compassion - karuna, daily life, Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, retreat, Uncategorized

Danish retreat with Joseph Goldstein and Uffe Damborg, June 2014

Kerteminde town harbourA view of Kerteminde harbour

Just wanted to share a few photo souvenirs from this retreat, which took place last week on the outskirts of Kerteminde, an old fishing village a couple of hours from Copenhagen.  The retreat was led by Joseph Goldstein and Uffe Damborg, who have known each other for over forty years, since their time practicing together in Bodhgaya, India, with Munindra-ji in the 1960s.

Uffe Joseph 2

Uffe and Joseph at Copenhagen train station

A few of the 105 participants, coming mostly from Scandinavia, Northern Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, had also been with Munindra-ji at that time, and since it was the 99th anniversary of Munindra-ji’s birth, on one level this felt like a historic gathering.  I was surprised by how many familiar faces I recognised from silent retreats at IMS in Massachusetts, and perhaps for the first time, I sensed a connection to some kind of lineage – though a very informal one – and to a generation of meditators who have been exploring this path for many decades now.

hostel pavilion

The 19th century octagonal wooden pavilion on the right was our meditation hall for the week.

On another level, it was still about practising mindfulness in the present moment, and I was inspired by everyone’s diligent efforts to cultivate deepening freedom of heart and mind.  Perhaps I’m a slow learner, but I’m still surprised that with each new retreat, in each new location, and with each new set of people from different circumstances, backgrounds, and life situations, there are common themes that keep emerging!  There are common themes, perhaps even universal themes, and yet the majority of the people I talk with believe that they are totally alone in their struggles, and that they are uniquely defective, inadequate, messed up, neurotic, failing etc.  And then with that frame of mind, the meditation practice can so easily turn into yet another form of getting it wrong, of being wrong, again.

hostel cups 2

To conserve resources, we were asked to write our names on a cup and take responsibility for washing it ourselves when necessary.  Retreat participants were also invited to donate snacks and treats for the tea table, which resulted in a steady supply of chocolate, nuts, raisins, biscuits/cookies, and even fresh cherries from the local fruit stand to keep us going.

From that negative state of mind, it’s then hard to connect with what’s good: in ourselves, or in others, or in the world around us.  I know this from my own experience, and so my aspiration is to keep finding ways for each one of us to step out of the trance of disconnection, to see the universality of our challenges, so that they might become a resource for deepening insight and compassion – instead of more fuel for our alienation.

Kerteminde yellow house sun h

 Old Kerteminde houses

 Kerteminde yellow house window detail

 

hostel snail

 And the retreat mascot …

Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, retreat, Uncategorized

Insight Meditation weekend – Auckland, New Zealand

St Francis weekend retreat group

This weekend’s insight meditation retreat at St Francis Retreat Centre in Auckland was blessed by good weather, good food, good friends – and good singing and chanting, courtesy of a Pasifika dance group on Saturday and a Hindu meditation group on Sunday!  Much gratitude to everyone who contributed to providing such powerful conditions for the deepening of wisdom and compassion.

(thanks also to Sia, retreat centre cook, for taking this photo of most of the retreatants)

I hope to be able to offer two more similar weekends in Auckland, 1-3 May and 1-3 August, but sadly, the St Francis Retreat Centre is already booked on those dates.  I will keep looking for alternative venues, so please let me know if you have any suggestions.

daily life, Determination - aditthana, joy - mudita, retreat, Wisdom - pañña

Welcoming the New Year

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Greetings from snowy Massachusetts! I intended to write this post a few days ago, but I’ve been under the weather with a combination of jet lag, a head cold, AND a gastro bug. So I wasn’t exactly the life of the party on New Year’s Eve, but being forced to take time out has given me the chance to reflect on this transition from one year to the next.

Last Sunday I was able to visit the prison that I used to volunteer at when I lived in Massachusetts. It was a real delight to reconnect with that sangha, some of whom have been attending the group regularly for five years now. Because it was almost the New Year, I invited the men to reflect on their aspirations for the year ahead. I can’t share the details of what they said because of confidentiality issues, but I felt privileged to hear so many heart-felt expressions of the desire to change, and to live in alignment with a deeper truth.

Right now I’m at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies with a group of friends who are also experienced meditators, neuroscience researchers, and comparative religion scholars. This is the third time that we’ve gathered over the New Year for a week of peer-led meditation, interspersed with formal presentations on neuroscience research and explorations of different meditative traditions.

On New Year’s Eve we sat in a circle at midnight, and – similar to the prison visit – spoke out loud our aspirations for the coming year. And again, I was inspired to hear the depth and range and beauty of what people aspired to for themselves and others.

I look forward to continuing our dharma adventures together in 2014. May this new year bring you closer to your deepest aspirations.

