May 26 – June 16: Meditation and the Gentle Art of Letting Go

I will be teaching a series of 4 evening classes at the University of Ottawa Center for Continuing Education entitled “Buddhist Meditation and the Gentle Art of Letting Go” on May 26, June 2, 9, 16, 2015 and there are still some places available. It is possible to register from the web site:

http://www.continue.uottawa.ca/program_EN.cfm?catID=6&groupID=35&courseID=214

The course focuses on the Anapanasati Sutra: the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Although participants are not necessarily expected to have taken the earlier introductory course (see the previous post) some previous meditation experience will be helpful. Each two-hour session will include two guided meditation periods that run from 30 to 45 minutes, and participants will have time to ask questions about their own meditation practice.

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Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation @ University of Ottawa

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Laureen Osborne will be teaching a series of 4 evening classes at the University of Ottawa Center for Continuing Education entitled “An Introduction to Buddhist Meditation”  on April 21, 28, May 5, 12, 2015 and there are still some places available. It is possible to register from the web site:

http://www.continue.uottawa.ca/program_EN.cfm?courseID=213&groupID=35&catID=6

Laureen Osborne is a Buddhist teacher. She has been a practising Buddhist in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh for over ten years. She has taught a workshop on mindful eating. Her other passions include a love of dogs and vegetarianism. She has worked as an editor, writer, and seminar speaker and is the author of four books including a cookbook titled ‘Vegetarian for a Day’.

Retreat with Monastics from Blue Cliff Monastery, Ottawa May 8-10, 2015

A retreat with monastics from Blue Cliff Monastery is being held in Ottawa in May 2015.

Please go to http://pagodasangha.org/retreats/  for registration and details

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Peace and Healing is in Every Step

A Retreat with the Nuns and Monks of Blue Cliff Monastery

in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh

May 8 – 10, 2015
St Paul University, Room L120,
223 Main St, Ottawa Ontario, K1S IC4

Meditation Course @ U. Ottawa Nov. 25 – Dec. 16, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 9.07.59 AMI will be teaching a series of 4 evening classes at the University of Ottawa Center for Continuing Education entitled “Buddhist Meditation and the Gentle Art of Letting Go”  on November 25, December 2, 9, 16, 2014 and there are still some places available.  It is possible to register from the web site:

http://www.continue.uottawa.ca/program_EN.cfm?catID=6&groupID=12&courseID=214

Why is the “Present Moment” a “Wonderful Moment”?

A question that often arrises with Thich Nhat Hanh’s phrase “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment” is this: what if the present moment is not a wonderful moment – what if it is one of great difficulty or pain or anguish?

The first thing to say is that this phrase does not mean “don’t worry, be happy” – at least not in the sense of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman.  There is no denying that there is suffering in life.

However this phrase of Thay is an assertion that suffering can be transformed – that happiness is possible and that it is possible right here and now. I experience “the present moment is a wonderful moment” to  be true because the awareness of the moment is wonderful, not because whether what is happening in the present moment is pleasant or unpleasant.

Thay often suggests “enjoy your non-toothache” and encourages all his students to remember that “we already have more than enough conditions to be happy” (see the 7th Mindfulness Training in the 14 Mindfulness Trainings reproduced below). In the 7th Mindfulness training Thay’s encourages us to touch the “wondrous elements…[available] in all situations”. But for me, the most wondrous element of every moment is the awareness of this moment. And every moment of awareness has that element in common with every other moment, regardless of what is happening in it.

The ability to be fully aware of the present moment is also the ability to be “non-discriminating” between the experiences we like (because they are pleasant) and the experiences we don’t like (because they are unpleasant). Awareness is non-discriminating because awareness does not want to get and does not want to reject, it just is aware, and accepting of everything that manifests.

No Mud, No Lotus

Thay has often also said “no mud, no lotus”. This can be understood in at least two ways. One is: “without the mud, there can be no lotus”.  Thus, if you want the lotus, you have to accept the mud because it is necessary for the lotus. This is often a difficult teaching to really practice sincerely because some muds can be quite difficult to bear and the incentive to bear with them is the promise of the lotuses (in the future). So Thay emphasizes that we learn to focus our mindfulness on all the wonderful lotuses that are there even when there also appears to be a lot of mud at times.

Many other meditation teachers also give the instruction, for example, that when a pain in the body arises during meditation – that the meditator should focus on a part of the body that is pleasant or neutral to encourage the development of mindfulness of the experience of the “pleasant” (or neutral) phenomena in the body that is available.

Another meaning to “no mud, no lotus” is: true happiness requires neither mud nor lotus. Or to put it another way, true happiness encompasses both mud and lotus and does not depend on them being beautiful or not beautiful.

True happiness is rooted in awareness which is only happening in the present moment. This is why happiness is possible in every circumstance. The real “joy” in the enjoyment of our tea, our breathing and our non-toothache is the joy that springs from the light of awareness itself.

The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or cravings, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and now. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, in all situations. In this way, we will be able to cultivate seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness. We are aware that happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.

Gratitude for Cecile Kwiat

Dear Cecile,

I few weeks ago I learned that you are no longer with us – in body anyway. It had been 15 or 20 years since we had spoken last, I think.  On Salt Spring Island, if I remember correctly. It seemed like the perfect place for you – soft delicate clouds amid the pine trees and near the gentle sea.

Thank you for being one of my spiritual guides – your no-nonsense, down-to-earth, the-dharma-is-everywhere teachings will stay with me. Like the time I chided you for being a smoker – how could a Dharma teacher smoke cigarettes after all? You said it made you more ordinary – less other-worldly, perhaps.  Like the way you reached out to children by playing video games with them.

My favourite moment with you was in Ottawa at the beginning of my journey.  I asked you – “what’s the point of practicing mindfulness”: what good does it do, I wondered.  You instructed me to close my eyes and then proceeded to whack me on the head with your moccasin slipper. “Pay Attention or There Will Be Harm” was the title of that short Dharma lesson.

Perhaps your kindest and most compassionate teaching was the time I was really struggling at a retreat with you – I was striving and striving and not getting anywhere and my body was in pain and it all felt quite pointless and hopeless.  Your instruction to me was: “take your car, drive down the road to the nearby lake and go for a swim”.  I remember that swim vividly – particularly the soothing love of the water on my body and the disolution of the boundaries of “me”.

Whenever I read the Aghata Vinaya Sutra (Anguttara Nikaya 5.162) that image and experience comes to mind.  The Sutra ends with this passage:

“My friends, suppose that not far from the village there is a very beautiful lake. The water in the lake is clear and sweet, the bed of the lake is even, the banks of the lake are lush with green grass, and all around the lake, beautiful fresh trees give shade. Someone who is thirsty, suffering from heat, whose body is covered in sweat, comes to the lake, takes off his clothes, leaves them on the shore, jumps down into the water, and finds great comfort and enjoyment in drinking and bathing in the pure water. His heat, thirst, and suffering disappear immediately. In the same way, my friends, when you see someone whose bodily actions are kind, whose words are kind, and whose mind is also kind, give your attention to all his kindness of body, speech, and mind, and do not allow anger or jealousy to overwhelm you. If you do not know how to live happily with someone who is as fresh as that, you cannot be called someone who has wisdom.”

Thank you for being this lake of kindness and compassion, Cecile. I am grateful that I had the wisdom to have you as a companion on the path.

Thank you.

Love – Andre