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Category Archives: Be Here Now Sangha

You Are What You Think

This is me preparing for another teaching-style talk at my local sangha Be Here Now. So, while it may not be the most riveting post for you to read, my much-appreciated friends, it does offer me a great platform and outlet in which to figure out what it is I’d like to say – and I am reminded of the ending statement I recently heard from Hemingway’s acceptance speech from 1954 for winning the Nobel Prize: “…A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.” Of course, my motivation lies in writing about it in order to speak about it, but I am nourished by this statement just the same.

I’ll also be giving this talk jointly with my husband Mike, which we’ve been doing once a year for the past 2-3 years. We’ve entitled it: You are what you think and we’ll be offering it on Monday night, October 23rd.

On an introductory note, for those of you sticking around to read this through :), the topic for this talk was spurred by coming to the realization of how a lack of self-acceptance is one of the largest obstacles on the path of healing, growth, transformation, and well-being. In having been attending a meditation group virtually every week for the past 15 years, where we have an open sharing circle built into our format, it’s become very clear to me just how much people give themselves a hard time about ALL kinds of things. But it’s only recently been an insight of mine that this is in fact one of the greatest roadblocks we face in regards to living more mindfully and skillfully, with more ease and balance.

My husband will be talking first, for about 20-minutes, and plans on focusing his segment on highlighting what a thought and a view are and what the differences are between them. The idea being that our long-held views are what shape our thoughts, and our thoughts are what fuel our words and actions. Most of us are not well in touch with what our views are – our deeply held beliefs that have shaped us and continue to shape us. A guiding quote for us is one from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth. – TNH

For my portion of the talk I plan on opening with a psychological exercise that I recently learned, which will prompt folks to get in touch with how they talk to themselves internally while in the process of doing it.

As for what I’ll say, here goes:

If it were as easy as just stopping giving ourselves a hard time we would’ve all done that by now. Most of us know when it is we’re being hard on ourselves or beating ourselves up over something. So just stopping this particular habit is most likely not a realistic thing to expect to have happen. And the reasons are 1. We’ve been practicing this internal dialog for probably our whole lives, so it’s deeply ingrained and thus will take time to transform and 2. Because when we get stuck in our intellect it keeps us from developing the necessary actions it takes to embody whatever it is we’re looking to work on in regards to our own growth and well-being. So just because we know something in our mind intellectually doesn’t mean it translates into an embodied experience, which is what’s necessary in order for us to progress on our path. Knowing is not enough – knowing is a critical first step, but we need to pair knowing with doing, in order for transformation and healing to take place.

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Diversity Training #4

For the purposes of this particular post, I plan on focusing on Diversity Training #4 – to read all 7 of the Diversity Trainings, please click here: https://goingoutwordsandinwords.wordpress.com/?s=diversity+trainings. Our local sangha, Be Here Now, which meets on Monday nights at the Open Way Mindfulness Center here in Missoula, MT, has taken up the 7 Diversity Trainings as a 7-month series. Once a month, on the first Monday, we have a different sangha member give a short talk on one of the trainings, and then we open up for community sharing centered around whichever training we’re on. Tonight, we’ll be on #4.

I only recently became aware of these Diversity Trainings this past January, so I am still getting familiar with each of them and forming my own relationship to them. As a writer, what better way is there to foster this relationship than by writing about it?!

Diversity Training #4:

Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.

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Back to the Basics: Why Mindfulness Matters

mindfulness-practices-page-001Handout I created to accompany my talk

Preparation for a teaching talk I gave last night at my local sangha, Be Here Now, entitled: Back to the Basics, Why Mindfulness Matters:

To listen to the audio file of the actual talk I gave last night: http://www.openway.org/content/back-basics-why-mindfulness-matters-nicole-dunn

Rather than waiting until the end of this talk to offer my solidifying words of summary, of which I hope will be of service and value, I’d like to start off with them instead: Mindfulness matters because life matters. We have only this one life span of 20 or 30 or 50 or 70 or 90 years. If we do not cultivate mindfulness, it is easy for our lives to pass by very quickly – for our lives to be full of suffering, anger, sorrow, and envy. It is easy for us to take our lives for granted, to be unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Without mindfulness, it is easy to spend our whole lives caught in the past and/or consumed by the future. Mindfulness is the friend that shows us that another way of living is possible.

To help illustrate this, I’d like to share my first experience with mindfulness in an applied context – my first practical encounter that wasn’t based in intellectual knowledge or theory. (In order to shorthand it, the version of this story, which I’m including here, is taken from the book I’ve written and am working on getting published.)

