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Ven. Dr. Pannavati, a former Christian pastor, is co-founder and co-Abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, NC. A black, female Buddhist monk ordained in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions with Vajrayana empowerments and transmission from Roshi Bernie Glassman of Zen Peacemakers, she is both contemplative and empowered for compassionate service.
An international teacher, she advocates on behalf of disempowered women and youth globally, and insists on equality and respect in Buddhist life for both female monastics and lay sangha. She was a 2008 recipient of the Outstanding Buddhist Women’s Award.
In 2009, she received a special commendation from the Princess of Thailand for Humanitarian Acts and she ordained Thai Bhikkhunis, on Thai soil with Thai monks as witnesses.
In May 2010 she convened a platform of Bhikkhunis to ordain the first 10 Cambodian Samaneris in a Cambodian temple, witnessed by Cambodian abbots including Maha Thera Ven. Dhammathero Sao Khon, President of the Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks of the USA.
Ven. Pannavati continues to visit Thailand each year, ordaining, training, offering support for the nuns and assisting in their projects. In 2013 she arranged for 500 books to be sent to both elementary and secondary schools in Rayong. She is also raising funds to improve security at the compounds, as this is an utmost concern in some areas of Thailand.
Pannavati is a founding circle director of Sisters of Compassionate Wisdom, a 21st century trans-lineage Buddhist Order and Sisterhood formed by Ani Drubgyuma in 2006.
In 2011, Venerable adopted 10 “untouchable” villages in India, vowing to help them establish an egalitarian community based on Buddhist principles of conduct and livelihood, providing wells, books, teachers and micro-loans for women. Approximately 30,000 people live in these villages. She has sent funds to complete their first educational center.
Ven. Pannavati founded My Place, Inc. in Hendersonville, NC, which has housed more than 75 homeless youth between the ages of 17 and 23 over the past 4 years. That effort has evolved into a separate 501(c)(3) which has its own academic platform, jobs training program, residential program and social enterprise, My Gluten Free Bread Company.
She remains committed to advocacy for the homeless, sick and disenfranchised, those who are marginalized, abused, neglected and unloved. She loves the Dhamma, lives the Dhamma and teaches the Dhamma internationally.
Note: Following is a transcript (not word for word) of the podcast interview.
Interview with Ven. Pannavati
What brought you to where you are today?
She’s asked that question a lot since she used to be a Christian pastor. There didn’t used to be much meditation in Christian practice, but now there is some contemplative time in the Christian diaspora. She didn’t have a problem with God or Jesus, but she did have a problem with you.
She found a disconnect between the heart and her mind.
There were modes of being that she wanted to abandon.
The short version is that she began to pray and ask for guidance on what she needed to do. And the answer she got, was that she needed to look outside of Christianity. That there was another way to find or come into a place that she was seeking.
It took her some 15 years, before she found the Dharma. She loved the reading.
She needed to rely on herself to come into the fullness of who she is. If she did this work, then she could transform and do what she wanted to do. Learning meditation was easy for Pannavati. But she used to sit in silence waiting for an answer from the Lord, but now she could become aware in silence of pure presence.
With presence she found a certain wisdom comes with that. She learned that she could enter into a space where everything becomes clear. There is a settledness and clarity of heart. She could just simply see. And in that seeing she’s informed, what’s happening, and what her role is in it, and what’s required.
So its’ in the doing of meditation that it becomes clear and it becomes apparent. There’s a settling down that occurs, there’s a stilling of thought. And in that stillness there is a certain vastness of consciousness. An expansion of insight, understanding, and awareness.
And if you immerse yourself in it, you come out with a different view.
It’s like the scientists who are trying to find a solution to a problem, and after laying down, and wake up, and they get it. Meditation is like that for wisdom.
Tuition is information coming from the outside, but there is also intuition, that which rises from the inside. But we have to go there to tap and access that faculty to be better and more present.
What do you think of the difference between waiting and being present?
I think of waiting more of waiting for an answer or to empower. But the waiting I speak of with meditation is different, it’s like a waiter standing not too close, not too far. He’s very present. He’s just waiting for the glass to move. There is something very pregnant in that presence. Right there, seeing deeply. Meditation is not relaxing, it’s an active type of engagement, investigating the structure of appearances.
I like the word attending to the present and paying attention to what is going on in our minds, hearts.
Yes, she likes that word too. Being a mother, she knows what it is like to attend. The connection with a baby goes beyond the gross level. Even if you’re in another room, you can sense that on an energetic level. Where do you really end? Do I end here at the end of my skin? Once you become attuned to another person, you can know how another person is thinking and feeling. Because don’t just end with our skin.
Yes, we’re so trained to think we end with the boundary of our skin bag..
And if we stop right there, then of course there is the automatic setup for me, mine, and everybody else. But if we can tap experientially into the interconnectedness that we have, it will change the focus of our thoughts, the way we think about things, and think about others. We’ll start to be able to consider others as yourself.
Just because we have such a rigid dividing line between others and myself, that we have so many problems. I don’t want to be separate from others. When I put myself in their place, then I come away with a different idea of what’s required in the way I interact and engage.
How has this progression been from prayer to meditation, and then from Mahayana to Theravada?
Pannavati actually went from Mahayana Buddhism to Theravada Buddhism. She loves the devotion aspect of Mahayana Buddhism, it allowed her to open her heart. Being vulnerable, in it we find our true strength, as human beings. But then she got a copy of the Therevada’s Majjhima Nikaya the middle length discourses.
When she read it is was so clear. She didn’t have a heart problem, but her mind/understanding was not fruitful. Her mind couldn’t always live in the field of the heart. She needed something to train/tune the mind. And she found it there in the Buddhist teachings, this wonderful mind training. Learning to look inside. Learning to be an island onto herself.
