Browsing Category "Retreats"
7 Apr
Posted in: Retreats
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Want a Taste?

just-a-tasteIt’s a rare opportunity to be able to attend a month-long retreat like I just did. What if you can’t get away for a month? Don’t worry! Most of the dharma talks from the retreat are available here. (20 talks in all.)

That’s a lot of talks, though, right?

Right. But you don’t have to listen to all of them. (Although taking the time to listening to them one every day would be a GREAT way to do it!)

If that’s not a possibility and you just want a taste…..try starting with Phillip Moffitt’s: Inquiry Into the Subtle Structure of the SatipatthanaHe says, “When examined closely through direct experience, the beautiful blueprint of the Satipatthana is revealed in subtlety and hidden dimensions.”

I’ve listened to that talk over and over.

It’s always delicious!

6 Apr
Posted in: Retreats
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Lessons Learned

not-a-problemGood News: Dharma Town is up and running again. (For those of you who haven’t heard, Dharma Town was hacked by a porn site while I was away on retreat!!!)

So….one lesson I learned is that it’s worth it to buy the SiteLock security package GoDaddy offers.

Another lesson…this one I learned while was I on the retreat and verified once I got home…is that it really DOES NOT MATTER what’s going on around you — you can still be happy, relaxed and at peace — in all kinds of trying circumstances.

For example, it rained for a solid 2 weeks of the 4-week retreat…cold, drenching rain with howling wind….torrential rain…Biblical rain…more rain than I thought was even possible for it to rain! (And the only shoes I brought were sandals.)

Then the heating system broke in the Mediation Hall, so there was no heat when we needed it most. (I brought mostly short sleeve T-shrits and a couple of light, summer-weight sweaters, plus a very light fleece jacket, and — thankfully! — a rain coat. All of which I wore — at the same time — during most of the 4 weeks.)

Then one of the two washing machines in the Spirit Rock laundry room also broke — on the day it was my dorm’s turn to have clothes washed. (I only had one pair of warm socks.)

So conditioners were challenging.

But what was going on with the practice — on the inside — was so delightful, so satisfying, so beautiful (most of the time) — that the discomfort was not really a problem.

And then later, when I got home, I found that the toilet in my house (my only toilet) had broken while I was gone, requiring a replacement, which cost many hundreds of dollars and couldn’t be installed until several days after my return. Even then, the situation was unpleasant and difficult…but really….it was not a problem.

What I mean is….it was not a problem on the inside. It was a situation that had to be fixed. Which required a lot of forbearance and persistence and the very clear setting of boundaries with plumbers (as to what was acceptable and what was not). But I wasn’t stressed out about it. It was a situation that needed to be dealt with…strongly…with urgency. But it was just a situation that needed to be dealt with strongly and urgently. It was really NOT a problem.

Same with the malfunctioning ceiling light/fan in my bedroom. And with my back going out on me. And the laundry and the grocery shopping and the hundreds of emails that needed to be dealt with. Not to mention the porn site!

These were all difficult situations that needed to be dealt with. But they were just that. My mind and my heart were — and still are — at peace.

This is possible.

For all of us.

22 Feb
Posted in: Retreats
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What to Pack

what-to-wearI am now in serious getting-ready-to-go-on-retreat mode. I leave this Saturday for a month-long retreat at Spirit Rock. Mostly, a month-long retreat is just like a week-long retreat…except, of course, longer. But there are a few “special features.” One of which is the issue of laundry.

Here’s what Spirit Rock has to say: “The month long retreats are the ONLY retreats that we are able to do laundry for the participants. Clothing, socks, and underwear are washed one week. Personal sheets, towels, socks, and underwear the alternate week. It is important to bring enough clothes for 2 weeks. You can do your own hand washing outside of this schedule. We have drying racks outside on each floor of each dorm. BEFORE YOU ARRIVE: Label all your clothing with an indelible marker, or tag, that will not come off in the laundry cycle. You can  bring a small mesh bag labeled with your name for your undergarments. Washing of personal items will NOT be done the last week of the retreat.”

Here’s what I know from personal experience: Don’t bring anything that’s your “favorite” — or that can’t be washed by you personally in a tiny little sink — because they’re doing laundry for 100 people every week and stuff gets messed up. Also, don’t think they’re kidding about putting your name on your clothes. (You definitely won’t be the only one wearing black yoga pants.)  And lastly, don’t be surprised if it takes a few days to get some of your stuff back…even with your name on it. Those mesh bags of undies look a lot more alike than you’d think!

