Fall Retreat, 2013 – Part 1 (of 3)


Flathead Lake, Montana

Today marked the closing of our local Open Way Sanghas fall retreat (rooted in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing).  We gather together twice a year for retreats that start on a Thursday night and end on a Sunday afternoon.  We bring in different lay teachers to lead our retreats and for this past one we had dharma teacher Cheri Maples from Madison, WI.  We recently found a wonderful facility for our growing sangha to use for our retreats on the shore of the Flathead Lake in western Montana.  The Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp is just beautiful and the staff is very warm, friendly, and accommodating for our silent vegetarian crew.  We feel so grateful to have found it.

Meditation Hall

Meditation Hall

Our daily schedule consisted of: mindful movements, sitting and indoor walking meditation, sutra service, silent breakfast, community meeting, personal time, dharma talk, outdoor walking meditation, silent lunch, personal time, dharma discussion groups, deep relaxation or earth touchings ceremony, silent dinner, evening program, mindful movements, and sitting meditation.

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Before I Die…


Art installment in downtown Missoula

From a local media source: The board (pictured above) was the brainchild of New Orleans-based artist Candy Chang, who has a history of installing art projects in public spaces. Her goal is to bring communities together and start a dialogue between neighbors who might not ordinarily speak about such intimate topics.  Communities in 52 countries have worked with her to erect similar installations, including in Argentina, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Australia. Missoula’s was the 289th installation in the world.

The other day I stopped to check out our temporary art installation downtown as I drove past on my home from the library.  It’s only up for the month of September.  Perusing the answers written in chalk I was half expecting to see more drunken rants and explicit statements.  The board sits on the outside of a parking garage on a major corridor of where many bar hop every Friday and Saturday night.  And while there were immature and nonsensical answers scribed on the board I think ones that were thought-out and had meaning were more plentiful.

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In case anyone is interested in checking it out here’s a link to a podcast that was just uploaded today from a local story telling event I participated in over the summer.  I told a story from the 21-day retreat I attended last year in Plum Village Monastery in southern France (the same retreat that sparked my starting this blog).  The story telling event is called Tell Us Something and they’re put together quarterly here in town.  Each one has a different theme and all stories have to be true accounts.  The theme for my story telling event was Perception.

My story is called: The Zen Master and the Toy Bird.  Listen to it at the link below:


Nuts & Bolts of Well Being


Bike parts for making bike art at Missoula’s annual Festival of Cycles, September 14th, 2013

This past Thursday I was asked to speak at an interfaith service at our local Unity Church for the 20th Annual Unity World Day of Prayer.  This year’s theme was: “Living Well: Nurturing Mind, Body, and Spirit,” and
the affirmation was: “My positive thoughts, words, and actions create a healthy life—mind, body, and spirit.”

I represented the Buddhist faith and was among a handful of congregation leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Latter Day Saints, and Native American communities, along with a few others, who were there to offer a prayer or some words in line with the theme of well being.  It was my second year participating in this service and I enjoyed it very much.  Connecting faiths and sharing together is a beautiful expression of coming together as brothers and sisters.

This is the passage I read from the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book:

We come back to live in the wonderful present, to plant our heart’s garden with good seeds, and to make strong foundations of understanding and love.  We vow to train ourselves in mindfulness and concentration, practicing to look and understand deeply, to be able to see the nature of all that is, and so to be free of the bonds of birth and death.  We learn to speak lovingly, to be affectionate, to care for others whether it is early morn or late afternoon, to bring the roots of joy to many places, helping people to abandon sorrow, to respond with deep gratitude to the kindness of parents, teachers, and friends.  With deep faith we light up the incense of our heart.  We ask the Lord of Compassion to be our protector on the wonderful path of practice.  We vow to practice diligently, cultivating the fruits of this path.

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The Quality of our Steps


Currently I am house sitting for a good friend of mine for the whole month of September.  I’m also taking care of her two dogs, of which I have a daily walking regiment around the neighborhood with.  How wonderful it is to get outside and walk and take the time to get in touch with beauty and gratitude!  I don’t have dogs myself so I’m not used to walking simply for the sake of walking.  I would highly recommend it.

Today I found the first autumn leaf on the ground a few blocks away (see pic above).  While we were walking the sky was filled with blues and grays as the sun was popping in and out of the clouds.  We passed by incredibly beautiful full leafed green trees, large ink black crows, sweet faced children, and abodes of all different kinds with flowers and herbs and cats and bikes in the yard.  I could smell the hint of the rain that had just fallen melting into the earth and roots.  And for a few moments I saw a small portion of a rainbow set against the mountains.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy


Some of you might remember a song that came out in the late 80’s entitled Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin (checking out the video is totally worth the time in my opinion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-diB65scQU).   When given the advice not to worry and be happy it can be easy to think, “Yeah, yeah, easier said than done,” or, “I don’t want to pretend I feel good when I don’t.”  Now, while these statements are true, they are only true to a degree (like most things).  As one of my favorite musicians sings: Every tool is a weapon, if you hold it right (Ani Difranco).

Let’s address the first common thought: “Yeah, yeah, easier said than done.”  Don’t worry, be happy is easier said than done for many of us, but why?  It’s easier because many of us have practiced being unhappy for so very long.  Our practice of being happy is not nearly as strong and disciplined as our resolve has been to worry, feel anxious, down, stressed out, angry, or overwhelmed.  Many of us are really really good at being miserable and finding something to complain about.  It may not seem like a choice to suffer but it really is.

The next common thought: “I don’t want to pretend I feel good when I don’t.”  If this comes to mind for you when thinking of the advice not to worry and be happy think then about how often you honestly feel good.  If the split looks something like this when thinking of a typical day or week: 70-99% of the time not feeling good, 1-30% of the time feeling good then I would direct your attention to the above paragraph.  In other words, our minds are extremely tricky and can convince us that it is the suffering we feel that is real and authentic when in truth we have much more to be joyful and grateful about then we realize and fully understand.  Maybe we’re actually pretending more to be unhappy!

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