MAPS: a GPS for Inner Peace
Mindfulness as a valuable human practice has been popular in the west at least since Ram Dass penned “Be Here Now” in 1971 and the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote his series of teachings of the subject. In recent years, scientific studies at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, and elsewhere have proven that a consistent mindfulness practice can alter the physical structure and function of the brain, creating new neural pathways resulting in increased capacities for attention, reduced anxiety, a boost to the immune system, and lowered blood pressure.
While there are many avenues to pursuing mindfulness beyond meditation – through art with a focus, or spending quiet time in nature, for example – a systematic training might make the practice more effective and easily implemented in daily life. That’s where The Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA comes into play. The program was created to bring the ancient art of mindful awareness to the school’s mental health research institution in a scientifically supported and rigorous form.
Until recently, however, you would have had to travel to Westwood to partake in the program that goes by the handy acronym MAPs, for Mindful Awareness Practices. But veteran Santa Barbara yoga teacher and longtime mindfulness practitioner Barbara Rose Sherman has been teaching the basic MAPS 1 for Daily Living course in town ever since she graduated from the program a couple of years ago.
Sherman, a former dental hygienist turned yogi whose meditation experience dates back to a stint at Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship in L.A. as well as listening to cassette tapes by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), is a full-fledged, joy-filled fan of the practice. “Mindfulness brings us to and helps us to pay attention to present moment with curiosity and acceptance and a willingness to be with what is,” she said. “It makes each moment light up – you don‘t miss the moments because you’re with them, not lost in ruminating or worrying.”
Sherman – who led more than 20 daylong workshops in yoga and other practices at La Casa de Maria in Montecito before the debris flow hit in January 2018 – will launch another local six-week MAPS 1 series covering basic principles of mindfulness where students will develop a personal meditation practice and learn to apply the principles in their daily life on an ongoing basis, beginning next Thursday, March 7. “There are a lot of doors to mindfulness, but the UCLA course is incredible,” she said. “It breaks everything down in a very structured way: how to meditate, what the obstacles are, the mindfulness of body, how to deal with physical pain, how to handle difficult emotions and cultivate positive ones, and how to engage in mindful communication. And you get the science, the research, a full foundation. It’s a wonderful way of getting started.”
That latter part can be key, Sherman explained, as research has shown that short sessions practiced frequently are more beneficial than sitting longer but intermittently. “The UCLA course is a way of a taking baby steps toward cultivating peace. Just like with growing a garden, it takes time, but it builds and grows, organically. Then when you start to have it, you want more.”
While learning online or practicing alone can help, the UCLA course has the added appeal of participating in a group, added Sherman, who also teaches the practice at nonprofits and corporations. “You get to experience everyone opening their hearts and feeling a sense of unity as they grow and transform. I’m honored to be the facilitator.”
For more details, or to register for the March 7-April 11 MAPS 1 course, visit http://mindfulbusinessworks.com/maps-i-mindful-awareness-practices.
Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center Resident Teacher Dawa Tarchin Phillips is back in town and gearing up for a new four-week course at the Mission Street locale. In “The Practice, Art, and Science of Meditation,” Phillips will teach essential fundamentals and specialized instructions on how to develop one’s meditation practice. Participants will learn the building blocks of a successful practice to discover innate wakefulness and a joyful mind. Attendance at all sessions – 7-9 pm on Thursdays, March 7-28, is listed as required. The $60 fee ($45 for SBBP Center patrons) can be paid online, or at the door when registration opens at 6:30 pm on March 7. Reduced cost is available for those unable to pay and no one is turned away for lack of funds.
Need some extra help? Phillips has also launched Dawa’s Office Hours, from 4-6 pm on Thursdays prior to the course sessions. The opportunity to meet one-on-one with the authentic Buddhist Dharma teacher to clarify questions about Buddhism, meditation, and individual practice is available by prior appointment only. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an appointment at least 48 hours in advance.
Sunburst’s Silent Retreat
The Sunburst Sanctuary’s annual “Dive into Silence” retreat takes place next weekend, a perfect time to spend close to four days not only not talking, but also enjoying what happens in that space: time to reconnect with oneself and whatever sense of awakening, greater purpose, or sense of spirit or source arises in the quiet of the present moment. Wonders arise from letting stories about the past and hopes and (mostly, in my case) fears for the future fade from conscious thought in favor of being in the present. At least that was my experience in mid-winter last year when I visited Sunburst for my first-ever silent weekend – which, unlike at some Zen monastery marathons, actually contains several sessions of talking and other guidance from the leaders (yoga, mala meditations, walking instructions), and even a few moments of singing from the participants themselves.
