Good morning friends and members of the OBS,
First, a few quick top of mind business items to share. Please note the registration for Ajahn Sucitto’s December retreat is now closed. There are nine people wait listed for this retreat. Also, a volunteer driver to pickup Ayya Medhanandhi is urgently needed for this coming Friday’s Quaker House evening, Nov 4th. If you are free this Friday afternoon to drive to the Sati Saraniya Hermitage, located 15 minutes west of Perth, to pick-up Ayya, the OBS would be most grateful. Please contact email@example.com for details.
This month we are highlighting the writing and thoughts of OBS member Evelyn Tan. We took this opportunity to ask Evelyn about how she understands the relationship between mindfulness and creativity, as well as her experiences teaching mindfulness to adults with acquired brain injuryThoughts on mindfulness, Buddhism and creativity in my life:
All our teachers remind us that we are not trying to become anything, we are not trying to get anywhere or get anything. As such, it is a practice of diminishing returns. I enjoy being creative but in states of no-thought, there is no desire to create anything. It is different from writer’s block where desire is present but there is nothing to work with or on.
I enjoy writing because I love language but I also enjoy working with clay, which I don’t get to do much of. I had the opportunity to do some pottery last September, before the retreat with Luang Por. It was refreshing to work literally without words, to make something using primarily touch and vision. To make patterns in the clay, I scrounged around the kitchen and used objects in unconventional ways. It was freeing and satisfying. It was certainly a good opportunity to be aware of the body and the fact that it is not much different from the medium (clay). Earth working on earth. The clay worked on me as I worked on it. It was also an opportunity to reflect on not-self (Who is making anything?), impermanence (These bowls will break one day. I like this design…uhmmmm no, I don’t like it as much as I thought I did….well maybe I do like it after all….) and dukkha. There is always some imperfection, sometimes unidentifiable because the standard of excellence can be a moving target. The creative process can easily turn into an obsession and this is both frightening and vexing.
I don’t normally write poetry when I am on retreat. It is not the time for it; by this, I mean a retreat is protected laboratory time. It is when I get to experiment much more than I could because there is a chunk of distractions that is eliminated from daily life. No Netflix, no laundry, no phone calls, no reports, etc. After the last retreat with Bhante Rahula who encouraged us to move slowly (I thought of molasses, sweet, thick and slow), I became much more aware of subtle bodily sensations, thoughts, etc., noticing how many and how quickly sensations arise and cease. I suppose I thought I would do that kind of practice during Luang Por Viradhammo’s retreat but as one of the retreat managers, I needed to attend to “stuff,” and there was also “stuff” from my day job that needed to get done three days into the retreat. I did not do much of the slowing down that I thought I would. I had very little energy reserves when I embarked on Luang Por Viradhammo’s retreat and that small amount of energy came up as a bubbling restlessness in the body. As for the mind, the mind was feeling tired. Clear but tired. Thoughts were, “Not doing this again at the next retreat.” “Perhaps I should start to wind down and retire.” Resting and doing lots of mindful walking was helpful. Taking a step back and asking, “What’s going on?” then trying hard to be with the knowing rather than focusing on the known was also a huge help. Two poems came out of that practice (they can be found at the end of this article.)
Thoughts about the work I do teaching mindfulness and meditation to people with brain injury:
I work with people who have been diagnosed with complex mild brain injury. Lay people would be more familiar with the term “post-concussion syndrome” which is what Sidney Crosby experienced. They come not because of a self-identified spiritual need or even an intellectual curiousity (which is how I myself fell into buddhism.) They come because their physiatrist (rehabilitation medicine specialist) referred them to me. They experience symptoms which would give most people a reasonable excuse to not practice. These symptoms include pain, short attention span, easy distractibility, memory impairments, slow processing, slow response times, impaired organization, easy fatigability, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, etc. etc. These symptoms affect their lives in ways that often rip apart their sense of self. Many can no longer return to work. Many feel isolated because they cannot socialize they way they used to. Many feel misunderstood. Loss of jobs (and therefore income), hobbies, interests, friends: dukkha. They inspire me because of their determination to live well, whatever it takes. I work with them in small groups or 1:1 and once they have learned the basics, they get to join the maintenance group which meets twice a month at Trinity United Church, thanks to the effort of Mark Cuddy (OBS Treasurer) and his wife, Sally. The fact that people show up sometimes despite headaches is a good indication that they find the practice helpful. I try to relate neuroscience to the practice as a way of supporting and motivating them. Even without an MRI to show changes in cortical thickness, they report how helpful the practice is. Many say that this is one “therapy” that has made a huge difference in the way they live with an essentially invisible disability. Some of the outcomes they report include less reactivity, better awareness of mind-body, less rumination and therefore, better management of limited energy reserves.
