October 22 Creativity and Buddhism


This Monday, Bea will facilitate.  She shares:

This week I have been thinking a lot about the creative process to reconnect with the self and to feel grounded. Is there a connection between creativity and Buddhism? In these complex times that we live in, can creativity be a means to a more peaceful existence or a way to let go of our frustrations and emotions? Can art offer us a safe space to express ourselves? We know that Thich Nhat Hanh is a poet so how is Buddhism enhancing his personal creativity? After I did some research online, I realized that many artists - be they writers, singers, musicians or painters-speak openly about their spiritual practice and how that is intimately connected to their creative work. Here is an interesting piece I came across by Aleksandra Kumorek, a writer, director and lecturer in Berlin. The Source is The Mindfulness Bell, a journal on the art of mindful living. It was published in the Spring of 2014 and it mentions one of our teachers here, in our community... before our Monday night practice, think about your own creative process and how your practice relates to it? How do your nurture that space within yourself?

The Heart of Creativity

The work of artists, creative practitioners, and those working in the media has an impact on the collective consciousness. But which seeds are being watered? What would it look like to live and work according to Buddhist ethics? How can we be part of a wholesome, supportive community of creative practitioners?

"Together we are one," reads a calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. This statement became the motto of the first retreat organized by the Mindful Artists Network, which took place at Findhorn, Scotland, in June 2013. Fourteen dancers, musicians, actors, writers, and visual artists from Germany, Great Britain, and Canada came together at the Victorian retreat center, Newbold House, in order to meditate, dance, celebrate, and practice creativity. Under the spiritual guidance of Sister Jewel (Dharma teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) and Sister Hai Nghiem, and with co-facilitation by the network founders Susanne Olbrich and me, this newly formed "tribe" spent a weekend enjoying the magical Scottish midnight sun.

In the opening ceremony, everyone placed an object or image on the "altar of creativity"--something that represented each person's connection to his or her individual creative source. It was an act of consciously joining the great stream of our ancestors, inspirations, and influences. This marked the beginning of an intense weekend of shared joys and tears, dances and performances, deep reflection, and heartfelt laughter.

In addition to sitting and walking meditations, the focus was on creative practice. Sister Jewel introduced the InterPlay method and dance meditation, which helped us connect deeply with ourselves and with each other. In the large, walled garden of Newbold House, groups created mandalas from natural materials and then gave impromptu performances. In small groups, we reflected on ethics and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

An informal tea ceremony provided a frame for participants to present their own creative work: music, dance, painting, sculpture, performance, movies, photography, and poetry. One of the particularly memorable artists was a most uncommon "Zen" master: a clown who works with terminally ill children in hospitals and who made us laugh that night.

By the time we parted Sunday afternoon, we'd grown into a loving community that had brought Thich Nhat Hanh's statement to life: Together we are one, indeed. We couldn't resolve the world's problems during this weekend, and living our lives lovingly and mindfully will continue to be a challenge for each one of us. We know we must not allow the seeds of greed, stress, and competition, which are so dominant in our society, to be watered. We must remain true to our way of compassion and non-harming in everyday work. But we know that we no longer walk this path alone."

See you Monday evening.



October 15 Past, Present, Forward...


On Monday Night, Mick will facilitate our sitting.  He shares:

This past Thursday October 12 was the 92nd birthday/continuation day of Thich Nhat Hanh, aka Thay. On this day I was moved to reflect on Thay's teachings and life and how they have impacted my life. Thay's teachings and reminders have been a guiding source in my life for over 20 years.

Driving to work on Thursday and listening to one of his talks I felt refreshed and energized in experiencing that just like the breath and the body, the teachings are something that are always there for us whenever we are ready to step out of the mind and into the present moment. We always have the capacity to pause, to stop and breathe and take care of ourselves. One of the greatest fruits of the practice for me over the years has been the practice of learning to be with strong or challenging feelings.

Thay teaches that the strong feelings are impermanent and that we can find a shelter from the storm. He writes:

When a feeling of sadness, despair, or anger arises, we should stop what we are doing in order to go home to ourselves and take care. We can sit or lie down and begin to practice mindful breathing. The daily practice of breathing can be very helpful. A strong emotion is like a storm, and when a storm is about to arrive, we should prepare so we can cope with it. We should not dwell on the level of our head and our thinking but bring all our attention down to the level of our abdomen. We may practice mindful breathing and become aware of the rise and fall of our abdomen. Breathing in, rising; breathing out, falling. Rising, falling. We stop all the thinking because thinking can make the emotion stronger.

(Planting Seeds: Teaching Mindfulness to Children, by Thich Nhat Hanh. pp 183-184)

The simple, yet powerful practice of mindful breathing can help us to be stable in midst of turmoil. Even if the emotions do not go away, we can notice and observe the nature of the feeling and how it is moving through our mind and body.

Thay teaches that we are like the tree in a storm:

The mind is the top of the tree, so don't dwell there; bring your mind down to the trunk. The abdomen is the trunk, so stick to it, practice mindful, deep breathing, and after that the emotion will pass. When you have survived one emotion, you know that next time a strong emotion arises, you will survive again. But don't wait for the next strong emotion to practice. It is important that you practice deep, mindful breathing every day.

(Planting Seeds: Teaching Mindfulness to Children, by Thich Nhat Hanh. pp 183-184)

On Thay's Continuation Day I reflected on how the practice of mindfulness has shaped my life in the past, and the present. I also thought about how I want to continue to live and practice and share Thay's teachings. Being with strong feelings is just one of the teachings/practices that stood out for me.

In coming together on Monday we can share on this practice and also take time to reflect and share on how Thay's teachings have influenced you in the past, the present and how you would like to continue into the future.

Please find the link for the full article with an update on Thay's health.

Also, you can go here to find the text for Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh, the source of all the quotes and belly breathing below.


Belly BreathingWhen a feeling of sadness, despair, or anger arises, we should stop what we are doing in order to go home to ourselves and take care. We can sit or lie down and begin to practice mindful breathing. The daily practice of breathing can be very helpful. A strong emotion is like a storm, and when a storm is about to arrive, we should prepare so we can cope with it. We should not dwell on the level of our head and our thinking but bring all our attention down to the level of our abdomen. We may practice mindful breathing and become aware of the rise and fall of our abdomen. Breathing in, rising; breathing out, falling. Rising, falling. We stop all the thinking because thinking can make the emotion stronger.We should be aware that an emotion is only an emotion; it arrives, stays for some time, and then passes, just like a storm. We should not die just because of one emotion. We should remind young people about this. We are much more than our emotions, and we can take care of them whether we are feeling anger or despair. We don't think anymore, we just focus 100 percent of our attention on the rise and fall of the abdomen and in that moment we are safe. Our emotion may last five or ten minutes but if we continue to breathe in and out, we will be safe, because mindfulness is protecting us. Mindfulness is the Buddha in us, helping us practice belly breathing...We are like a tree during a storm. If you look at the top of a tree, you may have the impression that the tree can be blown away or that the branches can be broken anytime, but if you direct your attention to the trunk of the tree and become aware that the tree is deeply rooted in the soil, then you see the solidity of the tree. The mind is the top of the tree, so don't dwell there; bring your mind down to the trunk. The abdomen is the trunk, so stick to it, practice mindful, deep breathing, and after that the emotion will pass. When you have survived one emotion, you know that next time a strong emotion arises, you will survive again. But don't wait for the next strong emotion to practice. It is important that you practice deep, mindful breathing every day.- Thich Nhat Hanh

October 8 The Five Touchings of the Earth


This Monday night, Camille will facilitate.  She shares:

Dear Friends,

For our gathering this evening, we will practice the 5 Earth Touching's (see full text below). Touching the Earth is a practice developed by Thich Nhat Hanh to help us connect with the many different aspects of who we are: our blood and spiritual families; the country we live in; and all beings- animals, plants and minerals. "When we are connected to our roots, to all that sustains us, we are happy and solid, no longer isolated and lonely. When we touch the Earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the Earth and breathe out our suffering" (Thich Nhat Hanh - from Plum Village web site). 

When I read or practice the Earth touchings, I think of my parents, who are still living, and all my grandparents who I knew, and their parents who I have heard about - and I feel the love and support of all of them and it makes me feel happy. When family, friends, neighbors, and teachers share their spiritual traditions and rituals I find that I am drawn to all of them and get excited to learn from them. It is a gentle reminder that we all possess the energy to create peace, love, joy, kindness and understanding.

The Earth Touching practice will involve bowing down or prostrating to the Earth, if this does not physically work for you - please honor your bodies and allow yourselves to be in a comfortable position - whatever that may be.

After this practice I invite you to think about how this affected you and how you might even consider writing your own text to go deeper into the practice.

Looking forward to being with you.

Peace, Camille


The Five Touching's of the Earth

Modified from Plum Village Chanting Book 2002

- I -

In gratitude, I bow to my ancestors, my mother, my father and all generations of ancestors.

(All touch the earth) 

I see my mother as a young woman, smiling, vibrant, alive, innocent, with so many ideas and plans for the future. I can feel her energy in me fully. I see my father as a young man, fresh, at ease, determined, engaged, wanting to contribute to the world. I can feel his energy in me. I feel their eyes looking out of my eyes now.