While she can’t control what happens in the external world, but she can control her response to it.
And therein lies the freedom. Therein lies the liberation from the mental suffering, how I see and respond to the present moment.
And of course talk is cheap (laughs). We can talk all day long, but in the moment when I really need it to rescue me, is it there? And that is where practice of course comes in.
So we practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.
We don’t know that we have it, until the moment arises where we have to live it. Then we can know that there might be more work to do in that area. No harm no fowl. No guilt associated with that, just clear seeing. Then that eliminates that whole area around falling short, missing the mark, guilt, shame, sin, etc. It has no place, it is about seeing clearly, understanding the causes and conditions. Whether I was skillful or unskillful. Volitional or not. Whether able to apply restraint, living with integrity and responding. So it’s interesting and wonderful, and so full you don’t have any time to focus on anybody else.
How has your practice evolved over time. You’re able to let go of some of those old ingrained patterns. It’s very liberating to let that go. Do you still find some of those old habit patterns peaking through?
Oh yes, everyday I find some old habit pattern that comes up. This is the work, you just keep looking. In the beginning I didn’t expect to see that many, but I used to think whatever is wrong it’s out there. (laughs). I have now accepted that maybe there is some wrong view in here. And if I adjust how I see something, than I can also adjust my response to it.
Here’s the thing, if we become OK with ourselves. But this practice also helps to not blame and shame others. Your whole life shifts into an ease dimension, where were you can go for days and weeks without a sense of crossness, getting upset, not feeling depressed, or in sorrow, anger etc. Just seeing what today brings, and handling it to the best of your ability. And then you can just reflect, I can improve on that. And endeavor to improve it.
The capacity for improvement increases in direct proportion to the eradication of guilt and shame.
There’s a certain acceptance that takes place, which I think frees up resources. instead of the barrage of self-criticism.
Yes, it’s harder because we’re such an individualistic oriented society. Achievement, being the greatest, the best, having the most. Compelling us to this neurosis. Whereas in other countries there is a more communal way of living. We’re just coming to terms with that in this young society, we’re still adolescents!
We’re having to learn this kind of coming together, that’s all this diversity conversation. I like to talk about unification of mind. A lot can be accomplished the more we see our commonalities. And engage one another. Being able to hold someone else’s view the same I hold mine. I respect my view, can I respect yours?
And if I think it is un-beneficial view, then have I developed any skillfulness to lay out an alternative way of thinking and looking at something. But if I come at you fighting.
Yeah it just escalates. I like inner disarmament.
You’ve talked about meditation, and how it affected your life, at some point you brought it out into the world as well. Maybe we can talk about how you bring your practice into your daily life. You started ordaining women in other countries that don’t allow ordination of women, how did that work out?
When did you leave Christianity and become this. For me I just kept going on the path. If I’d been a catholic I would have been a missionary, fundraising to pay off the church. I wanted to engage more with people, and found a heart for people, being a Pentecostal and charismatic. So when I became a Buddhist 15 years later. There was great understanding, but I was looking for something that became dynamic and alive, heart in it. So I started doing what I did as a Christian.
In the beginning she’d get messages that monastics don’t do this, monastics don’t do that. People are my forest. Just made herself available. You send out a beacon, and it makes that sound, and it’s the drawing from that sound. So I just made the “I’m available sound”. She got a call from Thailand from a nun. She had someone connect with her who needed someone strong, who wasn’t timid or faint of heart, of making a change to the tradition.
Ok, so she came and helped. Pannavati serves a purpose, employing skillful means to do something useful and beneficial. Being African-american, Pannavati has a view about some things. She learned that, “If you see an opportunity for your freedom, don’t bother to ask your master, just seize it”.
She didn’t really subscribe to the notion of asking so much for the monks to accept to set in a lineage again. If the council says no, she’d use another door. They were able to use our wonderful sisters in the Mahayana tradition. Both of their lineages are Dharmagupta. She’s there to represent the Therevada. We were able to ordain them. Now we have full platforms with the the Therevadins. It has now been established, as of 2014, we have 35 nuns, or female monks. She doesn’t like the way nuns/women get diminished so she prefers to be called monk.
Males are called Bhante, which means revered teacher. Women are called Anne, which means Ante, or sister. So right there that sets an idea in motion amongst all of the people of the society in terms of worthiness. So I refer to myself as a female monk. Not from prideful thinking, just being clear and validating. Otherwise they take on that role, but they still act like ante and sister.
It seems like somehow that crept in a long time ago, based on a over-emphasis on appearances?
Yes, it is. And that’s why the Buddha cautions us to set a watch, the first part of our practice to draw our gaze in. To be careful to avoid we say sexual misconduct (3rd precept), but it really means sensual misconduct. Which means, don’t take everything you see, hear as gospel truth.
Example, of someone taking something out of context, because they only heard the tail-end of a conversation. She reminded them to not take too much stock in what you hear. You have to be careful of the assumptions that we draw, from the limited information that we got.
If we get in the habit of not doing that, we’ll have more happy peaceful minds, won’t be busybodies. We can then even overlook a slight!
These are the ways we suffer, like when you made to be feel invisible. Now it’s not that important to me, I can leave it at that, let it go. It’s not just meditation, but mindfulness as well.
We talk about mindfulness. We’re already mindful, it’s always attached to something. If we forget that, we run off on tangents, we won’t have the whole picture. A sociopath is extremely mindful. But where is his attention? And what other factors form that intention. And his developmental cultivation of compassion and care.
