Awareness and Mindfulness

At the Sangha this week we explored the meaning of the terms consciousness, perception, mindfulness and wisdom, and reflected on their role in the dharma and Buddhist practice.

The counterparts of these terms in Pali have very precise meanings. By way of contrast, there is no correlate in Pali for the word “awareness”, although it is a term that certainly evokes many of the ideas that are central to Buddhist thinking; there was interesting discussion of what this term signifies for us.

Margaret played excerpts from two talks, one by Guy Armstrong (, and the other by Joseph Goldstein ( Of particular note was Joseph Goldstein’s clear distinction between perception and mindfulness.


The inflection point of freedom

Mindfulness, or sati, is a term that has saturated American society and beyond.  We as meditators may consider ourselves to have a deeper or more authentic understanding of what this term means, potentially even proclaiming it the driver of our practice.  When we find ourselves lost in the fast pace of modern life though, there is benefit in revisiting this particular aspect of the eightfold path in order to slow down and regain our intention.  For without sati our actions and thoughts are grounded in reactivity, but with sati is choice.  Therefore, “sati is the inflection point of freedom.” 

Andrea and the sangha joined together in cultivating this stronger sense of freedom this past Sunday with a talk by Jill Shepard that offers some fresh perspectives on wise mindfulness. 

You can listen to the talk here:


Doubt, Help or Hindrance

In some dharma teachings, doubt is seen as the great opportunity to plunge into awakening. In others, it is understood as the last obstacle to overcome. How do doubt, faith and perseverance show up in your own practice — a help or a hindrance? Can they be both? This Sunday, Jane presented a talk by Sharon Salzberg to inspire reflection on these questions. You can listen to Sharon’s talk here:


Sense of identity

What most importantly contributes to the story of ourselves which we are constantly telling ourselves, the story of who we are and our relation to the world around us? How is it made? Does it seem to shelter us, or open up wide open spaces? Drawing upon a talk by Ajahn Sucitto, Don S. framed our exploration of this key question this week.

You can listen to the full talk here:



It’s a good bet that most of us seek after the experience of joy in our lives. The good news is, joy is inevitable! Narayan Liebenson addresses us from the Buddhist Forest Refuge to coach us to recognize, savor and cultivate joy in its various forms.

Lorilee facilitated this Sunday’s topic by sharing Narayan’s talk, visual images and our own reflections of joy in our lives.

You can listen to Narayan’s talk here:


The Comparing Mind

Most people probably consider ourselves open-minded, but all of us have hidden biases when it comes to viewing ourselves in relation to others or when viewing others in relation to ourselves. These sorts of mental formations appear only with the right trigger, and sometimes their effects are subtle enough that we are not even aware of their presence. To take a relatively simple example, how do you feel about bowing? Bowing to friends? Bowing to strangers? Bowing to statues? Bowing to those in power? How does this movement land on the mind?

During this week’s Sangha gathering, Payton explored three unwholesome comparisons – judging yourself better than another, judging yourself lesser than another, and judging yourself equal to another – with the aid of a talk by Christina Feldman.

You can listen to Christina’s full talk here:


Anger and reactivity

What makes it possible to respond rather than react in the face of a powerful emotion like Anger?  It’s not easy, and doesn’t come just by wishing for the better response.  Eric guided our investigation of reactivity and response, drawing on his own personal experience and practice as well as a dharma talk by Brian LeSage, with implications for our national as well as personal suffering.

Brian LeSage’s talk can be heard here:

Below is the guided meditation that Eric read to start our sitting together:

Feel the contact points of your body with the ground, the feet on the floor, the sit bones on the chair or cushion beneath you.  Can you feel a heaviness increase in these points as you inhale, sending the breath deep into the belly.

