CENTER COMMUNITY NEWS
Newsletter of the Center for Sacred Sciences
Vol. 31, No. 3 • Summer 2018
Spring Retreat - Report by Rich Holloway
Retreatants on Spring Retreat 2018
From the top, left to right: Rick Ahrens, Liba Stafl, Rich Marlatt, Rich Holloway, Matt McNall, Sophia Malkasian, Sue Esch, Laura Betty; Middle row - left to right: Aloha Heart, Gene Gibbs, Steve Pologe, Luke Weiss, Todd Corbett, Clivonne Corbett, Vip Short, Joel DeVore; Front row - left to right: Alessandra Casanova, Marijke McCandless, Jay McCandless, Cindy Bloom, Katie Rose, Jim Zajac, Chris Pichey; Not shown: Mary Jane Moffat.
Snow... Mud... Evergreens... Rich Marlatt and I arrived in the muddy parking lot at Suttle Lake Camp on Sunday after driving through the Cascades and the vestiges of recent snows. I was looking to do some melting of my own, as if to mimic what I was seeing around me. Two years ago, I came to the 2016 Spring retreat at St. Benedict’s to release the strands of a 28-year marriage (which included having 4 children together). That retreat was symbolized by Kali, the destructor, tearing down all of my old constructs and making room for something entirely new. This she did in spectacular fashion, both in the destruction (I wept for much of the retreat) and in the subsequent re-creation (new, wonderful partner, a new home that feels like a retreat center, and a new relationship to my kids as a part-time single parent).
This time, I was focused on getting clarity around the busyness, both in my personal life and in my work life, that I had been creating, and how I’d allowed this busyness to pull me into drama and a sense of separateness, despite “knowing better.” My 93-year-old mother had been on her deathbed in a hospice center just before I left for the retreat, but seemed to be rebounding — I didn’t know but that I might get the call to come home in the middle of the retreat to be at her bedside or funeral. I was also having chronic back pain due to a leaking disk that sent steady pain down my left leg most of the time, especially when sitting. My work life had become overwhelming due to taking on some additional responsibility in the name of professional growth that seemed to have never-ending demands and fire-fighting, and I had become inwardly exhausted by the challenges of keeping up with it.
As in past retreats, going from full-speed busyness to being on retreat was like hitting a wall of silence at 80 miles an hour. Ouch. That first day of meditation, silence, and non-doing was brutal. Thanks to Laura, there was a zero-gravity chair at the center to make it feasible to sit for extended periods, but for the first couple of days I had a regular Zen master in the form of throbbing pain to make me pay attention in each moment. If I tuned into the pain and simply noticed it as a phenomenon, it was bearable, but as soon as I turned my attention elsewhere or tried to ignore it, it would ‘whack’ me back into the present like a ruthless meditation monitor. It really didn’t help that we started with concentration meditation — I find this the most unforgiving of all the forms we study because there’s really nothing for the mind to latch onto: it’s just the breath or your mantra. No smells, no sights, no impermanence, no thoughts self-liberating — just the breath. Whack. Sleep was a frequent visitor to my zero-gravity chair, even though I bade him to “please just stay away and let me get enlightened over here.”
Luke Weiss and Todd Corbett
Todd and Luke were a dynamic duo as teachers, taking turns sharing the lectern and sharing different insights on a given teaching… at times they even wore the mantle of an enlightened comedy team with subtle, non-dualistic humor. We moved smoothly from concentration meditation to choiceless awareness (watching the senses and thoughts/emotions) to spacious awareness (allowing all phenomena, especially thoughts, to self-liberate) to the Dzogchen practice of ‘no practice’.
Todd and Luke guided us into a study of impermanence and presence in the Now by studying river stones, emphasizing that everything there is, is only happening now — everything else is just a concept. This seemed rather depressing at first — it seems much more comforting to believe in a world that persists when I turn away from it. I then thought of the world created in a dream: it, too, appears to be created moment-by-moment by Consciousness… where does it go when I stop dreaming? It would seem to exist only while “I” project it into being, and any notion of it continuing on while I’m not dreaming seems far-fetched. Can it really be that Consciousness is doing that with the ‘real’ world? But if (as the mystics teach) “all there is, is Consciousness,” how can the world exist outside of it? This study of impermanence ended up being another destruction/emergence experience: Impermanence destroys the (illusion of the) world created by the ego, and that makes room (and clarity) for seeing the wonder of what is arising now out of emptiness — the miracle of this moment right here.
