Week 10 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 10, last week – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week (for the past 10 weeks): http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013


The Five Remembrances

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape having ill-health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

I inherit the results of my actions of body, speech, and mind. My actions are my continuation.

Reflection Questions

1) If I knew that my beloved one was going to die today, what would be the most important thing for me to say or do right now?

Honestly, I don’t know.  I would want to spend time with them, embrace them and let them know that it’s OK.  It’s OK to die, it’s OK to leave me behind and that death is a part of life.  I would want to meet them with a calm energy so that they can pass away without fear.  And who knows if I could actually provide that or not, it’s hard to say.  I would also want to help them tie up any loose ends that they felt necessary to take care of before they died.

2) What is preventing me from doing/ saying it right now?

The only thing that prevents me from doing anything really is myself.  It’s important to me to express my love to my friends and family regularly and to provide my love and support to them on a daily basis and to the best of my ability I do those things.  There is no time like today to let someone know how much you value them.

3) What are some of the ways that I “hide” in the sense of shutting things out?

The ways that I hide would be with netflix, the computer, and sugar.  When I use them to hide what I’m hiding from is myself or a certain experience or emotion that I’m uncomfortable with.  I devote a lot of practice to these areas and the more I become aware of this pattern the more I am able to transform those habit energies.  It is a process.  The first step in transformation is to see what needs transforming.

Week 9 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 9 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013


Reflection Questions

1) How have you created meaning and purpose in your life?

The first thing that comes to mind is sangha and the practice.  I find meaning and purpose in my opportunities to create and nourish sangha.  I cannot think of anything more important to do with my time than to learn how to be in relationship with myself, cultivate community and connect deeply with the present moment.

2) What activities do you find most meaningful?  Which ones are difficult?  Why is that do you think?

I find sangha, meditation, mindfulness practice, getting together with friends and creating music as some of the most meaningful things I can do with my time.  I would say meditation for me is the most difficult to do.  I sit every week with my sangha but I sit on my own very little outside of sangha.  I haven’t created the discipline around it is why it is challenging.  I haven’t decided to make it a priority.

3) What does it mean to you to be “useful” or “beneficial” to others?

To see myself as not separate is one of the deepest teachings I think there is in this practice.  When I work on the lessons associated with non-separatness I can benefit others on the most important levels.  When I practice inter-being with myself, life situations, others, my environment and the here and now I am also practicing non-judgement, letting go, embracing things just as they are, compassion, understanding and an offering of gentle and confident energy at the same time in balance and harmony.

Week 8 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 8 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013


Reflection Questions

1) Why are you a meditator?  What brought you to meditation?

I meditate to learn the art of being a human being.  My journey of practice began with the book Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The book made great sense to me and then meditating also simply spoke to me as making sense.  There was no real ah-ha moment but there was an of-course moment involved, as in “of course I’ll learn to meditate, why the heck not?”

2) What does “waking up” mean to you?  What do you most need to wake up to?

Waking up means to engage with life in the present moment.  What am I doing right now?  What am I thinking right now?  Where am I right now?  Who am I with right now?  Often our minds and bodies are not connected.  While we are physically doing one thing our minds are off doing something else.  Oftentimes we are not in the very here and now with what we’re doing.  So when we start to practice waking up we become more and more aware of what we’re doing while we’re doing it.  We then begin to wake up to the here and now, our true home.

The teachings are like an ocean.  Over time my understanding sinks deeper and deeper.  Over time my relationship to a teaching can transform from head to heart – intellectual to spiritual.  I can see that the teaching on ‘not two’ is a pool I will be swimming in for some time.  Not two refers to the illusion that separateness exists.  We are commonly under the impression that I am me and you are you and we are separate from one another.  We also commonly believe that the good things that happen are a part of life but the bad things are not supposed to happen, that they are separate from life’s unfolding.  Not two means that we are not separate from each other and that the so called good things cannot exist without the so called bad things.  We interare.  This is a rich, deep teaching and one that I will continue to practice with long into my days.

3) What are some of the events, situations, people who have been teachers for me?

