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!