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Community Gleanings

  • 29 May 2016 2:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    by Thich Nhat Hanh (Commentary from "For a Future to be Possible)

    "Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I undertake to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long- term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct."

    So many individuals, children, couples, and families have been destroyed by sexual misconduct. To practice the Third Precept is to heal ourselves and heal our society. This is mindful living.

    The Fifth Precept -- not to consume alcohol, toxins, or drugs -- and the Third Precept are linked. Both concern destructive and destabilizing behavior.

    These precepts are the right medicine to heal us. We need only to observe ourselves and those around us to see the truth. Our stability and the stability of our families and society cannot be obtained without the practice of these two precepts. If you look at individuals and families who are unstable and unhappy, you will see that many of them do not practice these precepts. You can make the diagnosis by yourself and then know that the medicine is there. Practicing these precepts is the best way to restore stability in the family and in society. For many people, this precept is easy to practice, but for others, it is quite difficult. It is important for these people to come together and share their experiences.

    In the Buddhist tradition, we speak of the oneness of body and mind. Whatever happens to the body also happens to the mind. The sanity of they body is the sanity of the mind; the violation of the body is the violation of the mind. When we are angry, we may think that we are angry in our feelings, not in our body, but that is not true. When we love someone, we want to be close to him or her physically, but when we are angry at someone, we don't want to touch or be touched by that person. We cannot say that body and mind are separate.

    A sexual relationship is an act of communion between body and spirit. This is a very important encounter, not to be done in a casual manner. You

    know that in your soul there are certain areas -- memories, pain, and secrets -- that are private, that you would only share with the person you love and trust the most. You do not open your heart and show it to just anyone. In the imperial city, there is a zone you cannot approach called the Forbidden City; only the king and his family are permitted to circulate there. There is a place like that in your soul that you do not allow anyone to approach except the one you trust and love the most.

    The same is true of our body. Our bodies have areas that we do not want anyone to touch or approach unless he or she is the one we respect, trust, and love the most. When we are approached casually or carelessly, with an attitude that is less than tender, we feel insulted in our body and soul.

    Someone who approaches us with respect, tenderness, and utmost care is offering us deep communication, deep communion. It is only in that case that we will not feel hurt, misused, or abused, even a little. This cannot be attained unless there is true love and commitment. Casual sex cannot be described as love. Love is deep, beautiful, and whole.

    True love contains respect. In my tradition, husband and wife are expected to respect each other like guests, and when you practice this kind of respect, your love and happiness will continue for a long time. In sexual relationships, respect is one of the most important elements. Sexual communion should be like a rite, a ritual performed in mindfulness with great respect, care, and love. If you are motivated by some desire, that is not love. Desire is not love. Love is something much more responsible. It has care in it.

    We have to restore the meaning of the word "love." We have been using it in a careless way. When we say, "I love hamburgers," we are not talking about love. We are talking about our appetite, our desire for hamburgers. We should not dramatize our speech and misuse words like that. We make words like "love" sick that way. We have to make an effort to heal our language by using words carefully. The word "love" is a beautiful word. We have to restore its meaning.

    "I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment." If the word "love" is understood in the deepest way, why do we need to say "long-term commitment"? If love is real, we do not need long or short-term commitments, or even a wedding ceremony. True love includes the sense of responsibility, accepting the other person as he is, with all his strengths and weaknesses. If we like only the best things in the person, that is not love. We have to accept his weaknesses and bring our patience, understanding, and energy to help him transform. Love is maitri, the capacity to bring joy and happiness, and karuna, the capacity to transform pain and suffering. This kind of love can only be good for people. It cannot be described as negative or destructive. It is safe. It guarantees everything.

    Should we cross out the phrase "long-term commitment" or change it to "short-term commitment"? "Short-term commitment" means that we can be together for a few days and after that the relationship will end. That cannot be described as love. If we have that kind of relationship with another person, we cannot say that the relationship comes out of love and care. The expression "long-term commitment" helps people understand the word love. In the context of real love, commitment can only be long-term. "I want to love you. I want to help you. I want to care for you. I want you to be happy. I want to work for happiness. But just for a few days."

    Does this make sense? You are afraid to make a commitment -- to the precepts, to your partner, to anything. You want freedom. But remember, you have to make a long term commitment to love your son deeply and help him through the journey of life as long as you are alive. You cannot just say, "I don't love you anymore." When you have a good friend, you also make a long-term commitment. You need her. How much more so with someone who wants to share your life, your soul, and your body. The phrase "long-term commitment" cannot express the depth of love, but we have to say something so that people understand.

    A long-term commitment between two people is only a beginning. We also need the support of friends and other people. That is why, in our society, we have a wedding ceremony. The two families join together with other friends to witness the fact that you have come together to live as a couple. The priest and the marriage license are just symbols.

    What is important is that your commitment is witnessed by many friends and both of your families. Now you will be supported by them. A long-term commitment is stronger and more long-lasting if made in the context of a Sangha. Your strong feelings for each other are very important, but they are not enough to sustain your happiness. Without other elements, what you describe as love may turn into something sour rather soon. The support of friends and family coming together weaves a kind of web. The strength of your feelings is only one of the strands of that web.

    Supported by many elements, the couple will be solid, like a tree. If a tree wants to be strong, it needs a number of roots sent deep into the soil. If a tree has only one root, it may be blown over by the wind. The life of a couple also needs to be supported by many elements -- families, friends, ideals, practice, and Sangha.

    In Plum Village, the practice community where I live in France, every time we have a wedding ceremony, we invite the whole community to celebrate and bring support to the couple. After the ceremony, on every full moon day, the couple recites the Five Awarenesses together, remembering that friends everywhere are supporting their relationship to be stable, long-lasting, and happy. Whether or not your relationship is bound by law, it will be stronger and more long-lasting if made in the presence of a Sangha -- friends who love you and want to support you in the spirit of understanding and loving kindness.

    Love can be a kind of sickness. In the West and in Asia, we have the word "lovesick." What makes us sick is attachment. Although it is a sweet internal formation, this kind of love with attachment is like a drug. It makes us feel wonderful, but once we are addicted, we cannot have peace. We cannot study, do our daily work, or sleep. We only think of the object of our love. We are sick with love. This kind of love is linked to our willingness to possess and monopolize. We want the object of our love to be entirely ours and only for us. It is totalitarian. We do not want anyone to prevent us from a prison, where we lock up our beloved and create only suffering for him or her. The one who is loved is deprived of freedom -- of the right to be him or herself and enjoy life.

    This kind of love cannot be described as maître or karuna. It is only the willingness to make use of the other person in order to satisfy our own needs.

    When you have sexual energy that makes you feel unhappy, as though you are losing your inner peace, you should know how to practice so that you do not do things that will bring suffering to other people or yourself. We have to learn about this. In Asia, we say there are three sources of energy -- sexual, breath, and spirit. Tinh, sexual energy, is the first. When you have more sexual energy than you need, there will be an imbalance in your body and in your being. You need to know how to reestablish the balance, or you may act irresponsibly.

    According to Taoism and Buddhism, there are practices to help reestablish that balance, such as meditation or martial arts. You can learn the ways to channel your sexual energy into deep realizations in the domains of art and meditation.

    The second source of energy is khi, breath energy. Life can be described as a process of burning. In  order to burn, every cell in our body needs nutrition and oxygen. In his Fire Sermon, the Buddha said, "The eyes are burning, the nose is burning, the body is burning." In our daily lives, we have to cultivate our energy by practicing proper breathing. We benefit from the air and its oxygen, so we have to be sure that non-polluted air is available to us. Some people cultivate their khi by refraining from smoking and talking a lot. When you speak, take the time to breathe. At Plum Village, every time we hear the bell of mindfulness, everyone stops what they are doing and breathes consciously three times. We practice this way to cultivate and preserve our khi energy.

    The third source of energy is than, spirit energy. When you don't sleep at night, you lose some of this kind of energy. Your nervous system becomes exhausted and you cannot study or practice meditation well, or make good decisions. You don't have a clear mind because lack of sleep or from worrying too much. Worry and anxiety drain this source of energy. So don't worry. Don't stay up too late. Keep your nervous system healthy. Prevent anxiety. These kinds of practices cultivate the third source of energy. You need this source of energy to practice meditation well. A spiritual breakthrough requires the power of your spirit energy, which comes about through concentration and knowing how to preserve

    this source of energy. When you have strong spirit energy, you only have to focus it on an object, and you will have a breakthrough. If you don't have than, the light of your concentration will not shine brightly, because the light emitted is very weak.

    According to Asian medicine, the power of than is linked to the power of tinh. When we expend our sexual energy, it takes time to restore it. In Chinese medicine, when you want to have a strong spirit and concentration, you are advised to refrain from having sexual relationships or overeating. You will be given herbs, roots, and medicine to enrich your source of than, and during the time you are taking this medicine, you are asked to refrain from sexual relationships. If your source of spirit is weak and you continue to have sexual relations, it is said that you cannot recover your spirit energy. Those who practice meditation should try to preserve their sexual energy, because they need it during meditation. If you are an artist, you may wish to practice channeling your sexual energy together with your spirit energy into your art.

    During his struggle against the British, Gandhi undertook many hunger strikes, and he recommended to his friends who joined him on these fasts not to have sexual intercourse. When you fast for many days, if you have sexual relations, you may die; you have to preserve your energies. Thich Tri Quang, my friend who fasted for one hundred days in the hospital in Saigon in 1966, knew very well that not having sexual intercourse was very basic. Of course, as a monk, he did not have any problem with that. He also knew that speaking is an energy drain, so he refrained from speaking. If he needed something, he said it in one or two words or wrote it down. Writing, speaking, or making too many movements draws from these three sources of energy. So, the best thing is to lie down on your back and practice deep breathing.

    This brings into you the vitality that you need to survive a hundred-day hunger strike. If you don't eat, you cannot replenish this energy. If you refrain from studying, doing research, or worrying, you can preserve these resources. These three sources of energy are linked to each other. By practicing one, you help the other. That is why anapanasati, the practice of conscious breathing, is so important for our spiritual life. It helps with all of our sources of energy.

