meditation retreats

Join the Urban Retreat, Nov 9–16

blazing like the sun - web logoAn “urban retreat” is a week of online talks, teachings, led meditations, and other resources, all designed to help you practice the Buddha’s teachings effectively, as you go about your day.

From Saturday 9th to Saturday 16th November, an urban retreat will be taking place here online, and you are invited to join! The theme will be: “Blazing Like the Sun”: how can our hearts be more overflowing with kindness, compassion, confidence, and love of life? How can we find the “freedom of heart” that is loving-kindness?

Whichever level of experience you are at, each day there will be support here to help you engage with the meditation practice, and to incorporate it into your daily life. We’ll be posting material every day. It will be best to start on the Saturday and follow the retreat each day. But if you can’t do that, just join in when you can.

The Urban Retreat is an activity being run by the Triratna Buddhist Community, of which we’re a part. Participation is entirely free!

Much love,
Bodhipaksa

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From self-judgment to compassion

tara-brachWe were three days into a weeklong meditation retreat when one of my students, Daniel, came in to see me for his first interview. He plopped down in the chair across from me, and immediately pronounced himself The Most Judgmental Person In The World.

“Whatever I’m thinking or feeling when I meditate … I end up finding something wrong with it. During walking practice or eating, I start thinking I should be doing it better, more mindfully. When I’m doing the loving-kindness meditation, my heart feels like a cold stone.” Whenever Daniel’s back hurt while he was sitting, or whenever he got lost in thought, he’d rail at himself for being a hopeless meditator.

He confessed that he even felt awkward coming in for our interview, afraid he’d be wasting my time. While others weren’t exempt from his barrage of hostility, most of it was directed at himself. “I know that Buddhist teachings are based on being compassionate” he said bitterly, “but it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever rub off on me.”

Like Daniel, being hard on ourselves is familiar to many of us. We often distance ourselves from emotional pain—our vulnerability, anger, jealousy, fear—by covering it over with self-judgment. Yet, when we push away parts of ourselves, we only dig ourselves deeper into the trance of unworthiness.

Whenever we’re trapped in self-judgment, like Daniel, our first and wisest step towards freedom is to develop compassion for ourselves. If we’ve injured someone and are embroiled in guilt and self-recrimination, compassion for ourselves allows us to find a wise and healing way to make amends. If we’re drowning in grief or sorrow, arousing compassion helps us remember the love and connection in our life. Rather than pushing them away, we free ourselves by holding our hurting places with the unconditional tenderness of compassion.

When I asked Daniel how long he’d been so harsh on himself, he paused for several moments. “For as long as I can remember,” he said. From an early age, he’d joined his mother in relentlessly badgering himself, ignoring the hurt in his heart. As an adult, he’d treated his heart and body with impatience and irritation. Even in the face of a tormenting divorce and a long bout of chronic back pain, Daniel hadn’t been able to acknowledge the intensity of his suffering. Instead, he’d criticized himself for having screwed up the marriage, for not having the sense to take proper care of himself.

I asked Daniel to tell me what happened in his body when he was judging himself so harshly, and he immediately pointed to his heart, saying it felt bound by tight metal cords. I asked if he could feel that right in this moment. To his surprise, Daniel heard himself saying, “You know, this really hurts.” I then gently asked him how he felt about this aching. “Sad,” he responded softly, his eyes welling up with tears. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been carrying this much pain for so long.”

I suggested he put his hand on his heart, on the place where he most felt the most discomfort, then asked if he might send a message to the pain: “How would it feel for you to say, ‘I care about this suffering’?” Daniel glanced at me, then looked down again: “Strange, I think.” I encouraged him to give it a try by whispering the words softly. As he did, repeating the phrase slowly two more times, Daniel’s shoulders began to shake with quiet sobbing.

Like Daniel, offering ourselves such care might feel strange and unfamiliar—or even downright embarrassing—at first. It might trigger a sense of shame about being needy, undeserving, or self-indulgent. But the truth is that this revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime.

Over the next few days, whenever Daniel became aware of judging himself or others, he’d check in with his body to see where he was feeling pain. Usually he’d find his throat, heart, and stomach tightened in fear, his chest heavy and sore. With a very gentle touch, Daniel would place his hand on his heart and say, “I care about this suffering.” Because he was sitting in the front of the meditation hall, I noticed his hand was almost permanently resting there.

