The Holiday Season – A Perfect Time to Access that Quiet Place Within

As you may already know, I’ve been on self-retreat for the month of December and I have been able to spend this time meditating a lot.  This has been such a gift for me to be able to access the quiet, healing space of mindfulness.

But for everyone else who has not had the privilege of being able to take this time out for added practice, this can be a very tumultuous period, particularly around the holidays.  Whether you espouse to a certain religion or not, the holiday seasons are typically a time characterized by a lot of mind chatter, hustle & bustle, get-togethers, shopping, and over-eating.  In this madhouse season, it is easy to get pulled away from one’s inner being – the still, quiet and nurturing place we each have within us.

Even if you are busy, you can still access this spacious inner being by taking a few minutes a day to take extra good care of yourself, where you may choose to:  breathe, meditate, hug a tree outside, or go for a hike out in nature.

Another way to contact that inner stillness is by staying connected to your body – which is the direct pathway leading to your inner self.  Maintain awareness on your bodily sensations at all times, and you will be able to stay in touch with this quiet inner-being.

While you are in relationship with another family member or friend during upcoming get-togethers, remember that this may very well be the last time you ever get to see or speak to this precious being in front of you.  Our time here on this planet is NOT guaranteed.  So, treat each person as if it is your last time together and you will also be directly connecting to your inner self.

Happy Holidays!  May this time for you be filled with safety, love, peace, joy and the presence of your inner self.

-Ronya Banks

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Death & Dying – A Buddhist Perspective

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winters rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finish’d joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

–          William Shakespeare

Fact:  Human life involves both birth and death.  We must all come to dust – we must all die.  Our society seems out of whack by how it celebrates and has a love-affair with birth and avoids and mourns death.  There are birthing classes in every city.  But, when was the last time you heard anyone say that they were taking classes on learning how to die with full presence and joy?    Almost unheard of!

 Most of the world lives either in denial of death or in terror of it. Even talking about death is considered morbid, and many people believe that simply mentioning death is to risk wishing it upon ourselves.  Others look on death with a naive, thoughtless cheerfulness, thinking that for some unknown reason death will work out all right for them, and that it is nothing to worry about. – Sogyal Rinpoche

If we are lucid during the process, dying is such a precious period, because Continue reading

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Dark Night of the Soul

Co-Authors:  Dillon Shelton & Ronya Banks

Spiritual seekers, beware!  The path to enlightenment can be both rewarding and treacherous.  Many great spiritual seekers throughout time described how their spiritual practices underwent a time period(s) laden with darkness, despair, fear, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.  This concept was originally coined  the “Dark Night of the Soul” by St John of the Cross, a Spanish poet and priest in the 1500’s.  References to the Dark Night can also be found in Buddhist, Kundalini, Pagan/Occult, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic literatures.

In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.     – F. Scott Fitzgerald

So, what is it?  Will I experience it?  Is there any way to avoid it?  And, if I find myself in this stage, how can I traverse it with the least amount of suffering possible?  The answers to these questions follow….. Continue reading
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Dealing with Sorrow and Grief

During one of our meditation group’s Buddha Dharma Exploration Classes, our guest teacher – Burmese monk:  Bhante UJotika said that the Buddha stressed that we: cultivate compassion and not sorrow.  One of the sangha members asked how to deal with the deep sorrow one feels with the death of a loved one.  This was a great question that propelled me on a personal  contemplation and exploration process around how to not cultivate more personal sorrow, when one is already experiencing sorrow.   I have surmised that one can experience sorrow skillfully without cultivating more sorrow, and this article tells you how. Continue reading

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Dissolving Greed

When I began attending Vipassana meditation retreats many years ago, I kept hearing the teachers point out the three Poisons, or three Unwholesome Roots that lead us to suffering as: “greed,” “hatred” and “delusion.”

As my practice began to ripen and unfold, I started clearly seeing how my mind was steeped in ill-will and delusion.  However, I didn’t see much greed.  Boy, was I delusional!  After several years of intensive practice, I gradually began opening up to an ocean’s worth of internal greed!  Wow!  I had so much resistance to opening up to and accepting – greed.  Whenever greed appeared, I shot myself with subsequent poisonous arrows by feeling resistance, shame and disappointment.  After all, how could I have greed?  I was such a generous person, right?  It was a gradual process, but once I began accepting and exploring greed, my meditation practice really began to soar!  The internal greed also began to loosen its stronghold.

This article is intended to support you in your spiritual practice, as it explores GREED:  it’s origin, how to recognize it in yourself, and how to work with greed skillfully. Continue reading

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Skillful Speech

Of all of my spiritual practices, consistently engaging in skillful speech has possibly been my greatest challenge.  Sometimes, it seems as though it takes constant effort, awareness, intention and a compassionate mind/heart (citta) to be skillful with my speech with myself and others.

Oftentimes, meditators delude themselves into thinking that their practice occurs only when they are sitting meditating on their cushions or chairs.  Wrong!  Our meditation practice supports us in in being more aware and present during our wakeful life practice, but our moment-to-moment life practice is where the juice is at!   Continue reading

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The Magic of Working with Mental Formations

I recently attended my first Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH) Buddhist retreat.  My most enjoyable moments during this retreat occurred while listening to TNH’s talk about mental formations – what they are, where they come from, and how to work skillfully with them, once they arise.  This article is my understanding of TNH’s talk, as well as my own personal deeper exploration around mental formations.

According to TNH, consciousness is like a house, in which the basement is our store consciousness (unconscious mind) and the living room is our mind consciousness (conscious mind). Continue reading

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When you think of love, you can probably remember hearing some of your favorite love songs sung by what sounded like love-sick musicians, or remember hearing the utterances of a sweet poem gushing about the emotional ups and downs associated with the experience of love.

The subject tonight is Love

And for tomorrow night as well,

As a matter of fact

I know of no better topic

For us to discuss

Until we all Die!

– Hafiz

It seems as if our human culture has a love affair and preoccupation with love, as evidenced by the limitless number of books written on the subject;  love questionnaires and quizzes found in magazines and newspapers; numerous theatrical productions, television shows, and award-winning movies honing in on the nature of love, and one’s trials and tribulations while attempting to pursue or maintain loving relationships.

So what is this thing called Love?  Why is it such a big deal?  Is it that important?  Can love help you gain more traction in your spiritual practice?  Let’s explore LOVE.

Continue reading

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Deep Listening

I recently went out to dinner with a group of friends.  During the evening’s turn of events, I witnessed a phenomenon in which it did not appear as though any of my friends were really interested in hearing anything anyone else had to say, as each person took turns either interrupting the one who was speaking, or being interrupted while attempting to complete a sentence.   Since then, I’ve noticed that most people really don’t listen as they interrupt each other or space out while another person is speaking!

I like to listen.  I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.  Most people never listen.  – Ernest Hemingway

So, what’s going on?  For over a year now, I’ve made the conscious decision to incorporate Deep Listening as part of my daily practice. This practice has  been one of the most Continue reading

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