If it is available, can you gently rock forward on your sit bones so the top of your pelvis tilts forward, allowing your lower spine, the lumbar region, to take its natural curve.  At the same time, try to keep the head balanced  directly above the tailbone, tucking the chin just a bit, as if you were holding a grapefruit between the chin and the chest.  Can you feel a lengthening at the back of the neck?  Notice your shoulders, allowing them to relax away from the ears.  Now, as you inhale can you feel not only the heaviness in the contact points with the ground, but a lifting energy at the crown of the head, allowing you to find just the tiniest bit of extra space between each vertebrae, lengthening the spine, careful not to lose the strength and stability inherent in its curved shape.  

(take a beat)

In this way, we search for right effort, using balance rather than strain to counter gravity. 

(take a beat)

In this position, without judgment, and without trying to change anything, bring your attention to the breath.

5 min

Now, I invite you to recall a situation when anger arose in the mind and body.  Try not to pick the  most severe instance in recent memory, but perhaps a more mundane occurrence, like hearing something you didn’t like on the news, or a housemate leaving a mess, or someone being late for a meeting, or one of the myriad moments of anger caused by having to drive a car.  With intention and interest, allow the story to unfold and notice the emotions and thoughts associated with it.  Particularly, pay attention to what was happening the moment anger arose.  How did you feel about the person or situation that you felt was the proximate cause for anger in that moment?


Try to expand the story beyond emotion and thought into the more fundamental feelings in the physical body at the time and perhaps right before anger arose.  Were you hungry?  Hot?  Tired?  Rushed?  Or perhaps you were quite happy and the anger arose because you were knocked out of your pleasant feeling tone for some reason.

8 min 

As you recall this event,  how is your energy level now?   How is your breath now?  Is it long or short?  Shallow or deep?  Rough or Smooth?   The breath can be just a starting point.  Use the story of anger arising as a tool to provide you with physical sensations to explore anywhere in the body. 

10 min

Where in the body do you feel strong sensations associated with the story.  How do you feel in the Belly?  The Chest?  The Neck?  The Jaw?  Is there pressure?  Vibration?  Tension?  How is the temperature?  In this hopefully safe space we are trying to understand the phenomenology of anger so we can more easily recognize it when it arises unbidden.  

12 min

As we continue the meditation, try to attend more to feeling and less to thought.  But don’t force it.  Simply allow a release of story by slowly bringing more focused attention to feeling tone and energy level.

13 min

If the sensations become too strong or the story too sticky, try to take a wider view.  Bring your attention to the entire breath, lengthening and deepening the inhale and exhale.  Zoom out and take in the entire body : Scanning from head to toe.  You might open your eyes and take in the room or even look out a window at the sky.  If you need to, stand up and take some mindful steps.


Now, I invite you to bring to mind an everyday, simple pleasure.  A sunset.  The smell of your favorite coffee shop,  bakery, or flower.   Running into a good friend while out walking.  A cup of tea.  A puppy or kitten in your lap, wanting nothing more than a little scratch behind the ears.  How does this thought change your breath?  Your bodily sensations?  Can you use this image to engender a feeling of good will, that is, metta, towards this moment?  

17 min

If there is a pleasant sensation, such as a warmth in the chest or belly, or a tingling on the surface of the skin, see if you can sink into it and allow it to expand.  If not, simply bring to mind a pleasant image and an intention to breathe calmly, deeply, and slowly.  And remember an intention does not depend on its fruition.  In this practice, we are not trying to control the results of our intention, but merely noticing them.

19 min

I now invite you to send metta into the world.  Again, the effort here is on the intention, not the result.  I’ll offer a few phrases, or you can use your own, or simply imagine any feeling of good will you can generate spreading out in all directions.  

May this body find peace and ease.

May our loved ones be safe.

May all know the preciousness of this moment.

May we be happy.

In silence now….


Watering the good seeds already in our being

Thich Nhat Hanh’s iconic teaching about how we must water the “good” seeds in ourselves and others is exemplified all around us in nature. This is especially true during the height of summer, when gardens are bursting forth, the result of careful planting and tending. This week Ginny explored the work of tending to our own well being and becoming amidst all of the challenges in the world around us, watering the seeds that are inherent in us, but which await our cultivation if they are to flourish. 