One afternoon, Daniel came to tell me about something that had happened earlier that day. During meditation, a scene had arisen in his mind of being at his mother’s house, engaged in an angry exchange with her. As he tried to explain why it wasn’t irresponsible for him to take a week off to meditate, he could hear her disdainful reply: “You lazy bum, why don’t you do something worthwhile with yourself.”

This was the same sort of demeaning message that in his youth had made him want to shrivel up and disappear. He felt his chest filling with the heat and pressure of rage, and in his mind heard himself shouting, “You bitch, you don’t understand! You’ve never understood. Can’t you just shut up for one minute and see who I am!!”

The pain of anger and frustration was like a knife stabbing his heart, and he was about to launch into a familiar diatribe at himself for being such a wimp, for not standing up to her, for being a meditator filled with such hatred. Instead, he placed both hands on his heart and whispered over and over, “I care about this suffering. May I be free from suffering.”

After a few minutes, the stabbing anger subsided. In its place, he could feel warmth spreading through his chest, a softening and opening around his heart. Feeling as if the vulnerable part of him was listening and taking comfort, Daniel said, “I’m not leaving you. I’m here, and I care.” Throughout the rest of the retreat, Daniel practiced like this, and some of the most painful knots—the wounds of his young, anguished self—slowly began to release.

When he came in for his final interview, Daniel’s whole countenance was transformed. His edges had softened, his body was relaxed, his eyes bright. In contrast to his former awkwardness, Daniel seemed glad to be with me, and told me that while the judgments and self-blame had continued some, they were not so unrelentingly cruel.

No longer imprisoned by constantly feeling like something was wrong with him, Daniel was beginning to notice the world in new ways—other students seemed more friendly; the acres of forest were an inviting, magical sanctuary; the dharma talks stirred up a childlike fascination and wonder. He felt energized and somewhat bewildered by the fresh sense of possibility in his life. By holding himself with a compassionate presence, Daniel was becoming free to participate more fully in his world.

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Like Daniel, whenever we’ve become addicted to judging and mistrusting ourselves, any sincere gesture of care to the wounded places can bring about radical transformation. Our suffering then becomes a gateway to the compassion that can free our heart. When we become the holder of our own sorrows, our old roles as judge, adversary, or victim are no longer being fueled. In their place we find not a new role, but a courageous openness, and a capacity for genuine tenderness—not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance (2003)

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Exploring Self Compassion: A retreat in Washington, Sep 26–29, 2013

self-compassionI’m leading a retreat September 26th to September 29th at Camp Delaney, Sun Lakes State Park, Washington, on the theme of Exploring Self Compassion. Registration closes Sept 15th.

Self compassion is essential if we are to have compassion for others. It is also a powerful tool for transforming our own lives, freeing us from fear and resentment and unleashing a more joyful and creative approach to life.

On this retreat we’ll explore, step-by-step, how to become more compassionate toward ourselves. We’ll learn to become more mindful of our own suffering, and to accept it without reacting. We’ll explore how to hold our suffering in mind compassionately, and how to imbue our minds with a compassionate awareness.

Self-compassion is something that’s been absolutely transformative in my own life. It’s taught me how to deal with things like recurring shame and guilt, and with feelings of hurt, resentment, and anger.

My teaching is rooted in a long-term project passion I have for exploring a sequence of mental events — contact-feeling-volition-action — found in the Buddhist teaching of conditionality. The material I’ll be presenting, and the guided meditations we’ll be doing, arise from years of reflection and personal experience.

The retreat itself is hosted by the Seattle Buddhist Center (one of the centers of the Triratna Buddhist Community), and they’re the people to contact regarding booking a place, or for practical information about how to get there. Click here for more information.

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Exploring Self Compassion: A retreat in Washington, Sep 26–29, 2013

self-compassionI’m leading a retreat September 26th to September 29th at Camp Delaney, Sun Lakes State Park, Washington, on the theme of Exploring Self Compassion.

Self compassion is essential if we are to have compassion for others. It is also a powerful tool for transforming our lives, freeing us from fear and resentment and unleashing a more joyful and creative approach to life

On this retreat we’ll explore, step-by-step, how to cultivate self-compassion. We’ll learn to become more mindful of our own suffering, and to accept it without reacting. We’ll explore how to hold our suffering in mind compassionately, and how to imbue our minds with a compassionate awareness.

