A gibbous moon sits slowly descending in the sky
like a thumbprint of the universe
marking its existence beyond the reach
of even our wildest imagination
To the east, clouds of plum and amethyst
coral and Brazilian pink opal
prelude the sun’s return
as all across the north eyes awaken from slumber
in waves rippling along the shores of vast plains of time
Places with similar buildings to our town’s own
similar lives being either valued, or not so much,
similar roadways and playgrounds and diners
Each one unique and just like the other
sprawling itself open and out
like a body stretching as far as it can
In looking to the horizon
our shadows cast upon the ground
as an echo of that in which we will always remain,
an energetic exchange of the elements
being carried on the winds of change
(today’s post from my writer’s facebook page)
“Perhaps the biggest misconception is that mindfulness is all about being happy or calm. While happiness and stress reduction are common and quite pleasant side effects of learning to be in the present moment without wishing it away, they are not the same thing as mindfulness. Fundamentally, mindfulness is about becoming aware of and accepting whatever is happening, which at times may involve sitting with painful or difficult emotions until they pass, as they will. It is a highly pragmatic practice that teaches us to see others and ourselves clearly so that we can make the most skillful choice possible in any given situation.
– From Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family by Carla Naumburg, PhD
Last Friday night my husband and I had plans to go to a friend’s house for dinner at 7:00pm. In an all too common fashion my husband caused us to run behind. Known for his tendency to begin shaving at just the time we are slated to leave the house, sure enough, at 6:45pm, I see him go to the hall closet to fetch the electric razor. I am not someone who runs late. My idea of arriving on time often involves getting places at least 10-15 minutes early. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am never late but it’s a very rare occurrence – well, at least when I’m left to my own devices that is. When my husband and I go places together there’s a fairly good chance we won’t be on time. This is one of the areas he and I differ in. Over the years we’ve learned how to balance each other out a bit – I’ve relaxed my obsessiveness about punctuality and sometimes he mobilizes himself so that we can leave the house on time. And sometimes neither of those things happen and frustration ensues, like it did for me on Friday night.
I nanny part-time for two little boys. Yesterday we were all playing with some sticker boards, each depicting different landscapes with associating reusable stickers to place around them. There were boards and stickers to create an ocean, jungle, safari, farm and a prehistoric themed scene. We were looking at the under water ocean board, filled with a large host of sea life stickers, when I pointed to a small bat and said, light-heartedly, “Hey! What’s that bat doing in the ocean?!” Without missing a beat the oldest one, Finn, who’s soon to turn 3, said, very matter-of-factly, “That’s an ocean bat.” When I inquired further, about this fabled creature I had never heard about, he added that he had seen one in person the day before, in New Jersey. As the stickers were all cartoonish in nature the bat in question had purple ears. Finn then went on to say how bats that were pink lived out of the water but purple ones were most assuredly known as “purple ocean bats.” Not wanting to dissuade his lively imagination I simply smiled and nodded along, enjoying the creative story he had made up on the spot.
I offer this jovial account to help depict one of the fruits that develops as a result of the practice of sitting meditation: learning how to go with the flow. Of course, I’m not suggesting we come up with tall tales in order to make sense of things – in fact, I’d strongly warn against that – but we can learn how to creatively adapt to ever changing circumstances as they unfold, weaving a new story to help us move forward. The practice of sitting meditation can greatly aide us in these efforts.
When boiled down, sitting meditation can be described as a good way to become an observer of life. When we practice meditation we’re learning how to be with ourselves, just as we are, and to observe the nature of our thoughts that drift in and out. That’s why it’s often very challenging to do it. Most of us haven’t learned how to keep good company with our own person. Most of us live in a constant stream of self-judgement and condemnation, especially towards what arises in our mental landscape. When we’re able to develop our powers of observation we gain much needed perspective, which allows us to move through life with more ease.
During my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery I had a thought about how I’d like to start a family circle time at home with my husband Mike and teenage stepson Jaden. This wasn’t a new idea, but in the past I never followed through with anything. This time, however, I spoke with Mike about it and wrote the idea down in my day planner, which is what needs to happen if ever I am to remember and take action about something.
Since we have shared custody and Jaden is with us for what works out to be 1/3 of the time (one week on and two weeks off), our family circle will wind up taking place once every three weeks. Our very first family circle was last night and went splendidly!
Mike and I decided we’d dedicate an hour to this circle on Sunday nights and our format would include: 5 minutes of sitting meditation, a check-in round, flower watering, open sharing, and a closing circle. Mike was our facilitator and during the check-in round prompted us to share about how we were feeling, both in general and specifically about the creation of our new family circle time. I was really glad to hear when Jaden shared that he was really looking forward to our newly created family circle time and said he thought it was a really good idea.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how wonderful it is that there are people who gravitate towards different causes, do different jobs, and are impassioned about different things. In short, as Charles Schulz’s book title states above: Thank goodness for people.
Thank goodness for the writers, artists, and musicians. Thank goodness for those working for human rights and the environment and better treatment of animals. Thank goodness for the grocery store stockers, clerks, and managers. Thank goodness for the long-haul truckers, pilots, and train conductors. Thank goodness for moms and dads, grandparents, and babysitters. Thank goodness for the roofers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, inspectors, painters, and window installers. Thank goodness for those drawn to public service, social work, and mental health. Thank goodness for nurses and doctors and EMT’s. Thank goodness for the local coffee shops and eateries. Thank goodness for the farmers, ranchers, and growers. Thank goodness for administrators, financial advisers, tech people, and CEO’s. Thank goodness for the miners, drillers, and factory workers. Thank goodness for the president and those who serve our government. Thank goodness for teachers and faith leaders. Thank goodness for the staff and volunteers at homeless shelters, suicide prevention numbers, 12-step meetings, and rape crisis centers. Thank goodness for good people drawn to doing good things in a million different ways.
