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Community Gleanings

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  • 06 Mar 2017 5:44 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Fred recently led a three-day retreat for the Gainesville Sangha. We are grateful to Sangha member Mark Burlingame for sharing these reflections about the retreat.

    I have attended several retreats where Fred was Dharma Teacher, the first at Chinsegut Hill Retreat Center in Brooksville, Florida in the year 2000. But I hadn’t attended a retreat where Fred was Teacher since the year 2008. So this was a “coming home” for me in a way. Here I was, in this moment, connecting once again with Fred and his skillful continuation of the stream of Dharma transmission of Thich Nhat Hanh. In this moment, surrounded by my beloved Sangha in my beloved town of Gainesville. And in this moment, practicing with my beloved wife who was on her very first meditation retreat.

    At the start of retreat is the flurry of activity upon arrival. Getting oriented to being with others in silence for three days. But then the community is soon flowing like a river. The retreat begins and there is the start of awareness and settling into the activities, sounds, thoughts, and physical sensations of retreat. And then, with gentle encouragement, awareness and settling into the space. Resting and relaxing the awareness into the space between activities, sounds, objects, and even thoughts.

    During these retreats, I am often challenged to look more deeply at my motivations on this path. On retreat in 2002, I had written a note to myself following one of Fred’s Dharma talks; “The door to the cage is open. What is keeping me from stepping out?” So here I am in 2017. Fifteen years later. Once again, I was challenged to stop and really, really look. “Do I believe there is a path to remove suffering? If so, am I willing to take the path?”

    During the retreat, as in life, there were moments of suffering. The suffering of physical discomfort associated with sitting for long periods and the body protesting. And the suffering resulting from being carried away by thoughts. There were also moments of great lightness. Like the moment when looking out a window of the meditation hall and seeing Betsy diligently and mindfully running down the hill to gather in a retreatant who had wandered off and was late for the next session!

    But then at some point, miraculously, there is this heart opening. Pure Love in the Pure Land! The wish for well being for myself and for others comes pouring out. Heart Opening. And I am reminded of Thay’s words from The Great Bell Chant:

    “One single drop of this compassionate water is enough
    To bring back the refreshing spring to our mountains and rivers.

    Dear Sisters and Brothers, on the in breath I am aware you are there. On the out breath I smile. May I remember to share the fruit with all beings.

     

  • 21 Feb 2017 12:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Anda Peterson for sharing this lovely poem by Pablo Neruda during a recent FCM mindfulness in nature walk.


    Keeping Quiet
    by Pablo Neruda


    Now we will count to twelve
    and we will all keep still.


    For once on the face of the earth,
    let’s not speak in any language;
    let’s stop for one second,
    and not move our arms so much.


    It would be an exotic moment
    without rush, without engines;
    we would all be together
    in a sudden strangeness.


    Fisherman in the cold sea
    would not harm whales
    and the man gathering salt
    would look at his hurt hands.


    Those who prepare green wars,
    wars with gas, wars with fire,
    victories with no survivors,
    would put on clean clothes
    and walk about with their brothers
    in the shade, doing nothing.


    What I want should not be confused
    with total inactivity.

    Life is what it is about;
    I want no truck with death.


    If we were not so single-minded
    about keeping our lives moving,
    and for once could do nothing,
    perhaps a huge silence
    might interrupt this sadness
    of never understanding ourselves
    and of threatening ourselves with death.
    Perhaps the earth can teach us
    as when everything seems dead
    and later proves to be alive.


    Now I’ll count up to twelve
    and you keep quiet and I will go.


  • 21 Feb 2017 6:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Judy Rosemarin for sharing these reflections after the FCM 2017 Winter Retreat.


    She stood in front of me, face to face. Small, deep in the center of her chest I saw it, as if an archeological dig had discovered it, I saw a small cube and it almost took my breath away.  I knew what it was immediately.

