Articles by " Jan"
12 Dec
Posted in: Talks
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Relational Energies in the Body

I keep listening over and over to a fascinating little talk (only 24 minutes long), called Relational Dhamma, given by Ajahn Sucitto, in which he says:

“Take something like Sangha — Community. Why is that a gem? Why is kalyana mitta [spiritual friendship] the ‘whole of the holy life’? Why is that considered so basic, so fundamental — to have people, and to be in a situation, where you have a relationship that is trusting, accepting, truthful. That’s not trying to make something out of you. Not judging you, but able to mirror…

“The fundamental model is sangha. But even more specifically: the teacher with the disciple. It’s a relationship that’s very close. The word for ‘disciple’ in the Pali text is ‘one who shares living space with you’. That’s close. ‘The one who shares the same dwelling as you’ — they get up before you; they prepare water for you; you talk to them; you do things together; you interact. That’s the fundamental place in which learning can occur.

“Because the learning of the heart is never through a book. What we learn most profoundly is from other people.

“And often what you learn from other people are very confused messages. Messages about what we should be. Message about the models of what we’re supposed to be, but not the message of: I am with you. Or: How are you?

“So I’m trying to emulate this in some sense. Certainly in monasteries there’s a lot of interaction. But I cannot say [laughs] that monasteries are by any means ideal relational experiences — but the nature of the disfunction does becomes more apparent… [more laughter] It becomes very obvious: the projections and the withdrawal from contact and the comparisons and all that kind of stuff that goes on.

“I am interested in a model whereby we begin to learn from each other, not from our personalities talking or adjusting each other, but from something far more basically human than our personalities, much less messed up and socialized than our personalities. (Personalities are really a series of structures that arise through contact in the social domain. That’s how we get a personality.)

“But prior to that, we have a simple thing: sentiency. I sense: a human being…feels pain…likes pleasure…there’s uncertainty…wants to be loved, is able to experience being loved…objecting to it. That would be helpful. What the personality is, that’s secondary.

“Interestingly enough, what I’ve been practicing with, is using this very body as a sense organ. Just using the somatic intelligence of the body. Which immediately tells me, when I’m drawn in with another human being, I feel a certain: Hey, what’s happening? I want to know. I want to know if that’s OK. And if it is OK, I feel a sense of happiness.

“And in that sense of forming a somatic bond with another person, one can begin to align one’s relational energies to something that’s far more fundamental — and far healthier — than the personality relationships.

“Some of us have been doing this together for about twelve years — this Somatic Presence Relationship Work. Often very confusing. Because it’s not always that clear…you can’t always get the words in your head as to what’s happening. But when I’ve tried to present this model, whatever is said (which is often minimal), what occurs at the end of it is that everybody feels: accepted, somehow belonging. The words they come up with are: belonging, accepted, trusted, relaxed, at ease.

“It’s because for one time they didn’t have to come up with something smart, polite, clear, interesting, wonderful, profound, etc. They’re just saying how it is. And the other person can add: how is that. Just encouraging them to track the relational energies as they occur in the body, prior to the personality…

“So when I say I’ve been interested in relational practices, this may sound kind of strange in a way. Because, you know, I am a kind of ‘recluse’. But I don’t see this as forming — whatever this word ‘relational’ can mean — sometimes people think almost immediately: ‘sex.’ That’s how bad it’s got. That whenever you’re having a relationship with someone, it’s sexual. That’s how bad it’s got in our society. The idea that any kind of quality of love can only occur if there’s physical contact and so forth. That it’s impossible outside of it. Unless it’s with a dog. (That’s why people get dogs, of course.)

“But I don’t do physical, sexual relationships. (Which is another topic all together.) I’m much more attuned to how I can learn and how I can sense — respectfully, as a sentient being — other people’s actual presence, as they are, rather than as projections in my mind. Rather than what I judge them to be. Or how I measure them. This is a great step.”


The transcript above begins at about 13 minutes into the talk and is edited. Click here to listen to the full talk.

11 Dec
Posted in: Suttas
By    Comments Off on Know That You Don’t Know

Know That You Don’t Know

NEW MOON REFLECTION from the Forest Sangha (sent Dec 7, while I was away on retreat)

The Wise
Silence does not denote profundity
if you are ignorant and untrained.
Like one holding scales,
a sage weighs things up,
wholesome and unwholesome,
and comes to know both the inner and outer worlds.
Therefore the sage is called wise.

Dhammapada v. 268-269

“When we are faced with a quandary, when we simply don’t know what to do, it is important that we actually know that we don’t know what to do.

“This sounds so obvious that it hardly bears mentioning. But if we slow down, if we really look closely at the momentum of our mental activity, how able are we to abide in an open-hearted, clear-headed awareness of the state of ‘not-knowing’?

“Isn’t it the case that for the most part we are caught up in the desire to feel sure? We love feeling certain and tend to push past feelings of uncertainty. Those who have well-developed awareness are able to consider many different aspects of a situation. They don’t merely react to uncertainty out of conditioned preference.”

10 Dec
Posted in: Resources
By    Comments Off on Hey, That’s Me!

Hey, That’s Me!

Check out page 20 in the latest issue of Spirit Rock News & Schedule.


(Thanks, Rachel, for the head’s up!)

4 Dec
Posted in: Retreats
By    Comments Off on Let It Snow

Let It Snow

Note: No post tomorrow because I’ll be busy getting ready to go to the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (in western Massachusetts), where I’ll be taking a course on the Satipatthana in Dialogue with Suffering and Oppressiontaught by my mentor Lila Kate Wheeler and Lama Rod Owens.

