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.
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 four Brahma Viharas are loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. The foundation practice is metta, or loving-kindness, which cultivates a friendly and kind attitude towards ourselves, others and all experiences. When this caring heart meets suffering, it naturally responds with compassion. But the last Brahma Vihara, equanimity, the quality of calm acceptance, is necessary keep the heart in balance and open to all the joys and sorrows of our lives.
Metta, or loving-kindness, is the practice of cultivating a friendly and accepting attitude towards ourselves, our experience and all other beings. As we cultivate this quality through intensive practice, we can find that it can become our default response to life, rather than the conditioned habits of aversion, fear or grasping.
The role of concentration is central to the Buddha’s teaching. This can be seen by the emphasis placed on it in some of the key Buddhist lists, such as the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Spiritual Faculties, the Seven Factors Of Awakening and the 12 links of Transcendent Dependent Arising. This talk looks at the qualities we can develop in our practice that support concentration, such as faith, mindfulness, happiness and contentment.
Any time we practice mindfulness and wise attention, we are weakening the impact of the hindrances, and strengthening what are known as the five jhanic factors: meditative qualities that support the continuity and deepening of our meditation. Each of the jhanic factors actually balances and acts as an antidote to one of the hindrances. This talk looks at how to strengthen the jhanic factors, and use them skillfully as antidotes to the hindrances.
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.