Tuesday Morning In-Person Sits
The Heart of the Valley Tuesday morning sits meet in person at Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church, located at 262 Main Street, .3 mile from Exit 13 of Interstate 91. An outline of the format for the Tuesday sit is provided below. Both the Tuesday and Wednesday sits are concluding readings from The Art of Living, a book drawn from the Dharma talks Thich Nhat Hanh gave at the 2014 retreat at Plum Village, the last three week retreat he offered. Each week those on our email list will receive an overview of the Dharma teaching for both the Tuesday and Wednesday sits AND the Wednesday Zoom link. Those wishing to be added to our email list and get the link for the Wednesday sits should send an email to Joyce Solomon.
A NOTE ON TUESDAY MORNING COVID PRECAUTIONS
Masks are optional but welcome in all cases and MAY be mandatory under some circumstances based on recommendations we receive from the church and/or CDC warnings. Should either circumstance occur, we will make every effort to alert sangha members in advance of the sit. Sangha members are asked to bring masks with them to the sit in the event that changes in our protocols occur at the 11th hour.
A NOTE ON TUESDAY MORNING WEATHER PRECAUTIONS
If weather is deemed too challenging , we will hold our Tuesday sits on Zoom. If the weather is questionable please check your email to see if we will meet online and to get a Zoom link for the meeting.
Wednesday Evening Zoom Sits
The Wednesday evening Zoom sits begin at 6:00 PM and conclude 90 minutes later. An outline of the format is provided below. As noted above both groups are reading The Art of Living, a book drawn from the Dharma talks Thich Nhat Hanh gave at the 2014 retreat at Plum Village, the last three week retreat he offered. Those wishing to be added to our email list and get the link for the Wednesday sits should send an email to Joyce Solomon.
Monthly Pattern and Format for Sits
MONTHLY PATTERN: TUESDAY SIT –
- 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)
MONTHLY PATTERN: WEDNESDAY SIT –
- First week: Open share, metta circle
- Second week: Book study
- Third week: Recitation of 5 Mindfulness trainings with focus on one
- Fourth week: Book study
- Fifth week: Deep relaxation (Wednesday sit)
TUESDAY MORNING FORMAT:
- 9:00 – Sitting and walking meditation
- 9:50 – Tea and Mindful Conversation
- 10:10 – Dharma Teaching when applicable
- 10:25 – Dharma sharing
- 10:55 – 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
Click here to get additional information on the evening sits.
Zoom Offers Other Times for Sits
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.
Also, our sangha chairperson, Joyce Solomon (who sends our weekly emails and manages the email lists) 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. 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 for Monasteries, Dharma Teachers, Practice Centers
A reminder that practice centers like Morning Sun and the Plum Village Monasteries face revenue challenges due to the need to upgrade their facilities. Morning Sun continues to make improvements to the barn, campgrounds, meditation hall, and trails so they can host overnight retreats and offer accessibility to all. Blue Cliff Monastery and Plum Village itself are looking to improve quarters for monastics who teach and serve practitioners. Our Practice Center needs to pay monthly rent to the church and wants to continue offering scholarships for retreats to local practitioners. Please consider making donations to these non-profits in the months that lie ahead. Here links to make donations:
The Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation (see link at the end) coordinates donations to all the Plum Village monasteries, including Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY: thichnhathanhfoundation.org
MorningSun is our closest practice community: www.morningsuncommunity.org
Where and When We Meet:
The Heart of the Valley Mindfulness Practice Center has an in-person Tuesday Morning Sit and a Wednesday Evening Sit, which meets exclusively on Zoom. The Tuesday sit is held at the Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church, located at 262 Main Street, .3 mile from Exit 13 of Interstate 91.
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.
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.
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 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
First Training: 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.
Second Training: 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.
Third Training: 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 mutual consent, true love, and a deep, long-term commitment. I resolve to find spiritual support for the integrity of my relationship from family members, friends, and sangha with whom there is support and trust. 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 interrelated, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and to cultivating the four basic elements of true love – loving kindness, compassion, joy, and inclusiveness – for the greater happiness of myself and others. Recognizing the diversity of human experience, I am committed not to discriminate against any form of gender identity or sexual orientation. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.
Fourth Training: 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.
Fifth Training: 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.
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.
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.