     She had been feeling lonely with many recent losses in her life. I saw her looking at me. I saw all that she was, though she never saw very much of it due to her continual frantic-running-tumbling-forward way of living. Never knew what she was running towards or from, but in that instant as we looked at each other, silently I said and I know she heard me, “You have it all. You are not alone. You don’t have to do this.  I love you.” Then, we wept together, bound together, breathing together. No one reached out, no hands, hugs or anything customary when such deep recognition and reconnection occur. We just came together in a place, on a plane, on a level description-defying. I could see her and she finally saw me, as I had waited a very long time for this moment.

    I could feel her energies and knew that they drove her ( and others, sometimes, to distraction) and most of all she was distracted from herself making it impossible for her to see her heart, her caring, her resilience, her fears, her intelligence, her creativity, her love. Too fast, she ran trying to accomplish everything, but this time, this unbelievable moment, she stood still, quiet in front of me allowing herself to be seen by someone who has always loved her but she had been looking in all the wrong places, wrong faces, spinning here and there. I could never get her to stand still, slow down until now.

    As I looked at her, I saw the little cube in her chest turn into a diamond. I said, wordlessly, “ I was always there and you were always enough.” And for a brief moment,  the words seem to be carried to her on angels’ wings and echo in a canyon, offered in sweet silence while a smile placed itself on both of our faces and a sweet song of caring hummed in our hearts.  We made a new friendship, one that we both were longing for.

    She never thought that people actually liked her just so. She had to do something, produce something make others happy and never stopping until this moment she stopped, was unafraid, not restless or scared as she seemed to recognize me now and it felt like she had come home to me and let me see her, which I had been longing for for decades.

    “Who will love me, who can I share with” she had asked countless times in her life and I think she sensed my response, “I have, I do and am here always.”

  • 02 Jan 2017 10:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    FCM Member Nancy Natilson attended a three-day conference on Mindful Leadership in Washington, DC in November 2016.  Her interest stemmed specifically from her current role as Director of FCM’s Mindfulness Institute. Following is Nancy’s summary of her experience at the summit.

    How meaningful to be part of a gathering of 800 people from 27 countries who came together to explore what it means to be a mindful leader and how being a mindful leader can make the world a better place! I stayed an extra day to take the workshop, “Search Inside Yourself” created at Google to bring mindfulness and emotional intelligence to the workplace, to improve collaboration, engagement, well-being, resilience, and effectiveness.

    What makes leadership mindful? One of the co-founders of this third annual event stated, “Mindful leadership is leadership in service to others with compassion and authenticity.” Other definitions included: the ability to connect with others and skillfully initiate and guide change; and interaction (emotional loyalty) instead of transaction (material loyalty).
     

    Characteristics of mindful leadership included: listening more than speaking; questioning more than answering; creating space for others to speak and act; opening your heart and your mind; and making people feel special and loved. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said and forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Deep sharing and deep listening are basic values of mindful leadership; how fortunate that we have the opportunity to practice this method of connecting and understanding so often at FCM.

    The presenters ranged from creative entrepreneurs to Ivy League neuroscientists; most had authored one or more books; only a handful stated they were committed Buddhist practitioners. I felt a deep connection with one speaker, Marc Lesser, who used the Dharma to explain the principles/values of mindful leadership. He was one of the co-founders of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, and had spent many years practicing Buddhism at the San Francisco Zen Center, including managing the kitchen at the Tassajara Center. His experience of introducing mindfulness into the corporate world was very inspiring. Also, the Chief Mindfulness Officer at Aetna Insurance shared with us how he converted a conference room into a mindfulness center at Aetna’s headquarters and supported the creation of a culture of self-awareness and well-being because the CEO practiced yoga and meditation to successfully manage pain after a serious ski accident.
     

    What would the world be like if people acted selflessly and with compassion and authenticity? if leaders emerged from openheartedness and the aspiration to benefit others? if we were all present and awake? This is possible, and it begins with each of us! Being mindful is the most authentic and effective leadership style to show others how to be peaceful, loving, and happy.



  • 27 Oct 2016 6:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Judy Rosemarin for sharing her experience from the FCM Fall 2016 Retreat.