With bows of gratitude,
Jill

daily life, Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, Uncategorized

Joseph Goldstein’s new book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Mindfulness

Joseph Goldstein has just published a new book which looks in detail at the Satipatthana Sutta, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which is the key text for the practice of insight meditation.  It should be a very helpful resource for anyone who wants to refine their understanding of mindfulness and its role in the development of insight.

In a recent interview for the Insight Journal of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Joseph says:

“I purposely chose Mindfulness as the title because I wanted to expand the meaning of the word from its popular usage, and re-link it to the goal of liberation. Because mindfulness is now so widespread, and with so many good effects, sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the understanding that the Buddha taught it as a vehicle for awakening. That is the deepest meaning, even as we apply it in different ways. Applied mindfulness can be very effective in alleviating the symptoms of suffering; the fullness of the Buddha’s teaching addresses the very causes of suffering.”

You can find the rest of the interview here: http://www.bcbsdharma.org/insight-journal/
And purchase information here: http://www.soundstrue.com/shop/Mindfulness/4472.pd

daily life, Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, Uncategorized

Rick Hanson interviews Joseph Goldstein on mindfulness

Joseph Goldstein

This is a recent interview by neuroscientist Rick Hanson with his teacher, Joseph Goldstein, who is one of the founding teachers of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.

Joseph gives a very clear explanation of the full range of what mindfulness is, and also what it isn’t, based on his forty years experience of teaching vipassana in the West.

The interview is freely offered by Rick Hanson, but you need to sign up to get access to it:

http://www.entheos.com/Hardwiring-Happiness/RickHanson

daily life, Generosity - dana, mindfulness, retreat

Generosity part 4: Giving and Receiving

cake dana Greg and Donald - scaled

Greg Scharf and volunteer cook Donald Elniff enjoying cake dana at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre

Right now, I’m assisting my friend Greg Scharf teach a two week retreat at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre in New South Wales, Australia.  And right about now, the annual three-month retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, has just got under way.  So I’ve been appreciating the synchronicity of these two events, knowing that as we meditate together in the hall here in Australia, on the other side of the world another hundred or so people are joining us in the “psychesphere,” if that’s a word!

I also realised that it’s now ten years since I sat my first three-month retreat at IMS.   When I arrived at IMS for the first time in September 2003,  walked under the portico inscribed with the word Metta, and pushed open the heavy old front door, I had no idea what I was stepping into.  But those three months of intensive meditation practice have been the single most transformative event of my life to date, and now, ten years on, as I remember that time I’m filled with deep gratitude.

There’s something very poignant for me about being back at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre, too, because it was the community here in the Blue Mountains that made it possible to attend the IMS three-month retreat.  So today, I feel moved to acknowledge that connection by sharing the story of how that opportunity came to be.

I used to be one of the managers here at BMIMC, from 2000 – 2003, then I continued part time for a couple of years after that.  Prior to taking on the manager’s position, I had been working as an architect in Melbourne, Victoria, and I gave up my job to come and live here at the centre.  Back then, the role was part-time and it offered only a small stipend, so I suddenly had a lot less money than I was used to.  I didn’t own a car, and I didn’t know anybody in New South Wales.  But from the moment I arrived, people from the community whom I hardly knew were very generous.  They brought me warm clothes. They took me out for meals.  They drove me to town to do the shopping.  They offered me free dental treatment.  And they let me stay in their holiday cottage by the beach, to name just a very few examples.

In one way it was beautiful to be on the receiving end of so much generosity, but it also showed up a lot of my conditioning about being self-reliant and independent.  I saw how I felt much more comfortable being the one offering generosity, than the one receiving it, because I had an unconscious belief that receiving things from others made me somehow inferior to them.

As I explored the Buddha’s teachings in more depth though, I started to recognise all of these beliefs as forms of Wrong View.  I saw my attachment to being strong and self-reliant, and my fear of being dependent on or beholden to other people.  Gradually, through bringing awareness to them, these views started to dissolve and I was able to accept what people offered me with genuine appreciation for their generosity.

But then, towards the end of my tenure as manager, it felt as if they really “upped the ante,” as they say, and my capacity to receive kindness got an even bigger workout.  After three years of being the manager, I felt ready to do some longer-term meditation practice.  Although I’d spent some time practising in Thailand, I didn’t feel ready to do a long retreat in Asia, and the only other place I knew of that offered longer retreats was the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.  I looked on-line at their three-month retreat and it seemed very expensive by Australian standards.  Back then, the Australian dollar was worth a lot less too, so by the time I’d added in the cost of the airfare and dana for the teachers, it just seemed financially impossible.

