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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Immortality

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Ever since I started driving, at age 16, I’ve experienced inexplicable enjoyment from the pairing of blasting the heat while driving with the windows down on cold, cold nights.

After training myself to like the taste of coffee and cigarettes, I found them to be a great accompaniment. And with just the right song playing, I felt invincible.

Fast forward 21 years – substituting night for the darkness of early morning, coffee for tea, cigarettes for my favorite pen and some paper, driving with the windows down and heat on high for propping open my front door while bundled up in layers on the couch, and music for silence, little has changed.

It still all merges together in this brilliant orchestra – the pairing of fresh cool air and warm comfort, time well spent with myself alone, creative self-expression through the medium of a less obstructed hour.

It is moments like these, that I hold in such high regard, that make me feel certain of my immortality, in a much larger sense of the word than I ever thought possible.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Creative Writing

 

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New Plan!

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Over the past few months I’ve taken to saying two simple words, which I just realized basically serve as a practice gatha, or mindfulness verse. The words are: New plan!

For instance, when I encounter road construction in town that disrupts my chosen route, I say out loud to myself, “New plan!” and I veer happily off in a new, unanticipated direction. Or, let’s say my day of self-scheduled to-do’s winds up getting derailed on account of stifling neck pain (which was the case for me on Monday) – guess what? New plan! Self-care was in order that day, so I set aside my to-do’s and tended well to my physical body instead.

Our day-to-day lives often require a steady dose of “New plan!” to navigate the many unexpected situations that arise. Sometimes we handle changes well – and sometimes we don’t. When I say, “New plan!” it helps me to switch gears and allows me to better go with the flow. While it’s only two simple words, they hold a lot of power and sway over whatever moment I find myself in, as they help to remind me that I always have a choice as to how to respond. I think that saying this gatha out loud is important, as it helps to give verbal attention to what’s unfolding. Additionally, I say this gatha in an upbeat, friendly, exclamatory fashion, which I think is important to its use and function.

“New plan!” is more than a couple of words we utter in a moment of haste, it’s a state of mind we can cultivate to help guide us through the uncharted pathways of a new day.

I offer this new gatha for your use, should you find it helpful. The next time something unexpected occurs, try saying, “New plan!” and see what happens. Perhaps it will offer some valuable momentum, as it has for me, in continuing forward on a previously unplanned path.

P.S Oh, and keep me posted as to whether or not it works for you – I’d love to know if it’s helpful for others, too :)

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2016 in Everyday Practice

 

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More Than Words

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Just as important as what we say is how we say it – and, I venture to add, that how we say things has an even greater impact on our ability to skillfully communicate than the actual words themselves. While this isn’t a new concept for me to consider, what is new is how this method might apply to our current political landscape.

After watching the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton a few weeks ago, I was left thinking: Well, I have no way to know who’s right about what information and who’s not, or who’s viewpoints are more accurate. They’re probably both fallible, in some regard. However, I did take notice of how Hilary Clinton’s demeanor, disposition, and energy exchange came through on stage, both while engaged in oration and while listening to her opponent. Assessed solely on the basis of body language and physical character traits, Hilary was the clear winner in the even-temperament-department. Her mannerisms and energy were much more even keeled. In appearance, she seems to possess a greater sense of equanimity, ease, care, and diplomacy, all of which are important to embody as a leader, whether in a government setting or otherwise.

While I tend to lean to the democratic side of the political spectrum, I would consider myself more of a conservative liberal. I hold some values that would resonate more along the republican side of things – and I don’t find it a valuable attribute to cast my vote along party lines simply because someone is a democrat. I think it’s important to intelligently weigh each candidate and decide for myself who I would feel most comfortable with, running whatever office it is they’re up for election in.

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Posted by on October 24, 2016 in Everyday Practice

 

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Time Well Spent

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Today, in the folds of early morning darkness, the quiet of my sitting meditation session was interrupted by the familiar and awful, guttural groaning of my cat preparing to toss his cookies.

I didn’t need to open my eyes to know which of my two cats it was. We have one who’s earned the honorific title of Head-Wound-Harry, and then we have Sir-Throws-Up-A-Lot.

In a small victory, I managed to spring up in time to shoo him off the couch. Unlike dogs, who throw up in conveniently concentrated piles, cats have the need to create long, unscripted trails, which inevitably require the cleaning of both hard and soft surfaces.

It would’ve been easy to have labeled this experience solely as un-welcomed, un-favorable, and gross. But, I thought, isn’t this life, too? Isn’t it the unanticipated, messy occurrences that happen which help constitute life itself?

If it isn’t in this very moment that I’m being called to apply my mindfulness practice,                          what moment am I waiting for?!

After settling back into my meditation, upon completion of haz-mat clean-up detail, I spent the remaining majority of my time, as the impassioned writer that I am, crafting how to encapsulate what had just happened into words I would scribe down when my sitting meditation timer went off. It was time well spent, if you ask me.

