Well… It's been a full week into 2020 and it's been quite a year so far in world news events!
Certainly valid evidence that there is no shortage of greed, hatred and delusion and plenty of suffering to be had by many through the actions of the few. Our sincerest wishes are for ease and peace for all in these strange and difficult times and for wisdom and compassion to prevail. Though our own practices, to cultivate inner peace and through insightful, mindful outward expressions into the world we live in.
Last week, Wednesday 1/1/20, we celebrated our Sangha and ourselves in surviving all that each of us had 100% successfully survived so far in our lives.
Taking a look back through the last four seasons we contemplated what was worthy of carrying forth and what was best let go of, as it no longer served us.
After I gave a talk, we took a bit of an imaginative journey in the form of a visual sort of guided meditation (a version of The Backpack Journey – available on the “Sounds” page here) and in reflection, set our intentions for the year ahead.
We also had the beautiful gift of individually hand-painted stationary by Emily to write down our visions and intentions to ourselves on. We then sealed the envelopes, addressed them to ourselves and piled them into the middle of the room. These letters will be mailed out in one year.
I suppose after you do something a couple years in a row, it becomes a tradition, or ritual. So this is a repeat of last year’s The Day after Xmas Party’s events to some extent and beyond in other’s. I heard some people were very pleasantly surprised to receive last year’s letters they’d forgotten all about.
This year, the ‘food thing’ got bigger and better too! We had our Sangha’s finest bringing: vegan black eyes peas and sausage with collared greens, amazing minestrone soup, vegan corn bread, coleslaw and more. We hung out enjoying each other’s company, eating and listening to tunes for another half hour after we closed the sitting group. It was a lot of fun and truly one of the most comfortable holiday “family” experiences I can remember.
Please check out the “What’s Happening” page to learn about upcoming plans and ideas for this Month and the rest of the year!
I’m figuring out how to get a a decent recording of some things I’d like to add on the here and don’t feel like it’s there yet. So, I thought I’d just share my transcript of the talk I gave on New Years night (below). This piece was followed by a short description of how several other traditions go on pilgrimages, or spiritual journeys in search for guidance before we did our own version in meditation.
Enjoy. And Happy New Year!
Punk Perceptions and Gratitude - Just as rivers (1/1/20)
This December I went on a special ten-day silent retreat. It was special in a number of ways. It wasn’t like most any of the western insight traditional retreats, this was a Monastic retreat. Meaning that, first of all it was organized and led by monks. Like the real deal; Ajahn Passano is the senior most disciple of the venerable Ajahn Chah (a hero of mine, the grandfather of ours and my teachers) in the Western Hemisphere and one of only a few remaining alive today.
The retreat for us laypeople would be a taste of what they do for three months starting tomorrow (Jan 2). We take 8 precepts there, which means in addition to the traditional five*, we don’t eat after noon, don’t adorn or entertain ourselves and don’t sleep in great comfort. I followed these rules.
It was also significant in that I had just foregone a pretty significant opportunity to lead a dharma talk on a retreat with my training cohort at Joshua Tree. This was a major milestone on my path, but a story for another time. I had to line up everything just right in my life coming up to this event as I have a business to run and tying up all the loose ends according to plan (to disappear completely for 10 days) is no small feat. This happened as well as assuring my personal life, health and mindset and full support from my home life would be in place.
It was also known that it would be raining and cold in the Sierra foothills, uncomfortable, to not only be away from my cozy and happy home, but that I had this feeling like I just needed to “veg out” from working and stressing lately. Knowing enough about intensive silent retreating, especially done in this very traditional, ritual and pretty religious way would be stressful in and of itself. Nevertheless I was as ready as could be.
So I come to you here with two tales that seem to meet each other to me in some way at this point. And an experience of what it means to have gratitude and a way to express it.
On the first day of retreat, you get there and check in, awkwardness is the general weather pattern for the day for me. Finding my room, setting up my stuff just right, dressing up my thin, narrow mattress and awaiting the other body that would soon be cramping my style for the foreseeable future in here with me.
Enter “Povel”, a mid-thirties, heavy Russian-accented gentleman. Very polite and orderly, who also very deliberately alerted me of his tendency to snore! OK, no problem I am prepared for this.
At 9 p.m., after the excitement of the first “Puja” and orientation, the very light evening meal I had in my belly from 5:00 and a day of travel and transition, I remembered I had in my bag a pair of earplugs and a handful of melatonin.
I have rarely used melatonin in the past when I had long periods of difficulty sleeping, and usually tried it when I didn’t have to get up early the next day.
But the thoughts were that I had to have a good night’s rest to be the best Yogi I could be - beginning tomorrow. Especially since the cushion and mat I had dropped off in the shrine room upon arrival, was placed all the way up in the front row, just right of center stage.
Fast forward to 6:45 a.m. the next morning. I had over slept! Nearly 3 hours after the time I had set my alarm and the yogi bell ringers had come and gone to wake us all to make the trek downhill to the first Puja. A significant one too, the first bowing to the Buddha, and senior monks, the first set of chanting. All that I had ambitions for experiencing up to now – had come and gone without me.
Alone in the dorm, a bit panicked and feeling like a total failure. What the fuck could have happened? Whose fault is this? Why didn’t my roommate help me out here? Everyone is going to know I’m a total amateur, a slacker, and just here to vacation. I made it down in time to get in line for breakfast at 7 am.
Feeling like a total turd, not being able to tell anyone what happened. OH sure the thoughts of ‘fuck all this, I’m crawling to my truck and leaving right now’ were there. But then a soft voice of my inner knowing arose; ‘fuck ‘em, bro. You just do you. It was an accident and you probably really needed the sleep. Let this experience inform you. Get it in gear and push on.’
