By Amy Nile Herald Writer
EVERETT — Ellen Morris is sharing ways to experience a more meaningful life through the teachings of modern Buddhism.
The retired school teacher is guiding students through a series of meditations Monday evenings at the Firewheel Coffeehouse in Everett. Students close their eyes and breathe deeply while concentrating on lessons.
“Hopefully, through coming (to class) people get more focused on their spiritual life,” Morris, 65, said.
The series helps people make desired life changes through internal exploration.
“The source of our happiness is not external,” Morris said.
Each life change, she said, must be motivated by how it cherishes others.
“If a person were to continue to do this it can deeply transform where we are,” she said. “Our essential nature is that of compassion and wisdom.”
The elegant, blue-eyed, silver-haired woman aims to change the way her students think. She instructs them to leave behind the clouded distraction of their busy lives and turn their focus inward.
“The cause of our suffering is that I, me, mine,” she said. “To be free of that is liberation.”
Morris teaches students to separate the mind from the body, exploring the more subtle parts of the psyche.
“That’s where the transformation happens,” she said. “Our mind is vast and unlimited.”
Morris calls this practice the root mind meditation. It expands the consciousness beyond one’s self-centeredness and teaches students to create a new reality through their minds.
The next step, she said, is to become familiar with the new behavior and keep practicing it. Buddhist teachings, she explained, are about training the mind.
“When we put the reins on the horse, we can call that mindfulness,” she said.
The final step to lasting change, she said, is asking a higher power or an enlightened mind, such as Buddha, for help. A person who does not believe in a spiritual figure can instead consider themselves guided by wisdom, she said.
Morris recommends applying the transformation practice into even the smallest changes, such as eliminating the urge to gossip, criticize or think negatively about an irritating person. She teaches students to do this by considering the person’s positive attributes.
“If we do this, we’re building this positive reservoir within us,” she said. “It’s a relief to understand self-preoccupation is not the meaning of life.”
Morris’ coursework is inspired by Kadampa Buddhism, which adherents consider a practical approach to the ancient teachings.
“It transcends language and culture,” she said. “You can do this as a Western person with a job, with a family, in a city. It works for everybody.”
Morris was raised Presbyterian in New Jersey. About 10 years ago, she encountered Buddhism at a lecture in Olympia.
“I was at a point where I wanted to make a self-transformation,” she said.
She studies under Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a Buddhist monk, meditation master, scholar and author who is spreading Tibetan spiritual traditions to the West. Morris now teaches and lives at the Kadampa Meditation Center Washington Ballard.
Her goal is to steer students down the path of enlightenment by applying the lessons to their lives in a practical way.
“These teachings tell how to attain permanent enlightened peace,” she said.
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.