Avoiding the Present Moment by Marc Forest

Seems to me that sometimes the present moment is not satisfying enough for many of us. One example of this is the way we are always checking our smart phones for something else. Today’s smart phones seem to be used as a life line to perhaps a better moment. Something fresh, something new, something other than what is.

I have nothing against today’s technology with its convenience and usefulness. In fact, I might be the guy who is first in line to get the latest and greatest. I am merely pointing to how the mind seems to work when it mindlessly seeks anything but now via today’s technology.

When the sound of an incoming text or email makes its noise to summon us, we are filled with hope and joy of a potential rescue from this moment. The mind wants to be anywhere but in the present moment. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are usually wanting something different than now. As soon as an experience becomes boring or unpleasant, we seek something else. There will always be this sense of something missing, of incompleteness, of unsatisfactoriness.

So what is wrong with now? What more can there be than what we have before us? If there was anything more, would it not be here? The natural process provides what it provides, in its own time. This moment is not something to overcome so we can get to the next moment. This moment is all there is. What can we learn from it? When we dismiss the present moment because it is unsatisfying, we could be missing something filled with potential for awakening. There is always something here in the now. Let us not miss it by looking to a screen to detour us.

Why not stay with the present experience no matter what it is? This is where wisdom is found, right here in the present moment’s experience, pleasant or unpleasant. It is a question of learning to recognize this moment just as it is.

Remember to recognize the present moment’s experience. I often use this phrase to remind myself to be present for whatever I may be experiencing and to just be with the way it is right now.

Mindfulness practice teaches us to be interested and curious in what is right here, right now. Whatever that may be. Mindful practice includes everything and excludes nothing. Everything belongs.

The only way to know the truth of what is here, is by way of mindful awareness. We need to stay with it without the interruption of a potential for something better by way of a screen.

I just turned my phone off to immerse myself completely, without interruption, in what’s here in this moment

Meeting Jack - By Marc Forest

I met Jack, a beautiful and sensitive man, at a cemetery. He recently turned 87. Our conversation that day was a reminder, to train with the five Recollections more often than I do. The five Recollections are a life-affirming Buddhist practice that emphasize the transient and impermanent nature of conditions in our lives. You can review them below.

Jack was at the cemetery to visit his dead brother’s resting place which happened to be in the same block of marble as my own Mom and Dad's ashes. We began conversing. Jack’s stories as they unfolded were pointers to the Buddha’s lessons in impermanence, old age, sickness and death. These are the first lessons of life that the coddled Siddhartha Gotama realized on his first journey outside the protection of the palace walls.

Jack and I spoke of many things freely and openly for over 2 hours. It was not until sometime after our conversation that I understood we were touching on the Recollections in our dialogue.

Jack shared that at times he was lonely, just as many of us have experienced and will experience from time to time. Jack hinted at wanting to die, as he was so lonely.

The gloom of his loneliness passed as our conversation evolved into the sharing of his fulfilling and meaningful life. The more he spoke of it the more the self-created loneliness left him and his quest to continue living, was rekindled. I could see his passion for life in his eyes; which was not there when we first met.

Do we not all feel loneliness from time to time? We tend to forget that we have access to the present moment; in which we can recollect a life well lived. Jack soon moved away from his loneliness as he continued to reflect on his long life.

The spark for life arose in him the more he reflected and shared the stories of his lifetime. There were so many reasons to savor his life. Like, the grandchildren, and his only son and daughter-in-law he had just visited that morning. He loved them and they loved him back. He also expounded on a love he had from a time way back when, on another continent - the old country he called it. He told me they were only 14 years old when they met and how in love they were. He married his true love, but lost her some 12 years ago to death.

Jack spoke fondly of his beloved brother who died of a slow disease. This is the brother he was visiting that day, which presented the gift of our chance meeting.

My new friend went through each of his siblings, one by one, and how they died and from what sicknesses they had - causing their death. He did not understand why he was still alive or why he has not passed like the rest of his siblings. Talk of this and his near death calls during the war, brought tears to both our eyes. I don't believe his tears were of sadness. Could they have been tears of survivors guilt or tears of gratitude that he is still here and lived such fulfilling life full of love?

Many unpleasant mind states can be treated with human connection. Opening up with people in the present moment opens the heart. Perhaps all we need in times of grief and loneliness is someone to listen as we share our lived experiences?

He spoke of many losses and many gains in his life, both spiritually and materially. The losses were mostly the material things. It was evident to me that the spiritual gains were still with him and continuing to evolve on this very day we met. The more Jack spoke the more I understood that life is just as Buddha taught by way of the five Recollections.

After considerable reminiscing Jack told me secretly and quietly that he would not be surprised if he lived past 100 years. Two hours ago, he wished he was dead. The problems Jack created were dissolving into acceptance of the conditions of life.

Acceptance comes by way of realizing and recognizing the truth of life as it is, cultivated by the Five Recollections.

Thank you Jack.

The Five Recollections

The Buddha said: "These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, (if not daily), whether one is a woman, a man, lay or ordained."

1. I am of the nature to grow old; I cannot avoid aging.

2. I am subject to illness and infirmity; I can not avoid illness and infirmity.

3. I am of a nature to die; I can not avoid death.

4. I will be parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.

5. I am the owner of my actions and heir to my actions. Actions are the womb from which I have sprung.

Dharma Points: On Being a Nobody

Decluttering the Self Makes Room for Peace and Happiness

By Nelle Oosterom

Not long ago, a friend who was doing some decluttering passed on to me a pile of dharma books. While I was tempted to add them to my own dharma pile, I thought the better of it and offered them up to people who participated in our recent Day of Mindfulness. (We had a nice turnout of almost 40 people, by the way.)

By the end of the day, all of the books were gone except a couple of thin volumes of dharma talks by Sister Ayya Khema that were published in Sri Lanka in 1987. You may have seen these kinds of publications: They are intended for free distribution, are usually no more than a hundred pages long, and they are printed on inexpensive newsprint paper, their cost covered by sangha supporters.

I took Ayya Khema’s humble little books home with me, feeling a little sad that no one had picked them up. Ayya Khema, who died in 1997, stood out as a dharma teacher for a couple of reasons. One is that, as a member of a Jewish family who fled Nazi Germany (birth name Ilse Kussel), she knew suffering. Another is that she was the first Western woman to become a Theravadin Buddhist nun. Read more about her here. 

Some years ago I read her well-known book, Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path (Wisdom Publications 1987) and I recall being impressed with the simple clarity of her teaching.

Still, I wasn’t expecting much when I cracked open one of the recently acquired volumes, called All of Us. In fact I was expecting to skim over material that I was already quite familiar with. But it wasn’t long before I was pausing, mentally underlining passages, and then writing them in my journal. It seemed what Ayya Khema had to say was exactly what I needed to hear.

