Browsing Category "Practice"
12 Jan
Posted in: Practice, Resources
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Want to Be My Sitting Buddy?

Reading and thinking and talking about Dharma stuff is great….but really, the only way to actually “get” it is to practice. Which can be hard…because there always seems to be something else that needs to be done or some other time that seems like it would be better or some little nagging thought that seems so convincing like: gee, wouldn’t it really be better if I just laid down and took a nap!

One thing I’ve found that can help break old thought patterns like these is to have a Sitting Buddy. Or better yet, to have a LOT of Sitting Buddies. Which is why Sitting Groups are so great.

But it also helps to have VIRTUAL Sitting Buddies.

Which you can find by getting the Insight Timer app! (It works on Macs and PCs, iPhones and Androids and Google Play and who knows what else.) There’s a version that’s FREE or, of course, you can go for the Deluxe.

Either way, you can set it up so that you can “see” when your friends are sitting (if they’re using the app), or when they’ve been sitting, and for how long, etc. You can send messages. Or join groups. Listen to guided mediations. Or just see how many people — all over the world — are sitting at the same time you are.

It’s really inspiring. Especially when I see that my friends have been sitting!

If you’ve got the app and want to be one of my Sitting Buddies, just send a request (through the app) to Jan in St. Louis. That’s me!

Hope to be sitting with you soon.

11 Jan
Posted in: Practice
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But to What End?

Do “secular” mindfulness programs teach the same mindfulness the Buddha taught?

“What distinguishes the mindfulness of the Buddha from secular mindfulness,” writes Phillip Moffitt, “is that he did not teach it as a standalone skill….

“The Buddha taught that mental suffering arises out of ignorance. By ‘ignorance’ he meant the mind’s misunderstanding of the nature of reality, both mental and physical. For example, if we don’t see clearly the impermanence of things, we believe there is something that can be grasped. The way to free the mind from suffering that comes from grasping is gained by ‘insight’ into what truly is…. Through vipassana practice we have insights about the implications of the constancy of change, the true nature of reality and self, and the empty radiant nature of mind when it is not clouded by desire and aversion.

“But to what end are we cultivating these critical realizations through insight? 

[We do this] in order to be able to choose non-suffering rather than suffering — to be able to think, speak and act in a manner that does not cause suffering for ourselves or others….

“What distinguishes the mindfulness of the Buddha from secular mindfulness is that he did not teach it as a standalone skill. Rather, it is a part of the Eightfold Path that leads to the realization of the Four Noble Truths and the end of mental suffering…

“Mindfulness supports the moment-to-moment intention to not cause harm, to be kind, and to renounce those thoughts and actions that lead to heedlessness. Without wise intention and wise understanding, mindfulness is aimless, and therefore not the Buddha’s mindfulness.

— from “What Is the Mindfulness of the Buddha?, by Phillip Moffitt, published in the Winter 2016 issue of Spirit Rock News.

7 Jan
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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That Which Knows Desire is Not Desire

Another selection from the quotes given to us at the Exploring the Nature of Awareness retreat:

“As mindfulness strengthens, the ability to contemplate desire becomes more continual. That which knows desire is not desire. As is taught by the masters of the Forest School, it is important to see the difference between mind and the activity of mind. 

“Desire is an activity of mind. Mind itself has a ‘knowing nature.’ This knowing, which is the opposite of ignorance, is called vijja. Vijja is the innate intelligence of awareness. Ajahn Chah taught ‘being the knowing’ as an immediate way of connecting to our deeper nature. ‘Being the knowing’ is accessed through contemplation and inner listening. We often miss it because we look too far. Instead, relax into the immediate sense of your innate, aware presence, here and now. 

“Pure knowing is completely immune to desire. To be grounded in presence is to move from the ever-turning circumference to the still center. The idea of an aware center is just an analogy, as awareness has no center. It has no location or spacial designation.”

— from Listening to the Heart, Thanissara and Kittisaro

6 Jan
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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When No Wind Blows

For today’s post: another text from the collection that was given to us at the Exploring the Nature of Awareness retreat, in support of our continuing exploration.

“About this mind… In truth, there is nothing really wrong with it. It is intrinsically pure. Within itself, it’s always peaceful. That the mind is not peaceful these days is because it follows moods. The real mind doesn’t have anything to it; it is simply [an aspect of] Nature. It becomes peaceful or agitated because moods deceive it.

“The untrained mind is stupid. Sense impressions come and trick it into happiness, suffering, gladness and sorrow, but the mind’s true nature is none of those things. This gladness or sadness is not the mind, but only a mood coming to deceive us. The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things; it forgets itself. Then we think that it is we who are upset or at ease or whatever.

But really this mind of ours is already unmoving and peaceful…really peaceful! Just like a leaf, which is still as long as no wind blows. If a wind comes up, the leaf flutters. The fluttering is due to the wind — the ‘fluttering’ is due to those sense impressions; the mind follows them. If it doesn’t follow them, it doesn’t ‘flutter’. If we know fully the true nature of sense impressions, we will be unmoved.

“Our practice is simply to see the Original Mind. So we must train the mind to know those sense impressions, and not get lost in them. To make it peaceful.

“Just this is the aim of all this difficult practice we put ourselves through.”

Ajahn Chah

5 Jan
Posted in: Practice
By    Comments Off on Try This At Home

Try This At Home

For those of you who were at the Sangha I led on Sunday (and maybe especially for those of you who weren’t!), here are the guided meditation instructions I used, taken from The Wise Heart, by Jack Kornfield:

“Sit comfortably and at ease. Close your eyes. Let your body be at rest and your breathing be natural. Begin to listen to the play of sounds around you. Notice those that are loud or soft, far and near. Notice how sounds arise and vanish, leaving no trace.

