Browsing Category "Talks"
23 Sep
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How to Change the Channel

Last night one of my Dharma buddies and I listened to the opening talk given by Akincano Marc Weber at the month-long retreat held this past August at the Forest Refuge. We’d already listened to a few of the talks from that retreat, and they were so good, that now we’ve decides to listen to all of them, in the order they were given.

The talk last night was a fresh take on the well-known Satipatthana Sutta (also known as the Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness), which is also the basis of Joseph Goldstein’s new book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.

In this talk, Akincano looks at the four Foundations of Mindfulness as if they were four “channels” — ways in which we experience the events in our lives — and proposes a way to use them “not as meditation exercises, but as a model of human experience.”

These four Foundations/Channels can be understood as “somatic awareness” (body), “hedonic awareness” (vedana, or feeling tone), “affective awareness” (emotions, moods, and other mind states) and “cognitive awareness” (dhammas, or the mental activities of thoughts, concepts, images and ideas).

I found it to be quite a fascinating — and helpful — way of looking at these teachings. Click here to listen.

18 Sep
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Not Just “Watching”

Meditators are often instructed to “watch” or “observe” their breath….or emotions, body sensations, mental states, etc. But using a visual metaphor for mental investigation can have an unconscious effect on the type of attention we bring to our meditation object. When we are “sniffing things out,” for example, there’s a very different feel than when we are “looking at” something. And the same goes for “listening to,” “tasting,” and “touching.

This was brought very beautifully to my attention last night as I listened to a wonderful little talk by Akincano (who has recently become of one my all-time favorites on DharmaSeed). In this talk — which is only 26 minutes long — he also gives three very helpful ways to approach an intimate investigation into our thoughts, emotions and other mind-states (cittanupassana). Click here to listen.

16 Sep
Posted in: Poems, Practice, Talks
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Always Stillness, Always Movement

Today’s post is prompted by an interesting email conversation I had the other day with one of my Dharma buddies (thanks, Lori) about the practice of turning one’s attention to the open, spacious, stillness of mind. If you are at all interested in this practice, listen to the last 5 minutes of this talk given by Phillip Moffitt at the recent Concentration Retreat.

“There is always stillness,” Phillip says, “and there is always movement.”

T.S. Eliot says it like this:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from not 
towards; at the still point, there the dance
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement
from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance. 

— from Burnt Norton, I, Four Quartets

11 Aug
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The Secret Method

Apparently last night’s Full Moon was especially big and bright. Unfortunately it was raining here in Chapel Hill, so I didn’t get to see it. Which was OK, because I knew it was there, just hidden. So I celebrated the Dark Full Moon by listening to several wonderful talks given by Akincano Marc Weber, currently at the Forest Refuge in Barre, MA.

All the talks were great, but the one I remember most is the one where he starts out: “Meditation is more than technique or method. There is no technique or method that is going to take you all the way. As indispensable and as powerful as techniques and methods are, no technique or method is going to make the mind free.”

And then he quotes cryptography and security expert Bruce Schneider (who he says is considered a “god” in his field): “If you believe technology is going to solve your problems, you do not understand your technology. And worse, you do not understand your problems.”  

As someone who has a tendency to want to do things the “right” way, I found this talk to be quite liberating. You can listen to it here.

20 Jun
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They Are and They Aren’t

The Buddha said,
“Things are not what they seem. Nor are they otherwise.”

Listen to Eugene Cash’s talk on the Paradox of Dharma. Click here.

13 Jun
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A Very Full Moon Day

The moon was full last night (or this morning, depending on your time zone), so I celebrated by spending the day watching the video recording of a one-day course taught by Sally Armstrong. The course was designed for experienced students, and it was titled Why Do We Suffer? An Exploration of the Buddhist Teaching on the 5 Khandas (usually translated as “Aggregates” or “Bundles”.)

OK, so that doesn’t sound like much of a celebration. But for me it was, because I’ve been missing the monthly conference calls we had with Sally that were part of the DPP program, and this was a way for me to get a little taste of that again.

There is a lot of material on this teaching and if you’re interested in really digging into it, I recommend The Five Aggregates: A Study Guide by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Even the “basics” are not that simple, but here’s what I got from the course:

All human experience can be broken down into five groups (khandas) of activities. These are:
Form (rupa), which is the material aspect of the body. (Form doesn’t seem like an “activity,” but since every cell in our body is always changing/growing/wearing out/dying…we’re really not a static thing!)
Feeling Tone (vedana), which is the mental experience of simply knowing that something is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
Perception (sanna), which is the mental experience of recognizing what we see/hear/touch/taste/smell and sense as a mental impression.
Volitional Formations (sankharas), which is really hard to define, but which I understand to be the various mental energies that activate patterns of thought and behavior.
Consciousness (vinnana), which, in this context, is simply the awareness that something is happening. (As in: you can’t hear a sound unless you are conscious.)