The gist of the issue is this: I can’t seem to get over myself. I can’t seem to stop striving to be “somebody” — somebody who is loved, appreciated, seen, acknowledged, safe, prosperous, and so on. Even when that happens for a while, it never feels like enough. And when the opposite happens, a wave of hot pain rolls through my belly. Dukkha.

Here’s what Ayya Khema says about that: “What is it that we want out of life? If we want to be important, appreciated, loved, then we have to take their opposites in stride also. Every positive brings with it a negative, just as the sun throws shadows. If we want one, we must accept the other, without moaning about it.”

She continues: “But if we really want a peaceful mind and heart, inner security and solidity, then we have to give up wanting to be somebody. Body and mind won’t disappear…What disappears is the urge, the reaching out, the affirmation of the importance of this particular person, called ‘me.’ One doesn’t get peace and happiness by trying to get more, but by wanting less, becoming emptier and emptier until there is nothing left but empty space to be filled with peace and happiness. As long as our hearts are filled with likes and dislikes, how can peace and happiness find any room?”

I’m not one for making new year’s resolutions but I think I might take some time to declutter myself. Stop trying to be more. Do I really need all these “wants” and “don’t wants” crowding my space?

I could make myself a little emptier. I could make room for better things — like those little books of wisdom by Ayya Khema that I couldn’t even give away. Turned out they had something to teach me.

Brief Reflection - Ideals By Marc Forest

Brief Reflection - Ideals

By Marc Forest

For some aspects of my life, I have been reflecting on the idea of what I hold in mind as a perceived standard of perfection or ideal. As I continued to contemplate this, I realized that I may be restricting myself from exploring other opportunities life offers. This exercise encouraged me to lighten up on how I think things should be. The reflection refined the insight that many ideals were ambiguous and clung to for unknown reasons.

Having in mind, and clinging to an ambiguous ideal, of how life should be, has set me up for disappointment and prevented me from opening to other opportunities. This is what happens when a tightly held, not-reflected-on ideal does not meet deep-rooted expectations. I soon experienced that an expected ideal when clung to, and not met, generated a level of distress.

Allowing and experiencing things just as they are is a release from the binds of desire to have things other than ideal. When this release was experienced through reflection and lightening up, I was freed to explore, other ways. A life of un-investigated ideals, brings no opportunity for learning, growth and personal transformation.

One way to release clinging to a standard, is to notice and accept that life gives us exactly what it gives us. Our challenge is to get into the flow of life and work with it. “If life gives us lemons, make lemonade.” We should be open to the potential that today’s ideal, may not be tomorrow’s. This attitude can awaken us to other possible directions not held as ideal today.

This wholesome attitude takes mindfulness; the ability to relax, observe and be open-minded. It also takes a mature wisdom to meet all the experiences which life gives us, without having our perceived ideals or standard of perfection influence how we respond. Development of wisdom is a by-product of continuous mindfulness and reflection.

Reflecting on what ideals you might be holding, for unknown reasons, and perhaps in an unwholesome way, is a useful exercise. Making the effort to do this reflection, will give you some insight to what may be holding you back from further growth, wisdom and happiness.

Here are a few things that I have been pondering that might get your own reflection going:

1. The ideal of certainty?

2. The ideal relationship?

3. The ideal career or in my case, the ideal retirement?

What will your own reflection, open for you?

Installing LOVE 2.0


Love 2.0

(author unknown from http://leighb.com)

Tech Support:

Yes Ma'am, how can I help you?


Well, after much consideration, I've decided to install Love. Can you guide me through the process?

Tech Support:

Yes I can help you. Are you ready to proceed?


Well, I'm not very technical, but I think I'm ready.

What do I do first?

Tech Support:

The first step is to open your heart.

Have you located your heart, Ma'am?


Yes, but there are several other programs running now.

Is it okay to install Love while they are running?

Tech Support:

What programs are running Ma'am?


Let's see, I have past-hurt, low self-esteem, grudge, and resentment running right now.

Tech Support:

No problem, Love will gradually erase past-hurt from your current operating system. It may remain in your permanent memory, but it will no longer disrupt other programs. Love will eventually override low self-esteem with a module of it's own called high self-esteem. However, you have to completely turn off grudge and resentment. Those programs prevent Love from being properly installed. Can you turn those off Ma'am?


I don't know how to turn them off. 

Can you tell me how?

Tech Support:

With pleasure. Go to your start menu and invoke forgiveness. Do this as many times as necessary until grudge and resentment have completely erased.


Okay done, Love has started installing itself. Is that normal?

Tech Support:

Yes, but remember that you have only the base program. You need to begin connecting to other hearts in order to get the upgrades.


Oops! I have an error message already.

It says, "Error-program not run on external components."

What should I do?

Tech Support:

Don't worry, Ma'am, It means the Love program is setup to run on internal hearts but has not yet been run on your heart. In nontechnical terms, it means you have to Love yourself before you can Love others.


So what should I do?

Tech Support:

Can you pull down Self-acceptance;

then click on the following:


Realize your worth;

Acknowledge your limitations.


OK, done.

Tech Support:

Now copy them to the "My Heart" directory. The system will overwrite any conflicting files and begin patching faulty programming. Also, you need to delete verbose self-criticism from all directories and empty your recycle bin to make sure it is completely gone and never comes back.


Got it. Hey!!! My Heart is filling up with new files. Smile is playing on my monitor and Peace and Contentment are copying themselves all over My Heart. Is this normal?

Tech Support:

Sometimes. For others it takes a while, but eventually everything gets downloaded at the proper time.

So Love is installed and running. One more thing before we hang-up. Love is Freeware. Be sure to give it and its various modules to everyone you meet. They will in turn share it with others and return some cool modules back to you.


I promise to do just that.

Make a meditation retreat your New Year’s resolution

By Nelle Oosterom, Chair of Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group

If you are new to meditation, or have never sat in meditation for any extended period of time, the idea of participating in a retreat for even one day might seem daunting.

There are lots of reasons for why you might think that: “My back will hurt.” “I’ve never sat for longer than half an hour.” “I can’t stay stay in silence for that long.” “My family needs me.” “I can’t afford it.” “I can’t fit it into my schedule.” Etc.

I recall having a lot of anxiety about suffering physical pain when I undertook my first retreat in 1995. It was a weekend residential mindfulness retreat in St. Boniface at what was then an Oblate Sisters convent and it was led by Calgary-based teacher Shirley Johannesen.

In fact, I did experience a lot of bodily discomfort while on the retreat — aching back, throbbing head, screaming knees, and churning stomach. The instructions were to stay with the pain and simply notice how the sensations of the body tend to shift, move, expand, contract, disappear and return. That there was an alternative to resisting or fighting discomfort — that pain could actually be accepted as an object of interest and exploration — was new to me. So a change in attitude could transform pain into being not such a big deal. Who knew?

