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Writing Dharma: An Experiment with Creative Practices
Dates: Dec 03, 2020 - Dec 06, 2020
Days: Thu - Sun (3 Nights)

Instructor(s): Kate Lila Wheeler

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In Asian Buddhist cultures, there is an appreciation for writing, poetry, songs, and image-making as Dharma practices. However, in the West, meditation retreat instructions often forbid reading, writing, drawing, journaling, and other forms of expressive behavior. This course invites creative expression as an experiential basis to explore the relationship between Dharma and Art. Does Dharma practice need to feel quiet, or can we also be at home when the mind is manifesting its more creative aspects? What about the ‘wrathful’ manifestations of Dharma and of art? Drawing on both Theravāda and Vajrayāna models and practices, we will explore, experientially and together, how it is to adopt a “process” as opposed to “product” oriented attitude toward writing, drawing, and indeed any intentional activity. This course will explore classic teachings, such as the Five Hindrances and Seven Factors of Enlightenment, as models for relating to the creation of any product. Adopting Vajrayāna and Tantric attitudes, participants will also be invited into open-mind and pure-mind meditations. This will, it is hoped, lead to a conversation about birth and death aspects of Dharma practice — “generation” practices that include Metta and Tantric deity sadhanas; and “dissolution” practices like contemporary vipassana and yogic and body-based practices that relieve or resolve conceptuality and emotion into sensation. What is the benefit, if any, of practices encouraging the birth of images and appearances? And, on the flipside, what benefits, if any, come from practices that sideline conceptual thinking or value dissolution of form and even the “death” of the experiential? Participants will be asked to bring their own writing instruments, a notebook, laptop, and/or simple, non-messy drawing materials if they wish to add doodles or drawings to their writings. The heart of the schedule will consist of practice blocks that are structured sequences: silent practice, ‘freewriting’ , then more focused writing for a longer period. The culmination will be a short discussion for sharing one’s experience. In order to keep the process focus there will be no sharing of writing. If this is called for it won’t be forbidden but not enforced, it may take place in an interpersonal, informal manner.

Learning Intentions:

To learn by experience that any activity can be Dharma activity, including when the mind is actively engaged or absorbed in writing or another creative practice and to explore possible overlaps between formal Buddhist practice and art making.

Noble Silence and Mindful Speech:

Noble silence will be observed following the evening session through breakfast the following morning.

Experience Level:

Suitable for both beginning and experienced practitioners.

  • Kate "Lila" Wheeler is one of the coordinators of the 2016-2020 meditation teacher training at Spirit Rock, the most diverse Buddhist training in American history.  She was given rein to teach in the Theravada Insight tradition, Vajrayana, and the Advaita approach of HWL Poonja.  Kate grew up in Latin America and has spent time in traditional Asian practice communities, as as a nun in Burma in 1988 and the caves of Tso Pema more recently.  She practices at Spirit Rock, Pema Kilaya in Washington State, and some other communities in the West. 


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