    Broken Apart Yet Unafraid


    There I was, on the third day at the FCM Fall Retreat in Tampa, sitting on my cushion, and the question was posed, “What is a thought?”


    Silently, in my snarky style, I said to myself, “brain secretions” and felt cool. But that ended quickly when I was invited,  by Fred,  to look at thought directly. I wasn’t really sure what that meant.  I knew how to watch thoughts go by. Easy. I knew that we feed them and they grow so I try not to do that as often as I can.


    “Find a thought and just look at that thought directly,” Fred said.  Easy. I can do that and I conjured up a hot fiery one that I called “anger” and yes, I “saw” it and could feel it but I quickly learned that I wasn’t looking directly at the thought “anger” but instead,  I was looking at the  things I had imbued into the thought.


    I had put in color ( red)  and I put in body sensations ( chest tight, throat breathing, heart pounding) which felt strongly. So the combination of attributes of red and body sensations were then categorized and labeled “anger.” But I wasn’t yet looking directly at the thought itself. Oh, rest assured, I was sure I had but with Fred’s careful and caring guidance, and not accepting my first response, he suggested I look again at “just the thought” and, shockingly, I saw nothing.


    Now that sounds a bit strange because it sure felt like something before I just “looked.” It felt real and even powerful. But then, when prompted to locate it, to see if I could find its dimensions, shape and size, it was nowhere to be found. And when I discovered that the thought had nothing to it, like air, it evaporated and disappeared, leaving not a trace of feelings other than surprise and delight.


    But it didn’t end there. I was then asked to do the same thing with my name: Judy.  Now before I continue, I need to share with you that I prided myself in intellectually understanding a lot of what we study, I have a decent daily practice and have even “taught” a bit of mindful awareness to others. Also, based on my psychological training, I know about the ego’s fear of annihilation. And all that jazz.  But what I discovered, in this experience, was something way beyond intellect and basically beyond language. However, in an attempt to approximate this seminal experience, I will do my best to share that next step.


    If I had been asked to look at “Judy” under other circumstances, I might have been fearful but based on the deliberate mind training build up of two days, with focused meditation on top of meditation, and with no time to think I wasn’t in the least bit afraid. I was, instead, wildly curious, a bit contrary with an inner hope that this may be interesting yet I head myself saying to myself “Ok, you can’t be making ‘Judy’ disappear!”


    What fun to be wrong! I looked at the name directly, having already been made aware of how to look at thoughts directly and all I saw were letters spelling J U D Y. There was nothing else. No image of a body, or image of feelings in any direction and, well, nothing was there but unhooked letters that spelled out what we call a name, or in some other cases, a label. Worse even -an “identity!” It all broke apart in tiny pieces and disappeared.


    Now, from the outside that might be a bit scary. To have yourself disappear but that was the magic of it. Not only did I not disappear, because there is no stable “I” but the sense of fresh air, possibilities, opportunities and energies almost overcame me.


    There was nothing to be found, so nothing felt lost! I shed some tears in exquisite wonder at the magic of the experience. Not only that, but I found, in that moment, I could not find my “mind” either. Again, no fear, just this indescribable wide open spaciousness which seemed endless. Yet I didn’t feel lost at all. I didn’t feel scared. I didn’t feel worried, other than my urge-tendencies to ask, “Wow! Now what do I do with this?”


    A wise part of me said, “Take it in and see.”


    “But I want to immediately integrate it, apply it, use it.”


    “Maybe what you want to do is keep practicing and deepen your understanding.”


    So, I have done just that since the retreat ended three days ago and what has now come up for me is that if thoughts are empty and they are fleeting as well as numerous 15-20,000 a day, perhaps it might be wise to slow down, really slow down. Then, I can choose my own thoughts, knowing what they truly are, and make them of benefit to myself and to others.  I’ll take that ‘broken apart’ any day over what I used to think was me. Oh, the possibilities!


