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Some Paths are Best Traveled in Silence

Sangha at Open Mind Zen Center, in Naples

Sangha at Open Mind Zen Center, in Naples

To slow down a mind that chatters incessantly, spewing out criticisms, comparisons, anticipations, expectations and interpretations that interfere with what is, Southwest Floridians are using silent retreats that may include periods of sitting meditation and/or prayer, perhaps accompanied by walking meditation or other mindful movements.

Cutting away the fat from the bones that the mind relishes chewing on requires a consistent practice, patience and compassion. Natural Awakenings turned to local meditation centers and residents that attend silent retreats to determine how the practice of silence can impact life.

Open Mind Zen Center

Spending extended periods of time immersed in silent practice is an instrumental part of meditation practice at the Open Mind Zen Center. “Entering silence consciously is very different than accidental encounters. We understand that by choosing silence, any noise we encounter is our own, and can be skillfully worked with. In Zen, we call this ‘noble silence’. We decide to remove ourselves from external noise, turn inward and meet our own minds and hearts. What we find may be a profound stillness; a gateway to an inner quiet that we’ve been craving our whole lives,” explains Laurie Lyons, founder of the center, who notes that while a silent practice can be a difficult thing to do on our own, Zen practitioners take refuge in sangha, a community of practitioners. “What we also may find is a mind that’s quite full and doesn’t want to be still or quiet, but since we’ve chosen to meet this mind, we work with it. We return to the breath, the experience of this body in the moment. We do this again and again.”

The sangha intentionally enters noble silence together. “Even though we aren’t speaking, making eye contact or physical contact, we are holding each other in a very intimate way. We are all in this together, which makes it possible. At Open Mind Zen, we offer monthly zazenkai, which means come together for meditation, as a wonderful opportunity to engage in deep practice for a whole day with the support of experienced teachers and a like-minded community,” advises Lyons. “With this support and with practice, deep inner quiet is available to anyone who is intent on looking for it. It’s in our nature, which means that in reality, it’s never more than a breath away. We only have to realize what’s always been.”

In a zazenkai full-day silent retreat from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the center, the sangha sits for 30 minutes to notice and let go of thoughts, images and external distractions. The group rises for a five-minute walking meditation and then returns to 30 minutes of sitting. There is a break for a short yoga or relaxation session, as well as for lunch. The afternoon is a repeat of the morning, and the day ends with a dharma talk on the teachings of the Buddha.

Jean McCullough, a Naples resident and full-time housekeeper for an elderly widowed gentleman, has been meditating in monthly sangha zazenkai at Open Mind Zen for nearly a year. She also participates with another sangha study group at the Shambhala Meditation Center, in St. Petersburg, Florida. Describing the commonalities of the two centers, McCullough notes that the nuts and bolts of the day of silence are similar, with silent sitting broken by periods of walking meditation, one teaching a day and a group discussion on a particular topic, such as unconditional compassion.

The Mind as Ally

A six-week course in the teachings of 19th-century Tibetan teacher Jamgön Kongtrül, offered by the Shambala Gampo Abbey, in Nova Scotia, Canada, taught McCullough to use her challenges and difficulties to awaken genuine, earnest compassion. “The teachings, combined with the practice of silence, have helped me. I get less entangled in my old triggers, see people more realistically and recognize that mind can serve the heart as an ally, rather than as a foe,” she says.

Dominick Tascher

Dominick Tascher, a Naples resident and Realtor for MVP Realty, has been meditating for 22 years. In 2009, he became part of the Open Mind Zen Center sangha. “I developed an interest in Zen Buddhism when I began reading books written by the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The koan used in Zen has always intrigued me. These paradoxical anecdotes or riddles demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment,” says Tascher.

Less Reacting

“I’ve come to love silence. My career requires a lot interaction with many people. In my personal life, I enjoy time with friends and like to balance it with solitude. The more I practice silence and solitude, the more like it. After a three-day solitary retreat in June, re-entry required a couple of days of adjustment,” notes Tascher, who also participates in Fred Eppsteiner’s Florida Community of Mindfulness sangha and silent retreats in Tampa. Eppsteiner is the principal teacher, in the tradition of Hanh.

“Meditation changed my life personally and professionally. I react less and feel less anxious and frustrated, because I have no attachments to outcomes. I’m much more relaxed with what is, and I’m a better listener, as I’m no longer thinking about what my response will be to someone’s comments,” says Tascher.

A Multiplied Effect

Linda Mundt, a Bonita Springs resident and feng shui practitioner, has been participating in silent retreats for four decades. Since 2010, the weeklong silent retreats she has attended at different locations have been sponsored by the Tergar Meditation Community under the guidance of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master.  “Originally, my interest in silent retreats was a matter of curiosity. Today, I love them, and since 2010 have been appreciating the multiplied effect of hundreds of people meditating together. I appreciate the camaraderie and support I sense with people intentionally focused on learning together and meditating in silence,” advises Mundt.

Describing the personal impact of practicing silence alone and in a large group, Mundt says, “I don’t feel remotely like the same person I was 10 years ago. I didn’t stop being that person. I simply added skills to my repertoire and changed my perspective on many things. It’s like learning advanced algebra. You don’t lose the basic principles, you accumulate more knowledge and understanding,” explains Mundt, who is also a member of the Open Mind Zen Center sangha.

Kelsang Chopag, resident teacher of the Samudrabadra Kadampa Center in Fort Myers, advises, “Meditation is more powerful with a sangha, as you are literally supported by the practice and the energy of others. Buddha said that if you are trying to sweep a room and have only one bristle, it takes a long time. When you put a number of bristles together, you can sweep the room quickly.” Chopag notes that classes are offered at the Fort Myers center and silent retreats at the Kadampa Meditation Center in Sarasota, a world peace center for meditation and modern Buddhism.

Open Mind Zen Center, 250 Tamiami Tr. N., Ste. 205, Naples. For more information, call 239-961-2491 or visit OpenMindZenNaples.com.

Florida Community of Mindfulness, GreenMonkey Yoga, 6200 Trail Blvd., Naples. For more information, visit FloridaMindfulness.org.

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