In another familiar teaching, Todd shared the story of the man who traveled a great distance to see the Buddha, and only got one teaching, and it boiled down to “there are no nouns — only verbs are real” (in seeing, there is only seeing — not seer and seen, and so forth). Verbs don’t exist outside of the doing of them, and as we know from studying impermanence, all doing verbs come and go, start and stop.
In another exercise, we examined our bodies moment by moment, and noticed how the awareness of one part faded away as we examined the next, and that there was never actually a whole body that could be a ‘me’. At the end of the exercise, I felt like this body had been carved up like a chicken for sale at the supermarket… and surely that package of legs and wings isn’t me. Similarly, we carved up our memories and emotions into bits and pieces and saw them as transient, and came back to spacious awareness, over and over.
Nothing withstood the sandblasting effect of awareness, and I was left feeling dissolved and a bit lost. I met with Todd and Luke on solo day, and both meetings were profound and helpful. Todd emphasized that it is the seeing of impermanence that allows us to really see those around us, especially those we love, for the miracle that they are. It is a death of sorts, but the seeing that follows is well worth the ‘cost’. He encouraged me to embrace each thought or feeling that arises on the path (as he did on the last retreat) with appreciation: “These things just want to be seen.” My time with Luke was also remarkable — he skillfully guided me on how to work with the energies that can arise on the spiritual path, and I was struck with gratitude at the gift we have in all the teachers at the Center.
In closing, I am filled with gratitude — for the teachers, the fellowship at the retreat, the joy of the chores during the retreat that turned out to be great gifts, the CSS community (including the dinner on Saturday night before the retreat), the teachings, and this opportunity to share my experience, which has brought me back from my daily busyness (yes, it returned) to the Seeing that is always available, if we will but take a moment in stillness, and look.
Rich Holloway is a Distance Studies student from Chapel Hill, NC, working with Tom McFarlane since 2012, and has been getting the newsletters from the Center since the 1990s.
Walt Whitman: Song of the Rolling Earth
Were you thinking that those were the words,
those upright lines? those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words,
the substantial words are in the ground and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you.
Were you thinking that those were the words,
those delicious sounds out of your friends' mouths?
No, the real words are more delicious than they.
Air, soil, water, fire — those are words,
I myself am a word with them — my qualities interpenetrate with theirs — my name is nothing to them,
Though it were told in three thousand languages, what would air, soil, water, fire, know of my name?
I swear I begin to see little or nothing in audible words,
All merges toward the presentation of the unspoken meanings of the earth,
Toward him who sings the songs of the body and of the truths of the earth,
Toward him who makes the dictionaries of words that print cannot touch.
I swear I see what is better than to tell the best, It is always to leave the best untold.
A Branching of Traditions
After 2 years as CSS teacher — including co-teaching the Foundation Studies Class for half a year, co-teaching the Spring retreat, and leading a wilderness vision quest — Luke Weiss recently decided to resign his role as CSS teacher. Joel invited Luke to a Sunday meeting in May to talk about his decision.
Luke began by expressing his deepest gratitute to the CSS community, and said that a group such as this is a rare and precious thing, which made his decision difficult. Luke shared that he has been called by Mother Earth to a different way. The foundation of his vision is to help bring people back into connection to and communication with Earth, and Luke views this as essential to complete spiritual development. Since this specific goal is not a fundamental focus of the CSS mission, Luke feels it is best that he branch off with his teaching in order to be true to his heart. You can listen to the talk here.
We all wish Luke well in his future teachings, and encourage anyone interested in deepening their relationship with Earth to participate in his offerings. He can be contacted at Beyond Body Healing Arts.
Sacred Art at CSS
"Whirling" (Acrylic, Gene Gibbs)
"Moonrise" (Felted Wool, Mary Jane Moffatt)
Another fine art event was hosted at CSS during March and April. The Second Members' Art Exhibit filled the walls of the Center offering the sangha another opportunity to view creative works by fellow members.
Maura Scanlon, the show's curator, gathered works from 17 artists that included paintings, calligraphy, photography and textile art. The works depict the creative expression of members, reflecting nature, spiritual symbolism, and the joy of being.
Surprising many was a painting of Sufi turning by Gene Gibbs, who we know as a guitarist, but were unaware of his talent in visual art.
Many thanks to the participating artists for sharing their visions with the group.
Mark Hurwit's Year of Solitude
Video: Mark's Year in Solitude
Center practitioner Mark Hurwit recently returned from a year of solitude at his family's rural summer home in western Massachusetts. As he stated in his letter prior to leaving, his basic intentions were to meditate, hike, read and write music. Having returned home to Oregon in March, Mark gave a full presentation of his experiences and insights from the year at the Sunday public meeting at CSS on May 20, 2018. He also consented to our request to write a post-retreat account summarizing his main "take-aways" from the year (and noted that this contains a lot that did not make it into his talk). We encourage you to read it if you are interested, as it is more informative (albeit less entertaining) than the video. As a teaser, here are a few take-aways that Mark discusses:
- More than half of my intentions for this “retreat” were unconscious.
