CENTER COMMUNITY NEWS
Newsletter of the Center for Sacred Sciences
Vol. 32, No. 3 • Summer 2019
Spring 2019 Retreat: Open Your Treasure Box
Back row: Mark Hurwit, Mary Jane Moffat, Jim Zajac, Tom Rundle, Jack Yousey, Donald Burton, Laura Betty, Steve Blake, Kimberly Carson, Hillery Kyablue, Joyce Settelmeyer, Bev Forster, Aruna Beth Miriam Rose. Front row: Ellie Parsons, Debra Meadow, Dagmar Maston, Cindy Bloom, Hiromi Sieradski, Matthew Sieradski, Marijke McCandless, Jay McCandless, Melissa Kaspar.
After over five years at other retreat centers, Center practitioners returned in Spring 2019 to Cloud Mountain Retreat Center for a retreat with Hiromi and Matt Sieradski entitled "Open Your Treasure Box."
Hiromi began the five-day retreat with these words: "Open your treasure house, and use those treasures!" This retreat focused on the path of devotion. The function of devotion is to have a conversion of mind and heart. To do that we explored ways to have the heart be available and vulnerable and learn how to have a conversation with the Beloved.
Hiromi spoke of four definitions of heart: First, there is our physical heart and the immediate sensation of where you are. Second, there is the emotional heart of our feelings and thoughts. We were encouraged to let go of the strong emotional stories and offer these sensations and thoughts to the Beloved. In doing so we were able to see the basic foundation of love that underpins all of our relationships. Third, we examined the spiritual heart, that place of spaciousness, also defined as the void, sky or emptiness. Fourth, is the Radiant Heart, defined by Hiromi as Consciousness Itself! The Radiant Heart is a purified spiritual heart, the Heart that is the very core of our being.
Hiromi and Matt
To help us open our hearts, Hiromi employed the vibrations of music. Bev Forster provided music from her singing bowls and Hiromi led us with her ukulele with a variety of chants. We started our practice by using a verbal prayer. We were invited to silently say our mantra, or a simple prayer. We were encouraged to say our mantra/short prayer simply and to pay attention to the words and the meanings of the word(s). This helped us focus our awareness on our intentions, to bring love and longing for the Beloved into our heart.
Next we moved our verbal prayer into the heart. In this part of the journey, prayer in the heart, we tried to open our hearts by being relaxed. When we relaxed on the loving and longing for the Beloved, we started to notice a stillness in the heart. By slowing down and appreciating what is happening in the moment of now, our thoughts cease.
The combination of chanting, music, and saying my mantra was opening my heart to the Beloved. While having oatmeal for breakfast the vibration of "I am always with you" came to me. The feeling was warm and comforting, just like the oatmeal. Matt offered a beautiful image to us: "Become transparent so any shadow goes right through you, and so we can become a vehicle of compassion."
As we moved into unceasing prayer, Matt offered us these words of wisdom: "Forgetfulness of yourself is a death, a death of self." The continuous prayer affects others in ten directions. When uncomfortable emotions arise, see the love underneath them. As that happens, there will the love; bask in that love. And, learn what unconditional love feels like by practicing on ourselves.
We practiced opening ourselves to feel the vibrations of music. We practiced ways to ground ourselves and to nourish ourselves. We experienced the Path of Devotion by opening our hearts to the longing and loving the Beloved at this retreat. Thank you Hiromi and Matt and all who attended.
–Laura Betty, CSS Retreat Coordinator
Second edition of The Way of Selflessness published
The much-anticipated 2nd edition of Joel's book The Way of Selflessness was published in May 2019. It has a beautiful new cover featuring an image of Carla Crow's "Heart Gate" painting. Jennifer and Hiromi suggested using this image in the cover design, and Carla graciously gave us her permission.
In addition to the new cover, the 2nd edition has a completely redesigned interior text, with updated style and formatting. The text was also thoroughly copyedited and re-indexed. Except for a few quotes that were changed by Joel, the substance of the book remains the same.
For more information, chapter samples, and ordering information, please visit the Way of Selflessness page on the CSS website.
We are currently working on e-book and audio-book editions, so stay tuned!
On the evening of May 18th a group of CSS members and their guests took part in an hour-long session of meditative singing and chanting by candlelight. The intent was to create a very quiet, candle lit, meditative atmosphere where we can rest in the silence and let the sounds/words penetrate our being. There was no teaching or speaking.
