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.)
I first met Nils during a workshop he did for the Against the Stream facilitator training group in 2016.
Nils is the real deal. A monk for seven years, in Thailand and other European cities, came back to Minneapolis to found a gay men's meditation organization. He's the meaning of "Do no harm, but take no shit". His smile and presence of peace is contagious. - I was shocked to learn he occasionally suffers from anxiety, which is one of the things I love about teachers like him. Nothing is beyond what is present and real. It was helpful to know he deals with some of the same troubles with life as everyone else, even after many years of practice.He may just deal with it with more skill and grace than most.
The Buddha mentions Mara's return many times throughout his teaching career, after his enlightenment. Mara never dies, Buddha just learned how to be chill with the nature of suffering coming to visit from time to time.
Nils gave a "Jazzy" talk; bits and pieces all over to choose from and had us set up in a circle so we felt a bit more connected to each other in this somewhat smaller group. He incorporated a couple of mini break-out session were we shared ideas and discoveries with each other. We closed the evening with a beautiful exercise in feeling the life of support others have afforded us, known or unknown, and then sending that vibe back out into the world.
Thank you Nils. Happy trails, come back anytime!
My first lead at the new place.
After Devin kicked us off with a talk on ethics and taking of the 5 precepts last week, seemed like the natural progression was to bring in the subject of the 3 refuges.
Here's a little behind the scenes: Part of my creative process is to write out an entire talk, then read it back to myself out loud - then I wonder who the hell wrote this, and throw it in the trash. A little check in with my core teacher and a trusted friend, and I did what I know how to do best; show up and have a friendly conversation to people I care for and talk about the thing I love - Dharma. (with a few reference notes and a reading - of course ;)
Keeping it simple, an overview of Buddha's awakening and what became known as the three refuges: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. How do these three 'factors of being' show up for each of us individually, in real time, in real life - today? The invitation was left open for the group to consider taking these refuges in a ceremonious way at some point through retreat practice under the guidance of an empowered teacher. And the invitation that we can start anytime and contemplate as often as we like on the beauty of this wisdom.
It all felt easy and comfortable and a couple folks left nice compliments - I appreciate the encouragement and well wishes.
With Love, JC
A few nerves for the ride and it was all settled when we met Devin Berry walking down Howard St. toward us all smiles.
The excitement of learning how this is going to work, from meeting the studio manager to setting up chairs and things, we were buzzing.
Devin was right at home. Gave a comforting space of time to settle in and meditate and followed up with a talk on ethics which concluded with the group "Taking the Precepts" together.
Emily's offering of original art was well received and at least 4 or 5 went home with one of these beauties and made a nice contribution to the group in the process.
We had a real nice turn out, I think, for our first at-bat and the group was generous enough to send Devin home with a nice gift too.
I'll be leading the next group and getting myself in gear for what I agreed to with my mentor. "Having a guest come once in a while for a fresh perspective is good" he said; "but you take this thing on, yourself and keep it consistent for people, you have the training to do just this, so - do it."
Ok, so we'll see how it goes. The promo stuff is where I draw the line though, that's going to be Emily's department.
And already on deck we have Nils Heymann on the 17th of October and two more 'heavy-hitters' coming in from out of town in November. So, stay tuned!
Thanks for BEING HERE.
With Metta, Jeff C