Dear Sangha,
Thank you Joy, Kozan, Nora, Jim, and Janet for leading our sangha during the long time I’ve been away. We have built a solid continuity over years, a place to count on for community and sitting practice.

downloadWe’re almost to the end of The Wisdom of No Escape. After a lot of thought and consultation with others, I have chosen our next book, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation, by Chogyam Trungpa. This book is not easy. It will take EVEN LONGER to read.Newcomers may be baffled, but that will provide us an opportunity to re-cap, explain, and work with the material in different ways. For those who’ve been sitting for a while, it should be very helpful. Please order the book, since we’ll be finished with our current book in the next month.

Our discussion yesterday, based on Pema Chodron’s chapter called “Not Preferring Samsara or Nirvana,” was concerned with ritual. “Genuine, heartfelt ritual helps us reconnect with power and vision as well as with the sadness and pain of the human condition,” says Pema. There was conversation about some childhood religious rituals that felt oppressive to us, and how that might impact us still, as well as rituals that have become deeply meaningful to us.

download-1Rituals, as Pema says, slow us down. Ideally, we temporarily stop our grasping for the next thing and notice more deeply the action of the ritual. Pema says ritual “opens up space,” and we thought about how this might be true. Doesn’t it also demarcate boundaries, and in that way, shut down space? We talked about that.

Ritual is timeless in the sense that we do it over and over, the same ritual, maybe, all our lives. If we respect it as ritual, it can provide continuity, a sense of lineage.

Pema says our whole life can be a ritual. “We could reconnect with the weather that is ourselves.” I liked that line. She goes on, “and we could realize that it’s sad. The sadder it is, the vaster it is, and the vaster it is, the more our heart opens. We can stop thinking that good practice is when it’s smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it’s rough and dark.” We hold it all in our hearts, she says.

See you next week.

A Poem

Dear Sangha,
A poem for this week, better late than never. I will be back in town after this week. I’ve missed you. See you soon.


Awakening Now

Why wait for your awakening?

The moment your eyes are open, seize the day.

Would you hold back when the Beloved beckons?

Would you deliver your litany of sins like a child’s collection of sea shells, prized and labeled?

“No, I can’t step across the threshold,” you say, eyes downcast.

“I’m not worthy” I’m afraid, and my motives aren’t pure.

I’m not perfect, and surely I haven’t practiced nearly enough.

My meditation isn’t deep, and my prayers are sometimes insincere.

I still chew my fingernails, and the refrigerator isn’t clean.

Do you value your reasons for staying small more than the light shining through the open door?

Forgive yourself.

Now is the only time you have to be whole.

Now is the sole moment that exists to live in the light of your true Self.

Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.

Please, oh please, don’t continue to believe in your disbelief.

This is the day of your awakening.

— Danna Faulds


The Other Two Jewels

Dear Sangha,
downloadOn Sunday we read the rest of Pema’s chapter on the three jewels of Buddhism, focusing on taking refuge in the Dharma and the Sangha. I’ll quote not from Pema but from the Dalai Lama:

. . .We must make a distinction between the use of “Dharma” as a generic term and its use in the specific framework of the Refuge. Generically, it refers to the scriptural Dharma–the Buddha’s teaching ad the spiritual realizations based on the practice of that teaching.

In relation to the Refuge, it has two aspects: one is the path that leads to cessation of suffering and afflictive emotions, and the other is cessation itself. It is only by understanding true cessation and the path leading to cessation that we can have some idea of what the state of liberation is.

imagesOn the Sangha, the Dalai Lama says, “If the Dharma exists, then the Sangha will certainly exist–the Sangha are those who have engaged in the path of the Dharma, and who have realized and actualized its truth. If there are Sangha members who have reached spiritual states where they have at least overcome the gross levels of negativity and afflictive emotions, then we can envision the possibility of attaining a freedom from negativity and afflictive emotions which is total. That state is what we call buddhahood.

In other words, we support each other. We are helped by those around us who’ve gained some spiritual maturity. Next week is the four-hour block sitting. Please join us for as much of that time as you can.

Taking Refuge in the Buddha

Dear Sangha,
images-4We started a chapter last night on the refuges: “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.”

First we had to work though what is meant in this context by refuge. We often think of it as escape, as in “refuge from the storm.” In a sense, someone said, this is right. Samsara, the endless round of cause-effect, is like a whirlwind. We can take refuge from it through our practice. Someone else said it’s like a centering, finding the still core.

images-5To take refuge in the Buddha is to depend upon what the Buddha found to be true. Maybe it is to take refuge in our own original nature, called Buddha-nature. Of the three refuges, this one is the “modeling” one. “I look to this model of awakening. When I don’t believe I can do this, I look to someone who did, and taught how.” We felt that seems to be the spirit of this particular refuge.

Next week we’ll read and talk about taking refuge in the Dharma. We would be very happy to see you there, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Building on Center Road, from 5-7.

Thank you Nora, for leading, and Joy and Kozan, while I’ve been gone.


