Awakening Truth update November 2010
I just returned from three weeks of teaching and being on retreat and come back to a different landscape. Now in Colorado the leaves have mostly fallen and the grass is brown. The cool emerges and bites when I spend time on the rocks after the sun has dipped behind the mountain.
Lily Dale, Niagara Falls, Harvard Divinity School, Boston University, St. Joseph’s Women’s College, Walden Pond, Boston Dharma Punx, IMS, Pioneer Valley, New York Insight, and Insight Dialogue retreat back at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, back and forth a few times between New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The list reads as a blur – something of a whirlwind. It was hard to stay on track with the days so full and not let the blur become my reality. The practice of resting in the present was augmented by the generosity and loving support of my hosts and all who made the trip possible. The rich connections with so many, every step of way, touches the web of life that quivers when compassion, collaboration, and genuine meeting connects.
Driving to Connecticut my eyes were being pulled out trying to drink in the colors. What can one say of being on the East Coast in the middle of the peak of autumn? How is it possible to convey the effect of driving during a spectacular sunset and seeing the tops of the trees ablaze as if on fire; a rainbow added to the picture, as if the blaze by itself weren’t enough… How can one convey the unimaginable power of Niagara Falls to one who hasn’t been there; convey how the experience washes through the body as the water churns and gurgles and then pours over the edge in free fall?
I come back home and reconnect with the rocks. Feel the mountain breathing. See the dusting of snow on the road and remember that with ice comes a different relationship with walking, with gravity. With ice, uncertainty takes on another felt sense in the body.
I return and hear of new and very wholesome movements: The Saranaloka sisters are intending to follow suit and take Bhikkhuni ordination, adding to the blessings and the bridge that Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkkhuni and others are making possible.
501 (c ) 3 – Nonprofit status has been recently granted to Awakening Truth. Now we are in a position to sponsor nuns and other lay people from overseas to join us here for training or for longer engagement with the community.
I come back and the garage continues to move closer to its next incarnation of a mediation hall. The generosity and motivation behind this transformation is worth telling:
The owners are Christians. While that is neither unusual nor extraordinary, their interest and generosity to support is. They have been spending a lot time thinking how they might renovate and remodel the existing structures and what new ones are needed in order to facilitate our ease and well being. This includes doing for us what they had never intended for the property initially. Not only is the new meditation hall now equipped with under floor heating, super insulated and wired for lighting for a shrine, but they have plans to build an additional bathroom and more rooms that will house three more Nuns. Eventually 4-7 residents and visitors can live or stay here. With the meditation hall accommodating about 30, we will be in good stead for a while.
The owner said to me, “I am Christian, you know that. But I see that in my Father’s house are many mansions and I just see that Ajahn Thanasanti lives in one room down the hall.”
I love to see people’s reactions when I tell them of my Christian bodhisattva owners efforts, faith is restored or strengthened in humanity.
As part of the transformation of the garage into a meditation hall, we decided to give the hermitage the name “Shakti Vihara” or the dwelling place of the Divine Feminine. As this also means sacred force or empowerment, it conveys some of the vision of Awakening Truth.
Where we have been having our meditations, which has been previously referred to as the “Annex” is now called Tava Vihara, the Ute Nations name for Pikes Peak Mountain. It means “Sun Mountain”.
Perhaps the most significant news is that Gwyn Waterfield will be taking the Anagarikaa precepts in a ceremony on 11 December. She has been preparing for more than a year to join me. End of July she arrived from Texas with all her belongings in a backpack and a few boxes of books in the back of her pick-up truck. She came here to embark on the life of a ‘homeless one’ or Anagarikaa. It is no small undertaking to sell a business, put one’s affairs in order, disperse of belongings, find a loving home for one’s pet, and come into the process of aligning oneself with harmlessness and renunciation as core values. It takes courage to open up to what is there, which is what happens when one’s whole focus shifts towards awakening.
While the Anagarikaa precepts are not different from the 8 precepts she is currently living with, wearing white, shaving one’s head, and living in community shifts the experience and perception of being a lay person, into entering the Sangha field. The Buddha describes the Sangha as an “incomparable field of blessings.” To live with integrity, harmlessness, honesty, and compassion as one’s bottom line is different than the standard cultural fare. To know what effect this has, one has to draw near and experience it oneself. To give oneself wholeheartedly to the process means that everyone who knows Gwyn, or even knows of her decision, is given the opportunity to reflect on her choice. To have Gwyn take this step means that our monastic community has just doubled in size.
Coming home, I am still digesting the last segment of the trip; Gregory Kramer’s presentation on Paticusamupada or the Buddha’s teaching on Dependent Co-Arising in the context of Insight Dialogue. The retreat was both masterfully conducted and illuminating. These are fundamental, extremely profound, and subtle teachings delineating the way that suffering comes into being and how it ceases. This was the first time I have seen them explained using the felt sense of what it all means in conjunction with rather than just through concept and explanation.
Within the practice of Insight Dialogue, I saw how awareness of one’s dialogue partner changed ones experience. By balancing internal awareness of what was happening in oneself with external awareness of one’s dialogue partner, concentration got stabilized and was less likely to be shaken even when one moved or changed from dialogue to walking.
There were other insights that came for me personally. But more significant than my personal experience was seeing the way that the Sangha takes on an added radiance when the participants are not only sharing in an experience together, as in a regular retreat situation but their awareness is part of your meditation experience participating directly in it with you. I come away reaffirming the importance of building a community where there is both the safety and the skills needed to touch what is present. I see that by bringing the qualities of meditative mind states, the essence of the teachings, and the nature of relationship that are the three pillars of Insight Dialogue into the process can bring the skill and the safety that is needed. I look forward to ongoing experiments and seeing what emerges.
Gwyn and I are looking forward to retreat time over the winter. I will be at the Forest Refuge and she will be at a retreat center in Crestone, Colorado. This will be the first time I will have had 6 weeks of silent retreat in years. I look forward to letting things settle and distill, seeing what still needs to let go, where the fire still blazes, and the possibility for cool.
As the calendar year draws to a close, let me take this time to express appreciation for all that makes our lives possible. Living in a field of generosity, it isn’t only the daily meals and material offerings that are critical, but the friendship, encouragement, meetings, organizational tasks picked up, and every expression of interest to see this Bhikkhuni training monastery manifest. This is a training monastery that not only supports monastics’ aspirations, but also invites the lay community to come into the fold. And for both monastics and lay alike, the full continuum of practice from the transcendent to the imminent is the territory from which the commitment to awaken is realized.
I trust what is emerging.
Perhaps as you read and sense more what is coming into manifest reality, you too trust and delight in what’s emerging. There are an abundance of ways where we can attune to gratitude.
Ways you can participate in Gwyn’s Anagarikaa Precept ceremony