Self-compassion is something that’s been absolutely transformative in my own life. It’s taught me how to deal with things like recurring shame and guilt, and with feelings of hurt, resentment, and anger.

My teaching is rooted in a long-term project passion I have for exploring a sequence of mental events — contact-feeling-volition-action — found in the Buddhist teaching of conditionality. The material I’ll be presenting, and the guided meditations we’ll be doing, arise from years of reflection and personal experience.

The retreat itself is hosted by the Seattle Buddhist Center (one of the centers of the Triratna Buddhist Community), and they’re the people to contact regarding booking a place, or for practical information about how to get there. Click here for more information.

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Vipassana meditation retreats: enjoy the silence

Lavanya Sankaran, The Guardian: There’s this thing I do, every now and then. I will step away from the comforts of my life: my spouse and child, my home and dog. I pack a small bag with two pairs of old linen trousers, three T-shirts, a thin cotton wrap and flip-flops. Then I make the trek to a Vipassana meditation centre and begin a monastic life for 10 days.

These centres are scattered around India and all over the world. I have been making this trip for more than 10 years, varying my location each time. Wherever you go the retreat has an identical structure…

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Dear meditation diary: from doubtful to mindful

Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times:
Day 1–My anxiety grows as I get to Larkspur, several hours into my drive to Spirit Rock. I stop for a snack, worried the food will be hippie-style brown rice casseroles. When I pull into the parking lot, I’m told I can carry my bags up the hill or put them in a pickup. I heft them, worried it’s too indulgent to do otherwise. Later, walking to dinner, people talk tentatively; it’s our last chance to speak to one another, and rather than motivating a full-on chat stream, that makes me pretty uninterested in small talk…

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Mindfulness meditation: It may be essential, but, boy, it isn’t easy

Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times: On the third day of silence and meditation, I said just 14 words, all of them in the course of chopping vegetables for dinner.

Days two, four and five were not much different.

I’m not the quiet type. But this was my idea. So earlier this year, I drove most of a day to reach Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County to immerse myself in the practice of mindful meditation. To be still, clear of worry over career, my teenage sons’ futures, the renovations of our old house. To see whether I could stop — just stop — for…

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Shut up, sit down: Reflections on a Jewish meditation retreat in Israel

Brian Blum, Haaretz: A weekend of meditation based on Hasidic mindfulness practices that were almost wiped out in the Holocaust proved to be unexpectedly transformational.

My wife and I recently went on a silent Jewish meditation retreat. There wasn’t much to say. The end.

Just kidding. There is in fact very much to say about the retreat, which was organized by Or HaLev – the Center for Jewish Spirituality and Meditation, established by Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels at Kibbutz Hanaton in the northern Jezreel Valley.

As described in its mission statement, Or HaLev seeks to “teach concrete Jewish techniques for deepening our lives and to …

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The anxiety of the long-distance meditator

Jeff Warren, New York Times: “You want to cultivate the crackling intensity of the ninja,” Daniel Ingram told me. Ingram made a living as an emergency doctor, but his real passion was teaching advanced meditation. It was day one of a 30-day solitary retreat, and this was my first meditation instruction. We were sitting in Ingram’s straw bale guesthouse, a squat round building next to the main house at the end of a long country road in rural Alabama. Behind the house a thick forest buzzed with insect life.

Ingram stood and began to walk, arms outstretched and eyes shock-widened, as though his …

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Mammoth pyramid meditation centre set to be opened

Nemmani Sreedhar, The Hindu: Faith, they say, can move mountains. But with a firm belief in their system, the faithful have literally created a mountain near the capital.

Spread over 150 acres, Pyramid Spiritual Trust is developing a grand meditation centre at Kadtal village on Hyderabad-Srisailam highway, the star attraction of the centre being a 114-foot tall ‘Maheshwara Maha Pyramid’.

Made of steel and concrete, this structure is the biggest pyramid in the world built exclusively to facilitate meditation, V. Lakshmana Rao, a trust member claimed.

“With practice and observation we have found that pyramids have great healing powers. Human body gets rejuvenated while …

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