By TODD GORE
The recent seven-day Wisdom Retreat left me with significant insights and realizations. An important breakthrough came Tuesday morning, enabling the rest of my progress through the week.
For some time, when in the best state of mind, I've been able to see my mind as a vast open space, which felt very good, very right. But I was limited because I saw it as “my vast open space” and would often struggle trying to find it. Just a couple of perfectly timed words from Fred caused me to see the space of mind as no different than the space all around us, making it continuously obvious and giving me much clearer awareness and a feeling of non-duality and oneness.
The concept of not-self is one I've understood intellectually for several years but struggled with taking beyond a concept, noticing that the ego was gone when I was in the most mindful state, but not able to necessarily bring about that state. During the retreat I looked deeply for this thing I considered "self," and as has happened in the past I could not find it, but still felt its presence.
At several points I felt as if the "self" was fighting back, almost like it was in self-preservation mode, presenting arguments to help it retain its preeminence over my life. Without chasing after these arguments, I could see them as both not real and not valid, as if their purpose was just to plant seeds of doubt.
Continuing to look deeply, I became aware of what this "self" was not and this helped me to finally see it for what it is. I could see clearly that the "self" is not needed for the things that are really important -- for example, for memory, or to retain skills, or to feel joy, or to appreciate beauty, or to love, or to feel compassion. This led me to a deep insight and understanding that the "self" I've been identifying with is just a character that I made up. I could see it as this imaginary person that I've been adding on to since I was a child. It was very clear and felt very freeing.
The second insight came as I was feeling very awake and present during the early session on Thursday, with a strong sense of joy doing walking meditation with my brothers and sisters in the sangha. Fred came in and quietly instructed us to let go of the duality by seeing it as "just walking," not "I am walking."
This had an almost immediate impact as it built on the newly clarified view of the space of mind and the new understanding of “I.” I don't remember any of the specific words that Fred spoke after walking meditation. I just remember feeling what was being shared and it continuing to build inside. I don't have the words to explain with any detail what I experienced at that point. While feeling like I was really understanding the core nature of mind, of reality, the words that shouted excitedly in my mind were:“Everything Just Is.” This felt like all I needed to know. I felt tears running down my face and tiny tremors tingling throughout the body.
Shortly after that, a second realization overtook me with the same force as the first. Again, words do not fully explain the understanding of what shouted excitedly in my mind: “I do not exist.” But the meaning could not have been more clear. More tears, more joyful tremors. At the end of the session I went outside and walked by the pond, just being with the feeling. Eventually the physical reactions calmed down and I went back in as breakfast was finishing. I see these experiences as creating a wonderful new starting point to transformation through my life practice.
Todd Gore retired from IT work in 2016 and lives in Clermont with his wife, two dogs, and a cat. Upon hearing about mindfulness eight or nine years ago, he started reading about it and took some basic online classes. Eventually, he realized that self-study would not get him to where he would like to be and in 2021, he joined FCM.
By HELEN ANDERSEN
I decided to participate in the Radical Acceptance workshop, beautifully led by Angie Parrish and Betsy Arizu, as a way to deepen and continue the work I had been doing in the Emotional Healing Intensive which began in March with Fred.
The intensive and workshop have given me a clear way to observe those times where I feel ambushed by deep emotion – sometimes seemingly out of the blue.
What I have discovered is that these emotions have always been there waiting to be tended to – and what I have habitually done instead is to immerse myself in “doing” (fleeing from them), and then doing to the point of exhaustion -- doing to the point where it can be hard to just sit and enjoy playing with my kids.
I live in Parrish with my family – my husband Brandon, and Mia, 9, and Theo, 6. I began exploring mindfulness in 2013, but it wasn’t until I heard a recorded talk by Thay that I felt connected to a teacher. I continued to listen to this talk over and over, then read The Art of Living right after Theo was born in 2017. Taking Thay’s recommendation seriously to try to find a sangha to practice with, I felt incredibly lucky to find that FCM was just 50 minutes north and had a family program so we could all explore this path together.
At the Radical Acceptance workshop, I discovered that it was my inner child that was crying out for support in those times because she feels/felt it is her responsibility to fix, help others, keep the peace. She hopes that once things are fixed that she can then receive the love, acceptance, attention, etc., that she is looking for.
I have learned that as an adult I have the emotional maturity, compassion and strength to give my inner child what she is searching for – to be present to her, not to mistake her emotions for my own adult emotions. That separation has been so powerful. I do not need to be “blended” with that inner child.
Instead, I can show up for my inner child in the same way I show up for my kids -- like when my son was lying under a table crying over a piece of art that was not turning out the way he wanted, and I lay down next to him and offered a strong, compassionate, loving presence.
