Daily Practice – Day 8

wow-coolDay 8 – It’s almost 10:00am here in the mountains.  The sky is calm and clear and a budding spring sun is growing brighter as the day unfolds.  It’s Sunday.  My husband is still sleeping and my son is in his room listening to a book on tape (yes, we still have tapes and a tape player :) and working on a project.  I’m sitting in the quiet of the living room looking out our north facing picture window to the mountain ash berry tree in the front yard, bare bones stark against the blue expanse of sky painted above.  I just got done sitting and as I look out onto the day I shirk back.

My husband struggles with depression, which means our whole household struggles with depression.  When someone in our close family has a difficulty it is not an isolated event that pertains only to their well being but to the well being of the whole family.  While the winter months are not the cause of his depression it certainly gets much worse through the darker, colder time of year.  It has only been in the last couple of years that I have developed more understanding about what he’s going through and how it impacts everything he does.  Depression lies in his ancestry and is a deep root.  Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) often talks about our inherited seeds that are passed down through many generations and how we need to be aware of and take good of them in order to transform them.

It is easy to throw words around without thinking much about their meaning or impact.  Depression is one of those words that has been watered down and its meaning diluted.  “Oh, I’ve had such a crappy day I’m so depressed,” or, “I can’t believe the store is out of chocolate ice cream, that is so depressing.”  So in a way it makes sense that when a person is actually struggling with depression it can be challenging to identify it and understand just what that means.  However in my deepening understanding I will say that I feel more powerless.  I know that while I can support his path I cannot do the work for him that is necessary to strengthen his mental health and well being.  And with it affecting the household as much as it does it makes it extremely difficult to not want more control over the situation.

At 33 years old I struggle with chronic pain from a nerve disease called CRPS (or RSD) that resulted from an injury I had in 2005.  I’m on disability and work hard everyday to manage my physical pain.  It has been a long road and still continues.  With the strength of my mindfulness practice and my determination to not let my pain define me as a person I am committed to taking good care of myself.  I’m the only one that can truly take care of myself.  Others can of course help support my journey and my community of friends and family are vital to my overall heath and happiness but ultimately if I am not invested in my own well being and putting forth the responsibility, effort and diligence to practice self-care then transformation is not possible.

Some days his depression is like carrying around a bag of rocks everywhere I go.  Today is one of those days.

Day of Mindfulness (& Daily Practice, Day 7)


Thich Nhat Hanh calligraphy hanging in the Open Way Mindfulness Center

Today is day 7 of my 21-day sitting meditation intention and it just so happened that we had a Day of Mindfulness (DOM) led by our local dharma teacher Rowan Conrad at the Open Way Mindfulness Center here in town.  So I had a lot of opportunity to sit with sangha (community) today which was lovely.  Despite the sunny 60 degree weather we had a full house of folks come out for the DOM which was great.  About 25 people altogether I would say.  Having a local teacher to help guide the sangha and our mindfulness center communities is quite wonderful and I feel very fortunate to have such ample practice opportunities and resources available.  With every weekly sangha gathering, retreat, and day of mindfulness my practice strengthens and grows, watered by the nourishing rains of the buddha, dharma, and sangha.

Our DOM lasted from 9:30am-4:30pm and consisted of periods of sitting and walking meditation, teachings from Rowan, contemplative questions and discussion periods.  It functioned much differently than our usual DOM schedules and I found myself both enjoying the increased focus on teachings and missing our more fluid approach that involved more silence.  Usually we tend to only have one discussion period but with this different set up we had multiple sessions of discussion which was nice.

Open Way Mindfulness Center Zendo (meditation space), March 30, 2013

Open Way Mindfulness Center Zendo (meditation space), March 30, 2013

Here are some notes I took from today’s DOM, which is a mixture of Rowan’s teachings and others comments, questions and my own two cents:

We are not practicing to avoid suffering, we are practicing to engage it in order to become free from un-necessary suffering.

Q: How do we overcome identity?  A: We often think in terms of This Or That but instead, we can think of This And That.  (For example: I personally love this mindfulness practice, sharing silence and my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and I also love rap and hip hop music and riding my motorcycle.  I used to be caught in the thinking that they all could not possibly go together, that I had to choose between them.  But I see now more clearly that this is incorrect thinking.  Our strength of character comes not from appearances and coming off a certain way superficially but in being authentically with our life experiences just as they are).

The Four Nobel Truths: 1. Suffering exists in life.  2. There is an origin to suffering.  3. There is an end to suffering.  4. There is a path that leads to the end of suffering. My notes on the Four Nobel Truths are thus: Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.  Does suffering exist?  Yes!  Is there a cause of our suffering?  Yes!  Is there an end to our suffering?  Yes!  Is there a path to joy, ease, and freedom?  Yes!