- I now understand the karma of dilettantism — all the worse for a perfectionist.
- God has other plans.
- The more pernicious kind of dukka than dissatisfaction with external circumstances is internal dissatisfaction — this one is really the biggie.
- My behavior of trying to learn and retain an incredible amount of information on a lot of things is, at bottom, a misdirected effort at quelling a deep tension and ongoing tightened quality of self-protection.
- Spending too much time in front of the computer, or hurrying unnecessarily for any reason, or not doing some kind of energetic physical movement with some frequency is a great recipe for feeding habitual energetic patterns, while simultaneously starving that deeper, settled connection to All-That-Is.
- The year offered a great many wonderful experiences, serious challenges, and opportunities for insight. When people say “godawful,” what they mean is: “He don’t mess around!”
- I’ve been amazed since my return how easy it is to get thrown off track or to become so busy that I justify not doing meditations or the other practices that I know are what I need, to get where I'm going (i.e., where I am).
- Remembering — who and what we are, what we’re doing, and the path we’re on — is more something we allow to happen than make to happen. And that comes from seeing… just seeing.
- All efforts to fill/complete my life, and create some permanent (hah!) sense of closure — all of it’s designed to solve “this problem of being,” of separateness from source. But learning more or being better or more prepared or having more of anything… none of these things can work! All there is to do is to see it; and, as it’s said, until it’s seen all the way through, it’s still there… a hair’s width the same as a mile.
Thanks for sharing, Mark. And welcome home!
Infinity Beckons, by Fred
The poets are quiet on this dark night,
The stars are shining crystal bright.
Wolff's Mandala, by Carla Crow
The water moon shimmers and fluffs its tail,
The Kingdom shudders; is it about to fail?
The weeping children are put to bed,
They go hungry and can’t be fed.
Parabola here, Parabola there,
Infinity beckons; take the dare.
Cracklin’ the knife on a cold, cold road,
The mind starts timid, but the Heart goes bold.
The Truth is always out of sight,
No one knows of its true might.
The kingdom shines brilliant white,
And shatters rubies in its flight!
All hail the newborn sovereign Queen,
She rules with valor and Love supreme.
The poets write hopelessly,
They can’t speak of what they see.
Sunday talk by Matt: Meditation Q&A
In this video, CSS teacher Matt Sieradski discusses meditation practice and answers questions related to other spiritual practice topics.
It was recorded during a Sunday meeting held at the Center on 15 October 2017.
For more videos from Center teachers, see our YouTube channel.
CSS Building Gets a New Look
During the week of May 14-18, the exterior of the CSS building was painted.
Thanks to the good work of our painters, Gilman & Sons.
Thanks also to our facilities director, Mike, for getting this fine job done!
Mission and Programs of the Center for Sacred Sciences
The Center for Sacred Sciences is dedicated to the study, practice, and dissemination of the spiritual teachings of the mystics, saints, and sages of the major religious traditions. The Center endeavors to present these teachings in forms appropriate to our contemporary scientific culture. The Center also works to create and disseminate a sacred worldview which expresses the compatibility between universal mystical truths and the evidence of modern science.
Among the Center’s ongoing events are Sunday public services with meditations and talks given by the Center’s spiritual teachers; monthly Sunday video presentations; and — for committed spiritual seekers — weekly practitioners groups and periodic meditation retreats. The Center is accessible. We are a welcoming and inclusive community.
The Center maintains an extensive lending library of books, audios, videos, and periodicals covering spiritual, psychological, philosophical, and scientific subjects. In addition, the Center provides a website containing a great deal of information and resources related to the teachings of the world’s mystics, the universality of mystical truth, and the relationship between science and mysticism. The Center publishes this newsletter providing community news, upcoming programs, book reviews, and other contributions and resources related to the Center’s mission.
The Center for Sacred Sciences is a non-profit, tax-exempt church based in Eugene, Oregon, USA. We rely chiefly on volunteer staff to support our programs, and on donations to meet our operating expenses. Our spiritual teachers give their teachings freely as a labor of love, and receive no financial compensation from the Center.
About the Center Community News
The Center Community News is published on the CSS website several times a year. Its primary purpose is to help foster a community of spiritual practitioners by sharing original teachings, experiences, reflections, artistic expressions, and reports among members of our community.
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