Dharma talks

Below are short descriptions of recent dharma talks given at Spirit Rock Meditation Center or elsewhere. Click on title link to download the entire transcript in PDF format.

Integrity (120K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center 3-27-2013
Awakening Joy Course on Integrity 3-27-2013

Integrity – or virtue – is considered the foundation of all practice in the Buddhist tradition. It’s an essential portal to joy, happiness, and peace. I’ll try to shed some light on how we might experience this moral compass, as we move from suffering to compassion and mindfulness, through integrity to joy, equanimity, inner peace and well-being, and how we can strengthen our embodiment and expression of integrity as a living, breathing practice.

On one of my first retreats at Spirit Rock, I remember hearing a phrase from James Baraz that really caught my attention: “Let no ripple of thought disturb this peace of mind.” I thought that meant to come to such a state of clarity through mindfulness, that no ripple of thought would disturb that peaceful openness, and I liked that notion of practice very much. But James clarified that the phrase really meant to live our lives in such a way that no behavior would cause regret or remorse that would cause a ripple. He was referring to the bliss of blamelessness.

Dualities in Our Lives; Non-Duality in Practice (89K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 1-30-2013

Inevitable in a human life, we are subject to the yin-hang of opposites: success-failure, praise-blame, pleasure-pain, gain-loss, strength-vulnerability, courage-fear, pride-disappointment, hatred-love. All of these contradictory ups and downs can be held in an awareness of the non-dual – the vast oneness of existence that is not this or that but simply is. We will explore how to access and apply an experience of the non-dual to the many dualities in our lives.

Equanimity (120K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 1-23-2013

Equanimity (uppekha): practices that bring balance and clear seeing to the mind when facing life’s turmoils and difficulties, our own or those of others; a steady practice of equanimity helps us stay on an even keel throughout all of life’s experiences; seen as essential to the full realization of loving kindness, compassion, and joy.

Wise Effort: Moving from New Year’s Resolutions to Reliable Habits (120K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center 1-16-2013

Wise Effort, cultivating the wholesome and letting go of the unwholesome, is the engine of the entire noble 8-fold path in Buddhism that leads to awakening and enlightenment. We explore both the wise and the effort aspects of wise effort, and learn practical tools of self-directed neuroplasticity that turn our highest intentions into reliable habits of practice.

The Healing Power of Self-Compassion (80K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 12-26-2012

Compassion is the practice of keeping our hearts open and “feeling with” in the face of pain and suffering. We can care and act wisely without overwhelm or collapse. Self-compassion is applying mindful caring and connection to our own times of vulnerability and grief. We learn tools to be with our own “Ouch!” This hurts,” based on Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion, leading to mindful reflection and wise action.

The Healing Power of Self-Compassion (80K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center 12-19-2012

Compassion is the practice of keeping our hearts open and “feeling with” in the face of pain and suffering. We can care and act wisely without overwhelm or collapse. Self-compassion is applying mindful caring and connection to our own times of vulnerability and grief. We learn tools to be with our own “Ouch!” This hurts,” based on Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion, leading to mindful reflection and wise action.

Wise Effort (76K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 10-3-2012

An exploration of the “unsung hero” of the noble 8-fold path to awakening. Using practices of wise effort to skillfully meet and modify the causes and conditions of suffering, for ourselves and our larger, inter-dependent world.

Non-Self and True Nature (94K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 9-26-2012

An exploration of the letting go of self, dissolving the sense of personal self into the sacred, and the opening of awareness to the nobility of our true nature.

Impermanence and Abundant Enough-ness (76K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 9-19-2012

An exploration of the ever-changing nature of existence and the ever-present possibility of creation, renewal and emergence.

Suffering and Well-Being (89K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 9-12-2012

An exploration of the suffering inevitable in the human condition. The possibility of the liberation from suffering through practices that are ardent, diligent, resolute, and mindful. The possibility for suffering to be the catalyst of awakening and transformation that leads to a deeper wisdom and well-being.

Equanimity (78K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center 4-4-2012

Equanimity is the capacity to recover our equilibrium in the midst of chaos or confusion. Equanimity is a profound presence of mind: the ability to see without being caught by what we see; a calm presence that is aware, open, engaged but not swayed or caught by any phenomena, any experience of the moment. How we can stand steady in the face of catastrophe, personal or global; how we can remain calm and engaged when the flak hits the fan.