The Buddha taught that we suffer from 2 things: grasping and delusion.  If we are unable to handle the little suffering in our lives what hope do we have to handle the large suffering that exists?  When weight lifting we don’t start out with the biggest weights, we start out small and work our way up.  It is the same for our suffering.  We must learn how to skillfully handle the little things that arise: a person who cuts us off on the road, stubbing our toe, or perhaps getting out of bed in the morning…

Sign on the front door of the Open Way Mindfulness Center

During our DOM someone asked the question: What is the difference between engaging and grasping?  It is a good question.  I’ve often heard Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) say that a good question has the power to benefit many.  From my experience the difference is in the way in which we meet the situation, person, object or feeling/thought/emotion.  When we meet life with anger, fear, expectation, and judgement we are grasping.  When we meet life with openness, understanding, connection, and joyfulness we are engaging.  It is the difference between coming together with or growing further away from.  Engaging connects us with life which increases our ability to become more mindful and awake.  Grasping separates us from life which increases our suffering.

A few things that came to mind during the DOM today:

We should not underestimate the power of offering a smile.  Collectively speaking we need to smile more, if we are unable to smile how is it that we would be able to take good care of others and the world?

Oftentimes we think much too much.  And oftentimes what we think about is quite unproductive, unhelpful, full of misperceptions, and negative.  We spend a lot of time and energy in getting caught in thoughts that serve no other purpose than to perpetuate suffering.

Our intellect can be a great hindrance to our practice.  Mindfulness involves action which involves effort.  If we only utilize and strengthen our intellectual knowledge our relationship with ourselves and the unfolding of life will be very limited and we will be unable to develop our capacity for deep insight.

I am comprised of the air that fills my tender lungs

I am comprised of the earth that cradles my rippling footsteps

I am comprised of the water that surrounds my skin and bones

I am comprised of the fire that glows brightly within and all around me

I am comprised of the emptiness that quenches the tired thirst of man

Garden bed around the Open Way Mindfulness Center

Garden bed around the Open Way Mindfulness Center

Daily Practice – Day 6


Day 6 – I sat this morning before I headed out the door to embrace the day.  Mid-morning has been working well for me to sit.  I then read the remainder of the Discourse on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake.

From the discourse:

“World-Honored One, can fear and anxiety rise from an internal source?”  The Buddha replied, “Yes, fear and anxiety can rise from an internal source.  If you think, ‘Things that did not exist in the past have come to exist, but now no longer exist,’ you will feel sad or become confused and despairing.  This is how fear and anxiety can rise from an internal source.”

The same bhikshu then asked, “World-Honored One, can fear and anxiety from an internal source be prevented from arising?”

The Buddha replied, “Fear and anxiety from an internal source can be prevented from arising.  If you do not think, ‘Things that did not exist in the past have come to exist, but now no longer exist,’ you will not become confused and despairing.  This is how fear and anxiety from an internal source can be prevented from arising.”

I found this passage comical in the sense that the Buddha is pretty much saying, “Stop that.”  :)  It is easy to over complicate things or muddle the waters of understanding with too much thinking.  The way I am reading this at present is that our minds are standing in our own way of enjoying life and being free.  Our minds create obstacles and we then become attached to them, which causes suffering.

Once again I see the importance of the practice of being here now shining brightly through the clouds of illusion.  The discourse is highlighting our inability to let go of the past and cultivate a relationship with the present moment.  If we were able to let go of the past, free of regret and worry, how much lighter would we be?  If we were not fixated on how this moment, right here and now, could and should be other than what it is how much different would our lives be?  If we stopped our un-necessary thinking, worrying, fearful, attachment driven, misunderstanding laden mind from spinning and telling stories what we do with all the extra time on our hands?

Daily Practice – Day 5


Day 5 – This morning I forgot to sit.  I was sitting in my car in front of my son’s school at 11:30 waiting to pick him up from his half-day at school and suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to sit.  Not knowing if I would have time later in the day to sit I flipped off my shoes and crossed my legs in half-lotus in the drivers seat to practice a few minutes of meditation.  The support of the car’s seat and the bright sun shining in through the windows felt wonderful.  I managed to get in about 4 minutes of sitting before the school bell sounded calling me out of my meditation.

My son and I spent the rest of the day watching two little kids for some friends of ours who are 2 and 5 years old.  After blowing bubbles outside in a soft rain, playing hide-and-seek, running around the house with foam swords, and reading books we returned home with burritos from Taco Del Sol for dinner and then I wound up with a little bit of time on my hands.  We have a small house, under 600 square feet.  With 2 adults, a teenager and 2 cats we get pretty creative with the utilization of space.  So while my son played on the computer in our bedroom I found an online meditation timer to use and sat on the kitchen floor for my 6 minutes of meditation.