I see my grandmother and grandfather on my mother's side and how they worked to raise my own mother in the best way that they could, and my grandmother and grandfather on my father's side and all of the difficulties that they faced. And I see all of my ancestors streaming back in time, whether they lived on this same land or another land, and I know that they worked hard in their lives in order for me to live my life now. I feel their joys and their sorrows, their expectations, and hopes, which have been passed down to me, in my very bones.

I carry in me the life,blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all of these previous generations. I open my heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I see all of their beautiful intentions and I feel love, compassion and sorrow for their hurts.  I pour out all of the negative habit energies and experiences I have received from my ancestors, into the support of Mother Earth beneath me, leaving only their inner goodness -- their Buddha nature -- in me.

I know that parents always love and support their children and grandchildren, although they are not always able to express it skillfully because of difficulties they themselves encountered. As a continuation of my ancestors, I bow deeply with gratitude for all that my parents, grandparents, and ancestors went through to provide me with life today.  I open myself to allow their energy to flow through me and I ask them for their support, protection, and strength.

(Bell Tap) 
(All stand up)

- 2 -

In gratitude, I bow to all of the beings who have supported me on my spiritual journey.

(All touch the earth)

I see in myself my teachers and friends, the ones who show me the way of love and understanding, the way to breathe, smile, forgive, and live deeply in the present moment. I see through my teachers all teachers over many generations and traditions, going back to the ones who began my spiritual family thousands of years ago.

I see the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas; Jesus and Mary; Moses and Abraham; Mohammed and the Sufi Masters; Krishna; Mother Earth and Father Sun, and the many wise and courageous women and men who have shown us the way. I see them all as my spiritual ancestors. Their energy has deeply transformed the world. Their energy has entered me and is creating peace, joy, understanding, and loving-kindness.

Without these spiritual ancestors, I would not know the way to practice to bring peace and happiness into my life and into the lives of my family and society. I open my heart and my body to receive the energy of understanding, loving-kindness, and protection from these awakened ones, and I send my deep gratitude to each and every one of them.  Without them, I would not have the capacity to truly be there for my life and my loved ones.

I know that I am the continuation of their teachings, and of the community of practice over many generations. I ask these spiritual ancestors to transmit to me their infinite source of energy, peace, stability, understanding, and love. I will try my best to use this energy to practice so that I can transform suffering in myself and in the world, and to transmit their energy to future generations of practitioners.

(Bell Tap) 
(All stand up)

- 3-

In gratitude, I bow to the Earth and all of the Beings who live on it with me.

(All touch the earth)

I see that I am whole, protected, and nourished by this Earth and by the living beings who have made life easy and possible for me through all their efforts. I see all those who have worked hard to build schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads, to protect human rights, to develop science and technology, and to fight for freedom and social justice, as well as those who have suffered as a result of being excluded from many of these institutions and the larger society.

I see myself touching all parts of this amazing planet - the blue sky and white clouds, the enormous beauty of the forests, the healing waters, and the solidity of the mountain ranges. I offer my intention to live in balance with all life on this Earth and I feel the energy of this land penetrating my body and soul, supporting and accepting me.

I vow to cultivate and maintain this energy and return it to support and protect the land, air, streams and oceans and animals. I will work to transmit this understanding to future generations. I vow to contribute my part in transforming the violence, hatred, ignorance and delusion that still lie deep in the collective consciousness of this society so that future generations will have more safety, joy, and peace. I ask this land for its protection and support and offer my gratitude for its wisdom, support, beauty, and for its infinite acceptance.  

(Bell Tap) 
(All stand up)

- 4-

In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love.

(All touch the earth)

All the energy I have received I now want to transmit to my father, my mother, everyone I love, and all who have suffered and worried because of me, and for me.

I know I have not always been mindful in my daily life, which may have caused my loved ones to suffer. I also know that those who love me have had their own difficulties. I see that they have suffered because they were not lucky enough to have an environment that encouraged their full development, and I feel compassion for their suffering. I transmit my energy to my beloved ones: my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, my husband, my partner, my wife, my daughter, my son; to the family of friends I have created around me; and to the husband, wife, partner, and children I may have in the future.

I transmit my energy so that their pain will be relieved, so they can smile and feel the joy of being alive. I want all of them to be healthy and joyful. I know that when they are happy, I will also be happy. I no longer feel resentment towards any of them. I ask my ancestors and spiritual teachers to focus their energies toward each of them, to protect and support them. I know that I am not separate from them. I am one with those I love.

I send my heart full of gratitude to those I love for their willingness hand-in-hand with me, even as imperfect as I am.

(Bell Tap) 
(All stand up)

- 5-

In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me or those I love suffer.

(All touch the earth)

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer, to those who may have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love.

I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are tight with pain, anger, hatred and delusion. I touch that pain and feel its sorrow and see that anyone who suffers that much will make those around him or her suffer. I know they may have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged, abused and taught to hate. They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have been stripped of the innocence and joy of life. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have hurt us and the people we love.

I ask my ancestors and spiritual teachers to channel to these persons who have made us suffer the energy of love and protection, so that their hearts will be able to open to receive love and blossom like a flower. I offer my deep wish that they can transform and experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer.

I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred or anger in myself toward them. I do not want them to suffer. I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them to transform and to help me to forgive.

(Full Bell)
(All stand up)

(Bell to conclude the Touchings of the Earth.)

[This version of The Five Touching's of the Earth was adapted from the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book. Revised January 23, 2002, by the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center and Annie Mahon, Opening Heart Mindfulness Community, November, 2015.]

October 1 Taking Care of Our Strong Emotions


This Monday night, Annie will facilitate.  She shares:

Dear Friends,

Thich Nhat Hanh often talks about embracing our strong emotions. Taking care of them the way a parent takes care of a baby. First, we pick it up and just hold it. Then we find out what it needs and take care of it. Sounds simple, right? 

For years, I wondered just how to do that. And I've been asked this by so many mindfulness students over the years. Embracing emotions, like meditation and yoga, isn't something we can just read about. We have to actually practice it.  

So, what does embracing our strong emotions look like in practice? I've learned a lot about how to do this from Ann Weiser Cornell, the creator of Inner Relationship Focusing. She offers a concrete way to take care of the strong emotions as they arise, or even after-the-fact. 

I studied with Anne for years, and I've woven this Focusing practice into my mindfulness practice and I do it on a very regular basis. Like brushing my emotional teeth, it keeps me more centered and aware of what's really happening inside of me. It also keeps my strong emotions from building up or going into hiding.

On Monday, I'll share this practice with you so you can do it whenever you need it -- in the middle of your day, or as part of your meditation time. It's simple and a great adjunct to silent sitting meditation.

After our walking meditation, I will lead a guided meditation in noticing and taking care of our emotions. After that, we can share our experience with this practice, and consider how we can use this in our everyday lives. 

Looking forward to being together.


September 24 The Five Mindfulness Trainings


Mary will facilitate.  She shares:

The last Monday of each month, after sitting and walking meditations, we recite the Five Mindfulness trainings. The Five Mindfulness Trainings were adapted and updated by Thich Nhat Hanh based on the five precepts for lay people created during Buddha's time. 

Below is an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hahn's book Happiness: Essential MindfulnessPractices. 

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are one of the most concrete ways to practice mindfulness. They are nonsectarian, and their nature is universal. They are true practices of compassion and understanding. All spiritual traditions have their equivalent to the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in onc-self, in the family and in society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity, not stealing and not exploiting other living beings. The third is the practice of responsible sexual behavior in order to protect individuals, couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconcile. The fifth is about mindful consumption, to help us not bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are based on the precepts developed during the time of the Buddha to be the foundation of practice for the entire lay practice community. I have translated these precepts for modern times, because mindfulness is at the foundation of each one of them. With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others. Mindfulness protects us, our families and our society. When we are mindful, we can see that by refraining from doing one thing, we can prevent another thing from happening. We arrive at our own unique insight. It is not something imposed on us by an outside authority.

Practicing the mindfulness trainings, therefore, helps us be more calm and concentrated, and brings more insight and enlightenment.

-Thich Nhat Hanh, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices (2009)

In an interview with Thich Nhat Hahn conducted by Andrea Miller and published in Lion's Roar in January of 2013, he elaborates on the 5 Mindfulness Trainings:

"You created the five mindfulness trainings to be a distillation of four noble truths and the noble eightfold path. Can we talk a little about the five mindfulness trainings?

The first one is about protecting life and is motivated by the insight of interbeing and compassion. The second is about true happiness. True happiness is not made of fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, but rather it's made of understanding and love. You don't need to run into the future to look for happiness. The capacity to live in the here and the now allows you to recognize so many conditions of happiness.

What about true love, the third mindfulness training?

Love and sexual desire-they are two different things. Sexual desire without mindfulness and compassion can cause a lot of suffering for you and for the other person. But true love always brings joy and happiness. According to this practice, sexual activity should not take place without love, understanding, and a deep commitment made known to friends and family. True love will not create suffering because it is based on the insight of interbeing. Your suffering is his suffering; her happiness is your happiness. So there's no longer any discrimination-harmony is possible, and fear and anger are not possible anymore.

