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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Mindful Morning Saturdays

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The Buddha and the crow sit together

near a council fire, tall and splendid.

Their faces aglow, postures sturdy.

In the charter of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing (OI), ordained members are required to:

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Only in the past 4 years, since I’ve been going on extended retreat stays at Deer Park Monastery each January, have I been coming even remotely close to meeting the last requirement of “observing 60 days of mindfulness each year.” Between attending local retreats and days of mindfulness and going to Deer Park I estimate having around 30 or 40 days of what I figure qualifies as a “day of mindfulness.” Up until recently I haven’t given too much thought about this aspect of the OI charter, choosing instead to focus on the spirit of the practice and not get caught in the form of having a certain amount of specific days in which I can refer to as a “day of mindfulness.” But, like everything else, my practice changes. Over the past few months I’ve been brainstorming about ways in which to start implementing a weekly Day of Mindfulness. Of course, applying mindfulness in everyday life is what Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition is all about, but a set aside Day of Mindfulness is an opportunity to “up our game,” as I heard it explained recently by an OI aspirant. It involves more intention, more focused practice energy. Looking deeply, I see now that I used to let myself off the hook in regards to this one, saying to myself: “Mindfulness is the aim of my life, I’m practicing everyday. So every day is a mindfulness day.” And this sentiment is both true and not true, at the same time.

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Back to the Basics: Why Mindfulness Matters

mindfulness-practices-page-001Handout I created to accompany my talk

Preparation for a teaching talk I gave last night at my local sangha, Be Here Now, entitled: Back to the Basics, Why Mindfulness Matters:

To listen to the audio file of the actual talk I gave last night: http://www.openway.org/content/back-basics-why-mindfulness-matters-nicole-dunn

Rather than waiting until the end of this talk to offer my solidifying words of summary, of which I hope will be of service and value, I’d like to start off with them instead: Mindfulness matters because life matters. We have only this one life span of 20 or 30 or 50 or 70 or 90 years. If we do not cultivate mindfulness, it is easy for our lives to pass by very quickly – for our lives to be full of suffering, anger, sorrow, and envy. It is easy for us to take our lives for granted, to be unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Without mindfulness, it is easy to spend our whole lives caught in the past and/or consumed by the future. Mindfulness is the friend that shows us that another way of living is possible.

To help illustrate this, I’d like to share my first experience with mindfulness in an applied context – my first practical encounter that wasn’t based in intellectual knowledge or theory. (In order to shorthand it, the version of this story, which I’m including here, is taken from the book I’ve written and am working on getting published.)

My first real-life experience of what the heck mindfulness was came in early 2002. I was 22-years old and my husband, Mike, and I had started attending a meditation group in the tradition of Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. At the time, we were living on the East Coast in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where I was born and raised. We were trying to save money in order to move back to Missoula, Montana, where Mike grew up and he and I met and married. I was working for a preschool and after school program and Mike was working at U-Haul. Between us, we shared one vehicle: our trusty, old Ford Econoline van, affectionately named Humphrey. (We lived in Humphrey for a year after we got married and he took us faithfully on the long and lovely road up to Alaska and back). Mike would drop me off at work; I would walk to the library down the road when I was finished; and Mike would pick me up there when he was done with his shift. On one particular day, I went to the library to wait for Mike after work, as usual. I was really looking forward to meditation that night. Although we had only been attending the weekly group for a short time, I quickly took to it and found it refreshing and grounding in ways I could not, at the time, fully understand.

After ten minutes of standing outside the library and waiting for Mike, I began to wonder what time it was, so I went back into the library to check. (It’s important to mention that my idea of arriving on time to anything means getting there about ten minutes early). Once I saw the clock, I began to get a little irritated. I didn’t want to be late to meditation. I went back outside and anxiously scanned the road for any sign of Humphrey. After ten more minutes, I went to check the time again and then proceeded to get very impatient; elevating from irritated to frustrated. I stomped back outside and paced back and forth along the sidewalk, thinking to myself: Where the hell is he? We’re going to be late! Another ten minutes went by and back in I went, to check the time, as if that would somehow help matters. After my third venture inside, my irritation, which had turned to frustration, grew to anger. I was pissed off! I stormed back outside muttered profanities to myself as I paced rapidly and kept a militant eye on the road. We were going to be late to meditation for sure!!!

In the midst of my internal fuming and cursing, I sat down on a bench. In exasperation, I exhaled heavily and slumped against the wooden slats, my head tilted back, face pointing upwards to the sky. In a seemingly cliché moment, I received a message, as though it were etched in the clouds overhead. The words thundered down: Just enjoy me. Those words resonated inside of me, loud and gentle and clear. The present moment had sent me a message. In that instant, I became aware of how embittered I had become while waiting; how tense my body and mind were. I was aware of how futile all of my pacing and checking of the time and angry mutterings really were – and, though it seems painfully clear to me now, I realized just then, that my ranting and raving wasn’t going to make him arrive any sooner. During my 20-minute escalation, I had no idea how stressed out and irrational I had become. With the words, just enjoy me, the light of mindfulness shone through my thick fog of anger.

