The Second Dharma Seal: Nonself (2 of 2)

(In this post, anything in quotation marks will be from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, as I’ll be referencing it throughout this post.)

This is part 2 of a two-part post.

“The Second Dharma Seal is nonself. Nothing has a separate existence or a separate self. Everything has to inter-be with everything else.”

My husband Mike and I recently had a conversation on whether/how nonself differed or was synonymous with interbeing. He came up with a great metaphor (no surprise – he has a true gift for creating metaphors.). He said: Nonself (aka a separate self) is what our cup is empty of; interbeing is what it’s full of. Brilliant!

My own working definition of nonself, as it differs but is related closely and is inseparable from interbeing: the more I come to see clearly my nonself nature – that I am a collage of an endless stream of causes and conditions – the more my insight of interbeing blooms and flourishes.

“Nonself is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is an insight that can help us live life more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. We need to live the insight of nonself.”

“Nonself means that you are made of elements which are not you.”

Once again, how do we practice with this Dharma Seal so that we aren’t at risk of intellectualizing this teaching to a detriment?

Here’s what I came up with for myself.

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The First Dharma Seal: Impermanence (1 of 2)

In this post, anything in quotation marks will be from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, as I’ll be referencing it throughout this post and its sequel in part 2.

“The Three Dharma Seals are impermanence, nonself, and nirvana. Any teaching that does not bear these Three Seals cannot be said to be a teaching of the Buddha.”

Yesterday morning, during my Mindful Morning practice that I do each weekend on either Saturday or Sunday, my Dharma reading included passages from Interbeing and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings. After reading parts from the chapter entitled The Three Dharma Seals in the latter book, I began writing and reflecting about my own understanding of the first two seals: impermanence and nonself, and ways in which I practice to embody these elements in my daily life, moving them from a place of intellectual understanding to direct experience.

“Impermanence is more than an idea. It is a practice to help us touch reality.”

My own definition of impermanence: All things are in an ongoing & steady state of flux.

It’s one thing to intellectually understand that everything changes. It’s a whole other thing to actually practice with what it means, how it shows up in our daily life, and to cultivate the wisdom enfolded into its teachings.

“When we study impermanence, we have to ask, “Is there anything in this teaching that has to do with my daily life, my daily difficulties, my suffering?” If we see impermanence as merely a philosophy, it is not the Buddha’s teaching.”

Spurred by my morning reading, I asked myself: how do I practice impermanence? Meaning: how do I move impermanence from a brain-based relationship to a heartfelt experience?

Here’s what I came up with.

Ways I practice impermanence:

  1. Volunteering with hospice.
  2. Actively reflecting on the inevitability of death as it pertains to my closest loved ones (not easy!).
  3. Turning towards – not away from – the nature of reality of my stepson growing up and practicing the art of letting go.
  4. Investing intentional time and energy into comfort zone expansion work.
  5. Occasionally giving away a cherished belonging.
  6. Having a collectively generated fridge collage of drawings and then burning them when the fridge is full, in order to start over with a new creation.
  7. Engaging with the ever-fluctuating mountain weather as a valuable teacher providing me with daily opportunities to practice going with (instead of against) the flow of what presents itself outside of my preferences and/or sway.

My practice verse in relation to impermanence:

Life is precious and time is short.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dragons

The dragons, standing outside of their first apartment

To listen to me reading this blog post on my podcast, click here.

I thought temporarily about keeping this room a mausoleum in his honor; a room that even though he was no longer residing in would stand a testament to his place in the world as forever our son. For a few months it stood as he left it and we were content to carry on as we’d grown accustomed to in rarely entering it.

But as I’m not keen on going limp in an effort to make it harder for the future to usher me forward, after a suitable period of mourning his departure, I decided it was time to rebrand his childhood room.

And it’s in here that I am putting pen to paper right now on this gray autumnal Saturday, the opening day of hunting season. Save for a bit of itchiness of energy, I’m enjoying this slow burning day.

