Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Tara Mandala Retreat 2009, Prologue

The Community Building at Tara Mandala
The Community Building at Tara Mandala


I first met Lama Tsultrim Allione last September at a retreat on “Awakening through the Sacred Feminine” at Spirit Rock.  I felt an instant connection with her.  On the last day of that retreat, I told her that I’d like to study with her again.  She invited me to attend Kapala Training Level I, which was scheduled to coincide with my husband’s annual motorcycle trip with “the boys.”  I felt my karma unfolding, and wrote as much in my journal on that day.

And so, nine months later, I was flying to Colorado to attend Kapala I.

As I’ve done with previous retreats, I’m going to repost my paper journal here.  I will, however, omit the specific, detailed instructions on the meditative practices, out of respect for the teachings. I am not qualified to “transmit” the Tibetan practices I learned, and partial information can be a dangerous thing.

May all beings benefit!

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

The Solo Householder Retreat

What I learned:

  • Get family out of the house.
  • Get pets out of the house, or practice fluid acceptance as your schedule changes.
  • Turn off the phone.  Let people know beforehand that you won’t be available.
  • Turn off the computer.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Plan meals.  Do the shopping ahead of time.  Try to “fix” rather than “cook.”  Remember to be mindful when preparing food.  Don’t try anything new for the first time; stick to what you know is good for you.
  • Do chores before the start of the retreat.  Get the laundry and shopping done for the week to come so it’s not a distraction.  You’ll have enough to think about.  Trust me.
  • Don’t bother to check the mail.
  • Stay indoors or in enclosed outdoor areas as much as possible.  Avoid people.
  • If you do encounter others, like neighbors, let your practice be compassion.  They probably won’t understand noble silence, and you won’t want to be rude.
  • Make a schedule long before you start.  Then use it as a guideline, not a rulebook.
  • Forgive yourself when you get off track.  Then get back on track.
  • Experiment.  Now is a good opportunity to try varying your meditation practice or sitting position.
  • Be realistic.  You will need time to transition from one activity to another.
  • Consider whether you will exercise.  Exercising may increase your energy more than you wish, but you may feel off balance if you skip a regular session.  Listen to your inner wisdom.  You can always change your mind.
  • You may fall asleep.  If that happens, engage in nap practice!
  • Allow an hour or two after the end of the retreat before planning interactions with others.  Give yourself time to ease back up to speed.

May all beings benefit!

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

“Going” on Retreat

I completed my at-home retreat.  This was my first “solo” retreat – though with all the animals at home, I never felt alone.  I didn’t end up seeing my friend on Saturday, but I did have to dog sit for a different friend who is recovering from major surgery.  Her dog doesn’t like one of my dogs, and major drama ensued.  While my retreat experience wasn’t fully restful, I got to be of service to both dog and owner, and that was good practice, too.

Because numbers are how Americans are taught to keep score:

  • Zazen periods: 14
  • Demons fed: 4
  • Prajna Paramita practice periods: 4
  • Chanting periods not part of other practices: 3
  • Metta meditation periods: 4
  • Neighbors I had polite conversation with while walking the dogs: 4
  • Wandering dogs I returned to their owners: 1
  • Number of 200mg ibuprofen gelcaps consumed: 9

I learned a lot about how my mind works and about the nature of mind.  I managed to avoid the major temptations of sleeping too much and turning on the computer.  I will do this sort of “householder retreat” again when the opportunity presents itself.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Roll-Your-Own Retreat Schedule

My beloved husband is going out of town next weekend.  So, I’ve decided to take Sylvia Boorstein’s advice and “don’t just do something, sit there!”  Below is my tentative schedule, based on Hubby leaving around 7 Friday and returning sometime after 2 on Sunday.

Of course, all schedules are subject to change!  I will probably be seeing a friend on Saturday afternoon; I’ll just chop out the activities I had scheduled for that window of time.

My plan is a mix of Zen and Tibetan practices.  They actually blend together better than one might think.  Tributaries of the same stream.

I’ll try to report back after I see how it actually works!


