Afflictive emotions, anxiety, Awakening, Brahma Vihara practice, climate change, Climate crisis, compassion - karuna, daily life, death, death and dying, dukkha, equanimity - upekkha, fear, friendliness - metta, grief, Heavenly Messengers, insight, Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, Social justice

Eight-week online Dharma Study class series October-November 2020

Registration closes 10 October

Cultivating resilience in challenging times:  

Learning from the “heavenly messengers” 

This eight-week online course offers an opportunity to develop and strengthen our inner resources of kindness, compassion, calm and clarity, through an exploration of what are traditionally known as “the four heavenly messengers.” 

In Buddhist teaching, these are four archetypes that symbolise the existential challenges we face, and the way to overcome those challenges. The four are a sick person, an aged person, a dying person, and a contemplative. In addition to these four, we can also include the current challenges of the climate crisis and racial and social injustice.

At first glance, these messengers might not sound so heavenly, but by learning how to relate to their messages skilfully, they can help us to live our lives with more ease, happiness, and peace. 

Each two-hour class will include a short dharma talk, some silent meditation practice, dyad (pairs) practice, and small group discussion. The course will use the Canvas online platform to provide talk recordings, guided meditations, and additional reading. 

This course is best suited to people who have sat at least one seven-day silent meditation retreat, but prior Buddhist study is not necessary. Some of the material may be challenging for people who have recently experienced a bereavement or other life stressors, so please feel free to contact Jill if you have any questions about this.

NOTE: Because this is a group learning process, participants are asked to make a commitment to attend all eight sessions of the course, and to allow at least two hours a week for personal study and reflections to be shared with the group. 
Each week there will be an assignment in the form of a short written reflection, and a response will be required to access the next week’s resources.

Teacher: Jill Shepherd http://jill0shepherd-insightmeditation.com

Cost for all eight sessions: $80 + dana*  

Times and dates of Zoom group meetings: 

Please double-check your time-zone conversion here

Option 1

SydneyAEST 6:00-8:00 a.m.Sunday mornings4 October –
22 November 
AucklandNZT 8:00-10:00 a.m.Sunday mornings4 October –
22 November   
San FranciscoPDT 12:00-2:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 11:00-1:00 pm from 1 November due to Daylight Saving Time ending) 
Saturday afternoons 3 October – 
21 November
New York EDT 3:00-5:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 2:00-4:00 pm from 1 November due to Daylight Saving Time ending) 
Saturday afternoons 3 October – 21 November
London BST 8:00-10:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 7:00-9:00 pm from 25 October due to Daylight Saving Time ending) 
Saturday evenings 3 October – 21 November 

Option 2

Singapore SGT 8:00-10:00 a.m.Sunday mornings4 October –
22 November
Sydney AEST 11:00-1:00 p.m. Sunday mornings4 October –
22 November 
Auckland NZT 1:00-3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoons4 October –
22 November
San Francisco PDT 5:00-7:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 4:00-6:00 pm from 1 November due to Daylight Saving Time ending) 
Saturday afternoons 3 October – 
21 November 
New York EDT 8:00-10:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 7:00-9:00 pm from 1 November due to Daylight Saving Time ending)
Saturday evenings 3 October – 21 November 

Option 3 – NEW

Self-study 

Allows access to the course materials for you to follow at your own pace, without participation in the weekly group meetings.

Access to course materials will end 21 December 2020.

Register here:

https://events.humanitix.com/eight-week-online-dharma-study-class-series-october-2020

Dana/donations

*The registration fee covers only a contribution to course administration, and booking fees.  In keeping with Buddhist tradition, the teachings are offered on a dana basis which means the teacher is not paid to offer this workshop.  Instead, they rely on the generosity of the participants to help them continue to share their teachings with others, and there will be an opportunity at the end of each class to offer donations to support their ongoing teaching.

Brahma Vihara practice, climate change, Climate crisis, compassion - karuna, death, Uncategorized

Continuing compassion

rescued koala

[Forest and wildlife officer Lachlan Clarke checks a koala for injuries – photo courtesy of the Guardian]

In my last newsletter and last post here, I’ve been exploring compassion as a resource to navigate all the various global challenges happening right now.

Just today there was a moving photo essay about all the efforts that are being made to help koalas injured in the recent Australian bushfires. I find it helpful to keep orienting to positive news as an antidote to overwhelm, so here’s the link:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/gallery/2020/feb/11/drones-thermal-imaging-australia-koalas-bushfire-crisis

anxiety, climate change, compassion - karuna, death, dukkha, fear, Uncategorized

Compassion for all beings affected by the Australian bushfires

trunk red sap close

Season’s greetings from Waipu, New Zealand

I’m unexpectedly having to spend more time here in New Zealand, after my nine-day retreat outside of Sydney over New Year was just cancelled due to the bushfires in Australia.

The Blue Mountains has been a kind of second home to me, so I’ve been staying in contact with friends there who have been sending me heart-breaking reports of the situation they’re enduring.