I see now, I can do that for my inner child, too. I am capable and I feel such a wonderful hope as I continue to work at practicing this in my everyday life.
Helen and Brandon Andersen and their children became FCM members in 2018.
By JUDY ROSEMARIN
Taken by surprise at the recent “Creating a New Future by Changing Our Past“ retreat, I realized that I wasn’t there to cultivate the usual suspects: compassion, patience, forgiveness, courage, generosity, etc.
No. I was there to nurture gentleness.
My realization was prompted by my emotional response to the gentleness in Angie’s voice. The soothing sound seemed to come from her but I know it’s never out there. It is only and always in me! However, me? The gentle one? Impossible!
But I went with the feeling, the surprise.
In the retreat, we were to identify our younger selves where contact, deep listening, recognition, healing, reconstruction, needed to be happen. I “met” my 12-year-old self at the camp’s horse stables. For all five summers, it was the only place where she didn’t feel scared or lonely.
I offered a soft, “Hello” and apologized for not giving her any warning, for leaving her for waaaaay too long. I told her that now, I was here for her. Just for her. And I promised that I would listen to anything and everything she ever wanted to say.
“I have nothing to say,“ she snapped.
I understood. I know that feeling. I accepted that. I assured her that I would sit on a bench nearby and wait.
After 20 minutes, with predictable starts and stops, staccato sentences, timid testing, our conversation began to slip into a smoother rhythm. I listened to her sadness, fear and loneliness, as she gently curried her horse.
“I am sorry for all you have felt.” (Silence) “I see you.” (Silence) “You are very gentle,” I said.
“You are strange. But you seem nice.”
“You seem nice, too. You are also gentle.”
Oh? Something funny?
“No one ever called me gentle.” She sheepishly smiled at me, then asked the horse, “Do you think I am gentle?”
And so the process began. For the first time as an 80-year-old, I touched my banished natural gentleness.
I continued listening to the deep silences and was unprepared for what she next said.
“I hated sewing name tags on my socks before camp…. But… (great silences, then hesitation on her part) “I just realized…I really liked sitting next to Mommy on the green corduroy couch. We sewed together.”
The old narrative suddenly broken open resulted in following epic learnings:
The old story is never the whole story. It’s wider, deeper and richer than imagined. Just listen.
Once the narrative is altered, the internal feelings change. I touched and then continually feel gentleness now, intentionally visiting it every day.
When I am in a certain mode of over reactivity, I need to recall that it’s not the adult who is reacting, but a younger self who has not yet been fully honored.
I’ve put little “G” (Gentleness) reminder Post-Its around the house and contemplate them daily.
I continue to integrate those blocked, battered, broken parts of myself into the adult I am now with gentleness.
I am an emerging gentlewoman.
With deepest gratitude and gentle bowing,
©2023 Judy Rosemarin
Judy Rosemarin, MS, MSW, has been a member of FCM for eight years and has had an active Zen practice for 12 years.
By SHERI LISKER
I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. Not because I didn’t want to – after all, what better way to honor a beloved teacher than with his own words? But again and again, my efforts to select the poem by Thich Nhat Hanh to commemorate his transition from life that also was most meaningful to me encountered obstacles.
Our teacher Fred had invited members to bring favorite poems and quotes of Thich Nhat Hahn to our Tuesday night sharing. I was not that acquainted with Thây Nhat Hanh’s poetry. I knew that the title poem of the collection Call Me By My True Names mentions a young girl’s suicide after pirates rape her.
Since this was written by Thây, the poem is not focused on the rape, but on interbeing, how all of us, the most wretched, the most brutal, the earth, the buds on a tree, the mayflies, the frogs, even the Politiburo, are one. It turned out that one member read that poem and another member analyzed parts of it – demonstrating how truly interrelated we are!
I had figured I might point to the two quotes I have on my wall: Peace in oneself, peace in the world, which is fairly self-explanatory, and Are you sure of your perceptions? because I have often been mistaken on my own. I also could refer to my walking meditation mantras: Arriving/ Home and Touching/ Earth.
But 30 minutes before the start of the discussion, I thought it might not hurt to look for a poem. I chose the one from the Plum Village website I deemed most appropriate: Oneness, which begins with the words The moment I die/I will come back to you/as quickly as possible. But our program started with a beautifully sung rendition of this poem and I could not imagine following that.
Luckily, I had a back-up: Bhumasutra. I hadn’t read this poem before and moreover, it touched upon a subject I have been grappling with throughout my Buddhist studies: reincarnation. The poem starts with a discussion between a narrator (presumably the poet) and Death, who is challenging him: Aren’t you afraid of me?
