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.

St.B02.jpg

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

Metta

by James McBride

“May all beings be safe and free from suffering. May all beings be well. May all beings be happy.”

In a recent Sunday morning sitting, during Kurt’s teaching focused on Metta, a thought occurred to me. I talked about it briefly during the discussion period and mentioned the documentary film, Cowspiracy, that Andre´ told me about last year. I would like to elaborate.

Metta meditation does not generate ethereal pulses of energy which directly affect external circumstances or beings. Metta or loving kindness meditation or the development of benevolence, the strong wish for the happiness of others, does result in personal health benefits and an increase in social connectedness as well as indirect benefits to others as a result of the meditator’s increase in empathy and caring. However, sitting there that Sunday morning after having shared the opportunity to hold another being with my eyes, it occurred to me that there is a significant and more concrete form of Metta that we could be radiating to all sentient beings – the reduction and elimination of support for the animal agricultural industry.

There are many reasons why animal agriculture causes suffering. First, according to a UN report, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases compared to transportation sources (all cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, planes and so on) of 13%. Some other studies taking into account the loss of carbon sinks put the figure much higher than 18%, some close to 50%. Second, animal agriculture results in severe water depletion and water pollution as well as soil depletion and a stress on land use resulting in the destruction of rainforest and other forests. Third, animal agriculture has contributed greatly to social injustice and global inequality and extreme and selective consumerism that has been labelled “environmental terrorism.” Fourth, the animal agriculture industry treats animals horrendously, so badly that it is estimated that close to 80% of all antibiotics produced are fed to industry animals in order for them to survive their treatment and living conditions. It is also reported that Prozac has been added to their feed to numb them in order to deal with the extreme suffering and stress. Finally, it is well established that reliance on animal products for our nutrition has led to increased morbidity, heart attacks and strokes.

What can we do in addition to developing caring and compassion on the cushion? It seems to me that we should stop and be mindful, see things clearly, make an effort to inform ourselves about animal agriculture. “It’s like this now.” Then we should do what we can, given our life circumstances, to reduce and eliminate support for it as well as spreading the news, the Dharma of agriculture.

There are lots of articles and videos online that examine the impact of animal agriculture. The YouTube video of Chris Hedges interviewing the co-directors of Cowspiracy is informative. This is a link to the trailer of the documentary film itself. This is a link to a European documentary, The Meat File, which also discusses the issues.

There are some who dispute these claims or specific details. It is a controversial matter and a lot of energy has gone into downplaying the impact that animal agriculture has had including Ag-Gag laws squelching reporting of the atrocities of the animal agriculture industry. If you have the stomach for it, watch the film, Farm to Fridge.

So, what can we do to reduce and eliminate support for the animal agriculture industry given our life circumstances? What can we do while maintaining a gentle regard for ourselves keeping in mind our circles of concern and circles of influence? “May we be well and free from suffering.”  I started down the path about four years ago after watching the documentary, Forks Over Knives, and then buying the cookbook that resulted from the film.

As revealed in Cowspiracy, environmental groups have shown reluctance to even acknowledge a problem let alone address it for fear of alienating patrons who have strong meat and dairy food habits. Let’s not turn away from it. With Mindfulness (sati) and Clear Comprehension (sampajanna) of Purpose, we can set out on a path of transition to a plant based diet, gradual or abrupt, leading to reducing animal and dairy food products and eating vegetarian or vegan.

May our hearts open and love awaken for all sentient beings. May all beings be safe and free from suffering. May all beings be well. May all beings be happy.

Spring

With the warmer weather, it’s nice to finally be able to go outside and enjoy the sounds of nature and fresh air.

Last year, Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group donated money to have our name installed on a plaque for a bench at Fort Whyte Alive in the Reflection area as well as on a commemorative brick in the Carol Shields’ Memorial Labyrinth at King’s Park.

 

Fort Whyte Alive Reflection Area

“Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”

Quoted from the poem “The Messenger” by Mary Oliver
Which appears in Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver, 2007.

 

Reflection Area at Fort Whyte Alive

 

WIMG Plaque in Reflection Area

 

Mourning Dove at Fort Whyte Alive

 

Tree House @ Fort Whyte Alive

 

Carol Shields’ Labyrinth at King’s Park

Entrance to King’s Park

 

WIMG Commemorative Brick

 

Carol Shields’ Sign

 

Beauty at King’s Park

 

Carol Shields’ Memorial Labyrinth

 

With our Sunday sittings ending soon, WIMG is looking at having a few Sunday walks and mediations at both Fort Whyte and King’s Park during the summer.

Please watch for details on these walks and other upcoming group events to continue to bring our Sangha together in the wonderful outdoors with nature and friendship.

On behalf of WIMG,
With Metta,

Catherine Sproat  

 

It is better to travel well than to arrive.

- Buddha

From time to time individuals from our Sangha take time to travel to different countries. Currently, Sangha practitioner Barb Read is traveling throughout India. Barb has graciously sent some photos of her time there.
 
Barb’s travels are not over and we do hope that when she returns, she’ll share more of her experience and photos with us.

Tongsa Gumpa 1678

Tongsa Gumpa 1678

Tongsa Gumpa interior

Tongsa Gumpa interior

Snippet of Kalimpong

Snippet of Kalimpong

Typical transportation

Typical transportation

Kalimpong

Kalimpong

Kalimpong

Kalimpong

Thank you so much Barbara for sharing these beautiful photos with us. We wish you a safe trip as your adventure continues!

With Loving-Kindness,
WIMG  

Profile of Practice Leader Kurt Schwarz

WHAT LED YOU TO STUDYING AND PRACTICING BUDDHISM AND VIPASSANA MEDITATION?

