.”
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.
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.”
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".
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.
With gratitude to Chris Witrak for this sharing
The Deconstructing World of Self retreat in January was my first FCM retreat, and the experience was life-changing. I had already taken the first Deconstructing the Myth of Self intensive in the fall, and Fred’s Dharma talks during the retreat on how the self tries to claim everything really accentuated how pervasive the self can be in our lives. Seeing it this way also made it clear that day-to-day living would be much easier and less stressful if I let go of attaching to the self and not get entangled in emotionality and likes and dislikes. Thanks to the teachings and the retreat, I now have a clearer understanding of what it means to practice letting go of the self, which has brought much peace and emotional healing to my life.
Throughout the retreat, we had question-and-answer periods with Fred. These sessions provided me with some of the most important insights from the retreat. It became clear that many of us – myself included – had built up in our minds that the self was this big enemy that needed to be subdued. Fred clarified that the self is essentially just a small voice chirping in your head, which made the idea of putting down the self seem much less difficult. Another individual also asked if he should totally let go of self and everything that it claims, and Fred affirmed to just let it all go. I realized that part of the practice with non-self was simply being willing to just put the self down without overthinking. I also felt instant relief because I let go of goals and ideas that I believed I needed to be happy but just caused stress and weren’t necessary in any sense.
During one question-and-answer period, Fred provided a very brief thought exercise to show how the self has no real, permanent substance, and this brought about a light-bulb moment. We were discussing the self and its need for approval, and he asked who or what is it that cares if you walk into a room and no one notices you. He pointed out that the body doesn’t care; it’s just the self in the mind that cares. I then realized that I, me, mine is no more real than the idea of a unicorn, and like letting go of the idea of a unicorn, I can just let go of the idea of self. For thoughts such as “I like or want x, y, or z,” I had only been letting go of the x, y, or z part but not really letting go of the first half of the thought. I was trying to push away the I, me, mine, causing unnecessary drama and making things worse instead of just putting it down and coming back to the present moment.
Fred also discussed what it meant to take refuge in the Three Jewels, which I had only heard mentioned briefly before at various times. The idea of taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and trusting them as guides for life initially brought up feelings of resistance since I had negative feelings toward the religion of my upbringing. By the end of Fred’s discussion on the topic, however, I had no concerns about taking refuge. Fred pointed out that taking refuge is not some dogmatic adherence to a belief system and that we’re always taking refuge in something anyway as a guide for living our lives – which is usually the self. He also pointed out that it makes sense to take refuge in a path and teachings formulated by someone who has already found a way out of suffering rather than in the self that has caused the messes in the first place. I thought to myself, “Well, when you put it that way…” I didn’t see any need to try and reinvent the wheel either. I experienced the value of taking refuge in the Sangha in a deep way during the retreat as well. In addition to the questions asked by other brothers and sisters, also hearing about their experiences made my struggles seem less unique and less daunting. I’ve heard before that the more personal something is the more universal it is, and this proved to be true, helping me feel more connected with others.
Since the retreat ended, practicing with letting go of the self when it arises has not only made day-to-day living easier, but it has also made it easier to figure out where emotional healing work needs to be done. Anytime I continually get caught on I, me, mine and in grasping and aversion in a certain area, I look more deeply at this part of my life to try and find why I can’t let go of identifying with the self in this instance. Fred and others have helped me look at these issues and show me where or why I’m getting caught, and I’ve already let go of several unhelpful assumptions and beliefs that I had not really been conscious of before. Sometimes doing this investigating and letting go stirs up strong emotions, but knowing that the emotions and the I, me, mine that gets attached to them aren’t “me” or anything permanent has made it much easier to do the work of healing emotional wounds and letting them go.
Thank you to Fred and everyone who organized and attended the retreat for a wonderful experience and the opportunity to deepen my practice.
With gratitude to Brandy Kidd for this sharing
For many years and for various reasons, I did not go on retreats. There were times when my children were younger and I didn't feel at ease being away from them; there were times (and still are) when it wasn't in my budget or when work demands made it (seemingly) impossible. When I can't go, I watch the YouTube videos that are recorded for those of us unable to attend the retreat in person. I appreciate it that this opportunity is always provided and I've been enriched by what I've learned from those videos.