The chants were from several different traditions and based on Taize services which began over 70 years ago in the small village of Taize in the south of Burgundy, France. These are short, simple repetitive chants to simple melody lines.
Bev Forster opened and closed with her Tibetan/Crystal Singing bowls. Hiromi Sieradski, Annie O'Shea and Rich Marlatt played ukulele and guitar to lead the chants.
Writing Awake Workshop
Writing Awake workshop participants
Long-time Center member Merry Song led a circle of 12 women through a Writing Awake Workshop during the month of May. This 4-week experiment was designed to cultivate awareness around the “Story of I”. Using creative writing techniques, the participants explored changing points of view and verb tense in order to gain spaciousness around the sense of personal stories. Instead of pushing away stories, they used poetry and prose to observe and even celebrate the changing nature of stories while releasing the firm grip on them.
Daily writing challenges kept the energy and focus going at home. At the beginning of each meeting, Merry Song gave free-writing prompts, and instead of a talking stick, the circle passed around a microphone in order to project their voices while voluntarily reading aloud. The experience of the participants varied but all agree that the teachings were of benefit and that the circle created a lot of bonding.
Merry Song is teaching another experimental workshop for women during the month of June entitled “Truth Artists” in which creative writing is used to explore the transformative nature of afflicted emotions. In the future, Merry Song looks forward to offering more workshops of this kind, open to all members.
True to its theme, the Spring 2019 retreat uncovered a wealth of spiritual treasures, a few of which are shared below from some of the retreatants.
Photo by Bev Forster
Many years have come and gone,
Cloud Mountain is transformed,
New buildings, New Buddhas.
What remains and is unchanged is quiet
Reverence and sacred ground revelation.
Over the years, this being has aged and changed.
What looked then and now
Is same looking, same seeing from eyes of awareness.
Ever present Buddha Sees, Ever present Buddha Knows
The True nature of All Things.
The Essence of “What Is”
Form and Formless
Revealed in Timeless Awareness.
Packing bowls with great care,
Looking forward with excited anticipation.
Inviting bowls to sound, prayer in heart intention.
Offering beneficial, healing tones and vibration.
Touching physical body, heart, and mind in quiet meditation.
Harmonic Koshi chimes final musical Blessing.
Bowing in great gratitude and appreciation.
Photo by Bev Forster
Stepping Into Nothing
As it often the case with retreat, the beginning is never quite as it seems. A couple of weeks prior to the retreat a strong intuition descended that spoke “a year of silence”. With teenagers, a husband, mortgage and a full-on career, logic and pragmatics quickly poo-pooed this guidance. However, I recognized that I would have five days of silence on this retreat. And rather than offer to lead the yoga, which can stir quite a bit of both verbal and mental activity, I would wait to see if someone else volunteered for that, which could allow me to honor silence more completely. Circumstances supported this intuition, and another yogi offered to teach. This was quite fortuitous as I was free to experience the qi gong with Matt each morning which unleashed its own teaching.
It was the interplay of love for the dance between bhakti and jnani currents and the beckoning call to return to Cloud Mountain after many years that compelled attendance on this retreat. During the first evening, an emphasis on a nondual Kashmir Shaivism text The Recognition Sutras ignited such excitement I was beside myself … which was a clear pointer that something was afoot. The Kashmir Shaivism tradition has been the core inspiration of my sadhana for over twenty years. I could hardly believe the retreat was going to be a dive into this!
Well, the intensity of this excitement quickly morphed into irritation, as I was hearing a different—and to my mind inaccurate—interpretation of this teaching. Wow, what a rapid shift from desire to aversion! During this phase of the retreat, we were being asked to cultivate love and longing in the heart. Instead, the overwhelming emotion arising for me was anger, and it was intense. Not surprisingly, on first encounter with this energy, my attention was drawn into a mental narrative that was explaining and justifying the anger that was arising. However, the immensity of the anger really demanded I look closer and see what this really was… beyond the affliction. It became clear that the anger was a gesture of fierce protection of something that my heart loves dearly, namely the Kashmir Shaivism tradition and lineage that has granted me so much Grace. Of course, this softened the intensity, but there was more to uncloak. What was behind this was a subtler “costuming” of myself with this tradition and lineage. It became clear that there was an identification that was being clung to. I recognized this was still not truly Naked, that this costume also had to be surrendered. Well, we were off to the races.