I was first introduced to Buddhist meditation as a development in my personal spiritual practice after having studied hatha yoga.  Having developed flexibility and awareness in order to sit comfortably on the floor for extended periods of time following my breath, I turned to Buddhist-oriented meditation to help calm and still my mind.  I have written about this journey extensively over the past few years and have self-published a personal, spiritual memoir on this topic entitled, Moving into Stillness:  On Finding Meaningful Activities that Nurture and Sustain the Inner Life. (Available through McNally-Robinson Booksellers, 2015)

As I recount, my earliest Buddhist experience was with a Zen teacher who was from South Korea.  I learned some simple chants as well as the importance of a solid seated posture when practicing meditation.  These elements are still with me today after more than 20 years of practice.

I made a conscious shift in my practice after a conversation with a Zen teacher, Ed Espe Brown, who encouraged me to explore the mindfulness meditation tradition.  He said that it was more “user-friendly” and more readily accepted by students in the West.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PRACTICING THIS FORM OF MEDITATION?

I have been practicing Insight Meditation for the past 20 years.  I have a strong interest in exploring the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) and have read books from a wide variety of traditions although I have always come back to Insight Meditation as my core teaching.  The writings of Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzburg have been the foundations which have profoundly influenced my practice.  I look to Thich Nhat Hahn and Pema Chodron for additional encouragement and guidance in my practice of meditation.

WHO HAS BEEN YOUR MAIN MENTOR WHILE ON THIS PATH?

While the student-teacher relationship is traditional in Buddhism, I consider myself to be largely self-taught.  There have been some teachers.  For example, Steven Hick from Ottawa was a guide during a two year, Dharma study program that I participated in.

The Buddha, himself, emphasized that we are to be “a light unto one’s own self”.  The teachings of the Buddha have helped me to turn to my own self for the inspiration and the guidance that I need.  This has been a helpful teaching which has taught me to be self-reliant rather than seeking the approval of an external authority.

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE ON RETREATS, AS WELL AS STUDYING THE DHARMA?

I have participated in several silent, one week retreats in conjunction with the two year, Dharma study course that I took with Steven Hick. These were held in various retreat centers around Winnipeg.  

In 2009, I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco where I participated in a three day Sesshin (intensive meditation retreat) at the San Francisco Zen Centre.  It was an amazing experience to practice at the centre founded by Suzuki Roshi, a Zen Master who helped to establish Buddhist practice in the West.

I enjoy visiting other Buddhist meditation groups when I am travelling.  I have visited other Buddhist meditation groups in Toronto, Chicago and New York.  Recently, I was able to visit Plum Village, a monastic community and retreat center located in Southwest France.

HOW HAS THIS PRACTICE CHANGED YOUR LIFE AND LIFE PATH? RELATIONSHIPS?

I would say that the greatest effect on my life has been in the way I have learned how to live in a calmer, more grounded way. The practice has taught me the importance of pauses or gaps before action rather than unconsciously reacting to things. I am a more responsive participant in life.  (My wife, Leona, would say that I still have a way to go!)

WHAT OTHER FORMS OF PRACTICE, OR MEDITATION, HAVE HELPED YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

I began my training and development in the Christian tradition. I am an ordained minister. I have also had postgraduate training in the fields of pastoral psychotherapy and chaplaincy training.  Over the years, I have turned to yoga and Buddhist-oriented meditation to supplement and support my spiritual, care-giving work.  My areas of specialization are in mental health, as well as in addictions.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PROVIDING LEADERSHIP WITH THE WIMG?

I got involved with the Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group shortly after we moved back to Manitoba from Toronto in 2003.  After a while, I became interested in exploring the Dharma with others, so I started the Dharma Study Group, a book group focused on reading Buddhist-oriented Dharma books.  

I have been offering Dharma talks and leading meditation in our group for the past 8 years.  I consider it a privilege and an honour.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE TRANSITIONS THAT WIMG HAS GONE THROUGH?

While I am not a founding member of WIMG, I have witnessed several transitions.  These transitions have been mainly related to moving with Yoga North as they have moved to various locations in Winnipeg.  With each move, there have been some necessary adjustments to the new physical structure of the buildings and areas of the city.  After having made several moves with Yoga North, I feel happy to be at their current location in the Wolseley area.  It feels like “home” to me.  I am also happy that we have been able to expand our practiceto St. Peter’s Anglican Church which has been the WIMG home for Wednesday night sittings.  

WHAT ARE YOUR VISIONS AND DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE OF WIMG?

Over the past four years, our membership has grown, particularly as a result of adding the Wednesday sitting at St Peter’s.  My vision or dream, while perhaps a modest one, is for a stronger connection amongst group members.

I would like to see more opportunities for members to interact and get to know one another, events like nature walks and Winnipeg’s Peace Days Celebration.   We have already created more opportunities to practice together in Days of Mindfulness and silent three-day retreats.  I trust that we will continue to offer these retreats where we can learn and grow together.

ARE THERE ANY ADDITIONAL COMMENTS YOU’D LIKE TO ADD ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE AND WIMG?

I enjoy visiting art galleries and I have led evenings of Meditating with Art for our meditation group several times.  Sometimes I find an opportunity to "sit" and contemplate a piece of art.  Once while doing that, a security person came up to me and asked me what I was doing and if I was "okay".  "Yes", I replied, "I enjoy sitting with the art". 

A personal highlight was when I happened to see a performance art piece at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art by Marina Abrahmovic called The Artist is Present.  In this challenging work, she sat at a table and invited members of the audience to come and sit with her.  She was there for the entire day for a three month exhibition period!

Profile of Practice Leader: Thomas Steur

What led you to study and practise Buddhism and Vipassana Meditation?

Curiously enough, I think it was a book my father left lying around when I was in university and doing everything I could to avoid studying. It was Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, still a classic text not only for drawing but for spurring creativity in general, and it kept mentioning something called “Zen” and an author named Frederick Franck and his book, The Zen of Seeing. For years afterward I kept drawing and painting and trying to connect these practices with a nascent curiosity about Zen and meditation and so on.

Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 opus, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was a major inspiration to me then too although I’m only now appreciating the profound things that man came up with way back then. I really didn’t have a clue what it was all about in those days – this was before the Internet and before McNally Robinson’s – so it is interesting now to reflect back on my early experiences and to pick out the seeds of what I know and do now. I encourage anyone to try this with your own life: What did you used to do, and think, and tell yourself, that turned out to be solid and true and the right path for you?

How long have you been practising this form of meditation?

My explorations without guidance led me to a brief involvement with a group who practised in a Vajrayana tradition, but I could feel that it wasn’t right for me so I respectfully dropped out. It’s a terrible cliché that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”, but that’s exactly how it happened many years later.

I had a major change in my life circumstances and suddenly found myself living alone and feeling lonely and sad with only two self-serving misbegotten cats for company. A new friend I’d made introduced me to the group which met at the Yoga Centre Winnipeg, and I started attending regularly. For months, I sat at the back, didn’t ask questions, and didn’t talk to anyone. And still I felt welcomed, and this habit of practising mindfulness took root and began to grow. There was no pressure to be anything or do anything. I hope our group still feels that way to anyone feeling small and perhaps in similar circumstances.  

Who has been your main mentor while on this path?  Other mentors?

Like Nelle, whom I met way back then, I learned the most from the man who started what is now the WIMG. And I learn lots from my fellow Dharma practice leaders and discussions with people in the group. And then there’s just life itself – family, friends, and clients. I learn so much from my work with my clients!

Where have you gone on retreats or places for studying the Dharma?

I do not have time, at this stage in my life, to attend retreats although I’ve been to some Day of Mindfulness retreats from which I’ve derived great benefit. I consider my family and my housework and my dishes part of my practice (ha-ha!).

How has this practice changed your life and life path? Relationships?

That’s hard to answer because we only live life forwards and only once, and that makes for lousy research with a very small sample size! All I can say is that I feel a solid, unshakable foundation in the Dharma, a tremendous sense of community in our little Sangha, and a deep peace in my knowledge of the Buddha. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I guess I could also say that when others are troubled, I am confident that I have something real to offer in terms of listening, compassion, humour, and perspective.

What other forms of practice or meditation have helped you get to where you are today

Yeah. Dishes. Walking with my dog, letting him walk me. Running and bicycling. Reading lots and doing research. Everything I learn in public health epidemiology, psychology and neurology, and any valid school of therapy confirms the Dharma teachings over and over again. This practice is so rooted in good science; for something so ancient, it is really the most remarkable human achievement. So after a while you start to see the Buddha’s teachings, and sometimes even the Buddha-nature, in everything!

What are your visions and dreams for the future of WIMG?

I really don’t know! We have excellent leadership happening organically in the group now, and I cannot see where it will all lead. But I don’t want to ever lose the sense of close connection that (I hope!) we have, and I would like anyone who doesn’t feel that we’re living up to the feeling of a Sangha to tell us. We’ll listen.

And like I said above, I hope that anyone who feels the way I did 20 years ago feels welcome to just come and take it in – no pressure, no commitment, and no sell job. Each of us can walk the path in our own way at our own speed. I’m not such a quick study myself.

Is there any other question that you’d like to answer as well? What do you think is the most important thing that people need to know about Insight Meditation?

I feel the most important thing is to clear up the myths and misconceptions about mindfulness meditation that may be out there.

Meditation will not make us levitate. Teachers do not give off light rays. We do not cure cancer. We who practice this path have our hurts and failings, and we suffer just like anyone else.

The essence of what I’ve gained thus far, really, is just a way of making sense of life’s unfairness and its paradoxes. It is something truly grand to inspire and guide me, but which I know I’ll never completely live up to. However, the joy is in the trying. In trying, we must be humble, flexible, and forgiving; trying too hard doesn’t work! The practice fosters goodwill, humour, compassion, irony, and love – that’s all! – no miracles.

Day of Mindfulness

On January 2nd, WIMG held its annual Day of Mindfulness with the theme of ‘Loving-Kindness’ (metta) at St. Peter’s Anglican Church from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.

I always find this silent retreat a wonderful way to end the previous year and start the new year.  It’s nice to share this experience with other members in a safe environment, under the guidance of our practice leaders.

When I tell people I’m doing this or any retreat, their reactions are funny. Most think they could never be silent for that long, that it would be way too hard for them to accomplish. The thing I've found is, it’s not that hard. If I look at how often I’m in silence during the day (when I’m at home, at the lake, meditating, going for walks or on a photography adventure), I’m in silence. Even at work, when things are chaotic, I wish for silence and will take five minutes or use one of my breaks to be in silence. Silence just takes practice and an awareness of when you need to recharge.

Loving-kindness practice is about showing compassion to others and to yourself. It teaches us to see others in a different light. Instead of being judgmental toward those we barely know, those we just don't seem to get along with and even those who have caused us harm, this practice teaches us to wish them well.

It starts with ourselves and moves on to:

  • a respected, beloved person - such as a spiritual teacher;
  • a dearly beloved - which could be a close family member or friend;
  • a neutral person - somebody you know, but have no special feelings towards, e.g. a person who serves you in a shop;
  • a hostile person - someone you are currently having difficulty with.

I was fortunate because it was very easy for me to find a name or face of someone I know to fill each of those spots and to send loving-kindness to them with ease. I think, for the most part, it’s because I have been working on forgiveness (forgiving myself and others) as a daily personal practice for a while now.

This personal journey I’m on has had its ups and downs, but I see how far I’ve come in the last few years and know that my life has been enriched by these retreats and practices.

I hope others who have not taken part in WIMG’s retreats or Days of Mindfulness will look at attending at least one to see how it goes and to enrich their meditation practice. The experience is one that you can reflect on and go back to. And sharing the experience with other members of the Sangha in a safe environment is truly something I am grateful for.

I would like to thank Marc, Nelle, Bruce, Amy and Jillian for organizing this special event and for making it a peaceful and wonderful day!