I did. For the next 9 ½ days, I really absorbed all this retreat had to show me. It was everything you can (or can’t) imagine. And on day ten, I was very happy to not only have pulled it off in stride, but very happy to be packing it up and heading back to the lap of luxury.
Back now to Povel. With whom I had only a very brief, interaction of formalities on day one. We said our goodbye’s and he asked if his snoring bothered me. I was polite about it and honestly told him that I had dealt with it well enough, it had subsided some and it became a part of my practice (of metta and forgiveness).
He told me that he sat behind me in the shrine room, sitting in meditation for those many hours and admired my stamina and diligence of practice, but what really blew him away – did me too!
He said that he noticed my Dharma Punx bumper sticker upon moving in and had some preconceived notions about me. Which proved valid to him when I “just decided to fully rebel against the stigma of looking good and getting up early on day one to go to the first Puja”.
“That was radical, man! I mean you just said fuck ‘em, I’m gonna seep in today and do shit my way! I was so fucking impressed, I mean, I could just never do that. Totally punk rock, dude, I loved that!”
Oh, sure, I considered being the guy he thought I was in his mind for a minute, but no, I humbly confessed to the truth. I did however, also share that I was feeling good about a quick recovery, which in a way did come from this attitude, but in a more self directed way I guess. More like “Fuck my mind, I’m just not going to know how to do everything right and be ok with it”
So that’s tale number one. This group. Soma Dharma is tale number two.
If some of you know the back-story, and me, the parallel might make sense already. The cliff notes go like this though; Many of us had come to know and love a sangha called against the stream, some of us had grown up on our dharmic paths through the earlier version of this sangha known as dharma punx, then the back of the bus crew, led by Vinnie Ferraro.
Well, some things happened involving allegations of sexual misconduct and the founder, (Noah Levine) wound up with his organizations falling apart and divisions happening within the sangha itself. The center I and so many other came to rely on as their sanctuary and place of community and spiritual friendship (our own special brand of it), the place I personally had put a lot of time and effort into building and becoming a facilitator of, had abruptly slammed it’s doors shut.
In the midst of the stormy weather of feeling betrayed, disappointed, divided and abandoned, some folks were working on restoring the status quo of the center at 23rd and Folsom. With a new mission statement, visions boards, nonprofit status, all that I didn’t know much about or have any faith in. I was also somewhat verbose, given the opportunity, about not being in the camp of hating or abandoning anyone for anything. Especially not the one whose home we were sitting in discussing these things, and the one who unlocked the door to the dharma for me and saved countless lives through his efforts in the world of teaching, writing and working with recovering addicts and the incarcerated.
I just wanted to do something. Anything, if even just a crutch for a while until shit got normal again. Shit never got normal again. I went and rented a weekly space for a couple hours over on Howard street (SoMa) and invited all my favorite teachers to come and fill the head seat for us to continue to hear the teachings and get together like we used to. I intended to go retro a bit, hoping to sort of hit a reset button of some kind, Bringing it back to the old dharma punx days, the room even kind of looked like that one did.
But instead, what I was met with was questions about my affiliation with the founder, how I felt about sexual misconduct and whether I condoned it! That my offer was even a statement of apathy for the afflicted in those cases. I responded with a plead to come and tell the group and me how their perspective would be helpful and lead to an understanding that would foster wisdom and compassion. Eventually, not one of them would come here it seemed, they turned their backs and when other places started back up again, saying all the safe, right and popular things to say, that’s were they landed
In the meantime, I had a meeting with Noah while on retreat with him in November of 2018, the former founder, who had mentored me by proxy through Vinnie and Joanna, the guiding teachers of the time. When I told him about my intentions and the dilemma ensuing, he reached over the table and said; “you do this. You’ve got he training and the passion for it, I don’t think you need to bring in all these people to speak for you, just jump in and see what happens”.
Here’s what happened. Here we are. The closest friends I’ve ever known are in this room. In my opinion the ones who really got the Buddha’s message of love, equanimity and forgiveness. Arie, Erika, Scotty, Cheryl, Brian and others; rode the waves of this group of well-meaning misfits all the way here from the first few meetings.
My wife, Emily. She is truly the foundation my building sits on, and the local rescue department of my heart and mind over the last year and a half. She’s able to pull me out of the mud and fill my tank all at once, and does it all the time. If I have a crazy idea (Like soma Dharma) she’s the executive director of the outcome. “You can totally do this, follow your heart – or- uh… you sure about that, maybe sit on that one for a minute, dear”.
When I say that Emily is the strong, silent type, the reason we’re really a family here and appear to have our shit together most Wednesday nights. I’m not just throwing that around. It’s true. And trust me when I say, she got hit with plenty of shrapnel from that fallout too.
Are there some false perceptions out there about my motivation, intentions or abilities? Maybe. Do I need to confess my truth to whom I might guess is holding them? Nope. Are we living breathing truth about what it means to find a refuge in our sangha? Yes. Where a practice can develop in the most authentic ways, where we find our kalyanamittas? Yes, absolutely. It’s done, it’s happening now, and stands as it’s own witnesses to be true.
This has truly been the most meaningful venture of my life. And I’ve been on a few!
How do we share our gratitude for this? I’ll tell you how WE do, and about a couple of the ways the MONKS do.
How we keep fuel in the tank here, and what I’ve come to know as the corner stone and key to real revolutionary transformation and spiritual growth: it’s generosity.