Mindfulness also exposed a lot of useless and/or harmful mental activity. And my quirky sense of humour got the better of me at one point. While engaged in mindful eating I erupted into an uncontrollable fit of giggling, with tears streaming down my face. This broke the silence so badly that Shirley came up behind me, gently put her hands on my shoulders and asked if I was alright. “It’s OK, to let it happen,” she said with great compassion. “Just know that it’s happening.”

I hung my head in shame, convinced that I was surely the world’s worst meditator!

Just before the retreat ended, Shirley warned us that because we were not used to practising mindfulness, we would be in a sensitive emotional state for several days.  She advised us to treat ourselves as if we were recovering from a broken leg.

She was right. No sooner was my mind released from the discipline of practice, than it started chattering incessantly. My energy levels surged, as if sparks were flying off of me.

In the days that followed, I noticed my awareness was quite sharp and I took some pride in this. When I became annoyed about something, I was able to watch the annoyance and feel it dissolve. Feeling rather liberated, I thought, “Hey, I’ve got this mindfulness thing now, I can handle anything that comes up.”

With my new-found arrogance, I made the mistake of pushing the dharma onto a friend. She grumpily told me to stop preaching at her. Disappointed and angry, my next journal entry read: “Will the suffering ever stop?” Then came the realization that the path of liberation includes suffering — Noble Suffering, the Buddha called it — as we peel back and confront layer upon layer of conditioned personality.

The impact of that first retreat spurred me on to undertake many more retreats in many locations with many teachers. Over time, the contrast between life on retreat and life off retreat became less stark as I incorporated mindfulness into my daily life.

Nowadays time in retreat is largely about refining what I already know, and toning my “mindfulness muscles.” And over the past twenty years, I’ve been especially fortunate to sit with Sharda Rogell, a senior teacher with Spirit Rock Insight Meditation Centre in California, when she is in Saskatchewan to lead retreats.

For me, retreat participation has been the foundation for training my mind. The fact that I’ve had so much retreat opportunity has been among the greatest blessings of my life.

That said, I would like now to share information about upcoming retreats in 2018, both here in Winnipeg, in Saskatchewan (which is just a day’s drive away) and British Columbia.

With Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group:

January 6 — Lovingkindness Day of Mindfulness at St. Peter’s Anglican Church. (Note: This retreat is limited to 35 and is full, but participation may still be possible if you put yourself on the waiting list). winnipeginsightmeditation.org/day-of-mindfulness-1/

June 8 — Golden Buddha Day of Mindfulness at St. Benedict’s Monastery. Registration details will be on this website in May.

September 28 to 30 — Weekend residential retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery. Registration details will be on this website in August.

With Insight and Mindfulness groups In Saskatchewan and British Columbia

January 25-30 — A five day residential retreat in Saskatoon with Insight teacher Susie Harrington. saskatooninsight.com

March 9-11 — A non-residential retreat with Insight teacher Howard Cohn in Regina. reginainsight.ca

March 23-25 — A weekend mindfulness retreat in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh led by Dharma teacher Michael Ciborski in Saskatoon. mindfulsaskatoon.ca or email info@mindfulsaskatoon.ca to register.

May 25-27 — A weekend residential retreat with Insight teacher Adrianne Ross. saskatooninsight.com

May 25-June 1 — A week-long residential retreat with Insight teacher Steve Armstrong in Nanaimo, B.C.  https://bcims.org/Calendar/EventId/237/e/residential-retreat-with-steve-armstrong-25-may-2018

October 9-14 — A five-day residential retreat with Insight teacher Sharda Rogell in Moose Jaw. reginainsight.ca

October 26-28 — A weekend residential/non-residential retreat in Saskatoon with Mindfulness teacher Bob Stahl. saskatooninsight.com


March 10-15 — Recreating the Heart of Compassion, a five-day residential retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Winnipeg with Mindfulness teacher Dawn MacDonald and Yoga teacher Jonathan Austman.  chcm-ccsm.ca/compassion-project/winter-2017-programming/event-series/re-creating-the-heart-of-compassion-an-annual-mindfulness-meditation-silent-retreat/

Also, check out the B.C. Insight Meditation Society http://bcims.org, the Calgary Insight Meditation Society calgaryims.org, and the Edmonton Mindfulness Group mindfulnessedmonton.ca for their retreat schedules.










Sitting With a Sutta - Getting to Know the Four Noble Truths

Getting to Know the Four Noble Truths 

By Marc Forest (excerpt from a talk given at Yoga North September 24, 2017)

“… the Buddha took up a few leaves in his hand and addressed the Sangha thus: “What do you think, Sangha which is more numerous: these few leaves that I have taken up in my hand or those in this grove of trees?”

“Venerable sir, the leaves that the Buddha has taken up in his hand are few, but those in the grove of trees are numerous.”

“So too, Sangha, the things I have directly known but have not taught you are more numerous, while the things I have taught you are few.  And why, have I not taught those many things?

Because they are unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the inner life...and do not lead to peace....” Samyutta Nikaya 56.31

The Buddha as always, was trying to keep it simple, which is what I really like to do in my own practice. I was lost and confused on my spiritual journey until I started to weed out what really didn’t matter to my awakening.

So, what in my opinion are the fundamentals of a spiritual life that are beneficial and lead to our awakening?  

My recommendation for that solid foundation is to know, learn, understand and live the teachings of  The Four Noble Truths.  The Four Noble Truths are the common thread between all Buddhists lineages.  

For me, a point of clarity came when I cleared out all the noise around  the 'other' metaphysical dharma and focused my practice around the Buddha's very first discourse on the Four Noble Truths.

My own experience of wandering around and dabbling in a buffet of spiritual practices for many, many years did not bring satisfaction to my spiritual life. My theme song back then was “I Can’t get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.  

After years of wandering in confusion I had what I have termed a “calling” or aspiration.  Let’s just say that this aspiration was to know, understand and live the Four Noble Truths.   The Four items became and still are the focal point of my life.  I just knew this was what needed to be done.

There is another discourse called “The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint”. This discourse illustrates that whatever the Buddha taught can be found in these Four Noble Truths. 

“Friends, just as the footprint of any living being that walks can be placed within an elephant’s footprint, and so the elephant’s footprint is declared the chief of them because of its great size; so too, all wholesome states can be included in the Four Noble Truths. In what four? In the noble truth of suffering, in the noble truth of the origin of suffering, in the noble truth of the cessation of suffering, and in the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.”  Majjhima Nikaya 28.2

We have all heard of the Four Noble Truths but do we really know and live them as our guide to awakening. We hear about them so much we think we know what they are. I have come across some that dismiss the richness and significance of these Four Noble Truths as “Kindergarten Buddhism”.  It’s not, it’s all of Dharma as the discourse suggests.