    Monks and nuns do not engage in sexual relationships because they want to devote their energy to having a breakthrough in meditation. They learn to channel their sexual energy to strengthen their spirit energy for the breakthrough. They also practice deep breathing to increase the spirit energy. Since they live alone, without a family, they can devote most of their time to meditation and teaching, helping the people who provide them with food, shelter, and so on.

    They have contact with the population in the village in order to share the Dharma. Since they do not have a house or a family to care for, they have the time and space to do the things they like the most -- walking, sitting, breathing, and helping fellow monks, nuns, and laypeople -- and to realize what they want. Monks and nuns don't marry in order to preserve their time and energy for the practice.

    "Responsibility" is the key word in the Third Precept. In a community of practice, if there is no sexual misconduct, if the community practices this precept well, there will be stability and peace. This precept should be practiced by everyone. You respect, support, and protect each other as Dharma brothers and sisters. If you don't practice this precept, you may become irresponsible and create trouble in the community at large. We have all seen this. If a teacher cannot refrain from sleeping with one of his or her students, he or she will destroy everything, possibly for several generations. We need mindfulness in order to have that sense of responsibility. We refrain from sexual misconduct because we are responsible for the well-being of so many people. If we are irresponsible, we can destroy everything. By practicing this precept, we keep the Sangha beautiful.

    In sexual relationships, people can get wounded. Practicing this precept is to prevent ourselves and others from being wounded. Often we think it is the woman who receives the wound, but men also get deeply wounded. We have to be very careful, especially in short-term commitments. The practice of the Third Precept is a very strong way of restoring stability and peace in ourselves, our family, and our society. We should take the time to discuss problems relating to the practice of this precept, like loneliness, advertising, and even the sex industry.

    The feeling of loneliness is universal in our society. There is no communication between ourselves and other people, even in the family, and our feeling of loneliness pushes us into having sexual relationship will make us feel less lonely, but it isn't true. When there is not enough communication with another person on the level of the heart and spirit, a sexual relationship will only widen the gap and destroy us both. Our relationship will be stormy, and we will make each other suffer. The belief that having a sexual relationship will help us feel lonely is a kind of superstition. We should not be fooled by it. In fact, we will feel more lonely afterwards. The union of the two bodies can only be positive when there is understanding and communion on the level of the heart and the spirit. Even between husband and wife, if the communion on the level of the heart and spirit does not exist, the coming together of the two bodies will only separate you further. When that is the case, I recommend that you refrain from having sexual relationships and first try to make a breakthrough in communication.

    There are two Vietnamese words, tinh and nghia, that are difficult to translate into English. They both mean something like love. In tinh, you find elements of passion. It can be very deep, absorbing the whole of your being. Nghia is a kind of continuation of tinh. With Nghia you feel much calmer, more understanding, more willing to sacrifice to make the other person happy, and more faithful. You are not as passionate as in tinh, but your love is deeper and more solid. Nghia will keep you and the other person together for a long time. It is the result of living together and sharing difficulties and joy over time.

    You begin with passion, but, living with each other, you encounter difficulties, and as you learn to deal with them, your love deepens. Although the passion diminishes, nghia increases all the time. Nghia is a deeper love, with more wisdom, more interbeing, more unity. You understand the other person better. You and that person become one reality. Nghia is like a fruit that is already ripe. It does not taste sour anymore; it is only sweet. In nghia, you feel gratitude for the other person. "Thank you for having chosen me. Thank you for being my husband or my wife. There are so many people in society, why have you chosen me? I am very thankful." That is the beginning of nghia, the sense of thankfulness for your having chosen me as your companion to share the best things in yourself, as well as your suffering and your happiness.

    When we live together, we support each other. We begin to understand each other's feelings and difficulties. When the other person has shown his or her understanding of our problems, difficulties, and deep aspirations, we feel thankful for that understanding. When you feel understood by someone, you stop being unhappy. Happiness is, first of all, feeling understood. "I am grateful because you have proved that you understand me. While I was having difficulty and remained awake deep into the night, you took care of me. You showed me that my well-being is your own well-being. You did the impossible in order to bring about my well-being.

    You took care of me in a way that no one else in this world could have. For that I am grateful to you." If the couple lives with each other for a long time, "until our hair becomes white and our teeth fall out," it is because of nghia, and not because of tinh. Tinh is passionate love. Nghia is the kind of love that has a lot of understanding and gratitude in it.

    All love may begin by being passionate, especially for younger people. But in the process of living together, they have to learn and practice love, so that selfishness -- the tendency to possess – will diminish, and the elements of understanding and gratitude will settle in, little by little, until their love becomes nourishing, protecting, and reassuring. With nghia, you are very sure that the other person will take care of you and will love you until your teeth fall out and your hair becomes white. Nothing will assure you that the person will be with you for a long time except nghia. Nghia is built by both of you in your daily life.

    To meditate is to look into the nature of our love to see the kind of elements that are in it. We cannot call our love just tinh or nghia, possessive love or altruistic love, because there may be elements of both in it. It may be ninety percent possessive love, three percent altruistic love, two percent gratitude, and so on. Look deeply into the nature of your love and find out. The happiness of the other person and your own happiness depend on the nature of your love. Of course you have love in you, but what is important is the nature of that love. If you realize that there is a lot of maitri and karuna in your love, that will be very reassuring. Nghia will be strong in it.

    Children, if they observe deeply, will see that what keeps their parents together is nghia and not  passionate love. If their parents take good care of each other, look after each other with calmness, tenderness, and care, nghia is the foundation of that are. That is the kind of love we really need for our family and for our society.

    In practicing the Third Precept, we should always look into the nature of our love in order to see and not be fooled by our feelings. Sometimes we feel that we have love for the other person, but maybe that love is only an attempt to satisfy our own egoistic needs. Maybe we have not looked deeply enough to see the needs of the other person, including the need to be safe, protected. If we have that kind of breakthrough, we will realize that the other person needs our protection, and therefore we cannot look upon him or her just as an object of our desire. The other person should not be looked upon as a kind of commercial item.

    Sex is used in our society as a means for selling products. We also have the sex industry. If we don't look at the other person as a human being, with the capacity of becoming a Buddha, we risk transgressing this precept. Therefore the practice of looking deeply into the nature of our love has a lot to do with the practice of the Third Precept. "I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct." Adults who were molested as children continue to suffer very much. Everything they think, do, and say bears the mark of that wound. They want to transform themselves and heal their wound, and the best way to do this is to observe the Third Precept. Because of their own experience, they can say, "As a victim of sexual abuse, I undertake to protect all children and adults from sexual abuse." Our suffering becomes a kind of positive energy that will help us become a bodhisattva. We undertake to protect all children and other people. And we also undertake to help those who abuse children sexually, because they are sick and need our help. The ones who made us suffer become the object of our love and protection. We see that until the sick are protected and helped, children are going to continue to be abused sexually.

    We undertake to help these people so that they will not molest children any longer. At the same time, we undertake to help children. We take not only the side of children who are being molested, but the other side also. These molesters are sick, the products of an unstable society. They may be an uncle, an aunt, a grandparent, or a parent. They need to be observed, helped, and, if possible, healed. When we are determined to observe this precept, the energy that is born helps us to transform into a bodhisattva, and that transformation may heal us even before we begin to practice. The best way for anyone who was molested as a child to heal is to take this precept and undertake to protect children and adults who may be sick, who may be repeating the kind of destructive actions that will cause a child to be wounded for the rest of his or her life.

  • 24 May 2016 9:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    by Thich Nhat Hanh (commentary from "For a Future to Be Possible")

    "Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I undertake to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I undertake to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth."

    Exploitation, social injustice, and stealing come in many forms. Oppression is one form of stealing that causes much suffering both here and in the Third World. The moment we undertake to cultivate loving kindness, loving kindness is born in us, and we make every effort to stop exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression.

    In the First Precept, we found the word "compassion." Here, we find the words "loving kindness." Compassion and loving kindness are the two aspects of love taught by the Buddha.

    Compassion, karuna in Sanskrit and Pali, is the intention and capacity to relieve the suffering of another person or living being. Loving kindness, maitri in Sanskrit, metta in Pali, is the intention and capacity to bring joy and happiness to another person or living being. It was predicted by Shakyamuni Buddha that the next Buddha will bear the name Maitreya, the Buddha of Love.

    "Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I undertake to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals." Even with maitri as a source of energy in ourselves, we still need to learn to look deeply in order to find ways to express it. We do it as individuals, and we learn ways to do it as a nation.

    To promote the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals, we have to come together as a community and examine our situation, exercising our intelligence and our ability to look deeply so that we can discover appropriate ways to express our maître in the midst of real problems.

    Suppose you want to help those who are suffering under a dictatorship. In the past you may have tried sending in troops to overthrow their government, but you have learned that when doing that, you cause the deaths of many innocent people, and even then, you might not overthrow the dictator. If you practice looking more deeply, with loving kindness, to find a better way to help these people without causing suffering, you may realize that the best time to help is before the country falls into the hands of a dictator. If you offer the young people of that country the opportunity to learn your democratic ways of governing by giving them scholarships to come to your country, that would be a good investment for peace in the future. If you had done that thirty years ago, the other country might be democratic now, and you would not have to bomb them or send in troops to "liberate" them. This is just one example of how looking deeply and learning can help us find ways to do things that are more in line with loving kindness.

    If we wait until the situation gets bad, it may be too late. If we practice the precepts together with politicians, soldiers, businessmen, lawyers, legislators, artists, writers, and teachers, we can find the best ways to practice compassion, loving kindness, and understanding. It requires time to practice generosity. We may want to help those who are hungry, but we are caught in the problems of our own daily lives. Sometimes, one pill or a little rice could save the life of a child, but we do not take the time to help, because we think we do not have the time. In Ho Chi Minh City, for example, there are street children who call themselves "the dust of life." They are homeless, and they wander the streets by day and sleep under trees at night. They scavenge in garbage heaps to find things like plastic bags they can sell for one or two cents per pound. The nuns and monks in Ho Chi Minh City have opened their temples to these children, and if the children agree to stay four hours in the morning -- learning to read and write and playing with the monks and nuns -- they are offered a vegetarian lunch. 