When I tell newcomers to the maintenance group that I don’t prepare a guided meditation or a talk beforehand, they are always amazed. I tell them that this is not because of laziness or worse, hubris, thinking I am so talented and capable that I don’t need to prepare detailed notes. I let them know that this is something I learned from my teachers. I trust that if I am mindful, I am receptive and therefore open to and perceptive of what the group needs at that moment. This teaching “from the heart” allows words and whatever behaviours that are required of me to emerge quite naturally. Of course there will be times when perhaps a response to a question “could have been better” but as our teachers tell us, it all fits….The only preparation I do is to meditate before I see the group. Of all the volunteer work that I have done, I think the work I do with the maintenance group has been the most satisfying. Having said that, I try not to be attached to this work or to the people in the group. One has to be vigilant!
October 6, 2016
To walk mindfully
back and forth on a strip of grass
is to never walk the same path
Soon enough, the path disappears,
there is just walking.
Soon enough, even that goes.
Oak leaves the colour of cinammon
rain on me like confetti
showers newlyweds outside a cathedral
I have made my own vow
to love, honour and serve
not any one man or woman
In her company, there is no loneliness
nor am I ever divorced from life.
November 4 – Friday Evening Meeting with Ayyā Medhānandī. 7:30 pm at Quaker House, 91A Fourth Ave, Ottawa (click here for map). All dana offerings for the nuns at Sati Saraniya will be gratefully accepted on Friday evening.
Ayyā Medhānandī Bhikkhunī is the founder and guiding teacher of Sati Sārāņīya Hermitage, a forest monastery for women in the Theravāda tradition. A native of Canada, she was born to Eastern European refugees who emigrated to Montreal after World War II.
Ayyā first requested full-ordination as a bhikkhunī from her teacher and preceptor, Venerable Sayadaw U Pandita, in 1988. At the time, this was not possible for Theravāda Buddhist women. Instead, Sayadaw granted her the ten-precept vows of a Theravāda novice nun on condition that she take them for life. Thus began Ayyā’s training in the Burmese monastic lineage. After 20 years as an alms mendicant nun, Ayyā received full bhikkhunī ordination in 2007 at Ling Quan Chan Monastery, Keelung.
November 6 – Daylight Savings Time changes – clocks FALL back one hour
November 7 – Waxing half moon
November 14 – Full Moon
November 21 – Waning half moon
November 25 – Friday Evening Meeting with Venerable Cunda. 7:30 pm at Quaker House, 91A Fourth Ave, Ottawa (click here for map). A friendly reminder all dana offerings for the sangha at Tisarana will be gratefully accepted on Friday evening and Saturday at the Day of Mindfulness.
Venerable Cunda was born and raised in the northern Chicago suburbs. After completing his studies in university and working and living abroad, he returned to California to explore practice in the Theravada Lineage. In late 2005, Ven. Cunda started living at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in northern California. Training for two years as an Anagarikaand Samanera, Ven. Cunda ordained as a Bhikkhu on May 22, 2008 with Luang Por Pasannoas his preceptor. He spent eight and a half years training at Abhayagiri until moving to Tisarana Monastery in June 2014.
November 26 – Day of Mindfulness with Venerable Cunda. 8:30 am – 3:30 pm at Trinity United Church, 1099 Maitland Avenue (click here for map).
November 29 – New Moon
Finally, this month a Poetry Podcast featuring Mary Oliver, an NPR ON BEING interview with Mary Oliver – Listening to the World. Mary Oliver never gives interviews, this is a rare insight into her life which is filled with mindfulness and wonder. She also reads some of her most loved poems.
Photo credit- Hoa Nguyen from October 2016 Galilee Retreat
Submissions to the OBS newsletter are always welcome. Please send submission by December 1, 2016 to Krista Shackleford-Lye: firstname.lastname@example.org