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: 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

June 4 Reflections on Perfection


This Monday night, Camille will facilitate. Mary prepared the theme for our sitting, but she is unable to attend, but will be there in spirit.  Camille will present her offering.  


I have to stop myself sometimes when I find I am lingering on finishing a task or project...or even getting one started! I say silently to myself, "don't let perfect be the enemy of good enough". A mantra of sorts. It helps me to let go and move on. What keeps us from believing the ancient wisdom that we are whole and just the way we are supposed to be? Is all our striving to do more and do it better, get more, and achieve more linked to a deep-seated belief that we are not good enough the way we are?


I found Jack Kornfield's reflection on The Tryanny of Perfection useful:


Imperfections are part of the display of life. Joy and sorrow, birth and death are the dance of existence throughout which our awakened consciousness can shine. Yet we long for perfection. The perfect partner, house, job, boss, and spiritual teacher. And when we find them, we want them to stay that way forever, never to lose the glow, never to grow old, never to have the roof sag, the paint peeling. We're also taught to seek perfection in ourselves. Novelist Florida Scott Maxwell writes, "No matter how old a mother is, she looks at her middle-age children for signs of improvement." You are told that if you do enough therapy, work out at the gym, eat an especially healthy diet, watch documentaries on TV, manage your cholesterol, and meditate enough, you will become more perfect.


In 1971 Ram Dass, who became author of the bestselling Be Here Now, was encouraged by his guru Neem Karoli Baba to return to the United States from India to teach. His guru's message was one of love: "Love people and feed them." Ram Dass was hesitant; he protested to Neem Karoli Baba that he felt too impure and spiritually imperfect to teach. His guru got up from his wooden seat, took several minutes to circle Ram Dass slowly and carefully, peering at him from all sides, then sat back down. Looking Ram Dass deeply in the eyes, he said simply, "I see no imperfections." Ram Dass returned to America, bringing the teaching of pure love to millions.


You are perfectly yourself. The gifts you seek of love and compassion are not in faraway India. They are always here waiting for you. I see the fruit of loving awareness and self-compassion become visible at the end of retreats. On the first days the meditators' busy minds begin to settle. Gradually their minds quiet, their bodies open, their eyes soften. They become less hurried, more present to themselves and the world. People sometimes joke about the vipassana facelift, because meditators leave retreats looking younger and more alive. When you see with the eyes of love, everything changes.


So forget the tyranny of perfection. The point is not to perfect yourself. It is to perfect your love. Let your imperfections be an invitation to care. Remember that imperfections are deliberately woven into Navajo rugs and treasured in the best Japanese pottery. They are part of the art. What a relief to honor your life as it is, in all its beauty and imperfection.


The point is not to perfect yourself. It is to perfect your love.


After the sitting, we will share from our experience with seeking perfection in ourselves.

  • What does it mean to you 'to perfect your love'?
  • Can we go out tonight feeling more love for ourselves (and others), just the way we are?

May 28 Swimming and Loving Kindness


This Monday night, Fabiola will facilitate.  She shares:


For the past four years, I have been dealing with pain on the left side of my body. Three months ago my doctor recommended that I start swimming. I responded that I did not want to be in more pain.  She looked at me and simply suggested that I work with the pain instead of resisting it. I left her office wondering if I really heard her correctly.  I wondered if she had any mindfulness training.


I have now been swimming for the past two months, three days per week.  I have learned so much about the difference between resisting and embracing.  Pain is our body's way of communicating with us. In my particular case, the pain is related to my visual system.  My eyes do not converge, so as I age, my long distance and short distance sight changes. These changes are causing stress in the way my body functions in physical space.  My internal dialogue is very strong. I was a very active person before this challenge, so my ego pushes in one direction. While my mindfulness practice waters kindness and compassion towards myself.


This Monday night we will concentrate on the fourth mindfulness training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening.  We will read the training together and water the seeds that transform anger, violence, and fear into loving kindness towards ourselves and others.


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 its roots, especially 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 release the 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 make daily efforts, in my speaking and listening, to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.


For the complete Mindfulness Trainings, please visit our sangha's website here.    