7:00 PM           Open Formal Retreat.  Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunset is at 7:40)

8:00 PM           Demon Feeding Practice

8:30 PM           Walk Dogs, Feed Dogs, Cat, Bun

9:00 PM           Evening Bell Chant

9:30 PM           Lights Out


5:30 AM          Wake Up, Walk Dogs

6:00 AM          Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunrise is at 6:15)

7:00 AM          Demon Feeding Practice

7:30 AM          Breakfast, Walk Dogs

8:30 AM          Zazen – Bowing, Chanting, 3-4 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

11:30 AM        Relax (Yoga, Shower, Read, Etc.)

12:30 PM         Lunch, Walk Dogs

1:30 PM           Relax (Read, Etc.)

2:00 PM           Zazen – 5 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

5:10 PM           Relax (Yoga, Read, Etc.), Walk Dogs

6:00 PM           Dinner

7:00 PM           Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunset is at 7:39)

8:00 PM           Demon Feeding Practice

8:30 PM           Walk Dogs, Feed Dogs, Cat, Bun

9:00 PM           Evening Bell Chant

9:30 PM           Lights Out


5:30 AM          Wake Up, Walk Dogs

6:00 AM          Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunrise is at 6:15)

7:00 AM          Demon Feeding Practice

7:30 AM          Breakfast, Walk Dogs

8:30 AM          Zazen – Bowing, Chanting, 3-4 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

11:30 AM        Relax (Yoga, Shower, Read, Etc.)

12:30 PM         Lunch, Walk Dogs

1:30 PM           Zazen

2:00 PM           Close Formal Retreat

2:01 PM           Nap.  🙂  KATZ!

Posted in Zen Buddhism

108 Bows

Last weekend, I sat a retreat at my local Zen Center. Part of the practice is performing 108 bows the first thing in the morning – full-prostration bows. I knew I wasn’t in shape for this, and I also knew better than to attempt to keep up with the man who was setting the pace. (He’s 10 years my junior and an athlete.) So I set my intention to complete the first 9, the last 9, and a set of 9 somewhere in the middle if I felt up to it. The remaining bows would be full standing bows, rather than prostrations to the floor.

Our teacher explained to us how to use the breath when bowing. The standing bows were slow and easy, the deep breaths helping me to still my already-racing mind. My breath and body moved as one. The prostrations weren’t too bad, though I’d have done them much slower had I been on my own. It reminded me of the days when I used to be a runner. It turned out to be a wonderful meditation.

Monday, however, I was sore as hell.

I knew I had to stretch to heal. So I took some ibuprofen and resolved to do 108 bows. Only 3 of them were full prostrations: the first, number 54, and the last. No problem. The standing bows gave my back a wonderful stretch, the prostrations gently unkinked the large muscles in my thighs, and I was fully present for the 30-minute experience. Not much more to be asked.

By now, I was hooked: I was working my body, mind, and soul at the same time. Tuesday I was back at it. I realized that trying to do a series of prostrations had been a mistake, so I spread them out. I got down to the floor about 13 times, roughly every 9 bows. Today, I tried for 1 prostration out of every 8 bows, did a few extra at the end because my body felt good, so the total was around 28. It only took 17 minutes, though I was unaware at the time that I was moving any faster. Most importantly, it was meditative.

I don’t know how rapidly I will “progress” in my bowing practice, and it doesn’t matter. The fact is that I’m meditating (and exercising!) daily. If I never did a full prostration, the spiritual benefit would be the same. If I get a health benefit, too, that’s a serendipitous bonus.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Deer Park Retreat 2004, Epilogue

10/15/08 Long Beach, CA
8:51 PM

I never ended up writing about my last day on retreat, and it’s far too late to do so now. But I will wrap up a few loose ends.

Stephanie and I did keep in touch. I went to visit her in West Virginia in July 2005. I went hiking on her 75 acres, pet her three dogs, and went motorcycle riding with her husband. She continues to be a wonderful friend to me.

I returned to Deer Park for a weekend retreat in July 2007. The “smiling monk” was there, asking, “Why do I recognize you?” He was just as friendly. Thay was not there, and only a handful of monastics were in residence. The lay population was under 10, so I got to know the life of the monastics much better. It was a completely different experience, but it was equally rewarding.