Hiromi invited the initiation of a mantra practice. The phrase that arose, which wasn’t the mantra I would have anticipated, was hamsa… “I am That”. This began to enliven in the heart space and as it synched with breath there was the feeling of swinging back and forth through the heart. Ham, “I am”—the inhalation back to the immense emptiness “behind” the heart—swung forward with the exhalation sa, “That”, everything in “front” in manifest form. It was a forceful and tenacious experience that “I” wasn’t choosing, but rather it was happening. At a certain point, the ham morphed into nitya which means eternal or timeless and sa became ananda, or love. This persisted for a while and then ananda shifted to hridyam, or heart. The energetics were compelling and completely absorbing. At a certain point, this shifted and it was as if the entire energy of the universe was begin “flushed” through the heart, rushing “backwards” for a while. At some point, all of this settled and I became aware that the willingness to surrender the “costume” of my particular interpretation had allowed for a different power and understanding of the lineage and teaching.
To my surprise, given my tendencies to dance erratically with time, I found myself offering to be the bell ringer and the waker-upper. Sunday morning, I was waiting at the bell tower for the precise moment to ring. As the first bell of “Attention” rang, all of the sudden there was nothing but Knowing. Everywhere I looked, it was all just Knowing. It was seeing the face of God everywhere. Nothing changed, except this recognition that Knowing is everywhere in everything but not confined to anything.
During the morning qi gong session, Matt introduced a practice of “filling and emptying.” It was wildly simple. As one leg filled with a weight shift, the other became empty, became light. We “practiced” this for a few minutes at most before exploring other elements of the practice. At the time it didn’t seem any more interesting than anything else, until it did. Morning session closed and I was headed to the dining hall, grateful for another lovely meal. All of a sudden, I was stopped in my tracks, literally. I couldn’t move from where I stood. An unavoidable and fully non-volitional compulsion to walk to the dining hall in the same filling and emptying style from the morning qi gong practice arose. All I could do was walk that way. I tried to speed it up because I suspected it appeared odd. It was so slow, that I was worried it might delay others in the clearing of the lunch service. It really didn’t matter, there was simply no choice. Once the resistance settled, the walk became so compelling, particularly the vibrations of sensations. This is a deeply familiar realm of focus both in personal practice as well as in my way of teaching. Attention became fully fused with the vibrations of sensations as one leg filled and the other emptied. However, upon closer “seeing” it became extremely clear and self-evident that at the core of vibration is absolute and complete emptiness. There was simply nothing there.
Twenty minutes passed as “stepping into nothing” finally left me in the dining hall. My nervous system was quite shaky at this point… hands empty, the spoon was empty, the full pot of rice was empty, all of it was empty. How in the heck was I going to serve my plate?! The shakiness kind of stabilized into what might be described as a void in the center of the head that was free and clear of “my” head. The empty but vibrantly clear light of consciousness reached “forward and backward” without end. It was full center as “seeing,” regardless of what was being seen. Although the clarity of nothing was self-evident, during an afternoon walk, it was as though a fire hose of vibrating light and creative energy was flooding “forward” into creation. Empty, yet the complete opposite of inert, was recognized. The everything and the nothing, as Meher Baba described it, were simultaneously true.
The afternoon session revealed another gift in the treasure house. The invitation was to surrender whatever arose to the Beloved. The challenging question arose in my mind, “who is surrendering what to whom?!?” In response, it was like layers of gossamer silk were being pulled back from the heart center. As attention began tending to what was “beneath” the veiling, a deep and radiant pool of warm light was revealed. The more attentive attention became, the deeper and more radiant was the light. Although I have never contemplated the Radiant Heart, I don’t know how else to name this. It was so beautiful…
Everyone and everything was recognized as exquisitely and tenderly beautiful. Tears flowed that were somewhere between wonder, ecstasy and sorrow: “How could this be missed? I’m so sorry to have overlooked this.”
The Treasure House is certainly just that. As a beloved teacher, Bhagawan Nityananda, once uttered, “The Heart is the hub of all sacred places, go there and roam.” Thank you Hiromi and Matt for pointing home in myriad ways.
Photo by Bev Forster
Peaceful , damp, quiet… tall trees, oxygen, fresh energies — moss, ferns, Trilliums…ponds…
The woods are lovely fog and drips, woodpeckers banging…
Mantra spontaneously arising, inner resonance... Heart beat becomes mantra...
Kundalini and five Tibetans Yoga in the mornings on retreat — opening up my spine — kneeling and breathing rapidly in and out and pushing belly out and in with the breath, moving spine back and forth, loosened up my vertebrae — made space between and around a cranky disc — an amazing experience!