The teaching of the Four Noble Truths is found in Buddha’s very first discourse after his awakening under the Bodhi tree in ancient India. The discourse is appropriately called “Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma”.

We have come to know that what the Buddha taught in this first discourse as the Four Noble Truths - I have since come to appreciate and understand them as four tasks. 

1.     To understand Dukkha

2.     To let go of the Cause of Dukkha

3.     To realize the Cessation of Dukkha

4.     To cultivate the Path to the Cessation of Dukkha

These four tasks are a pragmatic approach to living our lives in peace.  We will realize soon enough, that life has more purpose and meaning through working with these tasks every day.

We need to make use of these teachings as a way to awakening. The four tasks need to be put into action; by doing so this life is lived to its fullest potential. As the Buddha has said about all his teachings – “don’t take my word for it, come see for your selves”

WIMG is starting a series of talks on each of the Four Truths, including all elements of the 8-Fold Path at St. Peter’s beginning September 27 and going until December 6.

Please plan to attend if you can.

May you all be well.

Buddha Book Club by Anisa Baker

Buddha Book Club

Buddha Book Club isn’t actually the name of the group; it’s the nickname I’ve been using since I joined. This small group meets monthly to meditate and discuss a Buddhist book together, and it’s been one of the most productive dharma activities I’ve found since moving to Winnipeg. The members have changed over the years, with about 8 people attending each round. We go slowly, reading a chapter or two each month and completing one book from September to June, and start or end with a group meditation. At first I thought I would find the slow pace frustrating, but we never seem to run out of things to talk about and the depth has been useful. It gives us a chance to both consider the topic fully and to make connections to our own lives and practice. People come from a variety of backgrounds, both retired and working, with a deep connection to Insight Meditation, other Buddhist traditions, other traditions entirely, or just an open curiosity and interest in learning. I’m very grateful to Kurt Schwartz for having started and shepherding this group so far, to all the members so far for our conversation, and I look forward to this year’s incarnation.

The group is currently open to new members, with the intention of meeting on the second Tues of each month from 7-9pm. We are reading Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunru Suzuki this year.



The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness

by Nelle Oosterom, WIMG Chair

For the next while at the Wednesday sittings at St. Peter’s, we will be exploring the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness.

As you may be aware, the practice of Insight Meditation is largely based on the Buddhist teaching known as the Sattipatthana Sutta — the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The first is mindfulness of the body, the second is mindfulness of feelings of like, dislike and neutrality, and the third is mindfulness of qualities of mind (such as noticing when the mind is contented, discontented, peaceful, disturbed, etc.)

The Fourth Foundation is mindfulness of the Dharma. This includes a number of specific teachings, including: The Five Hindrances, the Aggregates of Clinging, the Sense Bases, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

This is a lot to take in!

But not to worry. These teachings are not meant to be digested in one go. Give it some time. It can take years to come to an understanding of even seemingly simple and straightforward teachings.

For instance, when I went on my first retreat in 1995, I remember being taught about the Five Hindrances. And I thought, ‘OK, got that. On to the next teaching.’ I went on my second retreat and again there was a teaching on the Five Hindrances. And I thought, ‘OK, I know that already.’ My third retreat, same thing. I thought, ‘Why do they teach the same thing over and over again?’

But even though I knew what the hindrances were and sometimes saw them when they arose, I didn’t really appreciate their power to blind me. In fact, it wasn’t until recent years that I got to know and appreciate the hindrances more deeply. And I could say, ‘What I am experiencing right now is aversion and I can see very clearly how it is making me unhappy, how it hinders me, constricts me, limits me, makes me feel small. Clearly, the presence of aversion hinders me from seeing and being in my true nature, my awakened Buddha nature.’

So, there is knowing a thing and there is knowing a thing. The first knowing is becoming familiar with the concepts. Sometimes a teaching won’t seem to mean much at first. And if that’s the case, best to study it a while, and then tuck it away for future reference. The teaching may make more sense with the passage of time and experience. The deep knowing of a teaching comes in its own time — like ripening fruit.

Five Daily Recollections by Nelle Oosterom, WIMG chair

For the next five weeks at St. Peter’s, we will be reflecting on what are known as the Five Daily Recollections, also called Subjects for Contemplation.

This teaching comes straight out of the Buddhist canon, from what is called the Upajjhatthana Sutta. The sutta asks that we reflect on some hard realities of life, namely aging, illness, death, loss, and the consequences of our actions. This may seem a little grim and depressing — and maybe not the thing to be doing when one is actually down in the dumps — but those who think about these realities in the right way will find this practice very beneficial.

For instance, in my own experience, when my mother was still alive, I dreaded the thought of losing her. When I became acquainted with the teachings in the mid-1990s, this was one practice that I latched onto fairly quickly because it seemed so appropriate to helping condition a person to the inevitable realities we all face. After all, most of us outlive our parents. So I would from time to time consciously imagine what my life would be like if my mother wasn’t in it.

Even so, when she died, suddenly and unexpectedly in 2002, it came as a shock. I had pictured something a bit more gradual and that I would somehow be there when it happened. So when I got the call, from 2,000 kilometres away, grief overwhelmed me, even knocked me over. For instance, I remember being in a pharmacy to fill a prescription I would need before I flew out the next day and being completely unable to communicate with the pharmacist.

Given my state of shock, what good had it done me to have contemplated my mother’s death beforehand?

In fact, these contemplations do not necessarily protect us from the natural hurt, the natural grief, that arises from loss. The emotion of grief, in itself, does not seem to be the problem. It is our tendencies to attach to grief and to loss, to create stories about how terrible things are, or to numb ourselves to reality, that are problematic.

In my own case, because of my practice, I believe I was able to have just enough awareness to separate the raw grief I was feeling about losing my mother — and actually, some of that sadness had a certain sweetness to it — from the additional grief that my mind was needlessly generating. I could not stop the sense of intense loss that was my reality in the present moment, but I didn’t have to generate more suffering by adding to the story. And in fact it didn’t take long for me to regain a sense of equilibrium.

The Five Daily Recollections can be used as a skillful means for letting go of our attachment to having things to be the way we want them to be. Contemplating them helps us become more grounded in the reality of existence, in the “ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows.” We see that “things are like this.” And we can rest in that reality, even when it’s hard.

Here are the Five Daily Recollections:

I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.

I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.

I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.

I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.

I am the owner of my actions [karma], heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.

