Tag Archives: buddhism

Precious teachers of the present

Sometimes, we are blessed to have auspicious conditions that bring inspiring teachers into our lives.  Perhaps it was a book that they wrote or said at a lecture, retreat or on-line video.  Perhaps a chance meeting brought you together.  Whatever it was, a seed was sown that changed your life for the better.  For this reason, these teachers are precious.

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A selfie with Bhante at Adhisthana on 7 April 2018, celebrating 50 years of the Triratna Buddhist Order.

Yesterday I was fortunate to meet (for the second time since 2012) a teacher who has deeply inspired me and many of my friends in our commitment to practicing meditation: Urgyen Sangharakshita (aka Bhante).

This weekend I was at Adhisthana, a retreat centre in Herefordshire.  It was for a short weekend retreat to celebrate 50 years of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, now the Triratna (“Three Jewels”) Buddhist Order and Community.  About 50 or so people were present for the event.

We were celebrating what happened fifty years ago when Bhante started a chain reaction of ever increasing friendships of those inspired by his teachings.  For 20 years Bhante had lived in India, where he was ordained and studied with a range of Buddhist teachers. Inspired by all major aspects of Buddhism, he has since written and lectured prolifically both in the West and the East. In the light of modern scholarship and his own spiritual experience, he has brought out and emphasised the core teachings that underlie and unify the Buddhist tradition as a whole.  His teachings clarify the essentials and outline ways of practice that are spiritually alive and relevant to the 21st century.

In 1997 I first went to the London Buddhist Centre, one of the Triratna centres and where Bhante once lived.  Since January 2009, I started going regularly.  I really appreciate what I have learned since then, the friendships that I have developed and the love, joy and light that has been a deep inspiration, including for the research into mindfulness, becoming a mindfulness teacher and also, more recently, becoming one of the support yoga teachers at the LBC.

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Endings unfold into new beginnings

It has been a long time since I have sent some news about Holistic Education and my work teaching mindfulness, yoga and using holistic approaches.  As a result there is a lot of news to share.

Virgin Sport Hackney at Hackney Marshes, London, UK - 30 Apr 2017.

Doing a warm up with Richard Branson prior to the Hackney Half-Marathon

As something ends, something begins.  I have renewed my interest in running and on 30 April 2017, I ran the Hackney Half-Marathon with my daughter.  I also used this as an opportunity to fund raise for St Joseph’s Hospice who had been so kind and supportive to our family.

On 6 June 2017, an opportunity to teach mindfulness at work suddenly manifested.  There is a lot of evidence for the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace for mental health and wellbeing.  I welcomed this new beginning and so I began to teach a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course on Tuesdays for staff at Hackney Council.

Due to the additional course, I decided to let go of my Wednesday yoga class. I made a resolve and on Wednesday 12 July, I taught my last class, marking a pause in almost 19 years as a yoga teacher.  It was sad, but in the space that followed, I sensed light emerging in my heart, a gift to encourage me taking steps into the unknown.  Incidentally, I was recently reflecting on how I missed teaching yoga and tonight I am looking forward to covering my old yoga class as their current teacher is away.

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My Buddhist study group – our last session

The next day, on 13 July,  after nearly 6 1/2 years, my Mitra Study course  was coming to an end  That evening, we completed the presentations of our very last Year 4 module.  After a chant for ‘transferring merits’ together, I realised just how much studying Buddhism on a regular basis had been a key part of my life.  At the moment, I am looking to co-teach a study group and am optimistic that something will arise in 2018.

On Saturday 15 July, I had my last acupuncture session until September – the series of treatments has really supported the grieving process and helped me cope with the intensity of change.  It has rekindled my interest in promoting Shiatsu in schools.

On Friday 21 July the school holidays began and a week later, I went on a 9 day “Women’s Intensive Retreat” at Vajrasana.  As a mindfulness teacher following the UK Network of Mindfulness Teachers Good Practice Guidelines, it is important to participant in retreats regularly to deepen one’s practice of mindfulness meditation.  This retreat included a week of silence (with opportunities for a 10 minute ‘meditation review’ every other day).  It was a deeply healing process and I would like to share more about it in another post one day.

That’s the first part of the update for now.  So much has also happened since July, including traveling to Japan in August and then, in September, being involved in a BBC 1 documentary with Susan Bogels and Esther de Bruin who run the MyMind for ADHD in Amsterdam – I had done the MyMind training with them in 2014.

Thank you for sharing this update with me by reading this post.

Warmly,

Bernadette

Endings and beginnings

 

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At the crematorium, at the end of the funeral: the last moments.

Right now, there is a sense of spring in the air.  The trees are in blossom and the light from the sun is a little stronger, streaming in from the window next to my desk. Winter is ending, summer is beginning.

 

Recently, I have had a bereavement: my father, Dr Xavier Francis Carelse, passed away last month.  For several months, my mother and I had been closely involved in his care, as he had chosen to pass at home.  This period of great activity and intensity suddenly ended as his life drew to a close and a new experience of his ‘not living’ arose.

In treasuring and honouring the life and death of this man, there has emerged a deeper sense of staying present and ’embracing’ the moment.  It arose from a perspective of perceiving each moment as precious and unique and having infinite possibilities, including opportunities for connectedness with rather than separation from others.  In acknowledging this oneness, there arises a poignant sensitivity towards all beings.

