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Monthly Archives: June 2017

Observations On the Road

In lieu of a New Year’s Resolution, I’ve been coming up with a new mindfulness practice for myself at the start of each calendar year. Last year I partook in what I called Bumper Sticker Practice, where I paid special attention to bumper stickers while driving around town and jotted down the ones I found particularly interesting/funny/odd/strange/beguiling. I so enjoyed having a mindfulness exercise to do while driving that I decided that my new practice for this year would also involve something I could do while on the road. Even though I wasn’t quite sure what it would entail, I landed on: Observations On the Road. It involves my jotting down either an outer observation, or an inner observation prompted by something I see directly around me, while either driving around town, stopped at a red light, or otherwise hanging out in my car for some reason (such as waiting to pick my stepson up from school or waiting in line at the drive-up teller at the bank).

Last year, with the Bumper Sticker Practice, I wrote a blog post in June, documenting the stickers I’d come across in the first half of the year. Now I’m back to do the same with this one!

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Childhood Cornerstones

Today, in my early morning writing session, I stumbled upon two particularly crucial elements of my childhood, which serve as vital cornerstones of my spiritual life now, as an adult.

The first of which is my having been raised in the rooms of recovery, as the only child of a single mother who committed to getting clean and sober when I was 3-years-old. Growing up going to AA and NA meetings alongside my mom, hearing hundreds of personal, hard, heart-wrenching, and inspiring stories trained me in developing a deepened sense of empathy, compassion, understanding, connection, openness, and authenticity. It also taught me how to be a good listener and afforded me a different perspective and a more genuine way of seeing the world.

The second one has to do with what may sound like an unlikely and strange catalyst for creating a positive foundation for a spiritual life: acne. Here’s what I wrote this morning in my journal:

I have a weathered face from so many tortured years plagued with acne – a scourge which still continues, albeit with less vigor and frequency – and I think, though it somewhat pains me to say (given how much torment it put me through), that it made me a better person. Sure, my ego could get embroiled by my long hair, but it was always cooled right down when I looked in the    mirror – it’s difficult to feel vain and over-inflated when the face you greet the world with is riddled with red swollen peaks and distressed pits and valleys, ravaging you in despair. But now, looking back, I think it may have been a good thing that my formative years were spent under such facial duress, as it put me in touch with something…more, something…greater.

Accruing acne so early in life (around age 11), and maintaining it steadily through early-adulthood, trained me in the art of developing humility. And it gave me countless lessons in looking beneath the surface, in relation to both myself and others, to find what cannot be ascertained by one’s deceptive outward appearance. It also taught me about impermanence. And the importance of cultivating a rich, full, and joyful inner landscape.

Thinking about these two elements in this specific context just arose for me this morning, so I look forward to further processing this new insight.

Thank you for reading, as it inspires me to continue on the path of writing – which is the best internal processing agent I know of.

 

 
 

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The Art of Staying

Inspired by a recent talk I watched online from Buddhist teacher and author Susan Piver, I’ve been thinking about how one of the great fruits of cultivating a meditation practice is developing the art of staying.

“Meditation teaches you how to stay with discomfort. What could be more valuable than that? Because basically everything is uncomfortable.”

– Susan Piver

Having a daily sitting meditation practice enables me to hone the art of staying, which enriches my daily life in a multitude of ways. But, staying with what? Ultimately, it comes down to an ability of staying grounded within myself in the present moment. But here are some specific instances that come to mind where the art of staying offers tangible, and practical, benefit:

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Posted by on June 25, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Solo Retreat, Part 3 of 3

Written on Sunday June 18th, 2017

10:40am

From my early morning journaling on sunrise patrol (hence pics above):