Thay is my beloved teacher and has taught me more than I ever thought possible.  As I shared in one of the previous weeks of this online retreat my nerve disease has been one of my biggest teachers.  I also have someone in my life who is extremely difficult to communicate and work with who provides me with more opportunities than often I would care for to look deeply into my own reactions and responses to challenging encounters.

This question is a tough one as I feel it is similar to asking me who my musical influences are in my own songs.   As is the case with my music it would be impossible to remove any artist that I’ve ever listened to from the category of influences.  One artist leads to another who leads to another and so on.  In the spirit of interconnection every artist from Alvin and the Chipmunks to New Kids on the Block to Led Zepplin and Ani Difranco to the Grateful Dead and Eminem are in the mix.  It is the same for my teachers.  It would be impossible to remove any friend, acquaintance, mentor, family member or situation, place, event, or happening from my realm of teachers.  Everything and everyone I have ever encountered has made me who I am right now.  Without any of those conditions I would not be who I am.  Still, I can pick out the larger elements on my path of practice like the few I mention above.

4) What was your first encounter with the Dharma?  What woke up in you?

My first encounter was the book Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.  As I wrote above the book simply made sense to me.  It was like returning home to myself on a path I had never traveled on but seemed very familiar and comforting.  Before that book I don’t recall ever thinking about the present moment.  What woke up for me was the realization that I wasn’t awake.  The first step in any kind of transformation is to first realize that there is something to be transformed.  For example if I am addicted to sugar (which I am) the first step is to know that I am addicted to sugar.  Just as the first step in waking up is to see that we are sleep walking through life.

Week 7 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 7 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013


My notes from Brother Phap Hai’s talk:

There is no way home, home is the way.

“I walk for you,” Thay.

The 4 great buddhist archetypes (to cultivate in our own mind of bodhicitta): Manjushri: great understanding, Samantabhadra: great action, Avalokiteshvara: great compassion, Khistigarba: great vow.

The 6 crossings over (paramitas): generosity (material, dharma, non-fear), mindfulness trainings (three cumulative pure precepts: refraining from harmful actions of body, speech and mind, cultivating wholesome seeds in self and others, benefit all beings), inclusiveness (open heart, present with conditions as they are – to be patient with anyone regardless of their situation), diligence, meditation (quality of mind that embraces all and excludes none – our meditation is our daily life, not just on the cushion), and insight (seeing things as they really all – the mother of all the buddhas).  The paramitas are the petals of a flower – when we cultivate one we cultivate the others.  We can chose to make them the framework of our raft.

Reflection Questions

1) Do I notice any “flower” moments this week?  What are some situations where I am called to a deeper understanding, a widening of my heart?

As described in the talk offered by Brother Phap Hai a flower moment is one where the true nature of something is revealed.  I noticed many flower moments this week.  I am currently visiting my family on the east coast where I was born and raised.  In the past when I’ve come home to visit it has been a little stressful trying to see as many people as possible in a short amount of time, always feeling like I’m not spending enough time with this person or that person, getting swept away by the fast paced culture here, and getting wrapped up in my stories and judgements of a myriad of things.  This visit has been different.  I feel much more relaxed.  I’ve been practicing deeply to simply go with the flow, to release my judgements and to embrace.  Embrace myself, my surroundings (whatever they are), my family and all of the energies that are floating, whizzing or rocketing around.  Seeing my old stomping grounds as a beautiful and deep part of myself has helped to transform the relationship I have with this area, which up until now was quite strained.

I am called to a deeper understanding and widening of the heart when it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone.  I very much enjoy seeing the transformation of a once awkward or challenging situation into a comfortable one with joy and ease.

2) Reflecting on the paramitas – which one(s) are most present for me in my practice and daily life at this time?

Inclusiveness is alive for me right now and has been in the past week.  Being with situations as they are, being with people as they are.  One of the great fruits of the practice is the cultivation of ease and comfort in a variety of situations.  And I’ve been enjoying seeing this process unfold.

