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Community Gleanings

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  • 11 Apr 2017 5:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The 2017 FCM Mahasangha Member Gathering was held in Tampa the weekend of March 24th to celebrate and deepen our connection as a sangha body. During the  weekend we explored "American Buddhism," and in particular how our greater "Maha" sangha manifests our Buddhist values in community and in the world. We also celebrated our lineage together through both beautiful formal ceremonies and many casual and joyful moments of connection. We asked a diverse group of members, from "long-timers" to brand new, from early 30s to more "mature",  to share their reflections of what the weekend meant to them. With much gratitude to our members, below, for these sharings.

    Betsy Arizu, Tampa (FCM Board President)

    As we chanted the Evening Chant together on the first night of the Mahasangha I was filled with awe and inspiration, hearing our voices joined so beautifully together as we honored the Buddha. I could feel an energy and power in the Dharma Hall filled with old friends, new friends, local friends, friends from afar, all brothers and sisters acknowledging our capacity and commitment to awaken, individually and collectively. What a joy and honor to experience being part of a sangha, especially a mahasangha.

    I thoroughly enjoyed our weekend discussions on Buddhism in America. I find it fascinating how Buddhism spread from India throughout Asia in such a peaceful and organic way while taking on unique and distinctive flavors and forms in each region and culture it traveled to. And now as Buddhism takes root in America I see how profound and relevant the teachings are to this time and place in history and how it is unfolding in its own rich and unique way in our culture. As we discussed with Fred FCM’s vision, mission, and core values, he told the story of FCM and how it started in his living room in Naples. Later came the purchase of property on Nebraska Avenue and now the next step is to build a retreat center of our own to bring more and affordable retreat opportunities to our sangha. We are so fortunate to be part of the Florida Community of Mindfulness on this path of awakening.

    Other highlights of the Mahasangha were the small group discussions, the mindful work groups, the neighborhood clean up, the delicious meals, and the uplifting and meaningful ceremonies. I thank Fred for his vision and leadership during the Mahasangha and for recognizing how valuable and renewing it is for our community to come together yearly in this fashion.

    Carly Johnston, Tampa (New Member)

    My immediate refection about the Mahasangha Gathering was of special moments where I felt part of a community of loving and kind people. Although I knew very few, I felt the welcoming energy of all of those around me. I watched people from afar at times and rejoiced in their closeness while other times I saw many who wandered through the weekend with an openness of invitation for meeting others. I think what felt most comfortable for me was the genuine positive attitude that I experienced. People were willing to share and express their feelings on various topics that were being discussed and invited others to their circle of conversation. This provided me with good resources and opened up opportunity for questions which encouraged more communication. I felt a warm and caring nature from the group.

    I was most surprised and awed with the professional approach for coordinating the entire weekend…from program to food preparation and delivery in a timely fashion. Watching how fluid everything seemed to flow was quite impressive. Having been a professional meeting planner, I appreciate the time, work and effort of many people coming together to make such an event look flawless and successful. I realized I was part of a group of dedicated and talented people who took pride in their work —- all coming together for the good of the Community. I’m very proud to be part of FCM and look to the future to contribute what I am able.

    And, not to be forgotten…… “thank you” for the generous opportunity to experience a very special weekend.

    Christopher Lee Nguyen (Naples, WakeUp Leader for Southwest Florida)

    Yesterday my friend and coworker died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was around my age, and had been supportive friend in my career training. He helped me get past many obstacles on the job, and my computer is full of notes I received from him. We often get busy in life and never take the time to be together and get to know each other deeply until it is too late.

    The Mahagathering is a great opportunity to insure we don’t have any regrets by being able to practice being together. It’s a chance for us to realize that we are not alone; never were alone; and never will be. That is a wonderful thing. I think Liễu Quán expresses it very beautifully in his gatha from the early 1700s, “The fruit of transcendent wisdom, can be realized by being wonderfully together.”

    Coming together in openness to practice deep sharing and deep listening is a very profound practice. It creates a space where my Buddha-nature can unfold and shine brightly. Being able to meet new people and be inspired by their aspirations and the resounding sound of the sangha echoing out “same, not different” is a precious jewel when you live far away from the center.

    Whether singing together, sitting together, or even picking up trash outside together, it is not a matter of what we are doing but that we are together as a living sangha creating a refuge and open space for all sangha members to be nourished by the collective energy of togetherness and actualize coming together “as a river”.

