Monday, October 24, 2016

Concentration - The Collected Nature of Mind

These are notes from Joseph Goldstein’s book “Mindfulness”.
It is the last of the section about the four qualities of mind:  ardency, clearly knowing, mindfulness and concentration.

One of the benefits of meditation is to find a clearer, calmer mind.  This helps us in so many ways.  It helps us relax and be present, and it also helps us discern what we should do in each situation.  We aren’t filled with thoughts and stories of our own projections.  It is a mind that is free from our personal desire system and also a mind that knows the truth about samsara – the wandering-in-circles world.  We will never find the wholeness and happiness we seek from the appearances and stories of our world.  We have to find this truth, this discontent with regards to the world, in order to have enthusiasm about practice.

What surprised me about this section was Goldstein’s emphasis that concentration brings joy and relaxation.

He quotes Ajahn Sucitto speaking of Samadhi thus:

Receiving joy is another way to say enjoyment, and Samadhi is the act of refined enjoyment.  It is based in skillfulness.  It is the careful collecting of oneself into the joy of the present moment.  Joyfulness means there’s no fear, no tension, no “ought to” There isn’t anything we have to do about it.  It’s just this.

Early in my Buddhist life, I felt the opposite about concentration.  It was an intense and very effortful focus on staying with an object; almost military in its discipline.  Maybe even the opposite of joy, until I opened up to the rapture of concentration.  Then, I was attached to the sensual delight of rapture for another several decades.  I laugh.

But in this reading from the book, the emphasis is on skillful behavior, sila, ethics, as the skillful means that is the basis of non-harming that is the foundation of joy.   We do not want a mind that is filled with worry, regret and agitation.

In the stillness of Samadhi, we become more aware of our actions and their consequences.  As our mindfulness gets stronger, we see more clearly the unending ego-centricity of our minds.  This is a good thing!  We have a vast field of moments in which to practice pivoting our ego-centric desires into skillful behavior.  Dogen says we have 6 and a half billion moments in a day to continuously practice pivoting our behavior.

The strengthening of concentration comes through the continuity of mindfulness.
In practicing continuity, we learn to skillfully interweave the two approaches to concentration
1.     Object concentration – placing our mind on a single focus, the breath, the sound, our walking etc.  This can definitely help moving away from the hindrances and interrupting our monkey minds- the constant chatter in an untrained mind.
2.     Choiceless awareness – one-pointedness on changing objects called momentary Samadhi or in Zen vernacular, Shikantaza, receiving the moment just as it is.

Object concentration gives us the strength to follow choiceless awareness without being distracted.  After some time, we get an intuitive feel for which approach to concentration is appropriate at any given time.  We have the flexibility of mind to move between concentrating on an object and being open to everything according to the circumstances.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mindfulness, the Gateway to Wisdom

Continuing with notes from Joseph Goldstein’s “Mindfulness” book.
We are working with the section on the four qualities of mind: Ardency, Clearly knowing, mindfulness, and concentration.

Mindfulness is much more than what our pop-culture thinks of it, which is simply something about returning to the present moment.  The media often says- this was a Zen moment.  They refer to a peaceful, quiet moment.  I smile.  After studying Zen for 40 years, I know it’s more than just that!  And it’s often difficult!

Goldstein presents several meanings and functions of mindfulness:
·      Present-moment awareness
·      The practice of Remembering
·      Balancing the Spiritual Faculties
·      Protector of the mind
·      Fabricated and unfabricated mindfulness

Present-moment awareness is the aspect of mindfulness we are most familiar with. We often call it bare noting or non-interfering awareness.  It is the opposite of absentmindedness.  It is a type of non-judgmental receptivity or listening to what is actually happening.

The Practice of Remembering reminds me of Ram Das’s book title “Be, Hear, Now!”  But actually that’s not the book title!  It is “Remember, Be, Hear, Now”.  That Remember might be the most important word.  Do we remember to be mindful? Or are we on automatic most of the time?
What do we remember?
·      The virtues of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
·      Generosity
·      Ethical conduct
Remembering all the qualities of our practice, helps us to become more confident and self-respecting and allows us to really feel the possibility of awakening.

Balancing the Spiritual Faculties
            The Five Spiritual Faculties
·      Faith
·      Energy
·      Mindfulness
·      Concentration
·      Wisdom
We enhance our mindfulness when we notice one of these is in excess or deficient.  We can get into trouble if these are out of balance.  Too much faith and not enough wisdom can create being a fundamentalist and dogmatic.  Too much Concentration can cause us to be lost in states of mind.  Too much effort causes restlessness.  Too little effort causes torpor.  Etc.