Why should I be, the poet asks. Death says, Because I can end you, to which Thây replies, You can never end me: I will return again and again.
Death, prosecutorial, asks for a witness to these statements. And the poet calls the earth. Death hears the music of this world, the birds, sees the trees blossoming and “melts in the loving gaze of Earth.”
The poem ends with the narrator addressing his beloved (all of us). When you fear, he tells us, touch the earth deeply and “your sorrow will melt away.” In this way you will touch the deathless. This seemed appropriate for the anniversary of Thây Nhat Hanh leaving his body.
I listened to the sharing of the other members. One woman recited a poem she’d written to Thây. What a creative approach, I thought. Others shared poems and quotes as I nodded and thought, That was a good one. John McHarris shared the morning gatha: I wake with a smile/Twenty-four brand new hours before me/ I vow to live fully in the present moment/ and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion. That gatha got me through the depression stages of early Covid isolation. Angie Parrish shared a piece on how our presence is the greatest gift we can give others. Amen, I thought.
I began to question my choice of a poem – had it been the best choice? The one most relevant to me and my life? After our session, I looked at a copy of The Raft and saw another famous Thich Hhat Hanh quote: A cloud never dies. A cloud becomes rain, which waters a flower, whose seeds are planted in the earth and become part of the earth, part of us. And there I had it: reincarnation explained in a pragmatic and poetic way. I realized that as in so many times before, Thay had gifted me with just what I needed just when I needed it.
I bow to my teachers, Fred and Thây Nhat Hanh, and to all my teachers, those generous beings in the FCM sangha.
Sheri Lisker is a member of FCM from Sarasota.
By ANGIE PARRISH
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity and privilege of sharing my recent practice insights with the Sangha, which I’ve summarized below at the request of several members.
As time seemed to speed up at the conclusion of the talk, I failed to add a most important point, which is please take advantage of the wonderful resources that FCM offers to support your practice! We have a deeply experienced teacher in Fred, who works directly with members to guide their individual application of practices in the most beneficial way. Weekly interviews are available with Fred so members should take advantage of this tremendous opportunity for skillful practice guidance. As well, group and solitary retreats at FCM provide opportunities to take these practices to a deeper level.
And, among other programs, we have an upcoming Intensive on the Buddha’s Full Awareness of the Breath Sutra (sign up by February 12). This is an excellent opportunity for expert guidance for those new to meditation.
In a nutshell, during Sangha I shared the advice that our teacher Fred has given us so many times: to truly be free, with a mind of ease, clarity, and love, we will transform only through practice –- not by reading more books. I have been the incredibly fortunate recipient of many wise teachings from Fred over the years, but have been a rather lazy student oftentimes, so busy “doing” what will never be “done” instead of prioritizing my practice and waking up.
With support of my family and Dharma brothers and sisters, I was able to take seven full days after Christmas to join an “Intensive” practice retreat, led by Guo Gu of the Tallahassee Chan Center. The guidance and retreat practice sessions provided the opportunity for integrating and clarifying my meditation, the fruits of which have been greater interest, enthusiasm, and consistency in my practice. I also realized that had I been a better student in the past, I could have more deeply drunk the nectar of Fred’s teachings and guidance and would not have needed an Intensive retreat to shake me out of my complacency. Learn from my mistakes!
During Sunday's Dharma talk, I shared several charts that people remarked were quite helpful, so I thought I’d briefly share this information here as well.
First, with respect to preparing for meditation, it is very helpful to do the following:
1. Spend several minutes “limbering up,” though some yoga or mindful movement. This helps to both stretch the body in a helpful way and to begin to unite body and mind, when the movements are done with mindfulness.
2. Spend a few minutes (or however long is needed) doing a progressive relaxation, bringing attention to the body starting with the crown of the head and moving to the toes, letting go of any tension that may be noticed. It may be particularly helpful to pay attention to the eyes, shoulders, and abdomen, as these are areas where we frequently hold tension. Bring a slight smile to your lips as you relax the face, noticing how that smile helps you to feel.
3. Once the body has been relaxed, check your feeling tone/attitude. Do you feel content, happy, a sense of wellbeing? If so, proceed to meditation, but if not, see if there is still tension being held. You might also do a short gratitude reflection for someone or something in your life; gratitude can beautifully open our hearts and minds.
4. Decide on the method of meditation practice that you need right now. Depending on the state of your mind in any given session, you can use the following as a guide for examples of method you might find helpful.
What Practice / Method Do I Need Right Now?
Very scattered (lots of thoughts of past and future arising, perhaps getting lost in stories/dramas)
A more “complex” method, meaning a weightier anchor that requires more concentration.
