Our End of Year retreat saw half a dozen people and was peaceful and uplifting as always. After the Maitreya Festival on January 1st, everyone left and the monks started a couple of weeks of rest, which included a whale watching outing kindly offered to us as an Enlightenment Day present. We were lucky and saw about at least 10 gray whales, and a huge pod of an estimated 1000 dolphins, jumping and playing all around the boat. What a treat.
The rest time ended with a group retreat on January 17 - 20. 16 people attended and enjoyed being here, it seemed a good start of the new year. On the first day of the retreat the heating system in the Sangha House gave up the ghost, but fortunately we have our wonderful wood stove, and plenty of wood that was given to us, to keep everyone warm and comfortable. The drought is showing itself in our valley; the local chaparral sage, manzanita and even scrub oaks are starting to die. Our well is holding steady for now, although the water is harder than it used to be. We are not planting anything new this spring until the rains come again, and we driving down to Ventura to get bottled water. If anyone wishes to help and bring us water when they come to the temple, that would be greatly appreciated.
The three day retreat on Compassion was well received. We used the book There is More to Dying than Death by Lama Shenpen Hookham as a spring board to explore the Buddhist concepts of love, wisdom and compassion in different terms - openness, clarity and sensitive response.
The Home Based Practice Month
Twelve people participated in the home based practice month in January while the temple was closed. They started off with making a personal commitment to a particular aspect of our practice for the month, and stayed in contact with each other via email as time went on. The experience was different for each person, most people found it to be a helpful way to freshen their practice. Like a retreat at the temple, it has a limited duration and the newness of it is inspiring and encouraging. And just like a temple retreat, it has a beginning and an end and cannot be carried for too long. If you are interested in joining the next month in July, please let the temple know. Following are some of the participants’ impressions:
“During my training I often thought that sitting caused hard things to happen in my life, so some times I dreaded it. There was a moment while sitting when I realized that the "hole" in my head that I had thought let 'bad" things out was actually an opening for the water of compassion to pour into those places.”
Teresa, with a bow.
“Thank you again, Gyozan, for helping us accomplish this “virtual” retreat. It was especially generous given your uncertainty about handling the technical part of group email communication. When I feel unsure of how to do something, I tend to avoid it or put it off, painfully so sometimes. You just dove on in. That in itself was encouraging.
Looking back at January, either my goal of sitting every day was too high or my effort was too low, but I fell far short. However, I sat more than usual, and I was more conscious of the call to sitting even when I did not do it.”
“My “hectnisity” factor was quite high in January, but while some of that really did eat up all my waking hours, I was faced with the facts that:
It was my choice to devote energy to Activity X rather than sitting, which revealed to me my underlying assumption that sitting can always wait until later and does not substantively affect everyday life the way Activity X does. Wow. When I say that out loud, it sure doesn’t sound right!
I may be in a constant pattern of over-committing, thinking all along that “this is just temporary, a timing fluke of some kind that will soon pass.” Hmmm. Wondering about that one more now. It makes a somewhat gratifying and socially acceptable screen conveniently blocking my view of more urgent core issues. And time is short. Turning 60 reminded me.
I assume that when I travel or have an unusual situation of some kind, I get a free pass not to sit. As if the universe is saying “Oh heavens, she can’t possibly sit when she doesn’t have her cushion, or it’s not the right time of day, or there’s only 5 minutes, or she’s not at home.”Seeing this silliness more clearly may be helping to push away an obstacle.
If I disappoint myself, or someone else, or even if I think I have, I tend to pull away and avoid the embarrassment or the expected disapproval of not succeeding 100%. Last year I realized rather abruptly what an approval-addict I am and how it affects most areas of my life. Shutting down and pulling away are not mature or helpful responses to imperfection. Yet I was even doing this with sitting toward the end of the month. It is not adult behavior and I want to let go of it. So even this last week of poor effort on my part has helped me glimpse something I’m always turning away from. Help comes from all quarters!
I was warmed and stimulated and helped by some of the many frank self-appraisals I read, and the different topics that people were working on. Usually I recognized those difficulties in myself as well, and read the messages with great interest. This is good for me, as the most challenging of the Triple Treasures for me is the Sangha Treasure. People are messy, and I am somewhat introverted, so I tend not to turn toward the Sangha for help. When help comes from that quarter, it is always a great relief and generates a lot of gratitude in my heart.
I think it’s fair to say that while my goal was not met, and regular sitting does need more effort, still a lot was gained by this retreat, and I must thank everyone for being there.”
