Browsing Category "Retreats"
11 Apr
Posted in: Retreats
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You’ve Got to Play to Win

The Forest Refuge (which I mentioned in yesterday’s post) has just announced its schedule of teachers for 2019 and I see that Ajahn Sucitto will be teaching the month of May. Because he’s such a popular teacher (rightly so), admission will be by lottery.

I’ve applied three years in a row and I’ve never gotten in. (There are 30 beds at the Forest Refuge. The wait list alone is usually well over 100.)

Guy and Sally Armstrong will also be teaching at the Forest Refuge next year. Their retreat is the month of June. It’s also admission by lottery.

It would be AWESOME to attend those retreats back-to-back. But I’d have to “win” the lottery — twice!

What the heck.

I’m going for it!


Want to join me? Applications for Ajahn Sucitto’s May 2019 retreat are due June 5, 2018. Applications for Guy and Sally Armstrong’s June 2019 retreat are due July 25, 2018. Click here for more information.

10 Apr
Posted in: Books, Retreats
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If You Practice Deeply…

Later this month I’ll be spending a few days with my mentor, Lila Kate Wheeler, and I’m getting ready by reading one of the books she edited: The State of Mind Called Beautiful, a collection of talks given by Sayadaw U Panditata at the Forest Refuge (pictured above, where I sat a 5-week retreat at the beginning of this year).

Here’s an excerpt from the book, which I offer with the hope of encouraging you go on retreat!!!

“Only by practicing the Buddha’s teachings and training (Dhamma Vinaya) can one fulfill the intent of the Buddha’s compassion. To gain the benefits of Dhamma Vinaya, the Buddhist texts offer the following four guidelines:

  1. Associate with a person who is knowledgeable and can teach the Dhamma.
  2. Hear the correct teachings.
  3. Engage wise attention, which means directing one’s life wisely, as well as maintaining upright behavior in all circumstances.
  4. Practice well in accordance with the Dhamma Vinaya.

“These days many people are not well versed in Buddhist literature; they do not apply the teachings correctly. Such people will slip from the correct path. If you’re careful to fulfill these four requirements, your contact with the Dhamma Vinaya will be worthwhile. If you don’t fulfill them, beware, for you could be wasting an amazing opportunity — a human life.

“Meditation practice leads us to gain insight, the eye of wisdom that understands what the Buddha understood and what he was trying to teach.

Attending intensive meditation retreats fosters maximum depth of practice and exposes you to the guidance of qualified teachers. Retreats, then, support the first, third, and fourth guidelines above.

“On retreat, internal and external purity are easier to achieve than in everyday life. Both of these forms of purity are indispensable for anyone who wants to develop insight…

If you are at all able to set aside time for a retreat, of course you must encourage yourself to choose that option, even if it means giving up something else, like a vacation. And once you have entered an intensive practice period, please, please, do not waste the opportunity in distraction and laziness. Retreat time is precious. You never know when, or whether, you can come back again!

“If you practice deeply you may encounter the experience of nibbana, genuine knowledge of the Dhamma, and the Four Noble Truths.

Mediation practice is the one and only way to gain and experience this. There is no other way.”

22 Feb
Posted in: Chanting, Retreats
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Including Guardian Spirits!

The highlight of my day — every day — while I was at the Forest Refuge, was at 6:20 in the morning when we chanted the “imaya dhammanu” loving-kindness chant. We did it in Pali, which I just love. But I also love the English translation, which I held in my heart, so that every morning I felt deeply the desire for all beings — including whatever guardian spirits there might be at the Forest Refuge! — that they all be “free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and that they may know the grace of well-being.”

Here’s the full text in English:

By this practice, in accord with the Dharma, I honor the Buddha.
By this practice, in accord with the Dharma, I honor the Dharma.
By this practice, in accord with the Dharma, I honor the Sangha.

May I be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble; may I know the grace of well-being.