The pinnacle of which is just showing up here. Really. Without the action you all take to dedicate time and energy to get yourselves here on a Wednesday night, if not for your own practice, then to be a guide for others seeing you continuing to arrive – just for them, is the greatest act of generosity and gift to yourself that you can contribute to foster our growth collectively.
Another is in the form of contribution that may seem really practical. We have expenses to cover and hopes for things we’d like to create, which takes money and other efforts. My hope is that when you help in this way, it comes from the same spirit of generosity that’s in offering good advice to a friend, giving a gift to a loved one, or buying something you love to eat or wear.
It’s also part of belonging to the oldest continual barter system in the world. The Buddha, and the order of monks and nuns, in an unbroken lineage have been dedicating their lives to spreading the teachings for free and living on what is only freely and willingly offered in return. Everything from their housing, to food, clothing and medicine.
Now, that’s not me. I don’t live that way at all. I work my ass off as a building contractor and hope to get PAID for that work. I’ve been at it a long time and have managed to live good enough – to fairly well through the years.
This here – I don’t get paid for and I don’t want to. The perspective for my part here is that through your generosity, I get to continue training as a meditation and dharma teacher; it’s an ongoing internship. Money we collect here goes directly back to this group (and I keep track). So I hope that my part in this this group is also viewed as an act of generosity, just like every one of us who walks through the door.
That’s us. The monastics, like the ones I just spent some time with – total dedication to generosity and renunciation. They don’t even get to ask for their preferences.
When I got to be part of the daily alms round, I was moved deeply.
In the setting I was in there on retreat, there’s a buffet line, it’s kinda the same at the monastery, and you’re all welcome to go join them there too.
But to get a closer look at the ritual, I had to volunteer to “Offer the meal” along with a few other yogi’s. As they can’t just take anything without it being offered, and we can’t just put things in their hands, it need to be put in thier bowls. So for them to do this themselves it has to be offered somehow.
I learned that when they come in, and walk down to the buffet line, to offer it: I was to touch one side of the dish or tray, then they touch the other - then it’s been offered and we move on to the next. Then they go collect their bowls and serve themselves up.
At the end of all this, they all line up at the end of the table, bowls in hand, with all of us yogis standing there in Anjali (hands together). And the monks begin this most beautiful chant to us. Offering us their gratitude and blessings. It’s called “Just as Rivers” and I’d like to read it now to you all.
>>>Read from the chanting book page 50.
Before checking the calendar, I just sensed a need for putting things away. Conserving energy, getting things in order. The Autumnal Equinox is here and once again the nights will dominate the clock. It's a beautiful time of year all over here in the Northern hemisphere and nature's relentless reminders of impermanence are all around us.
I've been through the maple leaves just once when they were full of fire light, but I'm a NorCal boy and as many of you may be hip to - this is our beach weather. Growing up on the coast with lots of dirt roads, surfing was about all we had. And those long summer days were usually full of fog and flat water. Then September/October rolls around when you have to go back to school and guess what? It clears up. Sunshiny days, south swells start rolling in AND the days are getting shorter? One must have priorities, you see... grades suffered and truancy soared for this kid around this time of year.
Things have shifted but it seems a similar cycle is in my psyche. Holidays and Winters can be slow for building contractors like me, so Spring and Summers are time to run full throttle. After three decades at it, though, it feels like the engines are winding down into a cool idle a little earlier each year.
Time for Reflection.
In many ways, the fall brings potent opportunities for reflective awareness and contemplation.
After the harvest, we can look back across the growing season and determine how we were successful or learned lessons. We take mental notes or document our discoveries for next season, even with some degree of accepting the unforeseeable variations of weather to come.
Rehash and rehearse, reflect and prepare. The mind is always at work doing these things.
Good for you, mind. Meanwhile the world goes on.
This October marks our first full year as the Soma Dharma Sangha.
As I look back across the year, I too see successes and lessons.
More than anything I see the fruit of our efforts.
And it's more beautiful than I would have imagined.
We've grown something really special here together.
This Poem from Mary Oliver called Wild Geese is one of my very favorite combinations of words.
Mary left this world in January of this year, she was 83
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Hello and Happy Summer, Soma Dharmites!
Welcome to the long-lit days of summertime - and all that comes with them.
Welcome to what has become our Sangha and what lies ahead as we continue to practice together, training in the skill of "welcoming" all that arises and passes away ...internally and externally.
Our little Wednesday night clubhouse has settled into prime real estate in my heart. I totally look forward to seeing each of you every week and the familial tone is resonant. I'd say we've got a dozen or so of us who find this a fairly regular thing now, and another dozen or so who know how to find us when a Wednesday night allows or feels right to stop back by. Seems like almost every week we have a new visitor or two as well and I want to recognize how warm and welcoming this group is to the newcomer. That's really important, and although it may be kind of tough to truly meet and greet each individual that makes their way up those stairs and down the hall to find us, I know we hold a spirit of welcoming and inclusiveness for ALL.
Emily (our host and cornerstone of this operation) has a real knack for meeting new people with a nice balance of welcoming without stepping on their space to just feel it out for themselves. A lot of how she communicates with people as they walk in is with her smile and demeanor. Then she just says a couple of things verbally to welcome people and let them know they're in the right place (if in fact, they were looking for us) and answer any questions. But most of all, it's the energy of compassion and camaraderie for all those who come seeking that radiates a sense of unity and belonging. This is an act of generosity for those courageous and curious (or desperate?) enough to come in, perhaps feeling vulnerable, and work it out with some other folks who are seeking peace within themselves too. As Anne Lamott says, "My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone".
