Daily Practice, Day 1

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I don’t have a daily sitting meditation practice.  It used to be something I gave myself a really hard time about not having.  Cultivating a daily sitting practice is one of those things like drinking more water – I know it would be something beneficial for me to do, I know it would be good for me, and yet I don’t do it.  At this point in my practice I am wanting, and ready, to push myself a little bit in this direction so that I can develop a daily sitting practice.  So, this is me using the power of the blog to be accountable for this new undertaking.

I have been sitting at least once a week for the past 10 years and have attended many local retreats and days of mindfulness and a few large retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh and the four-fold community (monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen).  My mindfulness practice is strong and I am diligent about cultivating it in my everyday life and now I am ready to take another step.  The amount of time sitting is less important than the consistency so for now I am going to start off small by sitting for 6 minutes a day.  When goals are set too high it is often a recipe for the inability to follow through.

To everything there is a balance, a middle way.  And as I often say, what that balance looks like for each of us will differ.  This is important to keep in mind.  In cultivating a daily sitting meditation routine for myself I can see clearly two sides that exist.  One side that is too strict and one side that is too lenient.  Both sides deter me from sitting.  The middle path of a trail through the woods is formed by the blending of earth from both the right side and the left side.  So too is the middle path formed for ourselves, by weaving together the two extreme sides that often exist.  Many times there are more than two parts to a certain habit energy, emotion or action however, in my experience there are two main sides that often are dominant.

In regards to my daily sitting practice the middle path consists of bringing together the harsh voice and the lazy voice that I have to create a new voice of diligence and embracing.  I am also interested in furthering my understanding of the sutras and discourses so my intention is to pair my short sitting periods each day with a reading from my Plum Village Chanting Book.

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I once heard that it takes 21 days to create a new habit.  While I don’t know how accurate or legitimate that actually is, and I absolutely don’t believe that it would be the same for everyone even it there were some science behind it, it doesn’t really matter – it sounds like a good place to start to me.

So here’s my intention: for the next 21 days (I already started today) I will sit everyday for at least 6 minutes and then follow that by a chant or reading or both.  I’ll also post on my blog everyday to help support my practice and accountability to myself.

Today I read the Heart Sutra and the Discourse on Youth and Happiness.  I hadn’t read this particular discourse before.  I really resonated with it and appreciated its simplicity as sometimes the formal teachings that have been passed down are difficult for me to follow.  Here’s a passage from it (the words are from the Buddha):

“When you know the true nature of desire,

the desiring mind will not be born.

When there is no desire, and no perceptions based on it,

at that time, no one is able to tempt you.”

“If you think you are greater than, less than, or equal,

you cause dissension.

When those three complexes have ended,

nothing can agitate your mind.”

“Ending desire, overcoming the three complexes,

our mind is stilled, we have nothing to long for.

We lay aside all affliction and sorrow,

in this life and in lives to come.”

I notice a strong feeling of hesitation to post this, to call attention to this personal undertaking for fear I will not make it the whole 21 days.  What I’m afraid of exactly I don’t know.  Perhaps I’m afraid that I’m not as strong and diligent as I would like to think.  I’m looking forward to this journey together whatever it may bring.  Thank you for reading and supporting my practice dear friends.  I really appreciate your presence.

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International Day of Happiness

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From http://www.dayofhappiness.net: A profound shift in attitudes is underway all over the world. People are now recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy at all costs. That’s why all 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority and March 20 has been declared as the International Day of Happiness – a day to inspire action for a happier world.

Simply put, happiness is when we are able to be with what we’re doing while we’re doing it.  Happiness is a state of mind.  When we are present with what we are doing and able to let go of our worries about the future and regrets about the past happiness is there.  Our state of non-happiness begins when we fight against the unfolding of the here and now.  When we are stuck in a mental formation or strong emotion or expectation happiness is not possible.  Happiness is the ability to be here now.