3) Take some time, just as mentioned in the podcast to reflect concretely on the interconnectedness of the paramitas and how they manifest themselves in your practice.. e.g. How is generosity a part of the mindfulness trainings, how is inclusiveness part of the trainings etc, until you have looked at all of them and their different manifestations. This is a really interesting reflection and you are going to discover many aspects to your practice and motivation that you hadn’t touched until now!  Enjoy!

4) What does compassion mean to me? How does compassion manifest in my life?

Compassion is how I relate to others in a way that expresses my care, understanding and support.  I practice to stay in touch with both the joys and suffering that exist, to look at things deeply and keep an open mind.  Compassion is cultivated through my mindfulness and meditation practice and manifests through my relationships to both myself and my surroundings.

5) In the Discourse on the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, what does “to suffer with all beings” mean to me?

To me this means to stay in touch with suffering, to not turn away from it.  It means to practice looking deeply to see the causes and conditions of suffering and to embrace it fully as a part of life.  It also means to offer support and care to those who suffer, to help show them how to transform their suffering to become light and free and joyful.

Suggested Practices

Create space and time this week for walking meditation. Space set aside, and also a natural practice of embodied walking as you move through your day. Notice times and spaces where you feel relaxed and unhurried, and situations where you feel rushed and “pressed.”

Week 6 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 6 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013


Reflection Questions

1) As I become more grounded in body and mind, what “hindrances” am I aware of most strongly through my day? Are there some that are more predominant for me than others?

Brother Phap Hai (the monk who offers the talks associated with each week of the online winter retreat) spoke of the four hindrances: Running (after things), ill-will towards others, ourselves and our practice, sloth, restlessness & remorse (not feeling good enough), skeptical doubt (cynicism – stepping back instead of stepping forward).  I’m not sure if the question is asking in regards to these hindrances offered in the talk or a more broadened approach including any number of hindrances so I’ll speak to both.

From the hindrances offered above I would say that ill-will towards others stands out the most to me.  This is difficult to admit.  The ill-will comes in the form of judgements mostly directed at those closest to me, or those that treat me poorly.  I also see the want for a quick fix button to be a large hindrance in my life.  Reaching quickly sometimes for caffeine or sugar or netflix to satiate a need for energy or comfort or to disassociate with a certain state of mind or emotion.

2) What does socially engaged Buddhism mean to me? In the wake of a tragedy such as Newtown, what meaningful steps can I/ we take?

It means to be involved in the world around us, to be connected in equal parts to both the suffering and joy that is happening each day.  The tragedy in Newtown was heart breaking and terribly sad and it is also not an isolated incident – even that same day a man burst into a school classroom in China with a knife and a student was arrested for threatening acts of harm against a school in another U.S state.  I think it is important to see clearly that there is fear, anger, loneliness and deep suffering all around us.  Every day people are dying due to war, suicide and starvation.  Every day women are raped.  Every day there are terrible acts of violence committed against ourselves and others around the world.

Too often we are out of balance.  It is easy to get overly absorbed in the suffering that exists.  It is also easy to get overly absorbed in the denial of the suffering that exists.  The balance is found by blending both the joy and the suffering that exist in life.  They are both a natural part of life.  A meaningful step we can take is to practice balancing ourselves so that we do not turn away from the suffering nor turn away from the joy.  We can learn to face both equally.


I once heard a dharma teacher speak about suffering saying that we all know how to suffer, we have that one down.  And it’s true.  We all know full well how to suffer.  What many of us don’t know how to do is bask in the joy that abounds in every moment.  There is joy all around us.  This is not wishful thinking, as Thay might say.  This is a deep practice.  Cultivating joy is a transformational act.   Smiling is a transformational act.  Thay says, “Smiling is very important.  If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.”  To me this statement is extremely powerful coming from a zen master.  Two meaningful steps we can take is not to underestimate our own capacity to experience joy and to not underestimate the simple acts we can do to bring joy into the world.  A famous quote by Mother Teresa says, “We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.”  We need to do more small things with great love.

