We are delighted to offer you one of our Voices from the Sangha reflections this month, this one by Judith Randall. A Quaker for many years, Judith began Vipassana practice at IMS in the 1980s, then lived and practiced at San Francisco Zen Center for fifteen years. She met Gil Fronsdal there in 2010 and eventually became his student and a Resident Volunteer for three years at Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz, California. Last year, she came to live with her friend of nearly forty years, Claudia Brandenburg, who introduced her to the Valley Insight Sangha.
Reflections on Writing about the retreat at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies with Gil Fronsdal, August 2022
By Judith Randall
Pages and pages of notes—all of them alive and meaningful when I wrote them—now
hard to decipher or put into any order in a way that would have meaning for the sangha.
What do I remember?
The place—the peace of the place. Early morning meditation alone on the bench—looking out over the stone wall, down the meadow, over the forest, and on to Mount Wachusett. Bhikkhu Analayo passing by in the dawn-light on his early morning run. Owls. Silence. Stillness. Mist moving in the light breeze. Then walking meditation below the stone wall, wearing a path into the grass over the five days. Refuge. Place of deep safety. Implicit invitation to open and keep opening. Deep rest at night. Gratitude beyond measure for this opportunity to be with Gil and these yogis in the beauty of this place with nothing to do but reflect on the Buddha’s teachings together.
Forty or so of us gathering each morning for a brief meditation in the dharma hall, then breakfast in silence—outside, unless it is raining, and—my favorite yogi job—breakfast pot-washing, looking out over that expanse behind the Center. Three hours of teachings in the morning, three in the afternoon, one-and-a-half in the evening each day. The morning session begins with a guided meditation, then a half hour outside in silence, walking, sitting, setting the conditions for receiving the teachings …
… which pour out of Gil! “Hidden in Plain Sight” is the title of the retreat, and he is revealing new ways of considering the Buddha’s words, and new interpretations and translations of some of those words: the arising of suffering rather than the cause of suffering; inconstancy rather than impermanence; care rather than compassion.
A practice-walk with Gil into the countryside, reconnecting after more than a year apart, and many years of practice together before that. It is as though no time has passed. My practice is refreshed.
After the evening session, it is night. Long solitary walks down the tree-lined road in the dark. Insects softly chirping. Spacious. Letting all the words sink in, float away. Feeling changed by them, by the place, by this once-only gathering of devoted practitioners. Letting the silence fill me, empty me.
Last day. The dharma eye has opened and now is closing. Content. Settled. Opened. Changed. Ready for daily life practice once again. Grateful.
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A Note to the Reader:
The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies is once again offering in-person retreats at their Barre, Massachusetts campus. You can find their full on-site program schedule here.