With Loving-Kindness,
Catherine Sproat

Beginning Once Again

It’s the start of a new year, and many things come to mind.  Rather than a time for making resolutions, I think of it as a time for reflection, a time to think about the path of personal growth and change I have been following, things that I have started, things that have been accomplished, things that still need attention.

In the past few weeks, I have been looking again at the entries in Expressions, our newsletter and now, blog.  They have reminded me how wonderful it is to be part of WIMG where there is support and friendship and, most of all, where we can feel safe. I took on the role as editor of Expressions because I saw it as an opportunity to encourage us all to participate in building and strengthening our Sangha, our community.

I am grateful to WIMG for the opportunity we have to share our views and thoughts about our practices.  I am thankful for all the friends I’ve made and for the mentors who support us in our practices and answer questions about Buddhism and Vipassana Meditation.  I have enjoyed writing reports of WIMG activities and events such as the Sunday to Fort Whyte, Peace Days and retreats and looking at photographs and drawings and reading prose poems and profiles and commentaries.

I encourage everyone to look at our Expressions Blog again.  Read the articles from the first to the last and see how WIMG has evolved over the past year.  Also, think about what you might be interested in sharing such as photographs or drawings or by writing something, a poem perhaps or something that resonates with you about your practice.

May we all be open-hearted and inspired as this new year unfolds.

With Loving Kindness,
Catherine Sproat

List of readings on the Expressions Blog:

Sitting With a Sutta by Marc Forest
Question and Answer #1
Enso by Kurt Schwarz
Mindfulness and Photography by Catherine Sproat
Expression of Gratitude to WIMG
Tree Spirit Walk by Catherine Sproat
The Buddha’s Smile by James McBride
Profile of Practice Leader: Nelle Oosterom
Mindful Walk and Meditation at Fort Whyte Alive by Catherine Sproat
The Question by Bill
Carol Shields Labyrinth and Brick Installation Event by Catherine Sproat
Keeping Up With the Joneses by Catherine Sproat
Peace Days by Catherine Sproat
Residential Retreat 2015 by Catherine Sproat
Mindfulness in the Woodpile by Barbara Barnett
Alone Together by James McBride

Alone Together

by James McBride

“The necessary thing is after all but this; solitude, great inner solitude. Going into oneself for hours meeting no one – this, one must be able to attain.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I’m glad that Sunday sittings have begun again. There is something about mornings. I look forward to solitary walks along a still slightly wild stretch of the river listening for leaves falling to the ground on the winding dirt path through the Cottonwoods whispering goodbye to summer and welcoming autumn and, soon, winter. Then across Sherbrook and Maryland, then along Westminster to Yoga North to WIMG where I can be alone together with others.

It was midway through my first long retreat many years ago that I realized how much I enjoyed being with others without feeling it necessary to talk. Walking, eating, and sitting in silence, shoulder to shoulder rather than eye to eye, became strangely comfortable.

In that sanctuary of solitude, as concentration grew stronger, my relationship with things around me started to change. I remember the delight I experienced one morning holding a cup of tea. The shape of the cup. The weight of it. The smoothness of the cup’s surface and the warmth. The aroma. I sat there for some time with those utterly amazing yet completely ordinary sensations.

Our sitting practice is a portal into that sanctuary of solitude. As Norman Fischer says in Aloneness and Togetherness, “We enter into a true solitude which means we go beyond the usual idea of self and our personal need, and in that true solitude we realize that we’re not alone or lonely because when we find ourselves at our deepest core, we find everything. When we learn how to be intimate with ourselves, completely accepting the whole of ourselves, we’re intimate with everything.”

I’m glad that Sunday sittings have begun again

Mindfulness in the Woodpile

by Barbara Barnett

I came to the retreat with a mind very much like the leaves being blown every which way in that strong warm wind.  It was hard to settle.

I had learned an exercise in contemplative photography from a good friend, a professional photographer and longtime Insight Meditation practitioner.  Take your camera out, be still, and wait to see what calls you.  Then stay, stay for an hour or so, and see what emerges.

I took my camera out on Saturday morning.  The woodpile called me to see what I was seeing. Stillness in the midst of that wild warm wind.

I was drawn first by the texture of the bark – but as I paid attention I could see whole worlds, landscapes, textures, colours.

And in the midst of that beautiful hypnotizing richness, I saw surprises.

This little beauty would soon be blown on her way.

But this one had been here for awhile.

And this one for even longer, living on the bark, long before the tree had been cut down.

And who knew what beings had found their home, deep in this ancient trunk, leaving traces of their passing.

This tree had grown for more than 130 years before it was cut down.  I could see the years of drought, the years of rainfall, and the traces of another being.

Just a woodpile – a time of stillness, of seeing what I was seeing, of seeing more than I believed it was possible to see. And since then, a time of reflection.  These words from All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, wandered into my mind. He is writing about coal, but shifting the time frame, and the substance, the concept still opens the mind and the heart in wonder at the interconnectedness  and impermanence of all beings.

Consider a single piece glowing in your family’s stove.....that chunk of coal was once a green plant, a fern or reed that lived one million years ago,.....or maybe one hundred million.....Every summer for the whole life of that plant, its leaves caught what light they could and transformed the sun’s energy into itself. Into bark, twigs stems.  Because plants eat light, in much the same way we eat food.  But then the plant died and fell, probably into water, and decayed into peat, and the peat was folded inside the earth for years upon years – eons in which something like a month or a decade or even your whole life was just a puff of air, a snap of two fingers.  And eventually the peat dried and became like stone, and someone dug it up, and the coal man brought it to your house and maybe you yourself carried it to the stove, and now that sunlight – sunlight one hundred million years old – is heating your home tonight.

What an insight to hold when you are seated by the bonfire, fed by that tree.

