Carla’s Letter to Sangha – Sept. 2018

September 2018
Hello to everyone in the BOTP sangha!

The recent cooler nights and the yellowing of leaves herald the arrival of autumn. Fall has always carried a tender sense of both endings and beginnings for me. There is sadness at the close of summer with its waning warmth and vacations, but also excitement in starting something new as we return refreshed to school, work or other callings. This autumn brings beginnings and endings for BOTP as well.

As most of you know, I have been on a six-month sabbatical from teaching to deal with breast cancer. During this time I chose to lead a quiet life and be reclusive. These six months have given me time to think and reflect on my life and on my current needs. Opportunities like this are rare and incredibly precious even when precipitated by unfortunate circumstances.

The essential Buddhist lesson of impermanence and change comes unbidden and often unwanted. The insight into the impermanence of health, body parts and life itself wasn’t new for me but was made more vivid, real and poignant. Our practice is to acknowledge this truth and find the grace and flexibility to dance along with the inevitable changes.

The sabbatical ended in August. Many people are asking, what’s next? I have been asking myself that question, as well, for months!

Several BOTP Dharma programs will be beginning in October but my schedule will be significantly scaled-back from what I did before the cancer. These new programs will be offered on a monthly instead of weekly basis. I hope many of you will attend and participate in these events! BOTP is not ending but it is definitely changing and evolving.

My decision may not be what you expected. I am guessing some of you hoped that after I recovered – assuming I would recover – I would resume my previous teaching schedule. I’d like to explain a little bit about how I came to this decision to semi-retire.

But before I do that, I have some appreciations. I cannot express strongly enough the amazement and gratitude I feel for all the support I have received from so many people. It came in many forms: warm and caring well-wishes, money, food, funny and beautiful gifts, cards, encouragement, guided healing meditation, and just plain love. You have learned the lessons of generosity and lovingkindness well!

I also want to thank everyone who has been part of the Guiding Circle since we created it in 2014. It takes a generous outpouring of time and energy to be on the board and it can be, at times, a somewhat boring or thankless job. I’d like to give a special bow of appreciation to Isabelle Rosenlund as the Circle Chair. She stepped up to this position, consistently bringing her broad perspective, organizing skills, frank feedback and sound judgment to the diverse needs of the organization. Her contributions and counsel have been invaluable to me over the past year.

The current Circle has been very supportive during this sabbatical. They not only strongly encouraged me to take a break from teaching so I could fully devote myself to determining my course of treatment and my healing, but they also arranged a monthly stipend to cover basic living expenses (funded through your generous donations.) This was an extraordinary and unexpected gift.

Thank you to everyone who has helped keep Thursday night and Friday morning programs going by setting up and closing or by facilitating peer-led sessions. Thank you to G Schulz for bringing the deep fruits of his study, practice and good heart to teach on Thursday nights.

The next few months will be an experiment as I begin new programming.

Just prior to my diagnosis in February, the Circle was talking about ways to lighten my teaching and administrative load. We were also beginning to explore how we might shift the focus and format of BOTP in creative ways.

The demands of teaching and running a small volunteer non-profit are great. In addition to teaching preparation and its execution, it takes constant effort within a small organization to consistently find people with the skills and availability to keep up the administrative, logistical and technology-based tasks. There is no lasting solution to this as far as I can see. I am familiar with many similar small organizations and they all struggle with the same issues. We proceed for as long as we can, as best we can, working with the inherent limitations and challenges. But it is difficult to sustain indefinitely.

Consequently, I’d like to significantly simplify the structure, the offerings and the admin support of BOTP. I feel I can no longer keep up the pace and demands of the organization. I hope you will be understanding of this. I am aware of my age (65) and my vulnerability. Dealing with life-threatening illness has a habit of clarifying priorities. We hope the cancer has been eradicated and there will be no future reoccurrence. But I do not know what will actually unfold. I would like to lead a quieter, simpler and slower lifestyle where I can take care of my well-being and deepen my practice. This seems like good time to try something a little different.

Starting next year, I will also be teaching part-time in Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach’s “Mindfulness Teacher Training Certification Program.” I will concurrently offer several local programs that will already be in place.

1. As a way to bring us all together, we are scheduling at Ocean Gate Zen Center a monthly Sunday morning meditation and dharma talk where I will teach. This will include two sitting meditation periods, a short walking meditation, as well as a talk and discussion. This will start on Sunday, Oct. 21, 9:30-12:30. More info.

2. I will also begin scheduling times again for Individual Practice Sessions in both Felton and Santa Cruz. I will post appointment slots on TimeTrade for sign-ups. More info.

3. I plan to offer something new: small monthly Practice Discussion Groups. These committed groups of 6-8 people will create a focused environment to share personal practice experience, explore deep questions, and receive feedback and direction. This kind of opportunity with a teacher for intimate in-depth discussion of the insights, growth, plateaus and confusion that arise in one’s practice is often not available. These groups promise to be supportive, dynamic and challenging. One group will meet monthly on Monday mornings, 10-12 in Aptos, starting Oct. 22 and the other will meet on Tuesday night, 7-9 in Felton, starting Oct. 23. More info.

4. I will offer daylong retreats occasionally, possibly quarterly. I have scheduled a “Meditating with the Redwoods” for Sat. October 6th in Ben Lomond. Registration is required and is open on EventBrite.

5. For now, the weekly peer-led group on Friday mornings in Capitola will continue. We are evaluating the viability of the weekly Thursday evening meditation and talk, led by G Schulz, at Ocean Gate Zen Center. It is continuing for now. Friday morning info. Thursday night info.

I encourage everyone to continue practicing diligently and to take advantage of the many local Dharma resources available. We live in an area with an abundance of Buddhist centers and teachers. Online sources such as Dharma Seed are an easily accessed treasure trove of teachings.

There is sadness for me in this process of change; there is some grieving. It means letting go of the way things were. It means change in the amount of time spent together. It is an acknowledgement of my limitations and of a new phase of life. You may feel some of this sadness, too.

BOTP officially began in 2009 and became a non-profit in 2014. We have had a wonderful run! I am proud of what everyone has done to create this special Dharma organization. You have shown incredible support for me as a teacher, for the Dharma, for meditation practice and for the programs we offer. When I left Vipassana Santa Cruz, I had no idea that so many people would come forward to generate an organization that would support me financially and allow for such a variety of programming. BOTP has offered something unique and that was because of your dedication and sincerity. Please let that dedication and sincerity continue to drive and inspire your spiritual unfolding.

It has always been one of my priorities to nurture sangha, to create an organization that values and encourages connecting and sharing between community members. Please take the initiative to continue meaningful sangha in whatever ways you can.

Each one of you is special to me. Each one of you has contributed to the depth and breadth of BOTP. Many of you have been showing up week after week for years! I thank you for your diligence, your sincere inquiry, your kindness and your willingness to practice. We cannot awaken without each other. We are, as Ram Das says, on a journey of “walking each other home.” I am so blessed to have walked and to continue to walk with you as we discover the truth and love that we are.

And remember: The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.

Practice can be summed up in: Pause, Breathe, Pay attention, Let be . . . Love.

Open your heart to each other and to what is.

Much Metta To You All,
Carla Brennan
Guiding Teacher, Bloom of the Present Insight Meditation