Author Archives: Linda

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Online retreat (substitute for residential retreat at Questhaven) March 26-30, 2020

With so many in person meditation events cancelling, I would like to invite you to attend a online retreat with us. We have been offering online events for many years so it is an easy transition to offer this for the reflective meditation communities.

The retreat will be a very ‘light’ schedule and will offer daily talks, chances to reflect upon your experience in meditation, and evening conversations. No need to attend every session. 

RSVP to me if you would like to be put on the participant list and I will make sure you get the Zoom invites and further details.

*All time zones can participate. Recordings will be sent out via email to all participants after each 9am session.
Thursday, March 26th    
7-8:30pm PST – Welcome
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, March 27, 28, 29
9-10am PST – Dharma prompt and sitting together / these sessions will overlap with the daily practice
4-5pm PST – Reflection group (for sharing sittings)
7-8pm PST – Closing for day (dharma conversation)
Monday, March 30th – Final day
9-10am PST – Dharma prompt and sitting together
4-5pm  PST – Closing

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From Sati Sangha and Pine Street Sangha

We don’t know how long this period of social distancing will last: these times are stressful and fear can easily consume us. Nelly Kaufer and I would like to share our reflective meditation practice with you as a refuge and a time for daily connection. We’re offering an open meditation group to both our communities.

  • If you don’t have a meditation practice, this might be an ideal time to give it a try.
  • If you do have one, this might be a chance to boost your daily practice.
  • If you’ve had difficulty establishing an “at home” meditation practice, this might be an ideal time to initiate or strengthen one.
  • If, during these challenging times,  you’re finding it hard to practice, to ground yourself, to concentrate, this is a chance to support your practice.

Start date: Thursday, March 19, 2020
End date: TBD
Time: 9am to 10am PST

You do not need to register. You can use this Zoom link – It is an unique link we created for these sessions only:

9am PST – short dharma prompt
20-30 minute meditation sitting
10 minutes reflective journaling
9:45am PST – 15 minute sharing/ closing

*If you are going to be more than a few minutes late, please meditate and reflect on your own, and join us at 9:45am.
**Apologies to our Australian friends. We are brainstorming with Anna Markey and Jenny Taylor to try and put something similar in place down under.

Linda Modaro and Nelly Kaufer

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A spiritual path is not linear, at least not much of the time.

Gerry Ritchie, from the Coast and City Sangha in Adelaide Australia, has offered to organize an online book study in March for Sati Sangha.
“The Five Invitations” by Frank Ostaseski.

Frank Ostaseski, a Buddhist teacher, was a co-founder of the Zen Hospice project in San Francisco. He has sat at the bedsides of many thousands of dying people and met them “where they’re at”. Frank had a stroke in July, followed by a series of mini-strokes.

It is envisaged to discuss one chapter per session. There are seventeen chapters. Members of the group would volunteer to “lead” a chapter by providing a short summary of its contents at the start of a session. After awhile, the group might wish to alter this approach according to how things evolve.

Please contact Jennie Reece if you are interested.

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From Sati Sangha and Pine Street Sangha

The Coronavirus reveals just how uncertain things can become. Health news changes daily, hourly. New cases are being diagnosed. New routes of transmission are being considered. This is destabilizing and scary. Even in times like this, we are careful about what we suggest to our sanghas because we know one suggestion will not work for everyone.

Right now we suggest finding some stable ground, comfort, reassurance within. Finding stability in uncertainty can be helpful, especially if you are finding yourself triggered or activated by past traumas. The stability here is not looking for something permanent, but more like finding your pair of supportive shoes when you are going on a topsy turvy hiking trail, or checking your oil and tires before you leave on a road trip. Curiosity seems to come more naturally when we are less reactive and overwhelmed.

After taking refuge in some stable ground, there’s lots to reflect upon that cuts right to the core of dharma and how we teach reflective meditation.

How we handle the uncertainty depends so much on where we live, our age, our health, and the other people that are close to us and far away; our plans and arrangements for travel, for conferences, for being with loved ones. All of it can feel Important. So, to take what is important and go into an internal process, gives you a chance to get some clarity on what is stirred up for you. This is practice. You have been training for it, and now you have time to use it, put it into action.

Perfection is impossible, though it might seem protective. There‘s no perfect way to meditate, that works for all of us all of the time. Trying to meditate perfectly is a recipe for meditators guilt or meditators narcissism — depending on how well you think you’ve met the benchmark.

We all have been bombarded with information about how to handle the Coronavirus. There are so many suggestions that are necessary, and will create new habits for us regarding public health. We will not all be able to follow them perfectly, and it is likely we will make mistakes, but the stakes can seem higher when life and death may be tied to how we act. The existential reality that we are going to die someday may seem closer to us now.

When we’re uncertain and scared we’re prone to create stories that are rife with too much certainty. Even if the stories we create are awful, they give us a sense of control and that can be relieving in itself. Free floating fear can be harder to tolerate. Do you have an obvious or more subtle story you tell yourself about the virus? Might you loosen it up a bit?

From Nelly: “There are many decisions that aren’t clear. I’m scheduled to go to Seattle next week-end to a square dance party, with about a hundred people. Seattle is the US epicenter for the virus and square dancing entails continual touching of other dancers’ hands, the very activity that they are telling us not to do. And should I fly into the Seattle airport in a plane, a petri dish for viruses?”

From Linda: “After talking with everyone involved, we are going to cancel the March Questhaven residential retreat. It is the cautious, safest move. Thankfully, I know how to put together an online retreat and it works. We all took time off, made room in our schedule to retreat. If anyone else is interested, let me know. Also, Nelly and I have another online retreat planned for April.”

We think the best response to this virus is kindness and caring, both for yourself, the people in your life, and the healthcare workers who are leading the way through this epidemic.

Linda Modaro and Nelly Kaufer

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Is Reflective Meditation Secular?

Reflective Meditation has a chameleon quality. It takes on the values and conditions of the person who practices it. Same with the teachers. So why do I consider Reflective Meditation a non-traditional, secular, ethical approach to practice? Likely because that is how I feel most comfortable teaching the dharma these days.

Below is an excerpt and link to an article for your reflection, with some minor rearranging from me. Winton Higgins offered this dharma talk in New Zealand last year. He speaks eloquently about a secular approach to mindfulness (or sati) meditation.


“I suggest that the central Buddhist practice of insight meditation based on mindfulness (to use that problematic term for now) is a highly developed approach to opening up our inner lives in the interests of our personal development as reflective human beings, and pursuing our personal search for meaning. The Buddha’s foundational teaching for this meditative practice is the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta (the discourse on the focuses of awareness).

Let’s reframe our meditation practice to serve the aspiration to deepen and enlarge our humanity rather than leaving it and its life-world behind as an irredeemable vale of tears. We take sati’s hand and invite this human body-and-mind to reveal its contents. At first it might look like an uncharted jungle in there, but that’s the nature of the beast, and that’s okay.

We have the body as a constant, grounding reference point. Never leave home without your body! At the beginning, and at any subsequent stage, we can ‘check in’ to the body, by watching our breathing, taking note of our posture, and of what we’re doing in the physical realm. And sati holds the map.

We should pass up artificial navigation aids, such as technical instructions and supposed milestones on our way. We have no use for formulas. We follow our experience wherever it leads us, and we have the map to reveal to us where we find ourselves at any given moment.

We’re not heading towards a goal, or chasing any particular experience. We don’t need to be ‘redeemed’, or ‘saved’ – swept off to some post-human, post-suffering plane of existence that would in fact demean our human dignity.

Instead, we’re patiently exploring our inner world and getting to know its myriad inhabitants. We’re clarifying ourselves, becoming more connected, balanced and intelligent. We need to be alert to these processes. Gradually patterns will reveal themselves and ethical discrimination will arise, especially as we master the conceptual framework of the discourse – that is, of the dharma itself – in the course of our meditative lives. And our insights will have the supreme authority of our very own experience.”

– you can find the complete article here:

Winton Higgins has been a Buddhist practitioner since 1987 and a teacher of insight meditation since 1995. A member of The Tuwhiri Project editorial board, he has contributed to the development of a secular Buddhism internationally, and is a senior teacher for Sydney Insight Meditators and Secular Buddhism in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Transitioning from 2019 to 2020

Sati Sangha, myself and so many others in our sangha, are deeply affected by the global climate crisis and fires in Australia. In November 2019 we shared dharma retreats, workshops, and conversations with dear friends in the Byron Bay area, at Melbourne Meditation Center and on retreat with Open Ground. Bill Wellhouse’s photos capture many aspects of Oz and how interconnected we are with the external world.

See more of Bills’ images here.

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Gratitude for an ancient tradition in modern times

If you think you know what the term secular means, you might want to re-visit what you know. My interactions with the following individuals and organizations over the past two years have deepened my personal understanding, and have influenced our direction as a non-profit organization.

I pass them along to you as a way of “paying it forward.”


-GRANT: Hemera Foundation
Sati Sangha is a “Healthy Buddhist Communities” grant recipient from the Hemera Foundation. In 2020, we will design three online Ethical Reflecting modules for Buddhist teachers, and refine and develop our online modules for mentorship and teacher teaching in Reflective Meditation.