Barbara Barnett

Residential Retreat 2015

by Catherine Sproat

I don’t need to do a write-up after each WIMG event, but felt it would be truly out of character for me to not at least acknowledge this wonderful weekend retreat in some way.

The thing is, it was a very hard retreat for me this time around. Although I felt more grounded and calm, I was still in flux and heading back to the things that put me into that emotional and mental space in my life. It was a hard retreat, but I know that I got something out it. When we’re on retreat, whether it’s for day or a weekend, even if we don’t feel we are learning something, we are. Like every day when we practice, we are learning about ourselves and about finding ways to handle everyday situations. We are learning the Dharma and how to practice it in our daily lives.

Just after I left St. Benedict’s and turned south on Highway 9, a small (about the size of a dime), white-coloured spider appeared on my windshield. Pretty normal some would think, except for the fact it was inside my car, not on the outside. It danced on the windshield in front of me and not on the passenger side as I wished. Normally my first reaction would be to yell out something not so full of loving kindness and pull over quickly. But going at a speed of about 70 km per hour, my ‘normal’ options were the last thing on my mind. I quickly made peace with the spider that appeared to want to entertain me while I was driving. I had my window open a bit and just told it that I was driving so it had to behave or leave. I focused my attention on driving safely so I could make it home in one piece to see my dog that was waiting for me. I remembered people talking about the mosquitoes during our sharing circle and how in our precepts we said we wouldn’t harm anything or anyone. This spider didn’t seem to have been in the room during our talks! It started swaying around the windshield, getting closer to me. At this point I told it that I had enough so it was time to leave. Just as if it understood me, it swung across to my open window and left. I quickly closed my window and wished it well!

Thinking about the retreat, I’m reminded of the Breakfast Club. How a group of students from different ‘cliques’ and upbringings came together for a day and how they ended up relating to each other and finding a common ground. To me that’s what it felt like this time on retreat. There were many new faces and many old friends. We were there for the same reason, but different reasons brought us together for the weekend. Twenty-five people of all ages, came together from different backgrounds and social statuses, all with the need to sit, reflect, to find stillness, and to find bare awareness in silence. Nothing could be more beautiful than that. Hearing everyone’s experiences from the weekend was also very beautiful, and I’m glad to have been a part of all of it.

As usual, St. Benedict’s treated us with respect and the meals were fantastic (especially since we didn’t have to prepare them!). The grounds are amazing with nature right outside the walls of the Retreat Centre. Retreat members found lots to do while doing their walking meditations, inside and outside of the centre. Some found a hammock by the river, others found themselves walking the labyrinth or walking through the woods.  Others found trees to sit under to journal and reflect. Inside, the art room and peace room were available at all hours, so some people spent time in those rooms as well. Kurt offered yoga stretches in the mornings before our first sittings and he guided us through ‘mindful movements’ on Saturday after lunch. There were so many things to do, just to ‘be’ in the moment that it’s hard to remember them all, and what I saw, felt, heard, and tasted is different from everyone else’s experience this weekend.

Now it’s back to life as it was before the retreat. One thing I noticed since I’ve been home is that I’m still relaxed and still preferring silence. I’m reminded of the words which were mentioned on the retreat during a Dharma talk, “No mud, no Lotus.” I will use those words in my meditation for a while as they show hope and beauty to me.

A deep bow of gratitude to Marc, Kurt, Nelle and Amy for making this a safe, peaceful and respectful weekend for everyone who attended.  

Love and kindness,
Catherine Sproat

Peace Days

by Catherine Sproat

On Wednesday September 16, 2015, the Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group hosted a Peace Days Meditation during our regular sitting at St. Peter’s Church. This is the 2nd year that WIMG has been supporting this event and about 50 people attended from around the city as well as members of the sangha.

The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by resolution 36/67 of the United Nations General Assembly to coincide with its opening session, which was held annually on the third Tuesday of September. The first Peace Day was observed in September 1982. This is celebrated around the world. The goal of Peace Days in Manitoba is to promote a culture of peace and compassion.

The events in the last two weeks that I heard on the news as well as experienced at work and in my personal life made me realize that attending this event was something I needed to be present for. Not that it would correct everything I personally experience, but I knew it would help settle my mind and emotions that were getting overloaded.

Jillian led the event with a short talk on “Forgiveness”. She spoke about how Forgiveness allows us to be at peace with ourselves, our families, our coworkers, neighbours and internationally.

Gina Sharpe of the New York Insight Meditation Centre, was quoted “Forgiveness is not really about someone else’?s harmful behavior, it’?s about our relationship with our past. Forgiveness is a deep process, which is repeated over and over again. It may involve working through emotions of grief, outrage, sadness and loss and that we need to feel these feelings and honour our experience.

We were reminded what The Buddha said, “if it were not possible to free the heart from entanglement and greed, hate, fear and delusion, I would not teach you or ask you to do so.”

Forgiveness comes in three parts: forgiveness from others, forgiveness for those who have hurt or harmed us, and forgiveness for ourselves. These three things are sometimes the hardest things in our lives to understand, accept and work towards.

During our sit, there was a young baby in attendance, and her calling out “dada”,dada” was very welcomed by me and others as I learned later. Witnessing her innocence was a beautiful experience for me. I found myself smiling during my meditation and felt the weight of the last few weeks being lifted off my shoulders.

We sit and we practice loving kindness every day and we work towards peace and forgiveness not only for ourselves, but also for our children, so that they may live in a peaceful world and experience and give compassion, love, kindness, peace and gratitude.

At the end of the event, people stayed for tea and goodies provided by members of the sangha. There were lots of good conversations and reflections that resulted from the talk and about personal experiences.

“Without forgiveness, we do not have the conditions for peace.”

During Jillian’s talk, she read Thich Nhat Hahn’s poem “Call Me by My True Names” which is about the interconnectedness of all beings, which may help move us towards forgiving transgressions.

Call Me by My True Names:
By Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I’?ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,

learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
And I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his ‘debt of blood’? to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call my by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

For more information about Peace Days in Winnipeg, please visit their site.

