A few resources for resilience

Feeling stretched? As the bad news continues and intensifies in various parts of the world, I’ve started collecting news articles, books and courses to turn to when I need some inspiration. Below are just a few suggestions – let me know if you have any favourites of your own! Finding good news in the midst of the pandemic The intent behind KarunaVirus.org is to amplify … Continue reading A few resources for resilience

January 2018 full moon – re-set

Sydney Insight Meditators 2018 New Year’s retreat

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Drawing by retreat participant Rena Czaplinska Archer

Making positive changes

The New Year is traditionally a time to try to make positive changes for the year ahead.  And yet most of us have had the experience of starting out with a rush of good intentions, only to find ourselves collapsing back into old habits very quickly.

Having recently finished teaching a seven-day retreat over the New Year, the same pattern can be seen after a period of intensive practice.  Many people experience a wave of inspiration, and have the intention, post-retreat, to renew their commitment to meditating on a daily basis.

Yet again, these intentions often don’t last very long.  The momentum of daily life re-asserts its hold on us, and we’re soon back where we started.  When one retreat participant was recently asked on their retreat registration form to describe their daily practice, they wrote that it mostly consisted of “looking at their meditation cushion and feeling guilty!”

Establishing and/or maintaining a daily meditation practice

Most of us can probably relate to that description, at least at times.  So this month, I’d like to focus on some strategies for establishing or maintaining a daily meditation practice.

Continue reading “January 2018 full moon – re-set”

December 2017 super moon – impermanence, vastness, and intimacy

Impermanence This month’s full moon post is a little late, because just this morning, I finished co-teaching the last six weeks of the three-month retreat at IMS in Barre, Massachusetts. The ending of any period of intensive meditation practice is poignant, but even more so when it’s been a longer retreat.  As this retreat was drawing to a close, I started to felt even less … Continue reading December 2017 super moon – impermanence, vastness, and intimacy

November 2016 full moon – Turmoil

almost super-moon, Newcastle Beach NSW Australia 13 November 2016 Turning towards and turning away Whether it’s global political upheaval, worsening social injustice, natural disasters, personal stress, emotional pain, relational crises, or health challenges, we seem to be in a phase of intense turmoil right now. Many of the communities around the world that I care about are struggling in relation to recent political developments in … Continue reading November 2016 full moon – Turmoil

September 2016 full moon – wisdom and (self) compassion

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Emaciated Buddha figure, Spirit Rock

The ascetic Buddha

Back at the end of July, I was an assistant teacher on a nine-day retreat at Spirit Rock, together with a friend and fellow teacher-trainee, DaRa Williams.  One day, as we walked from the teacher housing to the meditation hall, I happened to notice a solitary Buddha figure set among some bushes on the hillside behind our cottages.  Unlike the other Buddhas at Spirit Rock, this one was tucked almost out of view.  There was no path to it, no clearing around it, and no place to sit nearby, but perhaps because of that, I felt compelled to go and take a closer look.

So I scrambled up a slight hill through the dry grass and discovered that the figure was what’s known as an “ascetic Buddha.”   These images depict a phase in the life of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, before his Awakening, when he was practising extreme austerities such as sleeping on beds of nails, and eating very little food – hence the skeletal look in the image above.  Continue reading “September 2016 full moon – wisdom and (self) compassion”

August 2016 full moon – Seven Factors of Awakening and Equanimity (again)

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Seven Factors of Awakening

I’ve recently enjoyed leading a couple of longer residential retreats in New Zealand and Australia, exploring the teachings from the Satipatthana Sutta on the Seven Factors of Awakening: mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy or rapture, tranquillity, concentration or stability of mind, and equanimity.

When cultivated together and brought into balance with each other, these seven factors provide the optimum conditions for the deepest insights to arise, so they play a very important role in the development of wisdom.  In fact Bhikkhu Anaalayo, in a recent study retreat exploring the Satipatthana Sutta, said that all the various techniques and methods found in that sutta are designed to develop these Seven Factors of Awakening.  Continue reading “August 2016 full moon – Seven Factors of Awakening and Equanimity (again)”

July 2016 full moon – Hatred STILL never ceases by hatred …

Rainstorm near Te Moata Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand Exactly two years ago in July 2014, I wrote a post based on some well-known lines from the Dhammapada: Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law. 1 Lately, that same post has been getting some views again, perhaps because there seem to have been just … Continue reading July 2016 full moon – Hatred STILL never ceases by hatred …

February 2016 full moon – Motivation, Respect, Resolve

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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”

October 2015 full moon – Digital detox (or finding antidotes to “restlessness and worry”)

Technology-induced restlessness

Last month I wrote about the hindrance of “sloth and torpor,” the dullness of body and mind that gets in the way of clear seeing, insight. This month, I’ve been more aware of the opposite of sloth and torpor, which shows up in the form of “restlessness and worry”, the fourth of the five hindrances.  And I’ve been noticing it not just in myself, but in many people coming on retreat.

The first few days of a retreat often involve swinging from one extreme to the other: from sleepiness to restlessness and back again, over and over.  That’s probably always been the case, right from the time of the Buddha. But these days, restlessness in particular  is intensified by our addiction to all things electronic, which keep us in a state of perpetual stimulation and/or anticipation of stimulation. It’s getting harder and harder to unplug.  So in response, some meditation centres are asking retreat participants to commit very specifically to “undertake the training to refrain from using electronic devices while on retreat” as a part of their commitment to Noble Silence. Continue reading “October 2015 full moon – Digital detox (or finding antidotes to “restlessness and worry”)”

January 2015 full moon – resolution and determination

“The days and nights are relentlessly passing; how well am I spending my time?” (A question that the Buddha advised practitioners to contemplate frequently) 2015.  Each year this changing-of-the-calendar-numbers seems to arrive a little more quickly.  Each year, it seems that somehow there is less TIME … and so at first reading, the above reflection can seem to reinforce a sense of time-poverty: having too much to do, and not enough … Continue reading January 2015 full moon – resolution and determination