Gratitude 2.0

(To listen in audio form in addition or instead of reading, please click here.)

Here’s how I have it worked out. Having a daily concrete way of watering the seed of gratitude in my life is one of the top most beneficial elements of my spiritual practice. I am very close to having the mindset of thinking that even if I invested in NO other mindfulness-based actions other than my gratitude practice, it would be enough.

I feel as though words cannot adequately relay the power and potency of what having a daily gratitude practice can do. But, as a writer and all, Imma gonna give it a small go here.

I’ve written and spoken about the practice of gratitude many a time. I feel as though it’s a thread that is not only worth repeating and revisiting on the regular but holds such a substantial value that to not routinely address it would be a disservice.

Part of why I feel it’s necessary to keep tugging on this particular thread is that I reckon practicing gratitude is a lot like the practice of deep mindful breathing, in that it’s super easy to be like: Yeah, yeah, I get it. Let’s move on. What’s next? While it’s easy to have an intellectual understanding of the value of both practices, it takes diligent effort to actualize the embodied wisdom that both have to offer.

In my experience with sangha members over my close to 20-years of practice and sangha-building, I’ve found that it’s just so very common for folks to simply not go beyond their intellectual understanding of the practice. Folks often “get” the practice but not many “practice” the practice.

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Home Days

Some days, I can’t imagine anything better than going out for a ride on my motorcycle. I gear up and head out and love every minute of it.

Some days are work days, where the bulk of my time & energy goes towards home upkeep or doing errands or going to my part time job of nannying.

Some days are more geared towards writing. And some days, of course, are a mix.

And still there are other days that are home days. Whole entire resting days. Do nothing, schedule nothing, don’t leave the house and stay put days. I regularly underestimate the importance of home days. I can sometimes forget how vital they are to my well-being, sense of balance, and self-care.

As things are a-changin in regards to covid, with things opening up and groups restarting and vaccines rolling out, I am actively and currently practicing to keep an eye on what feels like the collective energy shifting and declaring: Let’s go out and do ALL the things!!! Amid this battle cry, I am trying not to lose sight of the importance of home days. Not to be swayed into thinking home days are waste of time days or that I should be out DOING something.

With the additional element of living in Montana, where us locals learn to make good and active use of our shortest season of sun and warmth (i.e summer), there’s a double whammy of messaging geared towards the whole: Go out and conquer all the world! You can sleep when you’re dead (or it’s winter)! mentality. I am really not interested in falling prey to this sort of life approach. But it’s not easy. It takes concerted effort and a strong level of awareness to not get swept up and away into this kind of thinking.

This morning, I went through the whole process of What should I do today? I went through all of my common gears – which are largely the same for all of us I think: such and such needs to be done around the house; I should go to X to get Y; it’s nice out, so I should go _____ .

Then, after checking in with my own body, which was quite sore and tired, I landed on what I really needed most: a home day.

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Dig the Well Before You’re Thirsty

To listen to this post in audio form on my podcast, please click here.

I’ll jump right to the main message: Uphold your nourishing routines & rituals. Uphold them at all costs, even and especially on the days when you don’t feel like it.

Too often, we stop doing what we know is good for our mental, emotional, and physical well-being when we get stressed out or when we come to rough spot in our life. We tell ourselves that we’ll return to those things after life settle down or when our situation improves in some way. But then, we never do.

I love the Chinese proverb which states: Dig the well before you’re thirsty. I’m sure we can all surmise what this means but basically it’s saying: Be proactive in regards to your situation; don’t wait for tragedy to befall you to start looking for solutions as to how to better support yourself. Another one of my favorite wisdom teachings come to mind, which originates with the Greek poet Archilochus: We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.

And so, dear mindfulness practitioners, we must train. We must train a little bit every day. We must train to uphold our nourishing and supportive routines and rituals and relationships. We must invest in them on the daily, prioritize them, make room enough in our schedule to engage with them in real and concrete ways.

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Amid Overwhelm

Life is Hard Right Now

I do not want to hear, for you to tell me,
that the unknown is a magical place
full of wonder and rebirth.

It’s not that I don’t believe you,
it’s that now
is not the time.

I do not want to be told
to stop feeling
what I am feeling
because you
do not know
how to listen.

I am in no mood to field
your unsolicited advice.

When I say life is hard right now,
I want you to feel what it is I am saying.

I do not need
to be saved
or for you
to fix it.

I know what I’m about.

When I say life is hard right now,
without drama or fanfare
or want of verbal response,
I am honoring what it means
to be human.

___________

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Downsizing

Here’s what yielded from my most recent wave of downsizing. Even in our small (550sf) relatively already uncluttered house, I was able to collect a good amount of items to usher onward to other hands.

A poetic telling:

Another wave of downsizing (in hopeful preparation for selling our house and moving on land).

A big table overflowing with items to usher on.

Each wave harder still.

Each wave going deeper into the annals of time.

Each object holding its own memory or delight or charm – a symbol of what I never want to let go of, but will.

Some things are easy to give away.

Others require a great pause and remembering of service offered before cutting the cord.