Then the fourth mindfulness training is about compassionate listening and loving speech.

It has the power to restore communication and to bring reconciliation. If you learn how to practice the fourth mindfulness training, you can end relationship difficulties that may have lasted several years in just a few days of practice. You can bring back harmony, mutual understanding, and happiness. Then the fifth mindfulness training is about right consumption. Many people consume because they want to cover up the suffering inside. They don't need to eat but they eat in order to get rid of loneliness, depression, or despair. They read magazines, they go to the internet, they play music, they drive their car-all just to cover up and run away from their suffering. But by consuming these things, they bring more toxins, more violence, and more craving into themselves. In Buddhism the practice is to take care of your own suffering. If you understand your suffering, you will understand the suffering of the other person more easily. When you understand the suffering of the other person, you are not angry at him or her anymore, and you try to do or say something to help him or her suffer less. That means recognizing the suffering in the other person helps compassion to arise in you, and when there is compassion in your heart you don't suffer anymore. Instead, you try to help. Right consumption can help your family, your society. Right consumption can preserve the earth.

I understand that your international sangha is working to bring the practice of mindfulness into schools.

It is possible to bring this kind of practice into schools of each level. You don't have to use Buddhist terms. Maybe each week there is one hour of global ethics taught and every day teachers and students learn concrete things like how to breathe, how to relax, how to release the tension in their bodies. If teachers and students know how to breathe and walk in such a way that can help them be in the present moment, they will learn to appreciate the many conditions of happiness that they have. They will appreciate peace-not having to run under bombs-and they will appreciate not having to go ten miles to fetch water for drinking. There are so many conditions of happiness: going to school, evenings at home, family, having something to eat and a house to live in. Many children in the world don't have these things, so breathing and walking not only help the students to release tension, but they also help students to recognize the conditions of happiness that they have. This is the teaching of the Buddha: It is possible to live happily in the present moment. Teachers can train themselves to live like that, in order to help students to live like that. In Plum Village we have been training schoolteachers in many countries to do this work. We hope to bring the five mindfulness trainings into schools, not in terms of theory, but in practice. Now in Bhutan there is a course given to schoolteachers all over the country, training them to bring this practice into schools. In California we have talked with Governor Brown about this and he said that we will have to begin with a few schools first, so he asked us to train the teachers in two schools in Northern California. Then later, after publishing the results, we might make a proposal so that other schools can adopt the practice.

How does your sangha work with the five mindfulness trainings?

Every two weeks we come together to recite the five trainings and discuss how to better apply them into our daily life. This kind of practice can help reduce suffering very quickly and bring more happiness."

For the dharma discussion, we will focus on our personal experience with practicing these trainings. 

Can we cite examples in our lives where they have served as practical guides to finding greater ease, understanding and joy in our relationships? 

I look forward to being with you on Monday evening!



September 17 Balancing Individual Liberation with Collective Liberation


This week Annie will facilitate.

I like to stay up with the news, for the most part. But, sometimes I get overwhelmed. Recently, several young adults told me that they don't plan to have kids because the world is such a mess. Millions of refugees are fleeing violence and instability, there is an increase in the polarization of political views, police violence is escalating against people of color, economic inequality is on the rise, wars are happening all over the globe, not to mention climate change. We don't know what is happening to our bodies as more and more of us, myself included, have autoimmune diseases; and some types of cancers are on the rise. There is a lot for all of us to worry about.
How can we keep from falling into despair or giving up?

The paradigm that has been most helpful for me in transforming my feelings of overwhelm and insufficiency is one I learned from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) at a gathering last summer. It's Block, Build, Be, and it's based on Joanna Macy's three pillars of the Great Turning. Applying Block, Build, Be to my life lifts me out of despair and into action. It goes a long way to reducing my stress and allowing me to sleep at night.
The first element, Block, is a commitment to non-harming and not allowing harm to happen. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in the first of his Five Mindfulness Trainings:
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world. (Red highlights are mine.)

Blocking means we are not just refraining from causing harm, but we are out there stopping others from causing harm, too. It may include going to a rally, sharing the work we are passionate about with other people, or resisting the tendency to go along with meannesses for the sake of "keeping the peace." Blocking harmful actions benefits the one being harmed, and, if you believe in karma or that you "reap what you sow," then in the long run, Blocking also benefits the one poised to do the harming.

But Blocking is just 1/3 of this practice.

 is a commitment to creating the world we want to live in. Adrienne Maree Brown writes beautifully about this in her book, Emergent Strategy.

out beyond our children
beyond the end of time
there is a ceaseless cycle
a fractal of sublime
and we come to create it
to soil our hands and faces
loving loving and loving
ourselves, and all our places
-- adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy, p25

She goes on to say:

My dream is a movement with such deep trust that we move as a murmuration, the way groups of starlings billow, dive, spin, dance collectively through the air -- to avoid predators, and, it also seems, to pass time in the most beautiful way possible... here's how it works in a murmuration/shoal/swarm: each creature is tuned in to its neighbors, the creatures right around it in the formation... there is a deep trust in this: to lift because the birds around you are lifting, to live based on your collective real-time adaptations. In this way thousands of birds or fish or bees can move together, each empowered with basic rules and a vision to live. Imagine our movements cultivating this type of trust and depth with each other, having strategic flocking in our playbooks.
My personal practice of Building is learning to relate to other people in the way Brown describes. To connect more deeply with those in my immediate vicinity, to "love the one you're with", as Crosby Stills, and Nash sang to me over and over again in my youth. And from that love, build real community. And, for me, this is a harder task than it would seem. My habit and conditioning tug at me, telling me to stay at what seems the safer surface of relationships. I fear taking risks with people I don't know well. Resisting these inner voices, I try to get to know my neighbors better, invite friends over for tea and talk about what's happening in the world and what matters. I take the time to ask people what they think and feel. This is my growing edge.
The final 1/3 of the practice is Be.

Being may be the most challenging three elements. Being present and awake in times of suffering is difficult. Some part of me wants to spend every day in bed watching stand-up comedy on Netflix, chuck my phone, and drown myself in the chocolate fondant from the local bistro. And now and then, I need to do just that.
Thich Nhat Hanh taught something important about Being -- to Be is to Inter-Be. I can never be on my own, because my happiness depends on your happiness and your happiness depends on my happiness. Being is not a solo practice. If I fall into despair, I contribute to more suffering for you and everyone else. And if I help you, I am helping myself. So Being means I am open and engaged. It means I accept support from my meditation community, my teachers, and the authors and leaders I trust to help me Be a more fiercely compassionate person. And I pass that support on to others, too.
Being is also about knowing what harmful seeds I am carrying inside of me and how to transform them. My conditioning has created ticking bombs inside of me that could go off at any moment, harming a lot of people. In order to be someone who is contributing to healing means I need to heal myself first. I need to learn about the internalized biases lying dormant in my mind's store consciousness, ready to say and do violent and discriminatory things, and replace them with what I know to be true. (see Clearing the Weeds of Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Ableism, and Economic Injustice). By doing this inner work, I can Be someone who rarely causes harm unknowingly. I can Be a refuge for myself and other people and have the freshness I need to keep Blocking and Building.
Living Block, Build, Be

The three aspects of this practice -- Block, Build, and Be -- inter-are with each other. Doing one is not enough. Sometimes we think that if we can simply Be a nice person or we if just Block all bad actions or Build something new, each in itself would be enough. This model suggests, and I would agree, we need all three. Block, Build, Be is a structure, an approach to each and every day. It's not another way to measure of our morality in order to find ourselves lacking, and it's not a goal. It's a shorthand reminder to put one foot in front of the other and do what we can do today for this messy, scary, and beautiful world.

After our meditation period, we will have a chance to share our thoughts about Block, Build, Be as a paradigm for inner and outer liberation. Is this a useful paradigm for you? What would make it more useful? Where do you block? Where do you build? and Where do you just Be?

September 10 Watering the Wholesome Seeds of our Practice


This Monday night, Marie will facilitate.  She shares:

Last Monday, we explored the topic "Faith in our Buddhist practice".  This week, we will build on this theme and ask, at a practical level, what do we do in our practice that generates faith?  


Let's start off by defining faith.  In the Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes that:


"Faith is the confidence we receive when we put into practice a teaching that helps us to overcome difficulties and obtain some transformation.   


It is like the confidence a farmer has in his way of growing crops...    Faith does not mean accepting theory that we have not personally verified.  The Buddha encouraged us to see for ourselves.  Taking refuge in the Three Jewels (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha) is not blind faith; it is the fruit of our practice.   


In Buddhism, our faith is concrete, not blind, not a leap.  It is formed by our own insight and experience.  When we take refuge in the Buddha, we express trust in our capacity to walk in the direction of beauty, truth and deep understanding, based on our experience of the efficacy of the practice.


When we take refuge in the Dharma, we enter the path of transformation, the path to end suffering.