    Then they can go to the Buddha hall for a nap. (In Vietnam, we always take naps after lunch; it is so hot. When the Americans came, they brought their practice of working eight hours, from nine to five. Many of us tried, but we could not do it. We desperately need our naps after lunch.) Then at two o'clock, there is more teaching and playing with the children, and the children who stay for the afternoon receive dinner. The temple does not have a place for them to sleep overnight. In our community in France, we have been supporting these nuns and monks. It costs only twenty cents for a child to have both lunch and dinner, and it will keep him from being out on the streets, where he might steal cigarettes, smoke, use delinquent language, and learn the worst behavior. By  encouraging the children to go to the temple, we help prevent them from becoming delinquent and entering prison later on. It takes time to help these children, not much money. There are so many simple things like this we can do to help people, but because we cannot free ourselves from our situation and our lifestyle, we do nothing at all. We need to come together as a community, and, looking deeply, find ways to free ourselves so we can practice the Second Precept.

    "I undertake to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need." This sentence is clear. The feeling of generosity and the capacity for being generous are not enough. We also need to express our generosity. We may feel that we don't have the time to make people happy - we say, "Time is money," but time is more than money. Life is for more than using time to make money. Time is for being alive, for sharing joy and happiness with others. The wealthy are often the least able to make others happy. Only those with time can do so.

    I know a man named Bac Sieu in Thua Thien Province in Vietnam, who has been practicing generosity for fifty years; he is a living bodhisattva. With only a bicycle, he visits villages of thirteen provinces, bringing something for this family and something for that family. When I met him in 1965, I was a little too proud of our School of Youth for Social Service. We had begun to train three hundred workers, including monks and nuns, to go out to rural villages to help people rebuild homes and modernize local economies, health-care systems, and education. Eventually we had ten thousand workers throughout the country. As I was telling Bac Sieu about our projects, I was looking at his bicycle and thinking that with a bicycle he could help only a few people. But when the communists took over and closed our School, Bac Sieu continued, because his way of working was formless. Our orphanages, dispensaries, schools, and resettlement centers were all shut down or taken by the government.

    Thousands of our workers had to stop their work and hide. But Bac Sieu had nothing to take. He was a truly a bodhisattva, working for the well-being of others. I feel more humble now concerning the ways of practicing generosity.

    The war created many thousands of orphans. Instead of raising money to build orphanages, we sought people in the West to sponsor a child. We found families in the villages to each take care of one orphan, then we sent $6 every month to that family to feed the child and send him or her to school. Whenever possible, we tried to place the child in the family of an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent. With just $6, the child was fed and sent to school, and the rest of the children in the family were also helped. Children benefit from growing up in a family. Being in an orphanage can be like being in the army -- children do not grow up naturally. If we look for and learn ways to practice generosity, we will improve all the time.

    "I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth." When you practice one precept deeply, you will discover that you are practicing all five. The First Precept is about taking life, which is a form of stealing -- stealing the most precious thing someone has, his or her life. When we meditate on the Second Precept, we see that stealing, in the forms of exploitation, social injustice, and oppression, are acts of killing -- killing slowly by exploitation, by maintaining social injustice, and by political and economic oppression. Therefore, the Second Precept has much to do with the precept of not killing. We see the "interbeing" nature of the first two precepts. This is true of all Five Precepts. Some people formally receive just one or two precepts. I didn't mind, because if you practice one or two precepts deeply, all Five Precepts will be observed.

    The Second Precept is not to steal. Instead of stealing, exploiting, or oppressing, we practice generosity. In Buddhism, we say there are three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is to help people rely on themselves, to offer them the technology and knowhow to stand on their own feet. Helping people with the Dharma so they can transform their fear, anger, and depression belongs to the second kind of gift.

    The third is the gift of non-fear. We are afraid of many things. We feel insecure, afraid of being alone, afraid of sickness and dying. To help people not be destroyed by their fears, we practice the third kind of gift-giving.

    The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is someone who practices this extremely well. In the Heart Sutra, he teaches us the way to transform and transcend fear and ride on the waves of birth and death, smiling. He says that there is no production, no destruction, no being, no nonbeing, no increasing, and no decreasing. Hearing this helps us look deeply into the nature of reality to see that birth and death, being and nonbeing, coming and going, increasing and decreasing are all just ideas that we ascribe to reality, while reality transcends all concepts. When we realize the interbeing nature of all things – that even birth and death are just concepts – we transcend fear.

    In 1991, I visited a friend in New York who was dying, Alfred Hassler. We had worked together in the peace movement for almost thirty years. Alfred  looked as though he had been waiting for me to come before dying, and he died only a few hours after our visit. I went with my closest colleague, Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness).

    Alfred was not awake when we arrived. His daughter Laura tried to wake him up, but she couldn't. So I asked Sister Chan Khong to sing Alfred the Song of No Coming and No Going: "These eyes are not me, I am not caught by these eyes. This body is not me, I am not caught by this body. I am life without boundaries. I have never been born, I will never die."

    The idea is taken from the Samyutta Nikaya. She sang so beautifully, and I saw streams of tears running down the faces of Alfred's wife and children. They were tears of understanding, and they were very healing. Suddenly, Alfred came back to himself. Sister Chan Khong began to practice what she had learned from studying the sutra The Teaching Given to the Sick. She said, "Alfred, do you remember the times we worked together?" She evoked many happy memories we had shared together, and Alfred was able to remember each of them. Although he was obviously in pain, he smiled. This practice brought results right away. When a person is suffering from so much physical pain, we sometimes can alleviate his suffering by watering the seeds of happiness that are in him. A kind of balance is restored, and he will feel less pain.

    All the while, I was practicing massage on his feet, and I asked him whether he felt my hand on his body. When you are dying, areas of your body become numb, and you feel as if you have lost those parts of your body. Doing massage in mindfulness, gently, gives the dying person the feeling that he is alive and being cared for. He knows that love is there. Alfred nodded, and his eyes seemed to say, "Yes, I feel your hands. I know my foot is there."

    Sister Chan Khong asked, "Do you know we learned a lot from you when we lived and worked together? The work you began, many of us are continuing to do. Please don't worry about anything." She told him many things like that, and he seemed to suffer less. At one point, he opened his mouth and said, "Wonderful, wonderful." Then, he sank back to sleep.

    Before we left, we encouraged the family to continue these practices. The next day I learned that Alfred passed away just five hours after our visit. This was a kind of gift that belongs to the third category. If you can help people feel safe, less afraid of life, people, and death, you are practicing the third kind of gift. During my meditation, I had a wonderful image – the shape of a wave, its beginning and its end. When conditions are sufficient, we perceive the wave, and when conditions are no longer sufficient, we do not perceive the wave. Waves are only made of water.

    We cannot label the wave as existing or nonexisting. After what we call the death of the wave, nothing is gone, nothing is lost. The wave has been absorbed into other waves, and somehow, time will bring the wave back again. There is no increasing, decreasing, birth, or death. When we are dying, if we think that everyone else is alive and we are the only person dying, our feeling of loneliness may be unbearable. But if we are able to visualize hundreds of thousands of people dying with us, our dying may become serene and even joyful. "I am dying in community. Millions of living beings are also dying in this very moment. I see myself together with millions of other living beings; we die in the Sangha. At the same time, millions of beings are coming to life. All of us are doing this together. I have been born, I am dying. We participate in the whole event as a Sangha." That is what I saw in my meditation. In the Heart Sutra, Avalokitesvara shares this kind of insight and helps us transcend fear, sorrow, and pain. The gift of non-fear brings about a transformation in us.

    The Second Precept is a deep practice. We speak of time, energy, and material resources, but time is not only for energy and material resources. Time is for being with others -- being with a dying person or with someone who is suffering. Being really present for even five minutes can be a very important gift. Time is not just to make money. It is to produce the gift of Dharma and the gift of non-fear.

    I know a man named Bac Sieu in Thua Thien Province in Vietnam, who has been practicing generosity for fifty years; he is a living bodhisattva. With only a bicycle, he visits villages of thirteen provinces, bringing something for this family and something for that family. When I met him in 1965, I was a little too proud of our School of Youth for Social Service. We had begun to train three hundred workers, including monks and nuns, to go out to rural villages to help people rebuild homes and modernize local economies, health-care systems, and education. Eventually we had ten thousand workers throughout the country. As I was telling Bac Sieu about our projects, I was looking at his bicycle and thinking that with a bicycle he could help only a few people. But when the communists took over and closed our School, Bac Sieu continued, because his way of working was formless. Our orphanages, dispensaries, schools, and resettlement centers were all shut down or taken by the government.

    Thousands of our workers had to stop their work and hide. But Bac Sieu had nothing to take. He was a truly a bodhisattva, working for the well-being of others. I feel more humble now concerning the ways of practicing generosity.

    The war created many thousands of orphans. Instead of raising money to build orphanages, we sought people in the West to sponsor a child. We found families in the villages to each take care of one orphan, then we sent $6 every month to that family to feed the child and send him or her to school. Whenever possible, we tried to place the child in the family of an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent. With just $6, the child was fed and sent to school, and the rest of the children in the family were also helped. Children benefit from growing up in a family. Being in an orphanage can be like being in the army -- children do not grow up naturally. If we look for and learn ways to practice generosity, we will improve all the time.

  • 17 May 2016 10:04 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    by Thich Nhat Hanh (commentary from "For a Future to Be Possible")

    "Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I undertake to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life."

    Life is precious. It is everywhere, inside us and all around us; it has so many forms. The First Precept is born from the awareness that lives everywhere are being destroyed. We see the suffering caused by the destruction of life, and we undertake to cultivate compassion and use it as a source of energy for the protection of people,

    animals, plants, and minerals. The First Precept is a precept of compassion, karuna -- the ability to remove suffering and transform it. When we see suffering, compassion is born in us.