May 21 Four Elements of Right Speech


This Monday Bea will facilitate. She shares:


In the book, The Art of Communicating, Thich Nhat Hanh presents the Four Elements of Right Speech. He says that in Buddhism there is a practice called the Ten Bodhisatva Trainings. Four of these ten trainings relate to Right Speech - we can also think of this as "Wise Speech." 


This type of speech focuses on being:


  1. Truthful - Tell the truth. Don't turn the truth upside down.
  2. Helpful - Being aware of your intention, your motivation. How can this be constructive?
  3. Timely. What is the best time to share your thoughts? Is the person ready to receive?  
  4. Kind: Use peaceful language. Don't use insulting or violent words, cruel speech, verbal abuse, or condemnation.


Please contemplate some of your most recent interactions with people and ask yourself whether you used Wise Speech or not. Also think about how you can practice using Wise Speech more often in our daily life. What comes easy and what does not come so easy?

May 14 We Are All Watering Seeds


This week Mick will facilitate. He shares:


A recurring theme in our Monday nights together is that of Coming Home.

Coming home.  Yes, we know our practice is to come home to the present moment wherever we may be.  And what do we find when we pause and come back to our body, our breath, our emotions.  In pausing we come into contact with the ten thousand joys and sorrows of life.  In that moment of being at the center we have the choice of how to respond and where to guide our attention.  We notice a great deal when we practice coming home.  In pausing we can see clearly that anger is present, that there is a knot in our stomach.  In pausing we can see clearly the smile of a loved one and the sunshine.  


With this recognition, this knowing, "right now, it's like this", we hold great power.


Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that we all hold many seeds within ourselves. We hold the seeds of love and compassion, along with the seeds of hatred and violence.


He shares:


Your mind is like a piece of land planted with many different kinds of seeds: seeds of joy, peace, mindfulness, understanding, and love; seeds of craving, anger, fear, hate, and forgetfulness.  These wholesome and unwholesome seeds are always there, sleeping in the soil of your mind.  The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water.  If you plant tomato seeds in your gardens, tomatoes will grow.  Just so, if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow.  When the seeds of happiness in you are watered, you will become happy.  When the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry.  The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong.

      -Thich Nhat Hanh in Anh-Huong & Hanh, 2006, 22


The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong.  The practice of watering seeds brings us to inquire, what seeds am I watering in myself, and in the people around me?  The first step of our practice is to pause, then recognize what is present, then choose how to be with what is there.  This explanation brings us to examine who we are practicing as gardeners to our own soil.  We can look deeply at our inner voice and our daily actions and habits.  Many of us have amassed experience on this path of mindful living.  After years of practice, the inner critic is still there. So is the voice that speaks kindly to yourself.  In our pausing, do we take the time to give ourselves credit for our practice, for watering our seeds of mindfulness and clear seeing? 


This Monday we will take time to reflect on our practice as master gardeners and to look at the presence and strength of our inner critic, and our inner positive voice that offers praise and credit.

May 7 Returning to Our True Home


On Monday, Miles will facilitate. He shares:


Home is both a physical place and an abstract notion. For some of us, home was a mostly happy place where we were born and raised. It formed our identity, our customs and habits, our ideas of what's right and wrong. For others, home can evoke many unpleasant experiences that were not only uncomfortable but also painful. And for yet others, home is a mixture of both or perhaps an elusive notion as we've moved from one home to another, sometimes multiple times. Later, as adults we may have been fortunate to create harmonious homes in a chosen location with loved ones.


My home of origin had some major challenges. My father was killed in an accidental mid-air collision of two commercial airplanes when I was four years old. My mother was understandably deeply grieved by this shocking event. Nonetheless, at first she seemed to manage well, carrying on as a homemaker. With my sister who was five years older, we moved from the suburbs to New York City. A couple years later, when a romantic relationship that appeared headed for marriage did not work out, my mother fell into a deep and prolonged depression that lasted, with some remissions, for my entire childhood (and the rest of her life, despite treatment). Too young to know how to help her, I found refuge in sports, friends, books and television. Sometimes, though, I sensed that aspects of a happy home life were missing, but then also wondered whether a harmonious and mutually supportive home was some fictional creation of television writers.   Fast forward many years and wife, who played a major role, and I managed to create-with the help of community and contemplative practice--a mostly happy home with our two children (and dog) that remedied many of the lacks of my home of origin.  