It was four and a half years before I would undertake another weeklong retreat. Before I left, I reread my journal. I realized just how judgmental I had been. Armed with this information about myself, I was able to keep a more open and clear mind during my 2008 experience at Sprit Rock.

My next retreat will (hopefully!) be at Tara Mandala, June-July 2009. Stay tuned… 🙂

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 7

8:33 AM

It’s raining again today. And I don’t mind. 🙂

Thay’s dharma talks yesterday were excellent; much better than the one at UC Irvine last Sunday. The first one was in Vietnamese. Stephanie’s earphones [for translation] didn’t work, so a monk brought her a pair they loan out, but they were out of extension cords & hers didn’t reach. So I traded her, since mine had a longer cord. Thay talked about Lin Chi, the founder of Rinzai Zen. It really was a koan lecture, though they don’t use that vocabulary here.

After breakfast, we went back for the afternoon talk. I met Thay & his entourage on the road. I was walking with 3 Vietnamese women. We all stopped & bowed to him, & he bowed back. Then he smiled at us, the way one smiles at long lost family. I could feel the aura of compassion emanating from him, like the soft touch of a butterfly’s wing. We waited for him to turn up toward the meditation hall (“Ocean of Peace” meditation hall) then followed him up. I felt as though I had received an unexpected blessing, like seeing a patch of blue sky after days of storm, or hearing the sudden laughter of a child.

Thay’s second talk was in English, & was about compassion. He said that the Buddha would say, “Dear friend, you have suffered so much. You deserve compassion.” They he reminded us, “The Buddha isn’t up there on the altar. He is within you.” He also reminded us, in his gentle way, that President Bush is a Buddha-to-be. It was a very powerful talk, & my tears nearly came on 2 occasions

After that, we walked. For years, I’ve seen pictures of Thay leading people along quiet, country roads. And now here I was, in a throng of silent seekers, following Thay along a quiet, country road. We rested at his house, & Sister Chan Kong led us in some songs. Other songs came up spontaneously. The sun shone, & we had a lovely time

We had a formal lunch in the meditation hall, all 500 or so of us. Very interesting.

For our dharma discussion, we went down the hill to Clarity Hamlet where the nuns live. It was our room, a few other lay people, & some nuns. One was a Tibetan nun here on retreat. With 5 min. remaining, Sister Annabelle forced me to share something. So I talked about how my roommates, all of whom were present, were helping me reconnect with my gender. Afterwards, the Tibetan nun came up to me to tell me she had never liked other women until she was in her late 30’s, the age I am now. I asked her about her being here, & she said she respected Thay & was curious about Zen. Her order thought it a bit off, but let her go.

Trish & I had a great talk on the way back, all about women & how we relate to them & to men.

After dinner, the 5 of us had tea & conversation. At first it was Christine, Stephanie & me, then Trish & finally Katy joined us as they came home. We exchanged contact information with every good intention of staying in touch.

The rain soaked our shoes last night, & I didn’t have another pair. Stephanie loaned me some clogs, which was very generous. I’ve been letting Katy borrow my hairbrush. What a cool bunch we are.

Here is our schedule on a typical day, with the caveat that few days are typical:

5:00 Wake up bell

6:00 Sitting Meditation in large hall (90 min.)

8:00 Breakfast – silent

9:00 Work meditation (about 60 min.)

11:30 Walking meditation (60 min.)

12:30 Lunch – silent

3:00 Dharma discussion (90 min.)

6:00 Dinner – silent

8:00 Sitting meditation (90 min.)

9:30 Noble silence

10:30 Lights out

On Wednesday

5:00 Wake up bell

6:30 Thay’s Vietnamese talk (90 min.)

8:00 Breakfast – silent

9:30 Thay’s English talk (90 min.)

11:30 Walking meditation with Thay

12:30 Formal lunch (2 hrs.)