This does involve flying to Boston. In the winter.

I know.

But consider the bios of these two teachers!

Lila Kate Wheeler was authorized to teach at IMS-Spirit Rock ten years ago. She’s now honored to serve as a coordinator for the current training cohort at Spirit Rock, historic in its diverse composition. Lila’s practice includes being a nun in Burma and the US; learning and authorizations to share Dharma from Harilal Poonja and Dza Kilung Rinpoche. She’s married, a published writer, and has edited the first anthology of Buddhist fiction plus two books by the late Sayadaw U Pandita, her Burmese meditation master.

Lama Rod Owens is the Guiding Teacher for the Radical Dharma Boston Collective and teaches with Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) where he is also a faculty member for the organization’s teacher training program. He holds a Master of Divinity degree in Buddhist Studies from Harvard Divinity School with a focus on the intersection of social change, identity, and spiritual practice. He is a co-author of Radical Dharma, Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, which explores race in the context of American Buddhist communities. He also contributed a chapter on working with anger and difficult emotions in the book Real World Mindfulness for Beginners. He has offered talks, retreats, and workshops at Harvard, Yale, Tufts, NYU, and other universities. His current writing project is an exploration of intersectional masculinity and spirituality. He is a formally authorized teacher in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.


Who cares about a little snow!

3 Dec
Posted in: Uncategorized
By    Comments Off on Precious Human Birth

Precious Human Birth

Let me introduce my brand new grand-niece, born Friday, Nov 30, at 7:19 pm. Her name is Harper Frances. (Frances is my mother’s name.)

Welcome, little one!

May you be safe and feel protected.
May you be happy, just as you are.
May you be healthy and strong.
May you live in the world with ease.

29 Nov
Posted in: Practice
By    Comments Off on Time for a Tiny Retreat

Time for a Tiny Retreat

Tomorrow is the last Friday of the month, so instead of writing a post, I’ll be taking a Tiny Retreat.

What’s a Tiny Retreat?

It’s a half-day I set aside each month to do sitting and walking meditation, just like I would on a regular retreat, except that I do it at home.

But I won’t be doing it alone, because there are others who will also be doing it — at their home — at the same time.

Want to join us?

We’ll be sitting-and-walking tomorrow morning from about 8:30 am to 12:30 pm CST. If you’d like to join in (by meditating however you like, wherever you are, at around the same time), just let me know. You can email me here. Then after we’re all done, I’ll check in with you to see how it went.

This is not such a tiny thing we’re doing here. The Buddha himself said that spiritual friendship is not simply a part of, but is in fact, the whole of the spiritual life.

28 Nov
Posted in: Books
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Reading “Washington Black”

I’m delighted that my “Waking Up to Whiteness” book discussion group has chosen Washington Blackby Esi Edugyan.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I might have been ten, eleven years old–I cannot say for certain–when my first master died.

“No one grieved him; in the fields we hung our heads, keening, grieving for ourselves and the estate sale that must follow. He died very old. I saw him only at a distance: stooped, thin, asleep in a shaded chair on the lawn, a blanket at his lap. I think now he was like a specimen preserved in a bottle. He had outlived a mad king, outlived the slave trade itself, had seen the fall of the French Empire and the rise of the British and the dawn of the industrial age, and his usefulness, surely, had passed.

“On that last evening I remember crouching on my bare heels in the stony dirt of Faith Plantation and pressing a palm flat against Big Kit’s calf, feeling the heat of her skin baking up out of it, the strength and power of her, while the red sunlight settled in the cane all around us. Together, silent, we watched as the overseers shouldered the coffin down from the Great House. They slid it rasping into the straw of the wagon and, dropping the rail into place with a bang, rode rattling away.

“That was how it began: me and Big Kit, watching the dead go free.”


This is going to be good!

27 Nov
Posted in: Talks
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We’re Not Having an Experience…

“We’re not having an experience, we are an experience. An experience that’s changing, that’s affected.”

— Ajahn Sucitto during a guided meditation on Disengaged Awareness. “Allowing content to arise and manifest generates spaciousness and eases the sense of self.” Click here to listen.

26 Nov
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on All the Elsewheres

All the Elsewheres

by Susan Hutton

Sometimes on a late clear night you can pull that station from Denver
or Boston out of the dark.

All the elsewheres alter here, as what you remember
changes what you think.

Not spider nor plum nor pebble possess any of the names we give them.

A kite tugging on its string gives you a sense of what’s up there,
though it is translated, and by a string.

Out there, in the dark, the true thing.

23 Nov
Posted in: Suttas
By    Comments Off on In The Very Same Place

In The Very Same Place

FULL MOON REFLECTION from the Forest Sangha

Whoever has cut all that tethers
and found fearlessness,
who is beyond attachments
and defilements,
I recognize as a great being.

— Dhammapada v. 397

“To be able to abide in the state of fearlessness sounds attractive indeed, but how might we reach such an abiding? Fearlessness is to be found in the very same place as that in which we feel fear.

“We do not need others to stop behaving the way that they do; nor do we need to go some place else. We do, however, need to look more deeply into the reality of the fear that we are already experiencing, and to do so can be very frightening. The temptation to turn away from that which frightens us can be strong. This is why the Buddha wanted us to develop our spiritual faculties: mindfulness, sense restraint, and wise reflection.

“When our heart is buoyed up with the wholesome sense of self confidence which arises when the spiritual faculties are well-developed, we won’t be so intimidated by fear; instead we will be interested in what fear has to teach us.”