15 Feb
Posted in: Retreats, Teachers
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A Bunch of Crazy Kids

just-kidsForty years ago a group of kids in their 20’s — Sharon Salzberg, Joseph GoldsteinJack Kornfield and a few others — having studied/practiced Buddhist meditation in Thailand and India — had the crazy idea of opening a meditation retreat center in the US.

The Insight Meditation Society (IMS) website tells the story like this: “On hearing of a Catholic novitiate for sale in Barre, Massachusetts, they came to take a look. As they traveled through the picturesque New England town, its motto, displayed on the town common, came into view: Tranquil and Alert. This seemed a fitting sign and captured the spirit of meditation. Generous friends and supporters provided enough funds to purchase the property, priced at $150,000. And on February 14, 1976, a small band of teachers and staff opened the center.”

As Sharon likes to say, “For the first 20 years or so, IMS was run without any adult supervision.” Joseph adds, “There were many ups and downs, but somehow, with the help of many people, 40 years later we’re really in a good place.”

Click here for a great little video celebrating IMS’ 40th Birthday. Click here for more information and to see photos of these “kids” and the center they built, over the past four decades.

Happy Birthday, IMS!

19 Jan
Posted in: Groups, Retreats, Talks
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“Sampler Retreats”

SamplerThis morning I sent an email about my latest idea to connect folks here in St. Louis with retreat teachers and practices at Spirit Rock and IMS (Insight Meditation Society). But not everyone is on my mailing list so — with apologies to those who have already gotten the word — I’m re-posting the email here:

Whenever I come back from retreat at Spirit Rock (SR) or IMS (Insight Meditation Society), I’m always filled with gratitude for the opportunity to sit with and learn from teachers who have had so many years of deep, DEEP experience practicing the Dharma. At the “Box Retreat” on Sunday, Sharon Salzberg said that by the time an insight has formed itself into words/thoughts in your mind, it has already changed you….and it’s clear to me that the teachers I’ve sat with at SR/IMS have been profoundly changed in ways that I also want to be changed.

Which is why I keep going on retreats!

I know how fortunate I am to be able to do that. And I know that taking time away from work and/or family is not something everyone is able to do. Not to mention flying halfway across the country, paying the fees, making the arrangements, etc etc etc. But I also know how vital it is to experience the teachings offered in this way and to connect with teachers who embody this level of practice.

Which is why I’m committed to finding ways to bring something of the retreat practice available at SR/IMS to all of us here in St. Louis. It’s why I joined the board of MidAmerica Dharma and am acting as retreat coordinator for 2017. It’s also why I started offering the video-recorded “Box” retreats.

And now I’ve got another idea:

I’m going to try offering “Sampler Retreats.” By which I mean choosing a sampling of recorded talks and guided meditation instructions taken from a selected retreat offered at SR/IMS, and playing them — one each week, for 4 weeksat my house (in Dogtown), to a small group of people who have signed up in advance and are committed to attending at least 3 of the 4 weeks. We would start each session with sitting meditation and end with group discussion.

Here’s the first “Sampler”:

Joy on the Path: selected talks/instructions from this retreat at IMS (January 9-16, 2016), led by Lila Kate Wheeler (one of my mentors) and Pascal Auclair.
“While silently sitting and walking with meditative presence, and with guidance from the teachers, we will explore the different kinds of spiritual joy: joy in the happiness of others and in their good qualities and good fortune; the joy of blamelessness; and the joy of presence, concentration, insight and liberation!

Thursday, Feb 4, 7:00 to 9:00 pm: Joy and Gladdening, talk by Lila Kate Wheeler

Thursday, Feb 11, 7:00 to 9:00 pm: Meditation Instructions on Concentration, led by Pascal Auclair

Thursday, Feb 18, 7:00 to 9:00 pm: This Fleeting Life, talk by Lila Kate Wheeler

Thursday, Feb 25, 7:00 to 9:00 pm: Joy on the Path, talk by Pascal Auclair

(There are 11 recorded talks/instructions available from this retreat. Click here for the full set of talks.)

Space at my house is VERY limited. Send me an email here if you would like to reserve a seat and expect to be able to attend at least 3 of the 4 weeks. Also, email me if you are interested in future “Samplers,” but are unable to attend this one.

I hope this works!

