Days of Mindfulness

Sangha Profile

Lakeside Buddha Sangha Jack and Laurie Lawlor P.O. Box 7067 Evanston, IL 60201 USA Tel: (708) 475-0080

The Chicago-area Lakeside Buddha Sangha observed its fourth anniversary last June, marking over 200 Sunday evenings of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and Dharma discussions. "Magic!" is how Sangha member Ruth Kane often describes the three hours she spends each Sunday meeting with her Sangha in the candle-lit meditation hall that once served the community as its corner grocery store. Lakeside Buddha Sangha came upon this unusual rental space in a rather unusual way: its landlord found Lakeside! "I was hanging a poster from a stepladder during the 1991 Mondelein retreat with Thay," explains Jack Lawlor, "and a retreatant tapped me on the back and whispered, 'Would you like a zendo?' I couldn't believe it. I thought I was in a Jimmy Stewart movie and it was Christmas."

Of course it is the people, not real estate, that give life to Lakeside's manifestation of the Dharma. Approximately 80 people now attend local Sangha activities at least quarterly; last summer, an average of 27 people attended each weekly sitting. Lakeside meetings begin with an hour of sitting and walking meditation. After a break to socialize, we have a formal Dharma discussion led by a Sangha member. Sangha member Jon Frye observes, "Although our rounds of sitting and walking meditation are the heart of our practice, the hour afterwards is extremely important to me. It provides an opportunity to meet others in the Sangha in a more informal way."

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Weekly topics are announced in advance in Lakeside's monthly newsletter, and we have discussed such diverse topics as family reconciliation, mindfulness in the workplace, meditation and creativity, mindfulness and the art of counseling, and loss and bereavement. Michael and Arlene Brennan have led sessions on practicing Right Speech in the American political forum, and on the care and support of ailing family members. Demonstrations which draw upon the talents of local Sangha members have included sessions on oriental brush strokes and a spellbinding session on the art of flower arrangement led by Ilze Arajs, an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ilze and Laurie Lawlor, a children's book author, have facilitated discussions on the relationship between mindfulness and artistic expression, and Sue Tague has led sessions on the relationship between mindfulness practice and poetry.

Former Trappist Jim Jarzembowski has led many discussions on the Buddha's life based on Thay' s poetic biography of the Buddha, and Jack offers a periodic "Foundations of Mindfulness Practice Series" intended not only to introduce newcomers to the practice, but also to refresh and nourish the practice of longtime Sangha members. He has also led a series on the "Six Perfections of the Bodhisattva Way" to nourish the Sangha's study and discussion of the precepts.

Lakeside enhances its weekly activities by taking turns organizing regional retreats and Days of Mindfulness in the countryside with sister-Sanghas practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh in Madison, Milwaukee, and DeKalb. In 1995, seven regional Days of Mindfulnes and retreats were held within a four-hour driving radius of Chicago, typically attracting forty to fifty participants. Sharing organizational responsibilities reduces the administrative burden on any one Sangha, and the interaction helps nourish and renew the Midwestern extended community. Each event includes abundant sitting and walking meditation, outdoor walking meditation, and silence, interspersed with Dharma talks by Jack, group Dharma discussions, bonfires, and song. Lakeside Sanghamembers also participate in the larger community in many ways. Many members are professional caregivers in the fields of social service, teaching, community organizing, medicine, psychotherapy, and home health care. Laurie Lawlor and Jon Frye are hospice volunteers.

Lakeside members participate in activities sponsored by the Chicago-area Dharma council comprised of 25 temples and centers, and are active in interfaith programs sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. Jack is serving his second term on the national Board of Directors of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and keeps local Chicago groups advised of BPF's efforts and programs.

Ed. Note: Ever since Jack and Laurie Lawlor worked closely with the Community of Mindful Living to bring Thay to Chicago in 1989, we have been impressed by their commitment to nurturing an active Sangha practice. We encourage anyone interested in studying the development of a lovely Sangha to write Jack for copies of the Lakeside Buddhist Sangha newsletters and his Sangha manual. (See page 37 for details.)

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Sangha Profile

Haus Tao/Foundation of Mindful Living Marcel and Beatrice Geisser 9427 Wolfhalden, Switzerland Tel: 41 (71) 44.35.39, Fax: 41 (71) 44.35.35 Email: 101676.1466@compuserve.com

In August 1996, Haus Tao will celebrate its tenth anniversary as a Buddhist meditation center. As the house was built more than 200 years ago, ten years might seem like a short time, but considering the history of Buddhism in Switzerland, it is a great example of the growing interest in Switzerland in the Buddha's teaching, and of the common effort of the local Sangha to create and maintain a practice center.