In the face of such intense destruction, it’s hard to know how to respond from afar, but I’ve decided to make a commitment to practice compassion every day for the next two weeks, and to send out this message to see if anyone would like to join me in that commitment.
(Originally I was just going to send this message to people in Australia, but a US friend asked to be included, so now I’m sending it to everyone on my mailing list in case you’d like to join us.)

My plan is to sit for 15 minutes every day at 1:00 pm NZT, which is 11:00 am Sydney and Melbourne, 10:30 am Adelaide, 10:00 am Brisbane, and 8:00 am Perth. That’s midnight in the UK, sorry, but 4 pm on the US West Coast and 7 pm on the US East Coast.

I’ve made a fifteen minute guided meditation that focuses on practising compassion specifically for the bushfire situation, which you can find on Dharmaseed here:
https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/637/talk/60035/

Of course, you can practice compassion in any way that works for you. And, depending on the situation and how your heart feels each day, it may be that one of the other brahmavihara practices might be more appropriate. If you’re not familiar with brahmavihara practice, you might listen to this talk which gives an overview of the relationship between kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity.
https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/637/talk/58585/

wombat and baby 1.JPG

Wombat mother and baby, Newnes Plateau NSW

What’s been happening in Australia

For those who might not be aware of the situation, more than four million hectares of Australia have burned and nine people have died since September 2019, in an “unprecedented” start to the summer fire season.

New South Wales

The total area burned in NSW is 3.41m hectares, according to the Rural Fire Service. … “To put it in perspective, in the past few years we have had a total area burned for the whole season of about 280,000 ha,” RFS spokeswoman Angela Burford said. “This year we’re at 3.41m and we are only halfway through the season.”
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/dec/24/australian-bushfires-the-story-so-far-in-each-state

climate change, ethics, Right Action, Uncategorized

Readers suggestions for taking action in relation to climate change

Many thanks to all the people who sent in suggestions in response to my last newsletter.
Below are a few highlights, and I plan to keep updating this from time to time.

pink bike path 2

Bike path, Auckland, New Zealand


Speaking of New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand is on the ‘right side of history’ as MPs pass zero-carbon bill

2019-11-07 This landmark climate legislation has passed in New Zealand parliament, with historic cross-party support, committing the nation to reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and meet its commitments under the Paris climate accords.


MS NSW Australia

Our XR harbour project went very well – astonishing police presence for a picnic – 2 vans of riot squad police, a helicopter and a patrol boat just for little old us on some picnic blankets with babystrollers, the odd mermaid, a bit of hand-holding & banner waving at the harbour wall.


WN NSW Australia

Food: I shopped for items not packaged in plastic, were organic, and needed rather than wanted. Buying without plastic reduces your options substantially. The stuff is everywhere. I found a food coop where I take my own containers and volunteer to get a discount. I’ve given up dairy milk and make oat milk.

Travel: My neighbour gave me her electric bike. I know it’s run on electricity which is not perfect but it makes getting everywhere really easy. One neighbour swapped the car for ebikes which changed her family’s life. A keen cyclist friend said that since ebikes came on the scene there are many more bikes on the road – yay!.

Clothes: I buy black, white and grey clothes. Everything is effortlessly colour-coordinated. I buy men’s undies because they’re thicker and better made (the joys of the pink premium). An article said washing on the delicates cycle is the worst for plastic microfibres into the ocean so definitely don’t do that!

Socialising: I suggest to friends to meet at home or the park for pot-luck instead of cafes and restaurants. It’s more relaxing, too.

  • Put the timer on when having a shower – 4 mins is actually quite a long shower.
  • An online horticulture course to learn to grow my own fruit & veg.
  • If I get a stain on a piece of clothing I find a natural way to turn it into a pattern (e.g. soak it in mulberries).

But I think the most useful way of working with the climate crisis is to imagine how many people are involved with making my morning cuppa – from how did the water get to my kettle, to how did I get a kettle, to how did I get the tea, mug, milk, electricity, building, and how do I pay for all these things? and then what happens when the kettle doesn’t work – do I throw it away, get a saucepan instead, what do I do with the tea leaves, the tea leaf packet, the milk container – and what are the labour conditions for all the people involved? That’s what keeps me motivated… 🙂


GC QLD Australia

New book by Ajahn Sucitto

Recently I have been listening to Ajahn Sucitto and reading his blog and other articles as well as some of his online books. This is a recently published one about the environment that others may find interesting.

Some recent blog posts on the topic too: http://sucitto.blogspot.com


SR New Zealand

Wanted to also let you know about the new most ethical KiwiSaver that has been set up in NZ if you haven’t heard about it. Caresaver. There’s a great website.  I’m switching.


AK Massachusetts USA

I am part of a group of practitioners working to take action and raise awareness about the climate crisis. Several of us practice at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC), although we do not have any official affiliation with CIMC. Our plan is to do regular “Sitting for Survival” events in front of the Cambridge City Hall beginning next Thursday November 7. Below is a description of our action:

“Join us in holding meditative space to raise awareness of our planetary emergency. We will sit or stand in silence, bearing witness to the destruction of the Earth we love and our holding hope for a better future. Come for 5 minutes or 50 minutes, as long as you can. Show up for our children, families, ancestors, and for all living beings.”