Examples: following the sensations of the breath at the nostrils; counting the outbreaths backwards from 20 to 1 (while staying with the sensations of the breath); using seeing as your object by resting your gaze on a pebble or other small object; using hearing as your object. You can also do slow walking or very slow mindful prostrations when needed, but keep “swimming” with your sitting practice as much as possible.
Calmer, some scatteredness (but primarily thoughts arising related to present moment sounds, sights, sensations)
A less complex method (getting progressively “simpler” as the mind continues to calm).
Examples: following the sensation of the abdomen rising and falling; resting attention with sensations in the left palm (with this palm resting palm upwards in the right hand, on the lap); resting attention on the sensation of the weight of the body sitting.
Very calm, still mind
At this point, students should seek instruction from their teacher as to the practices that are most beneficial given their level of experience.
With respect to practice when the mind has gained a solid level of stability, please note that we are cautioned us to not get caught in a “ghost cave” of peaceful bliss that does not lead to true awakening. At this point, our teacher Fred works with many students on advanced practices, often in the Dzogchen tradition.
Off-the-cushion practice is also important. As Fred and Thich Nhat Hanh have taught us, letting go of our thinking when not needed (perhaps more often than we might imagine!) and simply directly experiencing life, whether walking, doing the dishes, drinking a cup of tea, will help us to both touch the present moment more deeply, as well as to recondition the mind to not be constantly producing and moving into thoughts. Over time, this practice will also help bring the mind to greater stillness during our formal meditation.
With gratitude for the jewel of Sangha!
Distribution of $34,283 in funds raised by FCM has been made to assist families in the Harlem Heights community of south Fort Myers whose homes and livelihoods were damaged by Hurricane Ian.
"The monies raised by FCM have all been distributed," wrote Dr. Debra A. Mathinos, chief programs officer for The Heights Center, which serves the community, in a report to FCM. "The outpouring of gratitude from the recipients was inspiring and reminded me of how simple acts of kindness can be so powerful and life altering.
"While the financial aspect of your gift is definitely important to the recipients, I truly believe this generosity has helped my families have a renewed sense of hope in the future, a reminder that there are many kind people in the world, and provided them with nourishment of their souls. I cannot thank you enough for becoming part of the support system for my families."
Here are some of the people whom FCM helped:
Camila: (4th grader) Camila and her family were trapped inside their home as storm surge waters flooded in. The family climbed on kitchen counters and eventually made their way to the house’s roof where they waited until daylight for rescue. The family lost their car, the majority of their personal belongings and both parents lost their jobs.
Xaiden: (5th grader) Xaiden lives with his grandparents. The family evacuated in the early hours of the storm, sheltering with a relative. Their home received over 4 feet of floodwater and is likely to be on a list of homes that need to be torn down and rebuilt rather than repaired. They continue to live with a relative.
Arianys: (5th grader) Arianys lives with her mom and two siblings in a rental apartment. The apartment received over 4 feet of floodwater and the family has lost all of their belongings and their car. Their landlord has yet to begin repairs on the apartment and the family continues to stay with friends, moving to a new location every 4-5 days.
Juan: (charter school paraprofessional) Juan and his parents evacuated their home as soon as waters started to rise. Wading through thigh-high water they reached The Heights Center’s Education Building where they sought refuge until morning. Water damage destroyed much of the living areas in their home and the family car was destroyed.
Yadira: (charter school paraprofessional) Yadira’s parents live in the neighborhood and were forced out into the storm as the storm surge quickly engulfed their home. Yadira’s brother placed their parents in a small boat that was floating by and, walking through chest-deep waters, towed them to The Heights Center’s Education Building where they sought refuge until morning. All areas of their home with the exception of an elevated sunroom received over 4 feet of water and the two family cars were destroyed.
Eliceo and Mari: Eliceo (5th grader) and Mari (4th
grader) live with their mom in a rental apartment. The apartment received over 4 feet of floodwater and the family lost all of their belongings and their mom has lost her job. Until two weeks ago, the family of three were living in a tent in the parking lot of the apartment complex. Through the help of volunteers at The Heights Center, the apartment was mucked and gutted and treated for mold. The landlord has stated that the apartment will be repaired at the first of the year.
Janelliz and Jayden: Jayden (3rd grader) and Janelliz (5th grader), with their older sister and parents evacuated their home prior to the start of the storm. Three days following the hurricane the roads became passable and they returned to Heights to discover their home had received over 4 feet of water, destroying all of the family’s belongings as well as one car. Mom lost her job as a result of the hurricane, as well. Their home is likely to be on a list of homes that need to be torn down and rebuilt rather than repaired. They continue to live with a relative.
