Browsing Category "Retreats"
27 Oct
Posted in: Chanting, Retreats
By    1 Comment

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
By    Comments Off on Beginning Again

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
By    Comments Off on Spring is Coming in November

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
By    Comments Off on Meet My Mentor

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.

17 Apr
Posted in: Retreats, Talks
By    Comments Off on We Know How to Steer

We Know How to Steer

Another one of my favorite talks from the 2-month retreat is this one, by Guy Armstrong (especially the last 20 minutes or so), in which he talks about how we are bound to our past actions by the way we are shaped by them; we are conditioned by the patterns of thought, speech and action that we have invested in over and over again.

“These patterns are strong, but the beautiful thing is: they’re not fixed. Nothing in our being is fixed. Not the patterns. Not craving. Not even ignorance…. These are all still just arising and changing. Anything that has arisen can also pass away. Any patterning that has been established can be undone. This is the karmic principle that makes dharma practice transformative

“The path itself is a karmic unfolding. We start with the conditioned habits of mind that we bring into practice from perhaps lifetimes of craving, ignorance, and so forth. But as we encounter the dharma we start to bring in wholesome mind states — mindfulness, lovingkindness, renunciation, tranquility, concentration, equanimity — and all these start to change us, little by little by little… All these new karmic effects start to steer the stream [of our mind] in a different directionfrom suffering (samsara) to the end of suffering (nibbana). That is the only place this leads.

“And it’s important to know this because, as Yogi Berra says: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you could end up somewhere else.’ So we want to know where we’re going: We want to end up in nibbana. If there were anything fixed in us, then these streams of dharma practice couldn’t change us; they couldn’t turn us in that other direction.

“So that’s why the teaching on not-self — meaning there is nothing fixed at the center — is the avenue by which karma can unfold in us and we can change the patterning of our actions…

“Our situation is — all of us — we are afloat on a sea of changing conditions. Most of them are outside our control. External things — the weather, to some extent our body, the interactions we have with people, the successes or disappointments we have in life — a lot of these are really beyond our control.

“But we have one really important thing: We have a rudder and we know how to steer. And the rudder for our journey on this unpredictable, uncontrollable ocean — is karma.

We steer through the force of our wholesome intentions. And the Buddha said that those intentions, repeated over and over again, are what take us to a safe harbor. Of peace. Of safety. Of security. Of release. And of liberation.”

12 Apr
Posted in: Poems, Retreats, Talks
By    Comments Off on Live in the Layers

Live in the Layers

Another one of the talks from the retreat that I’ve been re-listening to (and will probably listen to again and again) is this one by Phillip Moffitt, mostly dealing with the topic of “not-self” (anatta), which as Phillip says, is one of those understandings that are non-conceptual, that have to come to us through direct experience, that for a long time just don’t make any sense because it’s something “we just don’t know — until we do.”

So it’s one of the teachings that we have to talk about by talking around. Which is where poetry comes in. Here’s the poem Phillip quotes, by Poet Laureate Stantley Kunitz, who wrote it when he was 89:

The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angles
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to it’s feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In the darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes. 

7 Apr
Posted in: Retreats, Talks
By    Comments Off on Safe, Secluded, Sheltered

Safe, Secluded, Sheltered

I’ve been listening again to some of the talks from the retreat. One of my favorites was this one, by Gil Fronsdal, in which he describes the healing quality of the sate of samadhi as similar to the way he felt when he was a kid and used to put a white bed sheet over the dining room table, then crawl inside where he felt: safe, secluded, sheltered from the hectic activity that was going on around him, peaceful, quiet, and bathed in beautiful, soft light.

It’s mesmerizing. Listen to it here.

6 Apr
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
By    Comments Off on How Wonderful!

How Wonderful!

What else did I learn on retreat? I learned to practice Mudita (delighting in the joy and happiness of others) using this great phrase from Sri Lanka in the 18th century:

How wonderful you are in your being!

I’d say it (in silence, of course) every time I’d see someone in the hall snuggled up in their shawl or blanket. Or I’d look around the dining hall, or on the walking paths, and see how kind we were all being to each other, how patient and how considerate, and I thought how good it was to be dong what we were doing, how beautiful, and how extraordinary.

It made me so happy!

5 Apr
Posted in: Poems, Retreats
By    Comments Off on What I Learned on Retreat

What I Learned on Retreat

People want to know what I learned on retreat. I want to tell them, but it’s hard. How do I say it — that I learned there is love in the world….that the world IS love….without sounding sappy? Or sentimental? Or just plain stupid?

I can’t.

So I turn to the poets.

Aimless Love
by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval  battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door–
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor–
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But the heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone. 

4 Apr
Posted in: Retreats
By    Comments Off on There Does Seem to be a Certain “Something”

There Does Seem to be a Certain “Something”

As a follow-up from yesterday’s post: here’s a link to the photo project my friend was referring to when she asked me to take selfies before and after the retreat. Not all the photos are still up on the link — but enough, I think, for you to see what seems to be an almost eerie similarity between these and the ones I took. Don’t you think?