11 May
2017
Posted in: Poems
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The Ground of Being Waits

In the Spaces
by Mark Nepo

Even as a teenager, when left
by my buddies on a night beach,
the heavens opened their ancient
hollow and I wandered in the
safety of wordless spaces.

Though we have to return to
the world, the ground of being
waits in the glint of brick and
the steam rising through
an open window.

I’m thankful that life has
broken my impatience
beyond repair.

10 May
2017
Posted in: Poems
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Banging Away

No Things
by Billy Collins

This love for everyday things,
part natural from the wide eye of infancy,
part a literary calculation,

this attention to the morning flower
and later to a fly strolling
along the rim of a wineglass–

are we just avoiding our one true destiny
when we do that, averting our glance
from Philip Larkin who waits for us in an undertaker’s coat?

The leafless branches against the sky
will not save anyone from the void ahead,
nor will the sugar bowl or the sugar spoon on the table.

So why bother with the checkered lighthouse?
Why waste time on the sparrow,
or the wildflowers along the roadside

when we all should be alone in our rooms
throwing ourselves at the wall of life
and the opposite wall of death,

the door locked behind us
as we hurl rocks at the question of meaning
and the enigma of our origins?

What good is the firefly,
the droplet running along the green leaf,
or even the bar of soap sliding around the bathtub

when we are really meant to be
banging away on the mystery
as hard as we can and to hell with the neighbors?

banging away on nothingness itself,
some with their foreheads,
others with the maul of sense, the raised jawbone of poetry.

***

And some, I would add, with their hands in their laps, attending to their breath.

9 May
2017
Posted in: Activism, Practice
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Five Beautiful Ways

It will be my turn to lead the group at our Sangha next Sunday and I think I’ll talk about the Five Precepts (Buddhist training practices in ethical conduct).

Not always a crowd-pleaser, I’ll admit.

But I was very moved by hearing (and taking) a new version of the precepts — called the Five Householder Precepts — which DaRa Williams led us in at the close of the two-month retreat at Spirit Rock last March.

The precepts sound a little dry when we call them “trainings in ethical conduct.” I prefer “beautiful ways of being in the world.”

Here’s the traditional version:
1. I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the precept to refrain from false speech.
5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicants that lead to carelessness.

Here’s the Householder version (as worded by Manzanita Village):
1. Aware of the violence in the world and of the power of non-violent resistance, I stand in the presence of ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate the compassion that seeks to protect each living being.
2. Aware of the poverty and greed in the world and of the intrinsic abundance of the earth, I stand in the presence of ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate the simplicity, gratitude and generosity that have no limits.
3. Aware of the abuse and lovelessness in the world and of the healing that is made possible when we open to love, I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate respect for beauty and the erotic power of our bodies.
4. Aware of the falsehood and deception in the world and of the power of living and speaking the truth, I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate the ability to listen, and to practice clarity and integrity in all that I communicate — by my words and my actions.
5. Aware of the contamination and desecration of the world and of my responsibility for life as it manifests through me, I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations and vow to cultivate care and right action, and to honor and respect health and well-being for my body, my mind, and the planet.

8 May
2017
Posted in: CDL
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Shower of Vows

It’s been just over a week now and I see that the Community Dharma Leader (CDL) graduation is still having a strong effect on me. One part of the ceremony in particular — a beautiful ritual called “Shower of Vows” — still reverberates. Here’s how it went:

A few days before the final ceremony, we were each given two, blank index cards. After reflecting together on some of the highlights of the two-year program and sitting together in silence for a while, we were asked to formulate a vow we would like to carry forward into the future (for example: to cultivate patience, or to read all the suttas, or to more actively address issues of social injustice in our community, etc.) and then to write that vow on one side of one of the the blank cards. On the other side, we were asked to list at least three concrete, practical actions we plan to do to help carry out that vow, and then to list the name of at least one person we can call on to support us in that effort. We were given plenty of time to do this, as I recall. Then we were asked to get together in groups of three to share what we had written (if that felt appropriate) or to share what the process of trying to do it had been like (if that felt more helpful). And then we were asked to leave the card (which we did not put our name on), vow-side-up, on the back altar (which we all passed as we went out of the hall), so we could look at them — if we wanted to — and get a sense of the breath and depth of the intentions that were alive in the room. (We would then pick these cards up again at the end of the graduation ceremony to keep as a reminder of the vow — and the action plan — we had made.)

On the second card, we were asked to write just the vow once again, then to take that card back to our rooms, and bring them back with us to the graduation ceremony on the final day.

Then during the ceremony, after the teachers each said a few words and before we all lined up to receive our certificates, we recited together the Refuges and Precepts, and then we were asked to say our vow aloud — all together, in a “shower” of voices, so that all the vows were sent out into the room, as a collective, with no individual voice or vow distinguishable from any other — and then, as we each went up to the front of the room to receive a blessing chord and our certificate, we placed the written vow into a basket on the front altar, and then bowed. (These would then be burned in a ritual along with all the other written messages that are left on the back altar and collected after every retreat.)