Elina: (4th grader) Elina and her mother evacuated prior to the storm and sheltered with a relative. Three days after the hurricane they returned to find their home had been flooded by over 3 feet of water resulting in the loss of all their belongings. They continue to live with friends and relatives.
Gloria: (4th grader) Gloria and her mother rent one half of a block home in the neighborhood. Caught in their home by the storm surge, the family climbed on kitchen counters and eventually made their way to the house’s roof where they waited until daylight for rescue. The family lost all of their personal belongings and the mom lost her job. Their landlord is refusing to make repairs, so Gloria and her mother are working on making the space safe and livable with the help of The Heights Center’s volunteers.
Anderson: (3rd grader) Anderson and his parents recently arrived from Guatemala and had established themselves in an apartment and with employment a few weeks prior to the hurricane. With limited ability to understand the hurricane warnings and evacuation orders, Anderson and his parents were caught in their home by the flood waters. Anderson, who is deaf, was particularly traumatized by the storm. Both parents lost their jobs and the majority of the family’s belongings were destroyed. They are currently staying in a long-term shelter until they can find new jobs and a new apartment.
Jayden P: (2nd Grader) Jayden and his family lived on Fort Myers Beach. As the hurricane moved closer, the family decided to evacuate inland to a relative’s home. The family’s home was one of the many Fort Myers Beach casualties and has simply disappeared. The family has lost all their belongings, mom and dad have lost employment and it does not appear that the family will ever be allowed to rebuild a home. They continue to live with relatives.
Fery: (Kindergarten) Fery and his father rented a room in a house that received over 4 feet of surge water. The family lost all their belongings and are staying in a variety of homes while they wait for their landlord to repair the property.
Frankie: (Kindergarten) Frankie, his younger sister and his parents live in a rental apartment. The apartment received over 4 feet of floodwater and the family lost all of their belongings. Both dad and mom have lost their jobs. The rental has been mucked and gutted and the family continues to live in the apartment, waiting for it to be repaired.
Christopher and Erick: Christopher (5th grader) and Erick (6th grader) rent one-half of a block home in the neighborhood. The family fled their home during the eye of the storm as surface water had already caused several feet of water to enter their home. The family lost all of their personal belongings and mom lost her job. Their landlord is refusing to make repairs, so the family is making the space safe and livable with the help of The Heights Center’s volunteers.
Kaiyah and Zhara: Kaiyah (4th grader) and Zhara (5th grader) evacuated with their younger sister and parents prior to the storm. Three days after the hurricane they returned to find their home had been flooded by over 4 feet of water resulting in the loss of all their belongings. They have been staying with relatives but were returning to their home by Christmas even though it has no drywall, floors or working kitchen.
Liand: (1st grader) Liand and his parents sheltered with a friend during the storm and returned to find their rental home had not only been flooded by over 3 feet of water, but had lost its roof. Liand’s father lost his job as a result of the hurricane. The family continues to stay with friends as they look for a new place to live and employment.
Lindsay and Dustin: Lindsay (1st grader), Dustin (7th grader) and their mom sought shelter from a friend mid-way through the hurricane when water started entering their apartment. The family lost the majority of their belongings and continue to stay with their friend while they wait for their landlord to make all necessary repairs to their apartment.
By SUSAN GHOSH
In September, feeling stuck in old patterns and wanting a breakthrough in my practice, I checked in to Great Cloud for a seven-day solo retreat. Soon after I arrived, I met with Fred, and he inquired about my goals. I told him I wanted to rest in natural mind, and immediately he challenged me. "You can’t rest in natural mind until you know your mind," he told me.
He offered me the text of The Flight of the Garuda to work with and told me to focus on Songs 3 and 4 and to reflect on the questions they raised, using them to explore my own mind. He said I should do eight hours of meditation each day -- a daunting number.
On the second afternoon, he encouraged me to go on to the eighth or ninth song and to continue to apply the questions and teachings to my own mind. This meant that I looked to find an “I" anywhere in or out of my body. And I looked at thoughts: where they come from, where they went, what they looked like when they were present. Practicing in the Tower Room of Great Cloud, I asked the questions over and over again and did my best to investigate what was true for me, by looking in my own mind.
That night my mind put on a terrifying display of fear, anger, and worry. All "my" old problems resurfaced. It was horrible. I was a failure. Even the things I thought I'd achieved through my practice had not been achieved. Maybe I should quit… the retreat, the sangha, FCM. During the night a disturbing nightmare woke me. In a graphic way it offered a picture of my life ahead if I chose the pain of seeking pleasure. I had to smile because the meaning of the dream was so obvious. “OK," I decided, "I will not quit the retreat or the sangha. I am going to stay."