To read the text on which the Five Recollections are based, go to Thanissarro Bikkhu’s website, Access to Insight:


Sitting with a Sutta by Marc Forest

The Importance of Spiritual Friendship — Kalyanamitta (‘spiritual friends’)

"As he was seated to one side, Ven. Ananda said to Buddha, 'This is half of the holy life: being a friend with admirable people, a companion with admirable people, a colleague with admirable people. Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Being a friend with admirable people, a companion with admirable people, a colleague with admirable people is actually the whole of the holy life.' " (SN 45.2)

Over the last five years it has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience to witness the growth of spiritual bonds formed at WIMG. On more than one occasion I have heard from newcomers about how delighted they are to find such a group that shares a common interest in mediation and Dharma practice.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. We are all human beings who walk the same ground, who seek the liberation and true happiness. What we have at WIMG is a safe, supportive, Sangha that nurtures spiritual relationship building through a shared curiosity of meditation and Dharma.

Many people think following the practice of meditation is a solitary exercise done in private. This perception is soon remedied when one sits in a Sangha environment like WIMG or on a retreat. The initial shock of realizing there are people just like you who meditate passes and friendships begin to cultivate.

Personal transformation cannot happen in isolation; we transform and help each other along this path. We may be responsible for our own actions (Karma) but those actions are also influenced by our relationships. This is why Buddha said what he said:

I don't envision any other single factor like friendship with admirable people in being so helpful for one who is a learner, who has not attained the goal but remains intent on the unsurpassed rest from the yoke. One who is a friend with admirable people abandons what is unskillful and develops what is skillful." (Iti 17)

If we think about, it is spiritual friendships that were formed 2600 years ago that have brought us the joy of the Dharma today. The Dharma friendships we form today will help continue the Dharma for those who come after us.

As friendships are so important to our spiritual development, Buddha gave us instruction on the qualities of a good spiritual friend. These qualities found in others will help us build the same qualities in ourselves. A spiritual friend is:

"A friend who is helpful

A friend who shares one’s happiness and suffering

A friend who points out what is good

A friend who is sympathetic" (DN 31)

"A friend gives what is hard to give and she does what is hard to do. She forgives you your harsh words and endures what is hard to endure.

She tells you her secrets,yet she preserves your secrets.She does not forsake you in difficulties, nor does she roughly despise you.

The person here in whom these qualities are found is a friend.One desiring a friendshould resort to such a person." (AN 7:36)

Through spiritual relationships we help each other deal with the vicissitudes of life. The strength we gain from relationship helps keep us on the path to awakening and true happiness. Our common ground is Vipassana meditation, the Dharma and each other.

Now that we have discovered each other in Sangha and have a common interest in meditation and the Dharma, there is a way to deepen this common bond to make it even more rewarding than it is. That is to continue practicing and nurture relationships with such people. Share what you will with all your spiritual friends at WIMG.

WIMG will be continuing to develop ways to build these important relationships that nurtures realization for each other.

"If you find a wise person

Who points out your faults and corrects you,

You should follow such a sage

As you would a revealer of treasures.

It is better, never worse

To follow such a sage." (Dhp 76)


May all beings be happy!





Exploring the Ten Perfections by Nelle Oosterom, WIMG Chair

For the next several Wednesdays at St. Peter’s, we will be exploring the Ten Paramis, also known as the Ten Perfections. These follow the themes we undertook in January and much of February   on the Five Precepts.

You will notice that these themes are about cultivating good behaviour, attitude, and qualities of character, not so much about the formal practice of meditation per se. Why not just concentrate on meditation technique?

Indeed, I have noticed that there are a lot of meditation apps available these days that promise instant peace and calm!

Why not just do that?

In our Western culture, there is a tendency to pursue meditation in reverse. We are in a hurry and want quick results. We might try vipassana — Insight Meditation — but, when confronted with our mental clutter, find the practice incredibly difficult and think, “This is neither calming nor insightful!”

In many traditional Eastern cultures, however, a person seeking to practice meditation doesn’t go in cold. They start with preliminary practices, beginning with keeping ethical precepts. In fact, all spiritual traditions are grounded in ethics. We are urged to refrain from doing harm as well to cultivate good qualities such as generosity, patience, and kindness.

Depending on the tradition, other preliminary practices also go into the mix: Rituals, chanting, mantras, special diets, yogic exercises, etc. This is often referred to as “purification.” The intended result of this purification process is a calm, steady heart-mind that is amenable to what we might all “serious” meditation practice.

Based on my own experience, I would say vipassana is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage, faith, patience, and plain old-fashioned stick-to-itiveness to go the distance.

Typically, instead of the peace and calm we are seeking, we experience the distressing reality of our untrained minds. And we might not understand or believe that the fleeting periods of awareness we do experience in meditation — those moments when we “wake up” — are actually very beneficial and much more valuable than achieving temporary calm. Awareness or wakefulness — remember that the word “Buddha” means “awakened one” — is actually key to the peace of mind we are seeking.

It is possible to use certain concentration techniques to experience peace in meditation and some people even have an innate ability to do that. But the peace of mind experienced does not last long beyond the cushion. Sometimes people become attached to the practice itself and avoid engaging in “real life.” However, avoiding life is not the point or the path of enlightenment.

Just as it would be wise to train the body before running a marathon, it’s wise to train the mind in preparation for and while undertaking the work of investigation, penetrative insight and liberating awareness.

Insight practice is sometimes compared to peeling away the layers of an onion. The layers represent our habits and conditioning, our clinging tendencies — which we take to be our “self.” But these layers actually obscure our true self — our inherent Buddha nature — which has nothing to do with our personality.

The outer layers everyone can see — strong habits and tendencies that are harmful, like substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, greedy behaviour, over-aggressiveness. It’s usually not too difficult to see how these habits lead to unhappiness, so we work to turn those habits around.

You start where you are. If you happen to be a serial killer, that’s where you start. Start by not killing. Angulimala was a sadistic serial killer in the Buddha’s time who dispatched 999 victims. He was looking to make it a thousand when he encountered the Buddha and had a sudden conversion. In other words, he woke up. He saw what he was doing, the effect it was having and the sorrow his actions were causing for himself and others.

As we learn to conduct ourselves harmlessly, we experience much more peace of mind, fewer worries, less stress. With this awareness, the most troublesome outer layers fall away and we come upon new, more subtle layers of habit that we might not have been conscious of before. We may look like we have it altogether on the outside but we also realize how quickly we can become triggered and return to the harmful mind states of greed, hatred, and confusion. In Buddhism, these are known as the three poisons.

So we work at a more refined level to counteract these poisons. For example, if we notice that we are carrying hatred in the form of anger (or depression, as the flip side of anger) we work on developing a quality that is opposite to anger, such as patience.

In short, awareness and harmless conduct reinforce each other. We can’t see our harmful conduct without some awareness. We can’t grow in awareness without refining our conduct.

In our work, we will at times come upon a layer of “self” so deeply ingrained and subtle that we can’t see it, we can’t penetrate it, it’s like we have hit a wall. We know there is something wrong but we don’t know what to do. Those are the times when having internalized the Paramis is really going to help.

