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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Faith in Action

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Last night I attended what was called the Faith in Action Summit put on by the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC). As our sangha’s representative with the MIC, and one of our faith leaders (as an ordained Order of Interbeing member), I was also asked to say a few words as part of this event. Among a handful of other clergy members from different congregations we were advised to craft an address, totaling 2 minutes and 30 seconds, on the following prompt:

Instruction:

Given our current societal context:

A prominent mark of our culture is a falling away from religious communities and practices.  Yet the value of social justice and service to the community remains strong, especially among young people.
Many faith leaders understand that our faith communities are in a time where deep transformation is necessary.
A central teaching of all our faith traditions is to be people marked by our call to seek justice and love our neighbor.
Paint a picture of what it may look like in 5 to 7 years if you could build the congregation that you hope to be.  Note: (You have unlimited resources and everyone that needs to will say yes to your vision).
  • Please be specific (What activities is the congregation doing, how is the building used or is there a building, what are the staff doing, how is the congregation known in the broader community)
  • Be imaginative

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The Tao of Pooh

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Last week something strange happened. Well, something I think is strange, anyhow. It has to do with what I call the “mystery box” that is social media and the internet. For four years now I’ve been operating our sangha’s facebook page, Be Here Now Community. In those four years we’ve accumulated around 360 page likes. I post on it pretty much everyday – things regarding our sangha or mindfulness center, quotes I stumble upon, recommended books, mindfulness articles, nice pictures, and the like. Lately our posts reach about 100-200 people on average (so facebook tells me). We hardly ever receive comments or post “likes,” and it would be super rare that someone “share” one of our posts. So our page, while active with posts, has been small potatoes in the land of facebook, with very little activity by way of engagement of visitors.

Well, over the last week things have changed very rapidly with our (and my) first experience with a viral post. On April 14th I posted this on our sangha’s facebook page:

“Say, Pooh, why aren’t you busy?” I said.
“Because it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.
“Yes, but —”
“Why ruin it?” he said.
“But you could be doing something Important,” I said.
“I am, ” said Pooh.
“Oh? Doing what?”
“Listening,” he said.
“Listening to what?”
“To the birds. And that squirrel over there.”
“What are they saying?” I asked.
“That it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.
“But you know that already,” I said.
“Yes, but it’s always good to hear that somebody else thinks so, too,” he replied.

– From the Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

What I thought was a nice, simple offering on our page turned out to awaken a LOT of people from all parts of the globe. As of  right now this post has reached 2,704,978 people. It’s been shared 24,387 times, has 2,189 comments, and over 42,000 have “liked’ or “loved” it. This post has also gained us 3,754 more page likes. Holy Toledo! I’ve never claimed to understand the magical workings of social media but this one really boggles my mind. It has been incredibly fascinating watching these numbers soar ever upwards over the last few days. It has me wondering: What is it about this post from the Tao of Pooh that has struck people so strongly?

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Too Busy?!

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Lately I’ve been growing more and more frustrated with the often used, and largely misunderstood, phrase, “I’ve been sooo busy!”  I’m finding that my usual flat affect when listening to friends is starting to curdle when confronted with yet another person describing how they’re unable to do this or that due to the nature of being busy, or using it as an excuse for anything and everything that happens: “Oh, sorry, I didn’t respond to that email, I’ve just been sooo busy lately.”

I’ve written a number of posts on the topic of busyness. In this modern day and age, it’s a subject I feel never loses its application. We all have full lives. We all have numerous things we do with our time – some productive and beneficial and some not so much. Trouble arises when we start to make excuses for what we don’t have time for – when we cast ourselves in the victim role by placing blame on other people, places, and things. It’s simple, really: What we do with our time is up to us. End of story. What we’re really saying, when we remark about how busy we are to a friend, is that we are prioritizing certain things over other things. The words we use are important and point to the intention fueling what it is we’re saying. So it’s not that I begrudge people for having things they’re doing, it’s just that I wish they’d use a more accurate description regarding what’s going on and take responsibility for their choices.

Looking deeply I see that my ego is involved with this budding frustration. I think to myself, “Well, I’m “busy” too and I have the time to email you!” It’s good progress that I notice the presence of my ego in these instances because it isn’t a helpful voice to heed. It’s a voice I don’t like to admit to existing and being a part of my internal dialogue, which was my motivation for wanting to write this post. Shadow work, like dealing with one’s ego, remains hidden in darkness without the infusion of light shone upon it. And the more parts of ourselves we hold in shadow the less able we are to transform and grow.

And so…the work of bringing that which is in shadow to the light continues…

 
 

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Nope, Not Gardening

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In my backyard sits a lovely south-facing vegetable garden plot behind our garage, surrounded by a makeshift fence to keep the chickens out. It’s a fairly good size, maybe 10 X 10. Last summer, on account of having had shoulder surgery in early July, I wisely decided it would be too much work to keep a garden going while one-armed and healing, so I left it untended. After much thought, I’ve made another good decision about this year’s growing season, although for entirely different reasons: Nope, I’m not gardening this year either!

Perhaps you are already aware, but there are only so many hours in the day. It’s true! And while there are a great many things that are interesting and wonderful and fun to do, we have to choose wisely in regards to where and how to best spend our time, in order to care well for ourselves and not over do it. While I enjoy seeing things grow and being able to eat right from my own garden I don’t enjoy watering everyday or picking weeds or the upkeep that goes along with it, so I’ve made the conscious decision not to plant seeds this year. With the possibility of renovating our kitchen, coupled with traveling out of state in July and the myriad of other things I invest my time into, it seems a good choice.