In the mid-1980s, there were only a small Tibetan and a small Thai Buddhist monastery in Switzerland. Marcel Geisser and many of his friends felt the need to have a center that addressed the issues of lay Buddhists. In 1986, Marcel purchased the property that was to become Haus Tao, which is in the northeast part of Switzerland, 1 1/2 hours from Zurich. His intention was for the house to be communally owned with practice rooted in the Buddhist tradition. After four years of effort, in 1990 Haus Tao was founded as a communally run meditation center based on the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing.

Marcel was the main person to begin restoring the house, financing this work by giving seminars in psychotherapy and meditation, as well as by renting the house to other Buddhist teachers and therapists. Although the need for the support of the nationwide Sangha was obvious, it was difficult to rally everyone's energy to create this center. It was only when Marcel was about to sell the property for financial reasons that people began to raise funds to keep it.

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In the early 1990s, Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong visited the center several times. It seems like a miracle that since then, the Sangha has been investing in Haus Tao, both financially and with their personal skills, by helping restore the building, sew curtains, and maintain the garden. As there is a growing interest in Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings throughout Europe, the center is now able to support itself.

Haus Tao is near the German-Austrian border, and attracts people from all over German-speaking Europe. The center is open year-round and offers a schedule of morning and evening meditation. The quiet and serene valley surrounding the center supports our practice. When sitting in the meditation hall, we can hear the nearby river and birds singing. Loriana, our guest manager, is the only permanent resident. However, guests come throughout the year to join her in the practice. Haus Tao can accommodate up to 25 people. Marcel, the resident Dharma teacher, and his wife Beatrice, a movement therapist, live nearby and support the Sangha with weekly Dharma discussions and Days of Mindfulness. They lead several retreats a year, including a three-month retreat which will begin November 1. Retreats and seminars include a daily work period and a session in mindful movement, guided by Beatrice. Haus Tao is now in the middle of our first three-year ongoing seminar in Buddhist studies and practice, which gives the 15 participants the opportunity to integrate the knowledge derived from Buddhist texts with personal growth practices. Since 1993 Haus Tao has published InterSein twice a year, which is the German-speaking sister of The Mindfulness Bell.

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Marcel is on the executive committee of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), and the Sangha networks with INEB members all over the world. In Europe, many people consider Buddhism to be a practice of meditation and theory only. As the idea of engaged Buddhism is still very new, Haus Tao is currently investigating what the social needs in our area are and what are realistic possibilities for developing socially engaged Buddhism in Switzerland. The Sangha may adopt a model similar to the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) program organized by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. The Sangha actively networks with Christian groups, who have a long history of social engagement in Europe, and are grateful for all the inspiration and help from open-minded Christians. In the future, Haus Tao wants to put more energy in building a strong neighborhood Sangha.

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May All Children Live as Children

By Michele Benzamin-Masuda I t was another weekly visit to Central Juvenile Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Russell was showing us the Special Lock Down Unit. He opened a door and I walked into one of the solitary confinement rooms. A solid door with a peephole closed behind me. A camera sat behind a protective screen above the door. In the back of the room was a tightly-screened, ban'ed window. I stood for a moment, barely able to breathe. A sadness came over me that the staff member picked up on. "It is prison," he said. In silence I wondered how I, let alone a child, would feel locked in this room. We moved on to the monitor room, where screens showed two similar rooms occupied by small bodies wrapped up completely in sheets. They lay motionless the whole time we were there.

This unit holds the long-term residents kids too violent or suicidal to be with others, Young, at-risk meditators in East Los Angeles older, high-risk offenders awaiting sentencing, and those under the Witness Protection Program. As the tour ended, Mr. Russell expressed hope that we could start a meditation project in the unit. Many members of our Ordinary Dharma Sangha now teach meditation at Central Juvenile Hall through our "Jizo Project." With other Buddhist organizations, such as International Buddhist Meditation Center and Zen Center of LA, we work with the older high-risk offenders incarcerated for violent Climes, the girls' unit, the younger boys' unit, and occasionally, the special unit devoted to youth with misdemeanor offenses.

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We have a special relationship with Harvier Stauring, the Catholic Lay Chaplain in the prison. Harvier supports our work and offers his church space to our Days of Mindfulness, peace programs, and lectures. The church is in an enclosed area in the middle of the prison-a peaceful setting for mindfulness practice. We share common goals of helping the kids be in this place, giving them choices for not returning, and especially, coping with their home life.

I am deeply moved every time I visit this facility. I have worked with a wide range of kids here, but my choice and circumstances have put me in the younger boys' unit. Mr. Russell refers to this unit as the test for all programs. "These kids need meditation the most!" he says.

