Reflections on China, 2017 (with Photos)

Summer has nearly come and gone. Like so many, it has been busy, trying to fit in as much travel, time with friends and family, time in nature, and time alone in meditation as possible.

Like last year, this summer I joined the Woodenfish Foundation's Humanistic Buddhist Monastic Life Program in China as a member of the core faculty team. We met in Shanghai in late June and traveled to nearby Ningbo, where area mountains provide an apt setting for Buddhist monastics.

Shanghai

Shanghai

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A panorama of our temple complex, Jin'e, outside of Ningbo, China.

A butterfly on bamboo in the bamboo forest surrounding our temple.

A butterfly on bamboo in the bamboo forest surrounding our temple.

The rural setting of the monastery was perfect. The air was clear (a big deal in eastern China) and crisp. Rain fell regularly, sometimes in torrential pours. The food was delicious, the air conditioning worked perfectly.

Students arrived soon after we had and we quickly entered into a routine of morning meditation, tai chi, breakfast, and academic classes, followed by lunch, rest, and an afternoon of cultural activities and further meditation.

This was my second year with the team and things, much more than before, seemed to fall very nicely into place. This was particularly true with our teaching team: Peter, Karl, myself, and Guttorm. I had the pleasure of covering aspects of the study of religion, early Buddhist thought and practice, modern mindfulness, and Yogacara. 

Sadly, my time there was shorter than usual - just 16 days instead of a full 4 weeks. Nonetheless, it was a great opportunity to reconnect with friends and Ven. Yifa, and to dig deeply into material I otherwise do not get to explore as thoroughly. And it was good to get away from the constant news cycle of American politics. Each trip plants more seeds of potential, connection, dharma, no matter how short or busy. 

Ven. Yifa instructing students in front of our main shrine room

Ven. Yifa instructing students in front of our main shrine room

Ven. Yifa telling students about the meaning of shaving one's head in Buddhism - including the spiritual (and practical - no shampoo or conditioner!) benefits.

Ven. Yifa telling students about the meaning of shaving one's head in Buddhism - including the spiritual (and practical - no shampoo or conditioner!) benefits.

One of our cultural activities included a visit from Shaolin monks. Along with a show of their proficiency in martial arts, they gave teachings on music and calligraphy. 

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Students in formal robes for a chanting ceremony in our main shrine room, guided by Ven. Yifa.

Students in formal robes for a chanting ceremony in our main shrine room, guided by Ven. Yifa.

One last photo op before my departure. From L to R in back, Karl, me, Peter, & Guttorm. 

One last photo op before my departure. From L to R in back, Karl, me, Peter, & Guttorm. 

Mindfulness Retreat: Journey into Silence

Join us for this opportunity to do the work of journeying within. I will be leading a silent retreat at a beautiful center on Flathead Lake in N.W. Montana. 

The retreat will be from Friday, October 6 at 5pm (silence beginning at 7pm) until Sunday, October 8 at 1pm (with silence ending at noon). Long-time meditators will see this as a very short retreat, less than two full days, but it will feel incredibly long for those who have never experienced this sort of period of silence and meditation. 

I've written some thoughts out (and borrowed liberally from some excellent writers) that you can read here: Silent Meditation Retreat: What to Expect. It will be updated, and those who sign up for the retreat will get more information and the opportunity to speak with me about any questions or concerns. 

Like meditation itself, it is a wonderful opportunity to get to better know your mind and to bring some semblance of order and calm into your world. But it helps to have a group of committed fellow meditators/retreatants with you along with a guide - someone who has done many retreats like this in the past and has guided new meditators into and through their practice. 

More information and registration can be found at Merlin CCC

Mindfulness Workshop June 18 at Dancing Lotus Center

Join us in this workshop to learn basic mindfulness and compassion practices, improving your well-being through deeper awareness of yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness techniques have been proven to help those with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, sleep difficulties, poor concentration, low self-esteem, burnout, and more. We will explore formal meditation practices, sitting and walking (with postures to accommodate all abilities), along with informal practices such as mindful talking and listening.

Sunday, June 18, 11:10am-1:40pm

See the poster below and visit the Dancing Lotus Center (click on event) to register. Space is limited.

