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Community Gleanings

  • 20 Mar 2016 8:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Thank you for this space to share personal dharma experiences.  I’m on my 4th  vegetarian year  with the anniversary on Dr. MLK Jr. day.  Since first starting, I have not eaten flesh from land animals and eat sea creatures approximately once a month.  I was still attracted to the smell of BBQ until I recently mentioned this to Fred.  He suggested I visit the charnel grounds in India during a cremation ceremony because the smell that fills the air then is the exact same as BBQ.  I now visit the charnel grounds every time I smell BBQ… a deep bow to the Teacher.

    I grew up as a woodsman, tracker and hunter in western Pennsylvania until I moved to Florida in 1997.  I would kill and butcher my own game and even the occasional fresh roadkill.  I was responsible for getting my father back into hunting.  He continues to keep two freezers filled with wild game. 


    I took up spearfishing when moving to Florida.  “They are just silly little fishes, sub-animals and easier to clean.  I can combine my two favorite hobbies, hunting and scuba.  I’ll be doing this for a long time!”  However, during some of those dives is when I considered becoming a vegetarian.  One day I speared a snapper through the heart and watched it glide motionless to the sandy bottom, perfect kill, no struggle.  And then something amazing happened.  The rest of its school circled back and swam all around their motionless companion.  I witnessed compassionate acts but I still didn’t get it.  During the next dive trip, a barracuda ducked my shot and stared me down while I retrieved my spear.  As soon as I reloaded, the fish took off like a bolt of lightning.  At that moment I thought, “What am I doing down here killing these amazing creatures?!”  Later, I cut up my spear gun and threw it in the trash never to kill again.  I felt lighter but still a little heavy from the lives I’ve personally taken and by my past eating habits. 


    One of the documentaries mentioned in other comments above summed the idea up very well… No creature wants to die, why should we promote the taking of their life?  I couldn’t think of anything that contradicts that idea.  I also suggest mindfully watching some of the documentaries mentioned above.  It is a chance to have a deeper understanding where our society’s food comes from and how we vote with our dollar.

    Back to seafood… during one of the documentaries they showed what “long lines” and netting does to the environment.  Not even the sacred underwater realm is safe from un-mindfulness.  When I saw this destruction, I was filled with compassion for our earth and tears filled my eyes and I thought, “That’s it, no more seafood.”   Through this posting, I re-pledge my commitment to the sea.  I will also write a mindful letter, put it in a bottle and toss it into the ocean.

  • 14 Mar 2016 3:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM Member Susan Ghosh for this enjoyable recollection and reflection

     

    If you’ve been a part of FCM since we acquired the property at 6501 N. Nebraska Ave. in 2012 you have a good idea of what has been accomplished on our campus since then.  If you’ve started attending the Sunday sangha or other classes and activities at the center in the years since then, allow me to fill you in a bit about what our center was like.  Our main building was a church in disrepair.  The upstairs hall was filled with pews that were nailed to the floor, the window panes were plastic blue and pink, and the floor was dirty and scratched.  Downstairs what we now call the Fellowship Hall was a typical basement with a cement floor and round poles that held up the first floor.  The entire western wall was covered with a mural, painted in dark colors, and each figure in the mural was thickly outlined in black paint.  There, too, the windows were pink and blue.  In the Education Building the floors were covered with old linoleum and the walls were in need of paint. Our “grounds” were covered with weeds and torpedo grass. 

     

    Little by little our campus transformed.  The basement walls were painted, pews were pulled up, wooden floor polished, Med Hall and Hallways were painted; ground covers, shrubs and trees were planted, and on and on and on. Every day this beautiful campus we now have was manifesting. While some things such a roof repair were completed by professionals, hundreds of hours of selfless service were offered by sangha members.

     

    From the outset sangha meetings were held in our new home, so in addition to the ongoing work, our home had to be clean and ready to use every Sunday. If a cloud of dust had been raised, our blue cushions needed to be vacuumed.  The Buddhas, altar, teacher’s table and cushion, all needed to be dusted. The bathrooms had to be clean and ready for use.  

     

    Back in those early days about 20 people (??) regularly came to work days. In addition to all of the large and small jobs that needed to be done a small group of us did a LOT of house cleaning. I recall saying to a sangha sister, “I clean more here than I do at home.”  Another sangha sister and I grumbled as we vacuumed the blue cushions in the 80 degree heat of meditation hall.  We wanted a “cleaning person.” Our teacher, Fred, did not respond to our complaints.  His vision was of a community where individuals selflessly offered their service to the group.  So, on we went.  Over time we learned that this new expectation was just a part of training our minds to put our own personal preferences aside and to find joy in caring for the center. We also were learning what it meant to be a part of a community in which all shared in taking care of the needs of our buildings and grounds, our programs and one another.