So, as much as I want to have my lovely wife right in close with us each week (and is occasionally), the dynamic we set up from the beginning has the intention of generosity, hospitality, and safety. One, if not my only mission statement from the beginning was to hold space where ALL can feel welcome and just be themselves, especially those who may have had their share of experience into the contrary. So again, from the fullness of my heart, thank you for contributing to this vibe! - And, as always, if you feel there is some way I/we can improve on this, please don't hesitate to bring it up.
Next... Oh My God THANK YOU!! For showing up to our Pizza Party at Little Joes to celebrate a couple of major milestones for me. 5 years of continuous sobriety and 50 years of breathing in and out on this planet! I had such a wonderful time with you all. There were a couple of moments when I was able to just sit back and look down the table, seeing everyone talking, laughing and eating together where I just felt overcome by love, happiness, and good fortune. I'm so glad I made it all the way here and I know I couldn't have done it without you!
Last month we wrapped up our Brahmaviharas Series, then enjoyed a guest teacher, Jason Murphy-Pedulla. He gave a fantastic set of meditation instructions and fielded some fairly hefty topics from our group - right on - make him work for it! Jason had a great time with us and I'm really glad we were able to have him up from LA to teach for us before his departure back to Asia. We sent him off with the card Emily created and many of us signed for him... and a stack of Soma Dharma stickers to slap on the other side of the planet too, of course!
If you want more info on his teaching, please ask.
What's your feeling about having guest teachers? Please let me know if you enjoy that, how often we should try to have them, or if you have a certain local teacher in mind you'd like to join us for an evening. I can always try to contact and offer them time here.
Let's see... what's next? The next couple weeks of July we may just have a bit of a grab bag. If there's a particular question or something you'd like to go back to, this would be an ideal time to come explore it with us. Otherwise, I have plenty to work out with you as I'm finishing up a series of talks for a training assignment I'm on. After my return from a long weekend of training in late July, I'd like to start up another series of classes.
One idea for this is something I'm inspired by and would love to get into facilitating the teachings on called the "Anapanasati Sutta". In brief, this is an ancient 16-part meditation method, developed and used regularly by the Buddha and disciples that encompasses the four foundations of mindfulness and is said to lead to profound tranquility. As usual, I'll have a book or two to reference and make it a group effort in the investigation - Who's in?
Still to come this Summer: our kayaking tour offered by Chris of Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. Please sign up for this if you haven't already. This is a completely free event open to anyone and will take place sometime in August, so stay tuned for exact date and time - likely a Saturday evening.
Speaking of water, Soma Dharma has its head just above it thanks to your generosity. Rent is paid and we continue to do so. We were also able to take care of our guest and had ourselves a little party.
Practicing generosity is as much a part of our spiritual path as kindness and meditation, so please give from the heart when you do. This group is not a non-profit organization, but it is certainly a no-profit one. Just as we dedicate the conscious merit in this group out to all suffering beings, we collectively dedicate Dana in ways that are wholesome and supportive to the path to freedom as well. In talking about giving to your sangha, a friend of mine once said, "It like buying groceries for your own cupboard" we get to enjoy it and share with our guests, right?
In the future, I'd love to work toward some fundraising for charity or for those connected to our sangha in particular need as well. If anyone has a suggestion or desire to head up something like that, I'd be happy to use any platform we might hold to support it collectively.
OK. Think that's about it for now.
Be sure to check in on the website and social media pages once in a while for more updates (and whatever other goofy things I throw up there). I've added a page onto the website where I'm threatening to put up some recordings - meditations, talks, maybe some stuff from the sits (no one recorded without permission of course!) or from guest teachers and other things we get into that might be useful - so stay tuned!
Keep sitting and keep smiling!
May we all do what needs to be done to connect to our own true goodness and to create a positive change on this planet.
Peace and love,
Jeff and Em.
Hello Soma Sangha!
Just a few things to say here. First, I want to say how much I enjoyed working through the Brahmaviharas series of classes with you. If you missed anything or want to go back to revisit some part of the stuff we covered, you can always come to any class and bring up the subject for discussion. The little books we used from Ajahn Amaro are always freely available electronically or by asking for them in paperback by going to our webpage and getting them. I also keep copies of the Metta Sutta on hand at the sit if you'd like one to take home, just ask.
As it turned out, I was asked to lead a daylong retreat in Eugene during this series and the topic they requested was Loving-Kindness (Metta), so I was all primed for it. As I arrived in Oregon, I got some scary news that a skin cancer biopsy I had days before came back malignant and needs to be surgically removed. This is where the benefits of the practice come into the spotlight and of course having a loving, supportive partner in Emily and a loving supportive Sangha in you all. I'm told it is a very routine procedure and that I have nothing to worry about.
The following week, Em and I practiced a 3-day silent retreat in Joshua Tree with Noah, Rebel Saints & Co. and found the Three Jewels alive and well in the high desert. It felt like a family affair... because it was. I highly encourage the silent retreat experience. If you'd like recommendations, please let me know.
Onward, this week (June 5th) We'll wrap up the series with a second discussion around Equanimity, review the four sublime abodes as a whole and see what else we can tie into the methodology and benefits of Metta practice.
Next week, June 12th, We have a special Guest Teacher, Jason Murphy, coming in to lead our group!
This is a rare treat not to be missed. Catch Jason before he heads back overseas once again! (More info Below).
Join us for a pizza party on June 26th, 5:30 at Little Joes to help celebrate a couple of pinnacle milestones I'm traversing :) I couldn't have done it without you and would like to share appreciation. So if you'd like, please RSVP so we have a chair for you, then just come and enjoy!
