More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
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.
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.