In a 1996 dharma talk at Plum Village*, "Returning To Our True Home" Thich Nhat Hanh discusses a more abstract notion of home. As a way to find our true home, Thay essentially asks us to practice putting lyrics to the subtle soundtrack of our lives since birth--the uninterrupted sequence of breaths. He says:


There is a very simple gatha, a simple verse for you to practice. You might like to learn it today. When you breathe in, you say, "I have arrived," and when you breathe out, you say, "I am home." According to this practice, your true home is in the here and the now, and our practice is the practice of arriving every second into our true home, which is the present moment, the only moment when life is available. We have been running all our lives to the past, to the future, to our projects. Now it is time to go home. And if you go home and look and touch deeply, you'll be surprised to see that what you are looking for is already there. Peace is available.


This is a practice. Paradoxically loss, even catastrophic loss, can allow a practice to flower and suffuse ourselves and our lives. A major loss in Thay's life was being exiled from his native Vietnam. For him, losing his physical, concrete home provided the impetus to find his true home:


It was precisely because I did not have a country of my own that I had the opportunity to find my true home. This is very important. It was because I didn't belong to any particular country that I had to make an effort to break through and find my true home. The feeling that we are not accepted, that we do not belong anywhere and have no national identity, can provoke the breakthrough necessary for us to find our true home.


From Thich Nhat Hanh, "At Home in the World"


When we know how to take care of our [body and] feelings-when we know how to generate joy and happiness, and how to handle a painful feeling-we can cultivate and restore a happy home in the present moment. And when we know how to generate the energies of understanding and compassion, our home will be a very cozy, pleasant place to come back to. But if we're not able to do these things, we won't want to go home. Home is not something to hope for, but to cultivate. There is no way home; home is the way.


This Monday, you're invited to share your experiences of home. Has home been an important part of your life-a joy, a sorrow, a conundrum? What role, if any, does your practice have or do you hope it to have? What does home mean to you now? What kind of home do you hope to build for you and yours?

I hope you can join us,



A deep bow to Scott Schang of the Stillwater sangha for some of the text and quotes from Thay. The personal story is mine.

Note that this is a newcomers week. Please come at 6:15pm for a brief introduction to our sitting. 

April 30 Listening and Loving Speech


On Monday, Mick will facilitate. He shares:


This week Mick will facilitate and share on The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Deep Listening and Loving Speech.

In the Buddhist tradition the Fourth Mindfulness Training is always described as refraining from these four actions:

  1. Not telling the truth. If it's black, you say it's white

  2. Exaggerating, you make something up, or describe something as more beautiful than it actually is, or as ugly when it is not ugly.

  3. Forked tongue, you go to one person and say one thing and then you go to another and say the opposite.

  4. Filthy language. You insult or abuse people.                                   (Thich Nhat Hanh, For A Future To Be Possible, p. 55)

In conjunction with refraining from speech that is unskillful, in practicing the Fourth Mindfulness Training we commit to cultivating loving speech and deep listening.


As mindfulness practitioners when it comes to loving speech, and refraining from unmindful speech the scales are probably tipped in your favor. It's likely that the majority of the time you are able to follow and practice this training.


Many years ago, I heard a talk from a monk about knowing your blind spots when it comes to your mindfulness practice. He spoke about getting familiar with the situations, settings, and people that react impulsively or to be pulled out of skillful speech and action.

Surely this applies to losing patience in traffic or frustrations at work. This knowing your blind spots also is extremely applicable to the practice of deep listening and loving speech.


In commenting on listening deeply and loving speech Thay shares a saying in Vietnamese,

"It doesn't cost anything to have loving speech." He continues:

We only need to choose our words carefully and we can make other people happy. To use words mindfully, with loving kindness, is to practice generosity. We can make many people happy just by practicing loving speech.

(Thich Nhat Hanh, For A Future To Be Possible, p.44)


Remembering that whenever we speak and whenever we listen we are affecting two people.  Our mindfulness in speaking and listening can have tremendous and far reaching ripples.


In our current time of instant, mass communication, fake news, etc, how truly are we connected.  In commenting on this topic, Thay shares that:


Never in the history of humankind have we had so many forms of communication...

But we still remain islands. There is so little communication between the members of

One family, between individuals in society, and between nations. We suffer from so many

Wars and conflicts. We surely have not cultivated the arts of listening and speaking....