    It is important for us to stay in touch with the suffering of the world. We need to nourish that awareness through many means -- sounds, images, direct contact, visits, and so on -- in order to keep compassion alive in us. But we must be careful not to take in too much. Any remedy must be taken in the proper dosage. We need to stay in touch with suffering only to the extent that we will not forget, so that compassion will flow within us and be a source of energy for our actions. If we use anger at injustice as the source for our energy, we may do something harmful, something that we will later regret.

    According to Buddhism, compassion is the only source of energy that is useful and safe. With compassion, your energy is born from insight; it is not blind energy. We humans are made entirely of non-human elements, such as plants, minerals, earth, clouds, and sunshine. For our practice to be deep and true, we must include the ecosystem. If the environment is destroyed, humans will be destroyed, too. Protecting human life is not possible without also protecting the lives of animals, plants, and minerals.

    The Diamond Sutra teaches us that it is impossible to distinguish between sentient and non-sentient beings. This is one of many ancient Buddhist texts that teach deep ecology. Every Buddhist practitioner should be a protector of the environment. Minerals have their own lives, too. In Buddhist monasteries, we chant, "Both sentient and non- sentient beings will realize full enlightenment." The First Precept is the practice of protecting all lives, including the lives of minerals.

    "I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life."

    We cannot support any act of killing; no killing can be justified. But not to kill is not enough. We must also learn ways to prevent others from killing. We cannot say, "I am not responsible. They did it. My hands are clean." If you were in Germany during the time of the Nazis, you could not say, "They did it. I did not." If, during the Gulf War, you did not say or do anything to try to stop the killing, you were not practicing this precept. Even if what you said or did failed to stop the war, what is important is that you tried, using your insight and compassion. It is not just by not killing with your body that you observe the First Precept. If in your thinking you allow the killing to go on, you also break this precept. We must be determined not to condone killing, even in our minds. According to the Buddha, the mind is the base of all actions. It is most

    dangerous to kill in the mind. When you believe, for example, that yours is the only way for humankind and that everyone who follows another way is your enemy, millions of people could be killed because of that idea.

    Thinking is at the base of everything. It is important for us to put an eye of awareness into each of our thoughts. Without a correct understanding of a situation or a person, our thoughts can be misleading and create confusion, despair, anger, or hatred. Our most important task is to develop correct insight. If we see deeply into the nature of

    interbeing, that all things "inter-are," we will stop blaming, arguing, and killing, and we will become friends with everyone. To practice nonviolence, we must first of all learn ways to deal peacefully with ourselves. If we create true harmony within ourselves, we will know how to deal with family, friends, and associates.

    When we protest against a war, for example, we may assume that we are a peaceful person, a representative of peace, but this might not be true. If we look deeply, we will observe that the roots of war are in the unmindful ways we have been living. We

    have not sown enough seeds of peace and understanding in ourselves and others, therefore we are co-responsible: "Because I have been like this, they are like that." A more holistic approach is the way of "interbeing": "This is like this, because that is like that." This is the way of understanding and love.

    With this insight, we can see clearly and help our government see clearly. Then we can go to a demonstration and say, "This war is unjust, destructive, and not worthy of our great nation." This is far more effective than angrily condemning others. Anger always accelerates the damage. All of us, even pacifists, have pain inside. We feel

    angry and frustrated, and we need to find someone willing to listen to us who is capable of understanding our suffering. In Buddhist iconography, there is a bodhisattva named Avalokitesvara who has one thousand arms and one thousand hands, and has an eye in the palm of each hand. One thousand hands represent action, and the eye in each hand represents understanding.

    When you understand a situation or a person, any action you do will help and will not cause more suffering. When you have an eye in your hand, you will know how to practice true nonviolence.

    To practice nonviolence, first of all we have to practice it within ourselves. In each of us, there is a certain amount of violence and a certain amount of nonviolence. Depending on our state of being, our response to things will be more or less nonviolent.

    Even if we take pride in being vegetarian, for example, we have to acknowledge that the water in which we boil our vegetables contains many tiny microorganisms. We cannot be completely nonviolent, but by being vegetarian, we are going in the direction of nonviolence. If we want to head north, we can use the North Star to guide us, but it is impossible to arrive at the North Star. Our effort is only to proceed in that direction.

    Anyone can practice some nonviolence, even army generals. They may, for example, conduct their operations in ways that avoid killing innocent people. To help soldiers move in the nonviolent direction, we have to be in touch with them. If we divide reality into two camps -- the violent and the nonviolent -- and stand in one camp while attacking the other, the world will never have peace. We will always blame and condemn those we feel are responsible for wars and social injustice, without recognizing the degree of violence in ourselves. We must work on ourselves

    and also work with those we condemn if we want to have a real impact.

    It never helps to draw a line and dismiss some people as enemies, even those who act violently. We have to approach them with love in our hearts and do our best to help them move in a direction of nonviolence. If we work for peace out of anger, we will never succeed. Peace is not an end. It can never come about through non-peaceful means.

    Most important is to become nonviolence, so that when a situation presents itself, we will not create more suffering. To practice nonviolence, we need gentleness, loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity directed to our bodies, our feelings, and other people. With mindfulness -- the practice of peace -- we can begin by working to transform the wars in ourselves. There are techniques for doing this. Conscious breathing is one. Every time we feel upset, we can stop what we are doing, refrain from saying anything, and breathe in and out several times, aware of each in-breath and each out-breath. If we are still upset, we can go for walking meditation, mindful of each slow step and each breath we take. By cultivating peace within, we bring about peace in society. It depends on us. To practice peace in ourselves is to minimize the numbers of wars between this and that feeling, or this and that perception, and we can then have real peace with others as well, including the members of our own family.

    I am often asked, "What if you are practicing nonviolence and someone breaks into your house and tries to kidnap your daughter or kill your husband? What should you do? Should you still act in a nonviolent way?" The answer depends on your state of being. If you are prepared, you may react calmly and intelligently, in the most nonviolent way possible. But to be ready to react with intelligence and nonviolence, you have to train yourself in advance. It may take ten years, or longer. If you wait until the time of crisis to ask the question, it will be too late. A this-or-that kind of answer would be superficial. At that crucial moment, even if you know that nonviolence is better than violence, if your understanding is only intellectual and not in your whole being, you will not act nonviolently. The fear and anger in you will prevent you from acting in the most nonviolent way.

    We have to look deeply every day to practice this precept well. Every time we buy or consume something, we may be condoning some form of killing.

    While practicing the protection of humans, animals, plants, and minerals, we know that we are protecting ourselves. We feel in permanent and loving touch with all species on Earth. We are protected by the mindfulness and the loving kindness of the Buddha and many generations of Sanghas who also practice this precept. This energy of loving kindness brings us the feeling of safety, health, and joy, and this becomes real the moment we make the decision to receive and practice the First Precept.

    Feeling compassion is not enough. We have to learn to express it. That is why love must go together with  understanding. Understanding and insight show us how to act.

    Our real enemy is forgetfulness. If we nourish mindfulness every day and water the seeds of peace in ourselves and those around us, we become alive, and we can help ourselves and others realize peace and compassion.

    Life is so precious, yet in our daily lives we are usually carried away by our forgetfulness, anger, and worries, lost in the past, unable to touch life in the present moment. When we are truly alive, everything we do or touch is a miracle. To practice

    mindfulness is to return to life in the present moment. The practice of the First Precept is a celebration of reverence for life. When we appreciate and honor the beauty of life, we will do everything in our power to protect all life.

  • 25 Apr 2016 10:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We come to the Dharma through many doors. Some of us come seeking stress reduction or emotional healing, while others may be looking for greater clarity, connection, wisdom, and/or deeper insights into the purpose of our life.

    We sit down on the cushion and find that even in silence our brilliant minds can fill the space with planning, rumination, anxiety and more. However, with diligent and consistent practice, we soon begin to notice some settling of the mind, a little space between the in breath and the out breath, a small gap between thoughts.

    As the dust settles and the mind becomes more clear, our natural wisdom and clarity begin to emerge. We come to understand that by practicing mindfulness we can learn to stop, look deeply, and respond wisely to life, rather than automatically reacting in our conditioned ways. We develop equanimity so that the many ups and downs that occur with the unfolding of life are accepted with more ease, enabling us to eliminate so much self-created suffering. Yet, the small voice of "self" still remains in the background (or foreground!), continuing to create suffering by making it all about "me." 

    The Buddha taught that just as a bird needs two wings to fly, the cultivation of an enlightened mind requires two wings: wisdom and compassion. If we neglect to nurture the compassionate heart, we may continue to be enmeshed in self, and our spiritual progress will be limited. 

    Under Fred's guidance at FCM's spring retreat this past weekend -"I am Here for You: Living an Altruistic Life," retreatants had the opportunity to cultivate the wing of compassion through experiencing the essential Buddhist teachings and practices of altruism. During the retreat we practiced seeing all beings as interconnected and equal in wanting happiness and not wanting to suffer. We "stepped into others' shoes" to cultivate empathy, which - when combined with an aspiration to help all beings - supports boundless loving kindness and compassion. We generated loving kindness in our hearts for those we love, those we are indifferent to, those we have difficulty with, as well as for ourselves. And we performed the ancient "alchemical" practice of tonglen, taking in the suffering of another and breathing out whatever healing might be needed, realizing that this exchange does not increase our suffering but actually breaks up the self-cherishing in our hearts, creating joy and openness instead.

    These wonderful practices can be found in many Buddhist writings. Students in the current Lojong Intensive will recognize the concepts of "Absolute Bodhicitta" and "Relative Bodhicitta," with clear instructions for cultivating, respectively, wisdom and compassion, both essential on the path of enlightenment. Texts by Shantideva and commentaries and instruction by the Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, Sharon Salzberg and many others are readily available to help support our understanding and cultivation of the compassionate heart.

    Through these practices of altruism, in being there for others instead of being there for the self-cherishing self, we discover the second "wing" needed for true transformation, and a pathway to true happiness and ease.