In Gassho, Day
“A bit more on the Sangha in which I took full refuge in January and continue to feel in their embrace: I think I had expected it to be a bit more like my accountability circle, where we would have to account for the ways in which we'd kept up our commitments. Instead, guess what? Total immersion into Buddhism, where you're on an honor system and there's no pushing from the outside. That was totally new for me. And very interesting to see how I then ended up being my own accountability checker. Brought a smile to my face. It was also curious how other people's commitments rubbed off on me, and they reminded me of small ways in which I could stay on the path. Most of the other members were in different stages of life, with grown kids, so it was interesting to see how, even then, it can be challenging to find the time to sit or simply eat a meal mindfully. I loved the notes everybody sent, and found them very helpful.”
“I'm still sitting at least five days a week, many times six. Just a half hour in the morning, it's been tricky to find a time in the evening to add at least ten minutes. I'm allowing that it will happen when I'm ready. Some days I see the wall and I can listen to my breath and sounds outside and watch my thoughts. Some other days, my little watch sounds the alarm and I've just been planning the day for thirty minutes. I really have to laugh out loud when that happens. What else is there to do? I learned this from the Sangha, too: be gentle with yourself. Someone confessed being harshly critical when they didn't sit regularly, and many chimed in with like experiences. It made me cry to think we're so painful to ourselves, and I decided to give that up. I'm 80% there. That's a remarkably different feeling.”
"Hectnisity" - I like that word!
This month has been very helpful in leading me to see more clearly whereI need to apply effort parts of my training. Rather than a quick and final solution to anything, I increased to continue to pay more attention to the things that need work.
Thanks for all the comments of everyone. You never know how words may be useful to others.”
to The Triple Treasure, Brandt
“Thank you Gyozan,
I too appreciate the month long trial of naming something I needed to work on and talking to others, whom I may or may not know, about it. think I held back a little because I was unsure of what we were doing, and I didn't know the people I was talking with. next time I think I would write more. I feel I know everyone a little bit better. we open it up to others in July or keep working in this group?
This was a good introductory experience for me. is often very hectic here, but that's ok - I need to practice in the hectnisity of life.”
With bows, Sally
“We just concluded our January practice month ably coordinated by Gyozan. It was a gentle way to practice, not intense like a formal Retreat but served as a gentle reminder to reflect on the practice. Just to be aware that you're part of a group and just to get emails from group members serves like a gentle gong, "Pause, attend, reflect." We will be doing this again. Thank you for getting us started.”
In gassho, Steve
“The January practice with the group organized by Gyozan is almost at an end. It has been a month where I endeavored to set aside time, at least 15 minutes a day, to sit and be still. I began by having a scheduled time to do this, but found that to be unworkable.
Unworkable because of distractions, interruptions, and noise. When I had to abandon my chosen time, another time slot would open up. Also, I looked for ways to be quiet in the middle of activity. While not actually sitting, I found it restful to walk slowly and measure each step, or listen to sounds while I was not making noise. I sat and watched the sun cross the trees lower and lower, birds thought I was a rock and fluttered around me. Moments like this I would not have had without this intensive month even though it is always available.
I have learned to slow down, there is always a way to carve out a little time.
I found it helpful to know that others were sitting with some of the same difficulties as we checked in with each other throughout the month. I hope to carry on with this month. Gyozan did a wonderful job coordinating.”
With bows, Jari
“I found the January Training Month particularly helpful. I picked goals that I was likely to follow through with and felt like they would benefit me in my daily life. Some were obvious, including more sitting zazen, some reading in Buddhist texts, and writing in my journal. Others involved looking at ways in which my mind can easily focus on being judgmental towards myself and others or latch onto fears. I found using the backward flowing breath to notice and offer up troubling thoughts in a gentle way to be a kind way to let go of the negativity. Mostly, my goal was to work on having more integration of my Buddhist training into my daily life throughout my day. I had no intention or belief that I was going to accomplish every goal on my list every day, but the goals and the practice of them served as a grounding and frame for the month. Waking up each day, knowing that others, who were participating, were also having the intention to follow practices that would help their own training, felt supportive and gave a boost to staying faithful to my commitments. Having our congregation spread so far geographically, using the computer in this way to "train together" seemed particularly beneficial. Hearing someone use the word "tenderness" or talk about being more honest in the way they look at their behavior, would resonate for me looking at myself and how I walk through the day. I am looking forward to doing this again, hopefully, in July.”
In gassho Gyozan
“Dear Gyozan, Thanks so much for your care, warmth and gentleness in keeping us all aboard for our month together!
Medical issues arose for myself, my spouse, and also a very close and dear friend all about the same time(nothing life-threatening), and provided very real grist for the mill of training with you all this past month.
My special focus centered on being more fully present in the now, and bringing mindfulness to whatever task was at hand. I also wanted to memorize more fully the Scripture of Avalokiteshwara proved very timely and a great comfort as it helped still my mind: "Let him only think on Kanzeon's great power, at once the sea will all compassion be."
I appreciated knowing we were all making a special effort in our training, and I'd like to do it again in July.”
In gassho, Dee