The next day Fred asked about the nightmare. Where was it? Was it real? I couldn't find it, and no, it wasn't real. It couldn't be found. Everything was like that. Nothing solid anywhere. Nowhere. He also went on to explain that what I was experiencing was a common part of the retreat process. He said, “I tell retreatants they are going to learn the Dharma, but they also will learn about their own minds. The old patterns will come up even more strongly than before, but on retreat we are unable to flee from them by blaming our spouses or distracting ourselves. We can't avoid seeing them.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. Fred knew me well. He knew I believed that no effort would ever bring me to the necessary standard of perfection. He made me look for this old thought pattern. I couldn't find it. Anywhere. “Everyone is unique,” he told me. “There is no perfection. It makes no sense to compare. Susan is Susan and she's an ordinary human being.” I felt calmed and held by Fred's compassion.
I described my observations so far: the near constant worry, the counting and chanting, the obsessive rehearsing, the review of the past. "She's living in a fantasy world," Fred said. "Just let her relax. Let her enjoy what's really happening. If she gets into a corner, go take a walk in the garden."
I went back to my room and, at first, breathed a sigh of relief. My teacher did not think I was hopeless failure. He saw and accepted me as a member of our community of Dharma practitioners. The exhalation barely complete, a light gray wall came down in my mind. Relaxing exhalations stopped. I could sense the change but didn't understand what was happening. So, l ignored it and kept on reflecting on the teachings and investigating my own mind as best as I could. I could barely concentrate and the day seemed to go on forever.
In the night I woke up to a mind that was whirring and animated by extreme anxiety. My body was tense and breath tight. Since it was clear that I wasn't going to fall back to sleep, I put my hands on my stomach and placed my attention on the rise and fall of my belly. Over and over my mind wandered off and I brought it back.
After some time I was aware of holding the view of the watcher. The thoughts slowed and I could see their insubstantial nature. In truth, they were nothing but thoughts, coming and going, arising from nowhere, going nowhere. For the first time I was able to experience that these thoughts, so deeply believed, were nothing.
A peacefulness arose and into that open space came the answer to what had seemed to be an insoluble problem. I would get up and simply do my best. What else could I do? Yet the simplicity of that was startling after many years of rehearsals, worry about outcomes, striving to be good enough or, preferably, the best. My body seemed to take over. It rose, and pushed the chair close the small table where my Buddha had been sitting. It arranged the blankets to support my body, put the text and the little clock on the side on the bed. That day I would sit in one spot and meditate.
At the next meeting, Fred asked me, “How is Susan?" I answered that she'd had another rough night but I'd come through it with some clarity. "What happened?" he asked, "Everything was fine when you left and nothing external happened. You've been on retreat the whole time." "I don't know,” I answered. “Look," he instructed me firmly. "You have to know."
With tears I explained that I had shown that total mess of a mind to him: the anxiety, the obsessions, the chanting, the rehearsing. It had been seen; I had seen it clearly myself. As I launched into this sad tale, Fred said, "Stop! Just look into your own mind. Look straight there. What do you see?" The truth was, I saw nothing. There was nothing at all there. The story dissolved. At that moment the teaching, the reflecting, the experiencing came into a coherent whole.
Fred encouraged me to let Susan be, to allow her to relax, to be right there, in the moment. "If you're practicing and you get stuck," he repeated," take a break and walk in the garden." Once again, I felt held by my teacher's compassionate gaze, his kindness, his clear guidance and the skillful way that his guidance was attuned to this particular mind and its strong habit energies.
I went back to my room. I sat in the space that I had prepared and applied myself to alternating short periods of shamatha, concentration practice, longer periods of meditation on the breath, walking meditation and reading and reflecting on the teachings in a flexible rhythm throughout the day and evening. It was not impossible. The teachings lifted me up and through the day. They were so specific, so easy, if one didn't fight them. It was thrilling to discover a simple way to cut the attachments to the complexes of superiority and envy that had caused lifelong suffering. I looked at my many preferences from the point of view of the watcher. My goodness, so much of my life spent thinking I was someone, an "I," a “Susan,” who was generally right and was entitled to a marriage and life that was in accord with my preferences.
The next day Fred arrived at our meeting with a new text. "I don't know why I picked this one up," he said lifting Pointing Out the Nature of Mind: Dzogchen Pith Instructions of Aro Yeshe Jungne by Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche. "I thought you might find it interesting." And, I did. The amazing text spoke to my heart. It was so simple, helpful and direct. Practicing with it, I was filled with joy and gratitude.
