Gosh it’s easy to misunderstand things

This morning, while reading the Discourse on Happiness from our Plum Village chanting book, it clicked. After reading the second sentence: “Late at night, a deva appeared whose light and beauty made the whole Jeta Grove shine radiantly,” I came to understand what Brother Phap De meant two years ago when I was at Deer Park.

He had just finished leading us in stick exercises one morning before breakfast when he asked us, in a light and friendly tone of voice: “Who was that diva dancing the polka in the parking lot yesterday? I think they should lead us all in a dance session!”

In that moment, my internal dialog went something like this: Oh man. That was me. I didn’t really think others were watching. Do I have to declare myself now in front of all these people?! I mean, I really REALLY do not want to lead a dance session, that’s for sure.

I sheepishly raised my hand, indicating that the diva he was inquiring about was me. Then, I raced the heck out of there and headed to breakfast.

Later, I pondered the terminology he has used: diva dancing the polka and felt a mixture of confusion (as I didn’t know exactly what the polka entailed but I was certain I wasn’t doing it), slight embarrassment, and feeling affronted. Did he call me a diva? I thought to myself on many occasions after that. I’m not sure I like that term. No, I KNOW I don’t like that term. Is that how others see me?! Oh dear.

Up until this morning, I thought he meant diva (with an i), as in someone who is a prima donna, as my paperback Webster’s defines it. (Then I looked up “prima donna” to make sure I understood that word correctly – which is listed as: an extremely sensitive, vain, or undisciplined person.) But now I realize he probably meant deva (with an e!), which is described as a Celestial being or angel in the glossary in the back of our chanting book.

Upon making this discovery this morning, my internal dialog went something like this:

This changes everything!

Whew!

Thank goodness!

Brother Phap De

I’ve read the Discourse on Happiness a handful of times since Brother Phap De declared me the deva dancing the polka. But it wasn’t until just this morning that this insight arose, allowing for me to move into proper understanding.

The human experience is so incredibly fascinating, from a self-observation standpoint especially.

While it’s not worth giving it too much thought, I wonder: What changed? What allowed me to make this connection TODAY vs. some other day? I mean, I haven’t consciously thought about this instance with Brother Phap De in a long long time.

One of the guiding life sayings that I like to tell myself often is: Sometimes you don’t get to know why. Translation: This is a moment you would do well to practice just going with the flow of the river of life experience, Nicole. Stop trying to analyze things or come to some sort of neat conclusion that can fit in well with how you view the world, it’s a waste of time and energy.

Over the years since this encounter, even though I wasn’t a fan of being called a diva (with an i), I have dearly cherished this moment between us. He was genuinely interested in knowing who it had been that he had seen down in the parking lot. It was clear to me that he had been delighted in their joyful offering. And while I was mildly embarrassed that someone – especially a monk – had seen me dancing, I was also put at ease that he was able to sense my heartfelt enjoyment of dancing and appreciate it for what it was, vs. perhaps deeming it an inappropriate activity to do at a monastery (which was a back-of-the-mind concern of mine). And he was apparently so taken with my dancing that he even wanted me to instruct and lead others!

Brother Phap De passed away at age 82 (I think) in August of 2016. If memory serves, he made the “deva dancing the polka” comment in January of that same year, when Mike and I were there on retreat. It was an honor and privilege to get to know and spend time with Brother Phap De over the years that Mike and I have been visiting Deer Park, before he passed away. When I do stick exercises – which typically amounts to once a week – I think of him every time, as he was the one who would always lead them at Deer Park. Randomly during his instructions, he would prompt us all to smile – and when I lead them on our local retreats or at other times, I continue his memory and remind people of the same thing.

At the end of my stick exercise session each week, I do two standing bows in closing. The first bow is in dedication of Brother Phap De. And the second is in gratitude for the stick I use.

In conclusion:

Gosh it sure is easy to misunderstand things.

Now that I know what Brother Phap De actually meant, I am even more nourished from this encounter we shared. And now that I have been afforded the great gift of insight, it will allow me to carry forward this memory with more clarity, understanding, ease, and joy.

