Shaila Catherine, has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than eight years of accumulated silent retreat experience. She has taught since 1996 in the USA, and internationally. Shaila has dedicated several years to studying with masters in India, Nepal and Thailand, completed a one year intensive meditation retreat with the focus on concentration and jhana, and authored Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity. Shaila Catherine has practiced under the guidance of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw since 2006; she authored Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana to help make this traditional approach to meditative training accessible to western practitioners. She is the founder of Insight Meditation South Bay, a Buddhist meditation center in Silicon Valley.
My focus in teaching is to provide the support that students need to turn their life to the dharma, to truth, and to find ways to come out of their pain and suffering. The retreat experience is an invaluable aid to this exploration; however, what matters more is how one integrates this under- standing into everyday life.
I care that students see through the illusory wall between formal meditation and their daily life. Then, what remains is a meditative attitude to all that occurs.
Vipassana practice helps us to become respectful and caring towards ourselves and others. This generates the conditions of mind and heart that allow us to awaken to the truth of who we are, rather than believing in our limited assumptions. As we see the impersonal nature of our own mind, we then experience a deep engagement with life that allows for a complete transformation of the heart. When we know this deeply, we can no longer unconsciously engage in actions that will lead to suffering and the ongoing destruction of our planet.
As a teacher, I am accessible and able to meet people at an intimate level. I am interested in how the language that we use can show where we are holding on. I look to the concepts about reality that people believe in as the key that unlocks the door to liberating insight. People can easily discount their experiences and forget that they hold the seeds to liberation, that the wisdom is already within them. As people speak what is in their hearts, affirmation brings about the confidence needed to take the next step, which can often seem confusing and daunting as one walks into the unknown territory of the mind.
The most compelling part of my practice right now comes in the form of my writing. For a long time, I've focused my teaching and writing on lovingkindness. Now as I look more deeply into lovingkindness, I find that it actually rests on another foundation, the expression of faith.
Faith is the topic I am exploring most in teaching and writing. Today there is a tremendous upsurge of interest in a new kind of faith, based on a practice where people can experience a direct spirituality, one without rigid dogma or compulsory belief in a specific cosmology. This is a spirituality that rests on personal transformation.
Vipassana allows us to take a method of mind training and craft a way of life that is more compassionate, more ethical and more powerful than our unawakened lives. The Buddha's teachings give us an immediate experience of what we can do to change. Faith in the teachings means we align ourselves with a vision of our greatest possibilities. This is the heart of the practice.
Sky Dawson has practiced vipassana meditation since 1981, and also has extensive experience in hospice and palliative care in Western Australia. She has taught at IMS for several years and is now the Teacher-in-Residence at IMS's Forest Refuge.