The Soma Sangha Kayak Tripoffered by Chris, Owner of HMB Kayak Co. is on deck for late summer, probably August. If you haven't already signed up for this FREE GIFT, please do the next time you come sit with us.
Emily's artwork: still some special edition prints available.
I'll have a batch of rock-album stickers ready for the 6/12 sit.
And of course, ongoing weekly meditation sittings, Dharma talks, and discussion! ~Cuz that's our JAM!
Teacher: Jason Murphy-Pedulla (photo below)
This evening event is open to anyone who would like to deepen their understanding of Insight meditation practices and Buddhist psychology.
No prior meditation experience necessary.
All teachings are freely offered and your practice of generosity is appreciated.
Participants will gain an understanding of the basic tenets of the Buddha’s teaching i.e. wisdom, compassion and ethical integrity. How we can apply this ancient wisdom teaching to our current life and society? The teachings found in early Buddhism are a revolutionary and rebellious path to inner freedom. This sit will focus on engaged Buddhist practice as well as everyday mindfulness. Rebel Against Greed! Against Hatred! Against Delusion! Join in the Rebellion!
Jason Murphy-Pedulla MA, LMFT has been practicing Vipassana meditation since 1994. He is a meditation teacher, and therapist helping youth, families and adults for over 20 years. Jason has studied and trained with several prominent teachers in the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah and Burmese Masters Mahasi Sayadaw and Sayadaw U Pandita. Among them are Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Passano and Amaro Bhikkhu. Other teachers and mentors have been: Mary Grace Orr, Gil Fronsdal, John Travis, Sylvia Boornstein, Jack Kornfield and Steven Smith. Jason has sat long-term residential retreats in the U.S as well as in Asia. He received ordination in the Mahasi Sayadaw lineage in 2016. Jason is empowered to teach by the Spirit Rock Teachers Council. He received his training with Noah Levine, Mary Grace Orr, Spirit Rock teacher and Bob Stahl, Ph.D., guiding teacher at Insight Santa Cruz, international teacher of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and author of several books including Living With Your Heart Wide Open.
NEW PRACTICE SERIES
Springtime is for the heart practices at Soma Dharma!
Beginning mid-April, 2019 we will begin a series of classes focused on the topics of the Four "Brahma-Viharas" or "Sublime Abidings" as taught by the Buddha and commentaries.
Learn or enliven skills to befriend and care for ourselves and others, in any state of being, through understanding the true resting state of our hearts is found in freedom from fear and connection to others. This culmination was referred to by the Buddha as “the sure heart’s release” and considered to be the fulfillment of a spiritual path.
During these groups, we will refer to written words by Sharon Salzberg's "Loving-Kindness; The Revoutionary Art of Happiness" and primarily work through these FOUR wonderful little books, recently produced by by Ajahn Amaro available to download free by clicking the links below:
Or by going to the Abhayagiri Monastery eBook store and requesting (Free) printed copies.
Better yet, plan a visit to the Monastery in person, located in Ukiah, CA and join the Monks for lunch!
Em's Big Show and a New Print for Our SanghaOn March 20th, Emily was a featured artist in the Half Moon Bay Arts League annual juried art show. Many of our friends and family made the scenic and slow drive out to the coast to show their support. We had no idea so many would come and we were both absolutely elated! She was also interviewed and written up in our local newspaper: Here's the article.
This beautiful Sunflowers print will be available to our Sangha exclusively, starting this week. And we still have a few of the Bowl and 3 of Jewels available as well. These are super high quality, only available here and are yours for a donation to the Sangha of $20.
Check out more of Em's work on her Instagram link below.
Emily's Artsy Groove
Annual Spring 3-day retreat in Joshua Tree.
Led by Dharma Teacher Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx, Against The Stream, Heart of the Revolution and Refuge Recovery. Taking the time dedicated to retreat will deepen our practice of meditation in a supportive community and is essential to our personal liberation. Taking some time away from the busy schedules and responsibilities of our daily lives gives us the opportunity to experience for ourselves the benefits that come from sustained meditation practice. This retreat will be held in silence. There will be Dharma talks, meditation, and meals together. This retreat will include formal sitting and walking meditation, and the opportunity to meet with teachers in a group setting.
This retreat is open to all levels of experience, beginners and long term practitioners alike.
~ These are my people, y'all! Noah is a friend, supporter of Soma Dharma an amazing Dharma teacher, retreat leader and all around good human. Rachael and I are in a cohort together with just a few other select die-hard Dharma bad-asses in training. Although she is officially assisting, the cohort knows if we're there, we're on call, which is exciting for me. The location is absolutely deep, beautiful and dares I say; Ultra Spiritual. This is a rare and special opportunity. If you have the will, ways, and means, please don't miss out.
Joshua Tree Retreat
IN THE WORX...
CLASS FIELD TRIP! We're working on a Kayak outing for the Sangha. Who's in?
An opportunity to be one with the serenity of evening ocean life among friends, and led by our resident professional guide, Chris. We will nail down a summer date soon and we do need to get a feel of how many would be interested, so please let us know!
This will be a donation based event, of course ;)
Check it out here.
I've been invited to lead Eugene Oregon's Friday night Refuge Recovery meeting and the following day hold a DAYLONG RETREAT on the subject of Metta.
May 18th, 10-4:00, Buddha Eye Temple, Eugene, OR
Hosted by Refuge Recovery Eugene
Facebook link here
and now for a little blogging...
