Bird singing in the trees above the alder-filled marsh, frogs croaking from within the marsh, and gorgeous stars in the night skies outside our meditation hall, accompanied us at the Lotus Sisters’ annual mid-February five-day winter residential retreat.
The retreat, on Whidbey Island in Washington state, was led by the Lotus Sisters’ guiding teacher, Arinna Weisman.
This Lotus Sisters’ retreat is unique as a lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer women’s place to practice silent insight meditation. The retreat’s periods of sitting and walking were led by our wise queer teacher Weisman.
Women come to the annual retreat from British Columbia, Montana and Oregon, in addition to women from Washington.
We work together to create a more complete, safe and supportive atmosphere to practice the Buddhist teachings of interrelatedness and communal well-being. In that light, we strive to be a multi-cultural, anti-racist community.
Weisman is empowered to teach in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition by Ruth Denison, in the lineage of the Burmese teacher U Bha Khin. Weisman is the founding teacher of Insight Meditation Center of the Pioneer Valley area of Massachusetts, and is co-author of the book, “A Beginner’s Guide to Insight Meditation.”
Her passion is building diverse sanghas. Four times yearly she comes to the Seattle from Oakland, Calif., to lead Lotus Sisters events.
As our teacher, Weisman connects traditional Buddhist teachings to social justice. We practice to relieve our own suffering and the suffering of all beings.
A clear understanding of the conditions we live in is essential to this end. Weisman teaches that part of our understanding is seeing that individuals can belong to a target group (oppressed group) and also enjoy privilege by belonging to a non-target group (non-oppressed group).
For example, we may be in the target position as queer/trans women, but at the same time in the place of privilege as middle class or rich, or being white or able-bodied. In our longing to end suffering, knowing our actions are colored by our target and non-target positions helps us make connections with each other.
We look at hard truths but with love for ourselves and others. Reverberating in our hearts is Weisman’s constant refrain from the Buddha’s teachings: If you search the whole wide world you won’t find anyone more deserving of love than yourself.
And we are all students of life, still to be learning, worthy of forgiveness and beginning anew. If we befriend ourselves, accept ourselves, and allow our errors, then we can do the same for others and create the conditions for a safer, and more just world.
The February retreat infrastructure was coordinated by various Lotus Sisters, especially our retreat committee and a wonderful Lotus Sister retreat manager.
The atmosphere was very safe and loving, fostered by retreatants’ caring for each other (in silence), which in turn allowed everyone to open their heart more and more as the five days passed.
The specialness of our being all queer women at the retreat allowed us to really “let our hair down.” And this allowed for increased awareness of what others might need.
Among us were women with all kinds of issues: MS, a compression fracture in the spine, the flu, grief from recent family deaths, a cancer diagnosis, and attention deficit disorder, to name some. It’s always amazing to experience how much communication, interconnection, and help happens at our retreats, even though we are in silence.
Our daily retreat practice includes six periods of sitting meditation, with guidance given by Weisman at the second morning sit.
These sitting periods are interspersed with walking meditation and a 30-minute mid-day talking circle, where we can break silence and ask questions or discuss our experiences.
Weisman artfully draws in the wisdom of those in circle as well as answering the questions herself from her broad-based knowledge and understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.
An open period after lunch is followed by a sit, and optional body movement or walking meditation. After our last evening sit, Weisman gives a 45-50 minute dharma talk, and ends our evening with a guided loving-kindness or forgiveness meditation.
In addition to our retreat, Lotus Sisters holds events for LBTQ women as well as for all interested people. Below is a list of our activities and contact information. Please note which are “oriented to LBTQ sisters” or “open to all”
Ongoing meditation for LBTQ women:
- Guided meditation 2nd-Sunday sits on Capitol Hill: Senior students lead the Lotus Sister in meditation, provide dharma talks or reflections, and lead discussion. Location: SASG, 303 17th Ave E Seattle, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. We meet in the 2nd- floor meeting room, and there is no elevator. Oriented to LBTQ sisters.
- Meditation and dharma discussion, north: Every Wednesday, 6:15 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Ravenna Bryant neighborhood of Seattle. Please call (206) 525-7295 for location. Oriented to LBTQ sisters.
- South side Columbia City meditation and dharma discussion: The third Monday of the month. Email or call (206) 307-1711 for details. The site has steps. Oriented to LBTQ sisters.
Quarterly Events with our Guiding Teacher Arinna Weisman
- Days of Mindfulness: Sitting, walking, and eating meditation, a dharma talk, questions and group inquiry. Location: Highpoint Neighborhood Center, 6400 Sylvan Way, West Seattle. Next will be June 14, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Open to all.
- Evening sutra study: A shared reading of one of the Buddha’s teachings, and discussion led by Weisman. Prospect Congregational Church: 1919 E. Prospect St., Capitol Hill, Seattle. The next one is June 12, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Open to All.
- Multi-cultural book study: We just finished reading the New Jim Crow book, and will embark on a new direction. We relate the dharma and our book study to our activism.
Dorothy Jo Lower (D.J.) currently manages a group of small houses in Seattle, having been a public school teacher before retirement. Her first Buddhist retreat was with Ruth Denison in 1993. Since the 1990s she has been practicing in the Theravada tradition with Arinna Weisman and the Lotus Sisters, and also in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. She says, “Many Buddhists and non-Buddhists have generously shared their wisdom with me about white privilege, racism, and oppression. I keep learning.”