programming

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."

mb15-SanghaProfile

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.)

PDF of this article

Practice with Young People

By David Dimmack Young people are the flowers of our Retreat Sangha. They radiate innocence and spontaneity, and their fresh smiles remind us that our retreat can be joyful as well as peaceful. In them we see our own innocence and freshness. Their presence is an important gift.

Unconditional acceptance of each young person and relentless patience are essential in planning a young people's program. In 1989, I observed my son and daughter with Sister Chan Khong and other nuns. They were learning a skit to present to the Sangha. The group was loud and wild, but what impressed me was the nuns' calm, gentle, and persistent approach. There was not even a hint of scolding (which I was inclined to do). They calmly and consistently directed the young people back to the task. I aspire to practice this teaching in fathering, and it is probably why I lead these programs whenever possible. As Thay says, "When a tree does not grow right, the farmer does not blame the tree. He changes how he treats the tree." These words encourage our mindfulness in our relations to our vulnerable and impressionable young people.

mb20-Practice

Young people's programs usually include singing, pebble meditation, and the bell of mindfulness. The primary song and pebble meditation are based on a gatha from The Blooming of a Lotus: In-Out, Flower-Fresh, Mountain-Solid, Water-Reflecting, Space-Free. We often sing the Two Promises of developing understanding and compassion. Both songs have accompanying hand gestures that young people enjoy learning, and help set a lighthearted tone. Betsy Rose's tape, "In My Two Hands," has many songs children enjoy, Music, song, and story are essential to a young people's program.

In pebble meditation, each person makes a pouch and finds five pebbles it can hold. Each pebble represents one phrase of the gatha. When it's time to meditate, we place our pebbles in a pile. We pick our In-Out pebble, hold it and look at it, breathe with it, and imagine the phrase, then lay it on a new spot. With the next pebble, we imagine being a flower and feeling fresh, and place it with the first pebble.

We leisurely transfer our pebbles, one by one, to their new spot-looking, holding, breathing, and remembering. We then replace them in our pouch or begin again. Children of all ages can learn to meditate this way.

Each young person also practices being bellmaster. When calm and ready, the beIlmaster stops and bows to the small bell, slowly picks it up, holds it in the palm of their hand, and raises it to eye level. Looking at it, they imagine they are holding a precious gift. Using the smaIl wooden stick, they tap the bell to wake it up and let everyone know to become quiet. Then, with a full stroke, they sound a long, beautiful tone. Everyone enjoys three full breaths and returns to what they were doing more refreshed and aware. Young people also enjoy apple meditation, relaxation, drawing and craft projects, discussions and sharing, reading and storyteIling, improvisational skits, interactive games and open play, stretching, tumbling, hiking, jokes, and just hanging out. Often, they present songs, skits, drawings, or Dharma recitations to the Sangha. A happy program tends to be loosely structured, allowing each person to focus on their own project. Monks, nuns, musicians, storytellers, and others are welcome visitors. We want to cultivate the seeds of mindfulness in these tender young sprouts and have it be fun.

A young people's program reflects the positive attitude of the Sangha. Feelings of trust and cooperation grow between everyone involved. Young people welcome the slower, gentle rhythm of the meditation and retreat process, away from television and other fast-paced gadgets.

Local Sanghas can create similar programs. Playfulness and mindfulness need not be separate-breathing and smiling as well as a balloon or a funny hat works wonders. As Phaedrus says, "The mind ought sometimes to be diverted that it may return to better thinking." A leader only needs to provide a few simple activities, be devoted to gentle play, and be willing to be a little foolish. Let the collective playfulness of your Sangha be your guide.

David Dimmack, True Mirror, has assisted with young people's programs since 1991. He practices with the Ambler, Pennsylvania, Sangha.

PDF of this article

Family Retreats

By Ann-Mari Gemmill & Mitchell Ratner Every fall and spring for the past five years, members of the Washington Mindfulness Community retreat to an old lodge on the Chesapeake Bay. The lodge has room to ramble and appreciate the waves and sunsets. Each group is a little different and includes active Sangha members, spouses, children , companions, and friends , usually about 30 people. Because many are "regulars," the organizing tasks have become familiar and easy to share. As one nine-yearold "regular" says, "It's really fun."

