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Monthly Archives: February 2019

On Authenticity

It’s worth starting out by saying that this post may be a little rough around the edges. You see, with my husband away on a 3-month retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I am missing my counterpart to talk through such Dharmic ponderings with. Sooo, I’m fixing on using this post as a stand-in :)

This morning, as part of a practice I call Mindful Morning Saturdays, I watched a portion of a Dharma talk by Sister Lang Nghiem, given recently at Plum Village centered around the 8th, 9th, and 10th Mindfulness Trainings. In it, she spoke about authenticity. She said: according to the Buddha, every moment, we are already our true self.

“Every moment, we are manifesting the totality of our self; the totality of our seeds; the sum of our habit energies. So there is no authentic self you need to be true to. Every moment, you are already your true self. This is a very important teaching to understand.” – Sister Lang Nghiem

My first reaction that popped up in the wake of her talking about how there isn’t really such a thing as authenticity, was: Oh, I super don’t agree with that. And as I talk regularly to myself, I even said it aloud. Of course there’s a difference between someone who is being authentic and someone who isn’t, I thought. You can always tell when someone is being real with you and when they’re not.

As she continued, I understood a little more about the teaching she was offering and it made a bit more sense. However, I was left wondering if perhaps there are two ways of addressing such a dynamic question as to whether authenticity exists: from the ultimate dimension perspective and from the historical dimension perspective.

Here’s what I’m thinking. From the lens of the ultimate dimension: yes, we are always manifesting who we are; we are authentic to who we are based on the fact that we are alive and a collection of causes, conditions, our ancestors, and our experiences. From the lens of the historical dimension: there are clearly more authentic people operating around us than others; those who have the ability to integrate their internal landscape with their external actions and speech and have them in alignment with each other.

In my google search for “authenticity images” I came across this:

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Just Do It/Just Don’t

In my last post, I mentioned having recently gone on a short excursion to Portland with a friend of mine, to visit a mutual friend of ours. For three days and three nights, the three of us did pretty much everything together. It was really lovely.

During our first full day together, we stumbled upon a saying that wound up becoming our trip’s guiding mantra: Just do it…just don’t. It was spurred by a car sporting a Nike Just Do It bumper sticker. We were getting ready to enter a tunnel on our way to visit the coast, when a car hopped in front of us rather abruptly (ya know, the way cars often do) (oh, and we’ve all been that car too – just sayin), with their Just Do It sticker beaming proudly in close view. The dialog in our car then went something like this:

Geese, what is that guy doing?!

He’s “just doing it”, I guess.

(Pause)

Well, I think it should’ve been more like: “just don’t.”

We then proceeded to carry this interplay of Just Do It/Just Don’t into an array of occasions throughout the rest of our trip together. Some times it was jokingly and sometimes it had real meaning, while still in the spirit of lightness and fun. Turns out, there are a plethora of opportunities in which to bust these guiding life statements out.

There’s great wisdom in knowing when – and how – to invoke the dharma of Just Do It/Just Don’t. When we learn how to call on them in a suitable fashion that is appropriate to our own individual situation, with Right Attitude and Right Intention, we can actualize the fruits of the practice of Right Action.

There are times to Just Do It and there are times to Just Don’t. And there are no one-size-fits-all answers as to when to apply which one to which string of moments. This is why we must ongoingly cultivate a strong relationship with our own person. If we’re not able to tune into our own mental, emotional, and spiritual landscapes, we will have no clue as to when to use each part of the mantra, as only we our self can know which instance calls for which part.

If we’re not well-connected with our own person, we also run the risk of going the Just Do It route when really we would’ve been much better off having gone the Just Don’t route, or vice versa. There are plenty of times when we would do well to push ourselves a little bit outside of our comfort zone, too. In general, I think more of us have the tendency to say Just Don’t than Just Do It.

So, feel free to use our trip motto, if you like. And if you do, please let me know how it goes :)

 

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On Mental & Emotional Health

I am becoming more and more invested in furthering the dialog that this meme speaks to, as I feel it is a vital component of our well-being and one that is highly undervalued and overlooked in our collective society, to a sometimes tragic and devastating detriment to our fellow human beings.

I recently watched two different interviews with psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson – one as part of the online World Mindfulness Parenting Summit and one as part of the online Mindful Kids Peace Summit. In both occasions, he spoke about our three basic needs: safety, satisfaction, and connection. He explained that safety is associated with our reptilian brain-stem; satisfaction with our mammalian sub-cortex portion of the brain; and connection with our primate/human neo-cortex portion of the brain. In terms of safety, we look towards avoiding harm. In terms of satisfaction, we look towards approaching rewards. And in terms of connection, we look towards attaching to others.

He goes on to say that when our basic needs are not met, we then enter what he calls the red zone, which involves fight, flight, or freeze mode. However, when we build up our core of resilient well-being, we will be able to weather an increasing array of external stimuli without destabilizing ourselves. He said: You can use your mind to change your brain. He also said: No one can stop you (from doing this work) AND no one can do it for you.

There’s a reason that Buddhism focuses on training and strengthening the mind. It is the seat of working and active power when it comes to how we view, engage, interact, process, and digest the world around us and the people and experiences we encounter. As the Buddha taught:

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On Googling Meditation Images

(I’m only one chapter into this book and already I’m getting a lot out of it.

I’m hoping it will help me learn how to better support our sangha members dealing with trauma.)