The Paramis — the Ten Perfections — are by tradition the qualities the Buddha refined in his earlier lives. It is said that perfecting them over many lives gave him the foundation to attain enlightenment.

Whether we believe we have many lives or just one, we can benefit from cultivating the the Paramis. They ground us in our spiritual practice, which in turns brings ease to our worldly life.

Here are the Paramitias in the order that we’ll be studying them over the next several weeks. The brief descriptions below are mostly paraphrased from Ayya Khema’s Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.

February 15: Generosity. Jillian has already presented on this one and her skillful talk led to a good discussion afterwards. Generosity, as a parami, is considered a starting point. Generosity of any kind diminishes the ego, which is the essence of the path.

March 8: Morality and Renunciation: Nelle will bundle these two perfections together. Since the ethical precepts have already been covered in previous talks, the focus of this talk will mainly be on renunciation — or letting go. What we are actually letting go of is our egoic clinging, a practice we can do both on the cushion and off.

March 15: Wisdom: Bruce will lead this talk. This parami is very broad. According to Ayya Khema, cultivating wisdom can be seen as a process akin to feeding ourselves: First, we learn. We acquire knowledge and we put it on our plate. Then we chew on the knowledge for a while and swallow it. Then we digest the knowledge. What we can’t use, we let go of. What we can use, we keep; this may transform into wisdom. From a Buddhist perspective, wisdom is closely linked to an understanding of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.

March 22: Energy: Jillian. This parami is about using our energy skillfully so that it moves us in the right direction — towards elevated conscious, towards liberation. When our energy is balanced with concentration, we avoid restlessness. Energy is also one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

March 29: Patience. Nelle. Patience dissolves anger. Without patience, our wanting mind demands things to be way we want them to be, to go according to our plans. Patience has a quality of insight, of seeing the big picture and realizing that whatever plans we make, the natural flow and change of circumstances means the outcomes of our plans are not within our control

April 12: Truthfulness. Jillian. This parami has many facets. It’s in part about inner honesty, seeing the truth of ourselves as we really are. It’s also about knowing the truth of the dharma for ourselves — and not just taking it on as a belief. This kind of truth-seeking is about spiritual inquiry.

April 19: Resolution. Jeff. Resolve keeps us on the path, even when it gets uncomfortable, unpleasant, uninspiring. Resolution, or determination, arises when we clearly see that the usual distractions of our ordinary lives offer nothing of lasting benefit. We therefore resolve to pursue spiritual growth and final liberation.

April 26: Lovingkindness. Nelle. Lovingkindness (metta) — or good will —  refers to a quality of heart that makes no distinctions. It’s not about just loving those who are close to you or being friendly only to those whom you like. The aspiration is to embrace all beings as if they were your own children. Lovingkindness shows up in many places in the Buddha’s teachings. It’s one of the Brahma Viharas and its the subject of two well-known discourses, the Metta Suttas. It’s also a meditation practice in its own right.

May 3: Equanimity. Nelle. Equanimity is considered the crowning glory of emotions. It is even-mindedness grounded in wisdom and the insight that everything changes. True equanimity is warm and caring — unlike its near enemy, indifference, which is characterized by cold detachment. Equanimity is also one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

Note: In the intervening weeks, Marc will be continuing with his series on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Mindfulness of Mind on April 5 and Mindfulness of Dhamma on May 10.=

Additional references:

Study material on the Paramis can be found at Gil Fronsdal’s Inisght Meditation Centre website:


Thanissaro Bhikkhu has an online study guide to the Paramis on his Access to Insight website.


Learning About and Experiencing the First Noble Truth: Dukkha

By Catherine Sproat

Crossing the flood of Dukkha to the shore of freedom.

Crossing the flood of Dukkha to the shore of freedom.

Dukkha is the Pali word for suffering.  It’s not so much the ailments of physical suffering but also the mental suffering we go through. Dukkha includes sickness, the loss of someone or something, tragic events, as well as not having something go your way. 

Sometimes on the path, I am dumbfounded by the links between what I experience or see others experience and what I am learning. 
Sometimes the experience and lesson interconnect right at the same time. Often the information comes just as I need it. This was the case in a recent experience while beginning to study the First Noble Truth: there is suffering. 

I see dukkha being related to attachment as well as to the mental suffering caused by stories the mind creates. These stories create more dukkha as the mind plays out scenes of what could have happened and poses “what ifs?” I find that I can become attached to something that didn’t even happen or attached to something that is already finished. This adds to the dukkha and is known as the second arrow of dukkha in our practice with the first arrow being the actual bad event.

Recently my family experienced a very real scare and potentially tragic situation with my newborn granddaughter. My son and daughter-in-law came very close to losing her after she suddenly stopped breathing. The blessing was that when she stopped breathing my son was holding her and noticed something was wrong. Once the paramedics came and took her to the hospital, my son informed me and other members of the family about what happened. When I heard about the situation, I felt like I was hit with a brick. Right away, dukkha set in. I could not imagine what my son and daughter-in-law were going through and what stories or scenarios were going through their minds. Being a student of the Dharma and the Four Noble Truths, it was a time to use what I have been practicing daily. It was time to put my learning into practice.

I felt the fear and grief inside of me. The turning of the stomach, the mind racing and the breath quickening to keep up with the mind were just a few things that were happening inside of me. The more I looked inside at what my body was telling me, I realized that a lot of my suffering was from knowing that my son and daughter-in-law were suffering. I didn’t know how to ease their dukkha or what to do for them. Then came the mental suffering of “what ifs?” — the second arrow of dukkha we fling at ourselves. The stories I made up in my mind were worse than the actual event itself. 

Then I read and a quote by Ajahn Sumedho in the book I’m reading on the Four Noble Truths: This moment is like this. Reading this brought a moment of relief, respite from the suffering I was drowning in. It opened me up to accepting and sitting with my suffering and helped me focus on the event and the realization that everything was out of my control. The baby was safe and in the care of the doctors and nurses. It helped me stop my mind from creating stories and made me more present for my son and daughter-in-law.  

I’m definitely not saying that dukkha is over for me. I am still dealing with the lingering residue of the experience. But I’m in a lot better space than I was three weeks ago when this happened.  

Every day is a day to sit with dukkha and explore it instead of reacting to it or pushing it away. The tools I have learned from studying the Dharma and practicing mindfulness reinforced my ability to respond instead of react and allowed me to get over the main dukkha. Through my mindfulness practice I know this moment is like this.

Changes at WIMG

A message from the Chair, Nelle Oosterom

As a new year approaches, this seems like an appropriate time to announce some changes to the Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group — all of them positive.

The changes would be invisible to most of you who regularly receive our email reminders and attend our sits and other activities. They are about the behind-the-scenes activity that keeps a group like this running. Like the engines in our vehicles or the foundations of our homes, most of us don’t notice the work that goes into holding a community together until something breaks down.

