September 20, 2017 :: DONALD WOODSIDE
SOME INSIGHTS FROM THIS SESSION:
- If a strategy is fun and easy, enjoy; if it's challenging, it's probably relevant.
- Utilizing the sight reactivity nexus to "quickly and loudly say yes!".
- Sight experience as an experience of True Love.
Retired child psychiatrist. Husband, father, grandparent and child caregiver. Buddhist practitioner and mindfulness meditation teacher. Quaker practitioner and spiritual guide. Refugee sponsorship committee member. Condo board member. Tango dancer….
Meditation practice and community have been unifying threads throughout Don’s many-faceted life. He first came to meditation in 1968.
I was in Malaysia serving as a general physician. It was a time of great turmoil in the world. The work I was doing was personally tremendously satisfying but felt somewhat counter productive in a larger worldview. I had no particular next step in my life, except that I was interested in the wisdom of the East. So I went from Malaysia to India, with a vague notion of finding out something about meditation.
While Don had been exposed to Buddhist devotion rituals in Malaysia, he didn’t yet have experiential access to meditation. Everything changed when he spent a week at a Buddhist Hermitage in Sri Lanka, and soon after found a teacher named Anagarika Munindra in the Mahasi tradition in Bodhgaya, India.
I asked him to tell me about meditation. He refused. But he offered me a 10-day retreat.
To be introduced to the teachings of the Buddha and actual mediation was completely new to me. It was life changing to break through to the experience that there is something beyond our usual web of thinking, that there’s a spiritual domain. It opened my “spiritual eye.”
It was like the book Flatland – I discovered a new dimension. That spiritual dimension is now just as vivid as any of the other dimensions of experience, indeed, it is their source. I stayed on and studied with him for months after that first retreat.
He turned to existentialism and phenomenology to try to understand his experience. He then ramped up with full-time study and work in psychiatry, and focused on family. He felt the shift into psychiatry might offer opportunities to integrate his interest in the mind with his Buddhist mediation and medical practice. Although the practice of psychiatry changed dramatically throughout his 30+ year career, he says the “dhamma” perspective always remained an important lens guiding his work.
In 1978, Don joined a new meditation community in Hamilton, Ontario (which some of you may be familiar with, as it is going these many years later), and attended retreats at IMS. He also started attending Quaker meetings with his family. At first he didn’t feel a need for it, since he had his own contemplative practice, but participated because his wife wanted a spiritual home for their young children. It quickly became another facet in his spiritual practice.
I’d often sit down and imagine that Jesus was at one end of the meeting room and the Buddha was at the other, and they were in a dialogue. Over a period of years I found I could integrate their teachings into my own understanding, so nothing was in conflict.
Quaker meeting is a corporate practice as opposed to an individual one. Listening to the others – whether they’re speaking or not -- is a primary focus of one’s attention. That’s a strength of Quaker meeting that’s largely missing in a meditation hall. What’s missing in the Quaker meeting for many people is a practice, how to get out of their head, their laundry lists and into the unifying silence.
Don also talked about finding Shinzen’s approach in 2005 after having done the Mahasi method for three decades.
Munindra taught a very pure Mahasi technique: In In, Out Out, Thinking Thinking. At first, Shinzen’s approach was a real challenge for me -- not using the breath, not having an anchor. But some of Shinzen’s other techniques were also revolutionary for me. To this day, I use spoken labels for a couple of minutes at the start of my morning formal sit and my mind settles right down. It just cuts through the attachment to my thoughts as self, and I drop into a meditative space so much more quickly.
Being retired from psychiatry and therapy, Don is cognizant of his various life roles and appropriate boundaries, especially when teaching meditation or in dialogue with someone as a spiritual guide. He expressed great appreciation for his varied communities and deep connections therein. Summarized simply, he said: It is all very rich. the topic area.
DON'S FAVORITE SPIRITUAL BOOK IS TALES OF A MAGIC MONASTERY BY THEOPHANE THE MONK.
HE AND HIS WIFE HAVE BEEN BALLROOM DANCING FOR OVER 20 YEARS; THEY LOVE IT BUT SAY THEY STILL AREN'T VERY GOOD AT IT.
He HAs ENGAGED IN THE PRACTICE OF ‘GEEZING’ WITH THREE OLD FRIENDS ON SKYPE EACH WEEK FOR THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS.