The sense of lack

Consumerism, the “never enough” ideology, body image – how does living within a culture that highly values these concepts shape our thoughts and minds? Do we propagate them ourselves unintentionally? Are we doing this “life” thing right? Don S. guided our Sangha this week on the sense of “lack” in our practice, drawing on a talk by Brian Lesage.

You can listen to Brian’s talk here:


Emptiness and Art

It has been said that there is no such thing as an exceptionally creative human; all humans are exceptional because it is our nature to be creative. 

If there is truth in this, is it surprising that the Buddha taught little to  nothing about art or creativity?  

How do we consider art and the creative process from a Buddhist perspective?  

This Sunday, Steve led our exploration of these questions through contemplation, meditation, excerpts from a fascinating dharma talk, and group discussion.

A link to the talk is forthcoming.


Body/Mind: Bridging the gap

Many of us tend to think of the mind and the body as mostly separate phenomena. Of course we know they’re connected and depend on one another but in most practical situations we are dealing with either “my mind” or “my body”, not both together. In fact, when we’re overly tired or hungry and the mind has no energy we often only realize the connection after rest or food. 

The practice of Taiji (sometimes written Tai Chi) is a practical way to bridge that gap in everyday life, teaching us tools to better realize and improve the connection between mind and body, and most importantly, to relax both. This week, Payton guided our Sangha in a short Taiji lesson to help us play with what it means to let go of tension in the mind AND the body. 


How to be with difficult people

As we emerge from this global pandemic, we will have the opportunity to encounter people that we may find challenging.  Now it’s time to put our meditation practice to work.  We can draw upon the teachings of Wise Speech to deepen and to steady these encounters.  Drawing on a talk by Donald Rothberg, Lorlilee guided us in the exploration of the foundations of Wise Speech: Being ethical, being present and practicing empathy.

The talk is available here:


Thought loops and anxiety

Minds think. Sometimes minds think a little too much. Sometimes minds think a lot too much. The mind can get lost in a loop which affects our behavior and our relationships. One potential path leads to anxiety. Anxiety differs from fear in that is tends to be generalized. Fear is fear of something. Anxiety is more diffuse in focus but can become quite intense. This week’s sangha was led by Jeff H on this subject. Jeff’s notes are below:

I had a recent experience of anxiety which led me to choose it as our topic this morning. After I received my vaccination and was cleared to travel I started making trips to see family members. Three weeks ago I drove to Connecticut to see my Mom, then down to southern New Jersey for the beach and over to Delaware to see my nephew. My return trip brought me back through New Jersey and New York City on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The drive was long and stressful, with unpredictable drivers, heavy truck traffic and a very high level of stress. The following day I returned to Vermont in my electric car in a poorly planned trip that took over 7 hours instead of the usual 4 hours. At one stop in my trip I found myself in a situation in which my “fight, flight, freeze” response was triggered. The situation resolved itself within 30 minutes, but I could not lose the “amped up” feeling for the rest of the trip.

The following morning I still felt overwhelmed and realized that I was in a state of high anxiety. I wear a fitbit and noticed that my resting heart rate has risen by about 10% for the previous few days. Looking back, I realized that I had been eating mindlessly, including lots of sugar. I had also been stressed by lots of driving in places with constant traffic and very aggressive drivers. The “fight, fight, freeze” incident had finished the job. I needed to focus on self-care and regain my peace of mind. It took several days of healthy eating, sitting meditation and exercise to calm the body and mind. I was reminded that mental states have a big impact on physical states, and vice versa.

The following talk was given by Amita Schmidt at Cloud Mountain as part one of at two-part program on dealing with anxiety and other afflictive emotions. I found Amita’s guidance to be beneficial and hope that you will, too.

The talk that I shared:
Amita Schmidt, “Practices for Depression and Anxiety: Part 1

The second session which I did not play:
Emptiness Practices for Depression and Anxiety: Part 2

Elements of Amita’s talk which resonated with me include:

  • Believing a thought is the root cause of depression and anxiety
  • Unhook from thoughts
  • Go to the body
  • Return to our buddha nature

Labeling thoughts is a foundational tool for dealing with anxiety.  Many vipassana practitioners use labeling as a skillful means. Benefits of labeling include:
• Shifts the part of the mind dealing with stimulus, so that we can work with it skillfully
• Enables the possibility of not believing a thought, and not taking it personally
• Breaks the cycle of thought loops

Twisted thinking
• All or nothing thinking
• Overgeneralization
• Always and never
• Jumping to conclusions
• Mind reading
• Catastrophic thinking (worst-case scenario)
• Emotional reasoning (I think i am a failure, therefore I am a failure)
• Linking things together that really are not linked

Feelings are not facts

Look at whose business you are in
• Your business
• Other people’s business
• The world’s business

2/3 of business is not our own business

Making Stuff Up (MSU)
• Notice when you are creating a story
• Ask “Can I absolutely know that this is true?”
• If not, let go. It’s not working thinking or not worth solving

Middle of the night thinking

HALT can trigger anxiety

The mind lies:
“I can’t stand another minute of this!”
And then you stand another minute of it.

Ditch perfectionism
• Is anyone going to die from this?
• We are not in the Emergency Room
• How much is this going to matter 5 years from now?
• 1 month from now?
• Just be good enough
• Can you live with this version of you? It’s OK as it is.