"HAPPY TO HELP"
Last week I made a rather blunt statement about authentic, diligent meditation practice. (Who me? - go figure)Speaking of Mindfulness specifically, but the same applies to our development and cultivation in the way of the Bodhisattva. That is, to free ourselves by working to free others from suffering whenever and wherever possible. The statement was something like "Knowledge of Mindfulness without a personal practice is like knowing how to swim without the use of water".
Same goes for acts of kindness and generosity. It takes practice. and actually doing kind and generous things. In Mindfulness training we learn that radical change and benefit occur through short periods of awareness, repeated many times, becoming automatic and continuous. Much like mindfulness, it doesn't take huge leaps and bounds to make real change and lasting impact on your life and the lives of others through acts of kindness and generosity. It just takes consistent practice, and it starts with small things, repeated many times, becoming automatic and continuous.
Being of service then becomes as much an act of nurturing as it is of self-care. Sure, an altruistic motive is cleaner, but why not enjoy the benefits of feeling good about what you can see of your actions? Because many times more, you'll just never know the rippling, sometimes even contagious and far-reaching effect one small act of kindness may have.
On the shadow side of this, sometimes we unintentionally cause confusion or harm beyond our intentions or knowledge as well. The risks of humanity and especially communication. May I always be open and available to your comments, questions, and concerns. Please forgive me for any mistakes or confusion I may have caused.
May we all awaken the compassionate heart, for the benefit of all living beings.
May all beings be happy
May all beings be at ease
May all beings be free from suffering.
OK... One last thing...
THE OAKLAND BUDDHA
Here's how one random, perhaps even somewhat self-serving act of kindness and generosity transformed a whole community in Oakland.
Check THIS out!
That's all for now, good people.
Keep sitting and keep smiling!
with Metta, Jeff & Emily
The following is a copy of our newsletter, sent out officially "once in a while". If you would like to be on our mailing list,. please let us know by using the contact form. Thanks, enjoy!
Hi everyone. Just a quick update here...To let you know what's happening and how we're doing.
Our Space, the final frontier:
First of all, if you haven't checked out our new "forever" home at 5051 Mission, come check it out. Big thanks to The Order Sons and Daughters of Italy management and Brian, our host for working with us to make this happen. We've got it down to a system now of getting there to roll out the rug and transform that room into a meditation center smoothly and efficiently. The heater works well on these cold nights and the warmth of the Sangha has particularly made this move a transformative experience. I'm not much of a mover myself, I like to know where 'home' is. So if you've hung back for the last month or so while we bounced around a bit and waited for us to settle in, I get it. And, it's safe to come out now! ;)
This location does have some nice perks: like our own parking lot, the whole place to ourselves (sorry if you'll miss having band practice downstairs) and nice clean separate bathrooms. Easy ride-share, Muni and Balboa Station Bart is a 10-minute walk away. There are only stairs to get up, and we have hands to help if needed.
Speaking of helping hands: if you would like to commit to a position of service at our meeting, please let me or Emily know and we will find a specific task for you to help with weekly. This is a beautiful way to share generosity and form accountability to your practice and Sangha.
The Four foundations spilled into
The Four Noble Truths spilled into
The Eightfold Path
Starting the first week of February we got into an 8-week practice series taking on an intentional investigation of each aspect of the path into our lives for a week each. Let's learn about the Buddha's advice on Skillful View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration.
Catch as many as you can and dropping in is just fine too. (This is not a linear path).
Come prepared to take a few notes and journal your weekly insights for contributing to the group experience in conversation.
Materials are provided and instructions offered on ways to integrate the concentration of each aspect into our daily lives for seven days each.
From Bhikkhu Bodhi; “The essence of the Buddha’s teaching can be summed up in two principles: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The first covers the side of doctrine, and the primary response it elicits is understanding; the second covers the side of discipline, in the broadest sense of that word, and the primary response it calls for is practice. In the structure of the teaching these two principles lock together into an indivisible unity called the dhamma-vinaya, the doctrine-and-discipline, or, in brief, the Dhamma...
... it would be pointless to pose the question which of the two aspects of the Dhamma has greater value, the doctrine or the path. But if we did risk the pointless by asking that question, the answer would have to be the path.” From “The Noble Eightfold Path; Way to the End of Suffering”
(Recommended reading and referencing for this series - available at class)
(Right View & Intention: were 2/6 & 2/13)
2/20: Right Speech, 2/27: Right Action, 3/6: Right Livelihood, 3/13; Right Effort, 3/20: Right Mindfulness, 3/27: Right Concentration.
Like everything else, this schedule is subject to change!
I will (eventually) share some of the key points and takeaways on the Journal page of our website, for what it's worth. We would much prefer your attendance and participation in person. These notes would mainly just be a reflection for those who attend or choose to share their own insights this way.
Moving forward, I'll continue to hold it down the best I can and enjoy leaning on you all to be engaged and cooperative in learning together. As I am currently in a training course with a cohort, I'll invite my colleagues to come and hold space, practicing facilitating the group if and when they may be able. My hand is also outreached to local teachers and facilitators to join us as a guest. If you have the opportunity or means, please let me know if you would like to invite a particular teacher/facilitator. Also if you have suggestions and ideas for future topics or areas of focus.
The request is in, that following the Eightfold Path Series, we practice with the Four Sublime Abidings; The Brahmaviharas. Seems like a great way to welcome Springtime!
IN THE MAKING: Since we're the new kids in the block, we thought it would be nice to bring a house gift to the neighborhood. So, we're asking and looking around into what local charitable programs we may be able to contribute our Dana proceeds or efforts toward. Please bring suggestions. Thank you.
ALL ARE WELCOME AT SOMA DHARMA!
