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 Urges, Intentions, Aspirations, and Trainings

Thursday, December 26, 2013, 7:00 to 9:00 pm 
at Crossings in Silver Spring
Dear Still Water Friends,

Several years ago Sister Pine came to a Thursday evening at Still Water. When someone asked her how she manages to be mindful throughout each day, she answered, “It is by keeping in mind what I really want.”

With the first day of a new year coming up next week, and the transmission of the five mindfulness trainings a few days later, I’ve been thinking about Sister Pine’s comment, and thinking generally about resolutions, aspirations, and trainings. What role do they play in mindfulness practice? What role do I want them to play in my life? 

After my mind spun around with English words such as volition, intention, will, and aspiration, I found it helpful to go back to an ancient framework first developed in commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings -- called the Abhidharma -- which were written around the third century BCE. These early interpreters listed the mental energies or formations that allow the mind to apprehend the characteristics of an object and also provide an orientation toward the object. Later Buddhist thinkers altered the list; Thich Nhat Hanh often refers to the 51 mental formations which is a list developed in the Mahayana tradition.

In the list of 51, there are five universal mental formations which are always present in every thought, spoken word, or action. Cetenā is one of the five. It is often translated as volition or intention, but I like better the translation “urge” because it may not be conscious, or may be only partially conscious.  Thich Nhat Hanh says it is “the energy that pushes you to do something, to run after something or to run away from something.”

Another group within the 51 are the five particular mental formation which may or may not be present. One of them is chanda, often translated as desire, intention, or aspiration -- it is the awareness of what we want. We are more likely to be conscious of our chanda than of our cetenā.

The remainder of the 51 mental formations are grouped according to their moral/ethical qualities. When these energies are present, are we creating more suffering for ourselves and others? Or are we reducing the suffering that we and others will experience, or stated positively, are we nourishing peace, joy and love? Among the 51 mental formations there were 11 considered to be virtuous or wholesome mental qualities, such as equanimity, non-harming, and conscientiousness, and 26 that were considered to be unwholesome, such as anger, envy, and greed. To complete the 51, there were 4 mental formations that were changeable, sometimes leading to suffering, sometimes not, such as drowsiness and discursive analysis.

Now back to Sister Pine. When we practice mindfulness, we develop our capacity to be aware of the mental formations that manifest in our minds. Over time we become more aware in meditation and in daily life of our conscious desires and intentions (chanda), the often more subtle urges (cetenā) that are propelling our desires, and the wholesome or unwholesome mental formations that may concurrently be present.

When Sr. Pine said “It is by keeping in mind what I really want,” my expansion of what she was saying is “It is my deep aspiration to bring peace, joy, and love into the world and that if I can keep that in mind, and know that it depends on the quality of the mental formations I nourish, then it is easier to be mindful moment by moment.” (I will send this to her and see if she agrees.)

As I see it, the Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings create another set of condition to help us remember what it is we really want. We affirm in front of our family, friends, and fellow practitioners that when certain situations arise our aspiration is to act in a way that reduces our suffering and the suffering of others. 

You are invited to join us this Thursday. As the new year approaches, we will explore together what it is we really want.

Upcoming Still Water events include:
  • a New Year's Eve sitting on Tuesday evening with the Gaithersburg group (which is a correction from a previous email saying they would be meeting on the Monday evening),
  • a New Year’s Day Brunch for the whole Still Water community,
  • a regional transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings on Saturday, January 4th in Oakton, and,
  • Setting Our Intentions Tea ceremony on Sunday evening, January 5th, with the Columbia Still Water group.

Happy holidays,

Many blessings,

The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation and just before we begin walking meditation (around 7:40). If you arrive after 7:10, the door to Crossings may be locked. If it is locked, someone will come to open it at 7:30, then again at 7:50. In consideration of those who have chemical sensitivities, we request that you do not wear any fragrance (including natural essential oils) while attending Still Water events.

Registration is now open for three upcoming Still Water events:  And you are invited to participate in or attend a region-wide Transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings Ceremony, Saturday, January 4, 2014, in Oakton, Va.


Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center 

Mindfulness Practice in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh

Thursday Mindfulness Practices Evening
Silver Spring (at Crossings), 7:00-9:00 p.m. 
Newcomer orientation on the first Thursday of each month, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Sunday Mindfulness Practices Evening
Columbia (at Yoga Center of Columbia), 6:30-8:30 p.m. 
Newcomer orientation on the first Sunday of each month, beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Tuesday Mindfulness Practice Group
Gaithersburg (at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension), 7:00-8:30 p.m. 

Sunday Mindfulness Practice Group
Frederick (at Ananda Shala Yoga Center), 4:30-5:30 p.m. 

Morning and Afternoon Meditation
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, in Silver Spring (at Crossings), 7:00-8:00 a.m. 
Tuesday, Thursday in Takoma Park (at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church), 7:30-8:30 a.m.
Wednesday, in Chevy Chase, DC (at Circle Yoga), 6:30-7-30 a.m.
Friday, in Sandy Spring, MD (at Friends House Retirement Community), 3:45-4:45 p.m.

Directions and maps to all locations available on our web site: Directions

Classes, workshops, and retreats periodically scheduled. See Events.

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