When we take refuge in the Sangha, we focus our energies on building a community that dwells in mindfulness, harmony and peace.


When we touch these Three Jewels directly and experience their capacity to bring about transformation and peace, our faith is strengthened even further...


During the Buddha's last months, he always taught, "Take refuge in yourselves, not in anything else.  In you are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.  Don't look for things that are far away.  Everything is in your own heart.  Be an island unto your self."


To me, it seems like a mutually reinforcing cycle; as one practices in ways that really make a difference in one's life, one generates more confidence, more faith, and then one wants to practice more deeply, and so on...


What are the practices that make a difference in your life?  Specifically, what do you do, how do you do it, and what impact does it have on your life?  


On Monday night, we will water the wholesome seeds of our practice.  By reflecting on what we are doing (as opposed to berating ourselves for what we're not doing), we can strengthen our practice and our faith.   


I hope you will join us.

September 3 Faith in our Buddhist Practice


This Monday night, Bea will facilitate.  She shares:

This week I would like to focus our discussion and sharing on the topic of Faith in our Buddhist practice. During the summer, I spent one week in New Mexico and had the opportunity to visit Chimayo, a holy pilgrimage site nestled at the base of a range of mountains between Santa Fe and Taos. The picture I chose to accompany this week's discussion is from there and it captures the many offerings that people leave in the three chapels and spread around the grounds of the sanctuary.   


Like many other pilgrim and holy places, people come from all over the world to pray and spend time in Chimayo. It is quiet and peaceful there. There are not just rosaries hanging from rocks and fences but also hundreds of pictures of men and women in uniform and in the chapel of the baby Jesus, there are so many images of smiling children glued to the walls and small baby shoes hanging from the ceiling. One room had many crutches hanging from a wall, perhaps a sign of healing and the symbol of a miracle. It is impressive how many people put their faith in Chimayo and in similar places of worship. 


That visit made me think about faith in the Buddhist tradition and whether we too put our faith into something when we practice in this tradition or not. How appropriate is it to speak about faith in Buddhist practice? And if it is appropriate, is faith related to something outside or inside of us?  Can we have faith without attachment to outcome? Do we have faith in our capacity to return to our breath? Do we have faith in the sangha or in the monastics who devote their lives to mindful practice? 


As I walked through Chimayo, I felt the place was indeed special and sacred. I felt the beauty and strength of nature intertwined with spiritual depth and the power to heal. I have faith in the awareness that we are all interconnected and the holy site of Chimayo brought that out of me. In Buddhism, cravings and attachments are the cause of suffering. The offerings displayed at Chimayo are a testament to the suffering and pain that we humans experience but also to the impermanence of that suffering and the power of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.


Below is an extract from the first chapter of Teachings on Love, written by Thay:


"Happiness is only possible with true love. True love has the power to heal and transform the situation around us and bring a deep meaning to our lives. There are people who understand the nature of true love and how to generate and nurture it. The teachings on love given by the Buddha are clear, scientific, and applicable. Every one of us can benefit from these teachings.

During the lifetime of the Buddha, those of the Brahmanic faith prayed that after death they would go to Heaven to dwell eternally with Brahma, the universal God. One day a Brahman man asked the Buddha, "What can I do to be sure that I will be with Brahma after I die?" and the Buddha replied, "As Brahma is the source of Love, to dwell with him you must practice the Brahmaviharas-love, compassion, joy, and equanimity."


A vihara is an abode or a dwelling place. Love in Sanskrit is maitri; in Pali it is metta. Compassion is karuna in both languages. Joy is mudita. Equanimity is upeksha in Sanskrit and upekkha in Pali. The Brahmaviharas are the four elements of true love. They are called "immeasurable," because if you practice them, they will grow in you every day until they embrace the whole world. You will become happier, and everyone around you will become happier, also.


The Buddha respected people's desire to practice their own faith, so he answered the Brahman's question in a way that encouraged him to do so. If you enjoy sitting meditation, practice sitting meditation. If you enjoy walking meditation, practice walking meditation. But preserve your Jewish, Christian, or Muslim roots. That is the way to continue the Buddha's spirit. If you are cut off from your roots, you cannot be happy.


If we learn ways to practice love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, we will know how to heal the illnesses of anger, sorrow, insecurity, sadness, hatred, loneliness, and unhealthy attachments... Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are the very nature of an enlightened person. They are the four aspects of true love within ourselves and within everyone and everything."


How do you experience faith in mindful practice? Do you think you can have faith without attachment to outcome? What does that look and feel like to you?


See you Monday evening, September 3.



August 27 Don't Bite the Hook


This Monday night Mick will facilitate.  He shares:

       Over the years, In conjunction with Thay's teachings, the teachings of Pema Chodron are a  reliable guide. Don't bite the hook. In many of her teachings Pema Chodron teaches that we are often like moths to the flame when it comes to playing out long time patterns of getting triggered or getting sucked in. Very often these emotional entanglements and instances of repeat occur with those closest to us. In conjunction to teaching us to not "bite the hook", Pema teaches to learn to stay with what is arising. In an article in Lion's Roar magazine entitled What to Do When the Going Gets Rough she writes:


So with this person who is scaring us or insulting us, do we retaliate as we have done one hundred thousand times before, or do we start to get smart and finally hold our seat?

Right at the point when we are about to blow our top or withdraw into oblivion, we can remember this: we are warriors-in-training being taught how to sit with edginess and discomfort. We are being challenged to remain and to relax where we are.


Part of our mindfulness practice is to know why we sit, why we turn our energy to observing our body, mind and thought patterns throughout the day.The theme of transformation and healing are often a goal and a by product of practice. We sit, we come to the sangha, we read, we write. We undertake these actions to learn how to "sit with edginess and discomfort". Pema Chodron continues:


The problem with following these or any instructions is that we have a tendency to be too serious and rigid. We get tense and uptight about trying to relax and be patient....it is helpful to think about the person who is angry, the anger itself, and the object of that anger as being like a dream. We can regard our life as a movie in which we are temporarily the leading player. Rather than making it so important, we can reflect on the essencelessness of our current situation. We can slow down and ask ourselves, 'Who is this monolithic me that has been so offended? And who is this other person who can trigger me like this? What is this praise and blame that hook me like a Ping-Pong ball from hope to fear, from happiness to misery?' This big-deal struggle, this big-deal self, and this big-deal other could all be lightened up considerably."


By stepping back and softening, often after we have bitten the hook, we can do as Pema teaches and lighten to recognize that there is an essencelessness to the situation.


Can we step back to recognize that the words or actions that someone has spoken that lead to our reaction are words and actions that come from that person's personal story or current struggle and suffering. This is the big deal struggle of bringing to much I, me, mine to the story.  By coming back to the heart, and the breath and the body, we give wisdom a chance to shine through. Wisdom, that reminds us that the challenging situation and person are our present moment teacher. Although it is not always easy to be with edginess and discomfort, the present moment gives us all that we need to practice.


Life itself will provide opportunities for learning how to hold our seat. Without the inconsiderate neighbor, where will we find the chance to practice patience? Without the office bully, how could we ever get the chance to know the energy of anger so intimately that it loses its destructive power?


Several weeks ago, Annie wrote about Thay telling a friend of hers that the sangha and books are important, but the present moment is our true teacher. Pema Chodron says similar in teaching about not biting the hook.


Each time we are provoked, we are given a chance to do something different. We can strengthen old habits by setting up the target or we can weaken them by holding our seat.


This Monday we will have the chance to explore and share about what happens when we get triggered. What is our experience of holding our seat and seeing clearly and of strengthening the less skillful habits of reaction? I look forward to our time together.



August 20 Attention and Awareness



This Monday night Alison will facilitate.  She shares:

       On a nearly daily basis, a good friend of mine takes a lengthy walk in and around the town and outskirts of La Jolla, California. During the walk she takes pictures of beautiful things she finds and posts them as part of a pictorial blog on Facebook. Some days, the pictures are of artfully arranged colorful food on a plate. Other days, it is a stranger's beautifully woven hair, a bright blue door in a pale stone wall, light hitting the ocean at twilight or a cactus that has produced a stunning purple and lilac bloom. I enjoy her blog very much because it reflects her moment of attention to and awareness of the beauty that surrounds us that we oftentimes miss in our hurry to get somewhere or do something. I find it nourishing. Whether she consciously knows it or not, my friend is practicing mindfulness. And, her sharing is supporting the good seeds within me of gratitude and wonder.


       This same friend recently sent me an email about a practice called "Savoring."  According to the excerpt, found here


People who feel like time is abundant approach the present in two ways. There's the practical: they learn to be where they're supposed to be in enough time that they can relax. Then, the more daring psychological feat: they find ways to savor the space of time where they currently are.


Actively savoring the present stretches your experience of time. To savor is to feel pleasure, and also to appreciate that you are feeling pleasure. It takes normal gratification and adds a second layer to it: acknowledgment. That this appreciation expands time can be understood by thinking of the opposite. When you want time to pass quickly, you might wish yourself elsewhere. When you want to prolong something, you hold yourself right where you are.