The following morning -- the last morning of the retreat -- Fred asked what had changed for me as a result of my time there. There were so many things. I felt so much joy at the end of the retreat. I felt so much lighter from recognizing that the thoughts that had caused me such suffering were insubstantial. Being able to examine my experience with the mind of the watcher completely changed my understanding of my "self" and the path. I had been trying to concentrate in a kind of brutal way to achieve a particular kind of quiet in my mind. Fred had guided me to understand that the path was about relaxing, not striving, and I had actually directly experienced enough of the difference to feel confident that I could go forward and practice in a new way.
I told Fred I also had a new understanding of and appreciation for my teacher and what he was offering me. I now had a felt sense of his enlightened mind, an indescribable mixture of wisdom, kindness, understanding, and compassion. I could sense he would keep showing up to help me, over and over again, that he would not judge or hurt me, and that he would even interfere when I was hurtful to myself.
His final gifts to me on this retreat were, "Relax. Trust Susan." Ever since the retreat I have guided myself with these three words.
Susan Ghosh, who attends the Tampa Sangha, is a long-time practitioner at FCM.
By MORGAN ALLEN
When I first heard about the opportunity to practice selfless service to the FCM community by helping in the kitchen during retreats, I jumped at the chance. I had been looking to become
more involved with the community in a way that felt comfortable and appropriate to me. My wife and I and our two children enjoy cooking at home and sharing meals together and this sounded like a great fit.
What I did not expect was how much the experience would deepen not only my connection with t
he sangha but my practice on the path.
As with most of us, I strive (and often fail) to bring mindfulness to daily life, to the simplest of tasks such as brushing my teeth or chopping broccoli. The distractions of home and my racing mind often make that simple concept exceedingly difficult. In the FCM kitchen, everything is treated with reverence, care and respect so just by walking in you are automatically in a physical and mental space that brings mindfulness to the forefront.
Each session begins with the invitation of the bell and a gatha to remind us that every moment can be a meditation if you let it. And that practice becomes even more pronounced when there are 10 pounds of broccoli to chop, 20 cups of brown rice to wash and cook and 30 carrots to grate. I have never cared so much about grating carrot!
Every precaution is made to prepare the food in a respectful and safe manner for both the preparers and those who will consume the dishes. So there again, you have a lesson presented to you, if you are open to receiving it: food prepared with clean, wholesome ingredients and attention to cleanliness and health becomes not only a practice of selfless service but a way to honor the earth and all it provides for us while not depleting her resources in too great a manner or contributing to those practices which further her continued warming.
Then, at the end, after appreciating what the earth has given our community for nourishment, you are able to share that with the sangha as they are amid the deep reflections of their retreat. You provide their bodies nutrition so that they may provide their minds another form of nutrition.
I came to realize that sitting on the cushion is not enough, a concept I knew but often need reminding of. Retreatants need meals to support their deep practice and so do I every single day. If I can support my body and what goes into it and be more mindful of how I take those nutriments from the earth, then my practice will inherently become truer.
Selfless service in the FCM kitchen is a retreat unto itself -- an opportunity to hone your mindfulness skills intensely and acutely so that you may take them into your own kitchen, your own life. It is a wonderful pairing, if you allow it to be, of caring for the sangha as well as yourself. You give the gift of nourishment to others, but I found the true gift to be how I felt walking to my car afterwards and the brightness that seemed to follow me for the rest of the day (and hopefully longer).
The next time I pick up a knife I can’t help but be reminded of my time in the FCM kitchen, which then instantly will drop me into a more mindful place right there at home. That is something to be cherished.
Morgan Allen, of Land O' Lakes, joined FCM in August 2021. He is controller for RPM, a full-service advertising agency for live entertainment and Broadway shows.
Finding a way to give people a 21st Century insight to promote an understanding of ancient Buddhist practice is what Alex Lerner and Ken Lenington are offering in a one-day online workshop May 14 called “Cultivating the Dharma, Understanding the Brain.”
The workshop will give participants an opportunity to more deeply penetrate the workings of their minds by understanding their brains. It will have added dimensions beyond what has been offered in the past and will be suitable for practitioners at all levels of experience. It will be from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
“I’ve been exposed to many theoretical models for understanding psychology and mind,” Alex said in a recent interview with Mindfulness Matters,“but I have never come across anything as comprehensive as Buddhism to take on the deep understanding of why we suffer and how that continues to happen in modern life.
“With a mindfulness practice, we have the capacity to counter the deep conditioning that we have cultivated over many years and which causes us to continue to follow a path of suffering and chasing symptoms,” Alex said.
“Our mind is incredibly complex but nevertheless, mutable,” Alex said. “We need to understand why our brain is operating the way that it does and most important, because of the adaptation of neuroplasticity, that it has the incredible capacity to change how it functions. Making the change, however, is the result of an active and deliberate process rather than a passive one, and it therefore, takes intention, commitment, discipline and practice.”
