Stepping Free of Habitual Suffering

Our habit energy, invested in trying to control the world, leads to our suffering. The Buddha instructs us to lay down the burdens of life and experience freedom. Following the Buddha’s path insulates us from external conditions. This week Jeff shared a talk given by Mark Nunberg entitled, “Mountains are only heavy if you try to lift them”. Mark uses this simile to encourage us to develop a shift in perspective when we think about our “to do” list and other responsibilities. Among other guidance in the talk, Mark summarizes five principles of mindful awareness outlined in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, “Transformation and Healing”.

You can listen to Mark’s talk here:

Mentioned in the discussion was a poem by the Chinese poet Shiwu Qinggong, also known as “Stonehouse”:

the leaves in the stream move without a plan

the clouds in the valley drift without design

I closed my eyes and everything was fine

I opened them again because I love mountains

– Stonehouse

Subtle perspectives on the climate crisis

Our role in the climate crisis is usually understood as the heedless use of energy polluting the atmosphere, resulting in escalating temperatures which produce aberrations in the environment at large. Perhaps a greater depth of understanding can be discovered in the image of Indra’s Net, a symbolic representation of interdependence with ramifications in many dimensions in buddhist thought, from the personal to the metaphysical. Darryl framed our discussion of this deeper probe into the climate crisis this week drawing on excerpts from talks by Joanna Macy and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Darryl writes: when I consider what I need to travel through these times with the crises we are all aware of, I think of needing community, practice, tools, understanding (wisdom), inspiration and faith. Today I focused on the wisdom, inspiration and faith components.

You can listen to Joanna’s talk here:

And here’s Thich Nhat Hanh:


Coming out of nowhere

We have all had them, these “coming out of nowhere” moments when we are just here right now; when nothing happens but everything is different somehow. Ron guided our visit to this mysterious territory this week, drawing on the insights of a dharma talk by Brian Lesage, who leads us to look deeply into these simple jewels of the present moment.

You can listen to Brian’s talk here:

Also mentioned during the discussion was the book Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times.


The Greatest Question

As 2023 begins to unfold, we find ourselves in the midst of what Duane Elgin calls a “global initiation process for humanity”, with climate chaos intensifying suffering for all sentient beings. How can our meditation and mindfulness practices help us to work constructively with the anger and grief that naturally arise in response? Jane led us in exploring this question this week following a talk by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun from the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, coupled with several readings from various authors examining the value of meditation and mindfulness for effectively meeting this moment.

Jane read some poems during the session, including A Twelfth Century Poem from The Wild Edge of Sorrow, by Francis Weller, North Atlantic Books 2015

She also read additional material from the following books:

Coming Back to Life, by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, New Society Publishers 2022

Choosing Earth, by Duane Elgin, published by Duane Elgin as part of the Choosing Earth Project, 2022

The talk that was played was from a CD so we cannot link to it here, but you can listen to many of Pema’s talks on her website:

In the discussion, Darryl shared a podcast from Plum Village entitled “The way out is in”, which you can listen to here:


Just starting over

What does it mean to just start over? Under the eye of mindfulness it is a profound practice. When we cultivate the practice of starting over, we are reconnecting to the “wise” or “right intention” of the Noble Eightfold Path, renewing our intention to be present with our values at any given moment. This week Stephanie offered a dharma talk by Phillip Moffitt which speaks to the power of just starting over.

You can listen to Phillip’s talk here:

Stephanie also read the poem Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh:


Winter Solstice

The winter solstice has held a special place in the routines of many cultures throughout history. Its observance has varied considerably but there are countless traditions associated with the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. How does the theme of renewal and the rebirth of the wheel of seasons resonate with us today? What traditions are valuable to bring us more in touch with this one moment, which, like every other, will never come again. Payton led our sangha this Sunday, December 25th, as we tried to find out.

He read an article by Taylor Plimpton from Tricycle magazine, which you can find here:

The article includes a quote by the Japanese poet Issa:

New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

Payton also read a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”


The Obstacle is the Path

Turn all obstacles into the path for practice

What does it mean to say, “I will take this situation or relationship as a way for learning”? We look at so many patterns and we have to ask – is there learning?

This week, Eveline guided us with a talk by Donald Rothberg, “Taking Everything As An Opportunity For Learning”.  When we are open to experience, being present and looking carefully, we create room to be present with what is occurring and see the situation for what it is. This gives us the opportunity to respond skillfully, based on wisdom and (hopefully) a kind heart.

You can listen to the recorded talk here:


Being somebody and being nobody

This Sunday’s talk built upon last week’s talk about letting go of our clinging to the stories that serve to define our present and future experiences. Buddhism helps us loosen the limitations and dissolve the solidity of who we think we are, what we think we have.  But is it ever healthy to have a self? Lorilee shared Brian LeSage’s wisdom about how to skillfully use our stories and inevitable defining of a self, while living in freedom from non-attachment to it.

You can listen to Brian’s full talk here:


Clinging to nothing

The classical teachings of the Buddha are from time to time presented in very compressed form. Quoted in last weeks sangha discussion, this exchange between the Buddha and Kappa, in the Sutta Nipata collection, caught Sam’s particular attention:

“Having nothing, clinging to no thing:

That is the ‘island’, there is no other.

That is Unbinding, I tell you,

the total ending of aging and death”.

This week Sam guided our revisiting this pithy teaching through listening to excerpts from dharma talks by a variety of teachers.

Sam began by reading “Kappa’s Question“.

He then played excerpts from this Eugene Cash talk and this Jack Kornfield talk.


Learning from Nature

Don Skidmore, drawing from a talk by Brian LeSage, guided our reflections this Sunday, exploring different ways in which we enrich our practice and our life when we connect with nature as family rather than as spectacle, perhaps even choosing nature as our preferred locale for meditation. . . . Or . . .How to sit quietly in the forest with lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!

You can listen to Brian’s talk here: