24 Aug
2017
Posted in: Talks
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No Room for Self-conscious Thought

I listened last night to another excellent talk from the Concentration Retreat at Spirit Rock, this one by Eugene Cash titled Mindfulness of Breath: Energy, Effort, Discovery. At the very end of the talk, Eugene reads this beautiful passage by pianist Mildred Portney Chase, which really captures the feeling of being profoundly connected to what one give oneself to — which is what happens in meditation when the body, heart and mind become unified.

Mildred writes,
“Just being at the piano, egoless, is to reach the place where the only thing that exists is the sound and the moving toward the sound. The music on the page that was outside of you is now within you and moves through you and you are a channel for the music and playing from the center of your being.

“Everything that you have consciously learned — all of your knowledge — emanates from within you. There is a sense of oneness in which the heart of the musician and the heart of the composer meet, in which there is no room for self-conscious thought.

“You are one with yourself and the act and you feel as if playing has already happened and you are effortlessly releasing it. The music is in your hands, in the air, in the room — the music is everywhere and the whole universe is contained in the experience of playing.”

***

Or in the experience of breathing!

23 Aug
2017
Posted in: Talks
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Practice with Pleasure

Last night I listened to one of Sally Armstrong’s talks from the Concentration Retreat being held right now at Spirit Rock. The title of the talk is: Skillful Development of Pleasure in Practice and in Lifeand it is one of the clearest, most non-jargon-y talks I’ve ever heard on the importance of the experience of pleasure in practice.

Not pleasure that is based on physical contact. But pleasure based on the mind’s ability to become collected and unified, which is a type of pleasure that is “felt” in the body, but which, frankly, is A WHOLE LOT BETTER! Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

At one point early in her practice, Sally experienced this kind of pleasure as “being like one of those long streams of sea-kelp, floating in an ocean of warm honey.”

At the time, she described this to her teacher, and expected to be told: “Just let it go. Don’t hold on to it. Don’t get attached.”

Instead, she was told: “Do more of that!”

Which she did!!!

***

This talk is a pleasure to listen to. You can find it on Dharmaseed here.

22 Aug
2017
Posted in: Talks
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Still. Peaceful. Secluded.

OK, let me just say: the Eclipse was AWESOME!!!

I’m really glad I didn’t miss it. (I had been registered to attend a Concentration Retreat at Spirit Rock, Aug 14-24, but canceled when I found out the eclipse would be happening–right here in St. Louis–on Aug 21.)

I’m also glad that even though I had to miss the retreat, I don’t have to miss the talks from the retreat because many of them are already posted on Dharmaseed (here) — including the one I most wanted to hear, from Phillip Moffitt, on the deep states of concentration (known as jhana): From Directed Attention to Absorption

Phillip talks about the feeling of “coming home” he experiences when the mind is still, peaceful, and secluded.

I know that feeling.  

It, too, is “awesome”.

18 Aug
2017
Posted in: Activism, Social Justice, Teachers
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In Our Own Troubled Land

“Like many, I am heartbroken with sadness over the events in Charlottesville Virginia and the rising wave of hate and violence in our culture,” writes Jack Kornfield in an article posted today on the Spirit Rock website.

Jack continues, “While this is part of a long painful history, I want to understand the current tide of white nationalism and racism so the fear and anger it promotes does not take over my own heart...

“Unfortunately as a nation, we have not genuinely come to terms with our past. And it haunts us. It haunts us through our fears and our guilt and our insecurity. It haunts us whenever there are times of national challenges and uncertainty. Our fears are activated and the most primitive forces among us are empowered and unleashed. Our denial of the pain and exploitation in our history feeds the distorted and toxic myths of exceptionalism and white supremacy.

“There is another way.

“It is based on the movement of Restorative Justice….”

“Truth and reconciliation first begins in ourselves…. Quieting your mind, opening your heart with loving awareness, these are the critical steps to begin. For without doing so, you will only add to the chaos and fear. You must bear witness to your own measure of fears and pain, and honorably see and feel your place in our shared, troubled history. With a wise and caring heart you can understand the systems of privilege and oppression and your own place in them.

“And then, like the bodhisattva who hears the cries of the world, you can rise up from your seat of mindfulness and compassion and extend your good hands to touch and mend the sorrows around you. Trust your good hearts. You know how to do this. You have been training for times like this over many years.

“For some your response may be reaching out to connect with those threatened, across lines of religion, race, class, sexual orientation. For some it may mean reaching out to the individuals and groups who are promoting hate and prejudice. For some it may mean educating others. For some it may mean political organizing, or activism, or standing up in peaceful ways in the midst of heated demonstrations. And for some among us it may mean working to support a Truth and Reconciliation process in our communities and across the country.

“This has been explored in over 30 countries, and in small ways has already begun in the US. There is a Truth and Reconciliation process in Greensborough NC. And an article by Fania Davis written last year is a call for such a commission in Ferguson Missouri.

“Since ancient times, Buddhist councils of elders have incorporated elements of a Truth and Reconciliation process in their communities.