    Judy Rosemarin

    ©2016


  • 19 Sep 2016 6:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Giacomo Mattei for sharing this college application essay from 2014, when he was 17 years old)   


                   “How is this even happening to me?” I thought, bewildered. I was at my piano recital last summer, when I fell short of my own expectations and experienced the excruciating pain of failure.  This was not my first time performing in public. Yet, that day I felt extremely nervous. I definitely wanted to be seen as a competent pianist by my peers and their families.


                      Forty-some people were sitting in the stuffy living room that served as the music hall. The old air conditioner was droning loudly, making me all the more edgy.  Being one of the last students to perform, I recall how unnerving it was to sit still on that naked, straight-backed chair and wait for my turn to play. As I finally sat down behind the large Steinway, I noticed my breath coming unevenly into my lungs. I started playing. The blood was pounding in my ears, making it difficult to play musically and regulate the loudness of the notes. Halfway through my sonatina, my fingers fumbled on the keys. And I lost my place on the music sheet. Rationally, I knew that the adrenaline rush, caused by my stage fright, made my close-up vision fail: an evolutionary survival mechanism that enables the enhanced long-distance vision to take over in order to spot danger. Yet, what I needed most in that moment was to be able to read the notes that had turned from a beautiful sequence of music into a chaotic blur of meaningless little black dots.  Unable to continue, I simply lifted my hands off the keyboard and stared at the page. My heart sank, since the possibility of such complete failure had never crossed my mind.


                      “Why is this happening to me?” I wondered to myself. “I always give 100% at everything I do. I always practice and apply myself to excel.” I realized I had expected to succeed, not only because I consistently do my best, but also because I usually even exceed my own expectations. A thousand thoughts were rushing through my mind. “How can I make myself such a public embarrassment?” All of a sudden, I had flashbacks of past successes: I first saw myself graciously playing the piano in church on Christmas Eve and then standing tall besides my Karate teacher while being inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame. “Have I deceived myself into unrealistic expectations of myself?” I was inundated by self-defeating thoughts.


                      Suddenly, I remembered to take three deep breaths as to return into my body and to present moment awareness. I had learned that skill at the insight meditation retreats I have been attending for years. Breathing mindfully cleared my vision just enough to start playing again. I halfheartedly finished the piece maintaining an awareness of my fingers touching the keys.


                      I was unusually cross the rest of that day. My parents jokingly said they were happy to finally have the opportunity to demonstrate that their love for me is unconditional.


                      That week, I mindfully attended to my thoughts. Initially, I noticed myself resisting the memory of the event and certain self-depreciating thoughts. Later, whenever I had negative thoughts about the occurrence or myself, I would observe them and let them go, knowing that they are not who I really am and that following them would only lead to more suffering. Fortunately, I have trained my mind to relate to events and my reactions to them with non-judgmental presence.


                      “My self-esteem has taken a blow,” I thought.  “I have allowed it to completely depend on my ability to perform, to be externally evaluated as competent.” Then, shifting my focus internally on mindful self-awareness, I observed my mind’s workings. I accepted my “failure” as an opportunity for self-understanding and growth rather than as an attack on my ego.  I now know that I sometimes pressure myself unduly. I also trust that I can mindfully bounce back.

  • 26 Jul 2016 4:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to Susan Ghosh for sharing these reflections of Fred's July 23, 2016 Beginning Anew workshop for FCM members.


    Last Saturday Fred offered a workshop on Thich Nhat Hanh’s Beginning Anew Ceremony to the FCM community. Of Thay’s many creative dharma practices Fred said that Beginning Anew is one of his favorites. It’s a practice that enables us to keep our relationships fresh and loving and keeps small resentments, hurts and disappointments from growing and festering.


    He explained that many of us try to practice the ceremony but our efforts are unsuccessful because Beginning Anew is not a technique. It can’t be applied as a “fix”. If we rush into the ceremony with our anger or resentment still fresh and alive in us we are not really practicing “Beginning Anew.” It’s important that we take care of our own “hot” feelings first before speaking about them, or our offering will create a mess, not a new beginning.