Alex, a retired ob-gyn physician from Tampa, unceremoniously and unintentionally encountered Buddhism after he retired from clinical practice. Throughout his medical career, his orientation had mostly been based on the physical body, but when he retired, he became interested in the mind.
“What is wrong, what hurt, what needed to be fixed was my job as a trained surgeon,” he said. “When I was focused on healing the body, I was trying to make it whole or ‘right,’ but I never thought deeply about making my focus be the impact of the mind.” After Alex took an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class, which was his introduction to meditation, it led him to sangha, which led him to a spiritual path, which was quite foreign to him.
“It is quite remarkable to see how a 2,600-year-old tradition is right in step with 21st Century findings in neuroscience regarding the function of the mind. It is interesting to be reminded that the only thing that the Buddha had to develop his insights and practice was his extraordinary observational ability to see and understand the human condition and how it functioned as people lived. Those observations from 2,600 years ago now align with what we have learned from 21st Century technologies.
“If you can give a person a reason why their brain works in a certain way, maybe we can give that person some assistance to help them understand how to change how they use their brain.”
For the most part, we’ve been conditioned to exist in a material world, which we needed to master on a non-spiritual path. Is that prescribed path to happiness working as promised?
How do you change that which you have trained yourself to do for so long? Were we born stressed and overwhelmed? Why do most of us have a negative bias? Why are we preoccupied with the future?
The workshop will explore these questions as well as exploring our emotions as part of the human condition. People say, “I can’t help it, I’m just angry or anxious,” but where did that come from? What is the Buddhist and neuroscientist's understanding of an emotion?
The workshop will also help participants understand the “self” that Buddhist teachings tell us is a fabrication but that we are conditioned to believe actually exists. Why does it seem so counterintuitive to think that we do not really exist as a separate and independent self? Can we come to see the “self” as a “useful fiction,” designed to help us navigate the relative, or worldly, world as a convenience?
Ken, a retired psychiatrist and addiction specialist from Asheville, NC, will add depth in discussion of Dharma and its correlation to neuroscience.
Both Alex and Ken are ordained members of the Order of Interbeing and are long-time members of FCM. Ken is a leader for numerous workshops, retreats and intensive practices.
By JULIA BERBERAN
“Be here now. Be here now.” I kept saying this over and over in my head the first couple days of the retreat, trying to encourage my heart and mind to be here in my body, in this present moment.
I had found FCM at the end of February when I was searching online for an escape from the world. I’d never heard of FCM (I live in Vermont) but I was going to visit family in Florida at the end of March and was glad to find a silent retreat I could go to first.
I didn't know what to expect. I’d started meditating more regularly in December (doing short guided meditations), and most of my relevant knowledge came from reading Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart multiple times over. I mainly signed up for this retreat because I didn’t want to talk to anyone for a week. I had no idea that the experience would be profoundly transformative.
As soon as I walked into FCM I was warmly welcomed by the kind folks inside. I felt the peacefulness of the people and the grounds. During the week I was moved by the sweetness of all of us greeting one another with a bow; the generosity of other retreatants helping me with my work meditation tasks; the beauty of the late afternoon sunshine bathing the Meditation Hall in golden light; and the vibration of the bells pouring into the cracks in my heart. I felt like I belonged here.
On the final day of the retreat Fred asked us to close our eyes and envision what we were going to take forward from our retreat experience. I saw myself in a cozy room inside my chest. It had orange floors, a comfy chair, a warm blanket, a little table with a salt lamp, and my favorite mug of tea. My heart was there too, as tall as myself.
I remembered that on the first day of the retreat my intention had been to welcome myself home. I had told myself to “be here now” to try to make that happen. But I realized during the closing circle that I hadn’t ever had a home inside myself to welcome myself into. Now I do. This retreat helped me create a home for my heart, and gave me the tools to maintain it.
When I remember to go slow; to feel the ground beneath my feet; to pay attention to my breath; to savor my food; to hear irritating sounds as “the voice of the Buddha;” to look deep into the core of my emotions and reactions and to be kind and gentle with myself— I’m tending to my home inside this body. I made a little Thich Nhat Hanh-style art for the walls of my heart’s home, it says “this is only the beginning but I am here.”
And I am here now. I have a lifetime of learning to do, and maybe I’ll always be at the beginning, but I’m so grateful to be here. Thank you.
Julia Berberan, a new FCM member who lives in Burlington, VT, aspires to spend more time in Florida.
Florida Community of Mindfulness, Tampa Center
6501 N. Nebraska Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
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