Some things are like a tiny death, like leaves marching to the ground in late autumn to conserve lifeforce energy for winter, in preparation for another spring.

_________

Just this morning, I found a buyer for my drum set. Now in place of it, I have opened up real estate in our small house to leave out my meditation cushion (verses tucking it away each morning after I use it).

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Gratitude & Stress

Non-duality has been on my mind a lot lately. The art of balance & blending. Of holding more than one part of reality to be true at the same time as another perhaps seemingly paradoxical/contradictory part. For example, gratefulness and being stressed out are not mutually exclusive feeling states. I have been experiencing high volumes of both of these on board in my mind/body system lately a good deal of the time, simultaneously.

The teachings and wisdom centered around non-duality date back a long ways and from my very limited understanding originate largely from Asian cultures. Many people from many lands for many years have been passing down knowledge and wisdom around non-duality, and I am especially grateful for my root teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, from whom I first and foremost have been led and instructed by in regards to this thread of practice.

My sense is, for many of us, non-duality is a tricky wicket. For a long long time, I understood it only in theory. But as my practice grows and strengthens – and perhaps also as I get older – I feel as though I am now starting to actually get what it means on a real, felt experience level.

Thinking, speaking, and acting in a Yes AND sort of way verses an Either OR sort of way is no small task. I think it’s relatively easy to grasp on a cognitive level but applying it IRL takes some real practice. And currently, and for a little while now, I feel as though I have been getting a lot of practice.

My husband and I are in active land search mode right now. Since spring has sprung here in the mountains of Montana, we’ve been getting a lot of boots on the ground time in. Every week we are out driving dirt roads in all directions on our quest for finding a place to set up shop. “Shop” meaning: a place for us to live year-round and also start our long-held dream of creating a mindfulness practice center that is open for folks to visit, stay, retreat (& maybe live), and build community (for info about our aspiration, called Empty Mountain, click here to visit our newly created website).

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Mothers Day Is Not Always A Celebration

I am someone who has a high level of interest in keeping in mind certain smaller demographics of people when it comes to all sorts of matters. As I move more and more in the direction of writing and giving talks and leading events and classes in hopeful support of others on the path of Dharma-inspired practice, for instance, I am deeply invested in trying to do my best to write and speak and present in such a way that recognizes and stays close in touch with the reality of how among those reading & listening to me: trauma is present; mental health challenges are present; physical ailments/pain are present; marginalized people are present; eating disorders, addictions, great difficulties of all kinds (known and unknown; seen and unseen) may be present.

Thus, today I am aware that Mother’s Day is not a joyous celebratory day for everyone. This morning, when I checked my email inbox, I had a number of Hooray it’s Mother’s Day themed messages from a variety of different newsletters and list serves that I subscribe to. I don’t begrudge all of the kudos and shout outs to mothers. I’m not saying that I think our public discourse needs to stop celebrating and honoring mothers or necessarily even do anything differently. But when I see all of the Mother’s Day themed memes and posts and stories and signage in stores, my thoughts often trail to all the people for whom Mother’s Day is a hard day.

This holiday creates no distress at all for me personally. I have a great mom whom I love dearly, who is and has been supportive and loving and a force for good in my world. But there are many people who do not have good quality, love-filled relationships with their mothers. People for whom their mother: never cared well for them; neglected them; treated them poorly; was unable to protect them from abuse; was incapable of providing physical and/or mental/emotional support for them. People whose mother died in childbirth or died when they were very young or died suddenly or tragically. There are women who tried for years and years to have a child and were painfully unable. The list of reasons as to why this day may be anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to excruciatingly unbearable goes on and on.

Many of our U.S holidays are rough on certain smaller demographics of people (perhaps in other countries too but as I am unfamiliar with the customs and people of other areas, I don’t want to overreach and speak on behalf of things I know little to nothing about). I’ve met and talked with and heard from enough people to know that for some folks: Valentine’s Day is hard; Christmas is hard; Thanksgiving is hard; their birthday is hard; New Year’s is hard; Mother’s Day is hard; Father’s Day is hard.

So this is me, remembering and holding all of the people for whom this day is harrowing in my heart.

Instincts & Rituals

Now and then, I work part time as a nanny for a family with 3 young children. Yesterday, I spent some time with their 3-year-old girl Remy. On our way to the park just down the street, I spotted a dead beetle on the road as we were walking. I pointed it out to her and then moved it to a nearby patch of grass. She asked: “How come you moved it?” And I replied: “Out of respect for the dead. So it doesn’t get run over.”

A few minutes later and a little further down the street she said: “Let’s find an alive beetle and bring it to the dead beetle so it won’t be lonely.”

Did she just say “so it won’t be lonely?”

Amazing.

I told her we could for sure do that if we found another beetle. Then I commended her for having such a great idea.

We continued to the park and spent some time on the swings; followed a set of chalk arrows someone had scrolled on the pavement; then headed on back home to her house. When we were nearing the spot where the dead beetle laid in the grass, she said: “Can we take the dead beetle with us back to my house?”

I said sure and then inquired with her about what she wanted to do with it.