Before the retreat, adults and teenagers agree to take turns organizing children's activities and bringing materials for each activity. Teams are designated to bring ingredients for and prepare one meal during the retreat.

The retreat begins Friday evening with a game to help learn names. We gather in a big circle and people introduce themselves with a positive adjective that alliterates with their first name, such as Amazing Ann-Mari or Magical Mitchell. Then parents and older chi ldren read or tell bedtime stories- often Buddhist stories with themes related to Thay's teachings. After the stories, some parents put younger children to bed, while others gather in the boat house for meditation. Older children may join if they wish. Early morning meditations are also in the boathouse or, in nice weather, on the dock.

Saturday morning, we choose topics for Dharma discussions and fine tune the timing of activities and meals. We plan a schedule that lets each child (over two years old) be part of a team that invites the bell to sound and reads gat has before meals . The children increasingly join in planning the program, especially the tea ceremony. They also enjoy craft projects (such as creating a miniature tea ceremony from beeswax), soccer games, canoeing and paddle-boating, baking cookies, and planning skits for the tea ceremony.

Before meals, our entire community stands holding hands in a circle, to smile at each other and hear the gathas. We eat in (relative) silence for the first five or ten minutes. The children delight in inviting the bell after talk begins, silencing us all.

The tea ceremony takes place Saturday evening after a flurry of cushion placement and flower arranging. We tell what we discovered on our walks, show drawings and craft projects, and share skits, songs, jokes, poems, and insights. The retreat ends Sunday with a short ceremony of appreciation and reflections, followed by lunch.

Ann-Mari Gemmill, Mitchell Ratner (True Mirror of Wisdom), and their daughter, Juliana, are veterans of nine Washington Mindfulness Community family retreats.

PDF of this article

Mindfulness Practice Center

By Anh-Huong Nguyen mb21-MindfulnessPractice

Dear Friends, February 14th and 15th, we had an open house for the Mindfulness Practice Center of the Upper Valley, Vermont. About three hundred people joined us in mindful sitting and walking, clementine ceremonies, introductory talks, total relaxation and singing. The Mindfulness Practice Center of the Upper Valley is "a resource center and gathering place supporting the art of mindful living in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh."

I want to share with you more about the unfolding of this first Mindfulness Practice Center. One afternoon Thu and I were having tea with Thay, and he asked us to open a Mindfulness Practice Center in Virginia, where we live, as an experiment. We both were very enthusiastic about the idea of nonsectarian mindfulness practice, so we agreed. However, after Thay's visit to Vermont, the plan for a Mindfulness Practice Center in Virginia was changed. First, there was a tremendous response to Thay's public lecture in November in Woodstock, Vermont. Despite having to reschedu le because of a snowstorm, well over 1,000 people attended Thay's lecture on a Sunday evening.

While Thay was in Vermont, he officially accepted land that had been offered on which to build a monastery (now called Maple Forest Monastery). He was also invited to look at a piece of property for a potential Dhanna Center. Thay found it to be a wonderful setting, and spontaneously said, "Green Mountain Dharma Center." This Dharma Center will be the home of the Order of Interbeing in North America. When he went back to Plum Village, he left behind six nuns and three monks at the monastery, and soon after that, Sister Annabel came to start the winter retreat. It became obvious to Thu and me that the first Mindfulness Practice Center should start unfolding in Vermont as well, so that we could all support each other. So Thu and I and our four-year-old son Bao-Tich found ourselves in wintry Vermont one week before Christmas to support and help in whatever way we could.

Thay has said, "When conditions are sufficient, things manifest; when conditions are lacking, they are no longer apparent." The Monastery, the Green Mountain Dharma Center, and the Mindfulness Practice Center of the Upper Valley have begun to manifest in Vermont because the conditions here were sufficient. No one person could make it happen. The newly ordained novice monks and nuns in Key West who were unable to obtain visas to go to Plum Village made up one condition. Thay is another condition. Thay's and our desire to offer the practice of mindfulness to help relieve the suffering in our society and in the world is another condition. The body of the Order of Interbeing, where each one of us is a cell in that body, and the strength of our local Sanghas and the Community of Mindful Living, are other conditions. The beautiful natural environment of Woodstock, Vermont, and the strong response of the community here to Thay's teaching are still other conditions. If we continue to look deeply, we will discover the many conditions that have come together to make all this possible. It is just a matter of coming together! Keeping this in mind, we are deeply appreciative of and grateful for what is unfolding.