    There are 3 steps to Beginning Anew and another place where our efforts go off the rails is that we want to start with step 3, sharing our hurts and resentments. Rather, we start with watering the seeds of partner’s positive qualities or for specific actions. “I really appreciate the care you took in cleaning the kitchen yesterday.” Or, “ I really appreciate what a good listener you are when you listen to me and to others.” Fred encouraged us to practice watering the positive seeds of others in the room. Generously watering the positive seeds in others and listening to and learning the way others were doing it, we began to feel very happy. There were smiles all around the room. Of course, we also felt wonderful when our own positive actions and qualities were seen and appreciated.


    In Step 2 we offered our regrets for the ways we may have caused suffering for our partner. In talking about this Fred smiled at us. “We love being right,” he said. “We like to blame the other person.” Instead we must first reflect on and then share our regrets for our own unskillful actions. We are not perfect. We, too, are only human. “Darling, I am sorry that when you were talking to me yesterday I didn’t listen to your ideas.” This step diminishes the negative seed of self-righteousness in us. By the time we conclude with Step 2 we or may not want to go on to Step 3.


    If we go on to step 3 we practice deep sharing of our negative thoughts and feelings. We know that ours is not the only possible view of this situation. What we need is to be deeply heard and understood. While we share, our partner says nothing, simply listening deeply, and then bowing to us respectfully. This is why we soothe and calm our own feelings before beginning the process! Otherwise our self-justifications and blaming may spill right out of our mouths. If a conversation is needed about what was shared during the Beginning Anew Ceremony this happens at another time.


    Before we even attempt the entire ceremony Fred counseled us to simply water each other’s positive seeds. We need to build up our bank account before we make withdrawals. He also told us that this wonderful ceremony can be used by families, parents and children, or in the workplace. If you wish to learn about Beginning Anew Thich Nhat Hanh writes about it in many of his books, including Love and Happiness.


  • 18 Jul 2016 12:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Tammy Klein for sharing these reflections on the FCM winter/spring 2016 Dharma Path Intensive, "Training the Mind Utilizing Key Buddhist Slogans"


    "You're not going to wash that?!" My neighbor Ross* asked me incredulously at the end of a dinner party my husband and I hosted for them and some other neighbors. I had been cleaning up and preparing food for everyone to take home when Ross approached me with a combination of irritation and indignation. "When you came over for Easter we washed your dish and gave it back to you before you even left!" He waited for an answer, but I was speechless. Finally, after what seemed like two hours, I said slowly, "I thought you'd like to take home your leftovers, because you have quite a bit left." "Yeah," he said, "but you could have put it in a smaller dish!" 


    "Well, I still can if you like," I said. "It's really no problem." "Nevermind!" Ross said angrily. I was speechless again and I was deer-in-the-headlights stunned. Silently, I looked at Ross. Seriously, are we really doing this over a dish? We're really doing this? Seriously? Then, my thoughts turned defensive and a little irritated as well. I could've put put their leftovers in a small dish. But it's dumb! Dumb, I say! Then we're washing one of their dishes, they still have to wash one of ours and we're exchanging dishes. It just didn't seem efficient. 


    I next remembered that I was practicing Buddhism. Oh right. And that I was in an intensive. Right again. And that the intensive centered around developing bodichitta, wisdom and compassion. Right, right, right. But as Ross stood there expectantly and still annoyed, the mental fog rolled in. I clambered around in my mind trying to recall teachings that I had been studying every day for six months. I sputtered around mentally as jumbles of words burbled up. I couldn't think of what I was supposed to say and do and practice next. Tong-whaa?? Something about blames and victories? I had nothing. As I was mentally sputtering, Ross proceeded to complain to the wife of our other neighbors. My husband then walked into the kitchen unaware of what had transpired and helpfully (not!) added, "Yeah, why didn't you wash the dish?" I glared at him, giving him the wifely stink eye. Our guests left for the evening and I laughed with my husband about it. "Can you believe he got so upset over a dish?" We shook our heads. 