    Submitted with metta,

    Angie Parrish

  • 04 Apr 2016 9:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Andrew Rock for this rich sharing. For more information, including how to join the Buddhist Climate Action Network, please contact Andrew at rock1@tampabay.rr.com.

    This past week I joined a group of about thirty indigenous people and environmentalists on an eighty mile walk through the Everglades, along US Highway 41. While I knew it would be worthwhile to participate in this event as part of my climate action work, I did not realize in advance that this walk would also be deeply meaningful as a focused practice of mindfulness and intentional living.

    The specific purpose of the Walk for Future Generations, organized by members of the indigenous people living in the Everglades, was to protest and try to stop the pending construction of the ROGG (River of Grass Greenway), a paved bicycle path through the Everglades that would further block the free flow of water and wildlife, and also destructive seismic testing for oil and gas exploration scheduled to begin soon in the Big Cypress Preserve.  More broadly, the event was intended to raise awareness of the plight of living beings in an increasingly damaged ecosystem, and to inspire the participants and others to devote ourselves to efforts to preserve and protect our planet as a viable home for future generations.

    The leaders of the walk were Betty Osceola of the Panther Clan of the Micosukee tribe, and Bobby C. Billie, a council member and spiritual leader of the Micosukee Simanolee nation (who had never signed a treaty with the US government). I had met Betty in January when we were both lobbying in Tallahassee against pending pro-fracking legislation, and Betty gave a very powerful speech about the preservation of mother earth and the protection of our precious gift of clean water upon which the life of her people and all creatures depends. Bobby had come to the Interfaith Climate Action Conference held near Orlando later in January, speaking in a panel discussion with other faith leaders about what had led them to environmental activism.  He spoke with great dignity and power about the decline, in his long lifetime, of the land and water, of the woods and wetlands, of his people’s ability to grow crops and hunt and support themselves. He spoke of our collective exploitation of mother earth just to make money, to the point where the circle of life was broken and the land he grew up in was hardly recognizable any more.

    Last Wednesday afternoon I drove down to the base camp for the walk at Trail Lakes Campground, in Ochopee on Highway 41, south of Alligator Alley. The walkers had not yet returned from the fifteen mile stretch of road they were walking that day, but by the time my tent was pitched they arrived in two big vans and a couple of pick-ups, hot, tired and hungry. After washing up and resting, and eating a simple dinner prepared by volunteers who’d stayed in camp, everyone gathered around for a fire circle. The evening had turned damp and a bit chilly, mosquitoes were out in force, and we were happy to sit on logs and camp chairs in the warmth and light of the large fire the men had made.

    I was expecting a relaxed evening of story-telling and chatting around the fire, perhaps with some drumming or songs.  But it quickly became clear that the Fire Circle was a very purposeful and important part of every day, as Bobby Billie and Betty Osceola led us through what in the Florida Community of Mindfulness we would call deep sharing/ deep listening practice. Bobby Billie, very much the spiritual leader of the indigenous people present and of all who had gathered to support them and the life of the Everglades, began with a short talk, and then asked each of us to speak of what we had seen that day, what had spoken to us, and what it meant to us. We went around the circle, as a full moon rose through the pine trees, each person taking the time to look deeply and speak seriously, the rest of us listening in silence, with no chatting or cross-talk. That day the walkers had gone through a recently burned area, the result of a planned fire by the Park Service, and people were deeply affected by the death and destruction they had seen and felt: dead birds and snakes by the roadside, scorched trees and grass, the hot and jagged earth under their feet. Those of us who hadn’t walked that day also shared, speaking of what we had seen and of why we had come. If people started to ramble as they spoke, Bobby or Betty Osceola would remind us of the instructions and tell us to keep focused on our purpose.

    The next morning, before we began our walk, Bobby smudged each of us with smoke from a mixture of herbs he had made in a seashell, and then had us form a circle, holding hands as Bobby reminded us of our purpose. He told us that everything we did and everything we thought had meaning and should not be taken lightly. Then Betty Osceola had us line up in double file, behind our two flag bearers  - one holding a pole with the banner of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation of Aboriginal Peoples, the other holding a long staff bearing a dozen eagle feathers. She told us that we were a “we,” not a “me,” and that we needed to take care of one another. She told us to walk in silence, maintaining our order and dignity, alert to everything around us, and to remember that we were here to give support to the life and the nature all around us, supporting us.

    The day was overcast but still hot and humid as we walked along the verge of US 41, a two lane road running east-west through the Glades. In the early morning the birdlife was active and the roadside vegetation rustled in the breeze, with occasional gaps in the bushes and low trees that revealed small lakes and waterways. At times we could hear the pervasive sound of airboat motors revving up nearby and occasionally see them moving deeper into the Glades. For me it was a brand new experience in an unfamiliar ecosystem, walking with people I didn’t know; yet it also seemed very familiar, a new kind of outdoor walking meditation. We walked silently and alertly, attentive to the movement of our feet on the earth, to our breathing and our bodies, to the plants and sky and wind and water. We walked as one organism, our steps and our intention in harmony with one another and with all that was around us. Our minds were in the present. Even though we were walking to sustain the life and health of future generations, that intention required our focus right now. And if we lost focus, our leaders brought us back in no uncertain terms. After a few miles Betty Osceola stopped us and addressed the group: “Y’all aren’t paying attention,” she said. “The plants and animals are trying to help us. They’ve been sending you energy to help you walk, but you aren’t paying attention to them, you aren’t getting it. Focus on where you are, on what’s happening.  Give some energy back to everything that’s around you. We’re here to help them. Remember your purpose!”

    In the late morning we came to the Big Cypress Preserve Headquarters for the U.S. National Park Service, where we held a press conference and delivered petitions with thousands of signatures urging the halting of plans for the ROGG and for oil and gas operations. We rested on the grass in front of the building, airing our feet, sipping water and eating granola bars while listening to speeches by leaders of the Florida Sierra Club, by the co-founder of the Stone Crab Alliance from Naples, by a biologist and author from Stuart on the East Coast, and by the indigenous people: Bobby Billie, Betty Osceola, and walkers from the Seminole tribe (though not from the official tribal leadership, the “businesspeople”). I was particularly struck by the speech by Karen Dwyer of the Stone Crab Alliance, as she described in detail the destructive and disruptive effect seismic testing for oil & gas would have on the area, with an extensive spider-web of roads cleared for big trucks and heavy equipment, and powerful explosions and vibrations that would significantly impact all wildlife throughout a wide area.

    After lunch nearby at the Big Cypress Visitor Center we reformed our column, and went back into mindful silence – Betty told us to take out our imaginary keys and lock our mouths: “Take your key, lock it, and throw the key away” she’d tell us every time we re-started after a rest stop - and the walk continued. Our banners, the brightly colored shirts of the Indians, and our column of walkers all drew the curious attention of passing motorists, many of whom would honk or wave in support. We might hold up a hand in reply, but we didn’t engage them, maintaining our silence and our focus.

    Most of the afternoon we walked through grassy wetlands, seeing wading birds and the occasional airboat, but no gators or any other animals. Once Bobby stopped us to point out an island of trees where he used to play as a kid, no longer accessible on foot due to blockage of water by roads and canals. Another time he had us pick fresh young leaves from a bay tree by the side of the road, telling us that we should keep the leaves with us and smell them for energy when we felt tired.

    It rained off and on through the afternoon, which cooled things down a little. After a rest stop at an intersection, we turned south, headed for the town of Everglades City, where Betty planned to deliver another signed petition to the City Council, asking them to rescind their support for the ROGG. As we neared the town she reminded us to walk in silence, with purpose and power. The rain began to come down really hard as we marched down the main street through Everglades City, in tight double file, banners in front, heads down in the pouring rain, eyes on the feet of the walker in front of us. We were soaked and tired but we wanted to end the day strong and make a good impression. The townspeople came to their porches and doorways to watch us go by, and when we finally got to the municipal park by the gulf, several supporters were there to greet us. The rain stopped, and we rested, drank water and munched on snacks in the covered pavilion while some of us gave short speeches about what the Everglades means to them and why they were doing this.

    That night, back in camp around the Fire Circle, Bobby Billie spoke of how his people had been in the Everglades for many generations, of how in his lifetime Mother Earth  had been attacked and weakened, how the woods were mostly gone and the water no longer fit to drink, the deer and fish no longer abundant, and the crops weakened and not as nourishing. If our grandchildren and great grandchildren and unborn generations a thousand years from now are to survive, we will have to do a much better job of protecting and preserving our Mother Earth.

    Bobby asked us to reflect on our personal commitments, on how each of us intended to help leave a world in which future generations could survive. As we went slowly around the circle, each person spoke with great sincerity and conviction. For some of the younger ones, it was about what they would do with their lives, about right livelihood. For some it was tactical: how to get better media coverage, how to grow this movement, how to influence or replace political leaders, how to break the stranglehold of money and big corporations, how to promote renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. For some it was about inner work as well: living simply, healing our own habits of greed, anger and lack of awareness. There were about thirty of us, and when we had gone around the entire circle Bobby spoke again, telling us he heard much more unity and clarity tonight than the night before, more purpose. Then he had us take out the bay leaves from our pockets, and to remind ourselves, silently, of the specific commitments we were making, as one by one we threw our bay leaves into the fire.

    Many of us hadn’t kept our bay leaves with us – they’d been crumpled up & thrown away during the walk, or left in wet clothes when we changed, or mislaid. Bobby Billie asked if we remembered what he’d said when he told us to pick the leaves. Someone said: “You told us to keep the leaves with us.” “Yes,” Bobby said, “and that didn’t mean keep them for a while,” or keep them until you change your clothes. It means keep them with you.” Bobby wasn’t angry or impatient, but he was very firm and clear. He told us that when the indigenous people spoke, it was with a purpose, not just to hear themselves talk. And when his people listened, they listened carefully, also with purpose, so that they could learn something about their world and about their way of life, something that would help them know how to live, how to care for another, and how to teach future generations to live. Again, I was struck by the power and clarity of Bobby’s teaching. (I had been one of those who crumpled up their bay leaf and tossed it aside along the way.) I was reminded of one of the core goals of our Buddhist practice: learning to be fully awake and to make our actions of body, speech and mind purposeful, so that they may serve our goals of understanding and compassion.  Here was a spiritual leader of Florida’s indigenous people, teaching much the same values and practices: listen, watch, speak and act with alertness and purpose. Take life seriously, respect yourself and one another, care for your community, be grateful for the world around you and let your energy nourish Mother Earth as she nourishes us.