3:30 Dharma discussion

6:00 Dinner – silent

Most meals take 30-45 minutes, including washing up. Each person washes his or her own dishes & utensils by hand, then they get run through a commercial dishwasher. I actually really like the practice

The long-term retreatants have chores that are the same each day. Trish, for example, is on the soy milk production team. We one-to-two week types are on a rotation as follows, by room assignment

  • Clean up breakfast
  • Clean up lunch
  • Clean up dinner
  • Chop vegetables

Chopping vegetables includes washing them, as I discovered the other day. Cleaning up after meals can be drying dishes & setting them back out on the buffet line, scrubbing pots & pans, washing out cans for recycling, even cleaning the bathrooms.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 6

2/25/04 – Mindfulness Day
2:52 PM

Yesterday Thay hosted the “young people” (30 and under) for lunch. During afternoon dharma discussion they sang the song for us that they sang for him, in 3-part harmony complete with sound effects.

They taught us the chorus:

Listen more often to things & to beings.
Listen more often to things & to beings.
It is the ancestor’s breath in the sound of the fire.
It is the ancestor’s breath in the voice of the water.

It’s by Sweet Honey in the Rock. The young folks had some keen insights, but most importantly to me, was that they were grateful to be allowed to share with us.

I remember when I was the young person people looked to for the future. Now I am looking to the next generation. I don’t miss my youth. I enjoyed it very much while I had it. And now I’m enjoying this moment.

Thay told the young people he is looking to them to continue his life. So am I. 🙂

I’m tempted to spend the $150 for one of Thay’s calligraphy pieces. My favorites are:

Drink Tea
The tears I shed yesterday have become rain
This is it

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 5

    8:45 AM

    Dinner was nice. More good conversation with the roommates before bed. We all grumped a bit about the long, indoor walking meditations at night, but none of us had any better ideas for dealing with so many people.

    10:52 AM
    Got up this morning at 5:10. I was in the main meditation hall by 5:50. Sitting was good. The monks & nuns are so still, they encourage us by example to take our practice to the next level. The 14 precepts, or “mind trainings” as Thay calls them, were read in Vietnamese. Then we lay people were “invited” to leave. 🙂

    The monastic novices took precepts & we went to the dining hall to have them read in English. Then the Order of Interbeing members shared with us what the mind trainings had meant in their lives. Like we cared. They would have been better off answering audience questions. It was way too touchy-feely for me as they passed the mic. Luckily, it was only 15 min.

    I found out [Retreatant 1] feels about the OIB like I do. [Retreatant 2] is a member, but I didn’t know until today because she doesn’t wear the uniform (brown jacket & cutesy nametag with dharma name in English, “member since” date, & real name) and she isn’t preachy. [Retreatant 3] is a member, & although she made sure we all knew it right away, she’s not holier-than-thou about it. (“I’m the Serenest!” – Onion article.)

    Christine is a retired attorney, member of the CA bar. She worked for Latham Watkins in NY. She is 59 & retired in 1998. She has a NY apartment above the UN & a house in Brittany, France. Damn. Just…damn.

    For work practice I washed vegetables with John from Sydney, Elaine from Houston, Edward, Kim from Houston, & a lawyer from a small NM town.

    Last night while cleaning up [in the kitchen] after dinner, I asked the smiling monk (there are so many!) for a dish towel. He showed me where they were, stopping what he was doing to do so. “I’m sorry to disturb you,” I said.

    He answered in a warm voice, “You are not disturbing me. I don’t get disturbed.” I’d like to cultivate that.

    12:20 PM
    Just got back from walking meditation. One of the Vietnamese monks led us in Tai Chi exercises on the hilltop. It made me think of my dharma buddy, Stig, who teaches Tai Chi in FL.

    1:55 PM
    Some thoughts on gender & sense of self. The first day, I met a bald woman with advanced cancer. She told our dharma discussion group that she is dying & that she no longer has her breasts or any female organs. I wanted to tell her that she was still herself, but what does that mean, anyway?

    Trish told me that she shaved her head while she was in India. She went around in men’s pants & no make up, and people called her “Sir.” And she had enjoyed it.

    I love being female, & simultaneously hate the way I’m treated for it most of the time. I have a love-hate relationship with being a woman. But how much of my identity is tied to my femininity? Would “I” still be “me” if I ceased to be female? If I ceased to be a “lawyer”? If I ceased to be my parents’ daughter?

    Who Am I?

    What Is This?