I also firmly believe that one of the most important things we can do is cultivate our true presence to offer to ourselves, our loved ones and those around us.  Practicing deep breathing, cultivating mindfulness and learning to look with the eyes of love and understanding are not simply nice things to do, they are deeply crucial elements to our awakening and the well being of ourselves and our planet.

Suggested Practices

Let us continue to establish ourselves deeply in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. You may like to cycle through the Foundations a few times over the next two weeks: focusing on one establishment for a few days, and then moving on to another.

Have a wonderful two weeks of connection, of receiving and of giving.

Week 5 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 5 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013


Reflection Questions

1) Looking back over my own journey of practice, what were the moments, situations or people that were my noble messengers?

When the buddha traveled outside of the royal palace he grew up in he met four different people, four noble messengers that helped his awakening, someone who was old, sick, dead, and a spiritual practitioner.  Looking back over my path of practice from the beginning the first thing that comes to mind for me was a book I picked up on a friend’s counter.  That book started my awakening.  It was an SLAA book, Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous.  I was 18 years old at the time.  And to my surprise I related to the book on many levels.  I started realizing how much of my self-worth was wrapped up in needing to be in a relationship and it was very startling and very difficult to start unwrapping the habit energies I had acquired already at such a young age.  I was open to this particular practice only because of the work I did with SLAA.  And so when a different friend gave me Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh to read I was ready to receive the teachings offered in it.

Another noble messenger was my injury in 2005 that led to the chronic nerve disease RSD.  Now at 33 years old I still continue to deal with chronic pain every day.  Most moments through the day I am in physical pain.  And while that can spark much sympathy from people and when people find out they feel sorry for me and badly for what I must go through I have come into relationship with my disease in a way that I have much gratitude for.  It did not start out that way, of course, but over time with the great support of my practice I was able to transform my disease from a terrible enemy into a friend.  My RSD continues to guide me in many ways and is a great teacher on the path.

2) What, for me, does it mean to take refuge in the Sangha?

To take refuge in the sangha means to trust in the community.  To trust the community with my real human experience, to take both my joys and struggles to my sangha and lay them down.

3) What for me does it mean to take refuge in myself?

The other night I was unexpectedly confronted by someone at my house who was quite upset with me, among with many many other things and people.  They were quite ungrounded and angry.  Many things were being said by this person that were simply untrue but there was nothing I could say that was helpful, there was very little I could do.  In that moment I came back to my in-breath and out-breath and sat down in a solid meditation pose on my kitchen chair and practiced to listen as best as I was able to, both to what was being said and what was being left un-said.  While I was being verbally attacked I breathed and listened deeply.  That to me is an illustration of taking refuge in myself.  After they left I could feel tears brimming in my eyes and I was aware that I had a choice.  I could be swept down the river of that person’s turbulent emotions and take them on or I could take refuge in myself by staying in the here and now, by staying with my breathing.  I chose the latter.  And that choice is one of the fruits of the practice.

4) What does it mean to look at my Sangha as my body? Just as a body, my Sangha has needs – how do I respond to those?

In having founded the sangha I sit with 10 years ago I very much see the correlation between the Be Here Now sangha and my own practice.  As it has grown and expanded so has my own practice and vice versa.  Be Here Now and I are interconnected.  It is impossible to separate the two.  I care for the sangha just as I would a close friend and enjoy listening to people’s needs and feedback about what is working or not working.  To see the sangha as a living organism is very helpful and is needed to continue to grow and blossom as a community.

Suggested Practices

1) Following along with the teaching in this weeks’ podcast we are invited into the practice of mindfulness of the body in the body this week- in terms of the four main positions of the body as well as to become aware of the different parts of our body.

2) Let us make time this week for total relaxation – either a minute here and there throughout the day, or in the evening before going to bed. Maybe both!

Week 4 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 4 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013

I’m still lagging behind in the set course of the winter retreat, but that’s OK :)


Reflection Questions

1) Reflecting on my practice, how is it a gift- to myself, my dear ones, my Sangha?

I see that one of the biggest fruits of my practice is to cultivate presence.  When I am present with myself I can be present for someone else and for my sangha.  Presence is a gift.  Our true presence is the greatest gift we can offer to someone else.