May my parents, teachers, family, friends and fellow dharma-travelers,
all be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and know the grace of well-being.

May all the practitioners in this place
all be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and know the grace of well-being.

May our guardian spirits, in this temple,
in this dwelling, in this place; may the guardian spirits
all be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and know the grace of well-being.

May all beings, all living things, all creatures,
all individuals, all personalities,
all women and all female beings, all men and all male beings, all noble ones, all worldly ones,
all spirits and gods, all humans, and all those in misery,
all be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and know the grace of well-being.

May all beings be free from suffering, enjoy safety and abundance, owners of their own karma.

We offer the merit of our practice to all beings.

Well said, well said, well said. 


Now that I’m home, I’ve kept up the practice. (Not at 6:20 am. But still.)

21 Feb
Posted in: Retreats
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I’m Thinking About It

When I arrived at the Forest Refuge last December (I think this photo was taken about a week after I got there), I was delighted to find that someone I knew from the CDL program was already there — someone who I didn’t really know all that well, but who I’d sat several long retreats with, and had developed a very sweet, very heartfelt connection with.

The Forest Refuge is a silent retreat center, so of course we didn’t get a chance to chat — until just before I left, when I found out that my friend had already been there for 3 months before I’d arrived — and that they’d be staying on for another 9!

Meaning: they are at the Forest Refuge — on retreat — for a WHOLE YEAR.

Which is amazing enough. Except that last November, when Spring Washam was here and she was telling me how she had spent a year on retreat in Peru, I found myself saying: Wow, that’s so cool. I’m been thinking about going on retreat for a year at the Forest Refuge.

Which I had! Except that I’d never said that to anyone before. Maybe not even to myself quite that clearly.

So I backtracked right away. Saying: of course I couldn’t really do anything like that. What would I do with my house? My cats? My responsibilities!

And then I forgot about it. Sort of.

Until I saw my sweet friend: RIGHT THERE — DOING IT!!!

So while I was waiting for the van to take me to the airport (I was in the office, where it was OK for us to talk), I told my friend what I’d said to Spring and we talked about it.

They said that the first 3 months had been pretty intense. And that maybe it was a crazy thing to do. But maybe not. They said some people do it in 3-month “chunks.” Meaning: 3 months on retreat, then 1 month back out in the world (to integrate the retreat experiences), then back in again for 3 months, then out for 1, and on like that, for a year.

Which sound surprisingly doable!

Not any time soon, of course. But at some point. Maybe.

Or maybe not.

Let’s just say: I’m thinking about it.

20 Feb
Posted in: Retreats, Talks
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Do We Dare?

I enjoyed the flexible schedule of being on retreat at the Forest Refuge (no bells being rung every 45 minutes) and the intimacy of being at a smaller center (only 30 rooms instead of the usual 100) and a lot of other things too that were very special about that place — but I have to admit, I really missed the nightly dharma talks. (There was one on Tuesday night and another on Friday night, but that was it.)

So, now that I’m back, I’ve hunkered down almost every night listening to dharma talks. Which is kind of like being on a retreat in itself! Especially since I also listen to guided meditations with instructions, like these, at the very end of Phillip Moffitt’s talk from 2013, The Metta of Awareness and the Awareness of Metta:

“Let go. Let go. Let go.

“Let go in terms of experiencing the emptiness. But also let go in terms of opening to the possibility of metta — this love — that in all of our smallness and all of our anxieties and all of our feeling as though we don’t have enough — that we’ve not had enough of ‘our turn’ or ‘oh, we have it so hard’ or ‘we’re at an age when it’s all falling away from us now’… In the midst of all of that, let go of those mind states, as best we are able, such that we can open to the innate sense of wellbeing that the brahma viharas represent…

“We see it as empty, and that is wisdom. And we also see it as love — that we are sufficient the way we are. That we’re not separate. We’re part of some huge unfolding. That it’s all got a kind of perfection. Even though we are actively trying to make it better — and SHOULD be actively trying to make it better. Yet it’s got a kind of perfection in the very knowing of it… The very unfolding of our life as it is, is perfect, when known from that love-space.