    [Retreatant 3] doesn’t like the pretentious OIB nametags anymore than I do. She changed her to read simply [her real name].

    6:45 PM
    I had dinner with four charming gentlemen tonight. Of course, they were all Vietnamese monks, & we were eating in “noble” silence. Here are Deer Park, that only means no speaking. Eye contact & non-verbal communication are okay if it’s not to excess. So we had a nice time. At one point I was trying to scoot forward to let the person at the table behind me out, but there wasn’t enough room. Since our table was at the end of the row, the three brothers sitting opposite me pulled the whole table toward them. There was much smiling.

    I spend a lot of time talking & laughing with & listening to my roommates. They are truly amazing women, all.

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 4

    10:04 AM

    Thay’s talk [yesterday] was not very accessible to those not already familiar with his books. He’s very soft-spoken; better suited to more intimate gatherings than the 1,000 or so people there. Too much singing at the beginning. Some people left before he even began speaking.

    In spite of my body trying to doze, I got most of what he had to say. The Q & A with the audience was the best part. Thay was in his element & had the audience in the palm of his hand.

    The bus ride each ways was nice. I sat with Stephanie, who has 3 dogs & a husband on 75 acres, & had a wonderful visit. Irvine was sunny, & our picnic lunch on the grass was fun.

    It was raining when we got “home,” as I think of Deer Park now. We [my roommates & I] all had tea & talked for a while after dinner, even once we were each in our beds. “Isn’t this cozy, the 5 of us?” asked Trish. And indeed it was. I reconnected to my own gender in a profound way last night. That alone would be worth the trip.

    This morning I slept in until 6:40. It’s “lazy day,” & breakfast wasn’t until 7:45. More yummy oatmeal & soy milk. More tasty apples & cheese.

    Another Kensho moment at breakfast. This one was temporal rather than spatial. The mindfulness bell chimed & I thought to myself “this moment is the only moment there is.” Suddenly, past & future collapsed inward to the present. There had been no past. There would be no future. There was only this little bit of oatmeal between the roof of my mouth & tongue, the feeling of the chair under my butt, and my breath. Only now, microsecond to microsecond. Then I thought about writing the experience in my journal, thereby creating the idea of “future,” & the moment was gone, slipped into the re-emergent past.

    Speaking of food, a major pre-occupation of mind this trip, dinner last night was leftovers & Lee’s sandwiches. We laughed about having subs on retreat. I got to have more of that delicious pasta with black olives that I regretted not taking more of the first time it was offered.

    This morning the clouds were clearing, so I went to make friends with the mountain. A wonderful hike in silence, meeting other silent seekers along the way, both monastics & lay people. I found a rocky outcropping hanging out over the valley, & meditated out there until a light rain began to fall. Even then I stayed, listening to an unseen stream far below, until the temperature began dropping. The birds stopped singing, & I took my cue from them & came back down.

    4:23 PM
    The rest of the morning was spent reading. I’ve done a lot of reading, this far all of it on Zen. I have one Tibetan Buddhist book with me, but I doubt I’ll get to it.

    I found a quote I like in my reading today:

    See what is.
    See what is not.
    Follow the way.
    -The Dhammapada

    Lunch was good. I like this mindful eating thing. Afterwards I got my camera & a snack bar & went up the other side of the monastery. The clouds threatened more rain, & I dared them to do their worst. It comes down to my not minding getting wet. It didn’t rain, but it would have been okay if it had.

    About halfway back down I stopped for a snack as I felt my blood sugar dropping. I ate my Slimfast bar mindfully, & Mild Berry Chewy Granola was never so interesting. Another brief epiphany, but this was just the realization that, as one of Buddha’s disciples said, “I know that I am eating.” (He actually said, “We know when we are eating.”) Okay, it was actually pretty damned profound in the moment in which it occurred, & there was no other moment, which was part of the revelation.

    I hiked for nearly 3 hours this afternoon, after hiking about 1 1/2 to 2 this morning. Now I’m going to read for 2 hours until dinner.

    One more thing…I miss Tony [my boyfriend at the time]. I almost cratered & called him last night. But it’s important to me to stay focused. Which doesn’t necessarily preclude calling him, but probably will.