So there’s this 8 fold path of which mindfulness is just one aspect of that. But there’s these other 7 that we have to tend to, starting with “right view”. If I’m still suffering, there is some wisdom I can tap into to become better. So you seek out one who is wise. Hear what they have to say. And don’t just accept it, put it in the cauldron of your own experience. Investigate and see.
Yes, always verify with your own experience and practice.
In terms of mindfulness, what do you think about the new mindfulness craze and it’s de-coupling from the rest of the wisdom tradition?
Yes, absolutely. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful that mindfulness has become popular. But, if you take something out of it’s container, some of the efficacy is lost. And some of the benefit is lost… Yet, there has been some exposure. So i’m happy that mindfulness perhaps has moved mainstream, but we still have work to do.
Happy to see that there are other teachers, are trying to point to the complementary practices, and the deeper teachings of the sages. So that we can be all-around better, not just better with our themes. One of the reasons why we’re opening up the Balsam mountain refuge. To make sure that a more complete teaching is introduced into mainstream society, without using a Buddhist label. Or being able to tap into this universal wisdom that come out of another spiritual tradition. Being to be with one another, and discuss things, instead of coming and going with all silence, and you come and go just with your thoughts, or empty mind back into the same environment.
Good friends in the Dharma is the whole of spiritual life. The only time that we have a time to connect is when we come together at retreats. Ex. rural areas, or just coming and going to dharma centers without real connections taking place. So we think this Dharma center will bring us more back to a middle road place.
Here we all come together in silence, and not be in communion with each other. Buddha was the exact opposite, he talked about the 10 conversations we can have together.
The other thing I wanted to ask was how you’re helping the “untouchables”, the Dalit. The caste system, where people take a teaching and twist it around, and corrupt from the understanding of equality. It looks like you’ve been helping level that playing field.
I didn’t realize that this was still going on after the anti-atrocity law (the Anti-Atrocity Act) was passed to put that to rest. But people are still in that long held custom. So the Dalits have renamed themselves to “the broken people”. And we do go there, and even though they say untouchability doesn’t exist, it still does. Like when a Brahma gets the shadow from a Dalit that he is considered polluted. Buddha tried to change that erroneous understanding back when he lived. It’s not by your virtue of birth that your status as a human is known, but by what you do in your life. So even in that day, he was working in his own way against the understanding one person being more worthy than the other just based on birth. And of course we have similar views including our own country.
Laws are for people, people are not for laws. The only way you can change that is how you relate to one another through the heart. So I get more from them than they get from me. They’re so kind and gentle, it’s a pleasure to work with them, on what they are working on.
So I take a team once or twice a year, and we do what we call “bearing witness” retreats, just showing up. Not telling what they need or teaching Dharma, but coming in solidarity with them, asking them to tell us what they need. Before we can teach anything they need water! So we’d do a well project, and then a sewer project, health program. So we have doctors that come and train on how to deal with sanitation, toilets, health and books. So one thing leads to another, but just from people touching people.
So it’s teaching dharma outside of words, in the way you’re being and in your actions…
Yes, it’s just living it (living the teaching, as opposed to just talking about it). Yes, I was in a school, and this person was suspicious of us being there (based on a disappointing experience with a group coming in to “help” years earlier). But when we came in there were 68 children, leaky roofs, and no toilets. So we started repairing, doing different things.
She wanted our help, and yet there was still that wall (based on her expectation from the past experience). And then finally last year, she said, “I just wanted to say, that the last group thought us about God, but now I see God”. What she was saying it wasn’t just talk, just doing something.
There was a heart-to-heart engagement that went beyond any physical thing we were doing, but really being One. And I think that is what we are longing for.
We don’t know it, but we try to satisfy that longing with things, from degrees to cars. When there is really something else that the heart is yearning for, that is that interconnection with all other beings.
And the sense of belonging?
Knowing who we really are. If I think I’m less than what I am, then I don’t function fully. But if I know who I truly am, I function fully. Then there is no sense of deficiency. A happiness and confidence comes with that. That life has meaning. I can seize the essence of a human, I can see the essence, and the preciousness of a human life.
And then everything becomes precious then…
Yes…And this world that is a hell realm becomes a Buddha land.
That’s another trap then. We want to get out of this world, there might be a better one after.
Yeah. The Buddha said, that whatever the seeds you plant that is the tree that’s gonna grow. So you don’t have to be striving and praying to get to heaven. Yeah, you plant good seeds and there’s going to be a good destination. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to ask anyone can you get in, just plant the seeds and then water.
Do you have one or two more tips you want to tell people listening for the listener who would like to be more at peace with themselves and connected to the world.
Yes, you just said it….listen. If we just open ourselves up to listen to others, without crafting our response while they’re speaking. without thinking they don’t know I’m ,the one who knows. Without tearing apart how they said it, manufacturing in our minds why we think they said it, etc. If we can just learn to develop the practice of listening. Being able to hold our tongue and our thoughts for a few minutes, then our understanding can grow, and we can be better at how we respond.
That is part of what meditation teaches us. It teaches us to take that pause, have that down time, instead of that knee jerk reaction. We’ll become happier, our hearts become healthier. And we’ll be friendlier.
Thanks so much!
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Interview with Ed Earl – Mindfulness and Sustainable Design
Ed Earl is the principal of Priority 1 Projects, a construction project management firm. Ed has 25 years of construction experience and an MBA from Stanford university. He is pioneering a new approach to construction project management he terms “collaborative construction” which is based on open communication, trust and shared objectives – aspects that are often absent in the construction industry. Ed has been a regular meditator for over 20 years and has been attending meditation retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh since 1997. Ed is currently the project manager for the construction of a new nunnery complex at Deer Park Monastery in San Diego which incorporates sustainable design and green building techniques including straw bale construction.
What brought you to a meditation practice?
About 20 years ago in his 30’s Ed went through a period of exploration. He was raised as a catholic. Ed was looking for meaning, and exploring spiritual traditions, in particular Eastern religions. His wife and him spend time in Nepal taking meditation and Yoga classes.
He found a book by Thich Nhat Hanh on walking meditation before his trip to Nepal. Thich Nhat Hanh was having a retreat in Santa Barbara in 1997. That was his first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, and Ed has since gone on a lot of retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh or in the Plum Village tradition. So most of Ed’s practice is in this tradition/lineage.
Drew & James Hubbell with Thich Nhat Hanh
Was there anything in this new spiritual practice that you didn’t get from your wisdom tradition that you were brought up in?
He read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh , Living Buddha, Living Christ, which gave him a much deeper understanding of Christianity and Catholicism, that he didn’t get from 12 years of education. Thich Nhat Hanh does a great job of explaining Christ consciousness, putting Christianity and Catholicism in a context that was much more meaningful to Ed.
It’s more about becoming more deeply grounded and connected and strengthened to your root religion or faith.
So at some point in your practice you wanted to apply these mindfulness trainings into your daily life, your career, and this “right livelihood” was a bit of a struggle to integrate right?
Ed took the 5 mindfulness trainings in 1999, they’re guidelines, not commandments that you try to live by. No one can commit to them 100%.
Right livelihood was always a struggle for Ed. He was in construction for 20 years. He was not necessarily in a career that was harmful, or completely out of alignment. Just not necessarily incorporating his mindfulness practices in his profession.
So let that dissonance sit there, and not resolve it as much. It wasn’t until about 2014, where he was asked to help and get involved in a construction project at Deer park monastery in Escondido, a monastery that was created and directed by Thich Nhat Hanh. That was able to show him a way to bring and incorporate right livelihood into his daily life, and his professional career.
Maybe you can explain this a bit more, how you bring mindfulness into your construction job?
One of the mindfulness training is about mindful communications. It’s about deep listening, and loving speech, or mindful communication. And much of construction is not necessarily about deep speech and listening (laughs).
With this project, Ed felt he had the freedom to practice these concepts, since the clients are the monastics who follow the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, so this was a good opportunity for me to practice deep communications.
Normally, when you have a bid meeting, you meet with each of the candidates privately, and then have them prepare a proposal.
Strawbale House Raising
This time they wanted a more collaborative and cooperative meeting, so they invited all the contractors together, not privately or competitively. So they invited 5 or so of them and arranged them in a circle, and began the meeting with a mindfulness bell in the center of the room, and rang the bell. Ed explained to the contractors how we use this bell to go back to our breath, and re-center yourselves. Don’t need to do anything, when you hear the bell, just close your eyes, follow your breath in and out a few times. Any time that a bell rings, we invited them to bring their mindfulness back to their breath.
And bells go off in the monastery, and they invited them to stop and go back to their breaths.
This was interesting with burly contractors with boots, and a bit skeptical. Some of them really took to it, and went inward, and saw this as a useful tool for them. Especially for contractors, where there is a lot of pressure, working against deadlines, stress, unanticipated circumstances, etc.
We all wanted to have everyone work together, incorporate more than one contractor in the same project. Each of them had their own special strengths to contribute. If anything and they didn’t want to go through it, they’d have a new method of stress reduction out of it.
One of the contractors invited was a high-end custom home contractor, and he didn’t think his bid would work. Because his level of quality would not result in a low cost bid.
Ed told him that the perspective of Thich Nhat Hanh and the nuns and monks, they don’t look at things in terms of expedience, months and years, and how cheap can we do it. They are looking at the project in terms of generations from now, 50 years from now. What’s in the best interest of the monastery as a whole. They’re looking at the longer-term perspective, looking at the cost of the environment, the surrounding areas, and really the impact on the entire word. That’s looking through the lens of interdependence, and inter-being.
So they’re not looking for cheap, they want it to last, and craftsmanship. So Ed encouraged him to bid on it, with his approach. So the contractor submitted his bid, and he ended up with the job. This was the first introduction to incorporating mindfulness concepts, not just in the way the meeting was structured, but in the way the bid proposals were invited and evaluated.
Collaborative Strawbale House Raising
You also mention mindful consumption, how would someone understand that in terms of building a house with corner cutting vs a house that sustainable designed with health and long-term well being in mind?
The sisters wanted a straw-bale structure (part of 4 structures). Which means it is using straw-bale for insulation. Straw Bale is an environmentally sensitive and in tune material. First of in the materials it uses. The walls inside are made of straw which is different from hay. It wheat or rice farming by-product.
First aspect of a straw bale building:
These are the dead stalks, baled and stacked up, and that is what is used inside the walls. Straw is an agricultural waste product, and you’re just re-purposing it, as well as recycled wood and other green building materials.
The second aspect of a straw bale building.
If designed properly and in a sustainable way, you can minimize your energy consumption. Because you now have this super-insulated structure. Hubble and Hubble is the architect, using sustainable design, very well known in Southern California. Sustainable design looks at building structures in a different way.
I’ve build very high end homes, and typically when you build a fancy custom home, you clear a piece of ground, and just place the building where you want it to be. Then you make the surrounding serve the building.
Whereas with green sustainable building, you look at it completely differently. Looking at the way the sun comes across the land, the way the prevailing breezes come and go. The structure is laid down in a way that is compatible with the structure and it’s surroundings. That is the way a straw bale building is build.
Using passive solar design techniques, you build it with large overhanging eves roofs, to prevent the heat from building up, and the sun from getting in during the summer. Whereas in the winter the sun helps heat the structure, using south facing windows. The winter sun comes in through, and warms the building. The super insulated straw bale walls then help to keep the warmth in, using a lot less heating and cooling costs.