     

    My mind was not easily trained, but though it grumbled I learned how to do the necessary tasks. FCM was different in most ways from my family or any other group that I had been a part of and it nourished me tremendously. I wanted to be a contributing member of the group. And, frankly, I wanted to be more like my sangha sisters and brothers who shared themselves so wholeheartedly and found so much joy in doing so. Over time I developed the habit of volunteering when there was work to be done.

     

    Four years later the gifts of our tradition of selfless service have been tremendous. It is wonderful to be a part of the quiet family of workers who sit for 10 minutes on Sunday morning and do a brief meditation before quietly beginning the tasks the allow the center show her beauty to all who come to sangha meetings. Getting to know other members through our friendly bows and the practice of silently mindfully work together on our common goal is very profound.  I have come to see that the center needs all of us and each of us contributes the skills and talents we have. If we choose, we can try out new skills in this safe and supportive environment. 


    When I invite family or friends to visit the center I feel a quiet pride and deep gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of the transformation and care of our center.  As soon as people step on our campus they feel the energy and see the beauty of our home. When I say “we’ve done almost all of this ourselves”  I know in my bones that I am a part of “us”. We take care of our buildings, we take care of our grounds, our programs, and one another.  Our teacher, Fred, and our teacher’s teacher, Thay Nhat Hanh, stress the importance of the sangha. Thay says, the next Buddha may manifest as a sangha.”  Here at FCM we have a rich and ongoing opportunity to understand the deep meaning of sangha.

     

    If you have chosen to be a member of FCM, and haven't yet volunteered for selfless service, please know that caring for the center is a privilege of membership. Also, please understand that your help is needed.  As the old adage goes, “many hands make light work.” If you are like me and don’t always have a joyful and generous heart, embrace that part of yourself with kindness and compassion, and allow the part of you that wants to end your own suffering to step forward. I think you will find that caring for the center strengthens your sense of connection to the sangha and being of service will open your heart.

  • 07 Mar 2016 2:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We thank Wake Up Tampa Bay members for these very open and moving sharings. Please also visit the photo album from the March 2016 Wake Up Day of Being (click here).


    With gratitude to Whitney Hill

    My path to the practice was rough to say the least, as I’m sure it was for just about everyone on it.  In fact, none of us are strangers to suffering.  Without it, we wouldn’t be here.  We don’t come to the practice because our lives are perfect and easy.  We come because our lives are painful and difficult and we often feel alone.  We are looking for reprieve from our tumultuous minds and the seemingly endless storms of emotion that run our lives.  We come because we’re hurting and broken and there is a part of us that knows that this cannot be the only way.


    Mindfulness offers the rest we seek.  The habits we cultivate offer us a way out; they show us a different path from the one that brought us here.  And the people who walk this path with us, our community, our sangha offers support and guidance when the way is not so clear.


    That is what Wake Up has been for me.  We’re all at different points along our journeys but, in a way, our suffering brings us together and we all learn from each other’s experiences.  Wake Up is a space where we find refuge in the teachings and in each other.  It’s a place of consistency and reliability where new habits are formed and old ones fade out. We’re a community notably free of the judgments and ridicule that so often plague our generation.  We’re a force for peace in each other’s lives where old friends feel loved and connected and new ones feel safe and accepted. We stop, we rest, we calm, we heal.  We laugh, we cry, we listen deeply and we share openly all in the spirit of mindfulness.


    With gratitude to Aoka Carr

    She said “I feel like I can be inside my skin in this place.” That's when I felt my eyes well, hot tears streaming down my patient face. It was because of the day's practice - the sincere efforts to attune to the present moment that I had the awareness to let them fall, silently, without trying to change them. I sat as each one of the attendees expressed poetically honest and authentically vulnerable sentiments. There were familiar themes: a sense of belonging and excitement to meet other young people on the journey of mindfulness and self-discovery, an environment of non-judgement that lead to feelings of comfort which allowed some to find an openness within themselves, discoveries of ways of looking at thoughts, feelings and sense impressions that inspired intentions for many to carry further.


    As each person opened up, I saw the tenderness inside them, the place that, in one of our readings, we learned most people protect themselves from exposing. I saw deep listening, deep sharing, connection, space, presence, bravery, nakedness... and in the midst... I realized that this was a new experience, a curious one. This is what it is like to be in a room full of peers, who are seeing each other and allowing others to see them.


    It was the end of the Day of Mindfulness that Wake Up, a meditation group for people in their 20‘s and 30‘s, had put on. Five hours earlier, we - some core group members, some who had been coming for a while and some entirely brand new to the center had arrived to a seated meditation. We were guided to find our breath and dwell in the presence of the moment. When the bowl was struck, we read from Nothing Special and practiced deep sharing and deep listening. I watched as people heard each other without trying to change each other; I noticed when I was trying to be of the moment rather than in it.


    Next, we quietly put on our shoes and mindfully stepped out into the sunlight, walking the gardens, our shadows falling, in and out of step with the person in front of us, stopping midway to listen to the birds and feel the wind on our faces. Back inside the meditation hall, we were lead into a a gentle yoga class followed by a deep relaxation. I felt the peace in the room amongst the audible breaths, as we tightened and relaxed our muscles in unison.


    Afterwards, we were lead down stairs to delight in the bounty of delicious foods people had thoughtfully prepared. We remained in silence, contemplating how the whole universe could be represented by the food on our plate. When everyone was seated we talked. Really talked with each other about our lives, why we were at a day of mindfulness, our struggles in our practice, our fears, vulnerabilities, advancements. I heard people whose practice had grown, talking with people who just began, and a lot of laughter. I felt such gratitude to be among so many who were so genuinely interested in each other.


    After a beautiful time getting to know each other more deeply with words we went back into the meditation hall for our final sitting. This is where I could feel an expansion inside myself.  Sitting, the thoughts still came and I still watched them, but behind them was a tenderness, a gentle potentiality of detachment. I could feel the energy of our collective efforts. In all of us, there was a softening - some armor laid down. And with the final sharing, she said, “I feel like I can be inside my skin in this place.” And my tears fell and I let them, grateful to be able to be so present in this wonderful day.


    With gratitude to Casey Clague

    I first became involved with FCM when I moved to Tampa about three years ago. Shortly after I began attending sangha, Bryan Hindert approached me to ask if I’d be interested in starting a Tampa chapter of Wake Up.  Our initial group was only five or six people, but we met regularly and were all very supportive of each other’s spiritual growth. Unfortunately, I had some health problems and other life circumstances that prevented me from attending Wake Up for around a year and my spiritual practice became less of a priority.  


     When I finally started back, I felt welcome immediately, like I hadn’t missed a beat.  Since then, I have been continually amazed by the growth of the group, both in terms of size and in our individual practices.  In walking this path together and deeply sharing our experiences, I feel like we have learned to live more skillfully, kindly, and openly. For me personally, I have gained a peace and awareness in my life that I didn’t know was possible.  It would be hard to overstate how essential Wake Up is to my continued spiritual development. I want to thank all members of the group for their continued support and insight;  I hope that I am able to give back to some degree what has been freely given to me. 


    With gratitude to Jennica Rob

    I started attending Wake Up about a year ago. Prior to this, I had started a meditation practice to help manage my anxiety. My only expectation was that Wake Up might help me become a better meditator in some small way. Unexpected to myself, I have become a regular at Wake Up and have benefited from it in ways that I never imagined. I feel that it has radically changed the course of my life. Through our discussions and guided meditations I have been given invaluable tools to ground myself in the present moment rather than being caught in the stories in my mind.


    I have been able to bring this practice into my days and feel much more present and accepting of my life. But what I am most thankful for is how Wake Up has allowed me to make connections and foster friendships with some of the most authentic and open minded people I have ever met. I feel continuously inspired by the kindness and openness of my peers. I am in awe of of their consistent willingness to be honest and present with themselves, both with their strengths and flaws, sorrows and joys. I feel lucky to know them and look forward to seeing how Wake Up evolves in the months to come.


    With gratitude to Jerry Stinnett

    I initially found Wake Up through meetup.com. I was looking for a group of younger folks to meet with regularly and get to know under the setting of meditation. I had been experimenting with meditation on my own using self-help books. I also had been to a few different groups but they weren’t quite what I was looking for.


    I really didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived, but I was getting into the practice of getting outside of my comfort zone. Being a highly skeptical person I felt some initial insecurity but I quickly warmed up to the guided meditation. Since that first day I believe I have only missed one or two events in the last year and a half. Everyone that I have met in this group has been sincere and open. I found my way into the greater Sangha as a whole from this group and became a member shortly thereafter.


    I cherish the bonds that I have made through Wake Up and will maintain these friendships for the rest of my life. The personal transformation I have gone through in the last few years has been in large part due to the existence of this group. I look forward to seeing it grow and continuing to be a part of it.


    With gratitude to Sam

    For the past ten years, my struggles with anxiety have been exhausting. Whenever I thought I was “getting better” life would trigger me and I would lapse back into painful confusion. I started meditating about a year and a half ago when I realized that taking anxiety medication on its own would be only palliative for me and not transformative. The final straw that set me on the path of mindfulness was my first experience with heartbreak. Shortly after my heart had broken open, I sought out a community and started attending FCM. I like to think of my experience with heartbreak as a “Wake Up call”, because it called me to Wake Up.