14 Jan
Posted in: Practice, Resources, Retreats
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Not Separate

not-separateFor today, one more quote from the collection offered for our reflection at the Exploring the Nature of Awareness retreat:

“The evolutionary imperative of our times demands we evolve from seeing the world ‘out there,’ separate and alien from us, to directly knowing our intimacy with all things. This is the shift from a dualistic consciousness to an awake awareness that recognized nothing is apart from anything else, or from our deeper nature.” — from Listening to the Heart, by Kittisaro and Thanissara

7 Jan
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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That Which Knows Desire is Not Desire

Another selection from the quotes given to us at the Exploring the Nature of Awareness retreat:

“As mindfulness strengthens, the ability to contemplate desire becomes more continual. That which knows desire is not desire. As is taught by the masters of the Forest School, it is important to see the difference between mind and the activity of mind. 

“Desire is an activity of mind. Mind itself has a ‘knowing nature.’ This knowing, which is the opposite of ignorance, is called vijja. Vijja is the innate intelligence of awareness. Ajahn Chah taught ‘being the knowing’ as an immediate way of connecting to our deeper nature. ‘Being the knowing’ is accessed through contemplation and inner listening. We often miss it because we look too far. Instead, relax into the immediate sense of your innate, aware presence, here and now. 

“Pure knowing is completely immune to desire. To be grounded in presence is to move from the ever-turning circumference to the still center. The idea of an aware center is just an analogy, as awareness has no center. It has no location or spacial designation.”

— from Listening to the Heart, Thanissara and Kittisaro

6 Jan
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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When No Wind Blows

For today’s post: another text from the collection that was given to us at the Exploring the Nature of Awareness retreat, in support of our continuing exploration.

“About this mind… In truth, there is nothing really wrong with it. It is intrinsically pure. Within itself, it’s always peaceful. That the mind is not peaceful these days is because it follows moods. The real mind doesn’t have anything to it; it is simply [an aspect of] Nature. It becomes peaceful or agitated because moods deceive it.

“The untrained mind is stupid. Sense impressions come and trick it into happiness, suffering, gladness and sorrow, but the mind’s true nature is none of those things. This gladness or sadness is not the mind, but only a mood coming to deceive us. The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things; it forgets itself. Then we think that it is we who are upset or at ease or whatever.

But really this mind of ours is already unmoving and peaceful…really peaceful! Just like a leaf, which is still as long as no wind blows. If a wind comes up, the leaf flutters. The fluttering is due to the wind — the ‘fluttering’ is due to those sense impressions; the mind follows them. If it doesn’t follow them, it doesn’t ‘flutter’. If we know fully the true nature of sense impressions, we will be unmoved.

“Our practice is simply to see the Original Mind. So we must train the mind to know those sense impressions, and not get lost in them. To make it peaceful.

“Just this is the aim of all this difficult practice we put ourselves through.”

Ajahn Chah

28 Dec
Posted in: Practice, Retreats, Talks
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Just Put It Down

As I posted earlier, most of the talks from the retreat I just went to are only available for people who attended the retreat. But there are two that are publicly available….and on one of them….you can hear ME!

The talk starts with a guided meditation (led by Phillip Moffitt) and after about 30 minutes, he opens it up to questions. You can hear him directing someone to bring the microphone “to Jan,” then you can hear me ask a question (not very articulately) about the instructions, which he answers….and then he says, “OK, now YOU guide ME.”


Where I had gotten confused was when he talked about “stillness,” and I found that I was trying really hard to HOLD my mind still….which I couldn’t do!….and then, when he answered my question, I understood that he wasn’t suggesting I try to clamp down and MAKE it be still, but that I could just LET it be still. When I got that, the words that came to me were: just put it down.

So I used that phrase to guide Phillip, and he said — quite generously — that the way I had done it was “beautiful.” Click here for the talk. To go right to the exchange, fast forward to about the 30 minute mark. (My “15 minutes of fame” only lasts about a minute or two.)

24 Dec
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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Take Interest

Most of the recording of talks from the Nature of Awareness retreat are only available to people who were at the retreat, but I found an excellent talk by Guy Armstrong, publicly available on Dharmaseed, that sums up this particular understanding of Consciousness and Awareness (which comes from the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism, but is contrary to the Burmese Tradition of Theravada Buddhism).

In the introduction to his talk, Guy writes: “The Buddha clearly described consciousness as an impermanent part of the mind. Yet many people feel that awareness has some kind of lasting or ongoing nature. How can we understand the seeming contradiction? How can we make awareness itself a part of our meditation?” Click here to listen to the talk.

For today’s reflection, this quote from I Am That, by Sri Nisagardatta:

“Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginning-less, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change. Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep.

“Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful; awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. And it is the common matrix of every experience….

“Interest in your stream of consciousness takes you to awareness.”