The alternative is to allow the mind to become distracted and separated from the present, preoccupied with thoughts: plans for the future and memories of the past.  However, this choice sustains the mind and heart in a state of mourning and distress, making the process of healing painful and slow.

It is poignant to recognise each moment as embodying opportunities for oneness with and sensitivity towards all beings.  In this middle way, ending and beginning are embraced for what they are: two sides of the same coin.  In this moment, life and death are one, the mind and heart are at peace and the path to healing becomes clearer.

In this experience, there is no end state.  There is no goal to reach.  In this time-space continuum, there is neither ending nor beginning: an unfolding of beauty and love.

 

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A celebration with friends and family in honour of Dr Xavier Francis Carelse, my father and friend, who lived from 11 March 1933 until 26 March 2017.

 

Taraloka and the “Wisdom of the Awakening Heart” retreat (July 2014)

During July this year, I was priviledged to be at the “Wisdom of the Awakening Heart” Retreat at Taraloka.  It was led by Vijayamala and Maitrivajri, two ordained Buddhists from the Triratna Buddhist Community.  I realise that it is beneficial to attend retreats regularly to develop my own practice of mindfulness and meditation.  In the past, I had attended classes by a range of teachers.  I noticed that I found Maitrivajri’s style of teaching meditation to resonate with me and for that reason I chose this particular retreat.

Taraloka is a beautiful retreat centre in Shropshire, run by members of the Triratna Buddhist Community.

Taraloka is a beautiful retreat centre in Shropshire, run by members of the Triratna Buddhist Community.

The retreat ran for seven days and each day involved several hours of meditation, starting at 7am with a 90 minute session before breakfast.  After breakfast there was a talk and another 90 minute session before lunch.  In the afternoon, there was a third practice before supper and a final one before bed time.  So each day, apart for helping out in varioius community related activites (such as helping to make a meal or with tidying up), there was ample opportunity to develop meditation experience.  The retreat was also held in silence, from the second day to the second last day, allowing five days of no speaking (or speaking limited to essential moments) except during the two 10 minute meditation reviews, which for me, were on the third and 5th days of the retreat.  I also enjoyed running each day and doing some yoga, and altogether this helped deepen the experience of being.

The meditation practices and talks were on an aspect of Buddhism called the “Mandala of the Five Prajnas”.  The Prajnas (or ‘wisdoms’) are qualities that are beyond words and which need to be experienced to be understood, as they exist in the awareness we bring to our experiences.  One ‘wisdom’ was in perceiving things as they are, thereby coming into relationship with our experiences in an authentic way.  Another was in awareness of our shared humanity.  The third wisdom was in noticing, accepting and rejoicing in our uniqueness and individuality.  The fourth was in cultivating freedom and spontaneity in awareness.  The fifth was in deepening awareness into something beyond words, the infinite and boundless present.

Overall the retreat was a much appreciated as a opportunity to cultivate insightful and deeper aspects of awareness.  I hope that in reading this, you may feel inspired to explore the Mandala of the Five Prajnas.  For more information, please get in contact.

Here I am (Bottom left of picture) at the Wisdom of the Awakening Heart retreat at Taraloka.  It was an inspiring event that helped to further develop and deepen my meditation practice.

Here I am (see bottom left of the picture) with almost all the other participants at the Wisdom of the Awakening Heart retreat at Taraloka. It was an inspiring event that helped to deepen my meditation practice.

 

Experience of the Friday meditation class at the London Buddhist Centre

This is the main shrine room at the London Buddhist Centre.  There is much discussion about the role of 'secular' mindfulness and Buddhism.

This is the main shrine room at the London Buddhist Centre. There is much discussion about the role of ‘secular’ mindfulness and Buddhism.

Last Friday evening, after a day at work, I popped down to the London Buddhist Centre.  Every Friday evening, from 7pm, there is a class.  It is a time for a meditating in a group with minimal if any instruction.  Essentially the evening involves one practice from 7:30pm to about 9:45pm.  It is divided into three parts: two meditations and a Puja, a ritual to cultivate and express particular qualities, such as devotion, joy and compassion.  Between each part is an optional short break of a few minutes, to stretch the legs.

On arrival, I had noticed the impact of having had a busy ending to a very busy week.  Yet, through the practice, I noticed an overall deepening into ‘being’ and related unfolding ephemeral processes.  It became easier to notice the arising and passing of mental events and beyond this, a contextualising quality of spacious, empty, unbounded, joyous awareness. On the journey home, in my thoughts arose a clear solution to work-related issue that I had been grappling with for months.

Scientists now understand that mirror neurons are essential to learning.

A new type of neuron–called a mirror neuron–could help explain how we learn through mimicry and why we empathize with others.

Consequently, this week I found myself reflecting on various aspects of mindfulness practice, including the benefits of group practice, the impact of the context in which one practices and the intention on brings to practising.  Group practice provides support, encouraging and enhancing a richer, felt sense of being, possibly evoked by the mirror neurons in the brain, stimulated by still presence of others to replicate a deeper stillness within.   Further to this is the meaning that the context brings, a symbolism that resonates throughout the practice itself.  Overall, I concluded that the intention, whether expressed consciously or not, is key to influencing the direction of creative expression and that mindfulness practice is essentially a creative act.