Keeping up with the Joneses

by Catherine Sproat

The month of July was a month of personal lessons on different levels. The biggest and most important lesson was about Gratitude - learning to be grateful for everything I have and even for the things I’ve lost.

It started during the first week of July. While driving to work one morning, I was stopped at a red light and noticed a man with a dog standing on the corner. I’ve seen the man and dog many times before. They are regulars on that corner, panhandling. Many people pass by pretending not to see them, others slowly drive by and hand over money or things for the dog.

For some reason, that man and dog kept sneaking into my mind the rest of the morning. After work, I went grocery shopping and bought an extra bag of dog food, dog treats and some bottled water. Once home, I found a container that could be used as a water bowl and I set out again to see if they were still on the corner. Before I left I contacted a friend who works near that corner to see if she thought I should be doing what I was going to do. My friend said she knew of the man and his dog and she thought he’d be very grateful for my kindness, so I went. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there when I got there, but the next morning he was.

I parked my car, took the bag holding the stuff for the dog out of my trunk and walked over to where the man and the dog stood. The man was very friendly, saying “Good Morning” to me as I approached him. After we exchanged greetings, we introduced ourselves and I gave the man the bag. A smile came across his face and he thanked me more than once as he opened the dog treats. He passed me a treat and said that I had to be the one to give it to his dog. I was a little hesitant but held out the treat. The dog slowly came toward me and gently took the treat from my hand.

As I stood there for the next ten minutes, the man gave me a brief summary of his life and why he was on the corner taking handouts. It’s a story that I’m sure is shared by many others in his position. One thing that stood out was the love he had for his dog and for the dogs he had before this one. He said, with some tears in his eyes, one of his only regrets was not having a picture of his former dog. I always carry a camera with me so I asked him if it was okay to take a picture of his dog. The man was delighted and allowed me to take several pictures of his dog and even suggested poses. When I was done, he asked if there was a chance that I could give him one of the photos of his dog. Of course, I said “yes.”

I left there and headed straight to a store with photo kiosks to print the pictures. There were five photos in all. As they printed, I noticed a small frame for a few dollars. I purchased the frame and once the photos were processed, put the one I liked best into the frame and the other four photos into an envelope. I drove back to the area where the man was, pulled over to the side of the road and handed him the frame and envelope. The look of gratitude in his eyes almost had me tearing up. He told me that it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him and he’d hold onto those photos for as long as he lived. His dog came over to my car and jumped up to the window with his tail wagging and licked my hand. We said our goodbyes and I headed home.

I have never been homeless but, just like that man, I have suffered hardships in various degrees. Fortunately I’ve always had a job (or three!), a loving and supportive family, a network of friends and in the last three years, the Sangha.

I was raised in a very nice area in a middle class family with two parents and three sisters. All our needs were met growing up and my parents worked extremely hard for everything we had. Looking back, it was a normal childhood with many family holidays and a beautiful home. When I got married, that tradition continued. Beautiful home, lots of stuff, holidays and all needs were met. Then life changed. A separation and divorce brought many losses.

The course of the last ten years really taught me about what’s important.  I lost tons of stuff over those years but always held onto the important things. And I always had my children, family, friends, a roof over my head and food in the fridge. I no longer had the large beautiful home in a nice neighborhood, but I had a roof over my head no matter what. The home I have now is at least three times smaller than my first house and is located in a questionable but interesting area, but it’s mine. I’ve learned to live without a lot of ‘things.’ I felt despair over losing many of the things that I thought were important, but I realize now they were just objects and only cluttered my home. They had no real importance. I keep my yard and home clean and I’m proud of what I have now.

I think about someone I know whose house is done up with lots of things like my home growing up. Her yard is like a vacation spot, just perfect and decorated to the nine’s. I see her stress as she tries to keep everything perfect. She often makes big changes when she gets bored or after she sees someone do something different with their home and yard. Her stress makes her ill at times, but to her it’s important to have a specific look to her home. Over the years I’ve tried to tell her that her family and health are the most important things and I know she knows that. I know I can’t change another person’s outlook or behaviour, I can only change my own, so I no longer say anything and just offer support when needed.

My daily practice of mindfulness and meditation have helped me understand myself better and deal with challenging situations that arise. Although I’m still fairly new to the Dharma and mindfulness, I understand that healing and letting go aren’t easy. Allowing myself the chance to understand the Four Noble Truths and learn the Dharma is giving me insight into the things that really matter in life and helps with the healing and letting go. It also allows or helps me to see things I never noticed before or really paid mind to, such as that man and his dog on the corner.    

I’m not in competition with anyone or anything anymore. I am so grateful for everything I have and I have a lot of gratitude for the people who have helped me along my journey. I have more than the man and his dog have and I have less than a lot of people I know. Having less doesn’t bother me as it did ten years ago. I realize what’s important to me and those are things I’m forever grateful to have in my life.

I’m one of the many who have found out that ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ just takes time away from enjoying life and the important things. I’m happy to be where I’m at now. I’m learning to take things in stride so I can enjoy the important things in life and enjoy things in the moment. It’s been a long journey but one full of lessons that I’m grateful for. I no longer work to buy things that really aren’t important. I work to survive and save for the things I want or for the holidays I need. The material things aren’t so important anymore. Of course, I still have things that would be hard to part with. But I know that if I had to, after a while, I would be able to let them go.

With Metta,
Catherine Sproat

Carol Shields a Labyrinth Brick Installation Event

by Catherine Sproat

On Wednesday, September 9th, a few members from WIMG attended a brick installation ceremony at the Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth in King’s Park, Winnipeg.

WIMG purchased a commemorative brick that was placed inside the labyrinth during the ceremony. WIMG is the first meditation group to have a brick installed at the labyrinth.

