This is me soon preparing to unplug for an extended period of time, as I prepare to be on retreat at Deer Park Monastery. I won’t be unplugged entirely but I will be unplugged mostly, and for a longer period of time than ever before: 4-months. I am both looking forward to the respite of being offline and I also feel a tension and strain and sadness about it too.
I will be writing while on retreat, in penned words on actual paper and also in typed form on my laptop. Writing while on retreat is a great joy for me and I find that I especially enjoy daily journaling, which is not a form of writing I do really at all outside of my retreat stays.
This is me just wanting to let you all know.
This is me imagining I will have much to post here upon my return back to the magical Land of Internet.
As my 2020 practice of daily haiku writing continues – and ending with a poem of some kind almost always feels like a good idea to me – here is the one I penned this morning:
In my continued journey of practicing to find ways to use my voice in matters concerning topics I tend to stay quiet on (in part for good reason), I’d like to see where this topic takes me as I write about it out loud.
Recently, I came across a twitter post by Roshi Joan Halifax that said:
I think it’s easy to make the mistake in Buddhism that neutrality is some kind of spiritual goal that we as practitioners have. I know I’ve suffered from this misunderstanding. I’ve also suffered from thinking that I needed to squelch certain types of emotions from arising, such as: anger, sorrow, disappointment, and sexual desire. I am now, thankfully, at a point in my practice that I am able to dismantle some of my misunderstandings about the teachings and actualize more clarity based on my own experiences.
In our current U.S social landscape, with respect to our upcoming presidential election, protest climate, and covid pandemic, my bristling reflexes around activism and activists are front and center for me. NOTE: part of my work to speak up on topics I feel so moved to put voice to centers around my own opinions involving subjects that I feel are either unpopular (to my close sphere of people anyway) or awkwardness-producing. My views on this topic are situated in the unpopular realm of things.
I have a number of friends who would self-identify as being an activist: a social justice activist; an environmental activist; an animal rights activist; a human rights activist; a political activist; some combination of the above or maybe simply an activist with no specific classification. And while I love my friends dearly, when the word activist or activism comes up or is mentioned, I’ve always taken a few energetic steps back, and depending on the intensity level of activism involved, I might also take a few physical steps back from our friendship as well.
I get caught in those words; entangled in what I take them to mean, which is partly fueled by collective narrative and conservative-based discourse. When I think of an activist, I think of someone who is propelled by blaming and anger, and more specifically as someone who shames others for not thinking/acting the way they do. When I think of an activist, I think of someone who is fueled and propelled against someone(s) verses for something. I think of someone who is fighting verses transforming. I’m not saying it’s right or fair, simply that these are some of what is situated behind my bias towards activists.
In two weeks time, my husband Mike and I will be heading back to our home away from home: Deer Park Monastery (DP) in southern California. For the past 7 years, we’ve been going on annual pilgrimages to DP for varying lengths of retreat stays. This time around, we will be attending the full duration of what’s called the 90-day winter retreat, which is an annual retreat specifically designed to help support the monastic community (the nuns and monks in our Buddhist tradition).
In a slow effort to start getting ready, I’ve begun assembling what we’ll be packing along with us. Is this too many books? :) (see pic above) We will be there for a considerable amount of time and we will be starting off with a 2-week quarantine period, so there’s that.
I’ve long held thoughts of potentially one year participating in the full duration of the 90-day retreat but given all of the logistics and the amount of time away from my beloved home sangha and friends it hasn’t felt like the right call. But in the wake of covid, this year felt like the right year to make it happen.
I feel as though signs of my own personal maturing involve recognizing and appreciating, more and more as time goes on, that:
nothing and no one was created in a vacuum; everything and everyone consists of a myriad of causes & conditions that factor into their manifestation
every topic and subject and matter of human interest involves subtleties and nuances; nothing is black and white
there is no one right answer or one approach to anything in life
no one is ever nourished by or benefits from being shamed/looked down upon/negatively judged; I know I’ve strayed off the path of practicing inter-connection and am moving in the direction of separation when I get caught in thinking I’ve got stuff better figured out or am somehow better than someone else
My experience is revealing that the more able I am to embrace paradoxes and the presence and reality of non-duality, the more stable and well-balanced I feel as a result. My optimal functioning and most aligned sense of well-being is dependent on my capacity to practice with, embody, and put into practice one of my favorite and often mentioned teachings from Suzuki Roshi:
Let me start by saying this: crafting this post brings up a slurry of uncomfortable feelings for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. So, there’s that.