But the experiences that came from not responding verbally to was priceless, as documented by entries in my journal while spending countless quarter-hours with plants or creatures in the garden, or listening to the wind in the trees while on an hours-long solo hike. The guided portions include walking and sitting meditations, instructions in constructing and using malas, and yoga sessions, but most of the time is spent with no words at all, save for those you might find in the meditative books in Sunburst’s small library in the lodge hall, or ones you jot down in your journal. Best of all, for this participant, was the opportunity to explore not only the Hopi labyrinth and other nearby “sacred spaces for solitude” that have been designated for the weekend but also discover wide swaths of the expansive property in Sunburst’s 4,000 acre sanctuary – which should be bursting with wildlife and greenery following this winter’s series of rains – during the plentiful unstructured time. That and enjoying nourishing meals in the company of others without conversation of any kind, accompanied only by the wise and brief words from Thich Nhat Hanh about mindful eating that still resonates a year later (at least when I remember to look at the note on my refrigerator instead of wolfing down my food).
The “Dive into Silence” weekend starts with dinner on Thursday, March 7 and ends with Sunburst’s regular weekly 10:30 am Sunday meditation service followed by brunch on March 10. First up after greeting is the participants sharing intentions verbally in a circle before the words fall away and participants instead support each other via each other’s presence and purpose. You’ll all be the same, yet somehow changed, when talking starts again on Sunday morning.
The cost is by sliding scale donation of $175 – $250, plus lodging or camping fees (commuting is OK). Call or email the Sunburst office at (805) 736-6528 or email@example.com or visit https://sunburst.org/silence. Coming to Sunburst at the end of the month: Regenerating Earth & Spirit, a Family Friendly Weekend, March 29-31. Visit https://sunburst.org/earth for details.
ACIM at Unity
Meetings on A Course in Miracles take place every Wednesday at Unity of Santa Barbara, with locals supporting each other in absorbing and practicing the principals in the spiritual book that first arrived in the 1970s. This Saturday, March 2, the space hosts a day long dive into ACIM with a seminar titled “Undoing the Ego through the Practice of Pure Non-Dualism.” ACIM speaker and author Gary Renard and his wife, Cindy, will guide participants through the process of awakening from “the dream of separation” using the purely non-dualistic thought system, including a discussion of principles and practices of undoing the ego through true forgiveness. Participants will be taught how to gain a deeper understanding of how the mind works in order to take control of thoughts and choose peace and oneness over conflict and separation, and how to heal relationships by changing perceptions and interpretations. There will be a guided meditation for further deepening of the material as well as original music performed by Cindy. The 10 am to 5 pm workshop costs $95. Visit www.santabarbaraunity.org/gary-renard-undoing-ego-through-practice-pure-non-dualism.
C’mon People Now, Everybody Get Together
Mary Anne Avila’s new Santa Barbara Human-Being Meetup launches on Friday, March 1, with a “Celebration of our Commonality” gathering from 5:30-7:30 pm. The session for “people who are ready, or at least curious enough, to explore what it would feel like to join with other humans and put away those labels we use to define ourselves and others, (gender, color, culture, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, religion, etc.) to instead celebrate our commonality (needs, hopes, and dreams). Attendees are encouraged to bring a snack, dish and/or beverage to share, and acoustic instruments for drumming at the end of the gathering. RSVP for location and other details at www.meetup.com/Santa-Barbara-Human-Beings.
Darren Marc’s second round of public gatherings after more than a month’s hiatus takes place this week, beginning with a Cacao Ceremony & Healing Sound Journey in which Marc will be joined by Ka Luna in weaving together a Guided Meditation, Mantra-Chakra Toning Sound Journey, Heart-Centered Sharing, Hands on Healing, and a Healing Sound Bath from 2-5 pm on Saturday, March 2, at his private residence in Oak Park. ($25 donation; www.meetup.com/Cacao-Ceremony-Sacred-Song-Circle)… Darren & Friends lead a Kirtan & Healing Sound Journey 7-9 pm on Thursday, March 7, at Amy’s Yoga Studio, 37 Colusa Drive, Goleta, with homemade treats by Jessica included in the $10 suggested donation at door (www.meetup.com/Kirtan-Ascension-Sound-Journey)… Back at his Oak Park home, Marc also hosts a Community Reiki Healing Circle from 7-8:30 pm on Thursday March 14, featuring an intimate healing circle where each participant receives a mini reiki session followed by a guided meditation and a sound journey. ($10; www.meetup.com/Reiki-with-Darren-in-Santa-Barbara).
Christina Hackl is teaching yoga classes at the beach with a focus on the practice’s original intent of “becoming your highest state of being through knowing yourself as a soul, embodied in a physical body.” The donation-based Level 1 Vinyasa flow class next meets on the grass in front of lifeguard tower No. 5 at East Beach at 9 am on Sunday, March 3. Details at https://www.meetup.com/meetup-group-SRJkpnuo.