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

NEW eight-week online Dharma Study class series October-November 2020

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 

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.

anxiety, daily life, gratitude, grief, insight, Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, retreat, Retreat practice

April 2018 full moon – Retreat and post-retreat practice

Before and after

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled Retreat and pre-retreat practice, which explored ways to navigate some of the anxiety and other challenges that often come up before we go on retreat.

This month, I’m writing about another aspect of retreat practice that doesn’t always get a lot of attention, and that’s what happens after retreat.  This exploration feels alive for me right now, having just finished teaching a five-day retreat for Auckland Insight at a camp in Huia, on the Manukau Harbour.

harbour headland 1.JPG

Waking up every morning to the soft lapping of waves on the harbour shore, and the song of tui (native birds) calling from the kauri trees was very relaxing.  And after five days of no internet or mobile phone access, I noticed how much more at ease my body, heart, and mind felt.  But then, there’s the return … for most of us, to busyness, overwork, hyper-stimulation, and various relational challenges, with partners, family, friends, colleagues, neighbours.

What is “real life?”

It’s common for people to talk about this return as going back to so-called “real life.”  But thinking of everyday life as “real life” implies that retreat life is somehow “unreal.”  In the first few years of my own practice, I often got caught in this duality, not seeing that there was an underlying cynicism built into it.

On retreat, I’d sometimes experience moments of clarity, stillness, and alignment with a deeper truth that at the time, felt very rewarding.  But coming back home, it was easy to lose connection with the value of those moments, to dismiss them as irrelevant, unreliable, or even naive.

Later on, I recognised that this was a kind of defense mechanism to protect myself from what often felt like a significant loss: loss of connection with my own capacity to give and receive love; loss of connection with my own capacity to understand more fully; loss of connection with the deeper purpose of life; and loss of connection with others who shared similar aspirations.

harbour foreshore rocks 6.JPG

Grief and gratitude

It was only after several longer retreats at the Forest Refuge that I eventually understood that my cynicism was a way of avoiding grief.  It was a relief just to be able to name this, then I could make time for a kind of “mourning period” to allow the sadness to move through.  Surprisingly, when I was able to do this, what often emerged was a sense of profound gratitude that helped to balance out the grief.

Intuitively, this movement between allowing grief and orienting to gratitude helped me to come back to balance, and the benefits of retreat practice became more sustainable – even in the midst of the many challenges of everyday life.

(You can hear more on this theme of post-retreat practice in one of my recent talks given at Auckland Insight, here.)

Sangha

Consciously cultivating gratitude is just one suggestion to help navigate any post-retreat rockiness.  Staying connected to sangha, community, is also invaluable.  If there isn’t a sitting group in your area that you can meet with regularly, you might consider inviting someone from the retreat to stay connected with you online.  These days, most people have the technology to make occasional meetings via video-call possible, and this can be a great way of maintaining or strengthening dharma friendships.

There are also many study courses available on line now too, that support the deepening of our practice in community.  Organisations such as the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Spirit Rock Meditation CenterLion’s Roar magazine, and Tricycle magazine all offer online courses covering a wide range of Buddhist study and practice.

boat ramp 2.JPG

Next Step Dharma online course

One course that’s particularly aimed at supporting the transition from retreat practice to daily life is Next Step Dharma, set up by my friends Oren Sofer and Jaya Rudgard.
I occasionally host the online Q&A sessions for this course, and always enjoy connecting with people around the world who are exploring ways to integrate their retreat understanding into daily life.
More info here

May we all navigate the transitions between pre-retreat, retreat, and post-retreat practice with ease!

gratitude, insight, Insight meditation - vipassana, Insight Meditation Society, retreat, Uncategorized

July 2017 full moon – Gratitude

FR meadow Buddha

Just last week, I finished a one-month retreat at the Insight Meditation Society’s Forest Refuge in Barre, Massachusetts, led by Sayadaw U Vivekananda.  What a relief it was, to temporarily put down some of the burdens I didn’t even know I was carrying, and to have such a powerful opportunity to “disentangle the tangle” (as the discourses say)!

The challenges and rewards of retreat practice

Being silent and unplugged for a whole month might sound easy – and perhaps for some people, it is – but for most of us it can be surprisingly challenging at times.  As Andrew Holecek, a US teacher and student of Tibetan Buddhism, recently wrote:
Retreat is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to stop and face one’s mind so directly. But if you want to be unconditionally happy, which is one way to talk about enlightenment, there is no other way. Sooner or later you have to relate to your mind instead of from it. Otherwise you will forever be held captive by the contents of your mind, shackling yourself to every shiny thought that pops up, a prisoner of your own making.

On Retreat, Block All Exits

Gratitude

Even though it’s not always easy to be on retreat, the rewards are immense.  Towards the end of my time at the Forest Refuge the gratitude I felt for this opportunity became quite overwhelming.  I realised that next year will be the 15th anniversary since sitting my first three-month retreat at IMS, and that every year since then (with one exception) I’ve been able to sit either a one, two or three-month retreat here. Continue reading “July 2017 full moon – Gratitude”

daily life, insight, Noble Eightfold Path, Right Action, Right Concentration, Right Effort, Right Intention, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right View, Uncategorized

December 2016 full moon – Wise Action, Wise Non-Action

tamarama-lifeguard-surfers

Surf life-saving crew, Tamarama Beach, New South Wales

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s prescription for completely curing ourselves of unhappiness.  And like any good medicine, it doesn’t only work in one way.  It’s a very holistic treatment that works on several different aspects of our lives at once – in fact, every aspect of our lives is included here, if we’re practising fully.

The way the path is laid out invites us to pay attention to three particular areas of development, traditionally known as sīla, samādhi and pañña, or ethics, meditation and wisdom.  These three aspects support each other like the three legs of a tripod, and all of three of them need to be equally well developed, if our practice is to keep deepening. Continue reading “December 2016 full moon – Wise Action, Wise Non-Action”

daily life, Determination - aditthana, insight, Insight meditation - vipassana, motivation, retreat, Uncategorized

February 2016 full moon – Motivation, Respect, Resolve

sea wall woman 2
Woman reading on sea wall – Newcastle NSW

The rewards and challenges of technology

Earlier this evening, I gave my first dharma talk via video-link, from the YHA in Sydney to Auckland Insight in New Zealand.  Nothing too remarkable about that these days; but still, it was a delight to be able to connect with the group in this way, and I felt a new sense of appreciation for the benefits of computer technology.  We now have access to a wide range of dharma teachings from many different traditions, in many different forms.  And with almost no effort, we can instantly download or stream talks and videos, or sign up for online study courses.

In my own experience though – as both a teacher and a student – there can also be a downside to this instant abundance.  Without awareness, it can unconsciously reinforce a passive, materialistic, and at times even disrespectful relationship to the teachings.

So as technology helps meditation becomes more and more mainstream, it’s becoming increasingly normal to approach it with a consumerist mind-set.  In some ways, this makes sense.  When everything else around us is presented in that way, why wouldn’t we think about the practice in terms of what we can get from it?  And why wouldn’t we assume that it should be available on my terms: in the way I want it, when I want it, for the price I want it?  We can even mistake this kind of freedom (to consume) for the deeper freedom that the Buddha’s teachings point to. Continue reading “February 2016 full moon – Motivation, Respect, Resolve”

Brahma Vihara practice, compassion - karuna, equanimity - upekkha, friendliness - metta, insight, Insight Dialogue, Insight meditation - vipassana, joy - mudita, mindfulness, retreat, Uncategorized

February 2016 new moon – sea anemone heart

Sea AnemoneSea anemone by Virginia Draper
http://www.virginiadraper.com/p822038089

Opening, closing, opening, closing …

Everything has its natural rhythm, including the human heart.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to understand this, but a childhood memory – of exploring rock-pools with my father while on holiday in Scotland – helped.  On family visits to chilly windswept beaches, he and I would wander at low tide among the exposed rock basins in search of marine life: crabs and starfish and sea anemones and jellyfish and small see-through shrimpy things. Continue reading “February 2016 new moon – sea anemone heart”

freedom, insight, retreat, Uncategorized

December 2015 full moon – In praise of trees

NZ Christmas tree 3
New Zealand Christmas tree with native bird ornaments

This year, the full moon coincided with Christmas Day for the first time in 38 years. I’m in New Zealand visiting family for the holidays and even though it’s the middle of summer, there are evergreen Christmas trees decorated with icicles and snowflakes everywhere. The symbols of Christmas have always been messed up – the pagan-influenced Christmas tree, the Coke-ad inspired Santa, the Christian Nativity scene – but even more so in the Southern Hemisphere. In Australia, women in Santa hats and bikinis body-surf on Bondi Beach, while groups of men work on their tans, standing around beer-filled coolers topped with battery-operated sparkling artificial Christmas trees. Continue reading “December 2015 full moon – In praise of trees”

3 energy, daily life, Five Hindrances, Four Foundations of Mindfulness, insight, Insight meditation - vipassana, motivation, Right Effort, Satipatthana Sutta, sloth and torpor

September 2015 full moon – Maintaining Motivation (or finding antidotes to “sloth and torpor”)

The five hindrances

I’ve been back in New Zealand for the month of September, and with the Auckland Insight group, we’ve been exploring the Five Hindrances, five particularly unhelpful states of mind that get in the way of clear seeing, of insight.  They appear in the Satipatthana Sutta under the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, as qualities of mental energy that we need to learn how to relate to wisely, and eventually, to overcome completely.

These are the five:
sensual desire
aversion
sloth and torpor
restlessness and remorse
sceptical doubt 1 Continue reading “September 2015 full moon – Maintaining Motivation (or finding antidotes to “sloth and torpor”)”