I won’t say here what my vow was. Because it’s private. But I will say that the private/public aspect of the ceremony was an important part of my taking of that vow, which — very much because it was taken in that individual/collective way — now seems to have soaked deep into the very center of my being.

May it be so.

4 May
2017
Posted in: Books
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Lighter. Freer. Happier.

I cleared my calendar this week so I could stay home and take care of my back. (Which, by the way, is recovering nicely.) One of the side benefits is that I’ve been able to really get into reading Guy Armstrong’s excellent new book, Emptiness: A Practice Guide for Meditators, which just came out this week.

“Emptiness” may not sound very appealing. But the Buddhist concept of “emptiness” means something quite different than “void,” or “vacancy,” or “nothingness.” It’s actually the fundamental property of everything that appears in our world. It’s what allows us to change and to grow. It’s what lets us be free!

As Guy writes, “When we see that this is true in every facet of life, it changes us deeply. We become less bound to the past and able to live more in the present. The heart can let go of what it has tried to store up. This shift comes as a great relief. We feel lighter, freer, and happier.”

***

If you like Guy’s talks, you’ll LOVE this book. (In fact, quite a lot of his recent talks — especially the ones he gave at the February retreat at Spirit Rock — are directly from this book.)

3 May
2017
Posted in: CDL
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This Is Us

I don’t think this is the official graduation photo — although who knows, this is a very unorthodox program! — but it’s one of the photos that were taken as we were getting ready to graduate…that is, about to be let loose into the world as brand new Community Dharma Leaders!

You can’t tell by looking at the photo (even after clicking to enlarge), but this is absolutely, positively the most diverse group of people I have ever been a part of. Not just in terms of race — although there certainly was that — but also in terms of gender identity, body size, sexual orientation, age, nationality, language, economic status, cultural background, religious tradition (we’re not all Buddhists!), level of formal education, health, other-able-bodied, marital status, family configuration, etc etc etc. (In case you can’t tell, I’m the late-middle-aged, upper-middle-class white woman, with glasses and pink-and-silver hair, wearing a striped sweater, near the middle of the pack, on the right.)

It wasn’t easy to navigate all these differences. But it was possible.

And it was liberating.

Look out world. Here we come!!!

2 May
2017
Posted in: Books, Poems
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Soon Enough

One of the benefits of having to lie flat on my back for most of the day, which is my tried-and-true method for relieving my back (along with stretching exercises and anti-inflammatory meds), is that I can listen to lots of different kinds of on-line dharma, including this Tricycle podcast of an interview with Andrew Ostaseski about his new book, The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, in which he recites (by heart) this end-of-life poem written by one of his hospice patients, Suno:

Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray.
Soon enough the seas will sink your little island,
So while there is still the illusion of time,
Set out for some other shore.
No sense packing a bag.
You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.
So give away all of your collections.
Take only new seeds and an old stick.
Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.
Don’t be afraid,
Someone knows you are coming.
An extra fish has been salted. 

1 May
2017
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It’s Official

Just a quick post today because my back is still seized up (since half-way through the retreat!) and I’m trying to stay horizontal as much as possible to give it time to relax and restore itself. (I hope to post more tomorrow, but can’t promise.)

***

I am now an official graduate of the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leader Training Program. What exactly that means for me, in terms of what’s different, is yet to be seen. But one thing I’ve learned so far is that it’s good not to have a fixed view about the way things “should” unfold.

Here’s what the certificate says:
On this day, Saturday, the 29th of April in the year 2017 at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Jan Rosamond, having completed the fifth Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leaders Training Program is hereby authorized to teach Dharma and meditation through classes, sitting groups and daylongs to serve our communities in deepening the Teachings of the Buddha.

This authorization is offered in the spirit of the Theravada lineage as it has come into the West. May your leadership and support of the Dharma bring compassionate Wisdom, boundless Blessings and unconditioned Benefit to All Beings.

***

May it be so.

21 Apr
2017
Posted in: Books, CDL, Earth, Travel
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Contemplating with Fascination

In honor of Earth Day (tomorrow) and in support of the March for Science scheduled to celebrate the occasion on the National Mall, I offer this selection from Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, (which I always consult before leaving home, as I am about to do, to complete the final segment of the Community Dharma Leader training program):

Cities & Eyes  3

After a seven days’ march  through woodland, the traveler directed toward Baucis cannot see the city and yet they have arrived. The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city. You climb them with ladders. On the ground the inhabitants rarely show themselves: having already everything they need up there, they prefer not to come down. Nothing of the city touches the earth except those long flamingo legs on which it rests and, when the days are sunny, a pierced, angular shadow that falls on the foliage.

There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect is so much they avoid all contact; that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downward they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence. 

***

Note: In a spirit of inclusivity (heightened by my participation in the CDL program), I have changed the gender pronoun of Calvino’s traveler above from “he” to “they”.

Also note: I’ll be back in Dharma Town, ready to post again on Monday, May 1. (May Day!) Check back then.

20 Apr
2017
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.