My focus in teaching is to provide the support that students need to turn their life to the dharma, to truth, and to find ways to come out of their pain and suffering. The retreat experience is an invaluable aid to this exploration; however, what matters more is how one integrates this under- standing into everyday life.
I care that students see through the illusory wall between formal meditation and their daily life. Then, what remains is a meditative attitude to all that occurs.
Vipassana practice helps us to become respectful and caring towards ourselves and others. This generates the conditions of mind and heart that allow us to awaken to the truth of who we are, rather than believing in our limited assumptions. As we see the impersonal nature of our own mind, we then experience a deep engagement with life that allows for a complete transformation of the heart. When we know this deeply, we can no longer unconsciously engage in actions that will lead to suffering and the ongoing destruction of our planet.
As a teacher, I am accessible and able to meet people at an intimate level. I am interested in how the language that we use can show where we are holding on. I look to the concepts about reality that people believe in as the key that unlocks the door to liberating insight. People can easily discount their experiences and forget that they hold the seeds to liberation, that the wisdom is already within them. As people speak what is in their hearts, affirmation brings about the confidence needed to take the next step, which can often seem confusing and daunting as one walks into the unknown territory of the mind.
Sky Dawson has practiced vipassana meditation since 1981, and also has extensive experience in hospice and palliative care in Western Australia. She has taught at IMS for several years and is now the Teacher-in-Residence at IMS's Forest Refuge.
Stephen has been a Buddhist practitioner for over 30 years, and is authorized to teach by the eminent Burmese meditation master, Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. Described as having a compassionate no-nonsense style, he finds fulfillment in supporting students as they discover deeper authenticity in the acceptance of a loosening self-definition in the process of purifying the mind. This deepening authenticity leads to a more profound, experiential knowing and appreciation of the magnificent complexity of the Buddha's teachings.
My biding motivation for the practice of teaching is to share my interest, my understanding and my confidence in the Buddha's way for a balanced and deeply happy life. Given the pace of our culture and the direction in which it is going, mindfulness is essential to sanity. Since my first vipassana retreat in 1975, I've experienced the wisdom of sanity, peace and freedom.
Now, the challenge in sharing the dhamma is to translate the Buddha's understanding into an idiom that speaks to the whole of our lives. As practice matures, the focus in guiding others shifts from informing the skeptic, inspiring the depressed and doubtful, soothing the suffering, energizing the lazy, cautioning the ambitious to discovering the subtler sources of suffering and happiness in our understanding and behavior. With deepening vipassana insight, students joyfully and confidently disentangle their minds.
In all of this, what sustains me as a teacher is the unwavering confidence that mindfulness is the source of our healing, sanity and freedom. Vipassana practice offers us a perspective on reality that is liberating, both personally and at every level of human interaction. Initially, my unwavering commitment was to the practice. Now my commitment includes service in sharing the dhamma and wherever possible informing, inspiring and encouraging others in the practice.
Susan O'Brien has been practicing vipassana meditation since 1980 and has studied with a variety of Asian and Western teachers. She began teaching in 1996 and coordinates the Insight Meditation correspondence course.
A pervasive but often invisible source of suffering in our culture is self-aversion. We are a busy culture, and we move through our life feeling anxious and dissatisfied, but not fully conscious of how we neglect or judge our inner experience. We suffer from a lack of belonging: to our own bodies, to each other and to the earth. When we practice Buddhist meditation, we learn how to listen deeply and hold our life tenderly.
The open space of compassion allows us to realize that our thoughts and emotions are not who we are; they are waves in our ocean. This gives us the freedom to live more wisely and love more fully.
For over thirty-five years, I've been exploring the awakening of awareness with yoga, meditation, a clinical psychology practice and relationships in spiritual community (sangha). Since the untying of emotional knots is an essential part of "waking up," it is natural for me to weave these elements into my Buddhist practice and teaching. With formal practice, and a genuine engagement in sangha, we can cultivate the qualities of heart and awareness that allow for deep emotional healing and spiritual freedom.
Buddhism guides us in slowing down, quieting and paying attention in an honest and caring way. Through our mindfulness and compassion practices, we establish a sense of intimacy and belonging to our life. We discover that there is no Buddha "out there." Rather, we realize that our true refuge is the wakefulness, openness and love of our own natural awareness.
Thanissara, originally from London, was a nun for 12 years in the tradition of Ajahn Chah and has taught internationally the last 30 years. She is co-founder and director of Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat, South Africa and has an MA in Mindfulness Psychotherapy Practice from the UK. She is co-author of Listening to the Heart, A Contemplative Guide to Engaged Buddhism, author of Time To Stand Up, An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth, and several books of poetry. She currently lives in the North Bay, California and teaches at IMS and Spirit Rock.