Sometimes – maybe even all the time – more understanding equates to more freedom. Freedom from what? you might wonder. To which the teachings in our tradition would say: Freedom from illusory notions and false views, which is ultimately what all of our suffering (large, small, or tiny) can be attributed to on a foundational level.

To read more about Brother Phap De’s life story, click here.

 

Why Activists & Vegans Scare Me

Note: My sense is that the above meme is one of those “not really from the Buddha” quotes (which is very common), as the phrasing seems off to me personally. But I include it still because I think it is good quote (and, of course, I could also be wrong about it not being from the Buddha, too!).

 

This is me trying to make sense of things for myself in terms of discovering what my own work is here and what’s fueling my own personal discomfort. I reckon this will be a hard post for me to put into words, but here’s to giving it a whirl:

I bristle and inwardly step back from people who self-identity as activists. And I do the same for vegans. Why? It’s not because I’m against what they stand for or the active choices and priorities they’re making in their life. It’s the energy behind the actions I’m not a big fan of. No one enjoys being talked at by someone who is fired up by something – even when that something is important. And really, even talking with someone who doesn’t share your exact standpoint and lifestyle can be incredibly tricky. Even under the best circumstances, well-intentioned people can cause more harm than good. Just because we have good intentions, doesn’t mean we know how to engage with people in such a way that fosters connection, kindness, and understanding. Sometimes, even when we think we’re doing good, the impact we have on others is harmful. Having good intentions doesn’t automatically inoculate us from causing damage (I recently learned this in a 2-month long weekly class series on developing racial literacy that I just finished).

I’ve been recently making my way through the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings one by one, alongside a friend of mine who’s doing the same. We’re spending two weeks on each training – reading it every day and occasionally journaling about what comes up for us in regards to it. Then we meet once a month to talk about what we’ve discovered for ourselves. We’re on #3 right now: Freedom of Thought. The first two are: Openness and Non-attachment to Views. The first three of the fourteen all have to do with our mind – just as the start of the Eightfold Path starts off with Right View. As the Buddha said: With our thoughts we make the world. 

It’s very difficult – if not impossible – to be an activist (and oftentimes a vegan), without being attached to views. So I suppose I could say that I shy away from people who seem to be overly attached to their views in regards to something in particular. Whether it be politics, the environment, lifestyle choices, matters of injustice, etc., I gravitate away from folks who I see as over-identifying themselves with a certain subject. I’m not saying it’s the right way to be or that I don’t have work to do around this, mind you, this is simply me stating a self-observation.

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Looking Up & All Around

Well, I’m not sure I’d agree with ol’ Snoopy here that the secret of life is to keep looking up but I would say that for me, this simple act is a great tool for staying engaged in the present moment, strengthening reverence for life, and it even helps me to develop more patience.

Case and point:

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself standing in line at the Good Food Store (our local organic market) during an especially high volume time of day. Typically, I strategically avoid such times, as they tend to fall on the same hour-long blocks each day. But sometimes duty calls at inopportune times and I must answer.

There I was, standing in line alongside a plethora of other Missoulians. After careful examination, as soon as my feet hit their standing-in-place mark in the line I’d deemed to be the shortest, a wildly underestimated but important insight arose: No one enjoys waiting in line.

It’s true, you know.

I see it as an important insight because it speaks to an ability to not think only of myself and how things are effecting me. When I get stuck in my small sense of self, I turn off to the greater self that is all around me, which disables me from acting in such a way that is connected, kind, and caring.

Since waiting in line is no one’s idea of a good time – myself included – the practice I like to do in such occasions is: to look up and all around.

It’s as simple as it sounds.

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The Monk Manifesto, by Christine Paintner

Gosh, I just love this:

The Monk Manifesto: Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention

 

Monk: from the Greek monachos meaning single or solitary. A monk in the world does not live apart but immersed in the everyday with a single-hearted and undivided presence, always striving for greater wholeness and integrity.

Manifesto: from the Latin for clear, means a public declaration of principles and intentions.

Monk Manifesto: A public expression of your commitment to live a compassionate, contemplative, and creative life.

The Monk Manifesto

  1. I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.
  2. I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.
  3. I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.
  4. I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.
  5. I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.
  6. I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do.
  7. I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

Read full article here.

