The method I use most in teaching is anapanasati or mindfulness with breathing. Breath awareness supports us while we investigate the entire mind-body process. It helps calm the mind and gives us a graceful entry into a state of choiceless awareness--a place without agendas, where we are not for or against whatever turns up in the moment.
In this state we relax into ourselves. We allow the mind to empty itself of its own content and take us into a realm of silence.
Choiceless awareness, with the transition into and out of silence, has fascinated me for a long time. What are the barriers to our minds becoming silent? How do we remain in silence long enough to receive its countless benefits? Can we learn to bring thought-free wakefulness into each aspect of our ordinary, daily living?
As lay people we need a practice that helps us learn how to live whole-heartedly, to do justice to the many challenges of lay life, and at the same time grow in the dharma. This includes moving gracefully back and forth between our daily life and intensive retreat practice.
Presently, I am deeply interested in using Buddha's Charter of Freedom of Inquiry, the Kalama Sutta, as a framework for my teaching. In this teaching, the Buddha invites us to question and doubt. It invites us to use personal experience to test and verify the truth of the teachings. This in turn encourages us to acknowledge life's greatest teacher: Life itself.
The challenge for us all is to question ourselves. Do we know how to live? If the answer, in any way, is no, then bring in the dharma and let's see how the teachings help us live in a wise and kind way.
Kate Lila Wheeler began teaching meditation in the mid-1980s and continues to practice with teachers in Theravada and Tibetan Buddhist lineages. Writing is an important part of her life; she has recently completed a second novel.
I find teaching to be a very deep and powerful "no self" practice. When I connect with others during Dharma talks--in the intimacy of small groups, and while holding meditation practice interviews--I am continually reminded to know, and be, in a place of clarity, spaciousness and immediate presence. Being able to offer students such a place of connection is my greatest pleasure and inspiration, as well as the most appreciated challenge in my teaching practice.
For me, the real fruit of the teaching is seeing the beauty of a gradual, and sometimes sudden, unfolding of a heartmind into its true self; seeing the variety of ways a person's essential, creative energy of being flows into the world.
On one end of the teaching, I am excited and inspired by students who are deeply committed to long-term, intensive practice. On the other end (and of course they're connected), I find that working closely with people at the grass roots level--in a co-creative process of developing and sustaining Dharma practice, study and community opportunitiies on a day-to-day basis--is equally exciting and inspiring.
From the immediacy of presence flows a wisdom that naturally connects us to the way of things. This amazing gift of mindfulness provides us with a spaciousness where we can make appropriate, healthy and creative life choices. Rather than being caught up in our old, conditioned habits, mindfulness provides us with the gift of engagement at its best. This is the Gift of the Dharma that we offer to all beings.
Mark Coleman has been engaged in meditation practice since 1981, primarily within the Insight meditation tradition. He has been teaching meditation retreats since 1997. His teaching is also influenced by his studies with Advaita Vedanta and Tibetan teachers in Asia and the West, and through his teacher training with Jack Kornfield. Mark primarily teaches at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, though he also teaches nationally, in Europe and India.
He leads backpacking retreats, nature-based retreats, and teaches retreats for environmental activists in the wilderness at Vallecitos Mountain Refuge in New Mexico, and at Knoll Farm in Vermont. In the Bay Area, Mark has a counseling practice, where he integrates his studies of psychotherapy and meditative work. He is the author of “Awake in the Wild - Mindfulness in Nature as a path of Self-Discovery." Mark has been an avid hiker, and backpacker for most of his life and spends much of his time in the outdoors. He lives in the woods in Marin County, Northern California.
Matthew Daniell has been practicing Buddhist meditation and yoga for over 20 years. He studied Zen in Japan and Insight Meditation in India, Burma, and Thailand. His teachers include Munindra, Dipa Ma, Larry Rosenberg, Sharon Salzberg, and Joseph Goldstein. He studied yoga in the tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar of Madras India, and is certified to teach in several traditions. Matthew resides in West Newbury and teaches at various universities and retreat centers. He also co-leads retreats with Larry Rosenberg at the Insight Meditation Society, Omega, Kripalu, and CIMC. He is a founder and the guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Center of Newburyport, MA.
Melanie Waschke has had a Meditation practice since her early twenties. She has been deeply involved in the mindfulness practice taught by Thich Nhath Hanh, living in his retreat centers for over a year as well as doing a lot of long term practice in the Vipassana tradition worldwide. Currently she is part of the teacher training program led by Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and others. Melanie Waschke is a clinical psychologist, working in Germany. She teaches meditation in English and German.
I find that practitioners can practice Vipassana for a long time without paying attention to the role that fear plays in their lives. Living with fear that is unacknowledged leads to fragmentation in life and practice. I encourage people to look at the energy of fear, for fear can limit our access to freedom.
It is quite possible to diligently practice mindfulness, yet keep fear at a distance. Not becoming intimate with fear creates a dualism and complacency that gives a silent nod of approval to living with fear. When we begin to look at, and become friends with, our fear, we suddenly discover a lot more space in our lives.
In the larger picture, Vipassana offers us all a practice that goes counter to the tremendous cultural momentum around us of materialism and consumerism. With practice, we can learn how to take full responsibility for ourselves, and so pay attention to developing inner qualities capable of sustaining us as we navigate the shifting sands of life.
Because I've been teaching in Burma the last three years, I've been able to see how mindfulness can be nourished by a culture that supports the ancient liberation teachings and by daily experiences of happiness arising from acts of generosity, morality and renunciation. Thus the practice of Buddhism and the living of Buddhism are woven together in a seamless tapestry.
If there is anything that is most engaging to me now, it is the desire to bring this sublime way of life into our culture in the West.
What began as a deep compassion for the suffering of the existential predicament of human beings deepened as I understood that we need not identify with our experience. It is this understanding that has led me far onto the path of befriending others on their spiritual journey. My greatest inspiration is working with students wherever they are in the moment. We are all capable of so much more than suffering; once we learn how to be mindful, it's only a matter of remembering that it is the purity of intention which frees us. Dismantling the myth that we need to be something other than what we are is so important, because if we can learn to be mindful of exactly where we are, we experience the happiness of peace, which is what we deeply are.
My deepest appreciation is for the joy of the spiritual adventure. The purity of mindfulness, which soothes our sophisticated, intellectual, analytical, and out-of-touch-with-our-bodies mindset, is the moment we remember to pay attention without embellishment, interpretation or judgment. That moment becomes overwhelmingly touching because it brings us what we most wish for, unconditional love and peace. This truth, this purity of intention is what brings us home.