The youngest boy I've worked with was eight years old- a very hyperactive, talkative, tiny boy with wide eyes and furrowed brow. He needed of a lot of attention and was afraid to close his eyes during the meditation. The boy seemed so stressed for his age. I stayed with him and tried various techniques to teach him to relax. He eventually calmed down. I later learned that the day before my visit, this boy was put in solitary confinement because of the overflow in his unit, and attempted to take his life. His short life has included gangs, malnutrition, drugs, and stealing.

The general rule is not to ask the kids about their crimes. I don't need to know how they got here. When I look at them, I see children wanting desperately to be children, to be guided, make mistakes, to grow and learn, and most of all, be happy. What grounds me is to see the young boy in all of them, to talk to the part of them that desires to be a kid, do kid things, and hold kid dreams. Most of them worry about court, their families, and when they'll get out.

They all need a good night's sleep, so I teach them relaxation and lying-down meditation. We also talk about anger. They get pepper-sprayed a lot in this unit because of their inability to control themselves. I teach them to stop and breathe deeply, count to ten, and see that to act out anger and get pepper-sprayed is not worth it.

A lot of the kids are in for drug use. I show them a way to get naturally high through breath, yoga, and chanting. Many miss their families, so I teach them how to visit their loved ones through a guided lovingkindness meditation they can do later on their own. Many kids are Christian, so I refer to it as a form of prayer. We discuss the Five Mindfulness Trainings, especially right speech. There are many benefits to speaking kindly or practicing silence and listening. Much of the fighting with each other and the trouble with staff comes from unskillful speech.

A visit from someone who cares can be the thread that saves a young person's life. Understanding this is what keeps me fresh and feeling undefeated by the system. Often I get only one opportunity to work with these boys, on occasion three or four times. Then, they are gone. Juvenile Halls are where kids wait for a sentence or placement. They do not serve time here, though some older ones are here a long time, sometimes years.

When I asked these young boys what are the benefits of meditation, they offered these gems. It helps you relax, focus, open your mind, pray, see your loved ones, go home, get a good night's sleep, deal with anger and sadness. And one beauty of an 11-year-old boy looked at me quite seriously and said, "It helps you get in touch with your feminine side."

I am now setting up Meditation and Peace Education programs with some local community-based organizations for probation kids and kids-at-risk during the critical afterschool hours. Our youth play an integral part in the future of this planet. It is our responsibility to give them the tools to live peaceably.

Michele Benzamin-Masuda, True Treasure, is a resident meditation teacher and co-founder of Manzanita Village Retreat Center. She holds a fourth-degree blackbelt in Aikido and a third-degree in laido sword.

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Report from Jerusalem

By Yacov Granot Learning of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1996, Michael Rosenbush invited Thich Nhat Hanh to Israel to plant seeds of healing. Thay agreed and in May 1997 led two short retreats and gave Dharma talks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Following his visit, several new Sanghas began, and have continued to grow.

The Jerusalem Sangha has been meeting weekly in member Yael Avnon's living room. We do not use a statue, flowers, or incense. There are just people and sometimes Yael's dog, Cloud, visiting or barking from another room. Those attending are from many different backgrounds with different ideas of what the practice is. No attempt is made to direct people in a specific direction. The suggestion is simply to breathe in and breathe out. Sometimes we are fortunate to have a guest from abroad.

Four Days of Mindfulness have been organized thus far, attended by people from allover the country. Dharma teacher Lyn Fine recently led a two-day retreat at Kibbutz Inbar in northern Israel with 50 people and a Day of Mindfulness in Jerusalem with 35 people. I was fortunate to attend the retreat at Inbar in late October.

My lasting impression of Lyn is of her continual smile, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. What do I remember of Lyn' s main Dharma talk? Nothing at all! It doesn't matter, though. I feel I internalized the message. The experience of the retreat changed me, made me calmer, happier, wanting to help more. And much more mindful. Lyn taught us a four-finger exercise, touching your thumb to each finger in turn, breathing in and out each time. It seemed a bit like cheating to me-like using training wheels on a bicycle. But the practice is very helpful and now, I use it several times each day.

During the retreat, I received a Jewish insight as I listened to Lyn. Moses struck the stone to get water from it, instead of speaking to it, and was punished by not being allowed to enter the Promised Land. The question is sometimes raised whether this punishment was too severe-depriving Moses of the culmination of his life's work for a single act. Listening to Lyn, I saw that God was asking Moses to demonstrate to the Jews the power of loving speech. Lyn, I feel, would have been able to get water from the stone through loving speech.

