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I’ll Be Back Soon

My husband and I are heading off for Deer Park Monastery to attend a retreat for 3 weeks, for what will be my fifth year and Mike’s fourth year in a row – we leave tomorrow!

If you’ve been following along with me here on this blogging platform, you know to expect 3-weeks worth of daily journal entries upon my return and lots of pictures :)

 

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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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This is it!?!

On Saturday morning, I watched the first 15-minutes of a talk by Sr. Thệ Nghiêm at Deer Park Monastery, given on September 15, 2017 (see Youtube link below). She spoke about something I’ve both experienced personally and spoken about in a talk I gave 3-4 years ago. At Deer Park Monastery, in southern California, behind the alter of orchids in the big meditation hall, sits a circular wooden sign that says: This is it. When I first encountered this calligraphy of Thay’s, I misunderstood its teaching and took it as a glib proclamation, as in: This is it, I guess. Whatever. Sigh.

As you likely imagine, this is not what it means. Back in the day, I knew I wasn’t viewing it as intended, I simply hadn’t developed my own insight about it’s intent just yet. Understanding unfolds over time, with practice in cultivating diligence and deep looking. Words/teachings can only take us so far. They can show us a new path to venture down, but we have to be the ones to move our feet and actualize the fruits of what it has to offer.

This is it is an invitation to look more deeply into every facet and fissure of our lives, really. To see life as ever-flowing, ever-changing, and ever-amazing. To understand the depths of This is it, means to see clearly that this moment – whatever moment we find ourselves amid – IS it, truly. This present moment is the foundation for the next present moment, and it’s up to us to sculpt it in the best way possible. To turn our lives into a living art form.

One of the main root teachings I receive nourishment of, by staying apprised of both local and world news, is in regards to the nature of life and death. In short: there are a lot of ways to live and there are a lot of ways to die. The more I learn and deepen my understanding of this truth – this nature of reality – the more it opens me to the preciousness of life, and the myriad of possibilities that exist.

This is it! is more than a teaching. It’s a way of living.

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For the New Year

The last couple of years, I’ve taken to following the example of a few mindfulness teachers that I follow online, who come up with some guidance to offer for the upcoming year. I figured since we were entering 2018, I’d come up with 8 practice points to usher us into the new year (see pic above).

I’ve written in the past about how I’m not a big fan of making new year’s resolutions, but what I do like to do is come up with 1, 2, or 3 new ways of engaging with my mindfulness practice. My favorite one over this past year was to stay in the bathroom while brushing my teeth, instead of wandering around the house multi-tasking, with the toothbrush comically protruding from my mouth while I proceeded to do a wealth of other things that had no business being done while brushing one’s teeth. So I enacted a “stay put” clause, whenever I set to brushing. It took me a little while to develop the new habit, but I’m happy to report that it’s going splendidly :)

I’ve been mulling around possibilities for 2018 and what new mindfulness exercises I might add to my tool belt, but so far I haven’t landed on exactly what I’ll include in my daily/weekly routine. I’d like to have one I can enfold into driving, as that is often where I need the most practice in patience and understanding. I have a number of things I do already when behind the wheel, but I really appreciate developing fresh approaches and new mindfulness techniques, as it keeps my practice from growing stale and/or too routine. I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, may the above list of 8 practice points be of service to you on the path of cultivating more joy, ease, and a true sense of connection.

To read the Five Mindfulness Trainings, click here.

 

 

 

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Two Broken Down Cars

…two broken down cars, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I just found out that sometimes both your car AND your husband’s car are dead in the water at the same time. Yeah. It’s not great.

What I’ve thankfully learned over the years in having a mindfulness practice, is that a good practitioner isn’t someone who never experiences stress or inner afflictions. A good practitioner is someone who’s diligent and is able to use the tools of the practice in order to not have the stress, or whatever affliction is at hand, running the show. If stress were a theater actor, a good practitioner understands that it will sometimes have a part in the play, but they’ll know how to not cast it as the main character.

As new practitioners, it can be easy to think that to live a spiritual life means we have to hide certain parts of our self or cover over certain difficult emotions. But this is not the case – doing this is called spiritual white-washing.

Mindfulness isn’t about getting anywhere else or doing anything different – it’s about directly experiencing things just as they are, and keeping our wits about us in the process. With diligence, over time, our mindfulness practice has the capacity to create a strong foundation in affording us the ability to stay well-grounded in the midst of, say, having 2 cars that are broken down. To see the stress associated with whatever’s going on and to also not lose sight of the bigger picture.

So, while it’s rather stressful having our household’s two vehicles be DOA, it could be worse! I mean, really. We could be on fire.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Holiday Traditions

Pic taken Christmas Day 2016, on the trail to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs

Every year on Christmas Day, my husband and I venture to Jerry Johnson’s Hot Springs, for a 1-mile hike (one way) & soak in the woods. Neither of us connect with the celebration of Christmas. To us, it’s just another day on the calendar, which affords us a day off from our regular routine and to-do lists. We’ve been springing it on Christmas Day for quite a number of years now – it’s one of our very few annual traditions. And, I’ll add, is simply glorious.

Back when we first got married, in 2000, we tried our hand at celebrating the winter solstice and came up with a few possible traditions to carry forward each December, but it proved to be too forced for us and we soon gave up any sort of formal way of commemorating the seasonal changing of the guard. We both grew up celebrating Christmas – not on religious grounds but on consumeristic ones. And I have incredibly fond memories of it as a child. But neither of us were interested in fueling the drive of the holidays when we started co-creating our lives as adults together.