As an example, the article shares an individual's accounting of summiting Colorado's Snowmass Mountain. When the hiker (researcher Fred Bryant) reached the top,


He was in awe of the physical grandeur, of course.But he also knew he'd likely never be there again, so he did more than enjoy the view. He embraced his friends and told them how happy he was to share this moment with them. He looked back into the past, recalling a back injury that had almost ended his climbing career. He let his mind go to a time when he thought he would never experience this moment. "The realization that it is here now intensifies my joy," he thought.


Bryant projected himself forward into the future and thought about how he might look back on this memory. He thanked God for enabling him to be there, and for creating mountains to climb. Then with "a strong sense of the fleetingness of the moment" and a desire "to remember this moment" for the rest of his life, he made special efforts to capture the scene. He turned in a deliberate circle and recorded small details: a forest of aspen and spruce, a river below. He noticed how his lungs felt, what he was smelling. He felt the cold. He selected a stone from the summit as a souvenir. He thought of sharing the memory of the mountain with his loved ones and thought of his late grandfather, who also loved outdoor adventures. Id. 


Bryant and his fellow hikers were not on the summit for more than ten minutes, but by savoring the moment, the experience and time itself became vaster. Id. (citing Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff.)


       To enhance this skill, Bryant and Veroff created a "Ways of Savoring Checklist" including, for example, trying to become more alert, taking deeper breaths, slowing down when in a happy or positive moment, and thinking of sharing the memory later with others. They also recommend a "Daily Vacation Exercise" where you set aside 10 to 20 minutes every day for a daily vacation exercise where you plan to do something enjoyable with limited distractions! During this time, "try to notice and explicitly acknowledge to yourself each stimulus or sensation that you find pleasurable. Identify your positive feelings, and explicitly label them in your mind. Actively build a memory of the feeling and the stimuli associated with it, close your eyes, swish the feeling around in your mind, and outwardly express the positive feeling in some way." Id. At the end of the week, you can think back over your seven mini-vacations. The importance of this practice is that, "Consciously lingering in pleasurable downtime reminds us we have downtime. And that can make us feel like we have more time than when it slips through our hands." See https://ideas.ted.com/whats-a-delightful-way-to-get-more-time-out-of-the-day-savoring/ 

Excerpted from the new book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam. 


       In the same way that I am nourished by my friend's blog, I can see how doing such a "savoring" practice also would be nourishing - especially when we are living through a time in which negativity seems so predominant. We need to nourish our good seeds and make a conscious effort to remind ourselves of the beauty of this world and it inhabitants.


       Sharon Salzberg talks about this, as follows, in her book Real Happiness, the Power of Meditation:


"My experience is what I agree to attend to," the pioneering psychologist Williams James wrote at the turn of the twentieth century. "Only those items I notice shape my mind." At its most basic level, attention - what we allow ourselves to notice - literally determines how we experience and navigate the world. . . . Attention determines our degree of intimacy with our ordinary experiences and contours our entire sense of connection to life.


The concept and quality of our lives depend on our level of awareness - a fact we are often not aware of. You may have heard the old story, usually attributed to a Native American elder, meant to illuminate the power of attention. A grandfather (occasionally it's a grandmother) imparting a life lesion to his grandson tells him, "I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene." The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight. The grandfather answer, "The one I feed." Id. at 35


       Ms. Shalzberg reminds us, however, that nourishing the good seed is "only part of the picture:"


True, whatever gets out attention flourishes, so if we lavish attention on the negative and inconsequential, they can overwhelm the positive and the meaningful. But if we do the opposite, refusing to deal with or acknowledge what's difficult and painful, pretending it doesn't exist, then our world is out of whack. Whatever doesn't get our attention withers - or retreats below conscious awareness, where it may still affect our lives. In a perverse way, ignoring the painful and the difficult is just another way of feeding the wolf. Meditation teaches us to open our attention to all of human experience and all parts of ourselves. . . . Meditation teaches us to focus and pay clear attention to our experiences and responses as they arise, and to observe them without judging them. That allows us to detect harmful habits of mind that were previously invisible to us. For example, we may sometimes base our actions on unexamined ideas. (I don't deserve love, you just can't reason with people, I'm not capable of dealing with tough situations) that keep us stuck in unproductive patterns. Once we notice these reflexive responses and how they undermine our ability to pay attention to the present moment, then we can make better, more informed choices. And we can respond to others more compassionately and authentically, in a more creative way. Id. at 36


       I look forward to sharing with you on Monday night your practice of nourishing the good seeds through attention, awareness and savoring, and being attentive to and addressing the painful and difficult as well in order to further enhance our ability to be present.





August 13 Discovering Who We Are Underneath


This week, Annie will facilitate and we will listen to a recording of a section of Thay Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Fragrant Palm Leaves.

In this section (except can be heard here) Thay describes an awakening he had in 1962, while he was living in New York City, in which he realizes that he is "empty of ideals, hopes, viewpoints, or allegiances." In this hard won insight, he sees the truth of who he really is, and how each of us tends to allow ourselves to live under the rules and understandings that other people have passed down, rather than discovering them on our own. He prods us to consider whether we are really just living by someone else's rules and tries to inspire us to break out of this shell and touch the truth as it is in each moment. 


I love this section because I find myself often wanting to follow and accept society's standards and practices out of expedience, even when I know in my heart I don't agree with them. Rather than open myself to what is true for me in the moment, I get caught up in what I read, watch or hear about. So reading this section again, inspired me to really try to focus on the truth that exists for me in this moment. Thay once told a friend of mine that books and sangha are important, but that the present moment is our trueteacher. I hear that same teaching in this excerpt and I aspire to keep it in the forefront of my mind.


More of what he writes:

"I knew that this insight did not arise from disappointment, despair, fear, desire or ignorance. A veil lifted silently and effortlessly. That is all. If you beat me, stone me, or even shoot me, everything that is considered to be "me" will disintegrate. Then, what is actually there will reveal itself -- faint as smoke, elusive as emptiness - and yet neither smoke nor emptiness; neither ugly nor not ugly; beautiful, yet not beautiful. It is like a shadow on a screen..."


"I reject the yardstick others use to measure me. I have a yardstick of my own, one I've discovered myself, even if I find myself in opposition to public opinion. I must be who I am... 


"People judge themselves and others based on standards that are not their own.In fact, such standards are mere wishful thinking, borrowed from public opinion and common viewpoints. One thing is judged as good and another as bad, one thing virtuous and another evil, one thing true and another false. But when the criteria used to arrive at such judgments are not your own, they are not the truth. Truth cannot be borrowed. It can only be experienced directly."

After our first period of sitting and walking, I will offer a guided meditation and after that we will listen to the excerpt. Then, we will have the opportunity to share on whatever arises in our hearts about Thay's story. Some questions we might consider are: Have you had an insight of non-self or emptiness? How do you judge yourself and others -- by your own yardstick or someone else's? What do you feel is underneath the "outer shell" Thay refers to? And when are you the grasshopper on the blade of grass?


Looking forward to being with you all,


August 6 The Practice of Sangha


This Monday Alison will facilitate. She shares:


Last Monday, Brother Phap Vu from the Deer Park Monastery in California visited our Sangha and shared some of his wisdom in a question and answer session. During the session, one of our Monday night practitioners expressed heartfelt gratitude to Brother Phap Vu and all the other monastics for their dedication to the practice. Specifically, she noted how it was a source of comfort to her to know that even when her own practice might have fallen short, at least in her own eyes, that the monastics were out in the world shoring up the mindfulness community through their dedicated practice.  


This was an interesting and moving exchange for me because I had never given much thought to the monastics in terms of their own practice of sangha and what it might mean to us as lay practitioners although I have an abundance of gratitude to the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community because, as Annie Mahon once expressed in one of her mindfulness workshops, sangha is essential because "it's too hard to do it alone."  


So, this week, I wanted to share some of Thich Nhat Hahn's thoughts on what is meant by sangha and explore further what sangha has meant to your own practice.   The following are excerpts from "The Practice of Sangha" by Thich Nhat Hahn:


"A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. When you do not see these in a community, it is not a true sangha, and you should have the courage to say so. But when you find these elements are present in a community, you know that you have the happiness and fortune of being in a real sangha."




"In the Buddhist scriptures it is said that there are four communities: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. But I also include elements that are not human in the sangha. The trees, water, air, birds, and so on can all be members of our sangha. A beautiful walking path may be part of our sangha. A good cushion can be also. We can make many things into supportive elements of our sangha. . . . It is said in the Pure Land Sutra that if you are mindful, then when the wind blows through the trees, you will hear the teaching of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Eightfold Path, and so on. The whole cosmos is preaching the buddhadharma and practicing the buddhadharma. If you are attentive, you will get in touch with that sangha."




"Sangha as our roots. I don't think the Buddha wanted us to abandon our society, our culture or our roots in order to practice. The practice of Buddhism should help people go back to their families. It should help people re-enter society in order to rediscover and accept the good things that are there in their culture and to rebuild those that are not. . . .

Suffering (dukkha) is one of the biggest problems of our times. First we have to recognize this suffering and acknowledge it. Then we need to look deeply into its nature in order to find a way out. If we look into the present situation in ourselves and our society, we can see much suffering. We need to call it by its true names-loneliness, the feeling of being cut off, alienation, division, the disintegration of the family, the disintegration of society.