    But the next morning, I woke up irritated. I did metta for Ross in meditation but I came up short in both wisdom and compassion about the situation. I spent several days reflecting on the incident and my reaction to it. I could have just laughed it off and left it at that. True, I wouldn't have described my neighbor as the paragon of grace in that instant, but who cares? It was just a bowl.  Wasn't it?  There was more to it and it involved the self. This self did NOT like the fact that she put a lovely dinner party together and not only didn't receive an Academy Award for it, she got chastised over a dumb bowl on top of that. The proverbial turd in the punch bowl. 


    Any number of slogans would apply to this situation, but I went with "give up all hope for results": 


    "Give up the hope of subduing gods and demons by meditating on mind training, or the hope that you will be considered a good person when you try to help someone who has hurt you. These are hypocritical attitudes. In a word, give up all hope for any result that concerns your own welfare, such as the desire for fame, respect, happieness and comfort in this life, the happieness experienced in the human or god realms in future lives, or the attainment of nirvana for yourself."


    As I reflected further, I realized I expect results in just about everything in life but I especially expect results from myself. I watched it for a week when Fred assigned this slogan for practice and reflection and I could hardly list a thing I did in a day that did not have some kind of result attached to it!  As a matter of fact, I could say I was born and bred to get results. Getting results was how I shined in life until recently. I was very, very good at it. Having been raised in an abusive and chaotic environment, that was the stability I could create for myself, and I excelled it. Sad and painful, but all true. 


    And thus I won the spelling bee(s), hit the home runs, made the dean's list, won the debate championship, got the scholarships, graduated at the top of my class, etc., etc. I got this and did that and went here and there in the world meeting this and that person and doing this and that. Some of it was pretty awesome. If I couldn't achieve an expected result, I mostly didn't bother with whatever the activity was unless I had to, hence my graveyard of barely-started or half-done projects. Not important, I told myself. Even my attitude to Buddhism in the beginning was..."Look, I got stuff to do, so let's get this Enlightenment thing done so I can be on my way. Let's do this people, snippity snap!"  I could not be bothered to break even for the Buddha!


    It was helpful to see and become aware of how deep my need for results runs and how it is connected to the self. The intensive really gave me an opportunity to work on this. There's no way to break free of this kind of deep conditioning until one becomes aware of it and sees it for what it is. Fred challenged during one of our group calls, can you simply do the things in front of you with excellence but without expecting a result? I committed to try my best and to begin detangling myself from this conditioning. I was able to do tonglen (the alchemical exchange) for myself. And then I was able to consider my neighbor more compassionately. For me, that's key. When I withhold compassion from myself, I notice I am less compassionate to others. 


    A few days later, I was walking toward my house with my dog. Ross was in his front yard. My first thought was to turn around and sprint the other way before he saw me! And then I thought, is my practice really not strong enough for Ross? Is that what I'm saying here? So I kept walking and greeted him. He proceeded to tell me how this wasn't right, that wasn't working, this was wrong. It was all negative. His negativity was well known in the neighborhood and drove our other neighbors nuts, causing them to dive for an escape hatch whenever they saw him ("I'm sick, the dog is sick, I need to wash my hair..."). I considered the same strategy for a second - after all, it was dinnertime and I could come up with something legit, but the dog and I ultimately stood there and listened to him quietly for some time.  

     

    As he talked, I considered "the bowl incident" it from Ross' perspective. His life was changing. He was chronically and seriously ill, having battled cancer several times already. I looked at him and he was thin and very frail. He was much taller than me, but I was sure I could bench press him. He was hanging on to life by a thread. His dream was to retire on Marco Island, and now he and his wife were having to sell the house. They simply couldn't maintain it with Ross' shaky health. He had recently retired, but had never really gotten a chance to enjoy the house. Their dream was not to be, and to add insult to injury, nothing else had in retirement had worked out the way they planned it. They had not gotten their result. 


