Lately, my own practice is moving more and more into the monastic world. As I teach out of that nourishment, I find people hungry for the traditional, solid forms of the Dharma. I see people's lives changing when they engage in these forms. Certainly, as I deepen my own Sutta study, I find the traditional ideas so helpful it encourages me to delve further.
In this, I am learning how to ride the edge of a question, instead of reaching for answers. When I let the question hang there, as a living presence, its very aliveness stimulates movement toward an answer, an opening.
Some key factors imprint my teaching. The fact that I'm a purely Western-produced Dharma teacher, without the influence of Eastern traveling, and that I'm a middle-aged Western woman with a psychological background. Also, my years in a Christian practice now translate into my engagement with such ideas as embodiment: how do we take the practice and live it? What is practical in the Dharma, a sort of Buddhist Householder Hints.
From my perspective, the world is in serious trouble. We have separated ourselves from all other beings, and in the process do a lot that keeps us from being present. It is so urgent that we learn to be present and see what is true about our being here, that we live with kindness and compassion for all beings. Vipassana supports these intentions and helps us all heal, no matter what the eventual outcome may be.
Matthew Brensilver, PhD, served as a Buddhist chaplain at USC for four years and teaches about the intersection of mindfulness and mental health at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and with Mindful Schools. Matthew was trained by Noah Levine and teaches at Against the Stream. He is currently in the Spirit Rock/IMS teacher training program and regularly offers retreats at Spirit Rock and the Insight Retreat Center. He spent years doing research on addiction treatment at the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine and continues to be interested in the unfolding dialogue between dharma and science.
Matthew Daniell began Buddhist meditation in Asia in 1985. He practiced Zen in Japan, Tibetan Buddhism in India, and Insight Meditation in the United States, India, Burma, and Thailand, where he was an ordained monk for more than a year. His Asian teachers include Harada Roshi, Kalu Rinpoche, Dipama and Munindra. His Western teachers include Larry Rosenberg, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg. Matthew is a founder and the guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Center of Newburyport, Massachusetts (IMCNewburyport.org), and is a member of the Religious Services Department at Phillips Exeter Academy.
Melanie Waschke has had a Meditation practice since her early twenties. She has been deeply involved in the mindfulness practice taught by Thich Nhath Hanh, living in his retreat centers for over a year as well as doing a lot of long term practice in the Vipassana tradition worldwide. Currently she is part of the teacher training program led by Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and others. Melanie Waschke is a clinical psychologist, working in Germany. She teaches meditation in English and German.
I find that practitioners can practice Vipassana for a long time without paying attention to the role that fear plays in their lives. Living with fear that is unacknowledged leads to fragmentation in life and practice. I encourage people to look at the energy of fear, for fear can limit our access to freedom.
It is quite possible to diligently practice mindfulness, yet keep fear at a distance. Not becoming intimate with fear creates a dualism and complacency that gives a silent nod of approval to living with fear. When we begin to look at, and become friends with, our fear, we suddenly discover a lot more space in our lives.
In the larger picture, Vipassana offers us all a practice that goes counter to the tremendous cultural momentum around us of materialism and consumerism. With practice, we can learn how to take full responsibility for ourselves, and so pay attention to developing inner qualities capable of sustaining us as we navigate the shifting sands of life.
Because I've been teaching in Burma the last three years, I've been able to see how mindfulness can be nourished by a culture that supports the ancient liberation teachings and by daily experiences of happiness arising from acts of generosity, morality and renunciation. Thus the practice of Buddhism and the living of Buddhism are woven together in a seamless tapestry.
If there is anything that is most engaging to me now, it is the desire to bring this sublime way of life into our culture in the West.
What began as a deep compassion for the suffering of the existential predicament of human beings deepened as I understood that we need not identify with our experience. It is this understanding that has led me far onto the path of befriending others on their spiritual journey. My greatest inspiration is working with students wherever they are in the moment. We are all capable of so much more than suffering; once we learn how to be mindful, it's only a matter of remembering that it is the purity of intention which frees us. Dismantling the myth that we need to be something other than what we are is so important, because if we can learn to be mindful of exactly where we are, we experience the happiness of peace, which is what we deeply are.
My deepest appreciation is for the joy of the spiritual adventure. The purity of mindfulness, which soothes our sophisticated, intellectual, analytical, and out-of-touch-with-our-bodies mindset, is the moment we remember to pay attention without embellishment, interpretation or judgment. That moment becomes overwhelmingly touching because it brings us what we most wish for, unconditional love and peace. This truth, this purity of intention is what brings us home.