Our civilization, our culture, has been characterized by individualism. The individual wants to be free from the society, from the family. The individual does not think he or she needs to take refuge in the family or in the society, and thinks that he or she can be happy without a sangha. That is why we do not have solidity, we do not have harmony, we do not have the communication that we so need.

The practice is, therefore, to grow some roots. The sangha is not a place to hide in order to avoid your responsibilities. The sangha is a place to practice for the transformation and the healing of self and society. When you are strong, you can be there in order to help society. If your society is in trouble, if your family is broken, if your church is no longer capable of providing you with spiritual life, then you work to take refuge in the sangha so that you can restore your strength, your understanding, your compassion, your confidence. And then in turn you can use that strength, understanding and compassion to rebuild your family and society, to renew your church, to restore communication and harmony. This can only be done as a community-not as an individual, but as a sangha.




"We need a sangha. In my tradition we learn that as individuals we cannot do much. That is why taking refuge in the sangha, taking refuge in the community, is a very strong and important practice. When I say, "I take refuge in the sangha," it does not mean that I want to express my devotion. No. It's not a question of devotion; it's a question of practice. Without being in a sangha, without being supported by a group of friends who are motivated by the same ideal and practice, we cannot go far.

If we do not have a supportive sangha, we may not be getting the kind of support we need for our practice, that we need to nourish our bodhichitta (the strong desire to cultivate love and understanding in ourselves). Sometimes we call it "beginner's mind." The mind of a beginner is always very beautiful, very strong. In a good and healthy sangha, there is encouragement for our beginner's mind, for our bodhichitta. So the sangha is the soil and we are the seed. No matter how beautiful, how vigorous our seed is, if the soil does not provide us with vitality, our seed will die.

To practice right mindfulness we need the right environment, and that environment is our sangha. Without a sangha we are very weak. In a society where everyone is rushing, everyone is being carried away by their habit energies, practice is very difficult. That is why the sangha is our salvation. The sangha where everyone is practicing mindful walking, mindful speaking, mindful eating seems to be the only chance for us to succeed in ending the vicious cycle.

And what is the sangha? The sangha is a community of people who agree with each other that if we do not practice right mindfulness, we will lose all the beautiful things in our soul and all around us. People in the sangha standing near us, practicing with us, support us so that we are not pulled away from the present moment. Whenever we find ourselves in a difficult situation, two or three friends in the sangha who are there for us, understanding and helping us, will get us through it. Even in our silent practice we help each other.

In my tradition they say that when a tiger leaves the mountain and goes to the lowland, it will be caught by humans and killed. When practitioners leave their sangha, they will abandon their practice after a few months. In order to continue our practice of transformation and healing, we need a sangha. With a sangha it's much easier to practice, and that is why I always take refuge in my sangha."




"How a sangha helps us. The presence of a sangha is a wonderful opportunity to allow the collective energy of the sangha to penetrate into our body and consciousness. We profit a lot from that collective energy. We can entrust ourselves to the sangha because the sangha is practicing, and the collective energy of mindfulness is strong. Although we can rely on the energy of mindfulness that is generated by our personal practice, sometimes it is not enough. But if you know how to use that energy of mindfulness in order to receive the collective energy of the sangha, you will have a powerful source of energy for your transformation and healing.

Your body, your consciousness, and your environment are like a garden. There may be a few trees and bushes that are dying, and you may feel overwhelmed by anguish and suffering at the sight of that. You may be unaware that there are still many trees in your garden that are solid, vigorous and beautiful. When members of your sangha come into your garden, they can help you see that you still have a lot of beautiful trees and that you can enjoy the things that have not gone wrong within your landscape. That is the role that the sangha can play. Many people in the sangha are capable of enjoying a beautiful sunset or a cup of tea. They dwell firmly in the present moment, not allowing worries or regrets to spoil the present moment. Sitting close to these people, walking close to these people, you can profit from their energy and restore your balance. When their energy of mindfulness is combined with yours, you will be able to touch beauty and happiness."




In his writing, Thich Nhat Hahn goes on with sections on: (1) practice is easier with a sangha, (2) practicing in the sangha, (3) the sangha isn't perfect, and (4) I take refuse in the sangha.

Thay ends his article by noting how the sangha supports, protects and nourishes us:

"In the sangha there is stability and joy. The sangha is devoted to the practice of mindfulness, concentration and insight, and while everyone in the sangha profits from his or her own mindfulness, they can also take refuge in the collective energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight of the sangha. That is why there is a sense of solidity and security in the sangha. We are not afraid because the sangha is there to protect us. . . . Even when the sangha doesn't seem to be doing anything at all, in fact it is doing a lot, because in the sangha there is protection. . . . We keep the mindfulness trainings so that they protect us. The rest of the sangha will also be keeping the same mindfulness trainings and helping us. . . . Breathing in, I see that I am part of a sangha, and I am being protected by my sangha. Breathing out, I feel joy."




"The dharma can protect you-dharma not in the sense of a dharma talk or a book-but dharma as the practice embodied by people like yourself. When you practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful listening to the bell, you bring into yourself the elements of peace and stability, and you are protected during that time. You begin to radiate the energy of stability and peace all around you. This will help to protect your children and your loved ones. Although you may not give a dharma talk with your words, you are giving a dharma talk with your body, with your in-breath, with your out-breath, with your life. That is the living dharma. We need that very much, just as we need the living sangha."


(The full text of "The Practice of Sangha," which comes from Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities (2002) can be found at Lion's Roar:  https://www.lionsroar.com/the-practice-of-sangha/. I encourage you to read the entire article which is full of Thay's usual wisdom!)

I look forward to seeing you on Monday night!




July 30 Visit from Brother Phap Vu


This Monday night, brother Phap Vu will visit our sangha.  Join us in welcoming him to our community.  After our sitting, he will share some thoughts and then open the space for questions and sharing.


Brother Phap Vu was born in Chicago, Illinois but spent most of his life in Southern California.  He began practicing in the Dharma through the Chinese Chan tradition in the mid 90's.  In 2003 he was ordained as a buddhist monk in the Plum Village tradition, a Mahayana tradition, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and given the name Thich Chan Phap Vu.  Later, in 2011 he received the Lamp Transmission, a ceremony recognizing him as a Dharma Teacher.  For more information about his journey go here.


For more information about his practice please visit his blog.  For an opportunity to support the Dharma through contributions go here.

July 23 Nourishing Joy Amidst Our Negative Bias


On Monday, Marie will facilitate.   


She shares:  


We will build on last week's theme, reflecting on the positive elements in our lives, by exploring an element of the human condition known as "negative bias" and how we can touch joy whilst in its midst.   


Recently, there as been a spate of scientific studies on the concept of negative bias and it's impact.   Anam Thubten describes how, with negative bias, we automatically focus on what is wrong in our lives. Such a habit has a powerful impact on our emotions.... This explains ...why we cannot feel the wonder of each moment and the vibrancy of being alive. This scientific idea can be useful for cultivating more and more self-knowledge. No matter what the source of insight might be, they can all be integrated into the dharma. Knowing ourselves deeply is the beginning, as well as the process by which any kind of true change occurs. Knowledge of all of these karmic, mental, and neurological patterns coupled with the right intention and continuous practice of awareness, allows us to unravel these knots with each step we take.


Knowing that we are wired to have negative bias can, in and of itself, help us to see past, and even avoid, this distorted "reality" and touch joy.  What else can help us to touch joy?  That's what we'll explore on Monday night.


Anam Thubten has two suggestions that can start the ball rolling:  One is to help others in whatever ways we can, and the other is to live with as much joy as possible. Living with true joy is not about shutting down our heart from seeing the ongoing problems in the world or living in a little golden bubble where we intoxicate ourselves in the bliss of false comfort. It is more about not getting caught up in the mental world so that we can open to all situations with an attitude of welcoming the dance of reality. For many of us, life is quite kind most of the time. It would be hard to live in joy if we're struck by real crisis. Actually, that is only true when ego has the upper hand. Otherwise even in those moments, many surprisingly find themselves being liberated from within.


As you read this email, I invite you to create an intention to bring more joy into your everyday life and to practice with this over the coming days.  As Rinpoche says, it is time to shed the light of awareness on our inner demons and to hold the intention to let go of our identification with them. It's also time to remember the significance of a simple smile that reflects the Buddha within.


I look forward to being with you and to learning about your experience with getting to know your negative bias and how you are working to see clearly and touch the joy that is there.

July 16 Benefit from the Positive Elements

This Monday Mick will facilitate. Here we are in the middle of July, and the middle of the calendar year. Amidst the ease and activity of summer, how is your mindfulness practice? Amidst the dis-ease of the world and the activity of summer getaways are you taking the time to come home? 