ANY LEVEL OF EXPERIENCE ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND
CLASSES ARE FREELY OFFERED AND GENEROSITY IS APPRECIATED
PLEASE SHARE THIS INVITATION
The following is a copy of a newsletter we send out from time to time. If you would like to recieve these, please let us know by using the contact form. Thanks. Enjoy...
We have a new home for our weekly groups: 5051 Mission Street San Francisco.
Here's a MAP
There's parking available for us! In the lot just left of the building
Every Wednesday beginning January 23 at 7:30 pm.
New home... same intention.
Thanks for bearing with us through this transition.
Some of you came to the location we tried for the last two weeks back in South of Market. Although I thought it was kinda hip and unique, the logistics were not going to fly for us even if we were able to stay longer than they offered, which was only a couple of months. Yeah, it wasn't so much the "please don't do coke in the bathroom" sign, or the residents getting to their rooms across our sits... but the stripper pole that was installed on the stage last week - yep, that was it. Traffic noise and band practice, ok, but I'm drawing the line on this one.
So... Emily and I just felt it would be ok to pull the plug on that deal and take advantage of the bird-in-hand of 5051 Mission.
Brian hooked us up with this place and they are really happy to have us. I have to admit I struggled with the feel here. So, I asked if it would be alright if we tweaked it a bit to better suit my pallet.
We bought a really nice rug and a couple of lamps and they are allowing us to store them onsite between meetings. That bit of hospitality and compromise, along with the generous offer of waiving storage and set up fees, not to mention Brian, who has offered to commit his time to open and close up the place every week? Come on now! It's looking pretty great.
Parking, clean bathrooms, and totally ours for this time slot.
Let's do this!
I know we'll make it beautiful, and we know it's all Dharma.
As always, please offer any suggestions you may have. Bring an open mind, a positive attitude, and a friend.
Oh, I also updated the website - HERE
Moving forward, I'll continue on the trajectory of offering an investigation into the Four Noble Truths and on into the Eightfold Path in the weeks (months?) to come. This is a path with lots of side roads, so we'll see where the discussions take us - this is where your contributions to the conversations come in to play!
This fall I was invited to continue formally training again and last weekend in LA, I met the new group of my cohorts that I will be working closely with through 2019. I'll invite them to come and practice leading our group if any happen to be in the city (they are from all over) and... our Teacher, Noah Levine has interest in returning to teach for us from time to time, or perhaps even just coming by to join in sitting with the Sangha. I also had a conversation with Scott Tusa over dinner with this group in LA who showed interest in joining us as a visiting teacher as well.
In this spirit, if you (or a friend) happen to have a connection to a local or visiting teacher or facilitator, let me know if you would like to invite them to practice here as a guest in the future.
Let's keep it going by sending out.
May you all be healthy and happy, may all beings be at ease.
See you there.
~ Jeff & Em
December 26th was a special night at 1436 Howard Street. Not only would it be the last sit of 2018 but also it would be the last sit in this space before moving on to our new home next year.
The invitation was to bring a snack to share if you’d like and come prepared for a little different scene and enjoy time together in closing with music and fellowship.
I gave a bit of an overview of the four foundations talk and held the spotlight over the three characteristics of existence. This seems easier to connect to given the season of ending and beginnings. Nothing stays the same, or gives ultimate lasting satisfaction, and most importantly none of it is personal.
In true unorthodox fashion, my offering of a year-end reflection and intention setting ceremony was not run-of-the-mill. Infusing some experience with shamanic journeying and journaling, the meditation was visually descriptive enough to paint one's own picture of traveling back through the seasons of last year and collecting what was revealed in reflection. Then moving forward in time, noting and collecting aspirations, fears, and intentions. Finally, we imagine carrying this load of plans and memories and releasing them, getting a feel for renunciation and freedom of present time awareness and refocus. With intervals placed in the meditation for writing what was discovered, Emily created and provided each of our guests with hand-painted stationary and envelopes. People had the option of taking them home or handing them over, sealed, to be mailed out to them in one full year.
I wrapped it up with a personal story about the importance of intentions and the value of giving attention to one another. Then it was time to crank up the jams, have a tasty treat and shoot the breeze. We hung out for half an hour or so and each had a chance to say 'hello' and 'goodbye' in this place. We announced the winner to Arie’s art raffle, AJ took some great photographs (shown here) and I even had some door-prize mala beads to hand out as gifts.
At the end of the night, almost everything packed into the car, I made one last trip up the stairs to grab the last bag and take a long look. It was a moment with that space and me all alone. The single, empty, cheap-ass plastic white chair sitting there against that artless wall seemed to nod its head at me and say, “You’re alright.”
And now? The SoMa Dharmilita goes Nomad!
At least for a couple weeks in January of 2019. I’m soaking in gratitude for the efforts and innovations of the Sangha members who have offered leads to potential places to land. We’ve got a couple places to check out together and I’ll be listening to the collective vibe and opinions about whether we continue in one or any of the spaces we’ll be sitting at in the coming weeks.
The first of which is next week, January 2nd. This will be upstairs at 5051 Mission Street. One of the perks of this place (if you drive) is that we have a small parking lot, just for us, to the left of the entrance. Same time and day as usual, 7:30-9 Wednesday night. Hope to see you there!
Happy New Year!
One of the most beneficial aspects of training and traveling with circles of meditation facilitators in teacher training, (among other venues we find ourselves in), are the conversations, the connections and once in a great while, finding someone who you know is true spiritual friend, a "Kalyanamitta". During the Summer of 2018, at the 4th annual Refuge Recovery Conference in Los Angeles, Rachael and I, along with our mates sat down for lunch after the last day of the event. We had known OF each other before this time but in the few hours we chopped it up around the table, it was as if we'd found a lost sibling.