A few days later, I was having a cup of tea with someone from the BMIMC Management Committee and we started talking about the benefits of longer-term retreat practice.  I mentioned my interest in doing the three-month retreat to him, but that it seemed impossible because of the cost.  He thought for a moment, then suggested that we put something in the BMIMC newsletter to “see what might happen.”  I felt a bit guilty about putting myself out there like that, but reluctantly agreed, because I didn’t really think anything would come of it.

I was wrong though.  After the newsletter went out, donations started to arrive from people from the Blue Mountains, from Sydney, and beyond – including people I hadn’t even met.  One woman from New Zealand sent a cheque with a note enclosed, saying that she had done the three-month retreat at IMS many years ago, and she wanted me to have the same opportunity.

It was quite overwhelming, and at first I noticed a sense of cringe whenever a donation came in.  I’d think: “I’m not worthy.  Those people need their money more than I do.  I’m not good enough to practice at IMS anyway.  What if I don’t make it through the retreat?  I’ll have to give them their money back.”  It was painful, but finally I recognised that meeting people’s generosity with that kind of cringing response was in some ways, quite disrespectful. It wasn’t acknowledging or honouring their generosity, and it felt wrong to meet their kindness with such inner stinginess.  So I made the choice to NOT do that.  If I was going to accept their donations, I decided to do it as consciously and graciously as possible.  And to cut a long story short, eventually I was able to go to the United States and sit the three-month retreat at IMS in 2003.

But that wasn’t the end of my learning about generosity.  While I was on retreat, I would think about how many people had sent money in for me to be there, and it was a huge motivation to keep practising.  I thought about members of the Burmese community in Sydney, for example, who I knew were not wealthy, but had sent donations to help me do the retreat.  Then at those times when I didn’t feel like getting up to do the first sitting in the morning, I’d go anyway, because it would have felt mean-spirited to not make the extra effort.

So the material generosity that they gave me translated into a different kind of support, a sort of spiritual support, that was perhaps even more powerful than the money they offered.  At the end of each day on retreat, I wrote a thank-you card to one of the people on my donor list, and offered them whatever benefit might have come from that day of practice.  Even now, I still feel like crying when I remember what it was like to receive all of their dana, on so many levels.

I wanted to share this story because it shows how generosity might start with offering money or gifts to someone, but it’s the openness of heart and openness of mind that makes it a truly transformative experience.  And being able to appreciate what one receives is another facet of generosity which is often overlooked.  The Buddha recognised this in one of his teachings from the Anguttara Nikaya, where he talked about what a rare quality appreciation is.  He said:

These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful and thankful for a kindness done.”

May we all experience the benefits of giving and receiving generosity …

Brahma Vihara practice, friendliness - metta, Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, retreat

Non-residential weekend retreat, Auckland, New Zealand

Update 24 July – ONLY 2 PLACES LEFT
Freeing the Heart-Mind
A non-residential weekend retreat exploring Buddhist meditation practices for developing wisdom and compassion

FR Buddha heart mist

During this non-residential weekend retreat we will explore two main forms of Buddhist meditation, insight (vipassana) and loving-kindness (metta). Together, these two practices help us to cultivate more awareness of ourselves and others, so that we can live our lives with greater ease and understanding.
Most of each day will be spent practising silent sitting and walking meditation, with some guided meditation instructions and opportunities for individual and group meetings with the teacher.

Saturday 3 August 9:45 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Insight Meditation (vipassana)
Suitable for beginners as well as those with some previous insight meditation experience
Sunday 4 August 9:45 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Loving-kindness Meditation (metta)
Suitable for people who have already attended a day-long insight meditation retreat
Location: SOUL centre of the body and mind 18 Huia Road Titirangi
Cost: $80 for both days + dana*
(A small number of places will be available for people to attend only one of the two days for $50 + dana)
Food: Please bring your own lunch. Tea and herbal teas will be supplied.
Equipment: Some cushions and chairs will be available, but please bring your own meditation cushion or bench if you have one, and a shawl or blanket.
To register: contact Jill Shepherd through the About page of this website

*Dana
In most Buddhist traditions the teachers are not paid to teach. Instead, the teachings are given on a ‘dana’ basis – dana being the Pali word for generosity or giving freely. At the end of the course, participants are invited to reciprocate this generosity by offering dana to support the teacher, but there is no obligation to do so.
Jill is an independent meditation teacher and is not financially supported by any meditation centre or Buddhist organisation. She relies on dana for her livelihood, and pays for all the expenses incurred in offering a retreat herself, including most international airfares.

Brahma Vihara practice, compassion - karuna, daily life, equanimity - upekkha, friendliness - metta, Insight meditation - vipassana, joy - mudita, mindfulness, retreat

Metta weekend, Auckland, New Zealand

Gratitude to all the participants in the recent Metta weekend retreat held at Bella Rakha in Auckland, New Zealand.

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The dedicated team!

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Shrine prepared by Sue, with everyone’s aspirations in the bowl below