    Since attending Wake Up, my peers and I have grown together in so many ways. I have learned to value the art of listening more than the art of self-expression, which to my surprise has been a great relief. All of us at Wake Up have the great opportunity to feel free to be ourselves. Simply showing up is an act of emotional vulnerability, an admission that we are lost and in need of community, and I love that. This admission of pain is what binds us all together and is something I have learned to deeply appreciate.


    Listening deeply to my friends at Wake Up has taught me that my very own anxiety is a source of motivation to heal myself and others. It has also taught me that my very own anxiety is not my very own, because fear is a seed in all of us. I am now grateful to have suffered my way to the path. Through earnest practice and the encouragement and deep insight of my fellow meditators at Wake Up, the natural wisdom at the core of every human is visible to me now. It is like being lost in a forest in the middle of the night and seeing the distant glow of a fire on a hillside. I know it is there, and I know I am going towards it, and the journey is the rest of my life. I cannot control the forest around me, but I can keep walking.


    When I remember to surrender to the fact that life is unpredictable, existence becomes lighter. The precious moments when I become aware of my limited time in this body are the moments that bring me home to the present moment. I doubt that I could have learned to surrender without the help and wisdom of others. Speaking from my experience, letting go of the illusion of being in control does not come easily. I still have a very long way to go to heal myself, and I look forward to following the path knowing I am not alone. Not only do I see that my peers have plenty of wisdom to offer me, but I see that my pain has been a means of gaining insight that I can offer to them in return.

  • 07 Mar 2016 8:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With gratitude to FCM member Rebecca Milburn for this post.


    I moved away from Tampa a year and a half ago, and thus, moved away from FCM. I have continued to participate in intensives from afar; they have been very important to my continued growth and connection to FCM. However, I have missed FCM: the people, community, close connection with the teachings, the beautiful building.

     

    After a year and a half, I had the opportunity to visit FCM last weekend. I participated in Wake Up, a Day of Mindfulness (with Fred teaching) and Sunday Sangha. It was wonderful to be back; I felt a combination of excitement and peace when I stepped foot in the building on Friday. I enjoyed again participating in Wake Up – it has grown tremendously since I was a member and the new members (new to me, that is) have a sense of ownership of the group that I really appreciated.

     

    The Day of Mindfulness was soothing and healing for me. I received so much love and warmth from the sangha, I was filled with the deep sense of connection and community I remembered from when I lived in Tampa. Practicing silence in a shared space provides me with a sense of safety – the ability to connect with others beyond using words. To my surprise, spending the day primarily doing sitting and walking meditation did not feel difficult. It felt like I was getting back in touch with a part of me that was always there.

     

    The Q &A session Fred led was extremely helpful and it seemed the questions he answered applied directly to my life. I work as a psychotherapist in a community mental health clinic located in a very high need area. I often feel overwhelmed by all the suffering I encounter on a daily basis. A term spoken of in my profession is “self care” and I am often inclined to think of my spiritual practice in such terms. Fred reminded me that my practice goes beyond “self care” – a more appropriate term may be “self/other care” – since, as he said, “I am my brother” – there is no separation. When I heal myself, I heal another and when I heal another, I heal myself. This helped rejuvenate my desire to be of service to others and to do so from a place of joy and meaning.

     

    I also resonated with the Q& A regarding the “to do list”. I continually find myself needing to have something to do, filling space, fearing the quiet. While at the Day of Mindfulness, having the support of the sangha, I relished the quiet and calm inside me. Now that I am back in Virginia, I am happy to know that the sangha is still there, supporting my practice, and possibly the inner quiet, from afar.

     

    I bow deeply to all members of FCM and offer gratitude to those who made this visit possible for me.

  • 01 Mar 2016 2:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As soon as I entered the retreat center, I knew I this would be, for an introvert like myself a dream come true: in the company of others but not required to engage in small talk. Although it was the first retreat I had ever been to, I felt at ease. From the first silent moments, a companionable silence between my fellow participants. I was almost disappointed by the lack of challenge silence might present me. Perhaps the real challenge to my quiet nature would be a Constant Conversation Retreat. Such extreme discomfort would be like being whacked by a Zen masters stick daily and maybe I would be slapped into enlightenment.


    The retreat  took place over four days at the Franciscan Center in Tampa, a modest, no frills place of 1950s boxy architecture, but spacious enough for the forty-two of us and right on the banks of the Hillsborough River. Across the river in the distance the Golden Arches reminded us of our proximity to the never silent city, but the park-like grounds created a peaceful oasis.