Pema on Nowness

Dear Sangha,
imagesIt’s raining here at the lake. Kids went home yesterday. Now there’s the refrigerator to clean out, beds to change, wash, etc. So I’m thinking about change. Below is from Pema:

We are given changes all the time. We can either cling to security, or we can let ourselves feel exposed, as if we had just been born, as if we had just popped out into the brightness of life and were completely naked. Maybe that sounds too uncomfortable or frightening, but on the other hand, it’s our chance to realize that this mundane world is all there is, and we could see it with new eyes and at last wake up from our ancient sleep of preconceptions.

downloadThe truth, said an ancient Chinese master, is neither like this or like that. It is like a dog yearning over a bowl of burning oil. He can’t leave it because it is too desirable, and he can’t lick it because it is too hot. So how do we relate to that squeeze? Somehow, someone finally needs to encourage us to be inquisitive about this unknown territory and shout the unanswerable question of what’s going to happen next.

The moment of nowness is available in that moment of squeeze. In that awkward, ambiguous moment in our own wisdom mind. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind. 

Nora will be leading the sittings and discussion for the next three weeks. Nora is studying in the Shambala tradition and is a wonderful resource for us.



Dear Sangha,
imagesWe finished the chapter called “Renunciation.” Sounds like a Christian concept. How to understand that word in a Buddhist context? What are we giving up? You could say–and we did say–that every time we sit on a cushion, we are giving up our habitual tendency to ignore what’s there, in front of us. We’re giving up, as much as we can, for a while, the urge to turn away, to immerse ourselves in activities that allow us to stay unconscious.

breathSo it’s not that we’re renouncing our lives; the intention is to renounce what’s getting in the way of our real lives. We’re opening up to life as it is. When it’s difficult, we’re allowing that to touch us and soften us at the core. It is difficult at the moment, in our country. We have an opportunity to work with that difficulty, to see the hurt and the fear. Pema mentions the practice of Tonglen, which is breathing in the hurt and trouble and breathing out compassion. It’s simply an intention. But it can train our minds.

Next week Joy will be leading our discussion.

Positive Shame

Dear Sangha,
Here is another little message from Pema for this week:

images-1Shame is a loaded word for westerners. Like most things, it can be seen in a positive or negative light. Negative shame is accompanied by guilt and self-denigration. It is pointless and doesn’t help us even slightly. Positive shame, on the other hand, is recognizing when we’ve harmed ourselves or anyone else and feeling sorry for having done so. It allows us to grow wiser from our mistakes. Eventually it dawns on us that we can regret causing harm without becoming weighed down by negative shame. Just seeing the hurt and heartbreak clearly motivates us to move on. By acknowledging what we did, cleanly and compassionately, we go forward.

images-2Next week is the four-hour open sitting at UU, from 2:30-6:30. Kozan will be leading.
Come for as much of that time as you’re able.

Mid-summer Meditation

Dear sangha,
I’ll be out of town for the rest of the summer, so these posts may not be weekly. I’ll try to get something to keep you going, most weeks, although since I left my book for others to use at UU, I won’t be able to refer directly to what we’re reading.

But I was there yesterday. Pema talked about Chogyam Trungpa’s “aids” to working with passion, aggression, and ignorance (the three poisons) in sitting practice, particularly. When passion or aggression have us in their grip, we can try noting particularly our breathing out, its spaciousness, its airy quality. We can place our attention on Big Mind, the larger “world.” If ignorance (often shows up as sleepiness) is our particular issue, we can focus on the senses, we can straighten our back, we can meditate standing up.

downloadMy first teacher, Shinzen Young, told a story of working with a meditator who could NOT stay awake. He enlisted Shinzen to sit with him over a long day or two and nudge him in some way, verbal or otherwise, each time he started to fall asleep. He broke through the tendency to sleep. And he said that his awareness took a quantum leap after that. We might not be able to do that, but we can note each time we start to get dozy. We can be aware of the sleepiness and be aware of having fallen asleep.

Ever since I had cancer, I need afternoon naps. I have found it very interesting to pay close attention to the falling asleep, to the softening of awareness. I can almost pinpoint the second I’m gone. So I guess we could do this practice in reverse this way. Note what it’s like to fall asleep.

imagesJoy will be leading next week. I want to say again how important it seems to be to stick with sangha. This practice is so unlike the “normal” way of seeing the world, it only takes a few weeks of being away from like-minded friends for our ego to tell us we sure don’t need THIS silliness. Or for our ego to tell us something else is more important. Is it?


Sitting in the Summer

Dear Sangha,
images-1It’s particularly difficult sometimes to get to the cushion in the beautiful and too-short summer. Which is why we need to encourage each other, sit with each other, be in sangha together. That said, I’ll be away a good part of the rest of the summer. But our sangha will continue, of course! We’ll have Kozan McLean, Joy Zimke, and Nora Wiser taking turns leading. We’ll continue to read Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape. I’m checking out some books for a followup to that one.

In the meantime, here is a thought from Pema:
imagesWe can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy. It helps to remember that our spiritual practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives.

Join us on Sunday nights. Being there together is a great aid to our practice.



We Already Have Everything

Dear sangha,
This is from Pema Chodron, whose book we’re reading now in our Sunday night book study. This is not from that book, but from a cute little “Pocket Pema Chodron” that somebody gave me.

downloadWe already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips we lay on ourselves—the heavy duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake. 

download-1Looking at ourselves this way is very different from our usual habit . From this perspective we don’t need to change: you can feel as wretched as you like, and you’re still a good candidate for enlightenment. You can feel like the world’s most hopeless basket case, but that feeling is your wealth, not something to be thrown out or improved upon.

Next week we’ll be back to our regular sitting and discussion. Join us if you can. No need to bring a book–someone always has one to share.