September 4 Going back to Basics

This week Annie will facilitate.


We will be meeting on Labor Day, the first week of the new "year," so I thought we might go back to some basics: 


Why do we practice? What does it mean to practice


I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) that there are two parts to any meditation practice. The first part called samatha. To practice samatha is to stop and simply bring our mind back to our breathing, over and over again. This is what we start with when we sit on our meditation cushions.


As Thay describes so beautifully in his poem Froglessness (full poem at the bottom of my note): 


The first fruition of the practice

is the attainment of froglessness.

When a frog is put

on the center of a plate,

she will jump out of the plate

after just a few seconds.

Our mind jumps off the plate over and over again. So our first practice, samatha, is learning to come back to the plate, come back to the breath.


If that were all we ever did, we would find ourselves much calmer and more centered. But, we are cautioned by Zen masters, that is not enough. The deeper purpose of putting the frog back onto the plate is to understand the frog. What is driving the frog to jump? I have found this to be a very deep question.


Why are we thinking about our boss while we are sitting on the cushion? Why do we suddenly feel fear, anger, or sadness? Must I always jump when a thought arises? 


When we are able to bring our minds back to our breath, back to our experience in this very moment, we start to understand our minds, little by little. With understanding and with a loving and gentle touch, we can begin to transform the habits that have been causing suffering for ourselves and others.


This deep looking at our own minds is called vipasana. It's the second part of the practice. Although we need samatha in order to practice vipasana, we are continue practicing samatha in order to grow our ability to return the frog back to her plate. And we continue to watch our minds to see what thoughts, beliefs and feelings are controlling us in any given moment. We do both.


Noticing what is arising, we can say to ourselves, "This is what it feels like when anger arises" or "I'm noticing that I keep telling myself the story of my victimization." By simply noticing what is coming up, we loosen the grip of the thoughts and feelings, and we create more space for skillful words and action.


And as we develop more spaciousness, the goodness that lives in our heart-mind can arise naturally and take loving care of ourselves, our loved ones, and even those who we don't really like all that much. In doing so, we may be able to contribute a few drops of healing to the world. 


This is how I answer the question of how and why we practice. 


After our meditation period, we will have a chance to share our own experiences around meditation, how and why we practice. What inspires you to keep coming back to the cushion? Where have you sprinkled your drops of healing? What causes your frog to jump off the plate, and what brings her back?


I look forward to seeing you there.

much love,



p.s. Our community is looking for volunteers to be part of an "access team" to help us grow in our ability to be inclusive to all people who want to join us for meditation. Access team members' main job would be, during sangha, to ask who might need additional support such as more light, use of microphone, assistance getting up and down the stairs, a ride home, etc. and help pair people with the right solution. Please email me if you would like to join this group.


Newcomers week: If you are new, please arrive at 6:15 to have a short introduction to the logistics of the evening. 




by Thich Nhat Hanh


The first fruition of the practice

is the attainment of froglessness.

When a frog is put

on the center of a plate,

she will jump out of the plate

after just a few seconds.


If you put the frog back again

on the center of the plate,

she will again jump out.


You have so many plans.

There is something you want to become.

Therefore you always want to make a leap,

a leap forward.


It is difficult

to keep the frog still

on the center of the plate.

You and I

both have Buddha Nature in us.

This is encouraging,

but you and I

both have Frog Nature in us.


That is why

the first attainment

of the practice--

froglessness is its name.