    Our days at the retreat began at 6:00 AM by the person in charge of waking us hitting a gong that sounded like a metal plate being struck. I am not much of a morning person and unmindfully rushed to dress so that I could guzzle as much coffee as possible before meditation at 6:30. In the dining hall, coffee clutched like a lifeline, I took a seat with a few others as we watched the full moon shining into the river. Calmed immediately by the glow of moon and water I felt grateful to be up early enough to bask in this serenity, made all the more precious by our silent observance.


    After the 6:30 half hour group sitting meditation and ten-minute group walking mediation, we engaged in our individual walking meditation outdoors. Silent and slow were the unspoken guidelines. Setting one foot in front of the other became significant. The shells on the walkway crunched under foot, and pressed lightly into the rubber of my shoes sole. Other walkers seemed to float past me. Outside and inside, our movements around each other took on a ballet like quality. Edges softened and when we had to make way for another in the hallways with each move to the side we emanated gentleness, kindness even.


    Here is what I took away from the four days of silence and mindfulness:


    How to put the right amount of food on my plate. At the first breakfast I filled my plate but eating mindfully and without distractions, I soon realized I could not finish this amount of food. I didnt need to eat with my usual greediness. Slowed eating tells me when I am full.


    Mindfully walking reveals the world around me. The pace makes room for contemplation of a tree branch winding to the ground, the light playing on the water, the energy of my mind drawn to more focus, less scattershot.


    Most talking is not necessary. And I did not miss my cell phone or computer or even something to read. The ego likes to talk a lot more than my Buddha nature.


    Also, I gained:

     

    A greater understanding of ducks.


    The ducks and I woke, sat, walked and ate. We co-existed and I felt like their kin. One seemed to follow me for a bit on my walk. Being a duck and being a human is not so different when the minds endless litany of desires, demands and preferences are set aside. If the world appreciated more being than doing, perhaps I could have dipped a cup into the Hillsborough River for a drink.


    A better handle on my thoughts.


    Thoughts do not have no substance I had given them. As soon as one arises, it disappears. My mind makes thoughts, but something else, my awareness remains steady as the thoughts come and go. I can choose to follow them or not.


    A deeper experience of space.


    With our preoccupation with solid objects like bodies, cars, guns and high-end real estate, we do not notice the spaciousness of life. To find space we must remove the paint from the canvas. The mind rebels at this; it needs to fill space with images and words. Mindful investigation shows us how space is the substance we dwell within and without. Space surrounds and fills bodies, rocks, ducks. Space holds us, like an embrace.


    A deeper experience of silence.


    Silence and space are inseparable, perhaps they are the same thing. Both serve to heighten awareness.  Sitting in the meditation hall  the stillness is like the  river on this windless day; we sense the energy of our own bodies and those near us, the current still runs underneath the flat surface. Each small movement of a foot, each small sound like a cough is like a stone tossed into the water. My shoulders and back stiffen against this submersion in this deep silence because my habit is mindless movement and nervous fidgeting. This silent stillness reveals each habit.


    An insight.


    Space and silence are changeless as nothing else is. Words and actions change each moment, float around space and drop into oblivion. We fill the canvas with images, fill the air with words, but nothing is lasting but space and silence. We know this, but see no point in it, devalue it. And yetWe yearn for both. Even when we do not know it.


    What then is most nourishing, most natural? What calls us, what is oddly familiar and like home when we stop, awake, aware? If what is real is only what is changeless, what is really true about the ducks and us?

  • 07 Feb 2016 12:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear Sangha


    Thank you Lee Purser and Ruth Fishel for leading the first Half Day of Mindfulness for the Mediation in Recovery group. This group has been meeting at FCM since October 2014 and was developed to support many of us in recovery programs to use mediation and mindfulness in our daily lives. During this day, Lee and Ruth provided instruction in mediation along with guided meditations and dharma talks. We also did a walking mediation through the beautiful FCM gardens.


    Lee brought so much of Buddhist thinking into her talks, relating how these teachings enhance the principles of 12 Step Programs. She provided a wealth of information about Buddhism and Recovery. As usual, Ruth spoke so personally about her path of growth using Buddhist teachings to enhance her recovery program. Her emphasis on practicing self acceptance is so important in learning to live in the present moment.


    Although the day was one of silence, we had the opportunity to ask questions and make comments. We also met in dyads to share the one or two most important things we took away from the day. Our experience ended with lunch and fellowship where, judging from observation, participants eagerly shared with one another.


    When Lee first spoke of planning this day, the thought was we may have 15 to 20 attendees. We were delighted that approximately 45 people attended. Thanks to all who got the word out! The group of attendees was very diverse with many long time meditators along with those new to the practice. Some, but not all, were in Recovery programs and while many were members of FCM others were not.