It is THE life, not MY life
• Anxiety is always trying to control THE life
• It is hopeless to try to maintain control
• Worry does not keep us safe
• Enjoy the ride, be a passenger
• It is not hard, it is not easy, it is just THE life
• Anything after “I think…” is not worth it
• There is no truth to be found in the mind
• Keep going until all beliefs are gone

Come to your senses
• The body doe not lie
• Rest in an unaffected part of the body (hair, nails)

Return to your buddha nature


The wholesome and the unwholesome

As we practice living our lives, we are beset with the constant need to wisely discern which actions to take, and which to refrain from. In the historical teachings of the Buddha, we find a number of examples of people asking for instruction on how to make the correct choice. Most of the time the Buddha’s response is the same: he suggests that we compare the probable results of our actions to see if they are beneficial (wholesome) and cause no harm, or not beneficial (unwholesome) and do cause harm. We can take this advice to heart and use it as a way to make our paths more clear, but it’s not always easy to understand how to apply it.

This Sunday, Mike B. guided our Sangha on the topic of the Wholesome and the Unwholesome, helping us to understand the ways in which this ancient rubric can be applied to our lives today. The topic was centered on a series of talks recently given by Gil Fronsdal, which are available here:


What do we intend? How do we act?

Most of us have experienced the frustration of the disconnect between our intentions, and the way our days and lives actually unfold. In our gathering this Sunday Margaret guided our exploration of the connections between intention and citta.

Citta is the third foundation of mindfulness in the Satipatthana Sutta.  Citta is sometimes translated as “heart-mind”, or “mood of the moment”, but the following provides a perhaps useful motivation for using the Pali term “citta”:

“What we call mind is in reality different fleeting moments of consciousness succeeding one another very rapidly. Since “mind” has in psychology a meaning different from “mind” according to the Buddhist teaching, it is to be preferred to use the Pali term citta (pronounced: chitta).”  (From Cetasikas, by Nina van Gorkom.) 

We explored intention – widening the scope to incorporate the underlying intentions that drive our more impulsive, reactive actions.  We based our reflections on a talk by Ajahn Sucitto, titled “Rest Intention through Embodiment”.

You can listen to the talk by Ajahn Sucitto here:

We explored the way intentions that lead to actions are conditioned by Citta (heart-mind), noting that our Citta is accurately reflected in the body. Citta is connected to emotion, and also has an ethical component. We considered the way long term habits are embedded in Citta (this relates to the notion of karma).  In this framework for thinking about intentionality, meditation serves to calm and settle the body, to disengage from reactivity. The intentions that arise from this calm and settled state lead us to more skillful ways of being. 

Also provided was a guided meditation by Chas di Capua that some used during our sitting:


The Value of the Undependable

Even when we seem to pay objective attention to the flow of our experiences, we often impose a scale of value upon them — pleasing or unpleasing, likable or not — as if this will usher us toward a more pleasant existence. The inconstancy and undependability of phenomena are not our focus. Yet giving our attention directly to the fleeting, changing, unreliable nature of our experience can be precisely the approach that brings us peace and freedom. Wendy guided our reflections on this slippery topic this week, drawing on excerpts from a dharma talk by Nathan Glide titled “Anicca and Vedana”

“Anicca and Vedana” Nathan Glyde 2021-02-02


The Pitfalls of Mindfulness Practice, the Promises of Making Mistakes

What are the ways in which some Mindfulness trainings conflict with others?  How can confusion bring clarity, even as clear ideas can lead us so deep into tangles?  Many of us were taught to meditate in quiet environments by teachers whose teachers’ teachers were Forest Monks, practicing in the blooming buzzing confusion that wild nature offers.  What can we learn from our roots?  Michael guided our reflections this week as we develop some of these themes that sprouted in last Sunday’s sangha. 


The Here and Now

Ever since the publication of Ram Dass’s “Be Here Now” in 1971, most everyone with a spiritual inclination has assumed that here and now are where and when we want to be as fully as possible.  It’s also true that these terms can be quite nuanced, even surprising.  Sam guided our reflections on this terrain this past Sunday, drawing on excerpts from a talk by Eugene Cash and a guided meditation by Tara Brach. 

“The Shock of the Now” by Eugene Cash at the SFIMC, 8-4-19

“Meditation:  Letting Go into Living Presence” by Tara Brach at the IMC of Washington DC, 5-5-21

Sam read the poem “This Shining Moment in the Now” by David Budbill

and the following excerpts from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook p. 365 by  Edward Espe Brown:

“Then I asked the Roshi if he had any advice for me as the cook.   His answer was straightforward and down to earth: ‘When you wash the rice, wash the rice;  when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots;  when you stir the soup, stir the soup’.

(later, referring to cooking) “Anyone can do this kind of work.   Whole worlds come alive.  Entering into activity you find the world appears vivid with spinach, lettuces, and black beans;  with cutting boards, baking pans, and sponges.    You let go of the imagined and hypothetical so that awareness can function in the world of things.  Where previously you may have hesitated or waited for the world to provide entertainment or solace, her you enter a world vibrant with the energy and devotion flowing out of your own being.   Food appears.”