The universal door of communication has to be opened again. When we cannot communicate we get sick, and as our sickness increases, we suffer and spill our suffering on other people.

(Thich Nhat Hanh, For A Future To Be Possible,  p. 48-49)


We need to look deeply into ourselves to recognize our blind spots around the arts of speaking and listening. This Monday night we can take the time to look deeply into our practice of loving speech and deep listening and the ripple effects on our lives.

April 23 Celebrating Earth Day: Our Connection with the Earth & the Earth's Connection with Us


On Monday, Marie will facilitate. She shares:

Today (Sunday) is Earth Day: a wonderful opportunity to pause, to reconnect with the earth and to reflect on our relationship with the earth - in mind, in body and in spirit. 

For much of my life, I felt (and acted) like an ant - running across the earth with great industriousness, largely focussed on outcomes. Yes, I appreciated the earth, worried about it and took actions to help heal it. That said, I seldom felt genuinely connected with the earth; in the parlance of Thay (see below), my thoughts and actions were predicated on a dualistic view. About fifteen years ago, I was at a retreat with our (then) young son. During walking meditation in a field, the Dharma teacher said: "with each step, imagine that the soles of your feet are gently kissing the earth." Our son, who was holding my hand, looked up at me and said - with a wide grin: "Mummy, the earth must love this!" This observation, which I have repeated to myself hundreds of times since, has helped to wake me up. 

As Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Lion's Roar, we are not separate from the earth: 

We think that the earth is the earth and we are something outside of the earth. But in fact we are inside of the earth. Imagine that the earth is the tree and we are a leaf. The earth is not the environment, something outside of us that we need to care for. The earth is us. Just as your parents, ancestors, and teachers are inside you, the earth is in you. Taking care of the earth, we take care of ourselves.  


When we see that the earth is not just the environment, that the earth is in us, at that moment you can have real communion with the earth. But if we see the earth as only the environment, with ourselves in the center, then we only want to do something for the earth in order for us to survive. But it is not enough to take care of the earth. That is a dualistic way of seeing.


We have to practice looking at our planet not just as matter, but as a living and sentient being. The universe, the sun, and the stars have contributed many elements to the earth, and when we look into the earth we see that it's a very beautiful flower containing the presence of the whole universe. When we look into our own bodily formation, we are made of the same elements as the planet. It has made us. The earth and the universe are inside of us. 


When we take mindful steps on the earth, our body and mind unite, and we unite with the earth. The earth gave birth to us and the earth will receive us again. Nothing is lost. Nothing is born. Nothing dies. We don't need to wait until after our body has disintegrated to go back to Mother Earth. We are going back to Mother Earth at every moment. Whenever we breathe, whenever we step, we are returning to the earth. Even when we scratch ourselves, skin cells will fall and return to the earth.


Breathing in, I know Mother Earth is in me. Breathing out, I know Mother Earth is in me....

I think of the earth as a bodhisattva, a great and compassionate being. A bodhisattva is a being who has awakening, understanding, and love. Any living being who has awakening, peace, understanding, and love can be called a bodhisattva, but a bodhisattva doesn't have to be a human being. When we look into a tree, we see the tree is fresh, it nourishes life, and it offers shade and beauty. It's a place of refuge for so many birds and other creatures. A bodhisattva is not something that is up in the clouds far away from us. Bodhisattvas are all around us. A young person who has love, who has freshness, who has understanding, who offers us a lot of happiness, is a bodhisattva. The pine standing in the garden gives us joy, offers us oxygen, and makes life more beautiful.  


When we say that earth is a beautiful bodhisattva, this is not our imagination. It is a fact that the earth is giving life and she is very beautiful. The bodhisattva is not a separate spirit inhabiting the earth; we should transcend that idea. There are not two separate things-the earth, which is a material thing, and the spirit of the earth, a nonmaterial thing that inhabits the earth.

Our planet earth is itself a true, great bodhisattva. It embodies so many great virtues. The earth is solid-it can carry so many things. It is patient-it takes its time moving glaciers and carving rocks. The earth doesn't discriminate. We can throw fragrant flowers on the earth, or we can throw urine and excrement on the earth, and the earth purifies it. The earth has a great capacity to endure, and it offers so much to nourish us-water, shelter, food, and air to breathe.