I got up from the bench and suddenly realized what a beautiful spring day it was. The sky was magnificently blue and the afternoon sun was warm and welcoming. I did some slow walking meditation and admired the budding trees and green grass. I shifted my gaze, from anxiously watching the road, to my immediate surroundings and I practiced getting in touch with my breathing. When I calmed down, I was then able to look more deeply into why my husband might be late. I mean, it was unlikely that he chose not to pick me up on time. I saw clearly that he was probably helping a customer and was unable to leave on time. I stopped waiting for my husband to arrive and instead practiced enjoying the day. That made all the difference. The time I had spent waiting felt like an agonizing eternity (not to mention exhausting), even though it was only about 20-30 minutes, while the same amount of time I spent enjoying was refreshing, energizing, and liberating.

When he did finally arrive, much too late to go to meditation, I greeted him with a smile and said, “Thank you for being late.” And I truly meant it. I was very aware, in that moment, that had I not had the transformation I did, my first words to him would’ve been very, very different and the evening would’ve been ruined because of my anger-fueled words and actions. It was my first practical encounter with the power of mindfulness and I was so very grateful for the real-world translation.

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Self-Care

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To read in more detail about Ethan’s 7-Point Plan: http://www.ethannichtern.com/7-point-practice-plan-for-engaged-mindfulness-in-2017/

Yesterday was a long day of LOTS of sitting on a meditation cushion at our local mindfulness center, with very little active movement, which my physical body is not a huge fan of. And it was also lovely, too, as not only was I able to partake in an OI Day of Mindfulness (OI: Order of Interbeing), but it meant I was able to see our out of town sangha friends, of whom I only gather with 3-4 times a year.

Our Day of Mindfulness included: sitting meditation, indoor walking meditation, reciting the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, listening to short talks from three of our Montana and Wyoming area OI members, silent lunch, a dharma/personal check-in round, and closing remarks from our local Dharma teacher Rowan. It went from 9:30am-5:00pm. My husband and I left at 5:00pm, in order to return home to our son, while others stayed to have dinner together at the center. My nerve condition, and associating chronic pain, had been so aggravated by the hours spent mostly sitting that I darted out to our car quite rapidly after the final sound of the bell – whoosh, I was gone! What I’ve been appreciating reflecting on, since getting home last night, is how strong my practice of self-care is – which took me years of honing in, I might add, and is a continual practice. Now, when my pain levels rise and my mental energy plummets in unison, I know what I need to do and I do it.

A big part of my self-care routine is in understanding how physical pain, just like everything else, is of the nature to change. When my pain level rises, I practice to remember that by prioritizing rest, using a few simple aids (such as using a heating blanket and soaking my legs in a hot bath), and being attentive to my body mechanics, my pain will subside to a large degree, after a certain length of time. I no longer fight against the pain or my body, wishing they were other then they are. I’ve learned a different way of engaging with myself when pain arises, and it makes such an immense difference in my experience.

As Thay says: “The Buddha said that you shouldn’t amplify your pain by exaggerating the situation. He used the image of someone who has just been hit by an arrow. A few minutes later, a second arrow strikes him in exactly the same spot. When the second arrow hits, the pain is not just doubled; it is many times more painful and intense.

So when you experience pain, whether is physical or mental, you have to recognize  it just as it is and not exaggerate it. You can say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know this is only a minor physical pain. I can very well make friends and peace with it. I can still smile to it.”

If you recognize the pain as it is and don’t exaggerate it, then you can make peace with it, and you won’t suffer as much. But if you get angry and revolt against it, if you worry too much and imagine that you’re going to die very quickly, then the pain will be multiplied one hundred times. That is the second arrow, the extra suffering that comes from exaggeration. You should not allow it to arise. This is very important. It was recommended by the Buddha: Don’t exaggerate and amplify the pain.”

– From Shambhala Sun magazine (now known as Lion’s Roar), January 2012

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Sharing Loveliness

Happy Random Acts of Kindness Day!

Random Acts Of Kindness Day was first created in Denver, Colorado and formally recognized by President Clinton in 1995.

The idea behind this holiday is to make the world a better place by spreading a little light around.