My good friend Brother Fulfillment (Phap Man), a monk in the Plum Village tradition, has been very active with Extinction Rebellion in NYC. He has written a few articles, which I found moving and inspiring:

My Time in Jail with Extinction Rebellion: One of the Most Meaningful Experiences of My Life (Oct 23)

 

anxiety, climate change, community, freedom, retreat, Retreat practice, Uncategorized

Retreat as rebellion

mens shirts 7

Resisting the tyranny of productivity

Over the last few months, I’ve been having conversations with students – and with myself! – about what feels to be the increasingly relentless busyness of our lives. People often say to me that they don’t have time to meditate every day, and they certainly don’t have time to go on retreat, because of work or financial or family pressures. There are just too many other demands on their time, energy, and resources.

Sometimes there are genuine obstacles that get in the way of making time for formal practice. But sometimes, the busyness is a convenient rationalisation, one that allows us to avoid looking at what might be underneath the frenetic activity. On top of our own individual conditioning, most of us are impacted by the dominant values of mainstream society, which demand us to be constantly productive. As a result, we often develop  a compulsive need to be doing; doing; doing; almost as a way to justify our existence. Capitalist values tend to define us by what we DO, so unless we’re constantly busy, we’re no-one. For many people, the idea of simply BEING – even for a few minutes at a time – is terrifying. As a society, our flight from stillness and solitude has gone into hyperdrive.

wrong way 1

Resisting time-pressure

One of the side-effects of this speeding up of everything, is that time spent meditating or on retreat is easily devalued, because it’s not productive. More and more, there’s pressure to achieve the same meditative “results” – whatever they may be – in shorter and shorter times.

We can even see a shift in the retreat schedules of some insight meditation centres around the world. The nine-day retreat has shrunk to seven days, the seven-day retreat to five days, the five day retreat to three days, and so on, so that more retreats can be fitted in to each calendar year.

Retreats should be getting longer, not shorter

Yet if anything, retreats should be getting longer, not shorter, because most people come into retreat chronically stressed and tired. Much as we might like to deny it, we are organic beings. We’re made of meat and bone, flesh and blood. We’re not machines or electronic devices that can just be plugged in, switched on and kept going 24/7. But more and more, this is what we expect of ourselves, and it’s often not until we go on retreat and do stop, that we realise just how exhausted we are.

This means that the first one or two days of the retreat are spent in recovery mode, catching up on sleep and giving our fried nervous systems some time to recuperate. Then, because of our achievement-oriented striving, we feel like we have to make up for this lost time during the remaining days of the retreat, otherwise we’ll fall behind, won’t measure up, won’t achieve anything, won’t make any progress …

Our drivenness damages our own health, and the planet’s health

This drivenness is bad not only for our own health, but for the planet too, as we try to alleviate the stress of our over-full schedules by consuming more and more resources. Constant busyness gives us an excuse to ignore the damage we’re doing to the world – and each other. So in some ways, going on retreat and taking time to not be productive is an act of rebellion.

When we are able to take some time to slow down, the shift from DOing to BEing is often uncomfortable at first. It brings us face to face with the powerful conditioning that tells us we’re worthless, unless we’re involved in fifty different activities simultaneously. But as we start to see through that conditioning, we begin to taste moments of deep ease, peace, and freedom, and the insanity of our old way of being loses some of its appeal.

Every moment of meditation is a moment of resisting the tyranny of productivity

It still takes courage to resist that conditioning and prioritise living a more contemplative life, so we need the support of others who are oriented in a similar way, to help us maintain confidence that we are heading in the right direction. Each time we go on retreat, we’re strengthening our own intention to live a more sane and healthy life, and we’re helping others to do the same. In that way, every moment of meditation can become a moment of resisting the tyranny of productivity.

May our collective efforts to live with more ease, sanity and peace be a contribution to the welfare, the happiness, and the freedom, of all beings on our planet, and the planet itself.

Lake Freestad reflection

 

bhikkhuni - nun, bhikkhunis - nuns, climate change, female ordination, nun, nuns

August 2015 full moon – International Bhikkhuni Day

This month, in honour of International Bhikkhuni Day on 12 September, instead of writing my own reflections I’d like to share part of an article by two bhikkunis (fully-ordained nuns), Ayya Santacitta and Ayya Santussika, who are also climate-change activists.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet Ayya Santacitta a few times, both when I was on staff at IMS and more recently in San Francisco at Alokha Vihara, the monastery she helped establish with Ayya Anandabodhi.  The monastery has since moved to a more rural area near Placerville, California, and friends of mine are helping to organise support for the sisters and their monastery with a special ceremony on International Bhikkhuni Day. Continue reading “August 2015 full moon – International Bhikkhuni Day”