When we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of the earth bodhisattva, love is born. You love the earth and the earth loves you. You would do anything for the well-being of the earth. And the earth will do anything for your well-being. That is the natural outcome of the real loving relationship. The earth is not just your environment, to be taken care of or worshiped; you are each other. Every mindful step can manifest that love.


With each step the earth heals us, and with each step we heal the earth.

Part of love is responsibility. In Buddhism, we speak of meditation as an act of awakening. To awaken is to be awake to something. We need to be awake to the fact that the earth is in danger and living species on earth are also in danger. When we walk mindfully, each step reminds us of our responsibility. We have to protect the earth with the same commitment we have to protect our family and ourselves. The earth can nourish and heal us but it suffers as well. With each step the earth heals us, and with each step we heal the earth.  


When we walk mindfully on the face of the earth, we are grounded in her generosity and we cannot help but be grateful. All of the earth's qualities of patience, stability, creativity, love, and nondiscrimination are available to us when we walk reverently, aware of our connection. 

Over the next few days (and beyond), I invite you to explore your connection with the earth. When do you feel most connected? What does the connection feel like and how do you nourish it? 

On Monday night, we will listen to a part of beautiful talk by Thay, Moving Beyond the Idea of "Environment" and then share from our experience. On Wednesday morning, in the place of our usual morning Sangha at Circle Yoga, we will celebrate Earth Day by walking the Labyrinth at American University at 7:00am (see announcement below).

With a bow of gratitude for our practice together.


April 16 Resting in the River


This Monday night, Mary will facilitate.  She shares:


Tonight I would like to explore with you the importance of rest to heal our body and our mind. What should be simpler than resting? Just be still and heal. Right. Not so easy. I remember never enjoying nap time in kindergarten. I always had something more fun in mind to be doing. What is that something driving me to keep on doing? As hard as I try, my habit energy pops up with yet something else that needs to be done even if it might be just creating something fun 'to do'. Just being seems more challenging and difficult to achieve than just doing. Do we lack permission from ourselves and our culture to 'be'? Does it not feel good enough or worthy enough to simply be? I was recently prescribed 15 minutes daily of the yoga corpse pose/shavasana by my doctor. A prescription to rest. Interesting and challenging. I don't manage it everyday. Maybe it's why I've been drawn to meditation and yoga and silence since my early 20's. Maybe deep inside, my highest wisdom knows how desperately I need to rest and just be quiet -- and meditation and yoga offer such tools and silence is the container. Sanctioned times and space where I can rest, be calm and quiet-- and not feel guilty that I need to be doing something else. When I think of my mother, my father, and my grandparents, I see this same energy of doing, of restlessness, of many lifetimes back has this energy accumulated? Now there is a lot of outside encouragement to do. Maybe the outside voice drowns out the quieter inner voice, that's waiting to for its turn, waiting to be listened to and followed. And it's not only western culture. I've seen it in people in so many parts of the world.


Thich Nhat Hahn expounds on this subject in his teaching Resting in the River:


"Resting is a very important practice; we have to learn the art of resting. Resting is the first part of Buddhist meditation. You should allow your body and your mind to rest. Our mind as well as our body needs to rest. The problem is that not many of us know how to allow our body and mind to rest. We are always struggling; struggling has become a kind of habit. We cannot resist being active, we struggle all the time. We even struggle in our sleep.


It is very important to realize that we have the habit energy of struggling. We have to be able to recognize a habit when it manifests itself because if we know how to recognize our habit, it will lose its energy and will not be able to push us anymore.


We have to practice in order to be able to transform this habit in us. The habit of struggle has become a powerful source of energy that is shaping our behavior, our actions and our reactions.


When an animal in the jungle is wounded, it knows how to find a quiet place, lie down and do nothing. The animal knows that is the only way to get healed-to lay down and just rest, not thinking of anything, including hunting and eating. Not eating is a very wonderful way of allowing your body to rest. We are so concerned about how to get nutrition that we are afraid of resting, of allowing our body to rest and to fast. The animal knows that it does not need to eat. What it needs is to rest, to do nothing, and that is why its health is restored."


