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Winding Down

Dear Sangha,
And I think of you as sangha even if you’ve never sat with us. We met yesterday to reminisce about the ten years behind us and think about what might be next for those who’ve been sitting with us. Last week I listed these possibilities:

At Pathways Preschool, corner of Rose and Hannah Streets, there is a sangha that meets from 6:30-8:30 on Thursdays, facilitated by Kozan Karen McLean. This sangha is connected to Sokukoji Buddhist Monastery and Temple in Battle Creek, Kyoun Sokuzan Bob Brown, head teacher. Visit for details.

UU: Thursdays from 5:30-6:30 there is a meditation group.

At Yoga for Health: Tuesdays from 12:00-1:00 (free) and Sundays from 8:30-9:30 (free)

Yen Yoga: Sundays from 9:15-9:45, and three classes on Yin and Meditation

So, what’s needed for a sangha? 1) I would say a willingness of the group to stay with it and to work through inevitable disagreements, 2) a book study, 3) access to someone whose practice is more matured, who can help clarify the dharma and can help us avoid the very easy trap of spiritual materialism.

By spiritual materialism, I mean the tendency for the ego to take over even a spiritual practice, as in “I got it now.” “I am getting peaceful, so I must be doing it right,” (Or, “I’m a wreck so I must be doing it wrong.”)  “I am more advanced than that person.” Or even, “This is the right path, and yours is, well, slightly delusional.”

I would say everyone needs some sort of teaching person. It might be on line, or in books, but there’s a rudder that’s needed, to stay on course.

What next? Next Sunday is Christmas. No meeting then. The next is New Years Eve. No meeting then. After that, on January 7 and then again on January 14th, Janet will lead sittings at UU at the regular time. This will give the group an opportunity to think through what each person, or the group, wants to do next. Please come to support Janet and the discussion.

I hope you find a place to practice. We all need support. In spite of all the talk about meditation in the media, it’s still antithetical to the way the world generally lives. The practice requires the framework of the teachings and the support of a group.

I’ll keep this site open and use it for notifications about any practice opportunities I hear of. Let me know if you find something I don’t know about.
Much love,


Dear Sangha,

Over ten years ago, I started the sitting group at UU because when I moved to Traverse City, there seemed to be no place else to go, and I knew I needed a sangha. Eventually, Karen (Kozan) co-led for a while after we met our mutual teacher, Sokuzan, and then later she began a more formal Zen sitting group at her house. They now meet at Pathways Preschool, on Thursday nights, from 6:30-8:30. There is a 15-minute service (chanting the Heart Sutra, etc.) before the sitting. I am also a part of that group.

A few weeks ago, I asked if there were those who would be able to help with the Sunday night UU group. Two of you offered to help when you could, but it doesn’t look as if there is anyone other than me who’s ready or able to assume responsibility for the management and running of the sangha. And I can’t continue to meet with both groups. It’s too much for me, considering that I have a husband and a big family, several of whom have health issues. Plus, there are the summers, and a little travel we want to do. And I feel that it’s time to consolidate my practice.

So I am going to step away from the Sunday night sangha. I suspect that means that the sangha ends. If so, that will be what needs to happen. I’ll keep you up to date with that.

I have been concerned about where you in the UU sangha might go for support with your practice, if you don’t want a formal situation like the Pathways sangha. It seems that there are places.

At UU: Thursdays from 5:30-6:30 there is a meditation group.

At Yoga for Health: Tuesdays from 12:00-1:00 (free) and Sundays from 8:30-9:30 (free)

Yen Yoga: Sundays from 9:15-9:45, and three classes on Yin and Meditation

I’m truly sad to think of no longer sitting with and having book discussions with you. I’ll miss you. We have supported a number of people over the years, and some have been with us from the beginning. I’m told that the weekly message has been supportive to those who weren’t able to sit with us.

Contact Kozan about the Thursday group if you are interested. Go to to read more about it.

We will meet tomorrow as usual, and we’ll talk about this. After that comes Christmas, and then New Years, when we won’t be meeting. It’s possible that tomorrow will be our last meeting. It will be the last one that includes me. But after that, there may be those who want to step forward and keep the sangha going. As I said, I’ll keep you informed.