Protector of the Mind.  I have always taught that we need to have huge strong guardians placed at the entrance of our minds.  These guardians have great discernment and can decide if a thought is wholesome or unwholesome.  These guardians allow the wholesome thoughts in and prevent the unwholesome from taking root.

These guardians also notice when our habituated habits based on our ego’s desire system are at play.  This type of mindfulness: sees a habituated habit and can have the strength and determination to interrupt it with a spiritual action.

In Buddha’s discourse on “The Two kinds of Thought”, he divides our thoughts into two kinds:
1.     Sensual desire, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of cruelty
2.     Renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will, and thoughts of non-cruelty

And Buddha says:

“As I abided thus, diligent, ardent and resolute, a thought of sensual desire arose in me.  I understood thus:
This thought of sensual desire has arisen in me.  This leads to my own affliction, to other’s affliction and the affliction of both; it obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties and leads away from Nibbana.  ….
Whenever a thought of sensual desire arose in me, I abandoned it, removed it, did away with it.”
And he applied these same thoughts to ill will and cruelty.

With wholesome states of mind, mindfulness takes a different form. We don’t need to be quite so actively engaged.  In fact, doing so would only lead to disturbance of mind and body.  We find a balance between active and receptive, doing and non-doing.

Fabricated and unfabricated mindfulness

Fabricated mindfulness is our concerted effort to stay mindfulness, sometimes called prompted mindfulness.  We are using our minds to stay mindful.  After a considerable amount of practice, sometimes this mindfulness becomes spontaneous and continues through the strength of its own momentum.  This is called effortless mindfulness.  In effortless mindfulness, sometimes the consciousness of the observer stops and there is no reference point for that which is observed.

Unfabricated mindfulness is our innate wakefulness of the mind’s natural state.
Our natural mind is like a mirror that reflects everything without value judgements. It is not something we create or develop, but something we need to recognize and come back to.

When these two types of mindfulness are in harmony, we bear the fruit of great ease. Our practice is simply let go, relax, and surrender into the natural unfolding.

From the Suttas:
The mind within itself is already peaceful.
When the mind is not peaceful it is following sense impressions and following the moods created by the sense impressions.
The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things, forgetting itself….
Our practice is simply to see the Original Mind

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Clearly knowing

Notes from Joseph Goldstein's book "Mindfulness; a practical guide to awakening"
Clearly knowing is one of the four qualities of mind: Ardency, Clearly knowing, mindfulness, and concentration.

Clearly knowing - Sampajanna

This is translated in different ways as clearly knowing, clear comprehension or fully aware.  This is a quality of mind that encourages mindfulness to be all-inclusive.  Mindfulness is more than just being present.  It is awareness of what is actually going on.  It demonstrates that mindfulness includes knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it.  We become aware of our purpose and the appropriateness of our action.  What is the motivation behind what we our doing?

We become aware of:

  • our desire
  • our decision to act
  • and the appropriateness of the action
Is this motivation and action skillful or not?  Useful or not?

Clear comprehension is part of the investigatory and wisdom aspects associated with mindfulness. It includes discernment in what is helpful and what is not helpful.  How does our action affect everyone else like a vibratory wave going through our communities.

It also includes our motivation.  Do we take actions to benefit all beings?

The more we understand our own minds, the more we understand other people's mind.
The more we understand how we create our suffering,  the more commonality we feel with all people's suffering and how its created.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Goldstein's mindfulness, "Ardency"

Hi, it's been quite a while since i posted a blog.  I have had several big changes in my life.  The main one is stepping down from the guiding teacher position at Clouds in Water Zen Center and teaching at a very minimal level.  The open space that stepping down has created has been good for me personally.  I need and still do need- time to recuperate from twenty years of teaching and leading a community.  But what came out of that is a kind of silence - Vilmalakirti's silence, i'm hoping. smile.
This blog had clearly been inspired by my teaching life and so fell silent as well.

But this morning, I had an idea for the blog.  I am beginning to study Joseph Goldstein's book called "Mindfulness; a  practical guide to awakening" on the Satipatthana Sutra,  and I had an urge to share my investigation on the blog.  So I'm going to begin to post short paragraphs, digesting what i'm reading.  What's more important than increasing our ability to be present?  So, we'll see how long this inspiration lasts!