    And now they were selling their house and traffic had been worrisomely slow, creating even more stress and anxiety. He was packing up and preparing to leave his dream behind. It was tough for him. I felt his deep suffering as he unloaded and I did tonglen for him while he talked and talked. Yet, he could not say, I am sad. I am scared. I am overwhelmed. I am sick. I am anxious. He couldn't name any of it. I could see that it was safer to shelter in negativity, and I Iet him, not saying a thing beyond an occasional head nod. As I stood there, I quickly forgot about the bowl incident and all defensiveness and irritation at Ross melted. I wished only for the bestest best for my neighbor and I silently gave him every bit of bodichitta I could scrape up. He needed it.


    "The answer is that all our misery comes from mental fixation and viewing phenomena as dreamlike will help us to relinquish our fixation on the world. If we don’t put some effort into gradually weaning ourselves from this fixation on “self” and “other” as real, we will never succeed in being compassionate and will continue to invite pain and suffering into our lives." - Traleg Rinpoche, The Practice of Lojong: Cultivating Compassion through Training the Mind 


    *Name changed to protect identity.


  • 10 Jul 2016 4:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Betsy Arizu for sharing these reflections.


    I heard one of the monks call this gathering legendary. For me it was extraordinary, traveling to Plum Village in France with our teacher, Fred and fellow FCM members, Diane, Angie, Anne, Beth, and Rosaria. We gathered with people from around the world to celebrate 50 years of the Order of Interbeing, to connect with others, and touch life deeply in the present moment with the wonderful teachings and practices developed over the years at Plum Village. Gathered were many lay Dharma teachers (like Fred) from Vietnam, Thailand, Botswana, Israel, India, Italy, France, New Zealand, Netherlands, Portugal, Ireland and Canada. A number of the original Vietnamese students from the School for Youth for Social Services organized by Thay and Sister Chan Khong in the 1960's traveled to Plum Village especially for this event. Thay, the teachings of the Buddha and the fourfold sangha (women, men, lay and monastic) were joyfully present.


    Thay's presence and continuation were clearly felt throughout the retreat. On the second day during the Dharma talk at Upper Hamlet Thay was wheeled in by two attendants through a side door. Raising his left forefinger to his lips in the gesture of silence, he remained deeply present with all for the next 10 minutes as the Dharma talk continued. After the talk we gathered at the bell tower for walking meditation. Thay joined us in a circle as we sang, Happiness and other songs as we prepared to walk. Thay, pushed by his attendants, led the group in mindful walking meditation just like he had done so many times before, first through the plum trees and then up a very steep hill overlooking magnificent green hills and countryside. We sat down on the grass around Thay, quietly, peacefully in the wonder of the moment. Thay deftly used his left hand to drink his tea, to push back his brown cap back from his forehead and to signal to his attendant that he wanted another cup of tea. He slowly turned his head from side to side as he gazed at us, his eyes indicating such presence and deep awareness.


    The day reserved for the 50 years of the Order of Interbeing celebration was quite festive. Fred and Shantum Seth, from India were the facilitators. Fred shared about his early visits to Plum Village and conversations with Thay about the Order of Interbeing. A delicious cake was offered and performances included a beautiful instrumental piece composed by Brother Phap Linh, a moving play performed by Vietnamese OI members commemorating the immolation of Nhat Chi Mai as a profound cry for peace during the Vietnam War, and a skit by young monastic aspirants. The skit was colorful and entertaining. From the dry ice mists of the stage a young monk was revealed sitting in meditation. The narrator began describing what this young Thay had seen--discrimination, fanaticism, intolerance, and how he had implored great bodhisattvas to come forth into the world. To the grace and rhythm of Pachelbel's Canon, one by one the aspirants with colorful face paint and creative costume came forth as bodhisattvas onto the stage. Each one represented one of the essences of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings: openness, nonattachment to views, free thinking, embracing suffering, compassion and healing, embracing anger, dwelling happily in the present moment, community and communication, loving speech, protecting and nourishing the sangha, right livelihood and protecting our environment, reverence for life and the insight of interbeing, generosity and nonexploitation, and true love. In this delightful depiction Thay's brilliance and profound contribution to the world was evident. The rich meaning of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings and the compass they provide for living one's life, building and caring for community and engaging with compassion in the word were real and alive for me, and my aspiration to live a life of awakening and service to others was deeply nourished. The celebration continued. Three flowering trees were presented and offered in gratitude on this auspicious occasion--one to Thay, one to Sister Chan Khong and one to Fred. There are now over 2,000 OI members since Thay ordained the first 6 in Vietnam in 1966. Fred was the 11th to be ordained and the first Westerner. Fred wrote the introduction and as editor helped Thay put the OI Charter and 14 Mindfulness Trainings into the book, Interbeing. Fred was acknowledged for having brought the Order of Interbeing to the West. I was very moved at this presentation. How fortunate we are to have such a bodhisattva as a teacher.