“Do we dare? Do we dare let go? Just into the emptiness? To let go into this kind of vulnerability of caring, as though we ARE sufficient. As though we ARE enough. As though we have something to give, and are also worthy of receiving. Just as we are.

“Do we dare? Do we dare? Do we dare to let go in this way?

“…And now dropping our attention into the body, to the belly area, into the Intuitive Body. What would the Intuitive Body have us know? What wants to be heard from that Intuition?

“…Shifting attention to the Heart Space. What needs attending in the heart? What do you know-that-you-know in the Heart Space? What needs to be allowed, received, or let go of, in the Heart Space?

“…Shifting attention to the Head Center, where all our comments are made, all our views and opinions chatter away. But respecting the Head Center. What has the Head Center noticed that it would have you listen to ?

“…And then letting go of all this knowing.

“Just be. Just for a few seconds.

“Trust yourself to let go of everything and just be.

“No doing. No knowing.

“Just be.”

16 Feb
Posted in: Retreats
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Happy New Year!

I was on retreat at the Forest Refuge on New Year’s Day, where (much to my disappointment) there was no acknowledgement that we had passed from 2017 to 2018. I hadn’t expected champagne, but I had thought that there might be some special chanting ceremony, or blessing, or at least that someone would ring the big bells outside the dining hall at midnight. (Maybe 108 times, like they do at the New Year’s Retreats I’ve attended at Spirit Rock.)

Oh well.

Today is the Lunar New Year, celebrated in China with the greeting: Gong Xi Fa Cai! Which I understand translates as: May you be Fortunate and Prosperous!

That will do.

May it be so!

27 Oct
Posted in: Chanting, Retreats
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What to Pack for Winter

From December 27 though January 31, I’ll be on a 5-week personal retreat at the Forest Refuge in Barre, Massachusetts. There’ll be experienced teachers on site for guidance during that time (primarily Winnie Nazarko and Annie Nugent), but there won’t be a formal retreat structure, which means no set schedule for practice, no morning instructions, and no nightly dharma talk.

This will be a beautiful way to spend my birthday (Dec 30), New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and a full month after that. It will also be an extraordinary chance to develop and strengthen the inner resources I’ve been cultivating as a result of my practice.

So, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I want to “take with me” when I go on this retreat. Not how many pairs of underwear and how much dark chocolate I’ll need to get me through the 5 weeks (I’ve pretty much worked all that out on previous retreats), but what else can I bring that will truly sustain and feed me?

I know that what has been the most reliably uplifting for me on previous retreats has been the nightly chanting, especially the chants we’ve done in Pali. I remember being so inspired this past March when Kate Johnson (one of the assistant teachers) chanted the entire Metta Sutta in Pail — by HEART (!!!!).

So now I’ve decided that that is what I want to “pack.”

The Metta Sutta is 10 stanzas long, 4 lines each, and it takes about 4 minutes to chant the whole thing. I already know it in English, but now I want to know it in Pali.

This is no small undertaking.

But I’m doing it.

Because I love it. And because I know this will keep me warm.


(Listen here to Jesse Vega-Frey lead this chant during a retreat at IMS.)

19 Sep
Posted in: Retreats
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Beginning Again

The annual 3-month retreat has just started at IMS (Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA) and so, once again, I am “attending” — vicariously — by listening to the dharma talks that are given every night and which are (mostly) available to the public on DharmaSeed.

My favorite talk so far is the first one, given by Guy Armstrong, which is a terrific overview of the Buddha’s teachings — Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, Meditation Training (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration), Satipatthana Sutta, Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness of Breathing, Insight, Liberation — each teaching opening up and containing within it the next…as Guy says, “like a set of those Russian nesting dolls!”

He starts with a beautifully simple definition of Mindfulness: Understanding what you are experiencing in the present moment.

And then gives some wonderfully simple (and telling) instructions: When your mind wanders — which it will — and then when it comes back — which it will — ask yourself: While I was “gone,” did I feel more peaceful, more contented, more settled, more happy?

It’s a great talk for beginners…and an even better one for the rest of us, who are always encouraged to beginning again. Click here to listen.

15 Sep
Posted in: Retreats
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Spring is Coming in November

Spring Washam, who teaches at Spirit Rock (and lots of other fabulous places) will be coming to St. Louis to lead a non-residential retreat November 10-12. I sat a retreat with Spring several years ago when she taught with Jack Kornfield in Yucca Valley and she was AWESOME.

Do not miss this opportunity!

The retreat will be held at the Forest Park Visitor Center staring on Friday night with a talk you can attend for just $5! It then continues all-day Saturday and ends Sunday morning. The theme of the retreat is: Love is the Answer and it will focus on Metta meditation practice.

You can come for Friday night only or just for Saturday-and-Sunday, or for both Friday night and Saturday-and-Sunday. The full weekend cost is $60. Scholarships are available. Click here for more information or to register.   


The Buddha once said, “We can look the whole world over and find no one more deserving of our love and kindness than ourselves.”

Metta practice protects the mind from falling into habitual patterns of reactivity that undermine our sincerest intentions to be happy. Also referred to as a mind liberating practice, it can awaken powerful healing energies that brighten and lift the mind to increasing levels of joy and clarity. Our greatest and most challenging task on the spiritual path is to learn to love and accept ourselves in every moment. Self-hatred, inner aggression and self-criticism are rooted in a mind that is confused and suffering. When we really love and honor ourselves there are no more questions.

This is an excellent weekend retreat for all those who feel energetically stuck in the past and are unable to break free and move forward. In this retreat we will focus on Metta practice, self-compassion and forgiveness in order to let go. 


The venue and cost structure of this retreat is an experiment for Mid America Dharma. We’re trying to reach a broader, more diverse audience and especially hoping to connect with folks who are new to meditation or who’ve never been on a retreat before. So bring your friends!

I’ll be there. I hope you will too.

20 Apr
Posted in: Retreats, Teachers
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Meet My Mentor

I leave for Spirit Rock on Saturday and on Sunday registration will open for the June 23-25 (weekend) non-residential retreat taught by my long-time mentor, Lila Kate Wheeler!

An email announcement from MidAmerica Dharma (MAD) will go out on the 23rd, but I want to give you (dear Dharma Town readers) a heads up because I’m really, really excited that Lila will be coming and I really, really want everyone to get a chance to meet her. And sit with her. And hear her teaching!

This is Lila. She teaches at Spirit Rock and IMS and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS) and other places, but she’s never taught here in St. Louis. Until now!

The theme of the retreat is: Connecting with Inner Peace in an Agitated World.

It will be held at the Forest Park Visitor Center, starting on Friday night (June 23) with a talk you can attend for just $5! The retreat then continues all day Saturday and Sunday morning (June 24-25).

You can come for Friday night only, if you’d like, or just for Saturday-and-Sunday-morning, or for both Friday night and Saturday-and-Sunday-morning. The full weekend cost is $60. Scholarships are available. On-line registration is preferred, but you can also pay at the door without registering. (Unless you’re applying for scholarship, which you will need to do in advance.) For more information and to register (beginning April 23), go Lila’s MAD retreat page here.

The venue as well as the format and cost structure is an experiment for MidAmerica Dharma. We’re trying to reach a broader, more diverse audience. We hope to see all our sangha members, of course, and those who’ve been to our retreats, but we’re especially hoping to connect with folks who are new to meditation or who’ve never been on retreat. So bring your friends!

I’ll be there. Hope you will too.