Boise Retreat


Beginner’s Mind Sangha T-Shirts

This past weekend my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Boise, Idaho for a non-residential meditation retreat.  This is our 4th year in a row traveling there for their winter retreat.  The sangha (spiritual community) there is called Beginner’s Mind and was founded in the early 90’s in the tradition of Thich Nhat’s Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, the same as our home sangha in Missoula.  It is so wonderful to be able to cultivate connections and relationships with other sangha families and to practice together on the path of mindfulness.

It takes about 8 1/2 hours to get from Missoula to Boise on a lovely scenic stretch of road through the Bitterroot National Forest, Salmon-Challis National Forest and the Salmon River Mountains.  Idaho is similar to Montana in that it’s difficult to find a spot that’s not wildly wrapped up in beauty.  Fortunately white roads and winter travels don’t deter us.  With our 1994 all wheel drive Subaru legacy, touting an impressive 307,080 miles, we feel quite comfortable journeying out and about.  After we were married we lived and traveled around the states in our old Ford van for a few months and found a love of the road, a place where we still feel quite at home.  For me returning to the stretches of highways and byways that connect the largest cities to the smallest towns is like seeing an old friend, one I am quite happy to see and greet with a smile.


We arrived in Boise for the start of their evening program on Friday night.  As part of their retreat they had the visiting dharma teacher, Michael Ciborski, attend their regular practice night on Wednesday night and then Thursday night there was also a program from 7:00-9:00pm.  The retreat then had a program on Friday night, all day Saturday and on Sunday until 4:00pm.  Being a non-residential retreat means that there is no place to stay on the premise overnight where the retreat is being held so for the last 4 years we’ve been hosted by different sangha members in their homes.  The Boise sangha is so welcoming, generous and hospitable and we have been so touched by the different folks who have taken us in over the years.  This year two new friends offered to host us and they were so wonderful and took such good care of us.  To take refuge in the sangha is to truly have a family wherever you go.

We arrived in Boise with just enough time to grab something to eat and head to where the retreat was being held.  At 7:00pm we started with sitting and walking meditation followed by a dharma talk from Michael.  4 years ago when we ventured out for our first winter retreat in Boise our motivating factor was to see our dear friend and teacher Michael Ciborski, who’s been coming to lead one of our two Montana Open Way Sanghas annual retreats for the past few years.  Now as we’ve been making the winter trek we not only come to practice with Micahel but we come to see our sangha friends, which is so delightful!


A beautiful zen circle a local Boise sangha member painted

I was not equipped, as I usually am, with a pen and paper during the dharma talk on Friday night but here are some brief notes I jotted down Saturday morning that I wanted to remember from what he said:

We need to practice joy and happiness.  At first it may feel fake, like we’re not being authentic with our experience, and this is because our seed of joy is quite small within us.  The seed of joy is within all of us but if we have not practiced watering it the seed may be very small.  Many of us have practiced watering the seed of suffering much more so it is stronger in us.  Our joy is like a tiny flower hidden in a large grassy field.  Over time the flower will grow larger and larger.  Both joy and suffering reside within and around us in every moment,  we need to practice turning our attention in the direction of joy and happiness, because it is there too.  

On Saturday our schedule was as follows:

8:30am Sitting & Walking Meditation, Sutra Service

10:00am Dharma Talk

11:45am Outdoor Walking Meditation

12:30pm Lunch

1:30pm Deep Relaxation

2:30pm Dharma Discussion Groups

4:00pm Break

4:15pm Mindful Movements

5:00pm Sitting & Walking Meditation

6:00pm Dinner

7:15pm Five Mindfulness Trainings Panel Talk & Discussion

9:00pm End of Day

Closing circle (Dharma teacher Michael Ciborski sits to the left of the bell)

Here are some of the notes I took during Saturday’s dharma talk:

7 Factors of Awakening


Deep Looking

Interest and Enthusiasm 




Equanimity (letting go) 

Recognition – Cultivation – Realization (this is the process of working deeply to better understand ourselves and for developing a mindfulness practice).  When we practice recognizing what’s happening we already reduce its power right away, transformation has started.  

It’s not the things, ideas, other people or our strong emotions that cause our suffering or attachments it is about how we hold onto them.  (Are we holding gently with love and care or are we holding with fear, stress, and upset).  4 Graspings: Sense Pleasures, Views (example: right & wrong), Rules & Rituals, and The Belief in a Separate Self.  The more we grasp & cling the more we suffer.  “The tighter we hold, the further we are from life,” Michael Ciborski. 