Joy (61K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 2-22-2012

Sympathetic joy (mudita): practices that cultivate true happiness, ease, contentment, independent of external conditions, and lead us to rejoice in the joy, happiness, and well-being of others. A steady practice of joy is one of the seven factors leading to enlightenment.

Compassion (61K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 2-15-2012

Compassion (karuna): practices of empathy and care when we encounter sorrow and struggle, our own or that of others. A steady compassion practice helps us to face the suffering inherent in life and act wisely to alleviate it, without closing down our hearts or running.

Loving Kindness (74K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 2-08-2012

Loving kindness or goodwill (metta): practices of warm-hearted well-wishing for deep happiness and well-being, directed toward ourselves or others, even when that’s difficult. A steady loving kindness practice helps us to meet every moment of experience, and every other being in our lives, with more openness and friendliness.

Emotions and Equanimity (25K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 12-07-2011

Balancing the spacious freedom that comes from understanding the fundamental emptiness of all phenomena with the love and awareness that comes from recognizing our intrinsic connection in the web of all being, too. Balancing no-thing-ness with oneness.

Love teaches me I am everything. Wisdom teaches me I am nothing. Between the two, my life flows.
– Sri Nisargadatta

We can navigate this flow when anchored in equanimity, even navigating the surges of emotions of others or our own emotions in response. Being “affected but not infected” in the words of Phillip Moffitt. We learn steps to cultivate that equanimity and practice exercises to explore the difference equanimity makes in dealing with difficult emotions.

Wise Effort in Relationships (20K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 11-23-2011

Traditionally taught as letting go of the unwholesome and cultivating the wholesome, we practice developing our inner compass to know what is truly wholesome or unwholesome in relationships from the inside out, as wise effort may vary from one person to another, or one situation to another.

Boundaries (20K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 11-16-2011

Practices that help us skillfully engage, dis-engage with others, and tolerate their engaging with or dis-engaging from us. Practices are anchored in equanimity, which allow us to remain calm, not reactive, not reacting to our reactivity. We don’t rev up into grasping or aversion; we don’t shut down in a state of numbness or confusion. Experiential exercises to notice shifts between states of calm, revved up and shut down as we engage, disengage with another, or they engage and dis-engage with us.

Wise Presence, Wise Speech, Wise Listening, Wise Dialogue (20K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 11-09-2011

Practices of presence: relating to others from an embodied groundedness and awareness that allows us to dance with the dynamics of family and friends with open hearts. Of wise speech: identifying stories and beliefs we might filter our perceptions of others through, dropping the story and seeing the deepest true nature of the other. Wise listening: connecting with others through a deep receptivity and acceptance that honors the other as they are. Wise dialogue: a brief introduction to the power of Non-Violent Communication to create safety, respect and change in relationships.

Role Models, Refuges, and Resources (20K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 11-02-2011

Beginning a series on relationships as the 9th step of the Eight-Fold Path. This talk is about the skillful relating to other people as role models—folks who have “cracked the code” and embody wise and compassionate relating; as refuges—folks who offer compassion and comfort in challenging or confusing times, and as resources – folks who remind us of the larger Source that all existence arises from and falls away into. Stories and experiential exercises to illustrate.

Generosity and Community (60K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 8-10-2011

Co-teaching with Sylvia Boorstein, internationally renowned dharma teacher and author, about the Sangha of Thousands of Buddhas in support of the new capital campaign of Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

Anger: A Prelude to Change (76K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 7-27-2011

How to work with anger not, as traditionally views, as a destructive emotion, but as a powerfuol singal to wake up! Pay attention! Something is happening here that is out of alignment with what’s true, is disrespectful, humiliating, or oppressive. Using the principle of non-violent communication and the teaching story of Angulimala (the serial killer in the time of the Buddha) to be able to use anger as a catalyst for positive change.

Contentious Mind (64K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 5-25-2011

Discerning when it’s wise effort to push back against injustice, oppression, suffering because of poverty or lack of opportunity from times when our contention with life as it is leads to contractions – of perceptions and of options. Practical tools from the Buddhist tradition for coming out of argument and dispute into a wise acceptance and contentment with the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of existence.

Critical Mind (68K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 5-11-2011

Our brains are hard-wired to notice anything different than what we expected. We can respond to “what’s wrong?” with curiosity and learning, with care for virtues and standards. We can also respond with disappointment, with “should-ing,” with close-minded positions and judgments, with controlling and contempt. Practical teachings from the Buddhist tradition to back out of critical mind into open mind and compassionate heart again.