And here is the lovely 3-minute video that goes along with this:

 

 

 

Snippets of thought

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.

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Not Giving Up

In my last post, I shared: In regards to the friendship I’m currently in heartache over, I’ve come to realize – after much processing back and forth – that there is a way for me to keep my heart open to this person while also distancing myself from them.

Shortly after writing this, I came across a well-timed article on Twitter, entitled Why You Should Never Give Up on Anybody by Lodro Rinzler. Don’t you just love when things line up?

I clicked on the link right away and set to reading the article. Here it is, if you’d like to give it a gander.

I especially appreciated this segment from the article:

In the Buddhist tradition we refer to beings willing to keep their heart open no matter what as bodhisattvas. Bodhi is a Sanskrit word which can be translated as “open” or “awake.” Sattva can be translated from Sanskrit as “being” or “warrior.” It’s a person who is incredibly brave in maintaining an open heart, no matter what comes up in their life. This experience is something we can aspire to. The Zen master Seung Sahn once said, “Being a bodhisattva means when people come, don’t cut them off; when people go, don’t cut them off.”

I was so enjoying this article – that is, until I got to the end, where Lodro shared this practice:

HOW TO NOT GIVE UP

Pema Chödron is an American Buddhist teacher who has written extensively about the pain of a broken heart and I can’t recommend her work more highly. Below I have adapted an exercise she has recommended. It starts by taking a photo of the person you are having a hard time with and displaying it prominently in your home. This may initially cause you discomfort. So much of heartbreak is staying with our discomfort.

Every time you walk by the photo look at the being you are struggling with and simply say, “I wish you the best.” If that rings hollow to you instead say, “I know you are basically good” or “You’re not a jerk all the time.” Whatever phrase you choose, make it personal, but some version of acknowledging that they are not basically evil. Do this several times a day, whenever your gaze falls on the photo. Let your heart soften over time.

 

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Heart Heavy

My heart has been heavy as of late.

Heavy with the loss of a close friendship I thought I was building over this past year; heavy with the sadness of past close friendships that fell away that have been reopened in the wake of these fresh feelings of hurt and sorrow; heavy with the collection of matters I’ve been invested in over the past few months in regards to suicide awareness and prevention, hospice work, and the class on racism I’ve been involved in; and heavy with the ongoing heartbreak of the people – my people.

Tonight, I was planning on going to a public talk on the UM campus on the topic of missing and murdered indigenous women. Then, on my way home from work this afternoon, I thought to myself: My heart is simply too heavy and sore and tender to absorb any more right now. I think I need to stay home tonight and practice self-care. So that’s what I intend on doing.

_________

In regards to the friendship I’m currently in heartache over, I’ve come to realize – after much processing back and forth – that there is a way for me to keep my heart open to this person while also distancing myself from them. My work right now is centered around letting go. And gosh, it sure is hard.

While I will remain open to this person, should they decide to reach out to me on their own (which seems highly unlikely), I need to stop trying to connect interpersonally with this person. I’ve exhausted myself in being the only one reaching out; the only one trying to have open and honest communication; the only one who seems invested in furthering our relationship. Despite how close we were getting, how hopeful I was that I’d found someone to cultivate a deeper connection with, this person has recently bailed almost entirely on our friendship. And it hurts. It hurts more than it seems like it “should.”

The work of letting go is sometimes excruciatingly difficult. And a big part of this work for me right now, is allowing my feelings to be just as they are, without trying to fix them or placate them with niceities or cover over them with dispersion and distraction techniques. I keep telling myself: It’s okay that this freekin sucks right now. It’s okay that your heart hurts and that you’re full of sorrow. And then I follow those reminders with this one: Try not to let your temporary feelings of hurt imprint a lasting impression on getting close with others. Don’t let this be what shuts your heart down.

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This morning, I wrote this on my writer’s facebook page:

The work I’ve done on myself, I’ve not done for myself alone. The work I continue to do – will continue to do – is for the people. For all those I affect in my wake; for my ancestors; for future generations; for all those I will never know.

And I am humbled, honored, and grateful for this drive forward – this mission in which I’ve inherited from a long line of spiritual healers, on a mission to assist with the great heartbreak of the people.

________

The practice – my practice – continues.