No matter what is going on externally, or where we are in the world, we always have our breath and our body to come home to. We also have many wonders of life all around us to enjoy. In the summer, as much as any time of year, the wonders of life can seem more bountiful. The warm weather, flowers, the blue sky, time with loved ones, are all available. Mindfulness practice helps us to recognize that we have the power to choose where to direct our awareness. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about turning our attention to the what nourishes us in his book Your True Home. He writes:


If the presence of the other is refreshing and healing to you , keep hold of this presence and nourish yourself with it. If there are negative things around you, you can always find something that is healthy, refreshing, and healing, and with your mindfulness you can recognize its presence in your life.  (p. 223)


Mindfulness can be thought of as a flood stopper. When we practice being aware of how we feel in a non-judgmental way, we can recognize, and at times rest in the flood or pre-flood of strong emotions. From this place we can turn, sometimes ever so slightly towards the positive elements. 

Thich Nhat Hanh continues:


You need to recognize that these kind of positive elements exist and that you can benefit from their refreshing and helpful presence. If you are facing a sunset, a marvelous spectacle, give yourself a chance to be in touch with it. Give yourself five minutes breathing deeply and you will be truly there. Touch the beauty of nature in a deep way. That will do your body and mind a great deal of good. (p.223)


This Monday night we will have the opportunity to reflect and share on the positive elements in our lives. We can explore and share the positive elements that you have touched this summer, or are looking forward to experiencing. As we sit in the middle of the summer and the middle of the year we can also reflect on aspirations for the second half of the calendar year.

I look forward to our time together. 



July 9 Touching the Earth and Protecting the Vulnerable


On Monday Marie will facilitate.  


She shares:


We will build on last week's theme, "Protecting the Vulnerable" by practicing the Five Touchings of the Earth, a guided meditation that can help us return to our roots in the earth and in our ancestors and to feel that connection.


Last week, Mary shared a powerful poem by Jack Kornfield, called "Protecting the Vulnerable."  He reminds us that we are not alone; we are connected to a whole stream of land, blood & spiritual ancestors that flow through us and will continue to flow into future generations.  By connecting with this stream, we can find compassion, wisdom, strength and equanimity (you can find the entire poem here).


"...You are not alone. You have generations of ancestors at your back. You have the blessing of interdependence and community. You have the great trees of the forest as steadfast allies. You have the turning of the seasons and the renewal of life as your music. You have the vast sky of emptiness to hold all things graciously.


You have been training for this for a long time. With practice you have learned to quiet the mind and open the heart. You have learned emptiness and interdependence. Now it is time to step forward, bringing your equanimity and courage, wisdom and compassion to the world. The Bodhisattva shows the way to alleviate suffering amidst it all.


As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains, "When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive...


...Now a time of change has come.


We must listen deeply, bear witness, honor everyone, and choose our actions wisely and courageously.


Do not worry if the Right Action is not yet clear to you.


Wait in the unknowing with mindfulness and a clear heart.


Soon the right time will come and you will know to stand up.


I will meet you there."


To what extent does connecting with your ancestors effect how you feel/act with respect to protecting the vulnerable?  On Monday night, after our walking meditation, we will practice the Five Touchings of the Earth and then share from our experience.  As you reflect on the current state of the world and your relationship/s with it, I invite you to notice how your thoughts/feelings/actions change.  What effects these changes?  What are the wholesome seeds that you would like to water, and how have/might you water them?


As Mary wrote so beautifully in her email last week, "may our sharing reassure us that we are not alone and that we are not powerless to stand up for what matters. May we plant some seeds of goodness in each other. May our practice bring us the steadiness and calm needed to craft our particular words and actions. May we be reminded that non-violent resistance is not passive. May we be inspired by so many who have come before us to act with courage and strength."


I look forward to being with you on Monday night.


July 2 Protecting the Vulnerable


This Monday night, Mary will facilitate. She shares her thoughts below.


Dear friends,

No one needs to remind us that these are particular times that require thoughtful and skillful responses. The alternative may be to find ourselves on the sidelines watching while the fabric of our planet, our country, our communities, and our basic humanity unravel. Each day something new is added to the too long list of unbelievable decisions. The following letter from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield expresses well what has been on my mind. I've only added some emphasis in bold type.


Protecting the Vulnerable


"As long as a society holds regular and frequent assemblies, meeting in harmony


and mutual respect, can they be expected to prosper and not decline.


As long as a society follows the long held traditions of wisdom, and honors its elders,


can they be expected to prosper and not decline.


As long as a society protects the wives and daughters and vulnerable among them,


can they be expected to prosper and not decline.


As long as a society cares for the shrines and sacred places of the natural world,


can they be expected to prosper and not decline."


-Mahaparinirvana Sutta (a text of Buddha's last teachings)


Whatever your political perspective, now is the season to stand up for what matters. To stand against hate. To stand for respect. To stand for protection of the vulnerable. To care for the natural world.


Do not believe that meditation and contemplation are the fulfillment of the Buddhist Path. Inner peace, freedom and joy develop only when paired with the outer teachings of virtue, respect and mutual care. The foundation of Dharma is relational, built on generosity, virtue and loving-kindness. The Path to human happiness and liberation requires Right Intention, intentions that are free from greed, hatred and cruelty; Right Speech, speech that is true and helpful, not harsh, not vain, slanderous nor abusive; and Right Action, actions that are free from causing harm, killing, stealing and sexual exploitation.


In his life, the Buddha intervened to try to stop wars. He counseled kings and ministers, and guided those around him with teachings of peace and respect. In modern times, Maha Ghosananda of Cambodia joined the United Nations peace process and led years of peace walks of loving-kindness through the war zones and killing fields of Cambodia. Thai abbots have taken their robes and ordained the oldest trees as elders of the forest to protect whole ecosystems from logging. Burmese monks and nuns marched in the streets to protect citizens from the harsh military dictatorship. A.T. Ariyaratne in Sri Lanka enlisted hundreds of thousands in a 500-year peace plan. Vietnamese, Chinese and Tibetan monastics have stood up for peace, justice and compassion, even immolating themselves to stop the harmful actions around them.


Gandhi explains, "Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics do not know what spirituality really means."


This is not about red or blue. It is about standing up for the most basic of human principles, for moral action and the prevention of harm. It is embodying Dharma amidst the troubles of the world.


You are not alone. You have generations of ancestors at your back. You have the blessing of interdependence and community. You have the great trees of the forest as steadfast allies. You have the turning of the seasons and the renewal of life as your music. You have the vast sky of emptiness to hold all things graciously.


You have been training for this for a long time. With practice you have learned to quiet the mind and open the heart. You have learned emptiness and interdependence. Now it is time to step forward, bringing your equanimity and courage, wisdom and compassion to the world. The Bodhisattva shows the way to alleviate suffering amidst it all.


As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains, "When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive."


Across the world, storms of uncertainty and fear have arisen. It is time to collectively stand up, calm and clear. With peacefulness and mutual respect, our Buddhist communities can become centers of protection and vision.


Protection can take many forms. Protection can be providing sanctuary for those in danger. Protection can be skillfully confronting those whose actions would harm the vulnerable among us. Protection can be standing up for the environment. Protection can be becoming an active ally for those targeted by hate and prejudice.


Vision means carrying the lamp of the Dharma.


It means standing up for the truth-no matter what:


"Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed."


"Greed, Hate and Ignorance create suffering. Generosity, Love and Wisdom bring happiness."


"Mind is the forerunner. Speak and act with a pure mind and happiness will follow."


"Plant seeds of goodness, and well-being will grow."


Now a time of change has come.


We must listen deeply, bear witness, honor everyone, and choose our actions wisely and courageously.


Do not worry if the Right Action is not yet clear to you.


Wait in the unknowing with mindfulness and a clear heart.


Soon the right time will come and you will know to stand up.


I will meet you there."

I look forward to meeting you on Monday night! May our sharing reassure us that we are not alone and that we are not powerless to stand up for what matters. May we plant some seeds of goodness in each other. May our practice bring us the steadiness and calm needed to craft our particular words and actions. May we be reminded that non-violent resistance is not passive. May we be inspired by so many who have come before us to act with courage and strength. 

Much love to you all,


June 25 Loving Speech and Deep Listening


This Monday night Alison will facilitate.  She shares,


On the last Monday of each month, the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community Sangha focuses on one or more of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.   As explained by Deer Park Monastery,


These trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.


Although all five mindfulness trainings are set forth at the end of this message, this week, I would like to focus on the fourth training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening.


Thich Nhat Hanh has written the following about this training:


When communication is cut off, we all suffer. When no one listens to us or understands us, we become like a bomb ready to explode. Compassionate listening brings about healing. Sometimes only ten minutes of listening deeply can transform us and bring a smile back to our lips.


Many of us have lost our capacity for listening and using loving speech in our families. It may be that no one is capable of listening to anyone else. So we feel very lonely even within our own families. We go to a therapist, hoping that she is able to listen to us. But many therapists also have deep suffering within. Sometimes they cannot listen as deeply as they would like. So if we really love someone, we need to train ourselves to be a deep listener.


We also need to train ourselves to use loving speech. We have lost our capacity to say things calmly. We get irritated too easily. Every time we open our mouths, our speech becomes sour or bitter. We have lost out capacity for speaking with kindness. Without this ability, we cannot succeed in restoring harmony, love, and happiness.


