We Are Now Meeting on Zoom Only

With the Omicron variant projected to continue its spread in the coming weeks, both the Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening sits will continue on Zoom for the foreseeable future. An outline of the format for each of the Zoom sits is provided below. Both groups are reading The Art of Living, a book drawn from the Dharma talks Thich Nhat Hanh offered at the 2014 retreat at Plum Village, the last three week retreat he offered. Those who receive this email will receive the Zoom link and Dharma teaching for the Tuesday sits. Those wishing to participate in the Wednesday sits should reply to this email from Joyce Solomon to be added to the email listing for those sessions. Here is the monthly pattern and format for each of our sits:

MONTHLY PATTERN: The Tuesday and Wednesday sits follow the same monthly pattern with the exception of the Fifth Week:

  • First week: Book study
  • Second week: Open sharing and metta circle
  • Third week: Book study
  • Fourth week: Recitation of 5 Mindfulness trainings with focus on one
  • Fifth week: Open sharing and metta circle (Tuesday sit); deep relaxation (Wednesday sit) 

TUESDAY MORNING FORMAT:

  • 9:00 – Sitting meditation
  • 9:25 – Walking meditation
  • 9:35 – Introductions and Dharma Teaching when applicable
  • 9:55 – Dharma sharing
  • 10:25 – Announcements, Sharing of the Merit

WEDNESDAY EVENING FORMAT:

  • 6:00 – Sitting meditation
  • 6:25 – Walking meditation or mindful movements
  • 6:35 – Opening circle and Dharma Teaching when applicable
  • 6:55 – Dharma sharing
  • 7:25 – Announcements, Sharing of the Merit

ZOOM OFFERS OTHER PRACTICE OPPORTUNITIES

Listed below are two on-line opportunities from members of the sangha:

  • The Earth Holder Community, a group of environmentally minded practitioners in the Plum Village tradition, are offering a book group based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s latest writing: Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet. Click HEREfor details on registration and the four dates of the sessions. 
  • Mary Mullaney wanted to make members aware that the Cultivating Peace Vt book group will hold an online discussion group based on Kaira Jewel Lingo’s recent book “We Were Made for These Times” from 9am to 10:15 am for four weeks from January 8th through February 6. Anyone interested can go register at CultivatingPeaceVermont@gmail.com. Kaira was a nun for many years, ordained by TNH.  She is also an ordained, lay DT in both the Plum Village tradition and the Vipassana Insight Lineage tradition of Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

Please take a look at our links section, above, to find out about other sanghas who welcome virtual visitors and other practice opportunities like daily chanting, Days of Mindfulness, book groups, and other opportunities. We will make every effort to keep this up to date as we enter the dark months ahead and continue to cope with the social isolation that accompanies social distancing. 

Finally, Joyce Solomon (who sends our emails) will continue sharing various practice related activities in the subject box, usually near the end of each week. If you know of additional opportunities that may be of interest, please send them to Joyce by replying to her via this email or any emails she sends to you in the coming weeks. As noted in earlier newsletters, in this age of Zoom it is possible to join book groups, daily meditations, weekly Days of Mindfulness, and a wealth of workshops without leaving your home. Click HERE to connect with Plumline.org, a website that offers a wide array of options for those who want to deepen their practice in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, a site with a national reach. Or… you can click HERE to connect with New England Plum, a site that provides details on New England based sanghas and practice centers. 

 DANA (OFFERINGS) FOR MONASTICS, DHARMA TEACHERS, AND HEART OF THE VALLEY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE CENTER

A reminder that due to the pandemic, practice centers like Morning Sun and the Plum Village Monasteries are encountering revenue challenges because the monasteries and practice centers are no longer able to convene “live” Days of Mindfulness or retreats with robust enrollments. Please consider making donations to these non-profits in the months that lie ahead. Here links to make donations: 

Donations through this link below will go to all the monasteries, including Blue Cliff, and monastics across the globe: thichnhathanhfoundation.org

MorningSun is another practice community in need of donations, as they have been unable to hold in person retreats or Days of Mindfulness: www.morningsuncommunity.org

Note that we always welcome donations to our sangha, the Heart of the Valley Mindfulness Practice Center. As always, for those on Zoom we accept donations mailed to us at PO Box 848, Norwich, VT 05055. Thanks to those who have made donations to date. 

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Where and When We Meet:

NOTE: This section is NOT applicable since we are meeting on Zoom

Typically, the Heart of the Valley Mindfulness Practice Center has a Tuesday Morning Sit and a Wednesday Evening Sit. Both sits held at the Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church, located at 262 Main Street, .3 mile from Exit 13 of Interstate 91. As noted above, our sangha has suspended in person sits and is convening exclusively on Zoom.

The format for each in-person is described below: 

Typical TUESDAY MORNING Practice Schedule:

9:00 to 9:55 Sitting and walking meditation.

9:55 to 10:10 Dharma reading

10:10 to 11:00 Dharma sharing, and the quarterly study of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

EVENING SIT: Wednesdays from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM. Please contact us to be added to the email list for notifications of change. This only apples to the evening sit. 

Click here to get additional information on the evening sits.