From Tricycle Magazine spring 2022 Dharma Talk

Trusting the Unknown by Kaira Jewel Lingo


 “… when we are clear and sure about what we are doing, we are less open to the many other possibilities available. But when we let ourselves hang out in the space of not-knowing, there is enormous potential and life could unfold in innumerable ways. So rather than avoid and fear this place of uncertainty, we can embrace it and all its gifts.”

“In a sense, our culture, our society is dissolving. We are collectively entering the chrysalis: structures we have come to rely on and identify with are breaking down, and we don’t know what the next phase will be like. We are in the cocoon. Learning to surrender in our own lives is essential to our collective learning to move through this time of faster and faster change, disruption and breakdown.”

From This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley


 “There are those of us who are such serious people that to be playful feels foolish, and maybe it is. But I think when we give ourselves to play, the scope of our life expands. We become freer in our bodies. We give ourselves to imagination and make-believe. This takes down our defenses and allows us to move and be without expectation of immediate tragedy. After all, it is only in the anticipation of sorrow, that joy seems frivolous. We become so used to bracing for the next devastation, we don’t have time or emotional energy to rejoice.”


Jack Kornfield 4.25.22 Tending the Garden of the World, Tending the Garden of the Heart


Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson 

(highly recommend ☺)

p. 261 

“In Buddhist texts, consciousness is said to be a field, a piece of earth on which every kinds of seed is planted. On this field of consciousness are sown the seeds of hope and suffering, the kernel of happiness and sorrow, anger and joy. The quality of our life depends entirely on which seeds we garden and nourish in our consciousness.”

Closing poem

For Beauty 

by John O’Donohue

As stillness in stone to silence is wed,

May solitude foster your truth in word.

As a river flows in ideal sequence,

May your soul reveal where time is presence.

As the moon absolves the dark of distance,

May your style of thought bridge the difference.

As the break of light awakens color,

May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.

As spring rain softens the earth with surprise,

May your winter places be kissed by light.

As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance,

May the grace of change bring you elegance.

As clay anchors a tree in light and wind,

May your outer life grow from peace within.

As twilight pervades the belief of night,

May beauty sleep lightly within your heart.


Further footprints of emptiness

This Sunday, we continued our exploration of emptiness. Emptiness enables the wise heart to respond with fearlessness: without always protecting our own position, we can become deep listeners. Our being can be expansive and inclusive. Jeff shared a talk by Kittisaro “There Are No Footprints In The Sky” from a retreat at Spirit Rock in 2021. The talk touched upon a topic familiar from last week (contemplation of form & emptiness), and then went on to explore how, in the non-dual nature of the reality that Emptiness reveals, everything is sacred.

You can listen to the talk here:

The title of the talk, “There Are No Footprints In The Sky”, references part of the Dhammapada which you can read a discussion of here.

During the discussion, a quote by Democritus was shared:

[Democritus says:] By convention sweet is sweet, by convention bitter is bitter, by convention hot is hot, by convention cold is cold, by convention color is color. But in reality there are atoms and the void. That is, the objects of sense are supposed to be real and it is customary to regard them as such, but in truth they are not. Only the atoms and the void are real.

Books mentioned during the discussion:

Seeing that Frees by Rob Burbea

Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree by Buddhadasa


Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form

The Heart Sutra, with its proclamation that Form and Emptiness are identical, is among the most famous, widely read and frequently chanted of Buddhist texts. Over the centuries, practitioners have found it both puzzling and inspiring. Steve guided our reflections on this powerful Sutra this Sunday, drawing on excerpts from a talk by Gil Fronsdal and a recent commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh to help frame our discussion.

You can listen to Gil’s talk here:

Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation and commentary is available here: