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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Minimalism

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For about 2 1/2 years now I’ve been wearing pretty much the same outfit everyday.  I have about four plain, green, long sleeve shirts and about four brown pairs of pants.  In the summer I have four plain, green, short sleeve shirts.  In addition to my regular garb I have some work clothes I keep around for gardening or changing the oil in my car, pajamas, a few layering items for when it’s really cold out, and a small handful of other clothing items.  I own three pairs of shoes: my brown crocs that I wear about 75-80% of the year, a pair of snow boots, and my motorcycle boots.  I don’t have a lot of clothing and I have all I need.

Yesterday I met with a friend for lunch who wanted to ask me about minimalism.  She’s starting a monthly group on the subject in a couple of weeks and wanted to chat about how I personally apply the concepts of minimalism in my own life.  While I had never thought of myself as a minimalist, per say, as we talked more about it and she asked me some questions I realized that I did fit the “profile” (of course there are many ways to practice minimalism and it can be adapted in different ways for different lifestyles).  Her first question was about how I limit the amount of belongings we have.  I responded by saying that my husband and I had a leg up, so to speak, in that our house is under 600 square feet with no basement and no attic, thereby naturally limiting the amount of space we have to collect things we don’t really need.  When you have a small house you have to use the space you do have creatively and efficiently, there’s simply no room for useless belongings and clutter.  The bigger your house is the more likely you will feel drawn to filling it up with stuff.

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Posted by on February 28, 2015 in Everyday Practice

 

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On Kindness

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Kindness is more than an act of care and support.  It’s more than a pleasantry or nice offering.  Kindness is a way of living.  A way of responding to and engaging with the world around us.  If our sole practice was one of cultivating kindness it would contain all other important and beneficial teachings within it.  The diligent practice of kindness has more than enough conditions to transform suffering and establish us happily and joyfully in the present moment.

I was reminded about the importance of kindness last week when helping a student of mine.  I work part-time as a teacher’s aid in a local middle school.  Primarily I work with students who need one-on-one help with reading and writing skills, and comprehension.  Oftentimes the students I work with are very hard on themselves.  They consider themselves stupid because they are not at the same academic level as their peers.  Their feelings of inadequacy and self-judement in comparison to their classmates often shows up as frustration, behavior issues, social discomfort, and oftentimes an aversion to receiving the help they need.  Their feelings of frustration make perfect sense to me so it’s relatively easy to not take it personally when a student shuts down or acts out when I’m simply trying to help them.  Still, it can be stressful at times to be confronted with the difficult situation of a student who desperately needs help but refuses it and is angrily pleading with you to leave them alone.

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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Everyday Practice

 

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Breathing at the Dentist

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The practice of mindfulness is one that travels.  We can carry it with us wherever we go.  And the more places we carry it with us the more able we are to connect with a widening circle of experiences happening in the here and now.  When we cultivate connection we’re also cultivating the art of understanding and acceptance.  And the more things we can learn to accept the happier we’ll be.

Yesterday I carried my mindfulness practice with me into the dentist’s chair.  I don’t go to the dentist very often, on account of it being one of the fastest ways to spend a lot of money.  So when I do go it’s because I’m having an issue.  Yesterday I went in to have two cavities filled, one of which made it difficult to chew on one side of my mouth.  I was not looking forward to this experience, as I’m sure most everyone can relate to.  I imagine it must at times be challenging to be a dentist or dental assistant because no one is ever really happy to see you.  While one might be glad to have their tooth pain addressed not many people want to go to the dentist.  I’ve only had one other cavity in my life and so I couldn’t remember how much pain to expect or what the experience would be like but I did know I didn’t particularly want to be there.

These days I enjoy the new opportunities that present themselves in my daily life in order to expand my mindfulness practice so that it can grow and strengthen.  So while I was not thrilled about having to go to the dentist I did appreciate having a new situation in which to carry my mindfulness into.  On the way from my car to the front door of the dental office just before 9:00am yesterday morning, with a bright blue sky overhead and a nice winter chill in the air, I breathed in and out the golden sunshine and paid attention to my steps as I walked.  I greeted the man at the reception desk with  a light disposition and a big smile.  Within a few minutes I was in the dentist’s chair having a numbing agent swabbed on my gums in preparation for the insertion of a large needle.  I closed my eyes and connected with my breathing.  Breathing in I know that I breathing in, breathing out I know that I am breathing out.  Breathing in I feel my stomach rise, breathing out I feel my stomach fall.  

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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Everyday Practice

 

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Fortunate Ones

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Yesterday after work I went to our local organic market to pick up some food for dinner.  While in the checkout line the cashier asked me what I was up to and I replied by saying that I had just gotten off from work and was getting food for dinner.  “So, your day is picking up then,” he remarked.  In that instance it occurred to me that there was a teaching moment, of sorts, at hand.  I replied by saying, “Well, actually I enjoy my job.”  After a brief pause, as if processing an unexpected answer, he said, “You’re very fortunate.  I like my job and all but if I were given the choice I’d prefer not to work.”

I found it an interesting exchange.  In assuming that my workday being over was the equivalent of my day improving he was projecting his notions of happiness onto me.  In telling me I was fortunate that I enjoyed my job I also got the sense that he held the belief that I must have some kind of rare, coveted position that was inherently wonderful.  I don’t imagine that it ever occurred to him that I practice the art of enjoyment, that I put diligent effort everyday into this practice, and that true happiness is only possible in the here and now.  Our collective idea about happiness is that it awaits us in the future, always in the future, when things align in all the ways we want them to.  The trouble is that once we reach that future point our ideas about happiness change and it leaps further down the road.  Our conventional ideas about happiness are illusory and oftentimes keep us stuck in patterns that are of little or no benefit to our own well being.

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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Everyday Practice

 

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Deer Park, Departure Day

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(NOTES: Here is some lingo info that may be helpful in reading these posts.  Deer Park Monastery is in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is often referred to as Thay.  The monks who reside at Deer Park are called Brothers and the nuns are called Sisters.  The sisters reside in Clarity Hamlet and the brothers reside in Solidity Hamlet, about a 5-10 minute walk apart.  The word hamlet comes from the french and means small village.  While they are not really villages they are self-containing communities.  The visitors who come to stay at the monastery, like myself and Mike, are often called lay friends.)

Day 14, Returning Home

Friday January 23rd, 2015

11:15am

I have some free time so I thought I’d do a little writing before lunch.  I’m also needing to rest my feet and legs so this works out doubly well :)  I just finished with a very enjoyable working meditation task.  Along with my lay friend Jo-ann we pruned a large primrose potted plant that sits outside of our dining hall.  There are two that stand side by side and one of the sisters pruned the other one.  Jo-ann told me that they like to try and get them to bloom in time for TET, vietnamese new year.  In order for that to happen most of the leaves need to be removed.  So the two of us spent around an hour and a half happily picking off leaves in the hopes of it blooming many flowers in time for TET.  She and I also had a nice chance to talk about sangha building and our home sanghas and also my aspiration along the path of being a dharma teacher in training.  Jo-ann is a dharma teacher and has been in this tradition a long time.  It has been lovely to meet with her and practice together.  A couple of days ago I asked her if I could keep in touch and look to her for mentorship and guidance when the need arises, to which she happily agreed.

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Posted by on February 7, 2015 in Deer Park Monastery, Travel

 

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Deer Park, Day 13

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(NOTES: Here is some lingo info that may be helpful in reading these posts.  Deer Park Monastery is in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is often referred to as Thay.  The monks who reside at Deer Park are called Brothers and the nuns are called Sisters.  The sisters reside in Clarity Hamlet and the brothers reside in Solidity Hamlet, about a 5-10 minute walk apart.  The word hamlet comes from the french and means small village.  While they are not really villages they are self-containing communities.  The visitors who come to stay at the monastery, like myself and Mike, are often called lay friends.)

Day 13

Thursday January 22nd, 2015

6:00pm

This morning after sitting, stick exercise, and breakfast I walked up the fire road and stood watching as the morning sun rose over the mountain.  I was listening to my music and then turned around to meet an unexpected and wonderful visitor.  There was a coyote friend watching me maybe 40 feet away.  I was of course a little startled to see a coyote so closely.  He was very beautiful.  There was another coyote nearby as well I saw as he ducked into the brush.  They soon trotted off but reappeared every few minutes in a new spot nearby.  I very much enjoyed watching them and I felt honored that they seemed to enjoy my presence as well.  Of course I was also a bit afraid having them so close.  I jokingly said to them, “So, you guys don’t like attack people do you?  I mean, I’ve never heard of a coyote attacking people before.”  We co-existed peacefully in the morning sun together and then I went off to begin our community day of mindfulness.

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Deer Park, Day 12

Walking meditation on lay friends day

Walking meditation on lay friends day

(NOTES: Here is some lingo info that may be helpful in reading these posts.  Deer Park Monastery is in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is often referred to as Thay.  The monks who reside at Deer Park are called Brothers and the nuns are called Sisters.  The sisters reside in Clarity Hamlet and the brothers reside in Solidity Hamlet, about a 5-10 minute walk apart.  The word hamlet comes from the french and means small village.  While they are not really villages they are self-containing communities.  The visitors who come to stay at the monastery, like myself and Mike, are often called lay friends.)

Day 12

Wednesday January 21st, 2015

6:00pm

Today was lay day, where the lay friends practice together and the monastics practice together separately through lunch.  Last week it was offered to me that I could do the morning chant for our sitting mediation practice this morning in the brothers small hall for the lay friends and I accepted.  So this morning I sat at the big bell and offered the morning chant.  Last week I went into their hall to practice just to get a feel of the large bell.  I was a bit nervous to sing, as usual, but as I practiced breathing deeply and smiling to my nervousness I felt soothed and more relaxed.  My heart was still beating quickly with nervous energy but it wasn’t as forceful or as un-grounding as its been in the past when singing in front of others.  Slowly slowly as I continue to practice it gets easier and I get stronger.

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