Category Archives: Koinonia

Earnest Intention to Practice – Koinonia Chapel Lesson 11/4/2015

Note about the timing of this post.

This post was originally created in draft form back in 2015 and I never got around to making the last needed edits to publish it in a timely manner. I’m currently visiting Koinonia and just happened to rediscover the draft when I was working on my last post about my visit here. So I had new inspiration to finally finish this up.

This actually more about my own spiritual story than just reflecting on the scripture. One of the reasons I delayed was the in-depth nature of the sharing and my normal tendency (before I published my book) to not “blow my own horn” about spiritual matters. Now that I’ve shared in my book’s About the Author chapter and on this site about my awakening to ubiquitous unconditional Love (Bliss), there is no further need to delay.

Luke 14:25-33  – English Standard Version (ESV)

The Cost of Discipleship

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

My original notes from which I spoke:

For me, every moment is a precious opportunity to explore who and what I am.

Today’s reading reminds me of what I know about a spiritual seekers relationship to his or her guru in the east. I also think of the vows a monastic takes when they enter their order. Both require total commitment and devotion to do exactly what you are told by your superior, even if everyone you know will, and has, said that you are crazy! The seeker surrenders their life to the guru, to speed the journey to enlightenment. Jesus evidently knew that the prophetic phase of his life would be short, so there would be no time for waffling, if he was going to enable all 12 of his disciples realize enlightenment before he was through.

Because that’s what it meant to be a disciple of Christ, because unless and until they had reached that level of consciousness, they would not be able to understand the most profound meanings of Jesus’s teachings. Until they had reached those higher states of being and until they had realized that they are one with Christ just as Christ is one with the Father, they would not be able to perform acts of healing in his name.

I’ve been seeking enlightenment for decades now, mainly through meditation and a mindful, contemplative lifestyle. I recently renounced my status as a middle class computer programmer. I even renounced my middle class financial responsibility as the father of two girls, who are still in college. So I know something about what Jesus was talking about in this passage. Two out of three of my sisters were very upset with me when I decided to retire from my career to seek a life that was more consistent with my primary goals and desire for right livelihood. They felt that I was shirking my responsibility to my daughters, because I’d no longer have a place for them to come home to, nor was I planning on earning money to help them with their educations. At one point, when I admitted that I’d been counting the months until I could afford to quit my job, one of my sisters said she was afraid my daughters would think I’d wished that they had never been born! Lucky for me my daughters knew better than that, so her fear was unfounded. So you can start to see how this scripture kind of touches a chord with me! I did not hate one minute of raising my girls, but I did dislike the work that I was required to do to afford the child support payments required of me by law. 

This morning I’d like to share a part of my spiritual journey that I did not have time to include in the 20 minute version of the story that I shared back when my internship started. I’ll also share some of what I’ve been experiencing lately, which ties in quite nicely to my interpretation of today’s scripture.

There are two reasons to teach: to impart your understanding to others with the hope that it will be helpful in their own lives, and to “teach what you want to learn.” Because when you teach something, you learn it better.  This morning I’m sharing as much to benefit my own spiritual process as for any vain notion that what I share will make much of a difference in your lives, but I hope you find it interesting, at least.

Back in 2012, I was already preparing my transition and starting to look for intentional communities. I was still in my job and I’d just broken up with my girlfriend. I decided that given the fact that I was probably going to have to leave my stomping ground in NH to find an intentional community that I liked, that it would not make sense for me to get involved in another primary intimate relationship. So I decided to start an “experiment in celibacy.” For the first time in my adult life, I was neither in a primary relationship nor was I looking for a new one! Releasing that process and part of my life preceded something of an awakening. Within a few weeks, I started to experience all of God’s creation as radiantly beautiful. It lasted about three months, during which I did not talk to anyone about the experience. Since then the beauty of all experience has come and gone, usually after periods of extended meditation practice such as a weekend or day long silent retreat, the experience would return for anywhere from a day to a few days in length.  I did not mind when the beauty faded, really, because I knew it was still there I just was not currently experiencing it!

Some of you already know that I’ve been reading this book, titled “I am that” which is a record of actual conversations between spiritual seekers and a fully realized, enlightened guru in India who died in the 1980’s. He realized enlightenment after only 3 years of following the advice of his guru! The core of his advice to seekers is the same as his guru gave to him, and is radically simple: explore the fact of your own awareness, your own experience of “I am.” Do this in every minute possible, until your true spiritual reality opens for you.  

I’ve been following this advice as best I can since I got the book back in March. Then about three weeks ago, the experience of radiant beauty of all returned, this time for good. At least it has been with me since then, with only short lapses.

The exploration of “I am” had started to get sweeter. When I got my schedule of assignments, I started to anticipate with some joy the ease of doing the practice during some of the repetitive work here at the farm.

Then one morning while I was meditating, with the beauty of the wall I was facing shining forth in all it’s glory, I realized that when I was done with my silent practice, which was particularly sweet that morning, I could go right on doing the working version of the “I am.” Continuous practice, how sweet. I thought, every moment is a precious opportunity to explore who and what I am. That thought, just hearing my mind think that very sentence, triggered some kind of further awakening. A warm all embracing Love was revealed. For a few minutes, I was Love. The feeling was powerful and I was overcome with both joy and sadness and started crying audibly and forcefully. A couple of weeks later, that feeling of being Love started to occur during the day. Stronger in the mornings, fading somewhat in the afternoons, it seems to be the new state of my being, for much of the time.

So if you ever get serious about realizing the mind of Christ in your life, there is quite literally, no time like the present. If you dedicate each present moment to seeking the perfect Love of God, the very decision to gladly hold that intention, with no attachments in this world or even to the success of your exploration, that earnest intention will energize your practice from that very first moment. For me, settling into my practice with a more joyful and earnest mindset, was the trigger to realizing a profoundly new state of being.

Thus when Jesus informed potential followers that they must hate their very lives to follow him, he was screening out all but the few that were ready commit their full dedication to their new spiritual master. It seems to have worked, because we read in acts how the disciples were able to perform miracles in Christ’s name and carry on his teachings. I believe that they all reached enlightenment in the course of those three short years, just Nisargadatta did in the three years that followed him meeting his guru, by faithfully and diligently following their master’s advice.

Every moment is a precious opportunity to explore who and what I am.


 

As I post this to my blog, I must report that the feeling of “being love” has subsided for the most part. I lasted about 2 1/2 months, during which it was experienced for some part of each day. Evidently when I started to plan my return home from Koinonia, the logistics and uncertainty around that (I had no car so I had to hire space in a moving truck and take public transportation) were distracting from my practice of “I am.” I’ve had glimpses of that experience a few times since I’ve been back in the Upper Valley, but nothing as solid as when I was at Koinonia. No matter, I know the practices that seemed to facilitate progress and the situation that was most beneficial. The memory of the experience will continue to serve as additional motivation to practice, quite earnestly!

 

2018 Koinonia working visit part 1

It is February 14, 2018 as I write this post.

I arrived at Koinonia on February 1. Thanks to the generous army veteran that gave me a ride all the way from the bus terminal, I arrived in time to settle into my room in the Fuller house and meditate before heading to dinner at 6pm.

It was peaceful practicing and pruning in the vinyard.

The first several days I worked pruning and weeding grape vines. The weather was perfect for it most days, cool enough to wear long sleeves but warm enough to not need a winter hat. Some of the time I had interns to work with, or Steve my former apartment mate from when I was in intern here, and some of the time I worked alone. Like most work on the farm, it was familiar and easy enough for me to stay in mindfulness mode.

The grape vinyard is quite large. Some of the rows have not been pruned and maintained for many years; there is more work than the available people hours.

The farm currently has nine interns, four who started last year and five that arrived this year. On the first Sunday I was here, the last two new ones arrived in time for the potluck and devotions service. I’m enjoying getting to know all of them and it is fun remembering what it was like when I was in their shoes, having just arrived three years ago.

On Monday the five new interns all shared their spiritual stories, and then signed their intern agreements, just like my group did back in 2015. It was great to have a chance to hear them and I really appreciate that I was allowed to be there. For me this is an important practice of intentional community: making the space and time to get to know each other pretty deeply, as soon as is practical after a new person arrives. The new interns all did a wonderful job, courageously sharing even aspects of their past which they weren’t as proud of and that challenged them and / or their families.

Martin is a very nurturing, protective farm dog. Here he is providing a bed for one of the cats! Historically his job has been to protect the free range chickens.

It is incredible to me that it was only 3 years ago that I was starting my internship here. It feels more like 5-6. That has been the way my time sense has been lately, kind of stretched. The old adage “time flies when you’re having fun” doesn’t apply though, because I have been having a wonderful time even though it seems to be crawling. I think it is because I’ve been changing so much in the last 6 years, since I left my last computer programming job and started to take up spiritual practice as my primary, nearly full time priority.

The quality of my life experience has shifted so much in those years, especially in the last 3. If you have read the About the Author section of my book “Faith to Practice: Foundations of Happiness” (which is in the Kindle edition free sample) or certain parts of the history page here on my blog, you know what I mean.

I’ve been given permission to do a presentation on the ideas in my book for the folks here at the farm. I almost gave it last night, but it has been postponed until next Monday night so that more of the interns can come; it had been scheduled at a time that they would have been too tired, since they also had dinner clean-up duty and a study session the same evening. That will give me more time to polish up the presentation (I’ve created a set of PowerPoint slides). I’ll include a link to it in my next post, and I might even manage to make a video.

There is an “old intern” (meaning he started last year and has been here 5 months or more) named John that sometimes gets up early enough to meditate with me for 30-40 minutes before chapel. That has been nice. I’ve been getting to bed early enough to still do my morning routine of taking a walk before going back to bed for sleep witnessing meditation for an hour or so before I sit with him.

I always loved watching the sunrises like this one, through the Elliot pecan orchard. There are lots of beautiful sunrises and sunsets in Georgia, because it is so flat!

I’ve managed to do some sleep witnessing in the middle of the night and in the morning when I awake, without getting up and going for a walk first. I don’t know if this is a trend or just a couple of flukes; lately I’ve only been able to do it as part of my morning routine, or during the day if I’m not too tired. Like last weekend.