Comparing Mind (72K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 5-4-2011

An exploration of the natural tendency of our minds to compare: with benefit – to put the events of our lives into perspective and as a cue to practice wise effort; with detriment – tipping into complaining mind, critical mind, contentious mind, causing suffering and disconnecting us from others. Practical teachings from the Buddhist tradition on conscious, compassionate connection as a skillful antidote to the comparing mind.

Forgiveness (100K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 2-11-2011

An exploration of forgiveness practice as advanced Wise Effort, a practice as essential as loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, to keep our hearts open in the face of very real human suffering. The talk outlines ten principles of a daily forgiveness practice, based on the books and years of teaching of Jack Kornfield, author of The Art of Forgiveness, Loving Kindness and Peace, and Fred Luskin, author of Forgive for Good.

Inter-connectedness (106K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 1-26-2011

If we patiently, but diligently, penetrate experience on the wisdom side of the dharma, we will come to our own experience of the impermanence of all things in existence, that there is no solid self. If we patiently, but diligently, penetrate experience on the compassion side of the dharma, then we come to our own experience of the underlying inter-connectedness of all of existence. Everything arises and passes away, but it arises and passes away in a causal web of inter-being.

Wisdom tells me I am nothing; love tells me I am everything. Between the two my life flows.
– Sri Nisargadatta

This talk explores how to use mindfulness of the Brahma Viharas and the paramitas to expand our sense of kinship with all beings and make this inter-connection, in the vocabulary of other traditions, this communion among the sacred and all beings, more visible, more central to our minds and hearts, so that we increasingly relate to all beings through a recognition of our essential and common true nature, evoking a sense of conscious compassionate connection in all of our relationships.

The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness and Relationships (71K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 1-19-2011

We relate to the wisdom teachings of our tradition through the fourth foundation of mindfulness – using our mindfulness to penetrate to the true nature of reality, summarized in the many “lists:” the Four Noble Truths, the Eight-Fold Path, the four Brahma Viharas, the five Hindrances, the seven Factors of Enlightment, the ten Perfections, etc. When we relate to each other through those teachings, we wisely and skillfully deepen our relationships with each other as we deepen our practice. This talk includes a powerful exercise of the Brahma Viharas – loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity – to help us experience the essential true nature of ourselves and others.

Being: the Wellspring of Love and Wise Action (60K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 12-8-2010

All of our Wise Effort in spiritual practice comes to fruition in a deepening into a place of calm, effortless, inner peace and well-being of simply being. Many practices that can lead us to this flowing down into the silence, the stillness, the spaciousness of Being. Then, even after we arrive here, and know this state of being or non-being to be our true home, our true nature, we lose it. We pop back out into worry, we re-engage with the world in a way that is full of self and full of other selves full of the suffering of self-ing.

This talk addresses our re-engagement with the world from a place of Being. The state of blissful being is not the end state of our practice. When we rest in the spaciousness of Being, we naturally open to a sense of life energy moving through us, the same life energy that moves through all beings, the same life energy that connects us with all beings. So we begin to experience the sacred inter-connectedness of all of life. From this sense of inter-connectedness, if we listen deeply, we can begin to hear the wisdom of how to be and act in the world, guided by awareness and compassion, wisdom and love.

Being is the well-spring of all love and joy, of all caring and sharing, of all wise action in the world. We move in the world, we re-engage with the world and with the myriad details of ourselves in the world from this well-spring of being wisdom and love.

Gratitude (72K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center 12-1-10

This talk explores the many personal benefits of a daily gratitude practice and the lifelong benefits of gratitude as a reliable gateway to spiritual awakening and liberation from suffering.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues; it is the parent of all the others.”
– Cicero

The talk includes many practical tools and experiential exercises for cultivating gratitude.

To sum up: A practice of gratitude, like all practices, can be a refuge in times of trouble, a resource to help us keep going, a way to come into loving presence in the moment, an antidote to the complaining mind, a way to shift focus away from a funk, a way to open the heart as well as to clear the mind. When we pause to notice what we usually take for granted, we change how we perceive and respond to experience in life We see what is filling and fueling our lives rather than what is missing. As we cultivate the habit of being grateful, the mind naturally comes
to rest on the goodness of our lives. If you have the intention to awaken gratitude, over time it will gradually become the natural rhythm of your heart. Gratitude becomes a whole new way of being, strong enough to hold even suffering. When we’re faced with challenges, gratitude opens us to a larger perspective that helps us more effectively address them. And that way of being further shapes how we perceive and respond to life with greater and greater acceptance, ease and joy.