So, here’s a little light :)

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Posted by on February 17, 2017 in Everyday Practice, Fun

 

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Deer Park, Day 20 & 21

2017 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 6th-27th (though was unable to post until the Internet became available once I returned home)

Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego. Mike and I choose to voluntarily lodge separately when we go to Deer Park during the winter retreat, which affords us the best of both worlds: having our own retreat experiences and able to spend time together 2 or 3 days a week. Mike stays with the brothers in Solidity Hamlet and I stay with the sisters in Clarity Hamlet, which are a short 10-minute walk from each other but do operate quite independently.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese

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Day 20:
Thursday January 26th, 2017

6:14pm

Haikus:

A new dark moon has come
Darkening the sky with stars
With the tides, I smile

Evening settles in
Clear skies promise stars to shine
I exhale with ease

__________

Today, I did the unthinkable: I warmed up enough to take my thick hoodie and alpaca socks off! The sun shone with warmth and golden brilliance. It was splendid in a way that words cannot convey. And we had a lazy afternoon in which to thoroughly enjoy it, without any scheduled programs to call us indoors. Since it was also Lay Friends Day, I was able to spend it with Mike, too!

I am dearly looking forward to returning home tomorrow. Home to our son, our cats, our little house, our mountains, our winter, our sangha, our sweet Missoula. I’m also looking forward to going to the airport and engaging in the grand adventure of flight travel! So great!

I’m also looking forward to having access to my own personal space. The only-child within me, calls out for solitude – for a string of moments to myself, without the clutter of others. Everywhere I go here it seems there is someone in close tow. My hut is always occupied, and even on the scads of trails spiraling around the monastery, there is always the possibility of someone just around the next bend.

Silence is not easy to come by. It stows itself away, easily succumbing to swells of fitful clamor. I look for its shade, ravenously defending it when finally, by such rare graces, it appears. Sometimes I feel as though I am alone in my quest for silence – that there are few people who’s heart, like mine, connects more openly in its cradling embrace.

Earlier today we had a dharma sharing circle with the lay friends up in Solidity Hamlet, where we were prompted to speak about why we came to Deer Park. At first it seemed to me to be a rather un-important question – shouldn’t it be obvious why we’ve all come here? But as I considered it more deeply, I realized it was, in fact, a vital question to ask ourselves. It also reminded me of something Brother Phap Hai said in his last Dharma talk about how we need to routinely ask ourselves why we practice mindfulness. I shared about how I come here to: deepen my concentration on the practice of coming home to myself, to strengthen my sovereignty, to delve further into the true nature of life, and to move a metal folding chair and be completely aware of moving a metal folding chair. I spoke about how I equally look forward to both coming here and returning home. And I spoke about how I don’t come here to “retreat” from my daily life, to leave it behind as some sort of “other” reality, but to more fully engage with it. These are some of the reasons why I came here this year.

I’m a mindfulness practitioner because this practice enables me to water the seeds of joy and happiness in myself and in the world – and the more water, the better! And retreats offer a nice, heavy saturating dose of rain (in more ways than one!).

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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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Random Acts of Kindness Week!

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Random Acts of Kindness Week: February 12th-18th

#RAKWEEK2017

www.randomactsofkindness.org

Let’s get our kindness on! :) I’ve been enjoying making these, in preparation to help celebrate RAK Week:

dscn6088Front of the cards – with the ones I’ve yet to draw on pictured at the top

dscn6089Back of the cards

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Posted by on February 12, 2017 in Everyday Practice, Fun

 

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Deer Park, Day 19

2017 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 6th-27th (though was unable to post until the Internet became available once I returned home)

Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego. Mike and I choose to voluntarily lodge separately when we go to Deer Park during the winter retreat, which affords us the best of both worlds: having our own retreat experiences and able to spend time together 2 or 3 days a week. Mike stays with the brothers in Solidity Hamlet and I stay with the sisters in Clarity Hamlet, which are a short 10-minute walk from each other but do operate quite independently.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese

ecakesMaking earth cakes for TET

Day 19:
Wednesday January 25th, 2017

7:06am

Yesterday was earth cake making day, in preparation for the Lunar New Year, which is this coming weekend. The making of earth and sky cakes is a Vietnamese tradition, involving the simple ingredients of rice and mug beans wrapped in banana leaves, which are cooked in large pots filled with water over an open fire. The whole community gathers together to create them. It’s a day of being joyfully together. The hamlets eat their meals together in “picnic style”, as it is phrased here, which means they are not held in silence. Songs and stories are shared around the fire. It is a time of social gathering and celebration. It takes the large pots of earth cakes about 8 hours to cook, so people often drift in and out. Since it meant I could spend the day with Mike I was very happy :) Even though I was also quite cold for much of the day, once again. I think the coldness is settling itself deeper and deeper into my bones, as each day I seem to grow a little more susceptible to its clutches. It’s a clear and open sky this morning. I’m hoping the sun’s warmth will not be stolen away by the chill of the air.

Haikus I wrote this morning:

Morning skies are clear
Stars shine near and far with ease
Darkness turns to light

Parched earth drinks anew
Rocks house waterfalls and streams
Green adorns my steps

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6:22pm

More haikus!

Life giving sunshine
Gratitude for your smile
Your warmth is my warmth

Tea cup in my hands
Filled to the brim with rain clouds
Always seeing more

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Posted by on February 12, 2017 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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