In our bedroom sits one of the most wonderful things we ever spent money on.  It’s an alarm clock that doubles as a meditation timer.  In the beginning I was mainly interested in an alarm clock that when sounded didn’t startle me awake with some loud, stressful beeping or other obnoxious noise.  For a while my husband would use his cell phone as his alarm and every morning when it went off I would be immediately annoyed by its awful   ringing.  I hated waking up to it every morning.  But a few years ago we got this clock and it has made such a wonderful difference in my morning routine.  The alarm has sound level adjustment, which alters the piston that comes out to tap the brass bowl, and is progressive.  So at first it sounds only one bell and then in about 5 minutes it sounds another bell and then in 3 minutes another and so on until eventually the bell simply keeps ringing over and over until you turn it off.  I just love the gentleness of its approach and its simple beauty.

My alarm clock/meditation timer

My alarm clock/meditation timer

I didn’t read through any of the discourses today or chants.  But I sat and that’s what’s important.  Whether it’s on the front seat of my subaru or the kitchen floor meditation is meditation and I am happy to not always be hung up on formality when it comes to the conditions for sitting.  I don’t need a special timer or cushion or my alter to practice.  I can practice right here, wherever I am.

Daily Practice – Day 4


Day 4 – After my sitting period I read the remainder of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, in the Order of Interbeing.  I formally received the 14 Mindfulness Trainings in 2007 in a ceremony by Thich Nhat Hanh but seldom read through them.  I often read through the 5 Mindfulness Trainings and it is often said that the 5 are in the 14 and the 14 are in the 5.  So when I am reading one set I am also reading both sets.  The mindfulness trainings are a set of buddhist ethics that we can cultivate in our daily lives in order to live a more awakened, mindful and compassionate life.  They are not religious in nature and therefore many people from differing backgrounds opt to formally receive the 5 Trainings in a ceremony with the support of a dharma teacher and the sangha (community).  At most local retreats here in the states, based in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, there is an opportunity at the end of each retreat to formally receive the 5 Mindfulness Trainings from the dharma teacher who is leading the retreat.  It is a wonderful practice to personally commit to a more holistic and skillful path.

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Daily Practice, Day 3


Day 3 – I’m finding that blogging each day has been helpful in keeping me accountable to my intention to sit everyday.  My hope is that over time I will be able to transform my need to be accountable in order to sit and have it become part of my daily routine.  I am confident that it will happen if I continue to be diligent in this early stage.

After my sit this morning I read: Invoking the Bodhisattvas Names, the first 6 of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings and another passage in the Discourse on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake.  Here’s a passage from Invoking the Bodhisattvas Names:

“We invoke your name, Manjushri, We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people.  We will look with all our attention and open-heartedness.  We will look with unprejudiced eyes.  We will look without judging or reacting.  We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, through the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is.  We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.”

The last sentence spoke to me.  In thinking about using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering I see clearly how often we cause ourselves to suffer based on a simple misunderstanding.  It is easy to think that our perceptions are accurate and true – and not only that, but real and concrete, something permanent.  Seldom do we clearly see things as they are, people as they are.  And without clear sight we cannot have understanding.  And without understanding compassion cannot be born.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) teaches us to ask ourselves, “Am I Sure?”  When I encounter someone who is being rude to me and I immediately think of what a jerk that person is, am I sure that I know what is actually going on for that person?  When we can stop and ask ourselves, “Am I Sure?” our situation has the power to change right away.  Looking deeply I can see that I cannot possibly know what is going of for another person on every level.  When I get in touch with the nature of interbeing it is easy to see that we are each a lifetime of experiences, relationships and emotions.  Much life have we each led that has created this moment in time.  It is a deep practice to not be so sure.


Daily Practice, Day 2


My alter

My alter

Day 2 – I just finished my sitting meditation period.  Afterwards I chanted the heart sutra and then read part of the Discourse on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake.  The discourses are old teachings handed down through many many years and often start by saying, “I heard these words one time when the Buddha was staying in (such and such a place).”

This is from the discourse I read today (these are the words of the Buddha):

“Bhikshus (fully ordained monks), I have told you many times the importance of knowing when it is time to let go of the raft and not hold onto it unnecessarily.  When a mountain stream overflows and becomes a torrent of floodwater carrying debris, a man or woman who wants to get across might think, ‘What is the safest way to cross this floodwater?’ Assessing the situation, she may decide to gather branches and grasses, construct a raft, and use it to cross to the other side.  But, after arriving on the other side, she thinks, ‘I spent a lot of time and energy building this raft.  It is a prized possession, and I will carry it with me as I continue my journey.’ If she puts it on her shoulders or head and carries it with her on land, bhikshus, do you think that would be intelligent?” The bhikshus replied, “No, World-Honored One.” The Buddha said, “How could she have acted more wisely?  She could have thought, ‘This raft helped me get across the water safely.  Now I will leave it at the water’s edge for someone else to use in the same way.’ Wouldn’t that be a more intelligent thing to do?” The bhikshus replied, “Yes, World-Honored One.” The Buddha taught, “I have given this teaching on the raft many times to remind you how necessary it is to let go of all the true teachings, not to mention teachings that are not true.”