In our consciousness there are wounds also, lots of pains. Our consciousness also needs to rest in order to restore itself. Our consciousness is just like our body. Our body knows how to heal itself if we allow it the chance to do so. When we get a cut on our finger we don't have to do anything except to clean it and to allow it the time to heal, because our body knows how to heal itself. The same thing is true with our consciousness; our consciousness knows how to heal itself if we know how to allow it to do so. But we don't allow it. We always try to do something. We worry so much about healing, which is why we do not get the healing we need. Only if we know how to allow them to rest can our body and our soul heal themselves.


But there is in us what we call the energy of restlessness. We cannot be at peace with ourselves. We cannot be peaceful. We cannot sit; we cannot lie down. There is some energy in us to do this, to do that, to think of this, to think of that, and that kind of restlessness makes us unhappy. That is why it is so important for us to learn first of all to allow our body to rest. We have to learn how to deal with all our energy of restlessness. That is why we have to learn these techniques of allowing our body and our consciousness to rest."


If you care to read more, this Lion Roar online offering includes this teaching and a pertinent introduction: Click here.


Before coming on Monday, please take time to reflect on some questions:

  • When you fall sick in your body, have you looked into your mind/consciousness to see what is there?
  • Does resting come easily for you or do you have to push yourself to rest?
  • What helps you to seek the rest you need to rejuvenate and heal?

I look forward to seeing you on Monday night and learning from what you would like to share. 




April 9 Mindful Rituals, Mindful Practice


This Monday Bea will facilitate.  She shares:


For the past few months, I have been sitting every morning at 7am for twenty minutes with at least one other mindfulness practitioner. We use a free conference call line to dial in and sit together. I wake up, walk to the kitchen, put a pot of water on the stove, wait for it to boil, pour the water on the ground coffee beans and allow a few minutes for it to settle. I watch the ground coffee dance around the pot for a while: at first a bit agitated, then slowly surrendering itself to gravity. I take a deep breath and anticipate the delicious taste of freshly brewed coffee. When it is ready, I pour it in the hand-made clay mug that we bought last summer in Ithaca, New York. I feel the warmth of the coffee coming through the clay mug as I hold it tightly in between my hands and remember the summer day we strolled through the Ithaca farmer's market and met the potter who sold us this elegant yet unpretentious mug. I sip the coffee slowly and enjoy the silence of the house while my daughter is still sleeping. Then I unfold my yoga mat, place my meditation cushion on it and look out of the living room window. There are three enormous pine trees outside my window. One of them has a branch that looks like a hand mudra, with the index finger touching the thumb. I set my intention to start the day peacefully and then I dial in and open the conference call line. We started this ritual being two and now we are four. Last week, a neighbor asked me if she too could join our morning meditation every now and then.


Rituals are powerful if we are present to the moment. If we are not, they become habits fueled by what Thay refers to as "habit energy." In the book, "Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way" Thay says:


"Our habit energy is what causes us to repeat the same behavior thousands of times. Habit energy pushes us to run, to always be doing something, to be lost in thoughts of the past or the future and to blame others for our suffering. And that energy does not allow us to be peaceful and happy in the present moment."

"The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognize that habitual energy. Every time we can recognize the habitual energy in us, we are able to stop and to enjoy the present moment. The energy of mindfulness is the best energy to help us embrace our habit energy and transform it."


There are plenty of things I do every day that have now become routine. Every day, I brush my teeth, I get dressed, I cook, I eat meals, I clean the dishes, I take the metro, I check emails, I say good morning to the neighbor and to my colleagues, I listen to the news and I do my work. Unfortunately, I am not always present. I realize that I am often driven by "habit energy." I would hate for my morning meditation to just become another thing I do to feel good about myself or to check off the list!


In the book Peace is Every Step of the Way, Thay writes about "Eating Mindfully."


A few years ago, I asked some children, "What is the purpose of eating breakfast?" One boy replied, "To get energy for the day." Another said, "The purpose of eating breakfast, is to eat breakfast." I think the second child is correct. The purpose of eating is to eat.


Eating a meal in mindfulness is an important practice. We turn off the TV, put down our newspaper, and work together for five or ten minutes, setting the table and finishing whatever needs to be done. During these few minutes, we can be very happy. When the food is on the table, and everyone is seated, we practice breathing: "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile," three times. We can recover ourselves completely after three breaths like this.