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Remembrances

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From Wikipedia:

The Upajjhatthana Sutta (“Subjects for Contemplation“) is a Buddhist discourse (Pali: sutta; Skt.: sutra) famous for its inclusion of five remembrances, five facts regarding life’s fragility and our true inheritance. The discourse advises that these facts are to be reflected upon often by all.

According to this discourse, contemplation of these facts leads to the abandonment of destructive attachments and actions and to the cultivation of factors necessary for Enlightenment. According to the Ariyapariyesana Sutta (Discourse on the Noble Quest) MN 26,[1] the first three remembrances are the very insights that led Gautama Buddha to renounce his royal household status and become an ascetic after experiencing strong feelings of spiritual urgency (saṃvega).

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I’m currently preparing a teaching talk that I am slated to give at our local sangha, Be Here Now, next week on the topic of impermanence, where I plan on breaking down each of the Five Remembrances and offering tools to work with so that they can become a practice, rather than a mere list of words floating in the ether.

It’s easy to encounter these remembrances (listed in the above image) and feel overwhelmed by them or experience a varying degree of fear, sorrow and/or anxiety about them. It’s very common to have feelings of aversion arise, as in: “Yeah, yeah, I know all that, but I don’t want to think about it right now.” We may want to plug our ears or just bury our heads in the sand and forget all about them. But the Buddha advised: “These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.”

When the Five Remembrances are turned into a reflective practice they have the capacity to awaken us to the beauty and wonder of life available in the present moment. In remembering and understanding these five inherit parts of life we become free to enjoy the very here and now, just as it is, because we know everything and everyone are subject to change, and that to take life for granted is a waste of the precious time we are afforded.

Here are some of the ways I practice with the remembrances in order to bring them more fully into my daily life:

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Shared Humanity

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This drawing was done by a friend of mine who’s currently incarcerated at a correctional facility in Shelby, MT. He sent it a few months back in one of the letters he wrote to me. I keep it in my journal as a symbolic reminder of all those who are pent up behind bars, as a reminder that I should never take my own freedom for granted, as a reminder that there’s no separation between myself and others in the grand and elaborate web of interconnection.

Today I will be going to visit another friend who’s incarcerated at Montana State Prison. We’ve been exchanging letters for over a year now but this will be my first visit. Early this morning, accompanied by thoughts of both of these friends, I wrote this in my journal by book light (I’m thinking of having it be a spoken word piece to perform):

I can’t even imagine
what it would be like
in the confines of prison
enmeshed amid concrete and steel
needing to become as hard and unforgiving
as the materials that bind you,
so as not to suffer the swift consequences
of being weak

inmates, guards, administration,
our government, us
we’re not so easily separated into the
labeled boxes or thick walled cells we seek
no one is foot lose and fancy free of responsibility
for locking someone up and throwing away the key
so they could spend the rest of eternity behind bars
all because they never had the opportunity
to be well taken care of

right now, currently, I have two friends in prison
both for different reasons
both working the system from opposite spectrums:
one who’s full of remorse, shame, and regret
the other who’s not, who’d do it all over again,
and probably will when he gets out –
shoot, he’s still doing it now on the inside –
and neither one is a bad guy,
although many would disagree,
those who believe in some kind of fairy tale version of evil,
which to me is taking the easy way out

we’re all unfolding products of a myriad of situations
a living, breathing, physical manifestation
of everything that has even happened
passed down through our cultural influences
and blood relations

now, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be jails
or that everyone should be set free
or that there aren’t certain people who are wired
a little bit differently and might always pose a threat
but I’m not ready to discard anyone from the human race just yet
by raising myself up on a pedestal and casting judgement
with cruel intent looking down through narrow eyes
while we’re all born from the same earth under the same skies

it just doesn’t make sense to me to ignore our shared humanity
by hiding in the flawed guise of justice
I think it’s important to keep in mind that under the same conditions
those we deem as criminals could just as easily be us

 

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Changes

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Lately I’ve been taking special notice of some new changes occurring in my stepson Jaden, who’s 16-years-old and a sophomore in high school. I’m grateful for having a mindfulness practice because it teaches me how to engage in life’s ever changing ways with more ease and flow, as opposed to railing against it trying desperately to hold onto how I want or think things should be. So, for much of the time since he was around 3-years-old (which is when I started regularly practicing mindfulness and meditation with a sangha), I’ve been observant of the changes inherent through all the years of watching a small being grow up and mature into a young adult.

The presence and benefit of mindfulness, in regards to witnessing the changes associated with his growing up, was revealed to me through the interplay with other parents. Many moms and dads are shocked, overwhelmed, and/or anxious about their kids’  getting older, as though they’re having a hard time letting go of the little boy or girl they thought would somehow last forever. Whereas, the changes I was seeing in Jaden made perfect sense to me – ah, the power of mindfulness at work again! Of course he was getting taller, getting involved in different interests, gaining more confidence, learning to drive, growing facial hair – these are all things that tend to happen when you start growing up. But still, friends and family members will point these things out to me like it was some sort of incredible, hard-to-fathom breaking news: “Can you believe how TALL Jaden’s getting?!” and I would think, internally to myself so as not to offend them, “Why yes, of course he’s growing taller, that’s pretty much what kids do.”

In my experience the act of mindful observation (without judging or reacting) is the entryway into the process of accepting and embracing. And really, when it comes down to it, the quality of one’s life can be boiled down to this: Are we fighting or are we embracing? In any given moment, in any and all situations, the answer to this question is a crucial factor in how things are playing out for us.

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