1/2 day retreat for teens in Helena, Montana

Join us Saturday, June 17 from 10am - 4pm for a unique workshop dedicated to helping high school aged teens build essential life skills. We will feature elements of psychology, life coaching, philosophy, and mindfulness, with individual and group activities; all in a natural environment near Marysville, MT (transportation to/from provided). 

We will begin and end at the Reeder's Alley Interpretive and Convention Center (101 Reeder's Alley, Helena MT 59601).

Full scholarships are available (normal cost is $80/person) via the Helena nonprofit, the Awareness Network.

See the poster below or click here: https://merlinccc.org/philosophy-workshops/ for more information and registration.

Grief, Loss & Heartbreak Workshop June 16

5:30 - 9pm at the Reeder's Alley Interpretive & Convention Center.

I'm very grateful to be taking part in a second workshop on this topic with Troy and Marisa. This is a short period of time, but it gets very deep very quickly. Come with a heavy heart and leave with an open heart. This is not an empty promise, nor is it as radical a transformation as it might seem. 

It is just a matter of orientation; seeing that the heart was open all along. 

From the website:

Grief can manifest for a number of reasons — the death of a loved one, loss of a job, a change in status, issues related to personal health and the environment, and more. It can also include numerous emotional components — sadness, loss, angst, frustration, anger, and despair. How do we deal with these feelings? What sorts of things can we do to stay afloat and/or dive in?

$60 per person

Hot tea, meditation cushions, and chairs provided.  

A unique evening workshop for individuals struggling with grief, loss & heartbreak incorporating elements of philosophy, psychology, mindfulness meditation, reflection, sharing, and simple & effective tools to help navigate grief.  Workshop facilitators include Troy DaRonco, Justin Whitaker, Ph.D., and Marisa Diaz-Waian, M.A.  For more information please contact Marisa at marisa@merlinccc.org or #406-439-5788.

Register for Our Workshop at Merlin CCC

Exploring Buddhism, Mindfulness, and Asian Culture in Helena, Montana

When I first returned to Helena in 2015 after 15 years of study in Missoula, England, India, and China, I was sad to find out that there wasn't much Buddhism to be found. I was spoiled, I suppose, by Missoula - which has at least six different Buddhist communities - and life in larger cities in the UK. There were, and are, two great Zen groups here, one in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing and one in the Soto Zen tradition, affiliated with the San Francisco Zen center. There is also a small Tibetan Buddhist group that, to my knowledge, does not yet have regular meetings.

But now, and particularly in the next few weeks, Helena is a virtual hotbed for Buddhism (well, slight exaggeration, perhaps). Have a look at some of the upcoming opportunities to find out more:

Sunday, April 23-April 30:

Open Circle Sangha, in the Soto Zen tradition, is hosting Dharma Teacher Layla Smith in a week-long practice period starting Sunday, April 23 at 8:30 a.m. at 825 Helena Avenue. All events are supported by dana and no pre-registration is required. The session on Sunday will end around 11:15 and will include a Dharma talk. Saturday, April 29, is an all-day practice from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. On Sunday, April 30, the practice will conclude with a morning (8:30-10:30) meditation and service. In between are morning and evening shorter sessions and a Wednesday evening class. My suggestion is, if you are interested, attend the April 23 practice session to learn more about the practice forms and get the full schedule. You might also contact opencirclesanghamt@gmail.com.

Jam-Tse-Ling Practice Center of Helena Welcomes Back Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche. Sunday, April 23rd he will offer a public talk on "How to Meditate" followed by a meditation practice, 2pm - 4:30pm at the Lewis & Clark Library.

