Last week, I attended a weekend of mindfulness up on the Flathead Lake, hosted by our sister sangha Open Sky, entitled: Be Still and Heal. To help lead it, they brought in Dharma teacher Barbara Newell (formerly Sister Pine in our Plum Village tradition).
I thought I’d craft this post in order to share some pics and a few things I jotted down in my journal over the course of the weekend.
Dec 8th, Early morning journal entry:
Words can do only so much to incite action. Therefore, we should be advised as to when to put them down, in order to lift our gaze and set to the work of embodying their application in our life.
Words are nothing on a page. Words are empty of value when left to swirl around like a goldfish in the murky waters of our minds. And yet, words matter like the pulling of tides. They matter like thunder approaching warning us to weather coming. They can pierce our thickened armor as though it weren’t made of steel, penetrating our hearts like an assassin’s blade. And if I were told I would die tomorrow, I would cling to them for salvation, solace, and camaraderie.
From the Discourse on Happiness (which I penned in my journal on the morning of Dec 8th):
“To live in the world with your heart undisturbed by the world…this is the greatest happiness.”
Written after breakfast on Dec 8th:
This morning, I chewed my oatmeal for what was perhaps the first time. And while I did not find it agreeable in the slightest, I was still able to appreciate that it had been prepared for me and that it would soon equate to a full belly.
Written mid-morning on Dec 8th:
The more I regard that which bothers, annoys, frustrates, angers, distracts, derails, unglues, discomforts or displeases me as part of my practice and not separate from it, the more skillful, at ease, joyful, grateful, and well-grounded I become as a result.
There is no way to the practice, the practice is the way.
Notes I took from Barbara’s Dharma talk on Saturday Dec 8th:
Whenever we study the dharma, we should ask: How does this apply to my everyday life?
The Eightfold Path and the usage of the word “right” in front of each of the eight components (right: view, thoughts, speech, actions, livelihood, diligence, mindfulness, concentration) is not a value judgement, as in right & wrong. In this context, “right” means: is it leading me to relief/happiness?
Right view is the view of interbeing.
Take action by taking refuge in the three jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Taking refuge in the three jewels helps us to care for our anxiety and fear – and it helps to turn us toward right view. If we’re not taking refuge in our Buddha-nature, then we’re taking refuge in something else: substances, numbing, dispersion, our phones, fight/flight/freeze mode…
Barbara: I would like to make a proposal that we add technology to the Eightfold Path, as in Right Technology. :)
We are free to choose where we put our attention (right concentration). Having sangha support makes it so much easier for us to choose wise actions. The sangha is the key for bringing us back home (to ourselves).
overly slow sloth-esque walking
there are a few of my least favorite
things about retreat
they are precisely
I am here
The more I am able to take notice of what displeases or discomforts me – what dethrones my homeostasis – regardless of how small the infraction is, the more opportunities I have to grow and strengthen my practice of ease, joy, and taking refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha within myself and all around me.
Dec 9th, Early morning journal entry:
The more I groom my environment to suit my taste, the more frequently I am faced with feelings of discomfort and strife.
Practicing to weather the small discomforts is one of the cornerstones of how I cultivate ease, joy, and liberation.
I read a quote recently that said something to the effect of: If you want to cure racism, travel abroad. In using this vernacular, I would say: If you want to gain skill and mastery in being at ease and happy in your own skin, invest your practice energy in becoming aware of your small discomforts and stepping slowly into them. For it’s not the end of the world to have cold feet for a spell or have to chat for 2-minutes with that dude you see all the time at the market and try your best to avoid. If you want to be more comfortable in your own body, mind, and heart, practice to be less comfortable in your surroundings.
If you want to be better acquainted with your own inward stirrings, spend more time in the company of others. For others are the mirrors through which we see our own selves reflected. If we limit our time with others too much, we limit the time we spend with ourselves, too. It is only in the presence of others that we will be afforded the chance to see in full color the work we need to do on ourselves.
Notes I took from Barbara’s Dharma talk on Sunday Dec 9th:
It’s our food that fuels our actions: edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness.
In regards to technology, oftentimes it is as though we are trying to drink from a fire hose, verses a garden hose. There’s so much information we’re trying to take in – so much time spent on social media and on our phones. As practitioners, we must be aware of what’s coming in, what food it is that we’re digesting and how much.
There’s a time to close the windows and doors (to our senses), so we don’t get overwhelmed and dragged down. There’s a difference between restoring and avoiding. Ignoring and consciously turning away are different actions. We can ask ourselves: Is it the darkness of the tomb or the darkness of the womb? (from Valerie Carr)
Thay has said: There is no ideology, philosophy, or religion higher than brotherhood and sisterhood.
She read from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: If your heart is filled with anxiety, you will not be able to help. Worrying does not accomplish anything – the most important practice is aimlessness.
To wrap up:
On the way to my car, upon leaving the retreat weekend, I saw a bumper sticker on the vehicle parked next to me that said: Be fearless, choose love. And it seemed a rather fitting way to solidify the weekend and send me on my way.