From this great book:

There are four qualities of mind that the Satipatthana Sutra begins with.
  1. Ardency
  2. Clearly knowing: cultivating clear comprehension
  3. Mindfulness: The Gateway to Wisdom
  4. Concentration:  The collected nature of mind.

The first Chapter is on Ardency.

Joseph Goldstein calls it a balanced and sustained application of effort.  What sustains our practice through the ups and downs of life, and the ups and downs of our relationship to teachers and sanghas? He said, ardency also suggests warmth or passionate enthusiasm or devotion because we see the practice and dharma as really valuable.

How do we cultivate Ardency?

First, we reflect on the rarity of a precious human birth and the rarity of connecting to the dharma. He writes, " how many people who think of practice, actually do it.  How many people who start practice, actually continue."

Second, by reflecting on the ever-present quality of impermanence and ungraspability. He brings up that great impermanence verse which he translates slightly different then I do:

Whatever is born will die; 
whatever is joined will come apart; 
whatever is gathered will disperse; 
whatever is high will fall.

And thirdly, by reflecting on karma.  Everything that comes from our body, speech and thought has an effect on the world.  In fact,  the effects of our karma are the only things we "possess".  
Padmasambhava a famous Tibetan teacher said, “though my view is as vast as the sky, my attention to the law of karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Bodhidharma's Outline of Practice

Bodhidharma lived in the 5th or 6th century.  He is traditionally thought of as the man who brought Buddhism to China and is called the First Ancestor in China.  The “Outline of Practice” is his best known sermon.  I was refreshingly surprised at how current this treatise feels to me.  It is truly an outline of how Buddhist practice manifests in a human’s life.  I am going to paraphrase from the sermon so we can get a sense of how to understand it.

There are two ways to enter a Buddhist life.
1.     Entering by principle
2.     Entering by practice

1. Entering by principle.
The first way is to enter by experiencing the principle or eternal essence.  I like the interpretation of emptiness, which unpacks it as - that which lacks inherent existence.  Lacking inherent existence means each form is not a separate unit of life.  There is no unit independent from others.  You can extrapolate that by saying emptiness is truly the expression for interdependence.  It is acknowledging unity by seeing that there is no unit that is not interdependent with everything else.  We are a unified whole or a network of functioning.

We can experience “the principle” (suchness or emptiness) in two ways. 
a.     We can experience the principle by a silent, nondiscriminating, inactive moment of meditation.
b.     Or we might experience the principle by truly experiencing inter-being.  Forsaking the idea of others as opposed to the self.  Or by seeing that so-called ordinary reality and the mystery itself, all naturally and inherently co-arise.  They are not ever separated.

The Second avenue for entering the Way is through practice.  Bodhidharma lists four practices that enable this actualization of the Way.
2.     Entering by practice
a.     Enduring the results of past actions
b.     Practice of acting according to conditions
c.      Practice of seeking nothing
d.     Practicing the dharma.

Enduring the results of past actions is the practice of accepting the karma from your past.  There is nothing you can do about your past actions but accept their consequences.  This is an indication of the First Noble Truth.  Katagiri Roshi called it the sacred act of accepting suffering.  The suffering that is occurring in this moment is the energy of this moment produced by conditions in the past. As Pema Chodron often says, over and over,  “Learn how to stay.  Stay, stay, stay with the energy of the moment.”  I learn, especially through meditation, to increase my capacity to stay with the feelings of the moment.  If these feelings are allowed to be experienced, they will release themselves.  I have learned to trust that last statement.  Experience will release itself.   Bodhidharma wrote, “Upon meeting hardship, do not grieve, but just recognize from whence it came.”

Practice of acting according to conditions.   We live in a world of ever-changing outer conditions.  The Eight Worldly Winds are constantly blowing: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame.  But no matter what condition we find ourselves in, we can practice equanimity.  Bodhidharma said, “Unmoved by (the Eight Worldly Winds) pleasure, we are steadfastly in accord with the Way.”

Practice of seeking nothing.  This is a very difficult practice.  If every moment is whole and complete in and of itself, then there is nothing to seek. Every moment is connected with the Whole.  And yet our discursive thinking is always wanting more.  Our ego-centric minds are inherently greedy.  Our practice encourages us to go against the trend of human life and let go of covetousness and greed.  Bodhidharma encourages us to let go of our thoughts, which interpret everything as not enough, and stop seeking more.  This sutra says, “To seek is but bitterness, Non-seeking is Joy.”