And what is the point of breaking human experience into these five groups? To be able to understand these experiences more accurately by looking at them separately, seeing how they impact and relate to each other, realizing that they are all governed by the natural law of cause and effect, and that none of them–individually or collectively–are the essence of who we really are!

11 Jun
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Is It Pressure or Is It Stress?

I listened to a delightful talk yesterday by Sally Armstrong, called Mindful Happiness. She refers to lots of studies, including recent scientific research that shows changes in blood chemistry after extended periods of meditation, but what comes to mind most clearly this morning, as I think about what I want to post, is an article she quotes by Phillip Moffitt, in which he distinguishes between pressure and stress. Here’s what he says:

Pressure is a natural response to the ‘weight’ or ‘heaviness’ of the demands in your life, which you experience in your body, particularly your nervous system… Pressure is like an internal messenger that is telling you, ‘Pay attention.’ You experience this message as a demand; it is this demand that constitutes the felt sense of pressure in your body and mind.

“Stress is a very different phenomenon. It is your mind’s fearful, anxious, and immediate reaction to the demands that you face. You may be reacting to demands that you are facing at this moment or ones that you anticipate will happen in the future. You may even be reacting to pressure you felt in the past that was so traumatizing that the memory of it triggers feelings of stress in the present. You may also be inflating how truly fearful the situation is or completely misperceiving what’s going on.”


So, for example, pressure is what you feel when you’ve got a lot of stuff to do and not a lot of time to do it in. Stress is your response to that feeling of pressure. It’s the: I can’t do this! It’s not fair! Why does all this stuff always get dumped on me all the time!!!!!


Phillip goes on to say:

“The first step in overcoming this reflexive reaction is to ask yourself: ‘Is this really stressful or am I simply feeling a lot of pressure?’

“You find the answer by assessing the particulars of the situation, clarifying what action is called for (while being realistic about what you are capable of doing), and accepting that there are times in life when you will feel pressure and the outcome is uncertain…. If it truly is a stressful situation and you are in danger or unable to function, then you need to take whatever steps are necessary to assure your safety.

“The second step is to be mindful of whether you are feeling stressed simply because you are under pressure. If so, you can remedy this in several ways:

“Begin with naming it as pressure and clarifying what the demand is. Then define the tasks involved and make a list of what is required of you to complete what needs to be done.

“Acknowledge the challenge that the pressure presents and work out a system of balancing it. Allowing yourself time to rest, eating healthy food, meditation, being in nature, engaging in physical activity, receiving body work, and getting involved in activities that give you joy can all help bring relief from stress.

“Find a support system (either a person or a group, professional or friends) to help you deal with the pressure.”


There’s more. Click here to read the entire article, titled Preventing Pressure from Becoming Stress.


9 Jun
Posted in: Poems, Talks
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Please Bring Strange Things

I listened to another great talk last night, this one given by Greg Scharf, in which he offers this strange and beautiful poem as a blessing:

Initiation Song from the Finders Lodge
by Ursal K. Le Guin

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arches of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your in-breathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one.
Walk mindfully, well loved one.
Walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home. 


(image from Stella’s Tarot)

4 Jun
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One more poem from Jack Kornfield’s talk (the one I posted about yesterday).

This World
by Mary Oliver

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is a dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too,
and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being
locked up in gold. 

3 Jun
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I just listened to a wonderful talk by Jack Kornfield. I mean that literally — it is a talk full of wonder — in which he offers an “Invitation to Mystery”…. to that which the Victorians translated as Enlightenment, but which he prefers to call Awakening, or better yet, Seeing the World with a Sense of Wonder. You can listen to the talk by clicking here. (There’s a minute or so of silence near the beginning of the talk. Don’t worry. Just keep listening.)

Jack tells lots of wonderful stories in this talk, including stories about his time with Ajahn Chah and about his own Awakening experiences — the “breaking of the spell of ordinariness,” as he calls it. He also talks about his divorce and the new relationship he is in. And his past illness, which was quite serious, and not entirely gone. I couldn’t begin to do these stories justice by summarizing them here. You’ll just have to listen to the talk!

As further incentive I offer one of the poems he quotes (although he doesn’t mention the title.) It’s by Bridget Lowry:

In the strange, early evening half-light we sit.
In the cloudiness of our questioning, we sit.
In our madness and our clarity, we sit.
In the midst of too much to do, we sit.
In the warm arms of our shared sorrow, we sit.
In community and in loneliness, we sit.
In sweet exhaustion, we sit.
In the blazing energy of being alive, we sit.

Here with the singing coyotes and the crows,
With each electric bird song
And the rippling breeze and the dry grasses,
Here with the cobwebs and the moon
And the muddy and dusty road upon us…

Us in the sound,
And the sound in us.
Us in the world,
And the world in us.