Practices to Help You Awake in the Wild
By Lee Steppacher
[Note: Lee Steppacher led the Tuesday night sit on August 8, sharing reflections on her study of Awake in the Wild, a mindfulness meditation practice in nature. Here, she shares a few practices that each of us can take into the woods or on the water or wherever we like to spend time outside.]
I remember the first time I walked along a mountain stream with the explicit intention of being mindful. I reflected on the flowing water, considering what I had to learn from the ever-moving water: what was flowing inside me? what was stuck? My mind was quiet, as it becomes naturally in nature, and I was touched deeply by the world around me.
Awake in the Wild, created by vipassana teacher Mark Coleman, provides a path that integrates mindfulness practice into the natural world. The tranquility and spaciousness of nature can be so supportive of our meditation practice; certainly, the forest monks in Thailand know this, as did the Buddha himself. AITW invites us to explore the stillness and wisdom of the world around us and to feel a sense of belonging within it. Sitting in nature opens us to a child-like curiosity and wonder. In nature our inner environment and outer world may feel more permeable, neither separate or different from one and other. Both are vast and mysterious.
Try this: Find a welcoming spot and bring your cushion outside. Feel yourself on the ground, the warmth or coolness of the air, the wind on your skin, the birds overhead. Take it all in. Let your attention be open and relaxed and feel yourself as a part of all that is around you.
Or, when you are walking, really experience your walk through all of your senses. Bring your attention into your body and start by noticing your feet on the ground and your body moving through space. After a few minutes move your attention to the sounds around you. Now, let this be the predominant sense. Notice the sounds of your footsteps, bird calls, the wind. Embrace all you hear, both natural and manmade sounds. After a few more minutes, let sight be the predominant sense. Try to keep a soft gaze to ‘receive’ visual stimuli. You can continue walking with these intentional shifts in attention. Or, open to choiceless awareness. Bring your attention to whichever sense is dominant in this moment, and notice where your awareness moves. Notice how quickly your attention can move between stimuli. What a great way to take in the fullness of summertime or early fall! I look forward to hearing about your experiences of awakening in nature.
“It’s Just This”
An account of the June 25 Pa Bah at Jetavana Temple Forest Monastery
by Karen Summer
Ajahn Sumedho told us several stories during his dhamma talk today. He said that, as a Westerner from California, having just arrived in Thailand in 1966, he had no idea how he would be treated by the Thai people, especially as he was asking to become a monk. What he found is that generosity is embedded in the culture itself, instilled in childhood. As he expressed his desire to understand the Buddha’s dharma, he received encouragement everywhere he went. Fifty-one years later, Thai people are still supporting him and the monastic discipline to which he has devoted his life, as we saw today in Temple, New Hampshire.
The June 25 gathering honored Luang Por (Venerable Father) Sumedho, who lived in Ajahn Chah’s forest monasteries for eleven years and then was delegated by him to start a monastery in the United Kingdom. Luang Por then founded Amaravati Monastery and was its abbot for many decades. Now retired and eighty-three years of age, he lives full-time in Thailand. His trip to the U.S., with a three-week stay at Jetavana Temple Forest Monastery, was a supreme honor for the founder and current abbot, Ajahn Jayanto, who led the monks’ chants and guided (in a good-natured way) the attendees’ ceremonial gift-giving.
Luang Por Sumedho talked with good humor and smiles about no longer living from a feeling of fear as a motive for our lives. The Buddha taught his monks to train the mind not to possess. The specific training was to live as homeless beings – samana – with nothing except the Four Requisites, which would be supplied by the lay people. These requisites were food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. He joked that if Obamacare fails, the monks could return to the practice of 2,560 years ago of drinking fermented cow’s milk as medicine. He said, “As far as getting, achieving, having more – see that it’s just this!”
He has thought deeply about what blessings are. They’re not from outer space or mystical forthcomings, but from “the love of goodness and truth,” which he experienced after he removed himself from the selfish Western culture. “What we lack in the West is not reason and logic, the worldly wisdom. What we lack is real understanding of the universe itself. When we are mindful we can begin to tune into the universe. . . . The Buddha’s teachings point inward to our heart and mind where universal wisdom can inform us. With universal wisdom . . . we can relate to the material world with wisdom, compassion, and love.”
The Jetavana Temple Forest Monastery is in a beautiful setting. The weather was New England summertime perfect, and we felt honored to be in the presence of the monastic sangha, a venerated pioneer, and the multi-cultural lay community.
The abbott of this monastery, Ajahn Jayanto will return to the Upper Valley for his third daylong retreat as a Valley Insight visiting teacher on Saturday, September 9. The details for this retreat will be posted on our website by early August.
Sangha member Rob Chambers recently spent 6 weeks in Burma studying with U Tejaniya. Rob is currently back visiting in the Upper Valley and shared his Burma experiences with us in December, 2016. He showed slides of the country and led us in a Tejaniya-style meditation practice. This style is specifically focused on mindfulness in everyday life and provides guidelines that encourage cultivating mindfulness in a comfortable, accessible method appropriate for every moment of our lives.
From Doreen about Jetavana (Temple Forest) Monastery Dedication:
The Buddhadhamma Settles into Southern NH: On Sunday June 28th, 2015, close to 300 people gathered at what we have called Temple Forest Monastery to celebrate the opening of what is now officially called Jetavana Monastery. There were dignitaries present, including Ajahn Liem, the head of the Thai Forest Lineage, the Thai Ambassador to the US, and Ajahn Veradhammo, abbot of the monastery in Ottawa, as well as many local Thai people and others from Boston and IMS. There were friends from VT Insight and the Concord, NH insight group there too. Seven of us from VIMS attended. It was magical. There were talks and chants and rituals; the nine monks present weaved among us on an alms-round to gather rice into their meals. Then we all gathered for a potluck meal with an amazing array of food. Afterwards, we returned to the large tent in the high meadow. The ceremony continued and soon we walked down hill to the unveiling of a marking stone, a glacial “erratic” now engraved with the names of the monastery. People stayed for a long time after the official events to talk informally. As Ajahn Liem said at the start of his Dhamma talk, “The most important thing here today is in the friendly conversations.”
There was lots of rain all day. Rain at an event of this magnitude is considered auspicious. And so it was: a blessed and very happy day for all.
“It is important to keep the gift moving,” a Native American saying quoted by Bruce Kantnor, previous owner of the land in Temple. The generosity of Bruce and his wife Barbara made the purchase of the entire property possible.
May 4, 2015:
Ayya Santacitta led the Monday sit. Since her last visit to VIMS, she has become fully ordained and is part of a group of nuns who are establishing a monastery in northern California, Aloka Vihara, on land purchased for them last year. In 2011, Ayya Santacitta was among the first Buddhist nuns in the Theravadan order to receive bhikkhuni, or full, ordination since the 11th century, when the order of fully ordained Buddhist nuns totally died out. She is a strong advocate for extending full ordination for women throughout the order, a somewhat controversial issue. She is also committed to “wise action” on climate justice and is inspired to encourage people to embody the Buddha’s teachings through their lives.