Mar 02

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Me

Happiness, the End of Suffering, and Recovery

Forty-six. That’s not so old – young in fact. He and I are both 46, with young children, and in a long term relationship. We both got sober very young and then maintained that sobriety for many years. Mr. Hoffman made it 23-years, and I’m about to reach my 25th year. This is where the story diverges into disbelief, tragedy, and sadness. Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead from a drug overdose in his own house and a needle in his arm.

How does this happen? Why am I still here and he’s dead? These are the questions on my mind today.

What is clear to me is that success, fame, and fortune do not equal happiness and recovery. Further, many men and women in their forties die everyday. Many probably die from alcohol or drugs. We can’t really blame the heroin, though it is gnarly and deadly, because we know that the drug is just a symptom of a deeper suffering, a deeper sadness, and an inability to cope with reality.

Here’s what I know about happiness, the end of suffering, and recovery. Continue reading

Dec 24

A Christmas Teaching on Love

It is with joy I discover myself reading about Christ’s two greatest teachings on this Christmas Eve day. The first is to love God with all our heart. If I view this absolute love in a non-dualistic way, this also means to love myself with all my heart. The second teaching is to love your neighbor. To be a bodhisattva, serving all beings, is our true nature and my life practice. Self love and love for others is our vocation.

Can you see absolute love and bodhisattva nature in your life today?

Nov 16

The Technology Horse

The Winter Retreat begins today at Plum Village and in a dharma talk earlier this week, Thich Nhat Hanh makes some very powerful statements about technology as well as giving very specific instructions to those practicing in the Winter Retreat.

He uses the ancient story of a person traveling on horseback to ask the question who is in charge of our direction. Thay suggest that the horse is technology and many people are being driven by technology and we are not in control.

One of the more powerful sentiments he shares is:  For the practitioner, if we are doing it exactly like the people in the world then we may not be able to help the people in the world. No email and no Internet and no Facebook can be attractive and to allow us to become a real practitioner. It can be an awakening.

For those who know me, they know I am definitely a technologist. I value technology and believe it can solve many problems. I also value our practice and as an Order of Interbeing member see we should continue to experiment with our practice. That is what we are asked to do.

Thay gives very specific instructions to the monastics: No email. No Facebook. Turn in your computer to the office. How do these instructions apply for the lay practitioner looking to deepen practice during this retreat and yet continue to live and participate in the world?

I do not fear nor suffer from the thought of not using Facebook, Twitterapp.net, LinkedIn for a 3-month period. I am reflecting on how I might use this as an opportunity for me to practice differently. With my work, I am required to use email, and yet there is also opportunity here too. For example, maybe I only check my personal email on certain days or certain hours. Though I can’t attend the 90-day retreat, each winter retreat season I have set an aspiration for my practice. No decision for this winter has been made yet but I’m thinking.

Listen to the talk (it’s not that long) and then share you’re own reflections on what the Teacher is suggesting.

Oct 13

Second Four Exercises of Mindful Breathing

Breathing for Joy and Happiness: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

This dharma talk is the second part of a four-part series on mindful breathing given by Kenley Neufeld at Lulu Bandha in Ojai, California. Original date is September 29, 2013.

Our text is from the Anapanasati Sutta translated from the Pali by the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The English title is the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. The term “sutra” is Sanskrit and is more common in the Mahayana tradition and better known in the west.

In this dharma talk, we focus on the the Second Four Exercises:

5. Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.
6. Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.
7. Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations. Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.
8. Breathing in, I calm my mental formations. Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.

The recording begins with a guided meditation followed by the dharma talk. 60-minutes total.

Personal Practice

  1. Write down your conditions of happiness.
  2. Recognize a neutral feeling and transform it into a pleasant feeling.

Enjoy.

Oct 06

The First Four Exercises of Mindful Breathing

Breathing for Joy and Happiness: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

This dharma talk is the first part of a four-part series on mindful breathing given by Kenley Neufeld at Lulu Bandha in Ojai, California. Original date is September 22, 2013.

Our text is from the Anapanasati Sutta translated from the Pali by the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The English title is the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. The term “sutra” is Sanskrit and is more common in the Mahayana tradition and better known in the west.

In this dharma talk, we focus on the the Four Preliminary Exercises:

  1. Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.
  2. Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.
  3. Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.
  4. Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.

The recording begins with a 11-minute guided meditation followed by a 50-minute dharma talk.

Personal Practice

  1. During the coming week, practice stopping by taking ten breaths in full awareness at some point each day.
  2. Each day pick 2-3 parts of the body and become fully aware of that body part.
  3. One time in the coming week, practice walking meditation to become aware of the unity of body and mind.

Enjoy.

Jul 25

A Place of Refuge in Ojai

Practicing meditation together as a sangha, or community, is a transformative experience that can help you deepen your practice and nourish happiness and joy in your daily life. The sangha can be a place of refuge for all who attend.

My intention as a dharma teacher is to provide a place of refuge and to teach mindfulness, meditation, and the Buddhadharma in Ojai. A fellow teacher, Gael Belden, and I have been offering a monthly Morning of Mindfulness and a weekly sitting at the Being Peace Zendo for several years now. We have a supportive and stable community. Our home-based practice center has served us very well but now is the time to allow it to grow in a new direction.

Prior to offering regular practice in Ojai, I founded and led the Olive Branch Sangha in Fresno from 2002-2005. In early 2012, I was selected to teach by the Plum Village community and given the Lamp of Wisdom by Thich Nhat Hanh. With this gift comes a responsibility to offer meditation and mindfulness to others. Ojai has many skilled teachers and wonderful places to explore the dharma such as The Ojai Foundation, Meditation Mount, Krotona Institute, The Well, to name a few. We are truly blessed in our little Nest. And I’d like to sweeten it more by creating a public space for our mindfulness meditation practice.

The purpose of this post is to set an intention and seek support. I’m looking for a person, a group of people, or an organization that has the capacity to support building the mindfulness community in Ojai. Specifically, I am looking for a location that can be used exclusively by myself and other local teachers (Gael) and facilitators OR a location that can be used weekly or twice-weekly for meditation and teaching.

If you have a location that would be suitable for a regular meditation practice that can be open to the public then I am very interested in speaking with you further. Ideally the location would have a space for silent sitting, a space for teaching and workshops, and outdoor space nearby for walking meditation. It could also be an unconventional location such as a storefront, an office, or a small house.

Keeping an open mind to the possibilities.

Jul 14

Working with our Relationships

Earlier this week I shared in our sangha newsletter a series of questions presented by Thich Nhat Hanh in Hong Kong this past May. He simply read off about 20 questions at the beginning of the Public Talk and invited the listeners to allow them to penetrate into their heart. They weren’t easy questions necessary. Please allow me to share a few of them with you now.

  • Are you in love?
  • Are you still in love?
  • Do you want to reconnect with the person you used to love?
  • Do you have the time for each other or are you both to busy?
  • Do you know how to handle the suffering within yourself?
  • Do you understand your own suffering and the roots of that suffering?
  • Are you able to understand the suffering in the other person?
  • Do you have the time to listen to him or her and help him or her to suffer less?
  • Do you know the Buddhist way of restoring communication and bringing about reconciliation?
  • Are you capable of creating a feeling of joy and happiness for yourself?
  • Are you capable of helping the other person to create a feeling of joy and happiness?

This doesn’t only need to pertain to our intimate relationships, but can also apply to other important relationships in our lives such as parents, children, friends, etc.

Suffering was the First Noble Truth taught by the Buddha. There is suffering. Suffering isn’t something to be afraid of, to avoid, or to suppress. The question is do we know how to take care of our suffering. More importantly, do we know the goodness of suffering? The goodness of suffering is knowing that we can use our practice to transform the suffering into peace, joy, and happiness. It’s like the compost for the garden. We need to know how to take the garbage and use the compost to grow a beautiful flower or a vegetable garden. Continue reading

Jun 11

Gen X Dharma Teachers Gathering

next gen buddha

Updated on June 17, 2013

The location was the hidden valley of Deer Park Monastery near San Diego, California. This 500-acre sanctuary provided the space for about 60 dharma teachers to meet for five days in early June. The weather was perfect, the sharing intimate, the facilitation exceptional, and the practice grounded. The dharma teachers came from Theravada, Ekayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, and Triratna streams bringing a richness of experience to our gathering and conversation. Though the gathering was located at Deer Park Monastery, this gathering was organized and facilitated by a team of five dharma teachers from each of these lineages. Much gratitude to the monastics of Deer Park for opening up their home for our practice.

As active dharma teachers in a tradition of Buddhadharma offering refuge in the Three Jewels, we gathered as a continuation of a similar retreat at the Garrison Institute in 2011. We came together to share our experience, and support each other, as young dharma teachers (born between 1960-1980) teaching western Buddhism. The intent was to connect teachers for whom Dharma teaching is a (or the) significant life activity, whether through teaching retreats, guiding a Buddhist temple, or other format. Being together demonstrated that we are truly a community of teachers and not independent nor separate because of our tradition. We  need not teach in isolation and can support one another in our practice and teachings. Continue reading

May 26

Support Local Businesses, No Chains in Ojai

no_chainsBack in mid-2006 I created a wiki to document a community effort to restrict formula businesses (aka-chains) in Ojai, California. We were ultimately successful on November 27, 2007 with the passage of Ordinance #798. A few years later I shut down the wiki because it was requiring too much effort on my part to maintain and I felt like we had enough years with the ordinance regulating formula businesses. Now with a potential revision to the ordinance before the City Council again, I’m finding myself wanting to review the background. The purpose of this post is to simply document the work we did along with a timeline. It will be cross-posted on the Ojai Post.

This type of ordinance has been passed in many cities and towns (must read!) and been upheld in court. See the June 2003 California Appeals Court decision upholding Coronado’s formula business ordinance. Ojai community members began working on an ordinance in December 2006. The final document was called Formula Retail and Restaurant Establishments and it was submitted to the City of Ojai on April 9, 2007 and signatures have been collected from approximately 700 Ojai voters; enough to be placed on the ballot.

Time Line (2006-present) : Continue reading

May 11

Healing with Joy

heather-perry-underwater-swim (33)This year I’ve been moving slowly through the Satipatthana Sutta. It’s bringing me much joy and enthusiasm for the practice. This Sutta is one of the foundational teachings from the Buddha. Like most teachings, the Sutta wasn’t written down for hundreds of years after the Buddha lived, but it was passed down orally from generation to generation. Beyond the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, I believe this to be one of the primary teachings because it provides specific instructions for meditation. In fact, the sutta uses the term ekayana, which means “one path” in Pali. This has also been translated as “a most wonderful way to help living beings.”

Thich Nhat Hanh translates this Sutta as the Four “Establishments” of Mindfulness. Others have used Four “Foundations” of Mindfulness. Either way, it teaches us how to meditate. At the very base of the practice. Meditation is to look deeply and see the essence of things. We can begin right now. No need to wait. No need to become a monastic. Yes, the teachings were given to monastics but we can all apply this teaching and discover freedom. Mindfulness means to have awareness. Through our practice of meditation, we can establish mindfulness in ourselves. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something, and so the Sutta provides guidance in four areas. Specifically, the body, the feelings, the mind, and the objects of mind.  Continue reading