His dragon puzzle we glued together, after realizing its completion was a hard won victory we never wanted to repeat, still hangs on the day-glow orange wall, a color he chose when one year for his birthday we gifted him with a room makeover. There’s a PAC-man poster and a Yoda sticker by the light switch. Save for these wall hangings, his bed and a few other small trinkets, it’s all that remains of his 15-year long reign.

Now, Mike’s chain mail and our collective books line the shelves and my writing desk sits facing the south wall.

In less than 2-weeks, in the same year we both turned 40 and my mom turned 60, he’ll turn 20.

I’m glad not to be one of those kinds of parents fixated on reliving the past, unable to meet my stepson where he’s at and for who he is right now. I’m glad I’m not the sort to utter such common phrases as: remember when… and you used to be so _____ when you were younger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a work in progress when it comes to figuring out this new life phase and how best to show up for and with an adult for a stepson. I’m still locating my place in the world of things. But I’m glad to be invested in the process and I trust I will find my footing over time. I reckon it will be like most things: akin to tuning a guitar. My best approach is not to be too loose or too tight but to locate an in between harmony.

One step we’ve taken is to stop referring to our son and his girlfriend, who share an apartment together a few blocks away, as “the kids.” Around the house, we now affectionately call them, “the dragons.”

Don’t ask me how we came up with dragons. There’s no backstory to share. All I know is that it’s working to help us in the process of letting go. And my growing sense is: letting our children go, with love, support and an open door, is one of the best offerings we can give them.

 

Aspiration of Virtues

To have but not possess;
to lead but not control;
to love without holding on too tight;
to do work worth doing without comparing
or competing or praise-seeking;
to know when to act and when to rest;
to know when to speak and when not to;
to be confident but not arrogant,
strong but not rude,
kind but not weak,
humble but not timid –
there are the virtues I aspire to nourish in myself.
To hold steady onto when the whole world shakes,
or I’m standing alone,
or I’m surrounded by the masses,
or the day is calm and clear and uneventful.

Wells of Wisdom

Over the past few days, I’ve interacted with a number of various wells of wisdom. I so gratefully appreciate the digital age we are in and the easy access we are afforded to so many  wisdom teachers and teachings.

I participated in the Being & Doing Summit, a 5-day free online event that featured over 25 spiritually or mindfully based teachers covering a myriad of topics. I am currently taking an online 6-week course on Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness with PhD, writer, and educator David Treleaven. I’ve been watching workshop clips and talks on YouTube given by Marshall Rosenberg, developer of NVC (non-violent communication). And I’ve been watching Dharma talks online, given by monastics in my Buddhist tradition.

And thanks to online ordering – after a failed attempt to locate a particular book locally – I received a used copy of Dream Work by Mary Oliver in the mail just a couple of days ago. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite wisdom teachers.

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Loving Kindness Practice

While sitting in meditation this morning, I fashioned this verse for myself:

May I experience moments of ease today.

May I experience moments of joy today.

May I experience moments of gratitude today.

May I experience moments of solidity today.

May I experience moments of letting go today,
allowing the river of life to flow through me,
without erecting dams or putting up obstacles
in its path.

My week in poems

Penned this morning: 10/17

It’s safe to fashion poems
about birds in flight
or on perched parade.
It’s safe to cover such topics
as accentuate the earth,
the sky and the uprising of varied landscapes
in their wild glory.
And don’t get me wrong,
I write script about all of these
marvels with great pleasure and frequency.

But I am pressing now in another direction
alongside the birds and sky,
one much less safe and cozy.

One that pushes the envelope,
urging an important inquiry
to form on my lips,
and on the tip of my writing pen
amid the candle flame flickering
in the early morning darkness:
where is the middle ground
between angrily amping up
and letting go in heart heavy defeat?

________

Penned on 10/16:

Things are changing
and I am no longer interested
in sparing others hard truths
at the expense of my own.

There is a price to pay for silence
when words are what need
to be ushered forward.

There is a toll the body
accrues when niceness
overrides honesty.

Hang on, dear ones.
This is going to be a bumpy ride.

_________

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