    During the retreat we savored the quiet stillness during meals, working mediation and walking meditation, and listened with quiet wonder and openness to the deep and profound Dharma talks. Much of the rest of the time was playful and meaningful interchange between people, deep sharing and listening, and for me long conversations with others about sangha building, family programs, death and dying, mindfulness in education and creativity in the arts. I jokingly told our FCM group as we did a circle of sharing on the last day at Upper Hamlet that I had never talked so much in my life. There were affinity groups, panels, and presentations on topics of engaged Buddhism. Fred, with true energy and inspiration, shared about our urban practice center on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa. He and Angie led a workshop on sangha building. Connection and relationship were so rich and meaningful for me at this retreat. 


    When we said goodbye at the end of the retreat it was with deep gratitude and a sense of no coming and going. As the little green plums continue to form on the trees, and the monastics end one retreat and prepare for the next, it is clear that Thay and these beautiful teachings of the Buddha continue in the world.


  • 04 Jul 2016 11:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Libby Dunn for sharing these reflections on her recent experience in the Mindful Living Path Intensive.


    I’m a new member of FCM and I joined the community just in time to participate in the recent Mindful Living Path Intensive, called “Foundational Practices for Healing and Transforming Emotional Afflictions”. Over a period of 12 weeks, we followed a very systematic approach toward identifying our patterns of emotional afflictions, learning how to stay present with difficult feelings, and building new tools and insights to transform the way we experience emotional challenges. There was plenty of hard work and it was sometimes uncomfortable, but the benefits I gained were well worth the time I invested and the challenges I experienced.


    Every two weeks we received an email to let us know what chapters to read in our book and what practices to follow.  An important early assignment was to maintain a written log, adding entries every time we experienced disturbing emotions. I think people handled this assignment in different ways. What I did was to print up blank tables and keep them handy on a clipboard. I was really surprised at how many times I reached for the clipboard to jot down a negative emotion, how it felt in my body and the thoughts and circumstances related to it. Pretty soon I had pages of entries, which made it easy to spot recurring patterns. Using the entries as raw material, I was able to identify entry points for challenging habitual thoughts and reactions that were keeping me stuck.


    The intensive included several personalized resources to create a supportive and encouraging environment for personal growth. Each of us had a mentor to help us interpret the instructions and to gently guide us back on course when we needed it. Fred provided a monthly Dharma talk that placed what we were doing in a broader context and gave us a chance to ask questions. In addition, we were each assigned to a small support group that met to share insights, successes, and challenges. My group met by telephone, since we were spread all over the place. At first I was not too sure that a telephone support group would be helpful, but I ended up learning a lot from the other group members. It was also reassuring to know that many of us were experiencing some of the same obstacles. For example, several of us felt a bit discouraged in the beginning, when our logs revealed how often negative emotions were affecting our minds and bodies. Between the support group meetings, the personal mentoring and Fred’s Dharma talks, I think we were able to accomplish much more than would have been possible by working alone, using only a book and written instructions.


    Based on this first experience, I will definitely participate in another intensive. It is really surprising to me how much progress we made in such a short time. As the intensive was drawing to a close, I noticed that my negative emotions were less frequent and less intense. Now I am more aware when emotional reactivity is arising and it is easier for me to be receptive and stay present to what I am feeling. As a result of participating in the intensive, I have greater confidence in my ability to handle emotionally challenging situations in the future and I feel better prepared to transform difficult emotions into gentle compassion toward myself and others. 


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