“Now let yourself sense, feel or imagine that your mind is not limited to your head. Sense that your mind is expanding to be like the sky—open, clear, vast like space. Feel that your mind extends beyond the most distant sounds. Imagine there are no boundaries to your mind, no inside or outside. Let the awareness of your mind extend in every direction like the open sky. Relax in this openness and just listen. Let the sounds that come and go, whether loud or soft, far or near, be clouds in the vast sky of your own awareness, appearing and disappearing without resistance.

“Notice how thoughts and feelings also arise and vanish like sounds. Let the thoughts and feelings come and go without struggle or resistance. Pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, pictures, words, joys and sorrows, let them all come and go like clouds in the clear sky of mind.

“From this spacious awareness also notice the body. The mind is not in the body. The body sensations float and change in the open sky of mind. The breath breathes itself, it moves like a breeze. If you observe carefully, the body is not solid. It reveals itself as areas of hardness and softness, pressure and tingling, warm and cool sensation, all floating in the space of awareness.

“Relax. Rest in this openness. Let sensations float and change. Allow thoughts and images, feelings and sounds to come and go like clouds in the clear, open space of awareness.  As you do, pay attention to the consciousness itself. Notice how the open space of awareness is naturally clear, transparent, timeless and without conflict—allowing all things, but not limited by them. This is your own true nature.  Rest in it.  Trust it.  It is home.”


Try it!

4 Jan
Posted in: Poems, Practice
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What Reminds You

“In the name of daybreak, the eyelids of morning, the wayfaring moon and the night when it departs….I swear I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself humbly, as a guardian of nature, a healer of misery, a messenger of wonder and an architect of peace.” — Diane Ackerman


I highly recommend taking some kind of vows every day. They don’t have to be as poetic as these. (Mine aren’t.) They just have to be intentionally made.

I also recommend setting up some kind of sacred/honored space where you can make these vows. It doesn’t have to have a buddha statue, of course. Just whatever reminds you of your deepest values.

This is a photo of my sacred space.

The framed pictures are of my teachers: Mirabai Bush, Lila Kate Wheeler and Phillip Moffitt. The bowl holds some of my treasured retreat mementos: pebbles from various meditation centers I’ve attended; a shell from the beach where I made my own, personal Bodhisattva vows; a tiny buddha left on my cushion by a fellow retreatant whose name I never knew. The color photo is of Guan Yin, the statue we have here at the St. Louis Art Museum, which seems almost sentient to me, and to which I pay a visit whenever I can. Next to Guan Yin is a little brass case that holds colored sand distributed by Tibetan monks who had used it to create — and which later they destroyed — an elaborate mandala at the City Museum. It was given to me by a neighbor in an apartment building I used to live in, who had the delightful habit of spontaneous generosity, and who (not surprisingly) was deeply endowed with an amazing array of fabulous friends.

31 Dec
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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Watch It With a Friend!

I watched a terrific new video last night of Jack Kornfield giving a Solstice/New Year’s talk about setting intentions (among other things) and it included a lovely Blessing/Protection Chord ritual you could do at home. (All you need is a piece of string!)

The video is free and available to anyone. It’s about an hour long and would be a great way to start the New Year. Click here.


29 Dec
Posted in: Poems, Practice
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Leaving Familiar Ground

For today I offer this from Wendell Berry:

“Always in the big woods, when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place, there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. 

“It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place.

“It is an experience of essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anyone else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it become a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.” 



28 Dec
Posted in: Practice, Retreats, Talks
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Just Put It Down

As I posted earlier, most of the talks from the retreat I just went to are only available for people who attended the retreat. But there are two that are publicly available….and on one of them….you can hear ME!

The talk starts with a guided meditation (led by Phillip Moffitt) and after about 30 minutes, he opens it up to questions. You can hear him directing someone to bring the microphone “to Jan,” then you can hear me ask a question (not very articulately) about the instructions, which he answers….and then he says, “OK, now YOU guide ME.”


Where I had gotten confused was when he talked about “stillness,” and I found that I was trying really hard to HOLD my mind still….which I couldn’t do!….and then, when he answered my question, I understood that he wasn’t suggesting I try to clamp down and MAKE it be still, but that I could just LET it be still. When I got that, the words that came to me were: just put it down.

So I used that phrase to guide Phillip, and he said — quite generously — that the way I had done it was “beautiful.” Click here for the talk. To go right to the exchange, fast forward to about the 30 minute mark. (My “15 minutes of fame” only lasts about a minute or two.)

24 Dec
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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Take Interest

Most of the recording of talks from the Nature of Awareness retreat are only available to people who were at the retreat, but I found an excellent talk by Guy Armstrong, publicly available on Dharmaseed, that sums up this particular understanding of Consciousness and Awareness (which comes from the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism, but is contrary to the Burmese Tradition of Theravada Buddhism).

In the introduction to his talk, Guy writes: “The Buddha clearly described consciousness as an impermanent part of the mind. Yet many people feel that awareness has some kind of lasting or ongoing nature. How can we understand the seeming contradiction? How can we make awareness itself a part of our meditation?” Click here to listen to the talk.

For today’s reflection, this quote from I Am That, by Sri Nisagardatta:

“Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginning-less, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change. Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep.

“Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful; awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. And it is the common matrix of every experience….

“Interest in your stream of consciousness takes you to awareness.”