Practicing the dharma.  It behooves us to keep in our minds continuously the teaching.  We need deep familiarity with the main teaching of the inherent emptiness of all things. Everything is constantly changing and therefore, there can be no centralized self, or no separate independent unit of existence.  Because everything is constantly in motion, the boundaries between “things” become porous and each “thing” influences the other.  If we have enough concentration to keep this in the forefront of our minds, how we act and relate to our so-called ordinary life changes.  This is deeply transformative. 

Practice has a quality of vow in it.  We vow to over and over, notice when we are off, and return to the teaching.  Notice when we are distracted and return to this moment.  Notice when we are turning the wheel of the three poisonous minds; greed, anger and ignorance, and return to the dharma teaching.
If we can do this, each step of our life IS the essence.  Each step turns samsara into nirvana.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book of Serenity #39 “Wash Your Bowl”

I love studying Joshu (Japanese) or in Chinese, Zhaozhou (778-897).  He has been called the silver-tongued teacher because his koans are utterly simple and profoundly deep and instructive.  Joshu’s instructions are so simple and ordinary that they feel like they are barely there, but I still love them.  It is their nakedness that deeply instructs the barebones of Zen.

I also would like to preface any explanation or unpacking of a koan by saying that no one person has the definitive answer.  Your understanding of the koan and metaphor is equal to mind.  They are instructions given in images or stories and not just intellectual directions.  Once you have tasted your own understanding of a koan, the image and taste of the story can stay with you forever like a friend.  I have found, however, that a teacher’s sharing of their relationship with the koan, often helps me savor the koan on my own.

This koan, “Wash your bowl”, I often use as the base of mindfulness practice.  If we go beyond just the case story and use the whole of the commentaries in the Book of Serenity, the koan will also deepen into itself.   The existential aspect of our teaching is deepened as we read the commentary.  Form and emptiness or phenomena and noumena, meet in the present moment.  This is the quintessential teaching in Buddhism.  The sacred and profane meet in the Now!  Are you there to meet it? That question is our practice.  How is the universe participating in eating breakfast or doing the dishes?  As Thich Nhat Hanh has so beautifully phrased it- can we see the whole universe: the sun, the rain, the field of oats, the farmer, the trucker, the grocer, the cook, in our bowl of oatmeal?  This idea is the technical term in Buddhism - interdependent co-arising.  In washing your bowl, the whole universe is present.
Let’s explore this.

A monk asked Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery: please give me some guidance.”
Joshu said, “Have you had breakfast yet?”
The monk said, “Yes I have eaten.”
Joshu continues, “Then go wash your bowl.”

This is the ultimate prescription for mindfulness.  Be fully present to what you are doing and then when you are done, do the next thing.  It follows the slogans:

“Do the next right thing.”
“Do the next appropriate action.”

Our admonition in Zen is to stay in the present moment’s activity.  Often we can be that specific about our moments.  Mostly though, the storyline of our life can become the foreground and we have to be a little coarser by saying a slogan like:

“One day at a time.”

Working with that slogan, I have found that one-day is too broad.  I often split it down into; what am I supposed to do this morning, this afternoon, this evening?  In working with this slogan I have found a secondary instruction:

If you can’t do something about your “worry” today,
            Turn it over to the universe’s care.
If there is no action that can be done in this one day, let it go.

In order to let go or to turn something over, I have to have cultivated a lot of trust that there is a universal energy to rely on.  Trust that cause and effect is always working and underlying my activity.  Which means that if I take care of this one day in a wholesome manner, the effect of these activities will produce a positive result some time in the future (even if it is in the next lifetime! Katagiri Roshi would add and laugh).

Let’s continue this study with The introduction to the koan:
When food comes you open your mouth; when sleep comes you close your eyes.  As you wash your face you find your nose, when you take off your shoes you feel your feet.
At that time, if you miss what’s being said, take a torch and make a special search deep in the night.  How can you attain union?

Again and again, we find that we miss the mindfulness of the moment, don’t we? That’s what Wansong (1166-1246), the commentator of the Book of Serenity, was referring to when he says, “if you miss what’s being said.”  Many times we miss receiving the moment as it is.  If you consistently miss your life as it goes by, please, Wansong beseeches us, take a torch and make a special search deep in the night.   Our torch is our willingness and curiousity to explore our spiritual life.  We must also be willing to go into a deep dark cave to search, blindfold and not-knowing.  In the dark,  we wait for insight.