Thay's dream of having a fourfold Sangha (monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen) in North America has started to become a reality. Thay sees the important role of Tiep Hien members in developing a mindful culture fostering happy individuals, loving families, and a healthy planet through establishing nonsectarian mindfulness practice centers as well as local Sanghas. As soon as the Dharma Center property is purchased, the Education and Training Committee of the Order of Interbeing will have a home to execute a training program for Order members to be local mindfulness practice center facilitators, to assist at retreats, and at the Green Mountain Dharma Center itself. As an experiment, if this first Mindfulness Practice Center can fulfill its task of creating a more mindful and loving community, nonsectarian Mindfulness Practice Centers will become our offering to the twenty-first century.

The Mindfulness Practice Center of the Upper Valley currently offers a program six days a week, 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m., including mindful sitting and walking, community work, stress reduction/guided relaxation, presentations with questions, tea ceremony, and a children's program three afternoons a week. We also have introductory talks. In the next two months, we will have three weekend retreats. The Center is also working with the Vermont Department of Corrections to look into the possibility of developing a mindfulness program for inmates in the state's correctional facilities. We have been asked by several local senior centers to give presentations about our practice, and we look forward to working with area teen centers as well. Several of our members have expressed an interest in offering programs that reach out to families and individuals in the community to help provide skills to enhance their efforts to deal with poverty and abuse. There are nurses, medical doctors, psychotherapists, and hospices who have expressed great interest in working with the center for different outreach programs.

At the MPC of the Upper Valley, we often remind each other of what Thay has said regarding the practice: "We want to offer people a real product, not a fake one." If we do not practice, we have nothing to offer to people. Although we are quite busy here, we have managed to hold Beginning Anew ceremonies among ourselves at the MPC as a way to resolve conflicts and deepen our practice of working together in harmony. We also take turns joining the nuns in sitting meditation at the Maple Forest Monastery so that we can be nurtured and supported by their loving presence. Every time we come to the Monastery, we feel that we are going home.

We hope to see you here in Vermont very soon so that we can walk and breathe together this fresh mountain air of our new spiritual homeland.

Anh-Huong Nguyen, Chan Y, is a Dharma teacher and a member at the Sangha in Washington, D.C.


Mindfulness Practice Centers Mission Statement

We are dedicated to the creation of a mindful culture fostering happy individuals, loving families, and a healthy planet. We intend to promote mindfulness at all levels of society.

PDF of this article

 

Living the Simple Life

A Retreat at Maple Village

By Nguyen Duy Vinh and Miriam van Husan

We left the city of Montreal behind and drove past the still bare fields. The blue-gray mountains drew us ever onwards. Once in the small village of Saint Etienne de Bolton we were completely surrounded and embraced by these ancient hills. Soon we came to the turnoff to Maple Village a short drive up the lane and we saw the sign "We have arrived, we are home in the here and in the now."  We were ready for the Victoria Day weekend retreat called, "Living the Simple Life."

mb32-Living1

We have been to Maple Village before but again we were touched by the simple, unaffected kindness and gentleness of the Vietnamese Sangha which had organized the event. We were welcomed into a loving extended family with aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, a novel experience for those who have grown up in the nuclear family of mainstream North American society.

Maple Village consists of a main house and several small cabins nestled in a clearing in the forest. From the windows of the meditation hall one can see the imposing mountains and the multiple valleys surrounding us. The weather teased us, as often happens in Canada, and on Sunday morning we awoke to find the Village covered in a soft blanket of snow! It was a landscape that inspired and reinforced the serenity of spiritual practice. In fact, after only four days the transformation experienced by many people was obvious.