Many years ago, after receiving a plethora of well-intentioned but ultimately un-neccesary gifts from relatives in the mail each December, we decided to craft a letter to send to our dear family members. As the writer in our household, it was important to me that the letter both express our gratitude for their generosity and our firm desire to discontinue the further receiving of gifts, in as warm-hearted a way as possible. I wanted to do my best to create as little offense as I could, making sure to focus on our appreciation for their kindness and our love for them. And, rather to my surprise, it worked! While not everyone understood our position, they all respected our heartfelt request.

The month of December is the only time I’m grateful for living so far away from my family, as I really don’t know how I would negotiate this festive time of year if I had family around who were celebrating Christmas in the traditional ways that I grew up with and were requesting my attendance to join them. Fortunately, though, that’s not a thing I need to put much thought into.

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to connect with all the ways that people find this time of year joyful, as I can grow callous in regards to the amount of waste, stress, hardship, and debt that accumulate around Christmas – and the furthering of such rampant, detrimental notions and ways of relating to each other and the world at large. But non-duality continues to ring true! In this case, the teachings of non-duality play out in the simple truth that both things are happening at the same time: there are elements of Christmas that are full of delight and joy and there are elements of great disharmony and destruction.

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Dear Early Morning,

Dear Early Morning,

The other day, my alarm roused me from slumber at 5:02am, for the first time in a long while, as lately I’ve been waking up on my own accord much earlier. And my first thought was: Shoot! I slept in!

I have a wish to draw you out for as long as possible, these days, like the warm, slow drag of one’s last cigarette or perhaps, more appropriately, like a masterful song I never want to end, as a cigarette connotes a distasteful vice, whereas music can be translated into the heart of all beings.

You are the fragrant waters I bathe in, rendering me anew each day; the magnetic north I set my compass to, so that I may stay the course and not run aground.

You are the dance I fall into with the whole of everything I’ve got – and you catch me and cradle me with the arms of orchestral silence.

Like cups of earthen tea, you soothe and aliven me in a way no one and nothing else can. And the more I bask in your unfolding, the more my grit and static evaporate like mist, uncovering all that remains.

With all the love I can shake up,

Nicole

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in Creative Writing

 

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On Mufflers

Prior to last Thursday, it’d been about 4 years or so that my ride: a ’94 Subaru Legacy, sounded akin to a small jet engine prop plane, due to a rusted out muffler. The fortitude of the car was such that when, alas, I pulled over upon getting off the interstate in town, directly following our local spring retreat back in April, to find my muffler adangle on the asphalt, I had to wrench and claw at the dang-blasted thing for 20-minutes to pry off what remained of it. And even then, I was only able to get about 80% of it off. I wound up having to send out the bat signal to Mike, so he could swoop in as the roadside cape-crusader and wrestle out the last 20%, which was both greatly appreciated and a large disappointment, given the fact that I really wanted to be victorious on my own accord.

I found it entertaining that the noise emanating from my car, pre muffler falling off, sounded absolutely no different than it did once it was gone. But, as I’d both gotten used to the rumbling and have a policy of not putting any money into the car that isn’t crucial to its functioning – given that at 337,000 miles, any day could be its last – the fact that everyone could hear my car in a 2-block radius didn’t really bother me. Besides, I mostly fly solo in my car and my love for loud music tended to drown out the ruckus. The only times I really noticed and was off-put by the muffler’s cacophony was when I’d have passengers riding along with me, as holding a conversation meant upping the volume of your voice, in regards to someone riding shotgun – and was pretty much a total lost cause all together if you were kickin it in the backseat – or when I’d start my car early in the morning or come home late at night: sorry neighbors!

Perhaps if I’d ridden in my own backseat more often, I would’ve been propelled to get a new muffler 4 years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I rode in the backseat from Spokane back to Missoula, to afford the dynamic duo: my husband and 18-year-old stepson, the chance to chat about all the things they wonderfully love to geek out on together, and I have little interest in, such as: science fiction related audio books, gaming, dark TV shows, politics, and, most recently, the art of magic, and was able to marinate in my car’s muffler musings on a much more intimate level. When we got home, the first thing I said when we walked in the door was: I think it’s time to get a new muffler.

So, last Thursday, I was the first appointment of the day at a place called the Muffler Bandit. I was told it would take about an hour, so I brought along a book and supplies in which to fashion a letter to my friend Daniel, who’s incarcerated at Montana State Prison. But perhaps because it was only 8:00am and things were still pretty quiet around town and in the shop, or perhaps it was due to the fact that there was nothing for the mechanic to take off of the car, my Sube was saddled up with a shiny new muffler in just 20 minutes. My car was serviced in such a short amount of time that I was even a little sad to have to vacate the premises, as I was just getting into the flow of writing my letter to Daniel. It also happens that I thoroughly enjoy writing in new and exotic places and I’d never had the chance to write in a muffler shop before (see pic above). But, I reluctantly packed up, paid my $160, and headed out. When the mechanic gave me the keys, I delighted in how he framed my new quiet vehicular stead. He said: Now you’re back in stealth mode. His declaration reminding me both of my secret longing to be a ninja and the time my stepson and I got busted trying to pull a prank on my friend Jennifer at 11:00 at night, last winter. We had parked 2-3 blocks away from her house, on account of my car’s loud rumbling, but it wasn’t the trademark sound of my car that tipped her off to our shenanigans. It was the fact that we managed to time our hi-jinks with the same time she was cruising home from the grocery store – which taught me, for future reference, that she seldom parks her car in the back by the garage.

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Posted by on December 19, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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