She said something I couldn’t quite piece together (as anyone with experience of three-year-olds knows: speech patterns tend to rapidly develop at this age, and often faster than the adults around them can keep up with) and then I suggested that maybe we bury it, which she was immediately on board with.

When we reached the dead beetle, I asked her if she wanted to carry it home. She said she wanted me to. So I picked it up and gently cupped it in my hand. Even though we were only a few houses away from hers, she checked in on the dead beetle twice, asking if I still had it. Each time, I stopped and lowered my hand so she could have a visual of it.

When we got to her house, she picked up a rock that caught her eye and said: “Let’s put this rock with the beetle so it won’t be lonely.”

Another round of amazement ensued for me.

She seemed to be coming up with these ideas all on her own accord, as a natural built in human response. It was incredibly sweet to witness and I was glad we were in no kind of rush or had any pressing time constraints. We had the ability and spaciousness to make time for this tending.

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On Sangha Building

This morning I read a few pages from Thich Nhat Hanh’s (TNH) book Joyfully Together: The Art of Building A Harmonious Community and it spurred me into sharing some of my thoughts here, which center around the practice of sangha building.

As a bit of background, I am the founder of and program director for my local sangha Be Here Now (BHN), which is rooted in the Plum Village mindfulness tradition of TNH. In Buddhism, the word sangha means spiritual community.

I started BHN in the fall of 2002 and have been a heart-felt and passion-filled sangha builder ever since. Anything having to do with my home sangha BHN is a great joy for me. I richly enjoy gathering folks together, whether for weekly sangha meetings, leadership council meetings, potlucks, camp outs, open mic nights, or practice related talks, classes or events. Sangha building is more than organizing sits, social gatherings, activities and events though. In my view, it’s also about checking in; reaching out; showing up; connecting; expressing care; and committing to the necessary work of personal skill-building.

Checking in. Inquiring with sangha members/friends about how they are doing when we’ve either not seen them in a little while or when we know they have a big life moment approaching (ie. receiving important health based test results; graduating from college; going to a big job interview; having a baby; leaving for a big trip; undergoing surgery) is a great way to help support and strengthen our relationship bonds – and investing in relationships is really what sangha building is all about.

Reaching out. Okay. Now, this one is a two-way street. When we our self are struggling or in need of some support, we can practice reaching out to a trusted sangha friend. Maybe we have a specific ask for advice or input or maybe we would appreciate having a kind ear who is able to listen and hold space for us or maybe we would simply like to have someone to go on a walk with. Reaching out when we need support is a great act of intelligence and wisdom, NOT a sign of weakness. And if we know or think that another person in our sangha may be struggling, we can reach out to them and offer our support (providing we are in the mental/emotional place to do so).

Showing up. In order to build sangha, we have to be there. We have to show up and provide our physical presence. This may seem like sangha building 101 but you might be surprised by how often I’ve come across folks who have not put this together. So first things first: we have to show up to sangha, even when we may not super feel like it. Our presence matters and is no small thing. More advanced ways of showing up involve attending side sangha hosted gatherings, social and formal, outside of the weekly meetings (whether they are our cup of tea or not); attending events that other sangha friends are hosting or part of, such as art exhibits or music performances; and getting involved in helping to host/organize/lead sangha meetings & events.

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All the Things

My first river foot dunking of spring, April 17th 2021

Amid all of the many topic threads I’ve been tugging on lately, having the chance to simply lay on warm sun-soaked rock next to a lovely little creek yesterday and watch the clouds pass slowly overhead was a much needed reminder about how being is just as necessary, if not even more so, than doing – for this girl anyway.

It seems I am continually needing to remind myself about this.

I’ve been attending weekly webinars centered on social justice issues; trying to better educate myself on matters concerning cultural appropriation; listening to a podcast series with new episodes each week that tell the story of a young and missing local Indigenous woman; reading articles that center on topics such as: women’s reproductive rights, the discrimination history of AAPI (American Asian and Pacific Islander) community members, and mental health support for those living with unhealed trauma, depression, suicide ideation, addiction, and/or eating disorders. Needless to say it’s a lot to take in. And. I deem it all to be so very important.

So, in order to continue engaging in the topics I place importance in and am called into, it’s crucial that I keep a close and active eye on what it takes for me to stay in balance. To nourish and uplift myself in at least equal proportion to the energy I am expending. Otherwise, I’ll get burnt out, overwhelmed, stressed out, and exasperated in trying to stay involved in all of the heavier things I want to be involved with.

As much as I might like to be someone who could just keep doing all the things without needing to replenish and rehydrate and refuel that is not at all a realistic view or expectation or goal to have. Not only that, it’s a recipe for disaster. Truly.

So in order to keep attending the webinars and reading the articles and listening to the heart-heavy podcasts to better educate myself, learn more, and develop my understanding of a wider circle of people, I need to do such things as slip off into the woods once in a while, put my sore feet in natural waters, watch the clouds pass by overhead, and do the necessary and important work of self-care.

Balance. Yes. It comes back down for the millionth time to balance.