4:11am – A triangle of light glistens between two eastern peaks. 51 degrees.
4:22am – Outlines of each mountain are gathering distinction from their darkened counterpart above.
4:25am – A drop of light is tossed over to beckon through another soft dip in the ridge.
4:26am – An unassuming rain falls, almost as an afterthought. 51 degrees.
4:28am – Local bird residents become audible.
4:32am – An artistic rendering of budding light and swirling watercolor clouds paint the horizon in deep blues, black violet, and white turquoise.
4:41am – Pine tree silhouettes come into view, accenting the skyline with their bristled scruff tops.
4:45am – Dawn has penetrated the veil of night in every cardinal direction – no longer is coal the dominant hue of the sky. 51 degrees.
4:53am – The vertical ocean of clouds assumed a color scheme I associate somehow with the energy of dwindling hope.
5:01am – Almost all of the surrounding landscape is bathed in partial faded light.
5:08am – Foothills and fence-line reveal themselves anew, as though it were the first day of their creation.
5:17am – A sliver of brilliant golden rose appears right where the very first light penetrated the night sky.
5:28am – Sage, moss, and forest greens sip their first taste of the white-silver morning.
5:36am – Smokey pink-creme rays spiral up like tufts of steam into the soft din of low-hanging clouds.
5:39am – A lone cow elk cameos on scene. Still holding at 51 degrees.
6:08am – 50 degrees.
6:21am – 49 degrees. (Hmmm.)
8:31am – What I was waiting for to end this sequence has finally happened – 52 degrees!

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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Local Retreats

 

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Solo Retreat, Part 2 of 3

Written on Saturday June 17th, 2017

7:19pm

A few years ago, a university student, who was sitting with our sangha at the time, asked if she could do a video project of me on the topic of meditation for a journalism class she was taking. One of the questions she prompted me with on camera was to fill in the blank: Meditation is like ______. I said: Meditation is like stepping out into the first light of spring. It was simply the first thing that came to mind. Well, today has felt this way, too. It has been the loveliest of days. I feel light, refreshed, nourished, peaceful, and contented. What great fruits this practice brings!

It’s worth mentioning that while I did come up with a schedule to serve as a foundation for this weekend, I also intended on going with the flow of the day and following my intuition. Here’s what today wound up looking like:

5:30am Wake up
5:30-7:00am Sip tea, write, watch the morning sky
7:00am Sitting meditation
7:30am Sutra service
8:00am Stick exercises
8:30-9:00am Breakfast
9:15-10:30am Dharma talk video
10:30-11:15am Outdoor walking
11:30-12:15pm Yoga (using guided video)
12:15-12:45pm Picnic lunch outside
12:45-1:45pm Nap
2:00-4:00pm Sip tea, write, calligraphy, read
4:00pm Sitting meditation
4:30pm Sutra service
5:00-6:00pm Dinner
6:15-6:45pm Outdoor walking & sage picking
7:00-9:00pm Journal typing
9:00-9:30pm Read
9:30ish Bedtime

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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Local Retreats

 

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Solo Retreat, Part 1 of 3

Written on Friday June 16th, 2017

7:32pm

The idea of doing a solo retreat has been a brewing interest of mine for a little while now. Then, after going to Deer Park Monastery for three-weeks this past January, my percolating idea bubbled up with a newfound vigor. So I emailed a few well-chosen friends who I thought might have some ideas of a place to go where I could be relatively secluded, surrounded by nature, and left to my own devices.

I’ve long been wanting to stay in one of the handful of local fire towers that’ve been converted to a reservable getaway destination spot, but I soon found out that those are in high demand and already fully booked up for the season, which makes sense. (Note to self: book early for next year!)

A sangha friend generously offered me the use of her and her husband’s cabin about an hour from town, which is where I’ve landed and am currently typing from. I arrived here, amid spectacular rolling sage-covered foothills, around 4:30 this afternoon. After finding my way around the house and unpacking the car, I set to making dinner, which I intentionally kept simple: a pre-made salad and a bowl of vegetarian chili, made and sold by our local organic market The Good Food Store, which I picked up this morning.

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Posted by on June 18, 2017 in Local Retreats

 

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Absence of Sound

For a brief interlude, I could detect nothing audible. 
No whirling of the refrigerator, 
no distant whooshing of passing cars, 
no song chatter of birds. 
It was as if all the world had tipped over a precipice 
and was free-falling amid the din of there being nothing left to do but let go.

It was a rare and fragile moment I was only half prepared to savor.
Mostly I was caught off guard,
wondering what had suddenly changed.
When I realized I was cradled in the absence of sound,
I took one breath and it was over,
my ears and heart re-attuned,
so as to be ready in case it happened again.

 
 

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