2) From my practice of stopping and coming back to my senses during the past week- what themes have emerged? Have I noticed that I tend to be more aware of sounds, or smells, or tastes, or sights, or sensations? What are some of the more consistent themes that have been running through my thoughts this past week?

When I practice stopping the first sense that I notice is my hearing.  I hear the sounds of traffic or the people around me or whatever else is going on.  The consistent themes I’ve been noticing lately have been related to coming back to my true home in the here and now and being an island unto myself.  I am coming into relationship with the deeper capacity within myself to not be swept away by the goings on around me or the emotions of others.  It is a deep well within us all to be able to root ourselves firmly in the here and now and not be swept away or overcome by differing forms of negativity or unskillfulness.

3) Reflecting back over my mandala of practice for this winter (Study, practice, work, play)- what have I found easy and what have I found challenging? What do I resist most?

I have been sitting at least once a week on my own outside of sangha and that feels like a nice step in my practice.  Work and play are the areas I am very strong in and this is still the same.  Study, as I mentioned earlier in one of the retreat reflection exercises, is what I resist the most.  But over the last few weeks I’ve been  listening to the talks associated with the winter retreat, reading articles written by Thay and the monastics, and also watching or listening to dharma talks by Thay and I see all of this in the realm of study.

And since my 5 day juice fast I’ve stayed off of candy bars which is wonderful!  I’ve had other sweets but my addiction lies in chocolate bars so not having had them since Thanksgiving is a big thing for me.  The juice fast really helped me to get back to healthy eating.  Healthy eating and lessening unskillful habits can be a very difficult practice.  It feels nice to be making a little bit of progress in letting go of my strong habit energy towards sugar.

Suggested Practices

This coming week, building on the practice of coming back to my senses, throughout the day we are invited to walk through the door of becoming more aware of the three roots in our conscious- the seeking, grasping mind, aversion and not seeing things as they are. Throughout this coming week, in your stopping practice, notice and smile to the stories that you tell yourself about the experiences that you are having. What interpretations are you making? At the end of the week, it may be helpful to go back over the themes that we noticed during the week and see if they still resonate with us, or whether a few days later, we see the situation quite differently.

Have fun!

Week 3 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 3 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  (To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013)

Thay's Calligraphy

Thay’s Calligraphy

Reflection Questions

1.) What do I enjoy about my practice?

I enjoy being connected more fully – with myself, my surroundings and others.  I enjoy coming back to my breathing and becoming grounded in the present moment.  And I enjoy the fruits of my practice – things like responding more clearly to situations when they arise, embracing strong emotions, knowing how to cultivate joy in there here and now and being able to offer my true presence.

2.) What is it experientially that gives me confidence in the Buddha’s teaching?  What transformations have I seen?

The teachings make sense to me.  I was attracted to this practice because the teachings made sense and when I began to practice and bring them into my daily life I saw benefits right away.  I have confidence in the teachings because I have seen how they cultivate a calming presence in my life and because they represent a path that brings me back to my true home, the present moment.

The transformations I have seen in my life due to this practice are plentiful.  I am able to embrace life on life’s terms rather than constantly struggling against it and wishing it were different.  I am able to sit and be still – I can calm my body and mind and return to the here and now.  I am better equipped with tools to be fully human and offer that humanness to my community.  I am better able to hold challenges and not get swept away by them and I am better able to accept myself just as I am.  And I can be fully present for my loved ones.  The list goes on and on…

3.) What does it mean to offer someone non-fear?  To offer them the dharma?  What does it mean to offer them to myself?

What I see as offering non-fear is to embrace someone else in the spirit of non-judgement, understanding and compassion.  To offer non-fear is to listen deeply and to look with the eyes of love.  To offer the dharma is to offer my true presence.  When I breathe deeply and connect with myself in the here and now and become grounded in the joy and beauty that is within and around me in each moment I am sharing the dharma.  And this too is what it means to offer it to myself.  Embracing myself just as I am right now is the greatest gift I can offer myself.