Rachael is DRIVEN! Her love for the Dharma and enthusiasm in providing pathways is admirable. Co-founder of Rebel Saints Meditation Society in Seattle and assisting Noah Levine and Refuge Recovery hold residential retreats as of late puts her in Bodhisattva status.
In September, I was invited to lead an evening and half-day retreat for Rebel Saints and had a ball. The best part, in my opinion was a spontaneous co-teaching with Rachael on the following Sunday. It wasn't until October that SoMa Dharma was born and soon as it was, of course I asked if we could return the favor and host her in our new home… and as timing would have it, enjoy a Thanksgiving weekend together as well.
The room lights up when Rachael walks in and this night was no exception for the large turnout we had of San Franciscans looking to see what Seattle had to bring! No problem for this dedicated practitioner. Rachael can talk the talk because she walks the walk and holds little reservation about her passion and wise view. Almost jarring, raw and real perspectives and illustrative lecturing on topics that almost don’t “feel safe”. ‘That’s the whole idea, here folks!’ as Rachael might put it. ‘Let’s be real and be with what really is’ She has a way of pulling the shroud off believing you are entitled to safety in this world by armoring up with loving kindness, equanimity and forgiveness – for yourself first! It’s a powerful message and it landed right in the middle of this room with laughter and levity.
Rachael’s experience facilitating a group shines through in how gracefully she engages everyone without pressuring anyone. Using an ancient council method, the entire group had a chance to put their own authentic feeling and voice into the experience.
Honestly, I felt proud to be able to house her talent and even more so to be called her friend and colleague. The Sangha was drawn to her after the sit for questions and conversation and Rachael had patient and undivided attention for each. I’m excited to see and hope to be with Rachael as she continues to blaze her path.
If ever in the Seattle area – you must stop by and sit with Rebel Saints or at very least, visit her store Vajra on Tenth.
Thank you Rachael and SoMa Dharmilitia!
~This life... what a trip.
If anyone is about to read this and doesn’t know who this guy is, stop here and check out the body of work he's covered in his career thus far. Oh sure, you'll get a flood of juicy propaganda around the recent allegation, you can come back to that, but first practice a little restraint and see how Noah had and carried out a vision to bring the Dharma and Buddhist meditation practice to an entire population that would have been otherwise overlooked and continued to be snubbed by the upper-middle-way of the status quo in western Buddhism back we he got into it (not that's it's a whole lot different now). That is; the misfits. The addicted, incarcerated, mislead, forgotten, beaten down and kicked out youth of all ages. (Yours truly).
Pick up a copy of "Dharma Punx" and read it. Follow it up with the next two: "Against the Stream" and "Heart of the Revolution". You'll get a feel of just how down-to-the-ground and real-world-vibe he brings it. Am I a fan? Sure I am. I am alive today because of what he created and I was lucky enough to be in the wake of his creation back around 2006 when the Dharma Punx group (later known as the Back of the Bus) crew was meeting over on Fulton Street on Friday nights. Either Vinny Ferraro or Gene Lushtak was usually at the helm back then. It was raw and real - no frills - kinda like what we're starting up again over here at SoMa Dharma. Which brings us to the current end to this tale. The return of the founder!
I didn't get it right away. I wasn't sure why I was going, or kept going, but I was hooked into something back then. Like the idea that I don't have to obey every thought I have and that I hold the key to my own self-made prison door. I took me a while of spiraling downward toward rock bottom and right about the time I did - Noah had just finished writing Refuge Recovery. A Buddhist oriented recovery program. Devine intervention perhaps - if there was such a thing in Buddhism. Gory details aside, this was how I came to be back in the game of life and full on for the Dharma. And how I now too could offer words of wisdom to ALL those who came looking - no matter what they had done or where they have been. I knew I could share from my wounds, from what they were worth.
I also knew I was green and way out of the club of these spiritual revolutionaries (Like Noah and those who had trained with or under him). But I was hot, so I took on Refuge Recovery meeting facilitation, and took classes in secular mindfulness like MBSR and Mindful Schools.
Then my big day came. I was on retreat with Noah teaching back in 2014 when I had a chance to have a conversation with him. I was all ambitious (not a good thing to these types) and was like "Hey man, I've been attending for a long time, I got clean and sober and been doing some training. How do I get in with this crew and start learning how to teach Dharma, man? I wanna do that!" He looked me over and was like "Yeah... aren't you in construction or something? A contractor right? - Why don't you just do that?" I visibly shrunk. Somewhere between 'I never should have asked' and 'this guy is a total dick' Then he says; "Listen I'm gonna need some help over there at the new (San Francisco) center, getting it opened up, why don't you build a stage and some shoe shelves or something - see what they need over there".
Aw man! Same old shit. I chugged along with it though. I was happy to be a part of helping out and be appreciated for it. I stayed the course for couple years before I got the invitation to apply for the Against the Stream Facilitator training with Vinny and Joanna (then guiding teachers). It wasn't until almost the end of that year that I told Vinny about this story. How Noah dissed me and that it wasn't until now that anyone had given me a chance - (I was still feeling like the stinky kid and others were getting stuff I deserved) - he gave me the usual 'slow down, dude, you'll get there' speech. Then he gave me a little more. See, back then, when Noah said to go build shoe shelves... that was actually the only skillful way he had to put me in the game at the time - and the right way. Like; 'Let's see what you can do with a little, and then you can have a little more'. The vetting had begun.
(click "read more" for the rest.)