Coming up on our local Montana ballot during the approaching election cycle is a matter that I have been glad has not been on our ballot thus far: whether or not to legalize recreational use of marijuana. I’ve been glad because I knew I’d be conflicted as to how to vote. I knew that my biases against pot would cloud my judgement, making it difficult to know which way to vote from a well-informed standpoint. And. I was right. Because now that the time has come for me to cast my vote, I am conflicted.
So, over the past week or so, I’ve been searching out articles and pro/con lists online centered around the legalization of recreational marijuana. I’ve reached out to a small group of friends and family, inquiring with them about whether they’d feel comfortable sharing their views with me on this subject. I’ve watched a couple of TEDX talks. I’ve been working to hear from both sides of the fence. All of this in an effort to better inform myself so that I can make what I feel is a good decision as to how to vote.
Currently, I am leaning strongly towards voting NOT to legalize recreational use, however, I am still conflicted.
Since writing helps me to process things for myself, allow me to break it down:
Meet my morning meal verse that I recite each day when I eat breakfast (above).
I regard connecting with and strengthening – on-goingly and on the daily – the quality of gratitude in my life as a top priority, and a fundamental element of staying well-balanced and well-rooted in what matters most.
I shorthand the above verse before I eat lunch and dinner to simply:
This food is the gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
This morning, I joined a monthly Zoom recitation of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing, rooted in the Plum Village Tradition led by Thich Nhat Hanh, organized by a Dharma teacher on the West Coast. Each time I read or listen to the trainings, different parts and lines resonate for me.
Here are the short lines from each of the trainings that spoke to me today:
1. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing.
2. We are committed to learning and practicing nonattachment to views and being open to others’ insights and experiences in order to benefit from the collective wisdom.
3. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide.
4. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering.
5. We will practice looking deeply into how we nourish our body and mind with edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness.
6. We will practice Right Diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same.
7. We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.
“When you think that someone or something other than yourself needs to change, you’re mentally out of your business.” — Byron Katie
Something I remind myself often to do is to: stay on my own side of the fence. And what I mean by this is that all I can ever do to help affect positive change in the world is to do my own work and to do it to the best of my ability, for the benefit of all beings. The work needing to be done, is always my own work to do.
I draw deeply on my spiritual practice tradition and answer the question of How can I help change the world by diligently practicing to show up in the best ways I can in body, speech, and mind. There is no world change without continual and on-going self-change.
As soon as I get caught in thinking that someone else needs to change; someone else needs to listen to me (and not vice versa); someone else needs to do something differently; someone else needs to be some other way than they are, I’ve strayed from the path of connection and understanding. This isn’t to say I am not upset and bothered by certain people or that I don’t judge certain actions to be unjust and damaging, but there is a middle ground between apathy and rage, between indifference and incensed.
When I start getting carried away with thoughts about how I think the world should be or how other people should act, I know I’ve climbed the fence and am now wandering around in someone else’s field, where I have no control or sway.
Stay on your side of the fence, Nicole or Get back over there to your side of the fence, Nicole, I say to myself. It helps me to remind myself where my sphere of influence is – and it’s never out there, it’s always – every single time – an inside job, on my side of the fence.
The above video is a recording of what’s written here below.
Decompressing in the wake of having watched a total of 9-hours of the Republican National Convention this past week (and 7-hours of the Democratic National Convention last week), including 70-minutes of President Trump’s speech last night, I’ve taken myself up here to the mountain, to the peace sign overlook here in Missoula. And I feel it’s worth mentioning that while I take comfort in this spot and find ease in this peace sign, I do not consider myself an activist or a world peace idealist.
It’s hard to put into words what I think and feel about politics. Part of me is scared too, as no matter what words I land on, I will spark hard, unpleasant, uncomfortable, harmful, damaging feelings in others. And this is, I see now, another step in my journey of letting go. I cannot caretake for everyone; cannot keep everyone comfortable all the time – should not keep everyone comfortable all the time. Still. What is there to say? And is it worth saying?