Much love,


The Four Reminders

Dear Sangha,
downloadWe didn’t quite finish the book yesterday because we began talking about depression. Pema tackles this concept as she looks at the second reminder,  impermanence. “Why sit when I’m depressed?” she imagines someone asking. “How do we stop the habitualness of our process?” she asks. Well, that’s why we sit she goes on. We look carefully. We pay attention to details. My teacher Sokuzan says, “Go down under the concept. See what’s there.” Suzuki Roshi says, “Sit still. Don’t anticipate. Just be willing to die over and over again.”

In other words, as I read this, eventually we may quit trying to “solve” depression and simply be with it. Our expectations may begin to die. My first teacher Shinzen used to say that when we sit very still with something that our mind wants to call fear (or depression), our lizard brain, that never listens to reason, begins to realize there’s really no direct threat.

imagesPema goes on to talk about the third reminder, karma. When we really understand that every action has consequence, we will live differently. “Every time you’re willing to acknowledge your thoughts, let them go, come back to the freshness of the present moment, you’re sowing seeds of wakefulness in your unconsciousness,” she says.

Join us next Sunday at 5, when we almost certainly will finish this book. I’ve made copies of a chapter of a book by Rodney Smith, as a break between full-length books.



Dear sangha,
Our four-hour sitting was today. I thought you might enjoy this poem by Ellen Bass. See you next week.





Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

–Ellen Bass



The First Reminder

Dear Sangha,
We finished the chapter on “Inconvenience” and started the last one, on the Four Reminders, the first one, specifically, that says:

First, contemplate the preciousness of being free and well favored. This is difficult to gain, easy to lose; now I must do something meaningful.

downloadWe spent a lot of time talking about what “precious human birth” means. We were reminded that traditional Buddhist teachings are foregrounded with the understanding that this life is only one in a probable succession,so we must use it wisely. Even leaving that aside, we do realize how “well-favored” we are, being able to do this work. We are intelligent; we have enough money to allow us some freedom of time to sit; we have the situation–the inherited qualities, the upbringing, perhaps–that predisposes us toward the practice.

imagesWe have “everything going for us,” as Pema says. We don’t have so much pleasure that we are lulled into ignorance. We aren’t suffering so much that we can’t think of sitting. We live without constant fear (well, not as much as in other places). Gratitude is a powerful tool.

We’re urged to work with our own fear, bewilderment, sense of inferiority, resentment–whatever we have, for ourselves, and as an inspiration to others.

Speaking of inspiration, the four-hour sitting is coming up next Sunday. Your presence there is a huge inspiration to the rest of us. Come sit, no matter how busy you are or how stressed you might feel. Stop. Look deeply into whatever is there.



Dear Sangha,
“Inconvenience” seems a strange word to use for the practice, but it makes sense as Pema explains it. The discipline of the path is inconvenient. We sometimes end up doing what doesn’t come naturally. “Natural” is to stay asleep, to stumble along, living inside cliche, Being nice. Being obedient to what we think will reinforce our sense of self, will make us seem better.

downloadThe Buddhist practice causes us to leave shore, to become homeless, as Pema puts it. The truth is, there is nothing to fasten to. This is Pema: “Once you know that the purpose of life is to walk forward and continually to use your life to wake you up rather than put you to sleep, then there’s that sense of wholeheartedness about inconvenience, wholeheartedness about convenience.”

We have one more chapter to read in this book. Then we’ll be reading from a handout and deciding after that which book to take up. Have a happy Thanksgving! We’ll be in D.C. with daughters and son, grandchildren, sister and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews and their families. I’m so grateful we can all be together this year.images
With love,

P.S. Run, turkey!


Sticking to One Boat

Dear sangha,
This is the title of the chapter we read last night, which led to a very interesting and honest discussion about our sangha, the needs of the members of our sangha, including what “member” means. Pema Chodron is emphasizing in this chapter the need to stick with a practice, not to flit from one practice to the other, if we want to make real transformation happen in our lives.

download“Shopping,” as she puts it, “is always about trying to find security, always trying to feel good about yourself.” The “warrior’s journey,” she says, begins when one sticks to one boat. Of course we have to try things to see if they are going to resonate with us. But then it’s time to settle and go through the difficulties of a practice.

This is not easy nor is it culturally popular. Which is why we need a sangha, a group of people who also want to stick with it for the long haul. We talked about our particular Sunday night UU sangha and the need to share some of the responsibility. Please email me,, to volunteer to be on the list of those who can lead when I’m not there. I figure we need three people, at least. Janet has already volunteered. So two more should do it.