    Finally, I would like to encourage anyone interested to try the Mediation in Recovery group which meets every Tuesday in the Education building at 6:30 pm. Everyone is welcome!


    Bowing,

    Eleanor Cecil


  • 22 Dec 2015 10:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Fragrant Palm Leaves (Journals 1962-1966) by Thich Nhat Hanh


    Book review by FCM member Janet Levine


     “A satisfying read on many levels: a great introduction to Thay’s ideas, to the majesty of his poetic writing, and to understanding the inspiration for his spiritually based activism.”  


    Fragrant Palm Leaves is the work of a person in his mid-thirties coming to terms with realistic acceptance of the meaning—great possibilities of leadership and mission, as well as significant disappointments of personal loss—that arise from his monk’s training and leadership role in trying to reform Buddhism in his country, Vietnam. The strength of the journals lies in Hahn’s honesty in his writing. The journal entries are not private musings but poignant and often powerful reflections, inspirational messages, directed at his followers. A controversial figure in Vietnam, as he went into to exile (for the first time) in May 1966 he wrote that he doubted if the collection would pass the censors. “If it can’t be published, I hope my friends will circulate it among themselves.”


    The memoir opens in 1962 in mid-winter at Columbia University in Manhattan and at Princeton University in New Jersey. In this section many striking descriptions of Thay’s reminiscences of the secluded mountain monastery and retreat he built with his friends and comrades—monks and nuns—at a retreat they named Phuong Boi contrast with his descriptions of the stark winter beauty of a northeastern winter. “Phuong” means “fragrant” and “boi” is a palm leaf on which the “teachings of the Buddha were written in ancient times.”


    Anyone who has resonated with a “place of the heart” now lost to them will be powerfully moved by Thay’s descriptions of life at idyllic Phuong Boi and his sheer joy in the beauty he finds there. His realization that he cannot remain attached to this place is a lesson for us all. As he writes, quoting another monk, ‘Phuong Boi doesn’t belong to us, we belong to Phuong Boi.” 


    Whether it is in the starry sky in Vietnam or a winter storm in New Jersey, in any place he lives Thay finds solace and cosmic connection to nature. “I still respond to the call of the cosmos…with all my body, with every atom of my being, every vein, gland and nerve, I listen with awe and passion. That is how I feel when I hear the call of sky and earth.”


    Among many other reflections Thay touches on the passing of youth and the permanency of truth. He shares several instances of his own growing realizations on the nature of reality and illusion. These moments contain the clarity of awakened understanding. They are illuminating and encourage us to continue in our practices knowing that we too can experience the conviction of Truth. “How can we continue to live if we were changeless? To live we must die every instant. We must perish in the storms that make life possible. I cannot force myself back into the shell I’ve broken out of.”


    Thay returns to Vietnam in 1964 after his stint lecturing in the USA and although Phuong Boi has fallen into ruin in the tropical environment, he and his cadre of followers devise Buddhist practices in the impoverished rural village communities where they find themselves. These practices are the foundation stone from which will evolve the Communities of Mindfulness that Thay will establish around the globe. 


    A satisfying read on many levels: a great introduction to Thay’s ideas, to the majesty of his poetic writing, and to understanding the inspiration for his spiritually based activism. 


    Marco Island resident, Janet Levine recently became a member of FCM. She is a lifelong meditator and a Dzogchen practitioner for twenty years. Steeped in the traditions of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, FCM is her first encounter with Vietnamese Buddhism and the work of Thich Nhat Hanh. On the recommendation of Fred Eppsteiner, she began her acquaintance with Thay’s work by reading “Fragrant Palm Leaves”. She is a well-reputed author and a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.

     


  • 14 Dec 2015 6:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My Experience at Empty Cloud - Learning Non-attachment to Knowledge


    by FCM Member Coralee Hicks


    Members of FCM have the extraordinary opportunity to experience a solitary retreat at beautiful Empty Cloud Cottage, a truly sacred, tranquil space in which to meditate and study at a deeper level under the skillful guidance of our teacher Fred. We thank FCM member Coralee Hicks for sharing her recent experience of solitary retreat at Empty Cloud Cottage.


    A private retreat differs from a group meditative setting.  In a solo retreat student and teacher set the meditation schedule and choose the focus of the practice. Since solo practitioners have to rely on their own inspiration and self-discipline to practice, there is more opportunity for touching deeper reservoirs within themselves, strengths and abilities that they might have doubted lay within


    I was very eager and a bit nervous when I arrived on Wednesday. Retreats have been an important part of my spiritual growth. My hearing disability makes group retreats difficult. Now I was in an environment that allowed me to hear Fred's instructions. I had planned to study the Diamond Sutra. I thought: one of the early sutras, why not begin at the the beginning. The actual beginning for me was very unexpected. I also brought two  issues that were thorns in my psyche. I hoped to get some relief from them. 