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In the west, our culture instills a deep teaching that happiness only exists outside of ourselves.  That happiness is something we acquire with money, hard work, the right conditions, or if we are good enough at something or deserving.  Basically we learn that happiness happens when we get what we want.  And with this mentality we also learn to be victims of our surroundings. If things don’t go the way we planned or wanted them to or if people don’t act the way we think they should our happiness disappears right away.  This is not true happiness.  This is conditional happiness.  Many times we think what will bring us true happiness is permanent and solid when in reality it is temporary and fleeting.

This is not to say that exterior things or situations cannot bring happiness.  Of course they can!  It is important however to see that this type of happiness is conditional and will not be long lived.  When we hang our happiness on something outside of ourselves once we get what we think will make us happy we are soon onto the next best thing.

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True happiness is a flame that cannot be extinguished as easily as clouds covering over the sun.  It is a state of being that is cultivated on the inside and radiates outwards.  True happiness is a practice.  In this light it is different than conditional happiness because we get out of it what we put into it.  We have to be diligent in watering the seeds of true happiness, otherwise it will not grow and blossom.  When we nurture our true happiness we will benefit from its influence in every aspect of our daily lives.

How do we cultivate true happiness?  There are many ways.  But perhaps one of the biggest tools is the art of embracing.  Embracing ourselves, one another, situations, emotions, and thoughts.  Embracing both the pleasant and unpleasant nature of ourselves and others allows us also to practice letting go.  Letting go of our stress, worries, fear, expectations, and regrets frees our internal landscape of unskillful blocks which bog us down and drain our energy.

Our happiness can really be measured by our ability to embrace.  How often do we embrace ourselves?  The people around us?  Life?  Even something as simple as the weather?  How often do we embrace the present moment just as it is?  To help celebrate the first annual International Day of Happiness let us start with embracing ourselves just as we are.  Embracing ourselves is not a selfish or self serving act.  Indeed it is a loving and compassionate way to connect deeply with the present moment and cultivate true happiness.

When we take care good care of ourselves we are also taking good care of those around us.  This is the essential teaching of interbeing.  Nothing we do is an individual act.  We cannot reside by ourselves alone.  My friends, we’re in this together.

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Be Here Now? You Mean, Right Now?

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I wonder why it’s so common to question our state of being in the here and now.  As in, “Gosh, why am I sooo tired?” or “What is wrong with me today?  I just have no energy!” or “Darn it, why am I feeling so lousy?”  The answer is simple really.  We’re human.

We are of the nature to encounter sickness, tiredness and a whole myriad of other unpleasantries.  Why is it we don’t allow ourselves to come into relationship with these truths?  Is it that the basis of impermanence is too unstructured for us?  If life is impermanent, which it is, does that mean we have no control?  If we aren’t in control, what does that mean?

For me, practicing to embrace myself in the very here and now has been one of the greatest and most profound teachings I have encountered on the path of mindfulness.  If we were to pick only one practice to carry with us and deeply cultivate in our lives this is it.  To Be Here Now means to embrace.  To embrace situations, emotions, states of mind, embrace others, and most importantly embrace ourselves just as they are.  It is impossible to Be Here Now while wishing, expecting, or wanting things and people to be different than they are.  When we are caught in wanting things to be other than as they are we are not able to connect with the present moment.

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We spend a lot of our time and energy fighting.  Fighting against the present moment.  Against the natural flow of the river of life.  When we practice fighting against what is happening in the here and now we water the seeds of suffering inside of ourselves.  This might be a pattern that we’re unaware of.  How often do we wish we were feeling a different way?  How often do we wish we were doing something other than what we’re doing?  How often do we wish an event played out in a different manner?  How often do we wish for winter to be over or for it not to be raining or not so cold or hot?  These are common examples of the ways in which we fight against the unfolding of the present moment.  Ways in which we hold ourselves back from connecting truly with the here and now.

To Be Here Now is to embrace.  They go together.  When we cultivate one, we cultivate the other.  They cannot be separated.