The monks from Maple Forest Monastery, Thay Vo Ngai, Thay Phap Tru, Thay Phap Ung, Thay Phap Hung, and Sramenera Phap Chuyen, brought a special joie de vivre to all the activities. Each of the teachers spoke of their own experiences of their life before meeting Thay Nhat Hanh, which demonstrated how they had grown with Thay's teachings and practice. Especially touching was Thay Vo Ngai 's experiences in Vancouver: figuring out how to cook; feeding his lunch to the schoolyard sea gulls; scattering rice outside his window for the birds and leaving none for his brother! This unconscious emulation of St. Francis was very moving. Thay Phap Ung spoke of his adventure (perhaps misadventure would be a better word) trying to escape from Vietnam with his father how they were captured by the police and how he was able to distract the police, allowing his father to escape while he himself ended up in prison for a month. Such presence of mind in so young a boy! All the Dharma talks were about the "simple life": What do we really need? What is truly necessary for a happy life?

As in a monastery the day was structured, with the wonderful sound of the bell reminding us of the various activities. The day began at 5:45 a.m. with our brother Chan Huu inviting us to wake up and greet the new day. The daily program was nicely balanced with sitting and walking meditation, Dharma talks and discussions, physical exercise and various other special practices such as Total Relaxation and the Five Touchings of the Earth.

The question and answer period ending the retreat gave everyone the opportunity to explore further the theme of the simple life. How does a layperson live a simple life? The monks' responses were apt: To examine our patterns of consumption. To look deeply into our Lifestyles and see what is a necessity and what is a luxury. What do we really need in order to live and function in our society? Our aspirations, our volitional forces have a profound impact on our life by rendering it more complicated or more simple. Our acceptance of ourselves and our acceptance of others can make our lives simpler. We aspire not to have more power, more money, more material possessions, but to have more time more time for ourselves and more time to offer to those we hold in our hearts.

Dharma Teacher Nguyen Duy Vinh, True Awakening , and Miriam van Husan, True Protection, practice with the Pagoda Sangha in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

PDF of this article

Teens, Yoga, and Nature

An Interview with Holiday Johnson by Terry Masters

mb36-Teens1

Holiday, tell us about your yoga classes for teenagers.

I know that some people are hesitant to work with teens; they regard them with suspicion, or fear. But my experience with teens has been wonderful. I’m encouraged by their enthusiasm, creativity, and their delight in life. I really love them!

mb36-Teens2

What kind of work do you do with teens?

Thirteen years ago I started a non-profit program for teens which we named Standing on Your Own Two Feet. The purpose of the program is to use yoga to develop skills in teenagers that produce a sense of well-being. In my experience, yoga helps youngsters become strong, centered, and healthy.

Teens can come to any class at our yoga studio seven days a week. But I offer two yoga classes that are designed specifically for youngsters eleven to seventeen years old. Because teens often don’t have much money, the classes are half price, and I offer free classes for two months each year. During those months teenagers can attend classes every day if they want at no charge.

You also sponsor a teen retreat, don’t you? What is that like?

It is so inspiring! This past August, nine girls, ages thirteen to seventeen years old, and two adults gathered at a retreat center in an organic apple orchard in the mountains near Parkdale, Oregon for three days and two nights.

Each girl brought her own vegetarian recipe to prepare for the group. We had some delicious and creative organic vegetarian meals! In appreciation for the wonderful food and the work that went into preparing it, we began each meal with the Five Contemplations.

We practiced meditation every day. We offered formal yoga classes, and informal ones, too: the girls invented their own tree pose in the river! Sometimes the girls were quiet, enjoying the time to reflect and relax. Of course, there were also times when the girls were chatty and giggly.

We hiked. We swam. We sat in awe of nature: one girl found frog eggs for us to admire; another commented on how beautiful it was to be swimming in an apple orchard. One day Judy Bluehorse, a Native American, guided us through the woods, pointing out the various medicinal uses of the plants and trees we saw.

What is especially encouraging for me in working with teens is how they share their ideas with each other so freely. How supportive and kind they are, how sweetly they encourage each other. For example, some of the girls were afraid to swim in the muddy-bottomed lake. After some encouragement from their peers, the timid ones were in there having fun too. That kind of sweetness, that kind of compassion and generosity, gives me hope for the future.

If folks want to find out more about your work with teenagers, how can they get in touch with you?

Our website is www.holidaysyogacenter.com. I'd be happy to share whatever I can with people who are interested in working with teens. And I’d love to know more about what others are doing.

Holiday Johnson, Kind Forgiveness of the Heart, practices with the True Name Sangha in Portland, Oregon.

PDF of this article