Gratitude (66K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 11-3-2010

This talk explores gratitude – awareness of the interdependent giving and receiving of life – as a spiritual practice, a worthy mindfulness practice. It outlines the benefits of a gratitude practice to our personal well-being, as a vehicle of connection with all of life, as a gateway to the sacred Source of life. Experiential exercises help us deepen our gratitude practice in the moment.

The Personal Self and its Relationship to True Nature (72K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center 9-08-10

This talk traces the arc of practices, from Western psychology and Buddhist meditation, of resonance – attunement – empathy – loving kindness – compassion to help us inhabit our personal self in ways that are in alignment with our true Buddha nature. The talk also explores the neurobiological reasons why this sequencing of practices is what allows us to heal and let go of the conditioning of our small personal self and inhabit our Buddha Nature as who we really are. With examples, stories and experiential exercises throughout.

Forgiveness (84K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center 5-26-10

An exploration of forgiveness practice as advanced Wise Effort, a practice as essential as loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, to keep our hearts open in the face of very real human suffering. The talk outlines ten principles of a daily forgiveness practice, based on the books and years of teaching of Jack Kornfield, author of The Art of Forgiveness, Loving Kindness and Peace, and Fred Luskin, author of Forgive for Good.

  1. How universal the need for forgiveness is
  2. That forgiveness is an ongoing daily practice, not a one-shot deal
  3. What forgiveness is, and what it is not
  4. That forgiveness practice must be anchored in a sense of our true nature
  5. That we must be willing to let go of our personal suffering to be able to forgive
  6. We must notice any unfinished business of the heart that needs forgiving
  7. The necessity of honest grieving
  8. Start practicing forgiveness where it’s easiest
  9. Include all layers of our experience in our forgiveness – body, mind, heart, spirit
  10. Allow the forgiveness practice to shift our perspective

The talk includes Jack Kornfield’s meditations on forgiving ourselves, asking forgiveness from others, offering forgiveness to others.

Poetry as Meditation (124K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center 3-03-10

This talk uses many poems, stories and quotes from poets to illustrate how poetry
validates our own experience, leads us deeper into our own experience, leads us beyond
our experience into the unknown, leads us beyond ourselves to connection with others, to
connection with the divine, with the essence of life. There are practical suggestions for
using poetry to share our gratitude, joys and sorrows, to guide a meditation or inquiry, to
find refuge, to find meaning. With links to good resources of poetry.

Mindful Empathy (72K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 2-10-2010

An exploration of the second foundation of mindfulness – the perception of feeling tone, which is a crucial practice of awakening. Our conditioned reactions of positive, negative, neutral can lead us immediately into greed, hatred, delusion. They can also be a gateway to waking up, if we can use our mindfulness and empathy to stop, take a pause, allow and tolerate our experience without reactivity, take a moment to reflect and break the automaticity of our reflexive rather than reflective response patterns, take a moment to discern rather than react our of unconscious habit. Then we have woken up out of conditioned patterns of response and can make a wise choice, wise effort.

Mindfulness of the Body (124K PDF)

San Rafael Meditation Group 2-3-2010

Mindfulness of the body leads to an awe practice – the miraculousness of existing in a body at all, and awe opens our senses and hearts and minds to sacred. Mindfulness of the mortality of the body wakes up to the preciousness and the impermanence of the body, not to take our form in this moment for granted, even for a second. Mindfulness of the movement of energy in the body helps us come into a physiological state that is calm and relaxed, engaged and alert. What is known in psychological circles as the window of tolerance; what is known in Buddhist circles as equanimity. This talk offers practical exercises in deepening our mindfulness of the body and experiencing ease and peace.

Mindful Empathy (124K PDF)

Spirit Rock Meditation Center, 12-23-09

A skillful application of the practices of mindfulness and empathy to end the suffering we
experience when we are caught in the hindrance of shame, caught in the belief that are
bad or unlovable, a belief that leads to a sense of rejection, failure, not good enough.

We explore the neuroscience of feeling unlovable, the experiences that cause shame
to arise universally in the human condition and embed that sense of shame deeply in
the neural circuitry of our brain. And we explore five practical steps of re-sourcing,
regulating, re-acceptance, reflection, and re-pairing that actually “dissolve” the shame
in the context of a larger awareness and deeper acceptance of who we truly are, any “not
good enough” held compassionately by the innate goodness of our true Buddha Nature.