 

This morning, I was googling meditation images. I was looking for one to accompany a quote I came across this morning in a new book I just started reading (see pic above), which I was posting on our sangha’s Facebook page: Be Here Now Community. Turns out, when you google meditation images, you kick up a lot of hoaky, woo-woo stuff.

Here’s the quote from the book I posted:

The practice of meditation is not a passive, navel-gazing luxury for people looking to escape the rigors of our complex world. Mindfulness and meditation are about deeply changing ourselves so that we can be the change that we see needed for the world.

– Larry Yang

Based on the images google showed me, it seems our collective understanding about meditation involves heightened experiences of transcendental bliss and ecstatic swells of elation. Apparently, if we practice sitting meditation, we should seek out such places as mountain tops overlooking the Himalayas, tropical beaches, or on a rock next to a waterfall. According to the images I came across, we would also be well served to meditate half-clothed – preferably in a sun-drenched locale – with well-defined abs. 

Geese. No wonder so many people are cynical about it or don’t stick with it once they try it. Unrealistic expectations much?

I wound up ditching my efforts to find a decent image of someone meditating to accompany the quote I was posting and used instead a calligraphy pic from Thich Nhat Hanh. I’m not interested in furthering misunderstandings about what meditation is through the usage of some romanticized/idealized image. So, here’s what I used instead:

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Mindfulness Instruction

 

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On V-Day

I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. For me, V-Day is on par with Santa Claus at Christmas. I mean, part of me gets the whimsy of it but a bigger part of me is all like: Really?! THIS is what the group consensus came up with?

When holidays have the great potential to plummet a fair amount of our brethren into the pits of despair, based on the hype that gets generated around them and the unrealistic notions hitched to their giddy-up, I’d say something is in serious need of cultural repair.

I recently attended a presentation on the University of Montana (UM) campus for Mental Health Awareness Week and learned that 71% of UM students report feeling “very lonely” and 64% report feeling “very sad.” Loneliness is affecting the masses. I’ve got nothing against those who are super into celebrating V-Day on their own accord and feel called to set aside a day to connect with their romantic partner – I think that’s great, truly. My problem lies in the expectations we’ve orchestrated around V-Day; the pressure to be in love or have some grand lusty time; the hype and the heart-shaped everything; and the fact that in large part V-Day is a female heavy holiday and it’s the guy who’s supposed to dote on the special gal in his life and not the other way around. Females in particular are dangerously caught up in fictitious ideas of what it means to be in love and what our partners should and shouldn’t do to continuously prove to us how much they adore us. V-Day keeps in motion a slew of not-so-great to super-unhealthy views and notions centered around romantic relationships, sex, love, desire, and connection. And V-Day makes a lot of people feel even lonelier.

Like the pic I took above, from a book I came across in Powell’s Books while visiting Portland last weekend, says: What if this were enough? What if whatever we have going on right now we regarded as being enough? Enough to be content, to be happy, to be at ease in the world of heart-shaped everything on V-Day.

What if we were able to invoke the message of the 7th of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment?

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Oysters, Alcohol, and Sugar (oh my)

Image: pic I took at Short Sand Beach on the Oregon coast, Feb. 2019 (feel free to use it, I don’t mind :)

Last weekend, a friend of mine and I hopped a plane to Portland, Oregon to visit a mutual friend. In the span of a short 90-minute flight, we were magically transported to a place whose winter looks much different than ours does, here in Montana.

I penned this in my journal in the early hours of our first morning there:

Intoxicated by the allure spurred on by showing up in an unfamiliar place amid terrain I’ve not spent time accommodating into my bones, I sip from the fountain of beginner’s mind with a heart full-throttle and open-choked, ready to greet whatever comes my way, with a smile.

I penned this in my journal on our last morning in Portland:

Just because you lean bar side and I lean zendo side, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. In fact, it may even mean we should be friends for just that very reason.

I don’t need all my peeps to give up meat and swear off alcohol and weed; we don’t even need to fully uphold the same values. Though if we are to kick it close enough for us to soak it up hot spring style sans suits in the woods, I’m not interested in spending time with those who don’t hold in high regard the same foundational bones as I do, such as: impeccable speech, deep listening, and a commitment to the finer things in life, like showing up in the world on purpose.

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I Think We’ve Got It Backwards

Okay. So, what I’m about to post here has taken me almost a year to flesh out and wrap my brain around. Here goes.

In our Buddhist practice tradition, we have this teaching: This is because that is. Short-handing it, it means: Everything happens for a reason, based on a myriad of causes and conditions. On a similar note, I see as though we have two large components of life backwards, and one leads to the other.

The first thing we commonly have backwards:

A) We often see and regard ourselves as being separate/independent/unique in times when we would do well to strengthen our ability to look with the eyes of interbeing and get in touch with our similarities, shared humanity, and true sense of connection.

and

B) We often see and regard ourselves as being the same in times when we would do well to cultivate a deeper understanding of our individuality.

___________

And because of this first thing we commonly have backwards, it leads to this second thing we commonly have backwards:

C) We try to lone-wolf it in times when we would do well to lean on our loved ones for care, support, and nourishment.

and

D) We rely on others in times when we would do well to cultivate and/or strengthen our sovereignty.

__________

So, D is because of B and C is because of A. This is because that is.

I realize this might be confusing, like I said: it’s taken me a year to flesh this out. Here are some practical examples that will hopefully help a bit (with corresponding letters that match with the points above):

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