Then we look at each person as we breathe in and out in order to be in touch with ourselves and everyone at the table. We don't need two hours to see another person. If we are really settled within ourselves, we only need to look for one or two seconds, and that is enough to see. I think that if a family has five members, only about five or ten seconds are needed to practice this "looking and seeing."


After breathing, we smile. Sitting at the table with other people, we have a chance to offer and authentic smile of friendship and understanding. It is very easy, but not many people do it. To me, this is the most important practice. We look at each person, and smile at him or her. Breathing and smiling together, is a very important practice. If the people in the household cannot smile at each other, the situation is very dangerous.


After breathing and smiling, we look down at the food in a way that allows the food to become real. This food reveals our connection to the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth. The extent to which our food reveals itself depends on us. We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness.


Having an opportunity to sit with our family and friends and enjoy wonderful food is something precious, something not everyone has. Many people in the world are hungry. When I hold a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I know that I am fortunate, and I feel compassion for all those who have no food to eat and are without friends or family. This is a very deep practice. We do not need to go to a temple or a church in order to practice this. We can practice it right at our dinner table. Mindful eating can cultivate seeds of compassion and understanding that will strengthen us to do something to help hungry and lonely people be nourished.


In order to aid mindfulness during the meals, you may like to eat silently from time to time. Your first silent meal, may cause you to feel a little uncomfortable, but once you become used to it, you will realize that meals in silence bring much peace and happiness. Just as we turn off the TV before eating, we can "turn off" the talking in order to enjoy the food and the presence of one another.


So, my questions for you are these: are your rituals driven by habit energy or are they a mindful practice? What do you do to strengthen your mindful practice every day? What happens when you slow down and are truly present? Is it possible to slow down in Washington D.C. or when we have a "busy" lifestyle? Think about rituals, any ritual, that enables you to truly be in the moment? How do you feel in that moment? And how does that moment nourish the rest of your day?


With gratitude, for taking a moment to sit together and to practice mindfully.



April 2 Forgiveness Practice


This Monday April the 2nd Mick will facilitate.  He shares:


Mindfulness practice is a path to the heart. In stillness, and in silence, we traverse this path to come closer to the heart. We approach the protective outer layer and notice where and how the heart is closed. We notice 

and feel the softness and the spots where we can open to let ourselves and others into our heart. So many of the holdings of the heart and the hard places have been built around regrets and resentments. As we give ourselves the gift of stopping, the gift of coming closer to ourselves to develop mindfulness of feelings, there comes a yearning to let go. In his book, Healing Into Life And Death, Stephen Levine shares:


It is in passing through the holdings around the heart that the power of forgiveness becomes most evident. Forgiveness allows us to let go of the curtains of resentment, the filters to life that have kept us so lost in the mind. Forgiveness softens the clinging and allows our holdings to sink a bit more deeply into the healing heart.


Following Levine's guidance in a meditation on Forgiveness we can

"Begin to reflect for a moment on what the word "forgiveness" might mean. What is forgiveness? What might it be to bring forgiveness into one's life, into one's mind?" As with all of our mindfulness practices, we start where we are. We begin by slipping into the cracks of the heart to soften just this much. The practice of cultivating forgiveness opens us to releasing our own suffering and to looking deeply into all suffering. The practice of cultivating forgiveness is a practice of loving-kindness and healing. Thich Nhat Hanh says that, "Understanding is the practice of looking deeply." When we forgive, we don't condone despicable acts or everyday slights, but we do open a bit more to look deeply with some understanding of the causes and conditions around words and actions. We open our life, our mind, our heart, a bit more.


This Monday night during our second sitting we will do a forgiveness practice. This practice traditionally involves extending forgiveness to someone who we have some resentment toward. Then you picture someone who is unforgiving toward you, and reach out with an openness to be forgiven. Lastly, you offer forgiveness to yourself to soften self-judgment and to enliven kindness.


Forgiveness, healing, dissolving long standing issues and clinging. I look forward to our exploration together.


"The holding around the unresolved, the unapproached has become so cramped close that it seems to take considerable effort to soften it back to its natural openness. But forgiveness acts almost as a kind of lubricant to allow the yet held to slip lightly away".

----Stephen Levine


I look forward to our time together.