In Buddhism, we speak of bodhisattvas, wise and compassionate beings who stay on Earth to alleviate the suffering of others. The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, also called Quan Yin, is a person who has a great capacity for listening with compassion and true presence. Quan Yin is the bodhisattva who can listen and understand the sounds of the world, the cries of suffering.





You have to practice breathing mindfully in and out so that compassion always stays with you. You listen without giving advice or passing judgment. You can say to yourself about the other person, "I am listening to him just because I want to relieve his suffering." This is called compassionate listening. You have to listen in such a way that compassion remains with you the whole time you are listening. That is the art. If halfway through listening, irritation and anger comes up, then you cannot continue to listen. You have to practice in such a way that every time the energy of irritation and anger comes up, you can breathe in and out mindfully and continue to hold compassion within you. It is with compassion that you can listen to another. No matter what the other person says, even if there is a lot of strong information and injustice in his way of seeing things, even if he condemns or blames you, continue to sit very quietly breathing in and out.

If you don't' feel that you can continue to listen in this way, let the other person know. Ask your friend, "Dear one, can we continue in a few days? I need to renew myself, I need to practice so that I can listen to you in the best way I can." If you are not in good shape, you are not going to listen in the best way you can. Practice more walking meditation, more mindful breathing, and more sitting meditation in order to restore your capacity for compassionate listening.


Over the past week, I've really struggled (and failed) to listen compassionately to those who exhibit injustice in their way of seeing things in relation to our immigration policies and not dissolve into hatred over the treatment of innocent children. This Monday hopefully you can share some of your own struggles and insights with respect to this mindfulness training too.   Look forward to seeing you!





The Five Mindfulness Trainings


Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.


True Happiness
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.


True Love
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness - which are the four basic elements of true love - for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.


Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.


Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.



June 18 Finding Refuge

mountain house at night with bell.JPG

Dear Friends,


This week Annie will facilitate. We will discuss the concept of taking refuge. As human beings, we naturally seek safety, security and meaning in our lives. To do this, we need help. That's where taking refuge comes in.


As a Buddhist, my practice is to find my refuge in the Three Jewels -- the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Taking refuge in the Buddha is taking refuge in my own Buddha nature, the Buddha inside of me. Taking refuge in the Dharma, is taking refuge in things as they are, including the wisdom passed down from my many teachers and ancestors. And taking refuge in the sangha means leaning on my communities, like Opening Heart, to help me make it through the days, weeks, and years. 


Over my lifetime, I have taken refuge in many many other things -- bagels, alcohol, weed, boyfriends, and my dogs, to name a few. None of these refuges have been as stable or as helpful as the three jewels. The longer I practice in this tradition, the more important it feels to have a refuge I can rely on.


The definition of refuge (from the online google dictionary) is:


a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble, something providing shelter.


Dawn Haney, of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship says:


"I invite you to think about where you find the easiest refuge. For me today that’s here at the ocean or in nature more generally. You might find easy refuge in the love of others, whether people, pets, other creatures. Or the breath may be a solitary, steady refuge for you. Whatever it is that brings you a sense of groundedness, compassion for self as well as others. Letting the experience of this refuge wash over you like waves that will continue to be here with you."


In another Buddhist Peace Fellowship essay, Edwin Ng describes the refuges as a way to welcome vulnerability and entangle ourselves with others:


"As professed Buddhists, we take refuge in the Triple Gem: the Buddha as exemplar, the Dharma as path, the Sangha as community. By taking refuge we give wisdom and compassion a chance to flower from the groundless ground of our mortality. Refuge welcomes vulnerability and entangles the self with others and the world. Hospitality towards what is not-self is necessary; otherwise how do we repair broken worlds, heal the harms we suffer and inflict on one another, or invite shared hopes and aspirations for a more promising future? The taking of refuge is hosted by an act of promising."


This Monday, during our second sitting, I will offer a guided meditation on refuge, and afterward we can share about where we find refuge in the world. How would you describe taking refuge in the Buddha? the Dharma? the Sangha? Which refuges support your growth and well-being and which do not? What have you learned about refuge through your life and your practice? How does Opening Heart Mindfulness Community provide refuge for you?


Below you will find a Plum Village chant on the Three Jewels. If we feel inspired, we can sing it together on Monday.


with love,



The Three Refuges

I take refuge in the Buddha,
the one who shows me the way in this life.
I take refuge in the Dharma,
the way of understanding and of love.
I take refuge in the Sangha,
the community that lives in harmony and awareness.

Dwelling in the refuge of Buddha,
I clearly see the path of light and beauty in the world.
Dwelling in the refuge of Dharma,
I learn to open many doors on the path of transformation.
Dwelling in the refuge of Sangha,
shining light that supports me, keeping my practice free of obstruction.

Taking refuge in the Buddha in myself,
I aspire to help all people recognize their own awakened nature,
realizing the Mind of Love.
Taking refuge in the Dharma in myself,
I aspire to help all people fully master the ways of practice
and walk together on the path of liberation.
Taking refuge in the Sangha in myself,
I aspire to help all people build Fourfold Communities,
to embrace all beings and support their transformation.

[bell, bell]

June 11 The Power of Play


The Power of Play 

This week, we have three guest facilitators from Stillwater Mindfulness Practice Center, Carlos, Wonder and Eric. He says this:

Recently, the three of us were gathered together for a discussion that became rather playful. We shared stories and experiences that drew lots of laughter and seemed to break down the barriers of our vulnerability to the point that we were all willing to share at a little deeper level. This experience piqued our interest in bringing this topic to the Sangha for a Dharma discussion and an opportunity to play together, and so this will be our topic this Thursday evening. It will center on this question:

What is play and is it an importantpart of your mindfulness practice

Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has spent an entire career studying play, and many of the insights we discuss below can be found in greater detail in a TED talk that he presented and a book he wrote on the topic of play. Dr. Brown became interested in play during his medical training while doing a pediatrics rotation. He was working in a pediatric Intensive Care Unit where he encountered a 2-year-old child who was extremely ill with viral meningitis and who was mostly unresponsive. He had been monitoring this young patient’s lab test results for several days, and one morning he came into the room and said hello to the young patient. The boy responded with a big smile and reached his hand out to him. Later that day, he checked the boy’s labs and noted that there were no differences from the day before, and in fact, the lab results did not show signs of improvement until 24-hours after the boy regained his ability to smile. It made a deep impression on him that it was the smile, which is the human play signal, that came back long before the 25 medical parameters that he had been monitoring.

Stuart describes play as a trait that is primal, pre-conscious, and pre-verbal. It runs deeper than species and gender, and most importantly, play is a thing of beauty that is better experienced than defined. Stuart does not give an absolute definition of play because its definition varies greatly by person, and it must be experienced to be fully understood. However, some characteristics of play are:

  1. Purposeless activity done for the sake of doing it with no other expected outcomes
  2. Spontaneous activity done for its own sake
  3. An activity that appears purposeless
  4. Guilt free purposelessness

The power of play is that it is intensely pleasurable, it energizes and enlivens us, it eases our burdens, it renews our natural sense of optimism, and play opens us up to new possibilities. Play promotes survival because it allows an individual to explore the natural world, push defined boundaries, and have fun in the process. Stuart’s research on play deprivation suggests that play shapes the brain. Play fosters empathy and makes complex social interactions and the development of group activities possible. In fact, Stuart argues that play lies at the core of creativity and innovation and allows us to be free of the constraints of time and to experience a diminished consciousness of self. It allows us to explore new ways of thinking and behaving so that we are not locked into a rigid way of doing things, are open to variation, see things in a different way, and gain new insights. Play allows us to break down barriers that separate us from others and fosters connection with others.

Often, the times that we feel most alive, that we remember most vividly, are moments of play. After the terror attacks of September 11, what people remembered about their loved ones was play moments. Family members remembered their loved ones who died in the attacks with the following titles to obituaries that appeared in the March 31, 2002 New York Times:

  1. A spit ball shooting executive
  2. A Frank Zappa fan
  3. The Lawn King
  4. A practical joker with a heart
  5. A lover of laughter

The ability to play is critical for happiness, sustaining social relationships, and being a creative and innovative person. According to Stuart, remembering how to play and making play a part of daily life is the most important factor to being fulfilled. From play we learn how the world works and how to have relationships, we learn how to discover and follow rules.

Sadly, in this modern technology driven society, we are taught that play is a waste of time as we age, and that we should be more focused on productivity. However, the research on play indicates that play is a catalyst, just a little play each day can make us happier, more fulfilled, and much more productive. It is important to find and exploit your play personality.

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, captures the essence of play in this quote: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

This Monday, June 11th evening, we want to explore how we can play together. For our Dharma experience we will focus on play. Please feel free to bring a short, playful activity that you can share with the group. In addition, we will have some time at the end to discuss our experiences with play as we address these questions:

  1. How do you play?
  2. How important is play to your life and your mindfulness practice?
  3. How do play and mindfulness overlap in your life?

You are warmly invited to join us!

With much joy and playfulness,

Eric, Carlos, and Wonder