    On the first night Fred asked me a series of questions. When I finally was able to say "I don't know" he laughed. This not knowing is an uncomfortable place for me. I believe(d) that knowledge was power. I have spent my professional life working in the area of information transmission. As Fred left me that evening one of the last things he said was "It is not about learning". 


    Oh. If not about that.. then what is it about? 


    So I sat, and I thought. And I sat and thought.. and then realized that some questions (like what is the final digit of Pi) don't have answers. I shared this insight the next day. I also realized that I was not ready to understand the Diamond Sutra. My expectation of a Professor/Student relationship was wrong. Perhaps not having expectations might be better? Fred then asked what is a thought? I don't know? I thought I knew... I wished I knew. I don't know. Thinking gets in the way of meditating... I am addicted to thinking?? Ouch. 


    On the final day Fred suggested I relax. So I took a few naps. I wrapped myself in my blanket and pretended I was wrapping my self in the love of the Sangha. I sat and watched the wind move through the trees. I watched the light and shadows move across the image of the Buddha in my room. 


    I realized the two thorny issues were now resolved. When I meditated I told my thoughts to keep Noble Silence. My thoughts laughed at me. I pictured my thoughts as bees and told them to go back to the hive (buzz off).


    The closure session with Fred was comforting. It is okay to stop. It is okay to be human. It is okay to be Coralee. 

  • 01 Dec 2015 4:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In the eight-week summer Intensive for 2015, participants had the opportunity to personalize and deepen their practice by freeing the mind from habits of body, speech and mind that sabotage well-being and our capacity to live in harmony with others. The eight weeks was divided into four two week sections that dealt with different areas of focused change: a personal habit or behavior, a personality trait, an afflictive mind state/ emotional state, and a relationship (family, friend, work colleague). We thank FCM member David Braasch for sharing his experience from the Intensive.  


    One of my personality traits was to harshly judge past, present, future events, and  people. As part of my first intensive, I decided to focus on the present, and particularly people.


    Here is a simple example: I am sitting at a red light, and there is a brand new shiny black Aston Martin right in front of me, also waiting.


    My afflictive tendency was to start an immediate conversation about not only the Aston Martin, but the person in that Aston Martin. A typical dialog might go like this (this is actually a monolog): “That’s a super nice car. That guy must be really rich. I bet he cheated a lot of people to get that car. What a jerk. Probably cheats on his wife and doesn’t love his children. Bet he lives in a really nice house too, and probably has more than one house. Wish I had a car like that. Why don’t I have a car like that? Life is unfair that I am driving a Toyota Matrix with 170,000 miles on it. Pretty sure it’s going to need a new AC, new tires, and probably 1,000 other repairs soon. In fact, I am sure of it. Every time I go to the Toyota dealership I get screwed.”


    As you can probably see, this is not a healthy way to approach every stop light, nor every situation we encounter in present reality. I knew I needed to change, and I also knew that I needed to use a strategy that was very real to me:  photography.


    When I say photography, I am talking about actual cameras, not cell phone cameras. I am talking about viewfinders, 35 mm SLRs, and even plastic cameras. The point is this: it is important that I have the sense that I am holding a device close to my eye, and not away from me, as we do with our cell phones. I need to go into that small, honest world of the viewfinder and focus on what I am seeing, a choiceless awareness of what is in front of me. When I photograph, I first look at what I am seeing, bring the viewfinder to my eye, compose, take a deep breath, and then deliberately press the shutter button, and exhale. I decided that this is how I will approach the man in the Aston Martin.


    First of all, I don’t know that it is actually a man driving the Aston Martin. It could be a woman, it could be a teenager, I simply don’t know. And I simply don’t know anything about that individual driving that car, sitting at a stoplight, just as I am, and many others.


    What I do know is that I can look at this in a different way.  “I am sitting at a stoplight. There is a black Aston Martin in front of me. Let’s photograph this.” This is how the event unfolds.


    First, breathe, and wait. Bring the camera’s eye up into the mind, compose the frame, make it a picture, take a breath, press the shutter, listen to the mirror click and close, and then caption it: “Black Aston Martin, sitting at a stoplight, waiting to make a left turn, in October afternoon sunlight.” Please note that I am not actually using a camera….


    The effect this has had on me has been this: the negative reactivity is thwarted, and in most cases, stops right there at the end of the caption. And then I move on.


    Sometimes a story of compassion and kindness evolves out of the image. Maybe the person is in that car is driving home to take someone to the hospital; maybe that person is suffering, and has no idea where he/she is going. That person is the same as me. Sometimes there is no story, and I just let the image fade away, or remain as it is.