Carol Shields was a beloved Canadian novelist, poet, playwright, biographer and professor at the University of Manitoba in the English Department.  During her lifetime, Carol Shields won numerous awards for her work. In 2009, the labyrinth was opened as a tribute to her memory.

Anne Nesbitt led Wednesday’s ceremony. Anne recently stepped down as the labyrinth coordinator and handed this responsibility to her daughter, Rose-Anne Harder, Executive Director of the Manitoba Arts Network. The Manitoba Arts Network manages the sale and installation of commemorative bricks. Proceeds are used to support the arts and culture in all regions of Manitoba.

The entrance to the labyrinth showcases two stone walls engraved with quotes taken from Carol Shields’  various books and interviews.

The entrance to the labyrinth showcases two stone walls engraved with quotes taken from Carol Shields’  various books and interviews.

The Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth is open year round.  Located inside King’s Park, it is one of many beautiful places in our city that you can experience for free.  The labyrinth is a wonderful space for walking and sitting meditation practice.

For more information on how you can purchase a commemorative brick and support Manitoba’s arts and culture or to help out with caring for the labyrinth, please check out their website.

THE QUESTION

I delved deep into the question
And then I questioned my questioning
Until all that remained
Was my not knowing.

I delved deep into the question
Abandoning the search for answers
For every answer only serves
To limit the question.

I delved deep into the question
Until all existence, all truth, all identity, all self
Dissolved into the mystery
That is the heart of all that is.

I delved deep into the mystery
And as it embraced me I learned
That my greatest knowing is my not knowing
And in that I found life.

Bill
June 2012

Mindful Walk and Meditation at FortWhyte Alive, August 9th, 2015

by Catherine Sproat

On Sunday, August 9th, members from the Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group enjoyed an outdoor Mindful Walking and Meditation event at FortWhyte Alive.

Members walked in silence to the new Reflecting Circle where WIMG has a permanent inscribed plaque on a bench that faces west in the circle.

The meditation was led by Sangha member, Barbara Barnett. Before the sit, she briefly discussed the creation of the Reflecting Circle and told us about FortWhyte Alive where she is an active and long-time volunteer.  

During the discussion after the meditation, Barb mentioned that we probably found ourselves listening to two types of sounds: natural and man-made. It led to the discussion that “silence” is actually being with the sounds of nature. Silence is not necessarily the absence of “all” sound.

James reflected, “The composer John Cage made no distinction between environmental sounds and music. He said that if you embrace that, then instead of having to go to the symphony, you will have one wherever you are."

It was a wonderful experience to meditate in the peacefulness of the Reflecting Circle. Sitting in silence while out in nature, listening to the sounds around us was incredible.

Even though it is often very difficult to find a time and place where we can be silent with just the sounds of nature, it is well worth the effort to try.

After the walk and meditation, Sangha members walked back to the Alloway Centre and some stayed to enjoy coffee, tea and something to eat in the café.

The Reflecting Circle offers a place to be silent with nature and I hope many people will take time to go there to enjoy it.

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Special thanks to Kurt Schwarz and Barbara Barnett for organizing this event.To plan your next visit to FortWhyte Alive, visit their website at www.fortwhyte.org

Profile of Practice Leader: Nelle Oosterom

What led you to studying and practising Buddhism and Vipassana meditation?  

Lots of mental suffering. I'd always been a spiritual searcher and was curious about Zen, which I didn't really understand but felt drawn to.

What actually got me beyond reading and actually practising was that I started taking yoga classes at the urging of a friend and this led to me taking a yoga meditation workshop in March of 1995 co-led by Keith Millan and Val Paape at the Yoga Centre of Winnipeg.

It was the first time I can recall consciously sitting and watching my thoughts instead of following them -- or, as I wrote in my journal at the time, "watching a speeding train of thought and busily labelled and derailed each car." I think it was kind of a breakthrough experience. Nothing terribly special happened, yet it was a huge change from the way I normally experienced life. It felt freeing. I knew then that I had to continue to explore this way of being and learn more.

How long have you been practicing this form of meditation?

 Since March of 1995.

Who has been your main mentor while on this path? Other mentors?

Most years since 1997 I have gone on a week long retreat in Saskatchewan led by visiting teacher Sharda Rogell of Spirit Rock in California. I have found her approach to the dharma both accessible and profound. I believe she possesses strong intuition and seems to know how to reach people like me. So I would say Sharda has been the biggest single influence.

That said, I received a lot of help along the way from Keith Millan, especially in the early years, and had the good fortune to sit on retreat with awesome teachers such as Ajahn Viradhammo, Ajahn Passano, Shirley Jayanta Johannsen, Steve and Rosemary Weissman,  Christopher Titmuss,  and Bante Gunaratana. 

Where have you gone on retreats as well as for studying the Dharma?

Mostly in Saskatchewan on retreats led by Sharda Rogell and a few other teachers. There have been several retreats in Winnipeg, some of which I helped organize. In the early years I did more travelling abroad. In 1997 I did a month long course at Kopan Tibetan monastery in Nepal, followed by a ten day Vipassana retreat in Bodh Gaya, India. Those early experiences were profound and  life changing. In 2002 I attended a ten day retreat in Thailand led by Steve and Rosemary Weissman, which gave me additional tools for my practice. 

How has this practice changed your life and life path? Relationships?

It's been a lot like the title of Jack Kornfield's book, After The Ecstasy, The Laundry.

Immediately before, during and after what I call my spiritual pilgrimage in 1997-98,  I experienced a tremendous surge of awakening, accompanied by great peace, clarity, and a strong desire to make a difference by helping to spread the dharma so that others could have the same experience I did.

So, ready or not, (mostly not), I became more involved with the local dharma group here in Winnipeg led by Keith. That led me to leading the meditation sits, giving talks, organizing retreats and workshops, teaching beginner classes and so on.

All of that had the effect of deepening my understanding and my practice. I recently read that there is no better way to learn than to try to teach.

Of  course, the group has changed quite a bit over the years, as has my role in it. I’ve had to step back a bit, due in part to health limitations.