Suggested Practices

One of the core practices of Plum Village is the practice of stopping. Create opportunities for stopping this week. When you come back to your breath, you may like to bring awareness to your senses: what you are hearing, what you are seeing, what you are sensing in your body and so on. Notice whether there are any patterns that emerge. Which of the senses are you naturally drawn to, or us most apparent to you?

Week 2 – Online Winter Retreat

I’m a little behind in the winter retreat but that’s OK.  Week 2 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  (To follow along, copy and paste this in your browser: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013)


Reflection Questions:

1.) What are some of the ways I consciously choose to nourish myself and my nearest and dearest?

For myself I nourish myself by attending my weekly Be Here Now sangha community meditation group and occasionally practicing sitting meditation on my own throughout the week.  I also listen and play music and that is something that nourishes me on many levels.  I also have a pretty good balance of resting that is infused in each day, more of a necessity really since I suffer from chronic pain but it is nourishing and restorative and very important to my well being.  I also take time with friends.  And anytime I can get into the woods or go hot springing is a good day, I see that time outside as crucial to my nourishment and healing.

Nourishing my loved ones, hmmm.  For my husband and step-son I see that my daily and weekly care of them includes things like making lunch and dinner, doing the laundry, buying organic food, cleaning the house and the like.  But when I look deeper into this question I see that I also nourish them by listening deeply to them, expressing my love to them everyday and smiling brightly.  I see that when I take good care of myself I am taking good care of them.  For my friends I see that my nourishment also comes in the form of listening deeply, being present with them and for them and making them a priority in my life.

2.) What are some of the ways I nourish my sangha?

I show up every week – being present is the first important piece.  When I share in our sharing circle at sangha I practice authenticity and heartfelt connection.  I see that when I show up just as I am, bringing the mind and body together as one I nourish the capacity of openness in my community.  I also do all of that behind the scenes planning and organizing stuff too for retreats, days of mindfulness and program events, which I very much enjoy.

3.) Can I recognize some areas in which I am holding back from nourishing myself?  Why might that be?

Nothing is springing to mind at the moment on this one.

4.) What are some practices that I find it easy to engage with “100%”?

What leaps to mind first is music, but that’s not really a practice.  But I do find it easy to engage fully with music, especially when I am writing my own songs.  The things that I think of as fully engaging in aren’t really practices.  Things like gardening or spending time with children.  I do enjoy smiling and I see that as very much a practice and a dharma door and one that I engage fully in.  I would also say silence.  I enjoy silence a great deal and I enjoy sharing it with others.

5.) What are some practices that I experience a resistance to?  Why do I think that might be?

I am resistent to sitting on my own everyday, as I have mentioned before in week one.  Part of me tells myself that because I have such a small house and no designated area for sitting that it makes it difficult to sit and create that space in the middle of my everyday house life.  I have an alter but it’s right next to my bed.  So my sitting area is my bed, which is not ideal.  And then part of me says, “well, that’s a cop out.  you can sit anywhere, you don’t need a separate room in order to sit.”  I think the resistance goes deeper than that but I am not fully in touch with it.

Suggested Practices:

This week, please continue to work with the four area practice plan that we devised last week.

You are invited into a practice of eating meditation this week. Each day, choose at least one meal to eat in mindful awareness.

At the end of each day, take some time to reflect over and enjoy the times and situations that you noticed your heart opening, and that you reached out to connect with others. What beneficial actions and motivations did you notice in others today? You may like to write these down. Consider using this practice with your Sangha, and sharing the wonderful qualities that you see in each other. This could be done creatively, for example, by everyone writing down some points on slips of paper that they put into the bell, or a box, and then people draw them out at random and read them out for everyone’s benefit. Have fun with this powerful practice!!!

Week 1 – Online Winter Retreat

Deer Park Monastery in California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, has started an online winter retreat that people can take part in either on their own or with their sangha.  They post readings, talks, and practices to do once a week for 12 weeks.  So far they have week one posted on their facebook page (www.facebook.com/deerparkmonastery, in their events section).  I thought I would follow along with the winter retreat through my blog, in hopes that it will inspire me to be diligent and stick with it.