“We can do this in many places.

Now is the time for us to do so in our own troubled land.

Perhaps this article will spark your imagination. Or inspire you to start a Truth and Reconciliation group in your community. Or simply remind you that we humans have lived through troubled times before, and that there are ways to steady our hearts and move courageously and compassionately through them.

“In spite of the surfacing of so much conflict and pain, I am still hopeful.

“There is a magnificence to the human spirit as well as a dangerous and destructive side. Difficult times can ennoble us, and call forth new levels of dedication and care for our lives, our families, our communities, and this precious globe.

May it be so.

“And for those creating suffering at every level, I send metta which includes you as well…

“May you be free from hate.
May you be free from fear.
May you be free from ignorance.
May al beings be safe and protected.

“With blessings,
Jack Kornfield
Spirit Rock Center”

***

(click here to read the complete article)

17 Aug
2017
Posted in: Classes
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Mindfulness 101: September Session

I am delighted to announce that I will be offering a September Session of the short course on Mindfulness Meditation that I offered in July.

The scope of this will course will be the same as the July session, but you are welcome to attend again if you’d like — which is really an excellent idea, since starting over is a big part of the practice!

This is an introductory course suitable for beginners as well as anyone who’d like personalized guidance in the basic instructions for mindfulness meditation.

Schedule:
Sunday, Sept 10: Mindfulness of Body
Sunday, Sept 17: Mindfulness of Breathing
Sunday, Sept 24: Mindfulness of Thoughts and Emotions

Place:
Solar Yoga, 6002 Pershing, 63112
Time:
2:00 to 3:00 pm

The course will be offered on a donation basis. It’s best to attend all three session, but it’s also OK to drop in for just one or two.

If you plan to attend, please email Jan here.

16 Aug
2017
Posted in: Poems
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So Brutal and Alive

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

5.
When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, and bright white.

He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled

To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.

We learned new words for things. The decade changed.

The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is —

So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.

***

(end of series)

15 Aug
2017
Posted in: Poems
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Or Does That End?

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

4.
In those last scenes of Kubrick’s 2001
When Dave is whisked into the center of space,
Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light
Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid
For a love-struck bee, then goes liquid,
Paint-in-water, and then gauze wafting out and off,
Before, finally, the night tide, luminescent
And vague, swirls in, and on and on…

In those last scenes, as he floats
Above Jupiter’s vast canyons and seas,
Over the lava strewn plains and mountains
Packed in ice, that whole time, he doesn’t blink.
In his little ship, blind to what he rides, whisked
Across the wide-screen of unparceled time,
Who knows what blazes thorough his mind?
Is it still his life he moves through, or does
That end at the end of what he can name?

On set, it’s shot after shot till Kubrick is happy,
Then the costumes go back on their racks
And the great gleaming set goes black.

***

(to be continued)

14 Aug
2017
Posted in: Poems
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The Frenzy of Being

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

3.
Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,

That the others have come and gone — a momentary blip —

When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,

Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel

Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,

Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,

Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones

At whatever are their moons. They live wondering

If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,

And the great black distance they — we — flicker in.

Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,

Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on

At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns

Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want it to be

One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.

Wide open, so everything floods in at once.

And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,

Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.

So that I might be sitting now beside my father

As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe

For the first time in the winter of 1959.

***

(to be continued)

11 Aug
2017
Posted in: Poems
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Toward God-Knows-Where

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

2.
Charlton Heston is waiting to be let in. He asked once politely.
A second time with force from the diaphragm. The third time,
He did it like Moses: arms raised high, face an apocryphal white.

Shirt crisp, suit trim, he stoops a little coming in,
Then grows tall. He scans the room. He stands until I gesture,
Then he sits. Birds commence their evening chatter. Someone fires

Charcoals out below. He’ll take a whiskey if I have it. Water if I don’t.
I ask him to start from the beginning, but he goes only halfway back.
That was the future once, he says. Before the world went upside down.

Hero, surviver, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,

Then lets it go. For all I know, I was the last true man on this earth, And:
May I smoke? The voices outside soften. Planes jet past heading off or back.
Someone cries that she does not want to go to bed. Footsteps overhead.

A fountain in the neighbor’s yard babbles to itself, and the night air
Lifts the sound indoors. It was another time, he says, picking up again.
We were pioneers. Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth

Toward God-knows-where? I think of Atlantis buried under ice, gone
One day from sight, the shore from which it rose now glacial and stark.
Our eyes adjust to the dark.

***

(to be continued)

10 Aug
2017
Posted in: Poems
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Some Like to Imagine…

My God, It’s Full of Stars
by Tracy K. Smith

1.
We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
Or one man against a city of zombies. One man

Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand
The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants
Let loose down the pants of America. Man on the run.

Man with a ship to catch, a payload to drop,
This message going out to all of space… Though
Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,

Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
Of an outmoded design. Some like to image
A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,

Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best

While the father storms through adjacent rooms
Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw.

Sometimes, what I see is a library in a rural community.
All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.

The books have lived here all along, belonging
For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,

A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.

***

(to be continued)