    The point is this: Sometimes there is still a reactive judgment, but now it is softer, more compassionate, and more realistic.  All the lens filters have been removed. Lately, there have been moments when it was just this: compose, breathe, click, and move on, because the light is green.

  • 14 Sep 2015 4:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Bill Menza was my dear friend, counselor, and role model.  As a loving brother on the path, over the course of many years he touched me deeply through his persistent teachings about, and behavioral demonstrations  of love based on the Dharma. 


    Bill’s unwavering reliance on the Dharma to encourage others to wake up and to love and serve others shone like a bright beam of light.  My growth and clear seeing was enhanced by his frequent reminder that taking refuge in the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, is all that one needs for healing and transformation in this life.  


    When encountering Bill, one was assured that through his teaching, his friendship, and other vehicles, one would receive life-affirming gifts.  He understood and taught that the connection, understanding, and acceptance that we all so long for always flows to us and through us when we share our love, compassion and generosity with all sentient beings.   


    For years, Bill and approximately 15 other sangha brothers and sisters met Sunday mornings at a brother's farm near Tampa, FL,  to study the Dharma, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and pick oranges generously made available by the farm’s owners.  During these gatherings, one could count on Bill's deep, penetrating contributions during the discussion period.  We all marveled at his copious note-taking, assured that he would use them to share insights and wisdom for years.  Bill turned picking oranges into yet another loving exercise as he always picked an extra bag or two to take back to Sarasota to share with others.   


    No matter the topic, the death of a loved one, racism, an inhumane prison system, the Holocaust, the Charleston, SC. massacre, Engaged Buddhism and the prerequisites for activism based on right view, the wounded child, his own “demons”, or anything I or anyone within the group became stuck on, Bill always found time to connect, to care, and to teach.  Moreover, no matter the location, The Tampa Practice Center, Blue Cliff Monastery, Plum Village, cyberspace,  or elsewhere, Bill made himself available for teaching and sharing  the Dharma.  While conversations with Bill were always welcomed and beneficial, for years Bill quietly and persistently created and nourished yet another vehicle, his wonderful Dharma poems.


    On September 10, 2010, I received four poems from Bill which reminded me of my good fortune of having received many others from him over the years.   It was probably then that I first thought about how a book of his poetry could also benefit many others.  In early 2015, exactly two weeks after his cancer diagnosis, an email exchange between us resulted in the launching of a long-overdue book project.  


    Deeply grateful for the years-long Dharma poetry teachings that he'd so generously shared with me, on March 17, 2015, I asked if he'd ever considered publishing some of his poems.  He responded with the subject line:  “Hi Sandy; am I dreaming!!!! hugs and poems”, and went on to write, "Your words are some very strong good medicine.  I am feeling real good now.  A book of poems so they can tell others about the Dharma has been my life-time dream.  Let's look into this.  Over the next few weeks I might not be able to help a lot with such a project.  Maybe especially when chemo  treatment starts.  But would do what I can.  Yes, please share my poems as you see fit and useful to spread the Dharma.  I will send you more poems to put to good Dharma use.” Shortly thereafter, Bill sent 176 poems.  I contacted Beth DeLap, owner of The Whole Salamander Publishing Cooperative, and Ken Lennington, MD, Beth’s husband and Bill's dear sangha brother.  Ken read and edited every poem, Beth agreed to involve her masterful editing and publishing skills, and the project took off.  


    During the days that he was critically ill and his body deteriorated, Bill continued to send detailed, intimate, loving emails that shared information about his various ailments so that others might learn and possibly take steps to alleviate their own present or anticipated suffering.  Always giving.  He labeled his many doctors, other help providers, and his beloved wife Alica as true Bodhisattvas.  Always grateful.  As a participant on the phone sangha, Bill continued to teach and share until he was too weak to continue.  Always loving.


    Ultimately, 210 poems were included in a proof copy of Dharma Rain Brings Flowers, that brother Bill was able to enjoy for two weeks before he left.  Writing  that the book was his baby, Bill was pleased that the words that he had so diligently and lovingly worked with for many years might, in fact, benefit others and help to foster understanding and compassion among sentient beings, and love of the Dharma.


    Thank you dear friend Bill for being all that you were, and for having given all that you gave to your fellow brothers and sisters throughout the world.  You are the true embodiment of the concept and practice of Interbeing, and of the fact that we Inter-are.  May the Dharma Rain in your book water the seeds of wisdom and compassion for countless people from all walks of life and on all loving paths throughout the world.


    With love, joy, and ease,

    Sandy Garcia

    Source of True Clarity


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