    The next morning after breakfast we loaded into the vans and drove to our starting point for the day, the sixth and last day of the Walk for Future Generations. Once again, Bobby bathed each of us in smoke from his shell, and then we formed a circle as we focused on our intention for the day.  Then Betty Osceola formed us up in double file behind the flag bearers, told each pair of walkers to look after one another and those around us, and to “take your key, lock it and throw the key away,” and we headed west on Highway 41. I enjoyed the relative cool of the morning, the many different kinds of birds flying or wading or sitting on the electric lines, the breeze blowing off the Everglades, the open vistas along this section of the road as we walked through grassland interwoven with lakes, rivulets and swampland. 

    Betty stopped us to point out a red flag about 150 feet out from the road, marking the DOT’s right of way for the ROGG. She helped us to see all the trees and grasses and habitat that would be destroyed in the construction process, and told us how every roadbed across the Everglades is a dam, keeping the water from its natural flow from north to south. She also told us that many thought the ROGG was the first step in a plan to widen US 41 into a four lane highway, like Alligator Alley (US Highway 75), causing huge destruction and disruption, and opening up the southern Everglades and coastal areas of the Ten Thousand Islands to large scale residential development. That was why the right of way was 150 feet from the existing road, and was one reason why her people were adamant that the ROGG must be stopped.

    We walked on, as the heat became intense and we began to sweat through our clothes. Mostly we walked looking down at the feet of the person in front of us and the ground ahead, stepping carefully to avoid the rocks and broken glass and trash strewn all along the roadside. Betty and the leaders at the front would hold up one finger in the air to indicate we should form single file when we crossed a narrow bridge and the verge narrowed, and then hold up two fingers when we could reform our double line. We sped up for the many bridge crossings, but mostly we walked slowly, at the pace of the slowest of the group. The walk leaders were always very patient: if anyone stopped to re-tie a shoelace, adjust a pack, or for no apparent reason at all, we would all stop. No one was left behind, even for a few seconds, and I began to see that this, too, was a value the indigenous people were teaching us: we stay together and we care for one another, especially the oldest, youngest or the infirm. “We” not “me.”

    A young couple with a baby were with us today, walking a few rows in front of me. The little fellow was maybe a year old, with happy bright eyes, almost always smiling, carried on his young father’s shoulder, playing with his dad or engaged by the walker behind him, interested in everything. Our group of perhaps 25 walkers included a wide range of ages. On this last day more of the Micosukee had turned out, including a family with a big muscular father who walked next to Betty as a walk leader, his teenage boys and young daughter, and some young women in beautiful traditional dress. My walking partner Diane was from Miami, and we had other folks from the east coast, as well as from Naples to the west, and several who lived in the Everglades. There were folks visiting Florida, a young white rasta dude with a Latin accent and boundless energy, teenage girls and middle aged men and graybeards like me. Many had sore feet and blisters, and some were visibly limping. Some, like Betty Osceola, walked in double pairs of thick socks and no shoes, with a walking stick to lean on, and a few walked barefoot to spare their blisters, hobbling quickly over the rocky areas and careful not to step on glass or in ants nests.

    As the day wore on it became a bit overcast, and even breezy, which was a real blessing – Mother Earth helping us to help her – but still very hot. We were encouraged not to guzzle our water, and to think about our purpose and to be aware of the life and beauty around us rather than our aches and pains and tiredness. Betty said that you get what you think about, so don’t think about being hot and tired - another similarity to our training as Buddhist practitioners: your thinking makes your world. After one of our brief stops, she told us to keep our formation tight and avoid gaps; breaks in the line make room for “the bad creator” to get in and cause harm.

    We took a long break mid-morning at a roadside park, and an even longer lunch break a few miles further west, cooling our faces with the ice water from the coolers in the vans, letting our feet breathe, and chatting while we rested. It was well after one o’clock when we started up again, and we still had many miles to go. After a while I was hot, sweaty, and sore footed, but it wasn’t hard to settle into the rhythm of the walk: following the bare feet of the young Englishman in front of me, watching the ground for obstacles, looking up occasionally at the Glades, the water, a bird in flight, at the feather stick and the Council flag flapping in the wind, then eyes down again, just walking. Forming single file to cross a bridge or pass by some road work, then double file again; occasionally stopping to wait for someone who’d fallen out for a minute, then starting up again. If I noticed my mind was wandering I’d silently chant one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s gathas for walking meditation: “Solid” on the left foot, “stable” on the right. “Solid, stable, solid, stable” until I felt that stability in mind and body. Or: “I have arrived,” and then: “I am home. In the here …and in the now …I am solid … I am free …In the ultimate …I dwell …In the ultimate …I dwell.” I had scarcely ever been in the Everglades, but I felt at home and solid, walking with these people in this place, just walking, noticing, breathing, with the intention to be present and steady and open and helpful. Just walking together, hot, tired, and happy.

    By the time we took our late afternoon break at Port of the Islands we were all visibly beat, and I thought I might be a bit dehydrated. The only place we could find to rest was a big dirt parking lot adjoining a new hotel, but I was glad to plunk down on the dirt, take a long drink and rest my feet and legs. However, my monkey-mind was starting to stir: “It’s almost 5 o’clock now. At this rate we won’t make another five miles by dark. Why did we take such a long lunch break? I’ve about had it. It’ll be really late by the time I get back to camp and then I still have to drive back to Tampa! I wish I hadn’t taken down my tent this morning.” And so on –I was aware of the “me” taking over from the “we.”

    Betty must have sensed the mood, because as we formed up again, she said: “Among our people, we don’t ask when we’ll get there. We arrive when we arrive – that’s the way we travel. On this walk you are with the indigenous people, and so we ask that you do this the way we do it. For the Indians, there’ll be fry bread waiting when we get there; fry bread! Let’s form our line, keep our silence, and walk. Is everyone here? Are we ready? Let’s go!”

    Our weariness didn’t exactly go away, but the walking took over, familiar by now, the focus on the next step, and the next, and the next, and on the purpose and on the people and on the place around us. It was still hot and humid, but after an hour or so it started to cool down just a little, the birds became more active, and we knew that if the end was not in sight, it couldn’t be too far. I began to really appreciate the walking, knowing that I could make it, and knowing what a unique and wonderful experience we were sharing.

    The plan was to end our walk at the Miccosukee Village across from the main entrance to Collier-Seminole State Park, where dinner was waiting for us. We finally arrived as the color was fading from the sky and dark setting in. We were hot and tired, eager to get off our feet. A handful of Miccosukee women and children were there to greet us, and they had a nice dinner waiting for us under a big chickee. But Bobby Billie had us make another big circle in the open space by the village gate, while he invited into the circle not only the walkers, but those who had ridden in the vans and pick-ups, the drivers, even a tourist couple who had attached themselves to us at our rest stop at Port of the Islands. The mosquitoes had come out in force, and we held hands until we couldn’t stand them any more and we stood swatting away mosquitoes, as Bobby took his time taking the Council flag off its flagpole, folding it carefully, and then furling the eagle feather stick in its protective case.

    Finally the circle was complete, and all was arranged to Bobby’s satisfaction, but he was not done with us yet. He asked us to reflect one more time on our intention: what we would do, when we resumed our “normal” lives, to work for the benefit and protection of future generations. He asked us to boil our intention down to a few brief words, and we went around the circle, starting with

    Betty Osceola at Bobby’s right hand, sharing what we intended to do, making a public commitment to ourselves and one another, choosing our words with care. Finally, Bobby had us walk around the inside of our circle, in order, shaking hands or sharing a hug with every person in the circle, offering our thanks for one another’s support and presence. Bobby was teaching us patience, and appreciation, and making sure that none of the energy and intention generated by the walk would go to waste. At last, Bobby smiled and threw his arms up in the air. Our circle dispersed for dinner, and the 2016 Walk Across the Everglades for Future Generations was officially complete.

  • 20 Mar 2016 8:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Thank you for this space to share personal dharma experiences.  I’m on my 4th  vegetarian year  with the anniversary on Dr. MLK Jr. day.  Since first starting, I have not eaten flesh from land animals and eat sea creatures approximately once a month.  I was still attracted to the smell of BBQ until I recently mentioned this to Fred.  He suggested I visit the charnel grounds in India during a cremation ceremony because the smell that fills the air then is the exact same as BBQ.  I now visit the charnel grounds every time I smell BBQ… a deep bow to the Teacher.

    I grew up as a woodsman, tracker and hunter in western Pennsylvania until I moved to Florida in 1997.  I would kill and butcher my own game and even the occasional fresh roadkill.  I was responsible for getting my father back into hunting.  He continues to keep two freezers filled with wild game. 

    I took up spearfishing when moving to Florida.  “They are just silly little fishes, sub-animals and easier to clean.  I can combine my two favorite hobbies, hunting and scuba.  I’ll be doing this for a long time!”  However, during some of those dives is when I considered becoming a vegetarian.  One day I speared a snapper through the heart and watched it glide motionless to the sandy bottom, perfect kill, no struggle.  And then something amazing happened.  The rest of its school circled back and swam all around their motionless companion.  I witnessed compassionate acts but I still didn’t get it.  During the next dive trip, a barracuda ducked my shot and stared me down while I retrieved my spear.  As soon as I reloaded, the fish took off like a bolt of lightning.  At that moment I thought, “What am I doing down here killing these amazing creatures?!”  Later, I cut up my spear gun and threw it in the trash never to kill again.  I felt lighter but still a little heavy from the lives I’ve personally taken and by my past eating habits. 