Those of us who work to keep WIMG going, and growing, realized that we needed a more structured way of doing things if we are to continue moving forward. To that end, we recently formed an administrative body that includes a chair (myself), a vice-chair (Marc Forest), a treasurer (Jillian Preston-Gren), and an advisor (Thomas Steur). Together, we form a core group. This small group ensures that the day-to-day running of the sangha takes place and directs the activities that happen over the longterm. 

The core group does not work alone. There are a number of other people whose work is vital to our sangha. For instance, Kurt Schwarz, a spiritual care practitioner in his professional life, volunteers his time as one of the key practice leaders in our sangha. Bruce Johnson brings his organizational skills to bear in attending to the many details of our weekly sits and days of mindfulness, Amy Teakle works tirelessly as our retreat registrar, Paul Renault  designed and runs our website, Catherine Sproat edits our blog and newsletter, Barbara Barnett shares her time in leading contemplative walks at Fort Whyte and Marjolaine Pelletier recently initiated our social events committee.

In addition, many people participate on Wednesday evenings as dharma readers. Their voices, and the voices of all who participate by sharing their day-to-day experiences of dharma practice, help to energize our sessions and to build a diverse, inclusive community.

How is having a core group different from what existed before?

The main difference is that we now have a more defined leadership structure. Each member of the core group has a specific role and there is more clarity around who is responsible for what. The core also oversees several committees. These committees include finance, retreat, communication, social, and study groups.

Still, we who are members of the core group realize that running a meditation group is not like running a corporation, a co-op, a community club or even a self-help group. Nor is it the same as a faith community, although a group like ours does share some of the same features of a community that is bonded by spiritual life.

We often refer to our group as a sangha. In the Buddhist tradition, a sangha originally referred to the community of monks and nuns and dharma teachers who were supported by the lay community. As Buddhism has taken hold in the Western world, the meaning of sangha has expanded to include lay groups such as ours — groups that support the practice of the teachings of Buddhism.

Yet, even as a lay sangha, WIMG does not fit the usual mold. Many sanghas have designated guiding teachers — individuals who are trained and recognized as qualified dharma teachers. Our group is peer-led. In practice this means that a few of us with some degree of training have stepped forward to act as practice leaders. As practice leaders, we prepare dharma talks, or read prepared talks, during our sitting sessions, and do our best to guide those who have questions about their practice. 

We take care not to set ourselves up as spiritual authorities, however. In my own case, I have been functioning as a practice leader for close to twenty years. But I am still very much a beginner.

To help guide the group, we are reaching out to recognized Insight Meditation teachers. We envision being able to turn to them as informal advisors and/or mentors.  As a first step, we have invited a senior teacher from Spirit Rock in California — Howie Cohn — to lead a non-residential retreat next November. 

In addition, the core group is also seeking to start or strengthen connections with sanghas in other locations, particularly in Canada. For instance, a  Prairie Sangha consisting of meditation groups in the Prairie provinces is in the early stages of development. There is also the Buddhist Insight Network — Marc has attended past conferences of this American-based network and came back with helpful ideas and contacts.

Another important function of the core group is to manage the dana (donations) we receive. The dana is used to pay for expenses, such as rent, as well as to help ensure that our retreats are affordable for anyone. Practice leaders and core group members do all of their work on a volunteer basis and do not receive any payment. However, there will be expenses when we bring in outside teachers. These teachers rely on dana for their livelihood.

The core group’s other major challenge is to ensure we always have space to meet in. We currently gather at two different locations, which can be challenging. Ideally, we’d like to have our activities take place at one dedicated site. So this is something we are looking toward for the future.

The Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group has been around in various incarnations for more than two decades. It is a growing, evolving entity. The challenge is to grow at the right pace — neither too slow, nor too fast. 

For me, it brings to mind the growth of a plant. A plant “roots and shoots.” Its initial rooting stage takes place out of sight. This is the quiet work of establishing itself so that it has a base for nourishment. This cannot be forced. Once established, the plant shoots above ground and into the sunlight, where it grows into a blade of grass, a sunflower, or a tree. 

As members of a sangha, each of us does the quiet work of rooting ourselves in spiritual practice. As we become established, we collectively rise to the challenges of establishing our dharma practice within a community of spiritual friends. 

I will close with this well-known exchange between Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, and the Buddha:

When Ananda observed that spiritual friendship (kalyana mittata) must surely be half of the spiritual life, the Buddha replied: “Ananda, you are mistaken. Spiritual friendship is not half the spiritual life; it’s the whole of it.”

Four Sacred Sites of Buddha's Life

by Jeff Newman

In April of 2015 I took a three-month trip to India by myself, partly as a spiritual pilgrimage and also to see the world and have new experiences. These photos represent the four sacred sites of Buddha's life and I will provide a brief description for each.

Picture 1 is Lumbini, Nepal. The building covers the archaeological site determined to be Buddha's birthplace. Buddha's mother Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama in the town of Lumbinivana in 567 BCE. Mayadevi died about a week after Siddhartha's birth and he was raised by his maternal aunt Mahapajapati and his father King Suddhodana. This is a large archeological site and park with the ruins of Buddhist temples verified to date back to  the second century AD.

Picture 2 is the giant Japanese Buddha statue in Bodh Gaya. This statue is 82 feet tall and was built by the Daijokyo Buddhist Temple in 1975, taking seven years to complete. Cameras were not allowed at the sacred Bodhi tree site due to a terrorist attack there in 2013. The Mahabodhi temple complex at the Bodhi tree site is a beautiful monument with numerous temples and gardens. Buddha attained enlightenment there after 49 days of meditation at the age of 35.The sense of peace and spirituality at this place was amazing. I was too excited to have deep concentration while I meditated there, but the realization that Buddha had sat there was incredible.

Picture 3 is Dhamek stupa in the deer park at Sarnath just outside of modern day Varanasi. This site is where Buddha gave the first discourse on the Four Noble Truths after walking 246 km from Bodh Gaya. This monument was built in 249 BCE by King Ashoka, a devout Buddhist, he built another stupa at the same time which was totally destroyed in the 18th century. There are many temples at this site and many archeological discoveries are in the Sarnath museum.There were numerous ancient monasteries at Sarnath, historical records show that 12000 monks lived there in the second century.

Picture 4 is a statue commemorating Buddha's death at the age of 80. The statue was made in the 5th century and was restored in 1956 and the temple was built around it. This temple is located in Kusinigar and is shown in picture 5. Buddha died from food poisoning which was part of an alms offering. In his final teachings in the Maha Paranirvana Sutta, Buddha told his followers to make pilgrimage to these four sites if they wanted to increase their spiritual practices, he also told his followers to remember all things are impermanent and to practice his teachings with diligence.