I often think of our practice and particularly sesshin practice (long intensive sitting retreats) as a way we take a torch and make a special search deep in the night.  We have to push into our spiritual life to find its meaning.  There is a lot of effort to become effortless; to become as naked as Joshu’s teaching.  In Buddhism we practice vigorously and take our torch and search. Yet, simultaneously, we learn how to let go.   We learn to trust the simultaneous working of the whole universe with our own intentions.  We are encouraged to find an effort that is not focused solely on our own individual gain and self-centeredness.  We learn to let go of our endless trying to improve ourselves and get what we want out of life, and learn how to receive and trust what is actually there.

How can you attain union? Wansong asks. What is the union that he speaks of?  This is the union of the ordinary moment and the universal energy of life itself.  Our karmic storied life meets the Big Mind of universal energy in each moment. We could also say, union is trying and letting go intertwined, a strange paradox.   If our mindfulness is strong and steadfast, we can stay with this meeting of the so-called opposites.  Katagiri Roshi called this the intersection of time and space, the truth happening place.  Knowing this intersection is knowing union.

Wansong wrote the Book of Serenity (made in 1224) as commentaries on a collection of koans which had a poem written for each story.  This collection with poetic commentary was made by Hongzhi (1091-1157).  Here is Hongzhi’s poem on this koan:

Breakfast over, the direction is to wash the bowl;
Opened up, the mind ground meets of itself.
And now, a guest of the monastery, having studied to the full-
But was there enlightenment in there or not?

If you are really at the union of the ordinary and the profound, the expression of this meeting seems effortless.  Opened up, the mind ground meets of itself.  Meets of itself  means effortless.  Even for a very practiced practitioner who is someone who has studied to the full, the true discernment is this question – were you really present or not? And the next moment, present or not?   Was enlightenment there or not?  This is a question, we can continually ask.  Are we here or not?  Are we caught up solely in the story of the moment or can we see the moment as the universal energy itself? Are we opened up?  The mind ground is always present, do we know it or not?

At the end of each commentary in the Book of Serenity, Wansong writes a line by line commentary on the case and the verse.  Here is his line by line commentary on Hongzhi’s verse for this case:

Breakfast over, the direction is to wash the bowl – the opportunity goes by so fast it is hard to meet.
Opened up, the mind ground meets of itself – it’s not just today.
And now, a guest of the monastery, having studied to the full – as before, after eating gruel he washes his bowl.
But was there enlightenment in there? – One person transmits a falsehood, ten thousand transmit it as truth.

Each moment goes by so fast it is hard to meet.  Dogen says that there are six and half billion moments (setsunas) in a day.  Of course, its impossible to meet each one going by in superspeed as Katagiri Roshi would say.  But it is possible to feel the mind ground meeting itself – to feel the suchness of our life and our moments.

Before studying Buddhism, as you enter the monastery, and after practicing and maturing, (studying in full) you get the same ordinary instruction.  Have you eaten? Wash your bowl.  Yet somehow, after practicing, the instruction has deepened.  Are you fully present or not?

The last instruction in this commentary is about enlightenment.  To be present and feel the interdependence of the universe and form in our lives, moment to moment  is in itself a great accomplishment.  But Wansong has even more to add.  Is your accomplishment attached to a “self”?

I have taught a lot that Buddhism deconstructs the idea of a separate self.  We are not an isolated unit that is independent. Rather we are interdependent and unified with the world.  Wansong says, if you think you are a one-person unit, you are transmitting a falsehood. It is not possible to say “I am enlightened.”  It is not true that you are an isolated unit who is enlightened.  To the contrary, if you understand that the ten thousand things and ten thousand beings become the self “the you”, then you have transmitted the truth.

(Translations of the koans from Thomas Cleary)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Intention and Vow, New Years

For the past many years, Clouds in Water starts the New Years off with an Intention and Vow Workshop.  It was my answer to the failure, year after year, of my New Year’s Resolutions.  Does Zen allow future goals?  i.e. if you live in the present moment, can you have a future goal? Concurrently, there is the problem of people interpreting “living in the present moment” as liberation from our responsibilities for cleaning up our misconduct in the past and planting seeds for a responsible future.  So how does Zen take care of our karmic, storied life, which includes cause and effect as its primary principle.