The more we practice to Be Here Now the more we practice letting go.  The more we practice letting go the freer we become.  The freer we become the more at ease we become.  And when we are at ease we are at home wherever we roam.  Happy trails!

Opening Through Music

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At our local Open Way Mindfulness Center in Missoula, Montana for the second year in a row we’ve had a winter series open mic night.  Last night was our last one for the season.  From December through March on the first Saturday of each month our mindfulness center communities are invited to come together for an evening of sharing.  We encourage all sorts of creative offerings and have had music, poetry, story telling, dance, art, comedy bits, Tai Chi demonstrations, rap, dramatic readings and the list goes on and on.

When advertising for the open mic nights I often add: Kids (and snacks) are welcome!  It has been a wonderful community builder for our Be Here Now Sangha (spiritual community) and has brought all ages together to share in the wide array of talents and skill sets that we all have.  To learn and be inspired by the diversity of one another’s sharing is what makes these evenings so rich.

I am a musician.  I love music.  I love listening to it, experiencing it in live shows, dancing to it, singing it and playing it.  I grew up playing the flute in band and orchestra from fifth grade through my senior year in high school.  When I was younger I took the usual ballet, tap and jazz dance classes and when I got a little older moved into hip hop.  After I moved to Missoula I started dancing with an african dance class teacher and then switched from dancer to hand drummer and played the djembe for a few years for the class.  African music makes sense to me and I love how it moves through my body whether through my feet or my hands.  I picked up the guitar when I was around 19 years old.  Mostly I write really simple songs of my own but I know a few covers by Bob Dylan and the Cowboy Junkies that I can pull off once in a while.  My most recent musical adventure has been with spoken word and rap.  Did I mention I love music?

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Me in my hand made duct tape t-shirt from my rap skit – to see the real rap video I copied off of go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX_pZTlERaI

What’s important to know is that while I love playing music I only play in the solitary company of myself.  If I’m playing and singing and my husband comes home I put down the guitar.  When we were dating and I played for him for the first time I made him sit in the other room so I couldn’t see him.  I can play or sing with other people who are playing or singing but on my own is a different story.  I can talk in front of people with relatively little problem but when sharing music my heart starts racing, my breath becomes shallow and quick and my voice can get easily lost in the nervous response to my body’s fight/flight reaction.  I’ve spent some time looking more deeply into what the root of my fear is.  It isn’t about the audience.  I’m not afraid they’d throw tomatoes or shout obscenities or anything.  I hadn’t had a negative experience to warrant such fear or mistrust of the audience.  It was about me.  I, like most if not all of us, have a deep seed of being unworthy and inadequate.  This seed manifests for us all in differing ways and differing times.

In wanting to work through this fear I’ve been hosting these open mic nights and sharing every time.  Sometimes it takes me a little while to get started when I’m in front of everyone.  Sometimes I have to walk around a little bit first and start when my face isn’t towards anyone (for my spoken word pieces).  A few months ago I came to see how much storytelling before sharing a song was helpful so sometimes I talk a little bit first.  Getting up there, despite the racing heart and short breaths, has been such a beneficial process for me.  I have experienced the opening that the open mic night promises in its name.  A friendlier, more supportive audience I don’t think I could find anywhere.  And now with this practice of sharing my heart doesn’t race for as long or quite as fast when I get up in the front of the room.  My fears and struggles with inadequacy are settling down.  And I’m learning to embrace the musician part of myself and share it freely.

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Open Mic Night at the Open Way Mindfulness Center
March 2, 2013

It is easy to shy away from the places that are uncomfortable to us.  To create a small comfort zone and not go outside of it.  When we devote attention to where we are holding back and look deeply into those places we start cracking open.  We become more adaptable and skilled.  We grow and transform.  We start waking up!

Coming to the Open Way Mindfulness Center, if nothing else, is a great place to meet great folks.  My gratitude to everyone who shared your presence and supported my musical unfolding over the winter.  See you again when the snow starts to fly in the mountains!