    One of the documentaries mentioned in other comments above summed the idea up very well… No creature wants to die, why should we promote the taking of their life?  I couldn’t think of anything that contradicts that idea.  I also suggest mindfully watching some of the documentaries mentioned above.  It is a chance to have a deeper understanding where our society’s food comes from and how we vote with our dollar.

    Back to seafood… during one of the documentaries they showed what “long lines” and netting does to the environment.  Not even the sacred underwater realm is safe from un-mindfulness.  When I saw this destruction, I was filled with compassion for our earth and tears filled my eyes and I thought, “That’s it, no more seafood.”   Through this posting, I re-pledge my commitment to the sea.  I will also write a mindful letter, put it in a bottle and toss it into the ocean.

  • 14 Mar 2016 3:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM Member Susan Ghosh for this enjoyable recollection and reflection


    If you’ve been a part of FCM since we acquired the property at 6501 N. Nebraska Ave. in 2012 you have a good idea of what has been accomplished on our campus since then.  If you’ve started attending the Sunday sangha or other classes and activities at the center in the years since then, allow me to fill you in a bit about what our center was like.  Our main building was a church in disrepair.  The upstairs hall was filled with pews that were nailed to the floor, the window panes were plastic blue and pink, and the floor was dirty and scratched.  Downstairs what we now call the Fellowship Hall was a typical basement with a cement floor and round poles that held up the first floor.  The entire western wall was covered with a mural, painted in dark colors, and each figure in the mural was thickly outlined in black paint.  There, too, the windows were pink and blue.  In the Education Building the floors were covered with old linoleum and the walls were in need of paint. Our “grounds” were covered with weeds and torpedo grass. 


    Little by little our campus transformed.  The basement walls were painted, pews were pulled up, wooden floor polished, Med Hall and Hallways were painted; ground covers, shrubs and trees were planted, and on and on and on. Every day this beautiful campus we now have was manifesting. While some things such a roof repair were completed by professionals, hundreds of hours of selfless service were offered by sangha members.


    From the outset sangha meetings were held in our new home, so in addition to the ongoing work, our home had to be clean and ready to use every Sunday. If a cloud of dust had been raised, our blue cushions needed to be vacuumed.  The Buddhas, altar, teacher’s table and cushion, all needed to be dusted. The bathrooms had to be clean and ready for use.  


    Back in those early days about 20 people (??) regularly came to work days. In addition to all of the large and small jobs that needed to be done a small group of us did a LOT of house cleaning. I recall saying to a sangha sister, “I clean more here than I do at home.”  Another sangha sister and I grumbled as we vacuumed the blue cushions in the 80 degree heat of meditation hall.  We wanted a “cleaning person.” Our teacher, Fred, did not respond to our complaints.  His vision was of a community where individuals selflessly offered their service to the group.  So, on we went.  Over time we learned that this new expectation was just a part of training our minds to put our own personal preferences aside and to find joy in caring for the center. We also were learning what it meant to be a part of a community in which all shared in taking care of the needs of our buildings and grounds, our programs and one another.


    My mind was not easily trained, but though it grumbled I learned how to do the necessary tasks. FCM was different in most ways from my family or any other group that I had been a part of and it nourished me tremendously. I wanted to be a contributing member of the group. And, frankly, I wanted to be more like my sangha sisters and brothers who shared themselves so wholeheartedly and found so much joy in doing so. Over time I developed the habit of volunteering when there was work to be done.


    Four years later the gifts of our tradition of selfless service have been tremendous. It is wonderful to be a part of the quiet family of workers who sit for 10 minutes on Sunday morning and do a brief meditation before quietly beginning the tasks the allow the center show her beauty to all who come to sangha meetings. Getting to know other members through our friendly bows and the practice of silently mindfully work together on our common goal is very profound.  I have come to see that the center needs all of us and each of us contributes the skills and talents we have. If we choose, we can try out new skills in this safe and supportive environment. 

    When I invite family or friends to visit the center I feel a quiet pride and deep gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of the transformation and care of our center.  As soon as people step on our campus they feel the energy and see the beauty of our home. When I say “we’ve done almost all of this ourselves”  I know in my bones that I am a part of “us”. We take care of our buildings, we take care of our grounds, our programs, and one another.  Our teacher, Fred, and our teacher’s teacher, Thay Nhat Hanh, stress the importance of the sangha. Thay says, the next Buddha may manifest as a sangha.”  Here at FCM we have a rich and ongoing opportunity to understand the deep meaning of sangha.


    If you have chosen to be a member of FCM, and haven't yet volunteered for selfless service, please know that caring for the center is a privilege of membership. Also, please understand that your help is needed.  As the old adage goes, “many hands make light work.” If you are like me and don’t always have a joyful and generous heart, embrace that part of yourself with kindness and compassion, and allow the part of you that wants to end your own suffering to step forward. I think you will find that caring for the center strengthens your sense of connection to the sangha and being of service will open your heart.

  • 07 Mar 2016 2:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We thank Wake Up Tampa Bay members for these very open and moving sharings. Please also visit the photo album from the March 2016 Wake Up Day of Being (click here).

    With gratitude to Whitney Hill

    My path to the practice was rough to say the least, as I’m sure it was for just about everyone on it.  In fact, none of us are strangers to suffering.  Without it, we wouldn’t be here.  We don’t come to the practice because our lives are perfect and easy.  We come because our lives are painful and difficult and we often feel alone.  We are looking for reprieve from our tumultuous minds and the seemingly endless storms of emotion that run our lives.  We come because we’re hurting and broken and there is a part of us that knows that this cannot be the only way.

    Mindfulness offers the rest we seek.  The habits we cultivate offer us a way out; they show us a different path from the one that brought us here.  And the people who walk this path with us, our community, our sangha offers support and guidance when the way is not so clear.

    That is what Wake Up has been for me.  We’re all at different points along our journeys but, in a way, our suffering brings us together and we all learn from each other’s experiences.  Wake Up is a space where we find refuge in the teachings and in each other.  It’s a place of consistency and reliability where new habits are formed and old ones fade out. We’re a community notably free of the judgments and ridicule that so often plague our generation.  We’re a force for peace in each other’s lives where old friends feel loved and connected and new ones feel safe and accepted. We stop, we rest, we calm, we heal.  We laugh, we cry, we listen deeply and we share openly all in the spirit of mindfulness.

    With gratitude to Aoka Carr

    She said “I feel like I can be inside my skin in this place.” That's when I felt my eyes well, hot tears streaming down my patient face. It was because of the day's practice - the sincere efforts to attune to the present moment that I had the awareness to let them fall, silently, without trying to change them. I sat as each one of the attendees expressed poetically honest and authentically vulnerable sentiments. There were familiar themes: a sense of belonging and excitement to meet other young people on the journey of mindfulness and self-discovery, an environment of non-judgement that lead to feelings of comfort which allowed some to find an openness within themselves, discoveries of ways of looking at thoughts, feelings and sense impressions that inspired intentions for many to carry further.

    As each person opened up, I saw the tenderness inside them, the place that, in one of our readings, we learned most people protect themselves from exposing. I saw deep listening, deep sharing, connection, space, presence, bravery, nakedness... and in the midst... I realized that this was a new experience, a curious one. This is what it is like to be in a room full of peers, who are seeing each other and allowing others to see them.

    It was the end of the Day of Mindfulness that Wake Up, a meditation group for people in their 20‘s and 30‘s, had put on. Five hours earlier, we - some core group members, some who had been coming for a while and some entirely brand new to the center had arrived to a seated meditation. We were guided to find our breath and dwell in the presence of the moment. When the bowl was struck, we read from Nothing Special and practiced deep sharing and deep listening. I watched as people heard each other without trying to change each other; I noticed when I was trying to be of the moment rather than in it.

    Next, we quietly put on our shoes and mindfully stepped out into the sunlight, walking the gardens, our shadows falling, in and out of step with the person in front of us, stopping midway to listen to the birds and feel the wind on our faces. Back inside the meditation hall, we were lead into a a gentle yoga class followed by a deep relaxation. I felt the peace in the room amongst the audible breaths, as we tightened and relaxed our muscles in unison.

    Afterwards, we were lead down stairs to delight in the bounty of delicious foods people had thoughtfully prepared. We remained in silence, contemplating how the whole universe could be represented by the food on our plate. When everyone was seated we talked. Really talked with each other about our lives, why we were at a day of mindfulness, our struggles in our practice, our fears, vulnerabilities, advancements. I heard people whose practice had grown, talking with people who just began, and a lot of laughter. I felt such gratitude to be among so many who were so genuinely interested in each other.

    After a beautiful time getting to know each other more deeply with words we went back into the meditation hall for our final sitting. This is where I could feel an expansion inside myself.  Sitting, the thoughts still came and I still watched them, but behind them was a tenderness, a gentle potentiality of detachment. I could feel the energy of our collective efforts. In all of us, there was a softening - some armor laid down. And with the final sharing, she said, “I feel like I can be inside my skin in this place.” And my tears fell and I let them, grateful to be able to be so present in this wonderful day.

    With gratitude to Casey Clague

    I first became involved with FCM when I moved to Tampa about three years ago. Shortly after I began attending sangha, Bryan Hindert approached me to ask if I’d be interested in starting a Tampa chapter of Wake Up.  Our initial group was only five or six people, but we met regularly and were all very supportive of each other’s spiritual growth. Unfortunately, I had some health problems and other life circumstances that prevented me from attending Wake Up for around a year and my spiritual practice became less of a priority.  

     When I finally started back, I felt welcome immediately, like I hadn’t missed a beat.  Since then, I have been continually amazed by the growth of the group, both in terms of size and in our individual practices.  In walking this path together and deeply sharing our experiences, I feel like we have learned to live more skillfully, kindly, and openly. For me personally, I have gained a peace and awareness in my life that I didn’t know was possible.  It would be hard to overstate how essential Wake Up is to my continued spiritual development. I want to thank all members of the group for their continued support and insight;  I hope that I am able to give back to some degree what has been freely given to me. 

    With gratitude to Jennica Rob

    I started attending Wake Up about a year ago. Prior to this, I had started a meditation practice to help manage my anxiety. My only expectation was that Wake Up might help me become a better meditator in some small way. Unexpected to myself, I have become a regular at Wake Up and have benefited from it in ways that I never imagined. I feel that it has radically changed the course of my life. Through our discussions and guided meditations I have been given invaluable tools to ground myself in the present moment rather than being caught in the stories in my mind.

    I have been able to bring this practice into my days and feel much more present and accepting of my life. But what I am most thankful for is how Wake Up has allowed me to make connections and foster friendships with some of the most authentic and open minded people I have ever met. I feel continuously inspired by the kindness and openness of my peers. I am in awe of of their consistent willingness to be honest and present with themselves, both with their strengths and flaws, sorrows and joys. I feel lucky to know them and look forward to seeing how Wake Up evolves in the months to come.

    With gratitude to Jerry Stinnett

    I initially found Wake Up through meetup.com. I was looking for a group of younger folks to meet with regularly and get to know under the setting of meditation. I had been experimenting with meditation on my own using self-help books. I also had been to a few different groups but they weren’t quite what I was looking for.

    I really didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived, but I was getting into the practice of getting outside of my comfort zone. Being a highly skeptical person I felt some initial insecurity but I quickly warmed up to the guided meditation. Since that first day I believe I have only missed one or two events in the last year and a half. Everyone that I have met in this group has been sincere and open. I found my way into the greater Sangha as a whole from this group and became a member shortly thereafter.

    I cherish the bonds that I have made through Wake Up and will maintain these friendships for the rest of my life. The personal transformation I have gone through in the last few years has been in large part due to the existence of this group. I look forward to seeing it grow and continuing to be a part of it.

    With gratitude to Sam

    For the past ten years, my struggles with anxiety have been exhausting. Whenever I thought I was “getting better” life would trigger me and I would lapse back into painful confusion. I started meditating about a year and a half ago when I realized that taking anxiety medication on its own would be only palliative for me and not transformative. The final straw that set me on the path of mindfulness was my first experience with heartbreak. Shortly after my heart had broken open, I sought out a community and started attending FCM. I like to think of my experience with heartbreak as a “Wake Up call”, because it called me to Wake Up.

    Since attending Wake Up, my peers and I have grown together in so many ways. I have learned to value the art of listening more than the art of self-expression, which to my surprise has been a great relief. All of us at Wake Up have the great opportunity to feel free to be ourselves. Simply showing up is an act of emotional vulnerability, an admission that we are lost and in need of community, and I love that. This admission of pain is what binds us all together and is something I have learned to deeply appreciate.

    Listening deeply to my friends at Wake Up has taught me that my very own anxiety is a source of motivation to heal myself and others. It has also taught me that my very own anxiety is not my very own, because fear is a seed in all of us. I am now grateful to have suffered my way to the path. Through earnest practice and the encouragement and deep insight of my fellow meditators at Wake Up, the natural wisdom at the core of every human is visible to me now. It is like being lost in a forest in the middle of the night and seeing the distant glow of a fire on a hillside. I know it is there, and I know I am going towards it, and the journey is the rest of my life. I cannot control the forest around me, but I can keep walking.

    When I remember to surrender to the fact that life is unpredictable, existence becomes lighter. The precious moments when I become aware of my limited time in this body are the moments that bring me home to the present moment. I doubt that I could have learned to surrender without the help and wisdom of others. Speaking from my experience, letting go of the illusion of being in control does not come easily. I still have a very long way to go to heal myself, and I look forward to following the path knowing I am not alone. Not only do I see that my peers have plenty of wisdom to offer me, but I see that my pain has been a means of gaining insight that I can offer to them in return.

  • 07 Mar 2016 8:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Rebecca Milburn for this post.

    I moved away from Tampa a year and a half ago, and thus, moved away from FCM. I have continued to participate in intensives from afar; they have been very important to my continued growth and connection to FCM. However, I have missed FCM: the people, community, close connection with the teachings, the beautiful building.


    After a year and a half, I had the opportunity to visit FCM last weekend. I participated in Wake Up, a Day of Mindfulness (with Fred teaching) and Sunday Sangha. It was wonderful to be back; I felt a combination of excitement and peace when I stepped foot in the building on Friday. I enjoyed again participating in Wake Up – it has grown tremendously since I was a member and the new members (new to me, that is) have a sense of ownership of the group that I really appreciated.


    The Day of Mindfulness was soothing and healing for me. I received so much love and warmth from the sangha, I was filled with the deep sense of connection and community I remembered from when I lived in Tampa. Practicing silence in a shared space provides me with a sense of safety – the ability to connect with others beyond using words. To my surprise, spending the day primarily doing sitting and walking meditation did not feel difficult. It felt like I was getting back in touch with a part of me that was always there.


    The Q &A session Fred led was extremely helpful and it seemed the questions he answered applied directly to my life. I work as a psychotherapist in a community mental health clinic located in a very high need area. I often feel overwhelmed by all the suffering I encounter on a daily basis. A term spoken of in my profession is “self care” and I am often inclined to think of my spiritual practice in such terms. Fred reminded me that my practice goes beyond “self care” – a more appropriate term may be “self/other care” – since, as he said, “I am my brother” – there is no separation. When I heal myself, I heal another and when I heal another, I heal myself. This helped rejuvenate my desire to be of service to others and to do so from a place of joy and meaning.


    I also resonated with the Q& A regarding the “to do list”. I continually find myself needing to have something to do, filling space, fearing the quiet. While at the Day of Mindfulness, having the support of the sangha, I relished the quiet and calm inside me. Now that I am back in Virginia, I am happy to know that the sangha is still there, supporting my practice, and possibly the inner quiet, from afar.


    I bow deeply to all members of FCM and offer gratitude to those who made this visit possible for me.

  • 01 Mar 2016 2:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As soon as I entered the retreat center, I knew I this would be, for an introvert like myself a dream come true: in the company of others but not required to engage in small talk. Although it was the first retreat I had ever been to, I felt at ease. From the first silent moments, a companionable silence between my fellow participants. I was almost disappointed by the lack of challenge silence might present me. Perhaps the real challenge to my quiet nature would be a Constant Conversation Retreat. Such extreme discomfort would be like being whacked by a Zen masters stick daily and maybe I would be slapped into enlightenment.

    The retreat  took place over four days at the Franciscan Center in Tampa, a modest, no frills place of 1950s boxy architecture, but spacious enough for the forty-two of us and right on the banks of the Hillsborough River. Across the river in the distance the Golden Arches reminded us of our proximity to the never silent city, but the park-like grounds created a peaceful oasis.

    Our days at the retreat began at 6:00 AM by the person in charge of waking us hitting a gong that sounded like a metal plate being struck. I am not much of a morning person and unmindfully rushed to dress so that I could guzzle as much coffee as possible before meditation at 6:30. In the dining hall, coffee clutched like a lifeline, I took a seat with a few others as we watched the full moon shining into the river. Calmed immediately by the glow of moon and water I felt grateful to be up early enough to bask in this serenity, made all the more precious by our silent observance.

    After the 6:30 half hour group sitting meditation and ten-minute group walking mediation, we engaged in our individual walking meditation outdoors. Silent and slow were the unspoken guidelines. Setting one foot in front of the other became significant. The shells on the walkway crunched under foot, and pressed lightly into the rubber of my shoes sole. Other walkers seemed to float past me. Outside and inside, our movements around each other took on a ballet like quality. Edges softened and when we had to make way for another in the hallways with each move to the side we emanated gentleness, kindness even.

    Here is what I took away from the four days of silence and mindfulness:

    How to put the right amount of food on my plate. At the first breakfast I filled my plate but eating mindfully and without distractions, I soon realized I could not finish this amount of food. I didnt need to eat with my usual greediness. Slowed eating tells me when I am full.

    Mindfully walking reveals the world around me. The pace makes room for contemplation of a tree branch winding to the ground, the light playing on the water, the energy of my mind drawn to more focus, less scattershot.

    Most talking is not necessary. And I did not miss my cell phone or computer or even something to read. The ego likes to talk a lot more than my Buddha nature.

    Also, I gained:


    A greater understanding of ducks.

    The ducks and I woke, sat, walked and ate. We co-existed and I felt like their kin. One seemed to follow me for a bit on my walk. Being a duck and being a human is not so different when the minds endless litany of desires, demands and preferences are set aside. If the world appreciated more being than doing, perhaps I could have dipped a cup into the Hillsborough River for a drink.

    A better handle on my thoughts.

    Thoughts do not have no substance I had given them. As soon as one arises, it disappears. My mind makes thoughts, but something else, my awareness remains steady as the thoughts come and go. I can choose to follow them or not.

    A deeper experience of space.

    With our preoccupation with solid objects like bodies, cars, guns and high-end real estate, we do not notice the spaciousness of life. To find space we must remove the paint from the canvas. The mind rebels at this; it needs to fill space with images and words. Mindful investigation shows us how space is the substance we dwell within and without. Space surrounds and fills bodies, rocks, ducks. Space holds us, like an embrace.

    A deeper experience of silence.

    Silence and space are inseparable, perhaps they are the same thing. Both serve to heighten awareness.  Sitting in the meditation hall  the stillness is like the  river on this windless day; we sense the energy of our own bodies and those near us, the current still runs underneath the flat surface. Each small movement of a foot, each small sound like a cough is like a stone tossed into the water. My shoulders and back stiffen against this submersion in this deep silence because my habit is mindless movement and nervous fidgeting. This silent stillness reveals each habit.

    An insight.

    Space and silence are changeless as nothing else is. Words and actions change each moment, float around space and drop into oblivion. We fill the canvas with images, fill the air with words, but nothing is lasting but space and silence. We know this, but see no point in it, devalue it. And yetWe yearn for both. Even when we do not know it.

    What then is most nourishing, most natural? What calls us, what is oddly familiar and like home when we stop, awake, aware? If what is real is only what is changeless, what is really true about the ducks and us?

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