That being said, I also say this: if at all possible, attend the retreat in person!
Perhaps you think I'm saying this because it's such a luxury to go on retreat. Often when friends and family members hear that I'm going on retreat, they seem to envision plush robes and steam rooms with new age music piped in from the great beyond. I hear a lot of "oh, how I would LOVE to get away from it all!"
On the other end of the spectrum are those who look upon me with an expression that ranges from squinty-eyed dismay to wide-eyed, eyebrows-raised panic: "Four days without looking at your phone or computer?? What if someone needs you?? What if something happens??" or "Four days without talking! I could never do that! I'd go crazy!"
But the real reason I say "Go!" is this: the process of being on retreat works hand-in-hand with what one learns on retreat. It's true that the talks are deeply meaningful. But for me, it's the potent alchemy that takes place when I have the privilege of learning dharma in a setting that simultaneously requires me to practice it right then and there - in a setting that requires me to let go and trust (or make myself miserable otherwise).
Because on retreat, there is nothing to control. It's a bit akin to sailing a rudder-less boat. A gong clangs when to wake up, when to head to the Meditation Hall or the Dining Hall, to yoga or outside walking meditation. The schedule is posted. The thermostat is set. The menu is chosen; the food, prepared and the mess: it's cleaned up when I'm done. The retreatant can simply go with the flow. And this is amazing - except when Self decides it's not.
And here is when it gets juicy. Because Self can use any opportunity to have a problem with anything! Self opines that the rooms are too hot or too cold; that the food is too bland or too spicy; one's fellow retreatants far superior or inferior (and all of the above can vacillate from one minute to the next). But because it's quieter and more free of distractions outside of the mind: it is crystal clear just what sort of misery-making the Self is up to, 24/7/365. Whether I'm on retreat or at home doing the dishes, Self (Ego) is doing its "thing" of evaluating, comparing, judging - generally disabling my capacity to be truly alive and aware of whatever the present moment is offering. It's just that on retreat: I am blessed with the clarity to watch it, recognize it and with practice, begin to transform it.
With gratitude to Marilyn Warlick for this sharing
If you had a serious accident or illness, would your family know what medical interventions you wanted? Would they be able to ensure that your wishes are met?
Recently FCM members gathered for a class on Advance Care Planning to address these questions and other topics that relate to our personal values and wishes for end of life care. The class was sponsored by Empath Choices for Care and led by social worker and hospice counselor, Arwyn Elden. While not a subject that normally rouses a lot of enthusiasm, it was well attended by our community in-person and on livestream and a number of our members wrote to us to let us know how valuable the class had been for them.
In the class Arwyn shared numerous examples of unexpected deaths from accidents and surprising diagnoses. Through these stories we were helped to realize that the time and means of our death is uncertain. We were reminded with kindness for ourselves and our families of the importance of filling out an Advance Care Planning Document (also called a Living Will) and establishing a Health Care Surrogate. These tools and lots of conversations (deep sharing and listening) will help prepare ourselves and loved ones for our death in regards to medical care and decisions that might need to be made if we are unable to speak for ourselves.
Four important points were presented in the class: 1- this is a process which includes assessing your values to determine our wishes at the end of life, 2- the importance of initiating the essential conversations with loved ones about quality of life and goals of care in regard to medical decision-making, 3- educating ourselves on and selecting a health-care surrogate, and 4- completing and utilizing a living will.
As a community of Buddhist practitioners we want to continue to increase our awareness of impermanence and the inevitability of death. We know how valuable it is to use available tools such as those presented in this class and to have intimate and informed conversations with each other and with our loved ones about the realities of our deaths and health care decisions that may need to be made. You will find valuable resources on the Empath Health website at https://empathhealth.org/the-gift-of-advance-care-planning/ and of course that are lots of other resources online and in our local communities.
Florida Community of Mindfulness, Tampa Center
6501 N. Nebraska Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
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St Petersburg Sangha