Week One: Intention Setting and Focus

This weeks reading: The Busy Trap, from the New York Times June 30th.

Reflection Exercises:

1.) Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) has described four aspects of our spiritual life that we as practitioners can look into: Study, Practice, Work and Play.

You are invited to spend some time this week looking into these four areas and setting intentions for each one of them in the lead into the winter retreat, as described in the accompanying talk (see their facebook if you’re interested in checking it out).  Perhaps consider diagraming them out for reference.

Alree, Montana

My answer –

Study.  Well, I’d have to say this is the area out of the four that I do the less amount of work in.  I am not terribly interested in learning about sutras or reading commentaries about sutras – and that’s where my mind goes right away when I think of study.  I do, however, enjoy reading them from time to time and can appreciate their value in my practice and in this tradition.  And there are other things to study as well.  I may have to think more about this one and how I can apply study to this winter course.

Practice.  What I like most about this tradition is that everything is practice.  Sitting meditation and washing the dishes are not different.  Both provide the same opportunity to be present with what we’re doing while we’re doing it.  Both are moments to be alive and happy.  What comes up for me right away when I think of practice and setting an intention is my personal sitting practice.  Most days I do not practice sitting meditation on my own and I would very much like to.  So I would like to use this winter retreat to start a more regular sitting practice.  I think if I start out with the lofty goal of sitting everyday it will be too daunting.  So I’d like to start out smaller.  I sit with my sangha Be Here Now every Monday night – I would like to simply start out with once a week on my own I will practice some sitting.  So I will have my sangha sitting and at least one sit on my own.

Work.  When I think of work I think of the volunteer work I do.  I think of the sangha service I do both with Be Here Now and Open Way.  Creating community and bringing people together is a joy of mine and I do it often.  I don’t feel like I am needing to set an intention on this particular one at the moment.  But I will keep it simmering in case something springs to mind.

Play.  This is something I do a lot.  I have a strong practice in joy and playfulness :)  For me it  usually manifests in regards to music in some way.  If you see me driving around town I’ll be the one playing my music as loud as it will go, singing, smiling and dancing in my driver’s seat.  I also play music and write songs.  I love to play around and be silly.  So this one I also feel pretty confident in.  Brining play into my day is not only enjoyable but I have found it important to my mental, emotional and physical well being.  So my intention maybe could be to keep on doing what I’m doing!

2.) What are some simple practice commitments you would like to make with yourself?  What will you be exploring deeply?  How about together with your sangha?

My answer –

Right now I would like to make the commitment to sit on my own at least once a week. I am also greatly limiting what kinds of media I am consuming and would like to continue the commitment to monitor closely what I am watching.  I will be exploring deeply my personal sitting practice in order to see what my stumbling blocks are and how I can transform them.  I would also like to incorporate this deep looking into my personal sharing with my sangha.

3.) Further to the previous question, in looking at the upcoming winter retreat, and looking at your current situation, what are some of the things that unnecessarily occupy your time and attention – what do you normally get stuck in?  Are there areas that you might like to consider letting go of for these next 90 days?

My answer –

The first things that come up for me are watching my dvd’s of the Golden Girls (ya know, that show from the 80’s about 4 older women who live together) and eating sugar.  I get stuck in both of them.  And oftentimes they go together.  The thought of giving up sugar, or more specifically chocolate bars, is appealing and daunting.  Right now I’m on day 2 of a 10 day juice fast, so really this is the perfect time to set up an intention of giving up chocolate for 90 days since I’m rebooting my system anyway.  It is very clear to me that when we set up goals that are too big we set ourselves up for a fall so I am more inclined to set up a smaller intention.  Giving up chocolate for 2 weeks after my 10 day juice fast and then only eating it 2-3 times per week instead of everyday seems more tangible.  I will keep you all posted on how it goes.  I have a feeling that posting this online and blogging about this process will help to keep me focused and accountable to myself.  One moment at a time.

My gratitude to all of you who keep reading my blog.  Thanks for sticking around!