Saturday I did a few extra sleep witnessing meditation sessions, taking it as a mini solo retreat of sorts. I still did some regular activities, talked to folks, etc. when I wasn’t practicing, so it was pretty informal. I did walking meditation on the farm road between sessions, which was pretty sweet.

Dressed for church!

Last Sunday, I went to a Salvation Army church with John and his wife Evelyn, plus two of the new interns, Stephanie & Gabriel. I liked that the worship was very accessible, using projected videos for some of the lessons and words to songs, but I found it less engaging spiritually than a more tradional service. The bible passage and first lesson of the day, taught by our Koinonia friend John, was from Samual 1, about the story of King David. I hadn’t remembered the story, even though we share names, so it was good to review! The whole service was long: we started at 10am and were done at 12:45pm or so; there was a second adult Sunday school lesson that started around noon. I like their mission emphasis to help people that are financially disadvantaged. The church is in Albany, which is about a 40 minute drive, so it would be time and fuel consuming to be very involved with the mission work from Koinonia.

When I teach current moment mindfulness meditation, I suggest a number of different techniques and let each student experiment until they find the one that works for them. If they try a technique and find that thoughts are coming often and turning into thought trains before they realize they are thinking, I recommend they try keeping their attention on some additional thing. So for example, if following the breath is not enough, they could follow the breath and count from 1 to N on the in breath and out breath. My philosophy is to use a technique that involves keeping the attention on as few facets as possible while still remaining in the current moment and fairly thought-free.

In that light, I’ve made another change to my meditation technique, which seems to be working out well. In the last three years, I’ve gone through a process of gradually simplifying what I focus my attention on during meditation:

  • In March of 2015, I started following my breath and heart beat, counting each “lub-dub” (three beats) on the in breath and thinking the phrase “I am” on the fourth “lub-dub” at the top and then doing the same heartbeat counting process on the out breath.
  • At some point that first year I stopped counting each heartbeat.
  • At the end of December, 2017, I stopped thinking the “I am” phrase.
  • In January 2018, I switched to focusing on the space between the “lub” and “dub” of my heart beat and the pause between the in and out breaths. I was moving towards meditating on awareness itself, because Nisargardatta has said to some seekers, “You must stay aware of your awareness.” Honestly, I did not know how what he meant or to do that, so this was an experiment!
  • This week I started another experiment. I’m keeping my awareness on attention itself, with the intention of not focusing my attention on anything in particular, across all of my senses, including  thoughts.

I’ve been able to make these changes and still stay in the current moment fairly well, because my mind tends to stay clearer than it used to and when thoughts do arise, it has gotten easier and easier not to give them any energy or attention.  Nisargardatta actually says that you have to come to a state of not thinking at all (unless you have made a conscious decision to think about something) and I’m getting closer to that goal!

The latest meditation technique, described above, was inspired by a couple of things:

  1. The current tendency of my vision to spontaneously stay in the wide angle mode where I’m taking in the whole field of view without focusing on anything right in front of me. This started to occur once in a while back in September. The most memorable example was while riding my motorcycle. Suddenly, the awareness of the trees rushing by me on either side was intense! Like many of my other shifts, at first this was sporatic. Now whenever I intend to I can go to that mode of vision without effort, when it does not start spontaneously.
  2. While doing walking meditation earlier this week, I realized that I had spontaneously lost all focus of attention to any specific thing, within the full range of all my senses. It was like taking the wide angle view from just the visual sense into all my senses and thoughts. Just taking them all in equally, without focusing attention on anything. Evidently the intention I was holding during the experimental meditation technique I started in January had been fruitful! Since it started to happen without intending it and the awareness was more pure than other techniques, I decided to take the experience into my other meditation practices.

This latest technique is the closest I’ve come to Nisargardatta’s teaching to meditate on consciousness itself, with awareness of my awareness, without thoughts. The key word for me was “attention,” or rather the intention of releasing it to a state of virtual “inattention.”

February 15, 2018

Today I worked in the bakery for the first time this visit. I always enjoyed the fairly easy repetitive work of packing product because it is so good for mindfulness practice. I put on the required hair net as usual, then laughed at myself because for me it is a “no hairnet!” Later Geneva (the head cook) agreed that I didn’t have to wear one.

You may not be surprised to hear that my latest meditation technique is difficult to use during certain activities, even if they are fairly straight forward, because some jobs just seem to require focused attention to get them right! Like today in the bakery, putting labels onto packages in just the right place. So for those activities I go back to simply following the breath and releasing extraneous thoughts.

Now that I won’t be going to the monastery at which I applied to be a guest, (that process was described in a previous post ) I asked for and got an extension for my stay here through the end of February. So this post won’t include any hitchhiking or bus terminal adventures.

I’m not sure where I’ll go next. I may just head west and see how far I can go each day, with the long distance goal of checking out Sonoma, Arizona. I’ve heard it is a spiritual Mecca of sorts! But now I have a couple more weeks to discern a plan.

Joyful Choice Making – Koinonia Chapel Lesson, December 15, 2015

 

Some of you that are my Facebook friends may have seen my status Monday. It read:

“The more you remember and regret things you have done in the past, the more troubled you will be when making decisions that you believe will affect your future. In this context, memory is a curse! I think this is why babies and the elderly, with no ability to make new memories from this moment, normally live in bliss. For those with fully functioning memories, we can practice forgiveness to come to peace with the past and meditation to cleanse our karma, freeing us to live fully in this moment with faith in a joyful future.”

I’d like to pick this apart a bit, because lots of us are in the process of making decisions about where we will go in January, and that day is just around the corner. In the meantime, you members will have plenty of decisions to make in the process of finding new interns and discerning how to continue your lives here at Koinonia. So I’m hoping you will find these ideas helpful as well.

Of all the illusions we live with and through every day, time is perhaps the most challenging one. Physicists tell us that time was created, along with the matter that makes up the universe, by the big bang. In other words, before the universe was born, there was no time either. Regardless of your understanding of time at that level, it seems that just about all our fears stem from our relationship with time.

When we regret or feel shameful about things we have done in the past, or when we worry about how the future will unfold, we take ourselves out of the current moment and project our fearful selves through time. I actually can’t think of a fear that is not related to time, so it follows that if we heal our relationship with time, we would free ourselves of all fear!

The monastic answer is to live in the current moment only, but I’m not going to talk about that today. Most of us have not mastered the art of releasing unhelpful thoughts about the past and future, so I’d like to talk about how to heal our relationships with time, through forgiveness and faith.

When we are plagued by our choices and actions because we are unhappy with the consequences, we naturally want to avoid the same kinds of “mistakes” in our current and future choices, so our lives will be more fulfilling. All regret is an error, because to truely love ourselves and those around us, forgiveness must always follow judgment. As Jesus taught us, we will be forgiven to the degree that we forgive others.

When looking at our relationship to time, if we forgive our past selves, our current and future selves are automatically forgiven as well.  Every decision and action we have ever taken in the past was the best we could muster at that time. When we consistently accept that, even when we hate the consequences, we can trust that choices we make today and in the future will also be acceptable to us too.

So once you have forgiven yourself for the messes you have made the past, what is the best way to make new choices? Some of us like to analyze all the options and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each using reason and logic. Others like to dive in based on gut instinct, with little regard for the facts. I prefer the middle road of learning about each choice and then following the advice of Depok Chopra, from his  book “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.” He writes about heart based decisions in his chapter on the law of Karma:

(I read from the last paragraph on page 42 through the first paragraph on page  44, which I don’t include here but is in the audio recording.)

So to review, all our fears are anchored in our relationship and sense of time. Our fearful judgments of mistakes in our past are projected into our futures, leaving little comfort in the present moment. If we consistently forgive ourselves for ALL the so called mistakes we have made, we project unconditional self Love into the future, which allows us to make joyful choices in the present moment.

The most reliable way to make choices that are best for us and all the people that will be affected by them, is to pay attention to the feelings in our hearts. There are actually more neuron cells in your heart than muscle cells! The heart is just as much a thinking organ as your brain and they work beautifully in concert.

There is one more belief that is very helpful when healing your relationship with time, which comes from the sermon on the mount. God always provides everything we need. We don’t have to worry about the future, just keep your attention on today and leave the future to God. Even if we don’t like some things about our lives, with faith we can see that we are learning from our troubles, so they are actually just as much a divine gift as those moments of joy and pleasure. If you fully believe what Jesus said about the lilies of the field and so on, you will be able to accept this moment as being exactly the way it needs to be in order to meet our needs, even when the reasons are a total mystery!

So I encourage you to forgive your past and joyfully follow your heart into the future, with faith that it is impossible to make a bad decision!

 

Responsible Happiness – Koinonia Chapel Lesson January 8, 2016

This is the first of a series of posts I will be making to share my monthly contribution to morning chapel at Koinonia Farm this past year. I recorded a few of the “lessons” or “mini-sermons” but never found the time to post them here. This post contains my thoughts from the last chapel I spoke at on January 8, 2016.

Prepared text

This morning I’m going to share some thoughts that are excerpted from my forthcoming book, “Faith to Practice.” The chapter is titled
“Responsible Happiness.”

Happiness is 95% interpretation and 5% circumstance.

We want to “be happy” but our culture teaches us we must “do happy” or “experience happiness” through our circumstances. This morning I’d like to discuss the art of “being happy” in it’s purest meaning.

A happy interpretation of your circumstances takes two things: wholesome beliefs such as faith in a loving God, and the mental discipline to release unwholesome thoughts and feelings that are inconsistent with your faith.

For example, there was the time that I needed to get myself to the car rental office. My car had been rear-ended so it was in the shop. I walked down to the bus stop and climbed onto a red line bus, which was waiting for its scheduled departure time along with a few others. When the driver came back and I told him where I was going, he informed me that I was on the wrong bus. The one I needed had just left. The next bus that was scheduled to stop at my destination would not depart for two hours.

I got off and started walking back home. It was a beautiful summer day, so I decided to enjoy the extra walk back to my condo. I had not been getting as much exercise as usual anyway, so I did not mind. As I happily arrived at my home, I noticed my friend Al sitting alone in the community gazebo, so I went to visit with him for a while.

I believe that we create our own realities. I could have been really mad at myself for not paying enough attention when I boarded the wrong bus. I could have spent the entire walk back home thinking about all the other things I would have done with the extra time I had “wasted.” But that would not have been the responsible interpretation of my situation, given my faith. I believe that every situation is given to us for a reason, to provide an opportunity for us to grow in love, so it was easy for me to remain grateful and happy. I fully enjoyed my extra walk and the chat with my neighbor.

Meditation, prayer, acts of loving kindness for a stranger, and finding ways to give of yourself in every situation are all examples of spiritual practices which nurture your ability to respond in positive ways to any situation. You are literally practicing happiness, from within.

Happiness can never be sustained through (increasing) the quantity of anything (eg:consumer culture) it stems rather from the quality of your experience of everything. It is the interpretation of your situation that matters. That is all. Most of us spend our lives “making ourselves miserable” through negative judgments of others and our circumstances. The most satisfying combination, to our ego selves, is to blame others or even the universe (eg:Murphy’s Law) for our difficult situations! Your ego wants to deny responsibly for your misery, so you must be a victim.

To be truly happy, you need to be the master of your mind. Unfortunately, our minds are often the master of the moment and if we are victims, the real “perpetrator” is our own fearful, unhelpful thoughts! Worry, anxiety, anguish, disappointment, jealousy, frustration, regret, you know the thoughts I mean. Yet most people have received no training in the process of thought awareness, discernment and release. Contemplative practices such as meditation and mindfulness help us to be self aware enough to experience thoughts, or at least trains of thoughts, as discrete events. Events that we can decide, at the level of conscious awareness, to reinforce and nurture or to gently release to the universe.

Thoughts deserve our attention, but many can be gently dismissed as unhelpful. If you found a sight disturbing, such as a dead animal on the side of the road, would you force yourself to continue to look in that direction? Thoughts are like that. There is no need to beat yourself up over a negative thought, but you can allow yourself to let go of that thought once you realize it is causing distress. But it takes practice!

Buddhists masters teach that the mind is the 6th sensing organ. Thus thoughts occur in our minds just as light and sound are sensed by our eyes and ears. Because so many thoughts are unhelpful, we need “eye lids” for our minds. These can be nurtured through practicing meditation, mindfulness or silent prayer.

The many benefits of meditation are well researched and documented, so I won’t list them all here. Perhaps the most significant benefit is an opportunity to practice thought awareness. For example if you meditate through conscious breathing, you are taught to notice when your thoughts are taking you away from your breath and gently return to feeling it coming in and out of your body. Invariably thoughts occur many times over the course of a meditation session. That is actually good, because each time you “catch yourself thinking” you are practicing this very important life skill. It hones the ability to become aware of and let go of a thought, until we get to the point where the act of following a train of thought becomes automatic. It is like having a remote control for the “programs” in your mind!

The conscious awareness from which we can discern thoughts is a mystical connection to the mind of Christ. True self awareness requires access to this conscious awareness that is the ocean on which the waves of thoughts flow. We are each already aspects of the mind of Christ, most of the time we just don’t realize that fact.

Through mindfulness, you can practice accessing this awareness while doing the dishes, picking up sticks in the orchard, sorting pecans or just walking between buildings. First turn off the radio, music player and TV. Then just do your repetitive task mindfully, noticing your breathing, your simple motions and task experience. When your mind drifts to other thoughts, gently notice that and go back to your task and your breathing. The fruit of this practice is no less than the ability to chose your thoughts, so you can live a happier life!

Happiness is 95% interpretation and 5% circumstance.

We can take responsibility for our happiness through clarity in our faith in a loving God and mastery over our troublesome minds. You don’t have to sit in silent meditation every day to start to practice, although it will accelerate your progress to a rock solid inner source of happiness. You can practice every day while doing what you are already assigned to, right here on the farm.

Song Lyrics

Perfect Love

Our God is perfectly loving
but how am I to prove?
I see the gift of all my pain
inspires me to move

Chorus:

Our love is God our God is Love
The Circle is so neat
My faith in all providing Love
has made my life complete

We are all one with our God
Our Unity is true
The miracle of karma is
reflecting all we do.

Chorus

This faith enables my vision
to see my life anew
God always gives me what I need
to help me see things through

Bridge:

But when I stray with faltering heart
and my judgments rule the day,
my vision dims my world grows dark
and then I loose my way.

But every leg on our journey
both back and forward parts
are perfectly designed to help
hold lessons for our hearts.

Chorus

repeat last line as:
My faith in all providing God
has made my life complete

Some additional thoughts

Since this talk was written to fit into the 10 minute time slot we try to stick to for morning chapel, I had to focus it as much as I could while still hopefully conveying the main message. Thus, some important points had to be “givens,” such as the kinds of beliefs you may or may not hold and what to do when unhelpful thoughts keep recurring despite your best mindful attempts at release.

One of the main themes of my forthcoming book is on faith based beliefs being foundational to our lives. Since they are so foundational, it is very important recognise what you belief already so you are better prepared to choose new beliefs that will be even more helpful to supporting happy interpretations and fruitful spiritual practices. In the Koinonia context, I hoped that most of the listeners believed in a God that is loving and that provides everything we need to be happy. I actually talked about that a bit in the previous month’s “lesson” which I’ll be posting on this blog at some point. For the wider audience on the web, it will be up to you to develop “wholesome beliefs” that are supportive of your happiness. When I do publish the book “Faith to Practice” you can read more about what I think about that process.

It is important to understand that when I say “gently release” a thought, I really mean gently! If you find yourself back at a thought or train of thought that just won’t go away, please don’t struggle and attempt to force it out of your mind through concentrated effort. Just stay aware of the thought(s) and the feeling(s) that they evoke and accept them as part of how you are experiencing yourself in that moment. Know that with practice, any unhelpful thought or feeling can eventually be released and be very patient with yourself in this process.

This post, “Responsible Happiness” by David Gaia Kano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Koinonia Farm One Year Internship

It has been a long time since I posted. Now I have an especially compelling reason to do so again, as I’m starting a one year internship at Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA. I’ll let you read about the farm on their website and use this blog to reflect on my experiences here for any interested parties, friends and family back home. I want to thank all my supportive upper valley friends and my loving daughters, who have made this new beginning possible. I love you!

The one year commitment started on January 31, 2015. I drove my ’97 Honda Civic down (it was very full!) to Georgia again, having visited the farm the beginning of December 2014 for a week. That visit, plus what I’d learned from their representative at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference in September, and their website convinced me that a year here would be a wonderful way for me to begin the exploration of living in an intentional community.

I’ve been practicing group meditation and mindfulness with the support of the Heart of the Valley Mindfulness Practice Center in Norwich, VT. This Buddhist group, which follows the teachings of Tiche Nhat Han (who we just call Thay), has been one of three spiritual communities I’ve frequented, along with the Prayer of the Heart centering prayer group in Thetford, VT and the Center for Transformational Practice in White River Junction, VT. So only one of the two groups which I call my extended spiritual family identified formally with Christ, although Thay references the teachings of Jesus quite a bit in his books and dharma talks.

So this first trial in living a communal life will be a great way for me to immerse myself in the Christian roots of my Grandfather Kano. I need to see if I feel called to a longer term commitment to service through the traditions and language of Christianity. I already know that I’m inspired by the teachings of Jesus as I understand them from the gospels, what I’m exploring is my relationship to this “experiment” as Clarence Jordan (founder of Koinonia) called it, in creating a “demonstration plot of the kingdom of God.” There are other “New Monastic” Christian communities using this model, and I already know this one is wonderful, but is this or another of them the best choice for my new home in community? I’m excited to be here to start to inform my heart in that process of discernment.

As I arrived here with the other 3 men I had already been told were also starting their internship, I was delighted to learn that a 4th person was going to be able to share the experience with us as well. Alanah has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and had thought it impossible to do the internship program for which she had been accepted, but a new plan was forming to allow her to come to orientation week, return home for further doctors appointments and then be back on the farm sometime in March, God willing. So by the end of March my internship group will be 5 people strong. Meanwhile we pray for her healing, and I’m sending her distance Reiki some mornings for a few minutes during the silence at the start of our chapel service. Please add your prayers to ours!

The bell in the center of the main campus is rung three times a day to signal a moment of silent prayer. The new dining hall and common kitchen is in the background.

The bell in the center of the main campus is rung three times a day to signal a moment of silent prayer. The new dining hall and common kitchen is in the background.

The first week was dedicated to orienting us to the “New Monastic” life, Koinonia style, which we would be trying on for the coming year. We were taken on tours by each of the department heads of animal & garden farming, pecan farming, hospitality, bakery (where the products, mostly sold through the mail are made), and community outreach. We had sessions on community life and spiritual life here at Koinonia and we started to get into the rhythm of going to chapel every weekday morning, devotional worship and prayers at lunch and dinner and the moments of prayer when the bell is rung at 10 am, 3 pm and 8 pm each day. We also learned about a process called “examen” that everyone living here uses to share our experiences with others once a week. The week culminated with each of the new interns sharing a 20 minute summary their spiritual life stories with the rest of the community on Friday afternoon, followed by a party and campfire.

One aspect of the new monastic life here for interns is that we sign a covenant that includes the promise not to date or start any new romantic relationship for the year. If one of us does feel attracted to a person in that way, we are to avoid one-on-one interactions with them in order to honor this agreement. The reasoning is that the internship program requires our full attention and a new relationship typically also takes a lot of time and energy; one or both would suffer if attempted together. We also agree to work through disagreements directly and gently and refrain from negative chatter, rumors and gossip. All very sensible and at times challenging things to honor!

These 2 new potato beds are being created out of 4 narrow beds were before.

These 2 new potato beds are being created out of 4 narrow beds. Brandon and I both prefer working the earth with hand tools over the tractor pulled disc device that created the old beds.

I’ve been particularly interested in the state of the annual garden and will be excited to see what the “kitchen garden,” which is planted permaculture style, looks like in the spring and summer months. I actually got started in the garden just a bit back in December when I visited and have continued to get more involved over my first intern month. We have been harvesting lots of turnips and a bit of kale and working to plant peas. Carrots were also planted just before we arrived and we are starting work to prepare beds (photo right) for potatoes. Tomato and other seeds will be ordered so we can start some things in the green house as soon as we can.

Steve and I are getting along fine

My apartment mate Steve and I are getting along fine!

My apartment, which I share with fellow new intern Steve, is in the south east corner of “Jubilee house” right next to the main garden. Each apartment has it’s own outside entrance and an inside entrance into a central common room with two good sized tables, shelves full of games and jigsaw puzzles, musical instruments including a piano and a couple of couches. The screened in front porch will be great for hanging out, once we start to get warmer days again. Most apartments have mini-kitchens with hot plate, microwave, toaster oven and coffee pot.

We are responsible for our own breakfasts every day. Monday night is reserved for house dinners informally organized in small groups of your choice. Friday and Saturday night dinners are left overs from community meals or trips to town to eat out. Sunday lunch you are on your own and Sunday night is a pot luck to which friends from the wider community are invited. The rest of the meals, Monday – Saturday lunches and Tuesday – Thursday dinners are prepared in the main kitchen and eaten in the main dining hall. Short devotional services follow all community meals.

Sunrise over the chapel (lower left) and the Elliot pecan orchard.

Sunrise over the chapel (lower left) and the Elliot pecan orchard.

Every weekday morning starts with a 20-30 minutes service at the chapel at 7:50am. We start with about 5 minutes of silence and then our director Bren reads from the old testament, followed by a few minutes of silent reflection and a hymn. Then we stand for another short reading from the gospels, followed by a 5-10 minute talk by one of the resident members or interns, usually related to the gospel reading. The service ends with one more hymn, followed by a morning check-in and announcements circle and it is off to morning work assignments with the department head to which each of us are assigned.

I love the variety of work. Here is my schedule from my first week, after the orientation was completed week one, which is typical:

This is my calendar for the second week of my internship, which is typical!

This is my calendar for the second week of my internship, which is typical!

While the schedule is quite packed, the atmosphere is pretty relaxed and easy going. We get coffee breaks at 10am and 3pm, right after the bell has rung for a moment of prayer. Many of us head to the coffee shop, a ferro-cement dome-roofed building at the edge of the main campus. There we often find bags of chocolate, peanut brittle and other treats that did not make the high standards of size or shape for product sale but are still just as tasty! Typically 3-10 people are there on break, providing another time for fellowship and comparing notes on the days work or the currently assigned reading for the study facet of the intern program.

We are starting our study by reading about the early years after Koinonia was started. We take notes inspired by the reading assignments in shared journals, which are handed from person to person each week. Each of us will respond in writing to the notes made by the previous person and add new notes for the next. This process is in addition to our weekly study sessions on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, at which we discuss the readings and answer questions posed by Elizabeth, one of the stewards (long-term committed members) who is our study facilitator. The founder, Clarence Jordan is quite the inspirational minister, biblical scholar, and author who often traveled to preach. We are learning to appreciate this man and some of the other key members of the early “experimental demonstration plot for the kingdom of God” as we fondly call Koinonia.

Wednesday mornings we have breakfast (prepared by we interns) together with Bren, followed by a simplified version of the traditional “examen” practice This is a process of sharing the experience that challenged us most, and another experience which brought us closest to God in the past week. Sharing these “desolations” and “consolations,” as they are called, is a great way to get to know each other better and support each other as our spiritual lives unfold in community. After we listen to a person share, the floor is opened for questions and comments. Bren does a nice job of facilitating and it seems our intern group is fairly willing to open up and share in this fairly intimate process.

We have over 100 egg laying free-range chickens that are moved twice a week. No, that van does not run, the whole rig is towed by a tractor and  the van serves as a mobile storage shed!

We have over 100 egg laying free-range chickens that are moved twice a week. No, that van does not run, the whole rig is towed by a tractor and the van serves as a mobile storage shed!

For the past 2-3 years I’ve been in the process of switching to eating almost all organic food. As my daughter Rose says, I’ve become a “food snob” of sorts! Now that I’m used to eating quality, highly nutritious and delicious food, I no longer enjoy what I call “dinosaur food,” because it is grown with so many petroleum based chemical fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides that by some accounts, it takes 10 calories of oil for every calorie of food grown! This strong preference for organic has even taken much of the fun out of going to restaurants, because 20-30 minutes after I’ve eaten I just don’t feel that great. Organic food leaves me feeling solid and satisfied, whereas the “conventionally grown” stuff leaves me feeling a bit hollow and unsettled. I’m sure some of this difference is due to my understanding and feelings about the different sources and impacts of the growing process, perhaps more than the nutritional effects of the extra minerals, vitamins and protein, but I do believe both are in play. I’ve learned from my practice at the Heart of the Valley to eat many of my meals mindfully, without reading, listening to music or watching video at the same time. Thay encourages us to look deeply into our food to see the non-food elements that have gone into it’s production and preparation. Doing this with “death food,” (as I’d really like to call it, but it would be too impolite), would cause me to lose my appetite (at best) or become depressed (at worst)!

Production of this food is killing the planet: dead zones in the ocean are growing, soil is being depleted and desertified, rain forests are being cut and burned to make new farms, insecticides are killing the bees and research shows the main ingredient in the herbicide “round-up” (when consumed with aluminum, a part of our diet from naturally occurring sources) is probably causing a startling rise in the number of cases of autism in children. As soils are depleted, they release carbon into the atmosphere, significantly contributing to climate change.

The raw milk from our grass fed cow is amazingly rich and delicious. Look at that cream!

The raw milk from our grass fed cow is amazingly rich and delicious. Look at that cream!

So I was disappointed, to say the least, when I learned that Koinonia has not yet made the switch to using organically grown ingredients in it’s community meals. The intention is there, but it has not yet been implemented consistently. Evidently they had made some progress in the past, but the intern that was helping to lead this cause left when his program was over and they slipped back into buying  conventionally grown food from the local supermarkets. By the time I got here, there were no USDA certified organic products in sight. The good thing is that there is plenty of meat, eggs and milk grown here on the farm. The raw milk is amazing and makes wonderful yogurt! While the animals are technically not organic because we use chemically grown feeds and some locally available chemically grown hay, at least they all have wonderful, happy lives. I’m happily eating these.

To a person that wants to eat local and mostly organic, Americus is a food desert. The grocery store that carries the most is Harveys. They have a handful of organic products including 3 types of cheese in 8oz packages, white semolina spaghetti and some other pasta, baby-cut and juicing carrots, 2 lbs bags of organic flour (for $3.76), apples and a few others. Surprisingly, their little organic island display has many Red Mill items that are not organic, even though that brand has organic versions of those products! The only other current option to Americus residents is to join the “Picky Eaters Buyers Club” which allows you to order from the UNFI website, requesting a case split when you don’t want to purchase the large amounts that are required for most items. If enough other members buy from your case, it will be purchased, with any additional packages offered to others after delivery, during “market day” when folks come pick up their orders. Koinonia also orders from UNFI once a month and I’ve been told used to get much of it’s food that way, so I’m hopeful that process will restart soon.

I baked organic bread for the whole community to share using flour I brought from home.

I baked organic bread for the whole community to share using flour I brought from home. I also bake and freeze my own bread every week or two, just like I have been doing back home.

In the meantime, after eating the chemically grown food, (plus the farm raised meat with I am happy to eat) at the community meals for two weeks, I decided I just was not comfortable continuing. In the following examin, I shared this as my “desolation” for the week. Ever since, I’ve been taking my own lunch sandwiches and leftovers to the community meals and going through the buffet line only for the farm raised meat and occasional dish that was made mainly from the produce from our winter garden: turnips (and their greens), seminole pumpkins, kale and collards. Obtaining and making most of my own food has been time consuming, but I still feel good about the decision. I don’t judge the farm for slipping back into buying from the mainstream stores, because they have so much they are doing and are still developing workable systems for everything that can be sustained with a somewhat transient workforce of interns. Some day they will have enough stewards (long term committed members) to head up all the most important leadership roles in the spiritual, educational and operational work of the farm, but they are not there yet.

My own spiritual life here has been very rich. The readings we are assigned stimulate very interesting discussions that inform some things I’ve been exploring before I arrived, such as belief in reincarnation vs a single life followed by heaven (or hell) and why prayer for another’s healing works so well (in many controlled studies) when God already knows what we want and need before we ask? Some new insights are making it into the book I’ve been writing for the last few years, with the current working title “Faith to Practice.”

I’ve had no trouble fitting my twice daily sitting meditation into my schedule. Now I’m helping another person to start a daily meditation practice and we are going to sit together each morning for 30 minutes before the regular chapel service! I’ve given him a short tutorial on the use of the EM Wave biofeedback device to help him find a technique that keeps his heart coherent. As a meditation evangelist who loves group practice, this is one of the most exciting developments since I’ve arrived!

I’ve been having a wonderful time in the garden, where I usually get to work whenever I’m assigned to help Brandon, who is in charge of the farm animals and vegetable gardens. We are still planting only cold hearty crops like radishes, mustard greens and kale, but by the time these seedlings are fully mature, it will start to get hot enough that they will bolt (shoot up and go to seed) and their beds could be replanted with summer season crops that can stand the heat of southern Georgia.

It remains to be seen how I stand up to that heat, come summer! In the meantime, I’ve been happy to miss the brutal cold of this winter up north. I would have loved to use my snow shoes in all that snow though, when temperatures allowed!

Thanks for your interest (you made it to the end of this fairly long post!) in my experiences here at Koinonia. I’m going to try to post once a month or so. If I post on another site some months, I’ll at least post a link here to let subscribers know.

If you can make it down to Georgia, I’d love to have visitors! Just contact Elizabeth Dede by calling the farm at (229) 924-0391 between 9 am – noon or 1 pm – 5 pm. We have plenty of space for guests. Come immerse yourself in a loving community where we all do our best to follow Jesus!