In other areas of my life, I would say that the biggest benefit is that the Buddha dharma has given me tools I would otherwise not have had to respond to difficulty, such as the deaths of loved ones, interpersonal conflicts, periods of career instability, chronic health conditions and other kinds of disappointments. 

As for my relationships, I hope the practice has made me a little more discerning, patient, compassionate, and present than I otherwise would have been, but really that’s hard for me to judge.

What other forms of practice or meditation have helped you get to where you are today?

Prayer. Tonglen is sometimes helpful. I used to do a lot of metta and liked to memorize verses. And in the beginning I used to like to chant and even do prostrations. These had a calming effect. But these days my practice is pretty simple. I'm drawn to equanimity phrases, such as "All beings must follow their own path, I cannot walk their path for them" and reminders such as "No matter how much I want things to be different, things are as they are." I mostly try to maintain a steady mind, stay open to life and whatever it brings, and not get swept away by waves of what the Buddha identified as the three poisons — greed, hatred, and delusion (or ignorance).

You were one of WIMG’s earliest members and teachers. How and when did WIMG begin? How did you get involved?

The group began in the early 1990s at the Yoga Centre of Winnipeg when it was located on Portage Avenue. My understanding is that Keith Millan was asked to teach classes in meditation. And since people who took the classes wanted to continue the practice, he established a regular sitting group. Keith had by then been studying and practising meditation for many years with teachers mainly from the Theravada Thai forest tradition, so his understanding of the practice was very solid. I joined after taking yoga there and then taking the meditation-yoga workshop mentioned earlier. 

Can you describe the transitions that WIMG has gone through? How many locations has it had? How has the membership changed? 

At the beginning it was established as a once-a-week sitting group usually led by Keith. A few years after I joined, I began occasionally leading the sits and giving talks. Then a few more people started leading but with Keith remaining as the primary teacher. Some years ago Keith opted to step down, since he’d been leading for many years and had outside commitments to attend to.  

Since this is a volunteer commitment for all of us who lead the group, we have kept its structure as simple as possible to keep it sustainable. Since yoga studios are fairly well set up for meditation practice, in the late 1990s we moved to a new studio called Northern Lotus on Ellice Avenue for a few years. We followed Northern Lotus when it moved to the Wolseley area and then to Augustine United Church on River, where the studio was renamed Yoga North, (and where we first gave ourselves the name Winnipeg Insight Meditation Group). We stayed with Yoga North when it went to Sherbrook, and then to its current location on Westminster. 

And because Sunday mornings are not a good time for everyone to attend, we established another sitting location for Wednesday evenings at St. Peter’s Anglican Church on Grant.

For the past few years, we’ve usually had four people, including myself, taking turns leading the Sunday morning sessions. And we have several other people who volunteer to guide the Wednesday night sits. 

As for membership, I guess there are only a handful of us left from the early years. Other than putting names on our email list, we don’t have a formal membership process. Generally, our attendance has been pretty steady at both locations in recent years, with an average of perhaps 20 to 25 people showing up each session. And there is quite a bit of demand for our one-day or weekend meditation retreats.

I should mention that this is a big change from only a few years ago, when the group was in danger of folding altogether due to declining attendance. 

That it didn’t is, I believe, largely because Marc Forest stepped forward with fresh energy and enthusiasm to keep the group going. Marc used the opportunity of his early retirement to take on most of the work of co-ordinating our activities, as well as teaching and deepening his own practice. So we are very blessed to have him doing this. And others, such as Bruce Johnson and Amy Teakle, have helped immensely with things like meditation room setup and retreat organization.

What are your visions and dreams for the future of WIMG? 

We have a steering group now and our discussions often turn to the future. So far, our goals have been modest. My wish is that there always be a place for people locally who are interested in practising meditation and studying the dharma to have a place nearby to go and do that. It's one thing to fly off to a distant retreat somewhere but it’s another to return home and have a community around to keep the dharma fires going. It would be great to have a seven-day-a-week space dedicated entirely to being a centre for this kind of community. It would also be great to have a residential retreat space, in a quiet place in the country, tailored to the needs of a meditation group. And it would be great to have a roster of visiting teachers coming in to lead retreats. All of these things are possible.

The Buddha’s Smile

by James McBride

I recently clicked on the link to get to our WIMG blog, Expressions. The page opened to an image of the Buddha framed well in light and darkness that accentuated his elongated earlobes, a distinguishing iconographic feature reminding us that he was once a prince who wore heavy golden earrings. 

However it was the serene expression on his face that drew my attention, especially his smile. It reminded me of something, something I had heard or read some time ago in this dream of a life. Maybe it was in The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera. I’m not sure. 

It concerned the quality of attention and concentration that one should aim for when sitting in meditation – firm and steady, yet light and buoyant. At some later point, it occurred to me that this attitude and poise was what had been captured in the smile in some drawings and statuary of the Buddha. It was what drew me to some and not to others. 

I began to bring the Buddha’s smile to mind along with the words - firm and steady, yet light and buoyant - each time I settled in on my cushion. Eventually, as is the case with practice, the words shifted into the background and then eventually slipped away.

Tree Spirit Walk

On June 14th, a couple of members from the Sangha and Dharma Reading Group went to explore the Bois -des -espirit trail off of St. Anne’s Road.  It’s a beautiful 2km trail right within our city for walking and biking!

Carving by Murray Watson of Winnipeg

Carving by Murray Watson of Winnipeg

Seine River

Seine River

We came across three deer running through the forest!

We came across three deer running through the forest!

Beauty surrounded us from all directions!

Beauty surrounded us from all directions!

A Red Winged Black Bird watched us from a distance!

A Red Winged Black Bird watched us from a distance!

Our destination was to see Woody… the largest Tree Spirit in the forest!

Our destination was to see Woody… the largest Tree Spirit in the forest!

What a beautiful day it was to explore!