 

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Nirvana

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In any other context, aside from when referring to the band Nirvana (which I love), I don’t care for the word nirvana. Years of false societal conditioning have led me to paint this highly ridiculous concept of what nirvana means. When I come across the word nirvana, I imagine this pie-in-the-sky, ephemeral land where nothing bad ever happens, that one either enters after they die or when they become enlightened (which is another word I don’t care for). I imagine nirvana to be some kind of other-worldly place, where unicorns trot around and there’s never a cloud in the sky.

In actuality, nirvana means: the extinction of notions.

I’ve been working on this topic of nirvana for a teaching based talk that I am giving tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, which will be a joint talk with my husband Mike. He and I have been offering these joint talks now, once a year, since 2014. They afford us the opportunity to collaborate on Buddhist based teachings, which is something we’re invested in together as a couple. I find it especially enjoyable to work together with him given that he and I have different strong suits in how we think about, approach, and incorporate the practice into our lives. From a Buddhist psychology perspective, Mike is more skilled at approaching things from the ultimate dimension, whereas I am more skilled at approaching from the historical dimension. As both are equally important, our ability to join forces then has the potential to speak on a variety of levels to a wider variety of people. In short, the ultimate dimension is often referred to as being like the ocean (or the undercurrent which guides and propels life), with the historical dimension being like the waves (which is us, on an individual level) – while we are each a wave, we are also the ocean, comprised of the same water (or life force/energy) which connects us all.

(UPDATED POST: Here’s a link to the audio file from this talk that Mike & I gave on Monday evening, October 17th. http://www.openway.org/content/joint-talk-nirvana-mike-nicole)

When I think of what nirvana actually means, the extinction of notions, it helps me to connect more with this word when I come across it, instead of shirking away from it as some fictitious concept. However, we want to be careful not to get caught in the form of this teaching. Meaning, it would not be a wise goal to set for ourselves to become completely free of all notions, stories, judgments, and thoughts at some undisclosed time in the far off future. This isn’t realistic. Instead, we must use our own intelligence and discernment process to find ways of enfolding the teaching of nirvana into our everyday life, moment by moment.

How do we do this? How do we incorporate nirvana as a practice? What came up for me around this was to explain nirvana as follows:

Nirvana is an action based on the culmination of mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

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Deer Park Lessons

dscn0272Overview from Deer Park Monastery (in Escondido, CA), from atop the fire road

My husband Mike and I will be returning to Deer Park Monastery in January for an extended retreat stay, which we’ve been doing now for the past few years. Lately I’ve been thinking about how these January retreat stays at Deer Park have impacted my life and my practice. So, in my love for making lists, I’ve come up with one to help me get in touch with some of the fruits I’ve experienced by venturing off on these longer retreat periods once a year.

What Retreating at Deer Park Has Been Teaching Me:

  1. How to develop more equanimity and solidity in a widening variety of situations.
  2. How to get more in touch with my inner silence and rejoice and revel in its unfolding.
  3. How to become increasingly more comfortable in my own skin.
  4. How to practice letting go.
  5. How to become more self-confident, while remaining well grounded and at ease
  6. How to deepen my understanding about how when I take good care of myself, I’m practicing to take good care of those around me, too.
  7. How to work on not being afraid to shine my talents, experience, skills, and insights.
  8. How to dance like no one’s watching when there IS probably someone watching – one of the things I do routinely at Deer Park is spend time each day listening to my ipod and dancing around the dirt parking lot situated just outside of the Sisters hamlet, it’s one of my favorite things to do there :)
  9. How to deepen the friendship I have with myself and enjoy my own company.
  10. How resting is a necessary (and enjoyable) component of well being.

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What Mindfulness Isn’t

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With our second installment of Mindful Community Conversations happening tonight (a monthly series I put together to focus on difficult topics that incorporate the practice of mindfulness as a tool to help along the path of healing), I’ve been thinking about the sometimes common tendency to regard mindfulness as the only tool needed in order to build a healthy, happy life, or to recover and heal from difficult situations. It’s important to relay, especially to newer practitioners, that mindfulness, while a big tool in the tool box, is only one of many others. Just as we would not be able to use only one tool to build a foundation for a house, we will likely not be able to use mindfulness alone to build a foundation for our well being.

Over the years I’ve heard from people who regard mindfulness as some kind of magic solution to every situation that arises. Those same people then become deflated and disappointed in themselves (as though they were a bad practitioner) as a result of mindfulness not being enough to help them through certain difficulties, such as when dealing with depression, addiction, loss, grief, anger, anxiety or trauma. While the practices of mindfulness: sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, mindful breathing, and so on, can aid in any situation that arises, we also need to develop and work with other tools in order to support and nourish our entire being.

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