Unfortunately, we've missed two other days of wonderful events yesterday and Friday:

Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen Master and the reincarnation of Dzog-chen Gyaltsab Thodo Rinpoche. He was born and raised in Tibet and, as a child, became a Buddhist monk. He has received numerous teachings throughout his life from Forty Masters representing all five schools of Tibetan Buddhism including H.H. the Dalai Lama. He holds direct lineage to Padmasambhava (the founder of Tibetan Buddhism). Rinpoche has been helping western society generate more love and compassion through his eleven books about philosophy, life, nature, joy, peace and Tibetan Buddhism. Also, he travels all over giving Tibetan Buddhist teachings and bestowing empowerments.
Teachings at Lewis & Clark Library
All events are free. Donations are appreciated.
Friday April 21st: A public talk on "Six admirable qualities to improve your life and spiritual practice" - Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Joyful Endeavor, Meditation, and Wisdom - divided in two sessions, 11am - 12:30pm and 2pm - 3:30pm.
Saturday April 22nd.: For Buddhist practitioners. "Vajrasattva Empowerment" along with a teaching on Vajrasattva and meditation practice. In 3 sessions: 10:30am - 12:30pm, 2:00pm - 3:30pm, and 3:45pm - 4:45pm. There will be a potluck dinner following the teachings.

For information contact JAM-TSE-LING [ jamtseling108@gmail.com ] 406-431-3369

UPCOMING:

Tuesday, April 25 (and continuing thereafter):

Flowing Mountains Sangha (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Meets Tuesdays, St. John’s Building, 25 South Ewing (use entrance from parking lot in back of building off S. Rodney St.). Walking & sitting meditation, 6:30 & 7:00 p.m., program, 7:30 p.m. ~ closing 8:30 p.m.

Monthly Programs:

1st Tues: Mindfulness Trainings (guidelines for ethical living)
2nd Tues: Meditation (instruction, practice)
3rd Tues: Sharing the Way (teachings, talks)
4th Tues: Nurturing Wisdom & Compassion (discussion, guided practice)

for more information email flowingmountains@gmail.com 

Wednesday, April 26 (and continuing thereafter):

Join us at 7pm for this FREE (donations for the establishment of a Buddhist community accepted) talk and guided meditation. Each week we will discuss a period in the development of Buddhism and explore a couple guided meditations. Tea and snacks provided. 200 E. Broadway (upstairs, use East side entrance ramp). For more information email justin@mindfulmontana.com

 

Thursday, April 27

Free Thailand SlideShow: Biking, Trekking,Eating! with Rick Dendinger Hosted by Dancing Lotus Center / learn more.

Thursday, May 4 (and going 4-weeks)

INTRODUCTION TO MINDFULNESS: Scientific studies have shown that regular meditation and mindfulness practice can reduce stress, improve immune system function, help us to manage pain, decrease anxiety, improve relationships, and more. In this course, we will explore mindfulness from three key perspectives: (1) its Buddhist ethical and philosophical roots, (2) the development of a Western, scientific, secularized practice, and (3) our own personal experience with a variety of well-known practices. This course will explore mindfulness historically and scientifically, but most importantly, we will learn several practical meditations to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives. Learn more and Sign Up.

 

Sunday, May 7

From 3pm-5pm we will have a interfaith panel discussion, "ON FAITH", featuring representatives from Helena's smaller religious communities: Baha'i, Buddhism, Sikh, and Judaism. Come and learn about these religions from local practitioners, enjoy some worldly foods (at 3pm), and stay for Q&A after short presentations.

A Guided Meditation for Fear

Fear can grip us tight and stop us in our tracks. As humans, we evolved with fear as a healthy and necessary aspect of our emotional inventory. Those humans who didn't fear saber-toothed tigers and rattle snakes didn't survive to pass on their genes. However, by necessity, the humans who did survive lived mostly "in the moment" - resting, searching for food or shelter, preparing it, working, and resting again. 

Today we have the amazing, but often unfortunate, luxury of not living in the moment. That means we can relax a little. Or it might mean that we take that time to replay negative events from our past, or ruminate about possible problems in the future. Again, some of this is great (and certainly if you stumble upon a rattle snake, fear is a great response!), but it can get out of hand and we can find ourselves locked in fear despite being in a perfectly safe, comfortable place and situation.

Below is a short guided meditation for dealing with fear. It can be used for dealing with pain or anxiety as well. The goal of the meditation is simply to move out of the "head" and into the body, where breathing sensations arise and fall away in each present moment. 

And here is an edited copy of that audio with my voice amplified just a bit: