Sally Clough Armstrong began practicing vipassana meditation in India in 1981. She moved to the Bay Area in 1988, and worked at Spirit Rock until 1994 in a number of roles, including executive director. She began teaching in 1996, and is one of the guiding teachers of Spirit Rock's Dedicated Practitioner Program. Sally has always been inspired by the depth and the breadth of the Buddha’s teaching, as presented in the suttas of the Pali Canon, because the truth and power of the Buddha’s words still speak to us today. Her intention in teaching is to make these ancient texts and practices accessible and relevant to all levels of practitioner, from the very new to the dedicated meditator.
Though the teachings on dukkha (suffering) are an important part of the Buddhist path, a skillful relationship to sukha (pleasure) actually played a significant part in the Buddha's awakening. This talk explores the wise use of pleasure and the cultivation of beautiful qualities of mind, especially in concentration practice.
To develop any skill, to fully cultivate any qualities in our lives, particularly on the Buddhist path, we need to engage with three kinds of intention that operate on different time frames. Cetana is the moment to moment intention, the urge to do, that we can bring into the field of our mindfulness practice. The next level, Adhitthana, is usually translated as resolve or determination, and is one of the paramis. The highest level is Samma Sankappa, usually translated as right or wise intention. This is the second path factor, after right view, so it is the kind of intention developed by right view. There are three kinds of Right intention - the intention towards renunciation, non-ill will, and non-harming. These skillful intentions can then inform our choices and actions (Adhitthanas) , which we keep in mind through awareness of moment to moment intentions, or cetana.
Patience is one of the paramis, the 10 beautiful qualities of the heart/mind that we develop in our sincere practice. Patience is essential if we are to deepen in meditation, especially on long retreats, as it allows us to be present when things are difficult or not exciting, which can be a lot of the time! True patience not just tolerance, a willingness to put up with things until they get better. Patience is a full body experience, a commitment to being present with care and acceptance. Patience brings with it many other wholesome factors such as contentment and equanimity.
For some people, the idea of retreat implies some form of escape or avoidance. But actually, meditation retreats, especially long ones, are deep dive into our direct experience, both individual and collective. Though we disengage from the busyness and distractions of our daily life, we are still deeply engaged in understanding the world and our place in it, and can return from retreat more balanced and compassionate, ready to engage wisely with our lives and the issues of our time.
As we commit to our meditation practice, we can see patterns that are helpful to understand and use to deepen our experience. This is an important part of the training and can give us confidence in the practice and our experience.