After the retreat, wow! A few minutes after we left, a car approached from the opposite direction and stopped. The driver, a big guy, and I looked at each other for a few seconds. Then, he shouted at us, like our sergeant in basic training: "Where is what's-his-name?" I answered politely that I did not know and suggested that he ask at the kibbutz. Then, I said to the other passengers, "We have now returned to the harsh, crude reality of the real world." The next morning, I realized that I had failed my very first test. When the driver and I looked at each other, I did not say hello or even smile.

Today, when I woke up, I started breathing mindfully and smiled. I was mindful at home. I left the house and began walking mindfully. "This is so easy," I thought, "There is nothing to it." I stopped and breathed mindfully for a while. Everything is as it should be. I have arrived, right here, right now.

Yacov Granot grew up in New York and has lived in Jerusalem since 1966.

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Taking a Breath

By Bill Welch Last August, the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax opened, operating in rented space at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The church, located in Oakton, Virginia, offers several advantages to the center: eleven wooded a res; a supportive congregation, staff, and ministers; proximity to Anh-Huong and Thu Nguyen, the primary teachers at the MPC; and its location approximately in the center of Fairfax County, Virginia, a large suburban area directly west of Washington, D.C.

In the short time the center has been open, many participants have experienced significant, positive changes. Kay, a therapist, shared her thoughts in a letter to AnhHuong and Thu.

"I hold on to the practice much better since attending the Center. I notice the moon often, when I attend the Center often. Instead of noticing the moon only on vacation, I now find it is there on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well. ... The practice of maintaining my center while increasing my field of awareness greatly enhances my work as a therapist. After a few mindful breaths in the midst of a chaotic family, I am present to offer my best. I have also incorporated the practice of conscious breathing into my work by introducing bits of it to interested people."

Jim, interested in Buddhism since childhood, was well read on the subject of meditation, but "had a difficult time comprehending the instructions, much less putting it into practice." He longed for a place that could offer him instruction. Plagued by anger, stress, and addiction, he decided to visit the center every day for meditation. "I could feel the walls that I had built around my heart and mind start to come down, brick by brick. I started to leam to love again- most importantly, how to love myself. I learned that to love and respect others, I must first love and respect myself. A cigarette smoker for fifteen years, I finally realized how beautiful my breath is, how beautiful my lungs are. It did not take long after that to pluck that habit from my life. I pray that centers like this pop up all over the planet. The world would be so peaceful."

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Thu offers deep relaxation meditation to parents while their children are in church choir practice. The parents found they had more patience for their children, and were better able to handle stress as a result of the sessions. Based on their own refreshing experience, several parents encouraged Thu to teach deep relaxation to the children. None of them knew how long it would take the children to settle down. They were surprised and pleased that the children were able to enjoy deep relaxation the very first time. One parent, Susan, reports on the benefits:

"For our family, it was a huge success, and my son looks forward to going to the MPC every Monday, even when it's a school holiday and there is no choir practice. He just wants to go because it makes him 'feel good.' My husband and I have noticed that his disposition is much more pleasant after the Monday session. He has had difficulty controlling his anger most of his young life, and has made so much progress in controlling his temper during the last four months. I attribute much of this improvement to the relaxation sessions at MPC."

Hal , a recovering alcoholic and longtime member of Alcoholics Anonymous, finds practicing mindfulness and meditation enriching to his AA program. Hal was instrumental in having Anh-Huong and Thu offer a Day of Mindfulness for People in Recovery. In expressing his gratitude after this initial offering, Hal said:

"Living in the here and now is a matter of life and death when recovering from addiction to alcohol and other drugs and is of bedrock importance to developing a happy sobriety over the long term. Your teaching had a profound effect on all the attendees with whom I spoke afterward."

Since this first offering, one other daylong workshop for people in recovery has been held. The current plan is to offer such an event all day one Saturday every other month.

Alice began attending the MPC soon after it opened and has found relief from a fear and anxiety syndrome which had bothered her for more than a year. When she recently had a rather serious leg injury treated in the Emergency Room, she practiced mindful breathing, and remained calm and relatively pain-free while the wound was cleaned and stitched. Alice finds that reminding herself to live one minute at a time helps her relax and reduces her stress.

For me, Thu and Anh-Huong have really become colleagues in ministry. As someone who has a real interest in spiritual growth- my own and others-I find the MPC a wonderful resource and support. It provides a regularity and structure that my own practice needs. Having an instructor conveniently available and having other people to practice with is very valuable. All of us associated with the MPC in Oakton hope others will make the effort to find and join us.

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Bill Welch is the Assistant Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax.

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