I’ve entitled this edited picture of Mike and I, taken in 2014: Love at First Sight :)
This Wednesday, March 9th, my husband Mike and I will celebrate 16 years of married life together. I think our marriage has lasted this long due, in part, to the spirit in which the above photo was taken – that of fun and humor!
And had it not been for our shared mindfulness practice in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition I don’t think we would’ve been able to weather the storms and challenges we’ve been able to. So I attribute our strong relationship to both humor and mindfulness.We have a lot of fun together. I can safely say that we laugh almost everyday together, which I think is a big part of our success as a couple.
We got married young enough for my mom to be pretty upset when I told her we were engaged (as most concerned, caring mothers would be). I was 19 when I met Mike, and he was 20. We got engaged in Las Vegas, of all places, only 2 months after we started dating and were married just 9 months later. Normally the odds would be against such young-aged marriages working out, but then Mike and I have always leaned towards the atypical side of things, even when growing up in our own respective parts of the country, he in Montana and me in the suburbs of Philly.
Yesterday we had a lovely day of mindfulness (which is basically like a one-day retreat) on the theme of silence at the Open Way Mindfulness Center, led by Dharma teacher Rowan Conrad, with the support and help of various other sangha friends and OI (Order of Interbeing) members (those who have been formally ordained and received the 14 Mindfulness Trainings in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition). We had around 30 people in attendance, which was a great turnout – especially considering the ones we’ve held over the last 2-3 years have only managed to draw in 6-10 people, for reasons we can only speculate about. But yesterday we had a nice, full room.
I feel very fortunate that in the past 3 weeks, since I’ve been back from my month-long retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, I’ve had the opportunity to attend not just one but two local days of mindfulness, the other one having been one week after I got home and designed for OI aspirants, OI members and their spouses from around the state.
Yep, that’s right. This post is about a new rug I just bought yesterday (pictured above). And while you may be wondering what the big deal is I’m proud to say that it is a rather big deal, of sorts, because it means that I don’t take lightly my consumeristic tendencies.
My husband, teenage step-son, 2 orange cats, and I have been living in our under 600 square-foot house for the past 13 years. Which, I might add, is under the average 750 square-foot New York City apartment size. Otherwise stated, we have a small little dwelling that we cohabitate. It’s a cozy and lovely home. Given the small size we are naturally afforded the important opportunity to carefully choose what to surround ourselves with. Having a small home is really a great luxury and offers many conveniences – one of which is to be more mindful about what and how we consume (it’s a convenience because more stuff equates to more money spent, more work to do, more cleaning and upkeep – less stuff simply means less to do!). Mike and I are thrifty and eco-minded in nature but, as we’ve spent most of our married life together in this small house, its size has allowed for a strong foundation to be further cultivated in regards to being more mindful consumers.
Tomorrow will mark three weeks that I’ve been back home after my four-week retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery. The transition from monastery living to my daily life has been easier this time around, compared to what I’ve experienced in the past. Maybe it’s because I’m getting more seasoned at going on these longer retreats. Or maybe it’s because before I left Deer Park I spent a few days with little practice schedule, due to the lunar new year festivities, which served as a sort of natural transition time out of the concentrated quietude I had been cultivating there. Or maybe it’s because I was feeling more home sick this time around and felt ready to come home. And, of course, it’s probably a culmination of all three reasons.
Although my husband Mike had left Deer Park two weeks before I did, to return home and back to work, he and I have our rather set roles in the household. For the most part I take care of all of the matters concerning the home front – while I do have a part-time job, I consider myself a full-time homemaker, and proud of it! :) And Mike works hard for us in his skilled labor job. This equates to my having returned home to a whole lot of laundry, cleaning, mail, bills to pay, and a variety of other things to tend to. I had anticipated this and was able to simply flow into what needed to be done in the order of importance. I didn’t feel overwhelmed or stressed out, as I have in the past. I also didn’t experience a deflation in my own practice energy upon leaving the retreat and returning back home, at least not in a way that I found challenging or disheartening. Although I was determined to enter back into my daily life slowly, not taking on too much all at once, I found that I was able to move more swiftly into my routine and the list of things to do than I had planned. From taking care of the house to shopping for groceries to tending to sangha related tasks needing attention, I was surprisingly able to embark upon it all relatively soon after getting back home.
Last night there was a state wide peace march at 5:00pm in five different cities around Montana, organized in the wake of the fear building up in our area around the possibility of becoming an area of welcome for refugee families affected by distant, raging wars. Recently, over 500 people packed into a school gymnasium in Hamilton, MT to attend a town hall meeting to help address a proposed letter to be sent by our state Governor, Steve Bullock, and our congressional delegates, to President Obama’s administration disapproving the bringing in of refugees. Having heard from someone in attendance at this meeting and in reading the news the overall energy was infused with hatred, scathing remarks, hostility, and, ultimately, underneath it all, fear. It was a meeting that could’ve easily turned violent and was not an entirely safe place for those in opposition to the vast majority in attendance at the meeting, who were adamantly against refugees coming into not only our particular part of the state but the country in general. The state wide march was in response, largely, to this town hall meeting.