If you want more information on these sites or on the life of Buddha there's excellent information easily found online.


Gulf Meditation

by Barbara Barnett

I walk the beach of the Gulf of Mexico at sunrise, paying attention first to the horizon –ships anchored, waiting to be piloted into the port.  The sky grows rosier. A sliver of sun glows as it slips into my view.  The ships are suddenly shining. 

Light reflects over the sea and shines on the sand as the waves break and recede. 

My attention is drawn closer. I begin to see imprints on the wet sand.
First the human – early morning beach walkers like me

Then the more than human, Laughing Gulls, tiny Sanderlings chasing the waves 

A Great Blue Heron was here, flown before sunrise.

The sun is high enough now to cast shadows, and I see the ever-changing tide line – each shell  shifted by every wave, traces left in the sand.  Grain by grain, imperceptibly creating a new beach. 

What a rich source of reflection for me.  A metaphor for meditation, for moving inward, for the thoughts, the traces they leave as they pass.

It sounds idyllic, and in so many ways it is.  But I came to walk and reflect with the intention of holding a friend who is undergoing major surgery for cancer at the same time that the sun is rising.  I want to bring this beauty to all the challenges that a cancer diagnosis presents.

The ships on the horizon become a symbol for this tension.  They are oil tankers. In another direction I can see drilling platforms.  Only a few years ago the Deep Water Horizon disaster threatened, and continues to threaten to this day, the sentient beings who find their home in the Gulf.

I find a place for metta for myself, for oil companies and executives and workers, for world leaders as they struggle to find a new way of living on this planet, for humans struggling with illness and fear.  And for all beings who find their home in this beautiful complex interconnected world.

I Am Here, I Am Present

by Catherine Sproat – Residential Retreat 2016

The deer and geese out in the field eating and resting during sunset;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The sound of the leaves rustling as the wind blows around them;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The soft hum of the traffic in the distance;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The stars fading in and out as the clouds move along the night sky;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The silhouette of a raccoon running across the path;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The clanging of dishes and cutlery during meal times;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The music sung by a variety of birds as they fly above me and perch in the trees;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The splash of a goose as it lands on the river to the right of me;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The cool breeze touching my face as I walk along the path;
I am here, I am present, I am grateful.

The vibrant colours of the sunrise over the river and landscape:
I am here, I am present, I am truly grateful and blessed!


WIMG Summer Walks & Meditation at Fort Whyte Alive

With the end of summer creeping up on us quickly, it’s nice to reflect on the three Fort Whyte Alive walks and meditations that WIMG offered to our Sangha once a month in place of our Sunday sits at Yoga North.

Meditating in a room with other Sangha members is truly a blessing, but being able to sit with members in nature is a gift that only happens a few times a year.

In the Reflection Area, WIMG has a plaque on a bench with our name on it. There are three other benches there and all four face each direction. This gives a lot of space for people to experience the sounds of nature while meditating and enjoying the peacefulness of being in nature.

During each walk and mediation this summer, those who joined us were able to experience the uniqueness of our lovely weather. 

Our first sitting was a rainy day with thunderstorms, so Barbara was able to find a room in the Interpreter Centre for us to sit and meditate that had a window looking out to a garden with bird feeders.

Before the meditation, Barb shared her thoughts on the rain and water, and has allowed me to share them here:

“Rain is our friend” – I remember a Kindergarten teacher on a Field trip to Fort Whyte asking his class in the middle of a downpour what they had learned about rain.

When Marc called at 7:10 on the morning of our June Sangha meditation walk and sit at Fort Whyte, I remembered those words, and the small group of damp children who were not the least bit bothered by the raindrops.

It was the lightning that kept us inside for our first Sangha walk, not the rain.  Before we walked over to the room I had found for our sit, I reflected with the small group about water in our lives. Water is essential to all life.  As humans, we are born on a gush of water, 60% of our body weight is water, we lose water through sweat, through tears, through urination, every time we breathe.  Water reminds us of our interconnectedness with all living beings. To many peoples, water is sacred, to be honoured, to be blessed, to be used in ritual and ceremony. The water that flows in and through our bodies is water that has been on our planet since the beginning.  It has evaporated from oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, formed fog and cloud, fallen again as rain or snow or dew.  It may have been locked for centuries, frozen in a glacier. It has been taken up through the roots of plants, and breathed out through their leaves.

So yes, rain is our friend.  Water is a blessing.

I’m grateful for Marc and Barbara’s efforts and time to put this opportunity out there for not only me, but for everyone to have the chance to participate and experience this part of meditation with Sangha members.

As a reminder, WIMG’s Sunday sittings will resume on September 11th at Yoga North at 10 am. Doors will be open at 9:30 am.

With Loving Kindness,
Catherine Sproat


Discovering Our True Nature

On Saturday June 4th, 2016, members of our Sangha were invited to attend a Day of Mindfulness. The theme for the day was “Discovering Our True Nature.”

It was actually a very good theme for the day that personally led me through a lot of my own personal history and reminded me of who I really am. That person I had buried under so many layers over the years, and actually forgot about. Between relationships, family, work, and other events in my life, the layers piled over top of each other and I had a mask for each role I assumed.

Sitting in silence and stillness allowed me to start chiseling away at the layers which started to bring me a better understanding of myself and who I am.

I know everyone’s experience is always different and I think that’s part of the beauty I enjoy the most at the end of the retreats.

I love hearing people share how their day went, the good and the bad and what made the day special for them.


We are all different. We come from all different age groups, social statuses, histories and so much more. Yet we come together on retreats such as this one to practice and share in an experience.

My true nature is who I am and not forgetting to enjoy life and experiences.

This came to light when I was going to take a walk through the woods on a path that was blocked by a large puddle. My first reaction was to turn away and go a different way until two very equally important things reminded me of why I was there.

The first was Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and the second one was how my 2-year-old grandson would handle this situation. After thinking of those things for a moment, I pulled up my pant legs and walked along the edge of the puddle until I was past it. My feet were soaked, but I was where I wanted to be, and the beauty along that path proved to be worth wet feet. Not only did I feel re-energized and revitalized, I felt the layers start to fall off me at that moment.

Not only did I learn more about my true nature, I was given the opportunity to see how others were doing with discovering that for themselves.

We’re philosophers, teachers, parents, co-workers, vets, retired, writers, photographers, students and many other things, but most importantly, we are spiritual friends and we get to share these experiences in a safe and supportive environment whether it’s on a retreat or during a sitting.

Personally I would love to see more of these retreats, but for now I’ll continue to be grateful for the ones that the WIMG puts on and that I can attend.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Nelle, Marc, Amy, Bruce and Jillian for making this silent retreat a positive experience for me and hopefully for the other Sangha members who joined us on this day.

With Loving Kindness,
Catherine Sproat