    I offer gratitude and thanks to all my sangha brothers and sister, near and far away, for everything they do and for helping to create a sangha where I have the opportunity to be nourished by the fruit of transcendent wisdom by being wonderfully together.

    Fran Reilly, Naples (Longtime Mindful Yoga Leader for FCM)

    Dear Tampa Sangha,

    I wanted to write a note of appreciation to all of you for your hospitality, sharing, teachings, feeding us on so many levels and opening our hearts and minds. The Mahasangha weekend was truly a gathering of spiritual friends and cultivated a deeper appreciation of our Sangha community for me and I’m sure for others as well.

    The food was amazing and nourishing; the opportunity to interact and support each other in work groups and small group interactions and the overall attitude of support and community was pervasive and nourishing as well. The planning and thoughtfulness of all of your hard work was evident and your welcoming attitude was heartwarming. I felt greeted as a dear friend and all of the hugs and smiles brought a smile to my own heart.

    The dharma talks were enriching and the ceremony on Saturday evening , with the beautiful cello, chanting, the readings, the fire, all under the stars in the beautiful garden setting was especially inspiring.

    The whole weekend opened my heart and inspired my practice.

    in gratitude,

    Fran Reilly

    Kerri Vantreese (Tampa, New Member)

    For me, the mahasangha weekend was filled with opportunity to take yummy bites to satiate not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual appetite... deepening the sense of what community actually IS and how vital its heartbeat is in support of FCM's commitment to flow like a gentle dharma river.

    The joy of exploring relationship in such a wide variety of ways was exceptional... from blissfully fun selfless service, shared meals at FCM, shared home space thanks to our B n B program, as well as multitudes of other fantabulous moments in small group discussions, the vibrant, palpable essence of the collective sangha and the special energy of sharing one-on-one time with old and new friends alike!

    bowing in deep gratitude,

    One Heart!

    Maria Sgambati, Tampa (Our Mahasangha Gathering Noble Coordinator)

    What a joy it was to practice together with the community during the MahaSangha gathering. Although I’ve been an FCM member at a distance for 4 years, I began practicing in the Plum Village tradition about 12 years ago. I was happy to have been asked to be gathering coordinator, since having moved to Tampa in February, it gave me a wonderful opportunity to both support the sangha through self-less service and get to know my dharma brothers and sisters more deeply.

    For me, every moment of the gathering became a moment of practice, in which I asked, what is needed right now? I always tried to return to my breathing, to keep my steps and voice calm and compassionate, to really slow down and take my time to listen and be with what was, even when toilets overflowed! The whole weekend was such a rich experience, but in particular the series of talks on Buddhism gave me a deeper sense of the historical foundation of the practice path. I am grateful to all who made this weekend possible.

  • 29 Mar 2017 11:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With much gratitude and metta to Noah Stepp for this heartfelt sharing about his experience in the FCM Family Program and recent transition to the Teen Program

    Almost 4 years ago my mom started going to FCM. At first I wanted nothing to do with the Center. I had never enjoyed any of the other Sunday schools I had attended and didn’t want to go to another one. One weekend a family gathering was led by Diane Powell. I made my first mindfulness jar! When we were driving home I realized it wasn’t as I thought it was going to be. Then the Family Program started. I was one of the first kids to go and I was excited! I made a commitment to myself that day that as long as mom went to the Center I would go to the Family Program. 

    These are just a few of the many things I have learned:

    • How to ring the bell
    • How and why to bow
    • Mindful eating
    • How to notice your emotions
    • Using a mindfulness jar
    • Feeling where feelings are in my body
    • Life of Buddha
    • Lineage of Buddhism and how Fred connects us to it all
    • Thich Nhah Hanh
    • How to use the breathing ball
    • Mindful walking
    • Yoga
    • The Two Promises
    • Given my Dharma name
    • Songs from Plum Village
    • What mindfulness really means to me

    I turned 13 in February and have now moved into the Teen Program. I attended the Mindful Teen Half Day Retreat and one Sunday Teen Program. It has been a great transition for me. I want to thank everyone for guiding me along this path. A special thanks to Betsy, Suzy and Karuna for being my Dharma teachers. You all have taught me a lot and I always felt supported by you. I also want to thank the sangha. You have listened to me “check-in” about what we have done and learned while attending the Family Program. Your supportive listening, kindness and laughter is so appreciated. I would look out at everyone smiling at me and it always made me feel so good!

    Deeply bowing,


    Source of All Goodness

  • 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


  • 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.

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