Crystal bowls and Tibetan bells — powerful — touched my core, soothing and expanding — energetic things around the bowls, bells — and Bev the wonderful bowl musician — and around Jay Yoga teacher, and around Hiromi and Matt, golden auras all —
Offer emotions back to the Divine —
Clarity in the quiet forest — and appreciation for my life —
Connection outside with the trees and the flowers, the bees, the birds, the frogs, the fish, the newts — the birds gorgeously singing in the dawns —
Found an astonishing Birch/Alder forest on a walk?! Frogs came out calling after I was there in stillness for a bit---I sat with them and with Hemlock, Bee, Trillium, and Fish. They all had messages for me and for us: Birch/Alder — resilience; Frog — courage; Hemlock — gentleness; Bee — perseverance; Trillium — Love, Joy, Trust; Fish — carry on.
Deep peace of the quiet Earth all around us —
As Hiromi often helps us remember, “How alive are you willing to live?”
A stellar retreat!
Photo by Bev Forster
The spring retreat was incredible! This was my first time at Cloud Mountain and I was stunned by its beauty! The brilliant chartreuse moss was awe-inspiring upon my arrival! I loved the beautiful trees, ponds, hidden alters, and steps up the hillside. The meditation hall was filled with stillness and sacredness.
It was wonderful having Hiromi leading the retreat alongside Matt. They worked so well together, we could feel the love and respect they have for each other, the yin and the yang, and we were blessed to be a part of their teachings. I appreciate how Matt and Hiromi include body work in their teaching. Breathing through specific parts of the body — throat, heart, abdomen, base of spine — helps me to be more in touch with where I hold tension. Being aware of contraction within the body helps in the process of letting it go through expansion. It helped me begin to release some very old traumas, and to stay in the present moment.
I loved Hiromi's singing! Talk about opening the heart — tears would flow as she sang. Singing the songs and mantras with the entire sangha was unbelievable.
By the second day, I actually felt my heart warming...dare I say softening?..opening? There's nothing like eliminating distractions to bring up emotions. I felt sadness and grief.
The silence, safety, and inner space provided at this retreat allowed me to feel the sadness that I have managed to stuff down inside me for decades. It was very painful at times and at other times the sadness turned into joy.
Hiromi was so pure and open-hearted that everyone seemed to be basking in her light. We are so blessed that she is now a teacher at the Center. I can relate to much of her path, and her amazing ability to share what she has gone through brings me insights into my own path. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to have a private meeting with Hiromi on solo day. I felt so comfortable sharing how I was feeling and felt understood and supported. She helped me gain deeper insight into my emotions and made suggestions for my practice.
This statement written on the 'Open Your Treasure House' retreat announcement was a good description for Hiromi and Matt's retreat: "We will become intimate with our hearts and delve into the deepest layers of innermost Self where the Divine resides eternally, beneath the layers of self-centered emotions and thoughts."
I felt that I touched upon this intimacy with my heart during the retreat. By repeating my single word mantra until it seemed to be coming directly from my heart, my painful and sad feelings (such as feeling that I have betrayed myself) transformed into all-encompassing love because I am love itself! Realizing this brought indescribable freedom, love, and honor.
Photo by Bev Forster
The spring retreat was my first but it will be far from my last. Like most newbies, I suppose, I was worried about the silence bit, but that proved to be easy and by far the best part of the experience. Five wordless (except for teachings) days made clear exactly how much distraction comes with everyday householder life and afforded the opportunity for the teachings and formal practice to seep deep into my bones/heart/mind/spirit.
The experience changed my life in both small and profound ways. This quantum leap forward on the path allowed me to set aside some delusions and attachments that had been plaguing me — for all my life, really. No small thing, that. In the days since, I have lived a calmer life (anxiety had been a constant companion), my heart has opened more deeply to beauty in nature, music, art, literature and just random sights, sounds and other sensations than ever before. On a more quotidian scale, I shifted my de-bedding hour to much earlier, reduced my time on social media, and now spend that time reading and writing and making more art. I even added more vegetarian meals to our household menus, as they add fun variety, and the food at Cloud Mountain was delicious! I'm new to CSS but I so appreciated the support and encouragement, even in silence, of the sangha.
Thanks to Hiromi for her fine planning and facilitation of this retreat, to Matt for assisting, to Laura for coordinating it, and to all who attended for the gift of your compassionate spirits.
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.
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