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Below are mindfulness practices used at our Center

BELL OF MINDFULNESS

 Throughout our time together — during sitting meditation, walking meditation, dharma sharing, tea time, and so on — a bell will be invited to sound periodically. Upon hearing the bell, we practice stopping; we stop talking, moving and thinking and come back to our in and out breaths for at least 3 breaths. Silently reciting a gatha such as this can help us bring together our mind and body:

“Listen, listen” (breathing in)

“This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.” (breathing out)

Stopping is a wonderful practice.  When we have stopped to listen to the bell we can be more attentive. Breathing is a bridge that helps link body and mind. The more we practice awareness of our breathing throughout our daily activities, the more we shall benefit. The Bell of Mindfulness helps us to return to our breath and to deepen our awareness of the present moment. It is one of many ways the retreat setting helps us to become more aware.

 NOBLE SILENCE

We practice noble silence for the first part of our meditation session, starting once we enter the “meditation hall.” It allows the practice of conscious breathing to become deep and effective. Like still water that can reflect things as they are, the calming silence helps us to see reality more clearly and to communicate with understanding and love.  The practice of Noble Silence is important because it sustains the energy of mindfulness, allowing transformation to take place at the base of our consciousness while we sleep.

SITTING MEDITATION

With a good cushion, blanket, meditation bench or chair we can sit stably and comfortably for some time. The cushion or bench should be chosen so that our weight is balanced and supported on 3 points: our bottom and both knees. In a chair, the points are our bottom and our feet, which are firmly planted on the floor or a cushion. We can be relaxed while keeping our back straight.

There are many kinds of meditation practice. Our main practice will be mindfulness of breathing. When we take an in breath, we know it is an in breath. When we take an out breath, we know it is an out breath.  When our breath is short or long, we know it is short or long.

We can be aware of the states of our breathing body and mind in the present moment without judging or trying to change them. To sit is to be a friend to ourselves. It is interesting enough that no effort or hard work is needed to be still and attentive. We can smile to ourselves with joy and love as we would to our dearest one. Silently saying “In-Out” while following our breathing can help us to be more concentrated.

Sitting meditation periods are approximately 25 and 15 minutes, with a brief walking meditation separating them. Although we want to keep stillness in the meditation hall, we also need to be responsive to the discomfort we may feel.  Therefore, we change our position mindfully, and do not lose meditation time or disturb others.

 WALKING MEDITATION

Walking mindfully together as a group is a very powerful experience.  We benefit from the collective energy of mindfulness and the peace of the group.

With each step we arrive in the here and now. We may wish to coordinate our steps and breathing as we walk.  For example, we may take one, two or three steps with each in breath and three or four steps with each out breath.  We keep our breath natural and do not force it. Our lungs will tell us how many steps we want to take as we walk. The following gatha can help us along the path:

I have arrived (in breath)    I am home (out breath)

In the here (in breath)    In the now  (out breath)

I am solid  (in breath)    I am free  (out breath)

In the ultimate (in breath)   I dwell  (out breath)

 SLOW WALKING MEDITATION (INSIDE)

After our first period of sitting meditation, we practice slow walking meditation to exercise our legs and to practice mindfulness while moving. Walking meditation is walking just to enjoy walking: walking without arriving anywhere. We walk together clockwise, matching our breath with our steps. We are aware of the feeling of each foot as it touches the floor. We are also aware of our position in the circle and adjust our steps to keep the flow smooth so that we flow as a river in our community. Each step is an art of peace and harmony.

 GROUP OUTDOOR WALKING MEDITATION

When we walk outdoors, we walk a bit more quickly than the slow indoor walking. As we walk, we are aware of the contact between our feet and the earth. From time to time we may wish to stop and greet the trees on the path or look at the sky. We only can touch these wonders when we meet our appointment with life in the present moment.

 DIALOGUE, OR DHARMA SHARING and STUDY

The first and third week of each month, we read a short selection from one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books. Generally, there is a theme we are following or a whole book we are reading. Then,after tea, we discuss the reading and our practice. On the second and fourth week of each month, we devote the second half of our session to sharing how our practice has been for the last week or two.

Dialogue, or dharma sharing, is an opportunity for us to learn from each other’s experiences of the practice. It is be beneficial if we share concrete experiences related to our practice. While listening to others share, we maintain awareness of our breathing and feelings, without judging or reacting to what is said. To agree or disagree is not necessary since we want to practice listening in a deep way, in order to understand ourselves and the other better.

We recite and discuss the Five Mindfulness Trainings during months with a fifth week.

 THE FIVE MINDFULNESS TRAININGS

1. Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

2. True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

3. True Love

 Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening

 Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

5. Nourishment and Healing

 Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

 EATING MEDITATION

Often we share a snack at Tuesday’s sits when we re-convene after teatime. We mindfully pass napkins and small bowls of dried fruit, nuts, and perhaps berries, in season. This, too, is an opportunity for practice, as we move slowly and mindfully, smiling and making eye contact with our neighbors in the circle. After everyone has taken his or her snack, we experience our food with all our senses and mindfully eat and drink our tea in silence for a few minutes. Mindful eating is nourishing to the body as well as to the spirit.


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