Strawbale Construction Team
Heating and cooling cost way down right?
Yes, lot of less energy usage. And there’s also lots of natural lighting, so not as much need for electrical lighting. You’re causing a much smaller foot print for the building. Lots of solar tubes, and sunroofs. Then there is a solar array on the property as well, so that the electricity that is used, is being generated from the sun.
How does inter-being fit into this construction work?
Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term inter-being that everything in the world, and in life is interconnected. TNH tells, when you drink a cup of tea, you’re connected to the clouds and the sky. Because the water in your cup came from the water in the sky. So when you’re drinking tea, you’re in a sense drinking your cloud. Everything is inter-related.
In sustainable design and architecture, you also see that everything is also inter-related as well. You realize that your building structure isn’t just sitting on an island by itself, but it inter-relates with all of the natural conditions that are around it. And is designed accordingly.
Another example, we’re using rainwater catchment system and gray water system that re-uses the waste water. Everything is designed currently to drain off into storm drains into the ocean, to prevent flooding, as though water is the enemy. But the fact is that water is precious. Water is a commodity that we want to respect, and utilize.
Especially here in Southern California where we have a big drought going on. We want to capture and reuse the water, and recycle as much as we can. Because we realize it’s connected to our environment, connected to our land, something we need to realize. To inter-be with that water. Not just to treat it as this foreign substance, and get rid of the water as quickly as possible.
For the residents there must be a great benefit in terms of well being and comfort, and health that you get from this natural building?
Yes, you have this symptoms of sick home syndromes due to these man-made materials that we have in our homes today. Whether it’s the off gassing from VOC paints with lots of aromas, fiberglass isolation, sealants etc. All of that is sending fumes into our homes. And we’re indoors spending a lot of our life, breathing all these pollutants.
With building straw bale homes, you eliminate so many of these man made materials. You don’t put gypsum Sheetrock and Portland cement stucco on your inside and outside walls for example. Instead you use earth and clay plaster, that allows the moisture to escape, which allows the walls to breathe.
The walls are colored with different earth and clay plaster, with different color clay’s, so there’s no paint on the walls either. No, stucco, no sheet-rock, no fiberglass insulation, that causes indoor poor air quality.
Think about what it takes to manufacture all those materials! The carbon footprint you create by manufacturing these materials. Now you’ve eliminated all that.
We’ve gone back to building like we did 2000 years ago, where homes were also built out of mud and straw. At the end of the day, you can easily take it down, without big consequences, it will just be re-absorbed by the earth.
What about it being washed away by rain?
Yes you have to design the buildings in a way to protect it with large overhangs. And you can easily patch it with earth and clay. It’s actually easier than re-patching drywall holes. You just sponge it back into it, it’s a self-healing plaster.
Another benefit of straw bale homes. These walls are 18 inches thick with solid dense straw. These are not just amazingly insulated well from a thermal standpoint, but also acoustically from a sound standpoint as well. There’s a stillness and quiet that is created by these structures.
At some primordial level, when we walk in such a room, I also believe that our body senses that our bodies are surrounded by natural materials. And so our body subconsciously relaxes. It just really puts itself at a calmness.
Hubble and Hubble have developed and designed this as well, using organic proportions. Because nature designed this way as well, with straight walls and 90 degree angles, no, nature designs with curves. Not only are these natural materials, but the form is natural as well. So your body naturally relaxes in these places, and feels more calm and centered. I can’t imagine building a more supportive structure for these monastics.
And also in a way you’re combining 21st century technology with primitive building techniques? By for example still keeping it up to date with latest building requirements, such as earthquake protection?
Yes, it is. Here in So Cal, because we have such seismic activity, most buildings are build on post and beam construction. So you don’t have wood studs every 16 inches on center like you typically would. In this case we do have to add some steel reinforcements to make the structure seismic (even though they are single story structures). But in other parts of the world where there is not so much seismic activity, you can build them without the steel reinforcement.
Please explain collaborative vs competitive construction?
My focus is on the entire process of building the home, or project that we’re working on. Typically this is a very competitive process in traditional construction. There are sealed multiple bids, everyone is secretive. The owner doesn’t feel like he can trust the contractor so he/she has to get multiple bids.
It is basically designed in a way that is lacking trust. It’s build to minimize conflict. Then there is the blame game, who’s responsible, so when something goes wrong, “we know who to sue!”
Because of my practice with mindfulness and meditation, I felt like I should walk the talk. I wanted to incorporate those into construction. Is there a different way that we can approach construction? In the process of working and managing I developed this new approach, which I call collaborative construction. In stark contrast to competitive construction.
Straw Bale Community Building
Collaborative construction is based on the mindfulness training of open communications:
- Open communication
In order for people to develop an open relationship, it really requires really good communication. Where people can feel they can really express themselves in an open way. Like that conversation I had with that contractor who didn’t think his bid would work. That brings us back to our mindful practice, really listening when the other person is speaking. Processing that, and responding in a mindful way. It all comes to trust. That we are all working together on the same team, taking joint responsibility. So when things go wrong, we minimize finger-pointing and blame. Instead, let’s figure out how we can best work out, and solve the situation.
So making it a win-win for everyone.
Really really good communication is very important. He discovered while on the project, a cloud-based construction management system. All the information related to the project is stored in the cloud and accessible by the entire team all the time. Blueprints, plans, budgets, or correspondence regarding finish selections, and changes along the way etc. Everyone can access it. Myself, as the construction project manager, the architect, the clients, the monastics, the general contractors, the sub-contractors, etc. So that when there is an issue or question, it comes up on this cloud based solution, and everyone can bring this up and contribute, and find the most mindful solution to this issue.