I found a lot of understanding in the Tenzo Kyokun by Dogen.  It is Dogen’s “Instructions to the Cook.”  In this discourse, Dogen said, in the evening, prepare for the next day’s meals.  Sometimes, preparing for the future is today’s present moment.

Both day and night, allow all things to come into and reside with your mind.
Allow your mind (self) and all things to function together as a whole.  Before midnight direct your attention to organizing the following day’s work; after midnight begin preparations for the morning meal.

Each moment has to have a direction in which you are facing.  That is our vow or our Right Intention for this very moment and those intentions can be clarified and refined into our future direction and our vow.  I like to call it clarifying my North Star.

Just as in olden times, a sailor navigates his way by using the North Star.  The North Star clarifies his direction or at least where the boat is heading.  But in the waves and the weather of the ocean, it is never a straight, undeviated line to the North Star or the port for which they were sailing.  The journey is a zigzag with constant adjustments to keep the boat coming back to the course towards its intended port.  Over and over, in our practice life, we vow to come back to our intended course.

A person in the workshop this year added another metaphor using a compass.  She was someone who actually uses compasses hiking in the woods.  She said, when you first bring out the compass, its pointer in the dial moves wildly and erratically.  But if you hold very still, the pointer will actually settle down and point to the North Star.

So, what is our personal North Star this year?  What, for us, is heading in a positive direction?  This direction is different than having an objective goal in which we can fail or succeed.  One of the principles in Zen is that you make an effort but let go of the results of your effort.  To practice only for success, pleasure, gain, fame, is clearly attachment to ourselves and not the Buddha Way.  But in our effort to practice, we let go of the idea of success and failure, we do the work of the moment facing the direction of our choice and find the aliveness in the energy of the task itself.

Uchiyama Roshi in unpacking the Tenzo Kyokun says:
 Our present direction is clearly defined but without having a goal. When we stop projecting goals and hopes in the future, and refuse to be led around by them, yet work to clarify our lives, that is, the “direction” of the present, then we discover an alive and dynamic practice.”

It behooves us to produce conditions that will flourish our karma in a wholesome direction.  We have to take care of the conditions of our life.  This intentional living is not an abstract idea but can be a strong awareness of cause and effect in our life.

Uchiyama Roshi continues:
“No matter where we are or whatever circumstances we are in, we are always living out our own life.  A fool views his own life as if it were someone else’s.  Only a wise man realizes that even in his encounters with others, he is living out his own life within those very encounters.”

Although we don’t have control of what happens in our futures, we do have the responsibility to plant wholesome seeds and face in the direction we want to go in our present moments. 

Our practice is to take care of each moment with care and understanding, and simultaneously to stay connected with the Big Mind of the universe.  The universe is always supporting us even if we don’t consciously know it.  This is the main work of a human life.  We can find where our personal story or karma intersects with universal energy.  That intersection happens in the current moment.  We have to live each moment with the Whole.

Uchiyama Roshi adds:
“We have to exhaust all our effort to manifest and actualize eternity at this point
where our Self encounters all matters here and now and to devote ourselves to move in that direction whereby the whole world becomes settled within itself.”

We could add an admonishment from Dogen:
“The practice of the buddhas is carried on together with the whole world and with all sentient beings.  If it is not a practice together with all things, it is not the practice of the buddhas.”

In this regard, an image that corresponds to the above is:
We turn the dharma wheel
And the dharma wheel turns us.
The dharma wheel turns us
And we turn the dharma wheel.

This image allows us to see a rhythm between trying and receiving; effort and effortlessness.  Each of us in our own unique personalities can find that balance.  Some of us need to back off from our controlling effort and others need to come forth more and direct our lives more.  We each find our own unbalance in effort, given our particular personalities and circumstances and try to correct it.

In order to become more clear about our direction and specific intentions for the year, in the workshop we write about these questions, which seem to bring forth some clarity.  After that, they are discussed in small groups.

1.     What are concrete things you already know about the coming year’s schedule.
2.     What do you regret about last year?  What don’t you regret?  What was a learning experience?
3.     What’s the most important thing this year?  What is it that you are called to do or meant to do?  What don’t you want to do?
4.     Can you flesh out or condense what you have discovered into a few succinct intentions?
5.     What keeps you from your intention?  What obstacles, sub-personalities, self-talk, inner critic, or inner voices, make it difficult to follow your North Star?

We end the retreat by making a mandala or drawing an image or poster that expresses our North Star.