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Solo Retreat, Part 2 of 3

Written on Saturday June 17th, 2017

7:19pm

A few years ago, a university student, who was sitting with our sangha at the time, asked if she could do a video project of me on the topic of meditation for a journalism class she was taking. One of the questions she prompted me with on camera was to fill in the blank: Meditation is like ______. I said: Meditation is like stepping out into the first light of spring. It was simply the first thing that came to mind. Well, today has felt this way, too. It has been the loveliest of days. I feel light, refreshed, nourished, peaceful, and contented. What great fruits this practice brings!

It’s worth mentioning that while I did come up with a schedule to serve as a foundation for this weekend, I also intended on going with the flow of the day and following my intuition. Here’s what today wound up looking like:

5:30am Wake up
5:30-7:00am Sip tea, write, watch the morning sky
7:00am Sitting meditation
7:30am Sutra service
8:00am Stick exercises
8:30-9:00am Breakfast
9:15-10:30am Dharma talk video
10:30-11:15am Outdoor walking
11:30-12:15pm Yoga (using guided video)
12:15-12:45pm Picnic lunch outside
12:45-1:45pm Nap
2:00-4:00pm Sip tea, write, calligraphy, read
4:00pm Sitting meditation
4:30pm Sutra service
5:00-6:00pm Dinner
6:15-6:45pm Outdoor walking & sage picking
7:00-9:00pm Journal typing
9:00-9:30pm Read
9:30ish Bedtime

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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Local Retreats

 

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Solo Retreat, Part 1 of 3

Written on Friday June 16th, 2017

7:32pm

The idea of doing a solo retreat has been a brewing interest of mine for a little while now. Then, after going to Deer Park Monastery for three-weeks this past January, my percolating idea bubbled up with a newfound vigor. So I emailed a few well-chosen friends who I thought might have some ideas of a place to go where I could be relatively secluded, surrounded by nature, and left to my own devices.

I’ve long been wanting to stay in one of the handful of local fire towers that’ve been converted to a reservable getaway destination spot, but I soon found out that those are in high demand and already fully booked up for the season, which makes sense. (Note to self: book early for next year!)

A sangha friend generously offered me the use of her and her husband’s cabin about an hour from town, which is where I’ve landed and am currently typing from. I arrived here, amid spectacular rolling sage-covered foothills, around 4:30 this afternoon. After finding my way around the house and unpacking the car, I set to making dinner, which I intentionally kept simple: a pre-made salad and a bowl of vegetarian chili, made and sold by our local organic market The Good Food Store, which I picked up this morning.

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Posted by on June 18, 2017 in Local Retreats

 

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A Certain Kind of Insanity

A light breeze blows,
showering me with creme-colored, circular elm seeds,
littering my outdoor work-space with debris.

I huff at my freshly cleared-off tablecloth becoming strewn with seed pods…again.

But, what am I expecting to have happen here? I’m sitting outside under a freakin’ elm tree, after all.

_______________

There’s a certain kind of learned, common human insanity that plagues our patterns of thought in detrimental, destructive ways.

I think it’s worth asking ourselves this question: What percentage of my day is spent wishing something was other than as it is?

I wish I were more _____ and less _____. I wish so-and-so was less of a jerk, for that dude to drive better, and for that lady to pipe down. I wish I had a cup of coffee or a brownie or a stiff drink. I wish it was warmer out or cooler out or dryer out or wetter out. I wish I didn’t have to go to work or do the laundry or haul the kids all over town or make dinner….

Not to sound harsh or anything, but, if you really want to be happy, you’re gonna need to stop trying so hard.

There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.

 

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Praise & Blame

I’ve been thinking about the notions of praise and blame lately. Mainly about how common it is to fall prey to them and how empty they are of value and meaning. The other day, when I was on an airplane coming home, one of things I wrote down in my journal was:

As long as we’re looking for something outside of our own inner landscape to complete, validate, or otherwise be the maker of our sorrow and/or happiness, we will continue to suffer. And suffer we will – for the rest of our days.

What praise and blame have in common is that they help perpetuate the illusion that other people’s actions and words are what determine our quality of life. We are often dependent on others to both build up and maintain our self-worth and value and take the fall for any amount of discomfort or discontent we experience. We are continually putting our state of mental and emotional well-being in the hands of those around us.

 

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Seeds of the past

I’ve sifted through time,
right here to this spot,
influenced by every drop of sound
that has hummed itself in range of my countenance.

I am the manifestation of my mother’s walk to sobriety, and subsequent hard work,
my father’s grounded nature and integrity,
my best friends growing up,
like Jamie, who I lost over a boy,
and all the boys I crushed on and left for other boys;
my paternal grandmother’s adoration of babies
and my maternal grandfather’s sense of placement and orderliness;
and Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” song,
which served as my personal anthem, drumming me on my journey west away from home,
days before I would turn 19.

This one life, amid all my musings and ramblings and incoherent tangles of thought,
has been so artfully crafted and groomed by an endless sea of moments and influences
that it becomes impossible to discern where “I” begin and end –
as with any minor adjustment to my life,
I would be someone altogether different.

 
 

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Zen is Right Here (Recommended Read)

This morning I started reading Zen is Right Here, which is compilation of short teaching stories and anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki, who’s often called Suzuki Roshi. It’s a great read so far and I’m very much enjoying it – I also especially appreciate how short the stories and anecdotes are, as I wasn’t looking to launch into a long and heavily involved book.

From the book:

A student asked Suzuki Roshi why the Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily.

“It’s not that they’re too delicate,” he answered, “but that you don’t know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa.”

– Page 64

 

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Will Meditation Change My Life?

Spurred by the feature article in the current May 2017 edition of Lion’s Roar magazine, entitled How to Meditate Like the Buddha, which highlights eleven leading Buddhist teachers answers to common questions, I thought I would try my hand at answering one of the questions that were posed. Here goes:

Q: Will Meditating Change My Life?

A: (in my own words)

Yes. And no. (Classic Zen response, right?)

In the sense that meditation has the capacity to open new mental pathways, expand our perspective, and deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, yes, meditation has the very real potential to change our lives in a variety of beneficial ways. To be clear, though, it will only change our lives to the degree in which we actively, diligently, and appropriately practice it.

However, meditation will not change anything in the Being Human department. We will continue to interface with everything related to our human manifestation, regardless of how much cushion time we log: aging, illness, death, sorrow, loss, anger, standing in line FOREVER at the grocery store, tax season, paying bills, challenging co-workers, world politics, and so on.

While the physical happenings around us won’t change, what CAN change is our relationship to them – our inner experience and attitude, the way in which we interact mentally and emotionally with those physical happenings. Developing a meditation practice allows us to create spaciousness, stillness, and quietude in the otherwise extremely full, cluttered, and chaotic atmosphere of our mind’s landscape. And from this creation of space, we have the opportunity to respond with more ease, understanding, and compassion in our everyday lives – which changes everything.

 

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