What is leading? It means arriving a little early, opening up and turning on heat and lights, getting the donation basket, ringing the bell according to our printed order, and then leading the discussion, which is always a group effort. 

Thank you for being there on Sunday night. Your presence supports all of us more than you can know.

41GqLsnI9rL._AC_US218_Oh! Our next book! I’ll bring copies for us of a chapter from “stepping out of self-deception: the Buddha’s liberation teaching of no-self,”  by Rodney Smith. Yasmin gave me this one, and what I’ve read so far is very good. Let’s just look at this first chapter to see if we want to go on with the book.



Sitting Alone in a Large Sanctuary

Dear sangha,
images-2Yesterday was the four-hour sitting. We had maybe 9 people all together. For a little while there was no one but me. I was not feeling like sitting there. I was feeling like getting up, going to the church library and fooling around there to see what I could find. But, I thought, this is the discipline of sitting. To watch the urge and not to do it. So, I found, as I often have lately, the support of the ages.

images-2What I mean is that I bring to mind an endless line of monks and others, including my teachers, sitting. I see their faces. I let them support me. I feel their own difficulties, their restlessness, and yet they sit there, They’re still with me. Or rather, it’s that I’m with them. I know them intimately, in a strange way. We are not separate. If they were/are ordinary people who were drawn to this practice and did it faithfully, so can I. I don’t always intellectually understand, but I am, it seems, irrevocably drawn to do it. I have complete trust in what I know of the practice.

That’s one of my techniques. I think of the unbroken line for 2500 years of those who’ve been sitting. And those who will, in the future.

Choosing a New Book

Dear Sangha,
We passed around one copy each of the two books we’re considering for our next one to discuss. It seemed impossible to decide on such short examination, so we decided to look at the pages available on Amazon to help us. Here are links to both books. Check them out. We’ll decide week after next at our next discussion.


Continuing our discussion of The Wisdom of No Escape, we considered the word Dharma, which has multiple meanings, but basically refers to the teachings. What is a teaching? Everything is dharma to the practitioner. Everything teaches us. Then there’s the accumulated teachings, the Dharma. Pema says, “What personal identification with the dharma means is, live that way, test it, try to find out what it really means in terms of losing your job, being jilted by your lover, dying of cancer.”

“The dharma never tells you what is true or what is false. It just encourages you to find out for yourself. However, because we have to use words, we make statements. For example, we say, ‘The everyday practice is to develop complete acceptance of all situations, emotions, and people.’ That sounds like what’s true and not to do that would be false. But that’s not what it says. What it does say is to encourage you to find out for yourself what is true and what is false.”

This coming Sunday is the four-hour block sitting. Here is the second of the Four Reminders:

The world and its inhabitants are impermanent, in particular the life of beings is like a bubble. Death comes without warning. This body will be a corpse. At that time the dharma will be my only help. I must practice it with exertion. 

imgresPlease join us from 2:30-6:30 next Sunday to practice with exertion. Exert yourself as much as you can. No requirement to stay the whole time. It’s an opportunity to stretch our practice.


The Dharma That is Taught and the Dharma That is Experienced

Dear Sangha,
51bXGTFVa4L._AC_US218_Yesterday we discussed our next book selection, The Myth of Freedom. When I mentioned the other Chogyam Trungpa book I had considered, Work, Sex, Money: Real Life on the Path of Mindfulness, there was considerable interest. So next week, I’m going to bring both possibilities–the one I had chosen, The Myth of Freedom, and this one. The group that shows up on Sunday will choose which one to study next.

Our reading this week was from the chapter that titles this post. Pema calls the Dharma that is taught a precious jewel. “Like bodhiccita (loving kindness) it can be covered over with dirt and yet is unchanged by dirt. When someone brings the jewel out into the light and shows it to everyone it resonates in the hearts and minds of those who see it.”

imagesThe Dharma that is experienced is not a different Dharma, she says, although it sometimes feels different. It’s when the teachings contact the obstacles and problems of our lives that the Dharma lives. “What you will discover as you continue to study the dharma and to practice meditation is that nothing you have ever heard is separate from your life. Dharma is the study of what is, and the only way you can find out what is true is through studying yourself.”

“The Zen master Dogen said, ‘To know yourself or study yourself is to forget yourself, and if you forget yourself then you become enlightened by all things.’

See you next week,