-WEBSITE: Secular Buddhist Network put together by Ramsey Margolis and Mike Slott

-PODCAST: Ted Meissner, of the Secular Buddhist Association
Prescribing the Dharma: Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions and Defining Religion

-PODCASTS: The Ezra Klein Show
We don’t just feel emotions, we make them.
We live in The Good Place. And we’re screwing it up.

-BOOK: Matthew Remski
Practice And All Is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, And Healing In Yoga And Beyond

-RESEARCH: Ann Gleig and Amy Langenberg
Buddhist scholars receive grant to study sexual abuse in American Buddhism

-STUDY GROUPS: Two secular book studies starting in 2020, online via Sati Sangha Zoom Room 2
Love Between Equals by Polly Young Eisendrath – Janet Keyes with your collaboration, contact Jennie Reece to start in mid January
The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski – Gerry Ritchie with your collaboration, contact Jennie Reece to start in mid February

Below: the ancient oral tradition of sharing dharma meets podcasts, publishing, and technology.

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In the spirit of “informed consent”

In the spirit of “informed consent” we attempt to speak clearly about what we are doing, how we are teaching, how that connects with the Dharma and our history, and how it facilitates the meditative process.

Almost everything that has changed in how we have developed and teach Reflective Meditation over the past several years, arises from our experience reclaiming our practice and moving forward from a deeply painful split in our community. Like many Buddhist communities torn apart by failures of leadership, we continue to examine our ideals and assumptions about teaching and leadership and search for a middle path. Although we still observe much of the conceptual framework of Recollective Awareness Meditation (RAM), we have adapted it in ways that feel healthy and beneficial both to students and teachers. We explore several teaching points here and discuss our reconsiderations.

“We sit in a circle showing that each person’s voice is important.”

Initially, we have focused upon the power of the teacher’s role in our own and other spiritual communities. Placing the teacher above the students, figuratively or literally, encourages submissiveness, and risks dis-empowering students, making them dependent and passive. We are actively exploring different ways of teaching and learning.

Changing the seating configuration of the Dharma hall is not in itself enough to alter the balance of power, though it does give a strong non-verbal message. What we have also found can change the dynamic between student and teacher is for two teachers to present the dharma through conversation, and with students through dialogue. We also encourage students to articulate their own understanding of the Dharma through exploring Dharma prompts in dyads or small groups.

“You have permission to do any practice you would like to do.”

We have uttered those words before and repeat them now. However, now we no longer think we know the best practice for everyone. Before we might have publicly given lip service to other practices and traditions, while privately disdaining them in our hearts or in the inner circle. Now we are more authentically curious about where different practices lead and what practices are best under the conditions of a specific student’s life. We are all drawn to practices that resonate with us as things change in our lives. We try to help students discern which practices come to them with ease, and inspire them to meditate and reflect. Although unable to fully honor the diversity of different practices, we aim to come closer to what works for each student in a time and situation.

“The Dharma is found within your life and your personal experiences.”

Our practice is different from many others in that we emphasize learning from our own and other’s reflections. Our approach is characterized by a dialogue between student and teacher around the student’s experience in meditation. Sometimes this is done in group settings and other times one-to-one. We have learned to develop deeper respect for students’ privacy, along with the vulnerability that comes from exposing innermost experiences. Early in our relationship with students, we attempt to define our approach. For a few people it can feel invasive or re-trigger trauma from the past. When we become aware of this response, we may need to go outside the practice and suggest other skillful means.

We search for the middle path regarding teacher’s revealing their own meditative experiences, taking several possibilities into account. We have learned that a teacher’s unwillingness to talk about their own experience holds risks we never envisioned. Teachers will discover their own way through this conundrum through trial and error.

“You have permission to share to the level of your comfort.”

While we talked about confidentiality between teachers and students in groups, we never talked about how to honor this boundary when students talk individually with a teacher. Like the practice of psychotherapy, a meditation teacher is bound to practice confidentiality, although we have no licensing board to regulate us. We are committed to developing agreed upon standards of practice. Through ongoing supervision and peer support, we attempt to give our teachers ways to explore problems and dilemmas that naturally arise in the student-teacher relationship, as a protection for both.

Finally, we express our gratitude for the people who have taught us and the wealth of knowledge that has been available to us. Gratitude arises naturally in the course of a meditation practice. Each of us has been taught by someone, whether in person, through a book, or a discussion. This is how knowledge and wisdom are passed down, internalized, and evolve. Whenever possible we take care to mention the variety of our sources and share them, so others can benefit from their knowledge.

Our reflections here are provisional, from where we stand now after long-term practice. We acknowledge that further adjustments will be required in the future. We think we speak for many people when we say Reflective Meditation is a work in progress. We are committed to this ongoing exploration and welcome comments, questions and suggestions from our communities.

–Linda Modaro, Nelly Kaufer, and Janet Keyes