We all have a garden of seeds within us that contain seeds of joy, peace, sorrow, anger, patience, kindness, fear, jealousy, ease, happiness and many others.  Taking up mindfulness is like putting a gardener in the garden with our seeds.  Someone to observe what’s going on and use tools to cultivate skillful seeds.  The more we practice, the more we keep practicing.  Let us practice also when we are not in the midst of challenge or strong emotion.  If we wait until we are suffering to practice, the seed of mindfulness in our garden may be too small to be of any help in times of need.  Our wholesome seeds in the garden have to do with interbeing and connection – to benefit all.  Our unwholesome seeds in the garden have to do with being separate – to benefit self.  Understanding ourselves does not happen on its own, we need to be willful and practice energetically. 

We need to get a hold of our mind.  Our thinking is way out of control.  Rarely do we think the thoughts.  They are running around without our consciousness involved, jumping from one thing to the next.  We are not in control of our thoughts.  Concentration is developed by either elimination or relaxation.  We need both to cultivate our practice – if we only do one we probably won’t be able to think very clearly.  Elimination is to come from the outside-in.  Relaxation is to come from the inside-out.  


Honey Locust Tree

Here are some notes I took during Sunday’s dharma talk:

“We connect with the world when we come home to ourselves (in the present moment),” Michael Ciborski, “To throw open the doors to the world, that’s what it is to come home to ourselves.”  When we contemplate impermanence we are also cultivating letting go or our desire, our grasping begins to release.  The eyes of impermanence, the eyes of interbeing and the eyes of no-self are all very connected – when we cultivate one we cultivate them all.  Cultivating impermanence, interbeing and no-self helps us to loosen our fears, grasping and attachments.  We have a lot of ideas about our self that are not accurate or that we hold onto too tightly so that it causes suffering.  

Guided meditation exercise: I am not limited by this body, my body does not define me, it does not determine who I am.  My name is ___, I’m ___ years old but they are not me, I am not defined or limited by them, they are conventional designations.  Then we go through our schooling, upbringing, wealth, accomplishments, possessions saying to each that these things do not belong to me, I am not defined or limited by these things.  Then we think about our family and friends saying to each that these people do not belong to me, I am not defined or limited by them.  With this exercise we might think, “Who am I then?” or “Yes, that IS me!”  This exercise is not to realize we are nothing but to see where we are grasping, where we are holding on too tightly, to help us free our grip.  To calm down our grasping mind is the greatest refuge we have.  When we are no caught in this or that, right or wrong, there is great joy.


In the closing circle on Sunday I spoke about how in the past I saw attending retreats as simply something nice to do if I had the time but over the past couple of years looking deeply I see clearly that not only are retreats nice to do, not only are they important, they are crucial to my practice and my self-transformation.  My gratitude to the Beginner’s Mind Sangha in Boise, my gratitude to my friend and teacher Michael, my gratitude to our hosts Steve and Shannon in Boise and my gratitude to Thay and the four-fold community of practitioners and my gratitude for the ability to wake up.  

Taking Refuge

Plum Village
Photo by Elisabeth Seland

What does it mean to take refuge In the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha?  In a storm, when the winds are wailing and spinning gray full clouds pouring a hard cursed rain, our natural instinct is to seek shelter, to get out of the weather for dryness and safety.  It is the same for taking refuge in the practice of love and understanding.  The buddha is our inherent wisdom, the dharma is the practice of joy and the sangha is our extended self.  To take refuge in them is also to take refuge in ourselves.

I’m in a strong life current where holding on for dear life has become how I make it through the day.  Sometimes all I can do is keep breathing, focusing on the strong inhale of emotion, the exhale of not being swept down river, if only in this very moment of time.  I take refuge in music, in sunshine, in my breath and I keep holding on to the practice of how working with challenges doesn’t mean to forget or diminish our own suffering but to not forget all of the good stuff too.

Inspired by Bob Dylan’s song Shelter from the Storm:

I was wrapped up in anguish struggling to stay afloat

The Buddha within called to me sweetly like the shore to a boat astray

Worn out to my fingertips, entangled and forlorn

“Come in” he said “I’ll give you, shelter from the storm.”