Sharings From the Sangha

Dear Friends,  

In last week’s post I mentioned that I will be taking a little break from writing and invited folks to share some of their own stories, poetry or art, or anything else that might may be unfolding from the practice or inspired by the sangha’s practice meetings. Sharings form Richard and David are offered today. Please practice viryaparamita, make an effort, and take some time to offer your own art, poetry or stories that reflect your understanding and/or experiences of the practice. Send them to me at wrgentner@gmail.com.

As we look forward to our practice and study together, I would like to hear suggestions from you about what we might study or explore related to buddhist teachings or the practice. We will begin the new cycle near the end of July. What topics are you interested in exploring? Are there teachings that are confusing or cause frustration? What are you deeply curious about? We have been doing this for a little over four years now and it is time to hear from you, not just me and my meanderings.  So step up!!!

In the meantime…..

Life Story Offered by David T.

As my friend, Frank and I climbed the century old steps up the bluff, I kept having to stop to catch my breath. When we finally near the top, there was a plaque in German, which I asked Frank to translate for me. He said the plaque reads we honor those German soldiers who died on the battlefield here during World War II. I told Frank, that the plaque wasn’t accurate that my father’s army division also lost many American soldiers on that battlefield. 

I had come to the site of this battlefield in Germany in June 2023 with my friend Frank, who I met a year earlier at a men’s retreat in Eastern Washington. It was there at that retreat that I realized it was time for me to deal with the wounding that my father experienced at this battlefield in Germany in April of 1945. 

At the retreat, one of our lessons was about pain that is not transformed, will be transmitted and I immediately thought of my father. He was not only injured on that battlefield by an exploding shell but also by the pain of untreated PTSD. He never transformed his pain and therefore passed it on to his wife and his three children. 

I shared my story of growing up with a father who I feared at the retreat, and was asked to open up about my pain in a small group. One memory that immediately came to mind, was my eighth birthday party and I recall my father, lighting the birthday candles and I reach to bring to bring the birthday cake closer to me, when I accidentally spilled a glass of milk and my father slapped me across the face! With tears streaming down my face, I recall my family singing, happy birthday while feeling the sting of that slap as I blew out my birthday candles. As the retreat continued, I shared many more painful memories and realized that I would like to do a ritual of healing and letting go of my pain. I had the idea that I would like to see if I could locate the 6 inch piece of lead shrapnel that was surgically removed from my father’s hip and bring it with me to the battlefield in Germany where he was wounded to bury it in a symbolic ritual of putting my pain to rest.

When I got home from the retreat, I called my younger sister, who handled my father‘s estate after his death, and she said that our father gave her son the lead shrapnel, and that he would like to keep it but I asked for a photocopy that I would then take with me, which I would then burn as part of my ritual. My sister agreed and made a photocopy and mailed it to me.

Frank and I stayed in zoom communication after the retreat where we discuss my interest in doing my ritual plus visiting him. I sent him maps that my father had given me of the site of the battlefield where he was injured, and Frank said he was able to locate it only about an hours drive from where he lives. Frank was very supportive from the very beginning and I was grateful when he eventually invited me to come to visit him in Germany.

I arrived in Germany in June 2023 to visit Frank and brought with me the maps but also some additional materials that explained my dad’s army division, crossing the Rhine river, and climbing the bluff to the battlefield above. It made mention of a German legend called “Lorelei” which was a rock formation on a ridge overlooking the river crossing that was famous for its resemblance of a beautiful woman whose songs would cause shipwrecks on the river. Frank had done some scouting and actually found a century old steps carved into the bluff that we could climb that would take us to the approximate location of the battlefield. I came prepared with my photocopy of the 6 inch piece of lead shrapnel plus a picture of my father taken on the grounds of the hospital after his surgery with him, standing holding a cane. My intention was to find a quiet and secluded place to be with Frank and to perform my ritual of healing. 

As we made the long climb up the steps I tried to imagine my father at 23 caring his 40 pound radio pack with batteries and staying near the commanding officer. It occurred to me that he may have been bushwhacking up the cliff and not taking the stairs, making his climb much more arduous. All this taking place under enemy fire with the Germans having the high ground shooting down. I had to stop often and catch my breath while making the climb up the stairs. I thought of my father, every step of the way, imagining what it was like for him. 

To my great disappointment when we got to the very top, it was crawling with tourist who had arrived by bus to visit the Lorylee museum. We did, however, pass by two abandoned wooden cabins that were fenced off, sitting on the bluff overlooking the Rhine river. After realizing that the cabins were the only secluded location on the entire bluff we decided to walk the fence line and discovered that we could make our way around the fence through some blackberry bushes to the steps of one of the cabins. 

Frank had come well prepared by bringing a prayer rug, candle, matches, sage and prayer bowl. We set up for our ritual on the bluff overlooking the Rhine river in absolute solitude. I brought out the picture of the lead shrapnel and laid it on the prayer rug next to the picture of my dad. Unbeknownst to me, Frank shared with me that he had an uncle who fought in the German army on the Russian front, who was captured by the Russians, and spent time as a prisoner of war, but was able to survive and return home to his family in Germany. Frank brought a picture of his uncle and laid it down on the prayer rug too. Frank lit the candle and the sage, rang the prayer bowl three times then we had a moment of silence. As I inhaled the smell of the sage and listened to the wind, blowing up the bluff I felt a sense of my fathers spirit. I then took a match, and I lit the picture of the lead shrapnel and watched it burn and prayed that the pain I experience from my father, be released into the wind. As I said, those words, I could feel the sensation of my body becoming lighter. At the same time and quite unexpectedly I recognized my father, as a hero for climbing that bluff under enemy fire and experiencing that wounding on the battlefield. I wished that he was still alive for me to let him know how much I appreciated his sacrifice. Frank likewise honored his uncle, who fought in the war. Frank grabbed my hand, and we held hands in silence as we honored both men who fought in World War II and we gave thanks for their respective sacrifice. 

I collected the ashes of the burned lead shrapnel, which I carried down the stairs with me to the Rhine river. There on the banks of the river, I spread the ashes into the water and watched them flow away. I had finally released my pain and replaced it with honoring a hero my dad.

The picture of my father after his surgery on the hospital grounds, holding a cane that I carried up the bluff and laid on the prayer rug as part of my ritual of healing and honoring.

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Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays: Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays: Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays: Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays: Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

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Check-In

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

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