Sally Clough Armstrong began practicing vipassana meditation in India in 1981. She moved to the Bay Area in 1988, and worked at Spirit Rock until 1994 in a number of roles, including executive director. She began teaching in 1996, and is one of the guiding teachers of Spirit Rock's Dedicated Practitioner Program.
Sally has always been inspired by the depth and the breadth of the Buddha’s teaching, as presented in the suttas of the Pali Canon, because the truth and power of the Buddha’s words still speak to us today. Her intention in teaching is to make these ancient texts and practices accessible and relevant to all levels of practitioner, from the very new to the dedicated meditator.
The Buddha said that we should be mindful in all four postures – sitting, walking, standing and lying down. We talk a lot about sitting meditation, some about walking and very little about the other two. This session is a guided meditation on standing meditation. Standing can be used as a practice in itself, or as a way to balance energy, especially sleepiness.
Though we receive lots of instructions for our meditation practice on retreats, let’s face it – we spend a lot of time thinking. What do we think about? At the heart of these movements of the mind is answering the questions, “Am I OK?”, “Was I OK?”, and “Will I be OK?” Our obsession with these questions is the cause of a huge amount of restlessness. Restlessness is one of the major hindrances to calming the mind and deepening our meditation, and can be seen as both the cause and the effect of all the other hindrances. The Buddha also talked about this kind of thinking, and called it unwise attention that leads to all kinds of suffering. We need to look at the core issues that lead us to dwell on these questions if we are to create a more skilful relationship to our thoughts.
Though the heart of our meditation practice is to understand and free the mind, much of our experience is known through the body, so our relationship to the body is extremely important. Learning how to work skillfully with both pleasant and painful experiences is essential in meditation, and developing a wise attitude to the body that appreciates it yet doesn’t identify with it as me or mine is a great support to the deepening of practice.
Many of us live our lives somewhat disconnected from our physical experience, or with a distorted view of our bodies. Mindfulness practice – the direct knowing of our experience in an unfiltered way - allows us to connect with our bodies in a way that is kind and accepting. Out of this deep connection, insight into the nature of our bodies and our minds, and how they affect each other, naturally develops.
The Satipatthana Sutta (usually translated as the Foundations of Mindfulness) offers a complete description of the practice of mindfulness, beginning with the direct awareness of the breath and the body, progressing through mindfulness of vedana or feeling tone, to the more subtle object of the Third Foundation, mindfulness of mind states. The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness represents the culmination of this series of practices, and can be seen as a direct pointing, again and again, to the possibility of freedom through direct awareness of where we get caught, and how to turn the mind towards liberation. This talk is an overview of the practices of the Fourth Foundation, which can be seen as both the last in the sequence of practices, and as a progression in itself. It also covers how the Fourth Foundation can actually be skillfully interwoven into our practice of the other foundations.
On this day of thanksgiving, it is important to remember what we are actually celebrating: the generosity of Native Americans to the early settlers, and all that they have given us. It is also a day to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives, and to bring a sense of appreciation to the beauty and joy that is all around us. As we incline the mind towards noticing what we are grateful for, we find an increased sense of well-being and happiness in our lives.
The Buddha considered Dependent Origination to be his most profound insight. This teaching shows us how we get caught in the cycle of suffering, and how it is possible to free ourselves. When we’re not aware of this process, we are blinded by our ignorance and get caught in craving again and again. We create different identities that we cling to, and that limit our ability to be free in the moment. When we’re aware of this process, we can make wiser choices about how to respond, and perhaps even break the cycles of becoming altogether. This talk gives a brief overview of the 12 links of Dependent Origination, and then describes how it works on a practical, moment-to-moment basis in our lives.
The way we experience ourselves and the world is highly conditioned by our perceptions , known as sañña in the Buddhist teachings. Through the process of perception we judge and filter our experience, preventing us from seeing things as they really are. The practice of mindfulness offers the possibility of working directly with our perceptions, and even inclining the mind towards more skillful and pleasant ways of experiencing ourselves and the world.
The world spins around the alternating pairs of gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, and happiness and unhappiness. When we bring them into our awareness, we see how much of our time and energy is spent trying to create and hold on to the positive ones, and avoid or get rid of the negative ones. If we see with wisdom, we realize that these conditions are always operating no matter what we do, and that the skillful way to respond to them is to come to a clearer understanding of what actually brings us true happiness and a sense of well-being, and to cultivate that, rather than chase after gain, praise, fame, and superficial happiness.