That sounds better than having all that separated out.
Yes, it is a high-tech, low-tech approach. Mindfulness and meditation have been around for thousands of years but with the combination of the technology and mindful concepts, we can use both these technologies, to achieve these deep communications, deep listening, and open communication goals that we’re trying to achieve.
Is this going to be difficult to bring this mainstream, since the current construction and client demand is not necessarily in alignment with what your’e talking about?
It’s not for every client. It depends on the client’s preferences and values. It’s particularly interesting for folks interested in green building and sustainable design. Because these clients have a much broader perspective on their project anyway.
These are people who want to be mindful of their own impact on the environment, and society and how much energy I consume, and afterwards. They also want to be concerned about the building process itself, and the impact that that will have on all the people and environment involved in this. So in the same way they want to minimize the harmful impact and foot print. By taking a collaborative approach, they can also minimize the negative effect of the construction process itself.
And at the end of the day, you will feel much better when your home was build in a collaborative cooperative way. And when it was done, everyone feels that they all contributed together as part of a team, and it wasn’t this divisive competitive process. Where some lost, and others gained.
Would you have any advice for someone who is struggling in their job, in another line of work, what tips or advice would you have for that person who wants to bring mindfulness into their livelihood?
I used to think I would have to quit my job in construction, change careers, and join a non-profit, to make a meaningful difference.
Instead, I had to just look at the same things differently, not get a new job, but look at things that I did day in and day out, and find a way to do them in a different way. To incorporate my mindful practices into my construction management.
Once I realized, how can I communicate in a more mindful way, how can I create in a more collaborative way. Then all these things showed up, like the cloud based collaborative solution, and other new ways to communicate in ways that are more open and trusting. I was able to communicate with other contractors in a more mindful way.
So I would encourage those listening to look at what you’re doing currently, on a day to day basis, in a new way. Find small ways to incorporate your mindfulness and meditation practices in your regular daily life, and your profession.
Once you start to look at things in different ways, what you look at changes as well.
And different doors open then before..
Yes, exactly, because your’e looking at things in a different way, and so different opportunities are going to come your way. You’ll see doors that you never saw before.
This is a guest post by Father Tom Connolly who worked with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for 33 years as a Catholic priest and who now practices Zen Buddhism as well.
In an interview for, “Indian Country Today Media Network“, he said, “I’ve tried to find and emphasize integration between the older Indian spiritual ways and the more modern Catholic ways they have taken and show that these two worlds fit together in a comfortable way,” he said. “Much of my life has been trying to explore relationships between two different worldviews and how they can integrate and how both people can enjoy or expand themselves and find fulfillment in something of the views of other people.”
Why I meditate
As a catholic priest, the question of god’s reality, presence an activity has always been of great interest.
I feel that a source of great confusion has come from the stories of the Book of Genesis, that have been taken for granted and assumed to be historically true.
But the growing acceptance of “evolution” as a more accurate account of history today has opened up an entirely new field of questions about god’s presence an activity. This shift has called me to search for an entirely different set of images and modes of prayer.
Christian theology has always stated that God is both “transcendent” and “imminent”. But beginning with Hebrew old testament history, God has been described as a kind of heavenly “creator-king” and always “intervening” in their history to reward their fidelity and punish their infidelity.
Later Christian artistic descriptions have presented God as an elderly, bearded, white male, seated at high on a throne and surrounded by heavenly courtiers in a place called heaven high above the clouds. Traditionally, most Christians have imaginatively and prayerfully dealt with this God who is primarily “transcendent”.
This prayerful, transcendent imagery is not nearly as satisfying for me today. Psychologically, it seems necessary to have some kind of phantasm or verbal image for all our thoughts, and so it has been difficult to find and develop a meaningful relationship with a God who is also “imminent” and therefore less image-able.
We are familiar with scripture passages like Jesus’ prayer: “that you will know that I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you”, and Saint Paul’s: “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me”, and Saint Ignatius’ call to, “find God in all things”.
Yet it seems that these insights have not had the same impact in people’s devotional awareness as have references to a primarily “transcendent” God.
In the Zen and in Buddhism I have found two helpful means in my pursuit of an imminent God, who is at once present in himself, present in myself, present in others and present in all experienced beings.
Zen meditation has been helpful in following my breathing and being aware of breath and psychic energy present in mind lower abdomen. In time this awareness has translated into a kind of imminent “awareness of divinity” within.
It has also brought a great peacefulness of spirit. This type of meditation has gradually led me into an altered state of consciousness, slipping from Beta brain waves of normal alert thinking into calmer Alpha brain waves of an unthinking awareness and peacefulness. It has been difficult to calm the mind and remain in the state, but with practice, it seems to become more possible.
Another helpful means has been the Buddhist teaching of the “tathagata garba” – a “seed of the Buddha nature”, something somewhat comparable to Divinity, present in all sentient beings.
It seems possible to find, and not total identity who, but a lot of similarity between Christian teachings about the ” divine – nature” and Buddhist teachings about the “Buddha-nature” present in all beings.
They both indicate a kind of transcendent-yet-imminent reality drawing me towards a unity of myself with the One and the All of creation.
Meditating with some of these aspects of Zen and Buddhism has helped me enhance my catholic awareness of god has also “imminent”. This awareness is more spiritually meaningful to me today than previous images of a god who is primarily “transcendent” and “above”.
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Interview with John Hancock, a practitioner of the Labyrinth, and advocate of building compassion into organizations, communities, and systems.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did you get into a spiritual practice?
His father was Methodist minister, which is what he grew up with. He taught tolerance is great, but not enough, but we must go beyond that and embrace the other. He gave up on Protestantism, because he felt too much emphasis on sin. He wanted a more positive message.
He was impressed with the Dalai Lama, and his new Ethics for a New Millenium, and the concept of human universal compassion.
He feels we were misled and misinterpreted by Darwin about survival of the fittest and competition. But he thinks Darwins teachings on cooperation have been under emphasized. John feels competition helps individuals more than groups. He is seeking the commonality that we have with each other. His spirit life, is coming to grips with, yes, i’m distinctive, but on the other hand he’s with other people, that’s coordinated, linked up we have a shared self. Feeling oneness with the animals, other people, the revelations are calming and affirming. That he feels is the antidote to the stress as a citizen. That’s where he goes with his meditation.
What brought him to the tool of meditation in the form of walking the labyrinth?
John describes the labyrinth, as a universal symbol found in various cultures. He took a personalized demonstration, and found out that the practice in part came from women in the catholic church, coming to the US from Europe. In San Francisco there was a labyrinth in the hall, as well as outside. And this woman that he learned from, had been trained there. He learned how to build a labyrinth on his property (north of Spokane, WA) based books, and from a couple of examples in his town of Spokane, Washington. So he found a place on his property, and then used a national geographic type publication to help figure out the exact dimensions to replicate the design on his property.
Why does he prefer that over sitting meditation?
It is easier for him to do walking meditation in the labyrinth design. Because the physicality of walking allows him to focus and let go of his thinking.
How does the practice work?
The path into the labyrinth, is a return or into the unknown. The center of the labyrinth is the spirit energy, or the focus, of the light, or the revelation, of the center. Or the oneness. So it’s a stay in the center, with the expectation of inspiration or energy. The return is then the ability to take that energy back into the external life, to keep it with you, as you return to the next chapter of your life. The integration if you will. Representing the reborn idea.
In Europe there are some examples of labyrinths in the floor, like in Chartres cathedral. It wasn’t just Muslims to make the pilgrimage, the medieval Christians also could follow the steps of a labyrinth. They could do it in a symbolic way by following the steps of Jesus in a labyrinth, to get a similar spiritual revelation. Sometimes the monks would do that on their knees and/or with prostrations to intensify that practice.
How often do you practice this?
He does it when he’s stuck. John can find an idea that way, and also a link to the energy of the land. He’s not distracted there. He feels the energy of the land is important. He fiddled with the entry of his labyrinth in accord with their intuition, where the energy felt right. He found that the best place for an entry was the same as Stonehenge.
Does it help you with creative inspiration?
Yes, he feels it helps with next steps in life, and problem solving. It can also be a group activity. As an opening activity for a group of people who don’t know each other. Group reflection. When a group does it, it is in silence. The revelation is more strong. People will come into, “confrontation”. There are no rules as to how this goes, so it has various ways it works. Sometimes people step off the path, sometimes a aversion of eyes, sometimes an embrace, happens differently with different people. It looks like a wonderful dance, he says. It’s an indiscernible pattern. From Greek times, the labyrinth was an outline, pattern of a traditional dance. He also explains the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Perseus story, breadcrumbs explanation. Design occurs in lots of myths.
How has it affected his day to day life and integration with daily life?
Its’ about centering, about how to give up worry on the surface, giving up worrying. Helps to reassure him that he’s OK, that inspiration is available to him if he slows down and asks. And that nature is supportive, if he takes the time to be receptive.
How has that changed his relationships with difficult people or perceived enemies?
John talks about how the Spokane Indians lived in that area. Walking on the bones of their ancestors. They picked that place in their neighborhood for different reasons, and they all have different practices. They have social gatherings for the neighbors, to get to know each other and their commonalities. Many of them are tolerant and curious.
What was his inspiration to bring diverse people and organizations together in a “friends of compassion” group?
He was inspired by the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist nun Tubten Chodron, as well as the Rotarians, be kind be generous, fair, and give of yourself. So they started a project to get the Dalai Lama to come to Spokane. They couldn’t do it, but people said we can talk about institutions and individuals becoming compassionate.
We can talk about compassion whether the Dalai Lama comes to Spokane or not. So it turned into a discussion group to talk about compassion as a way of changing the community behavior. What does compassion have to offer that some of the other -isms don’t have. We were seeking the commonalities, and not getting hung up on the distinctions. The admonition to be kind is talked about by all the prophets.
There has been a balancing of the differentiation and the oneness. All of these different religions have something good to offer. We all need to find our own understanding. The absolutism that there is a god, or no god, is right for that particular individual, but we can all be right when we find the universal. So you can identify a team by what clothing they wear, but you can’t trademark kindness, that is universal.
What direction do you see this going?
While he is sympathetic of Buddhism, he found the Buddhism that he found, not as political and engaged. He wants more of an activist life. What are the problems in his community, for which compassion had not yet been tried? So he is now doing more political actions. He is working on a “smart justice” system, from a system that is more retributive, to more help them solve their problems, not just punish. So more compassionate way to help people. He further wants to do the philosophical investigation through blogs.
What would you do to change the retributive system?
He feels that poverty is a big one in the justice system. He advocates breaking the cycle of debt, crime, through a smart specialized court. “How is society harmed if this person (without a licence) drives to work?”. He also works with veterans. It’s just a specialized system that does a far better job of discerning the problem and get them to overcome their own problems, and breaking them out of a cycle of poverty. This is also cheaper, because there is less re-offending by actually helping people.
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Interview with Sister Florence, a practicing Franciscan for 40+ years. She founded Kairos Contemplative and Meditation Retreat Center
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did Sister Florence get started with a spiritual practice? She started reading about catholic needs for houses of prayer. She wanted to have a place for retreat. She got approved to look into houses of prayer. She went to Detroit to help figure this out.
It is like a dream to Florence, she was not the carpenter, or organizer, but helping hands came to do what needed to be done. She credits God with wanting the work done. She wanted a place out in the country. In 1976 she bought the place in the Northwest for $51K, with 27 acres. Her intent was to offer a place, (she believes we’re all directed by our unique history) the silence will be number one, withdrawal time from the busyness.
She makes a home for groups and individuals. With groups “they’re already on the train”, they respect and honor that. For individuals they make a home, and provide love and caring, so that they too know the “truth of their own wonderful being”. She and Rita want to do “God’s work”.
How did you pick the name Kairos?
14:30: She asked for input, and then she went to the chapel and picked up a book. And the author used the word Kairos in contrast to Chronos. Kairos is always momentary, always present moment. No past, no future, can’t use either. Present moment is the sacred of saintly living. She can pray sweeping the floor, or whatever else task. Inner attitude of service and love. It’s an atmosphere more than telling.
16:00: What is your meditation practice like?
They start their day with quiet contemplation, reads scriptures, and then listen to various sound good teachers on spiritual practice. Some is Tibetan, or Buddha, some Christian. They are just here to facilitate in whatever way that occurs to them. Being human, we like to feel good and accomplished.
There’s an inner attitude that says that whatever the moment holds, you hold it in a prayerful way. Because to want the pleasures or the consolations, and they don’t come, then we usually don’t go back. We want things to satisfy the human person.
We learn to live the way of the cross, resurrection joy. To enter the human suffering. There is a place for us, because of our fidelity to the journey. A lot of that is just plugging away. We may not get anything for weeks or months. Don’t expect anything, receive what is given, with thanks. Everything has a purpose.
20:00 What is your advice for folks who go to retreats, and they losen up destructive habit patterns, but then they struggle a week later when they’re out of the retreat. What do you do when you struggle to integrate what you learn into their daily life?
- “You have to will it, you must find a way to enter the silence.
- Let nature teach you the wisdom, that is within nature
- To broaden the inner scope.
- We’re here for one another
- What you do, or you do.. Ups me, or Down’s me.
- We’re one human spirit in different bodies.
- If you chose to continue in this, it’s important to watch your judgments.
- Say Yes to the moment, no matter whether it is painful, or whether it is glorious.
- We vacillate between good and down, but if we enter all , we enter the suffering of Christ.
- You clear the mind, and sit in a state of receptivity, “get behind the thinking mind”.
- If we stay true to the course, we’ll change.
- We’re more than our bodies, we’re more than our thinking mind.
We don’t get it because there are so many distractions, materialities, and other things that draw us. We complicate things by putting our time and effort into things that are passing. It just means the journey has to go on.
We put our wisdom traditions in a pot and mix it together. We touch that sacred moment, wed the human spirit to that person. It’s a sacred moment. I haven’t come anywhere in 45 years, I’m still very much as I was, but my insights taught me to be faithful to the journey, don’t seek the good, don’t seek the destructive. But put your spiritual eyes towards “God”. She talks about Finley and how she likes listening to this teacher.
24:30 How has this practice helped you through times of struggle?
Yes, because you know everything is transitory, everything passes. Next second it’s gone. But what people struggle with is how things emotionally grab them. You are not your emotion. Repetitive negative reactions depend on how they were wounded. So much pain for some people. Sometimes she’ll recommend someone with suffering first go to a therapist, counseling, before taking the next step with them.
No matter who she is, does not make her better than anybody else. Because the infinite love has no time to look at sinfulness. The brokenness that we walk in through our live. Everyone has a place where nothing has ever invaded, it’s sacred, the temple of our bodies. You don’t talk this way in Buddhism, but you seek the way beyond thinking.
27:30 The kingdom is spread right here, nirvana is right here, the kingdom is within already, what happens if people don’t realize that it’s already here?
Sin for her is contrary to love, but we’re all broken, we all have our shortcomings. Some of the most wonderful people she knows are recovering alcoholics.
We have pictures and words of God, but of course none of that is really god, we really don’t know. All unloving things in the world, are because of human pain. We don’t know what we say is heard. We all hear the same things differently because of our backgrounds. If we all do something loving, we help lift them up.
32:00 Violence in life
33:00 What has she learned from all the groups that have come to Kairos.
We can find a way to let them to who they are. Everything good is given. We were at one (Adam and Eve), but we thought we could do it on our own. But we can’t. We can see after a while that there was a purpose for that. In order to see light you have to go into the dark. And that is why in groups you can do it, without having to do it alone.
34:00 Sister Florence then talks about her parents. Her father gave her the spirit to simply let things be, and to know love. Her mother made her do things she didn’t want to do, which was also good. You become that love, let it through you. She never met a person that she didn’t like. She may not like their dress, etc, but she never met a person that she didn’t reverence.
36:20 What do you say to folks who don’t have time to go to retreats? What advice do you have for them?
- Take walks, and feel the in-breath and out-breath,
- Let the body be an instrument of quieting
- Take a scripture, or Zen reading, and sit 15-20 minutes, and stop when something strikes you, and then stop and journal it.
- Journaling helps us objectify our inner thinking. After a week or 2-3 you start to see growth.
- She gives some examples
- You have to work at it, not as a labor, but a labor of love.
- Do it daily
- What do you do with the time you’ve been given, those 24 hours?
- Put away your gizmos away for a small period of time every day
- Just let “God” love you, don’t worry about deserving the love, or doing praying to “get something”.
- Mentions the Prodigal Son. The last verse is the most powerful, I’ve done everything you wanted me to do, but you didn’t give me a feast. “Son, all these years I’ve given you everything I have”. Right now, every moment God is loving us. When we know God’s love, we will see a new creation.
She’s positive at the end, and thinks we’ll get through as a human species.