My first real-life experience of what the heck mindfulness was came in early 2002. I was 22-years old and my husband, Mike, and I had started attending a meditation group in the tradition of Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. At the time, we were living on the East Coast in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where I was born and raised. We were trying to save money in order to move back to Missoula, Montana, where Mike grew up and he and I met and married. I was working for a preschool and after school program and Mike was working at U-Haul. Between us, we shared one vehicle: our trusty, old Ford Econoline van, affectionately named Humphrey. (We lived in Humphrey for a year after we got married and he took us faithfully on the long and lovely road up to Alaska and back). Mike would drop me off at work; I would walk to the library down the road when I was finished; and Mike would pick me up there when he was done with his shift. On one particular day, I went to the library to wait for Mike after work, as usual. I was really looking forward to meditation that night. Although we had only been attending the weekly group for a short time, I quickly took to it and found it refreshing and grounding in ways I could not, at the time, fully understand.

After ten minutes of standing outside the library and waiting for Mike, I began to wonder what time it was, so I went back into the library to check. (It’s important to mention that my idea of arriving on time to anything means getting there about ten minutes early). Once I saw the clock, I began to get a little irritated. I didn’t want to be late to meditation. I went back outside and anxiously scanned the road for any sign of Humphrey. After ten more minutes, I went to check the time again and then proceeded to get very impatient; elevating from irritated to frustrated. I stomped back outside and paced back and forth along the sidewalk, thinking to myself: Where the hell is he? We’re going to be late! Another ten minutes went by and back in I went, to check the time, as if that would somehow help matters. After my third venture inside, my irritation, which had turned to frustration, grew to anger. I was pissed off! I stormed back outside muttered profanities to myself as I paced rapidly and kept a militant eye on the road. We were going to be late to meditation for sure!!!

In the midst of my internal fuming and cursing, I sat down on a bench. In exasperation, I exhaled heavily and slumped against the wooden slats, my head tilted back, face pointing upwards to the sky. In a seemingly cliché moment, I received a message, as though it were etched in the clouds overhead. The words thundered down: Just enjoy me. Those words resonated inside of me, loud and gentle and clear. The present moment had sent me a message. In that instant, I became aware of how embittered I had become while waiting; how tense my body and mind were. I was aware of how futile all of my pacing and checking of the time and angry mutterings really were – and, though it seems painfully clear to me now, I realized just then, that my ranting and raving wasn’t going to make him arrive any sooner. During my 20-minute escalation, I had no idea how stressed out and irrational I had become. With the words, just enjoy me, the light of mindfulness shone through my thick fog of anger.

I got up from the bench and suddenly realized what a beautiful spring day it was. The sky was magnificently blue and the afternoon sun was warm and welcoming. I did some slow walking meditation and admired the budding trees and green grass. I shifted my gaze, from anxiously watching the road, to my immediate surroundings and I practiced getting in touch with my breathing. When I calmed down, I was then able to look more deeply into why my husband might be late. I mean, it was unlikely that he chose not to pick me up on time. I saw clearly that he was probably helping a customer and was unable to leave on time. I stopped waiting for my husband to arrive and instead practiced enjoying the day. That made all the difference. The time I had spent waiting felt like an agonizing eternity (not to mention exhausting), even though it was only about 20-30 minutes, while the same amount of time I spent enjoying was refreshing, energizing, and liberating.

When he did finally arrive, much too late to go to meditation, I greeted him with a smile and said, “Thank you for being late.” And I truly meant it. I was very aware, in that moment, that had I not had the transformation I did, my first words to him would’ve been very, very different and the evening would’ve been ruined because of my anger-fueled words and actions. It was my first practical encounter with the power of mindfulness and I was so very grateful for the real-world translation.

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Home & Happy

16358333_10206152087401458_1902787074_nBe Here Now Sangha at the airport!

Mike and I returned home around midnight on Friday, January 27th, after spending three weeks on retreat at Deer Park Monastery, and were greeted at the airport by some of our sangha friends sitting on meditation cushions in front of a bell – it was such a lovely welcoming! In one instance I was feeling tired and weary from a long day and late night and in the next I was refreshed – what wonders a community can bestow! My heart filled with so much joy when I saw their smiling faces. It was the best surprise!

Yesterday, I began feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the things needing to be done. Then I practiced to recognize my feelings and embrace them with care. My next step was determining what needed the most tending to and what could wait. It’s important to me to transition slowly and not do too many things right away, or all at once.

I went to the Good Food Store (our local, natural food market) and managed to time my trip there in what is often their busiest period: around lunchtime. I stood outside by my car for a few breaths, contemplating briefly whether or not I did, in fact, have to go in there. Quickly determining that being out of food in the house wasn’t really manageable, I took a few more breaths, grounded myself in my body, and prepared to enter the store with openness and joy. All things considered, it went swimmingly, though I was quite relieved when I was done and leaving.

After being sequestered in a monastery for three weeks, external stimulus takes some getting used to. There’s an adjustment period involved. So, I’m adjusting to a new rhythm and pattern and sway.

AND, I have daily writings that I’ll now start to share that I wrote while on retreat – so get ready for lots of words and pictures!

 

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Nirvana

nirvana_album_cover

In any other context, aside from when referring to the band Nirvana (which I love), I don’t care for the word nirvana. Years of false societal conditioning have led me to paint this highly ridiculous concept of what nirvana means. When I come across the word nirvana, I imagine this pie-in-the-sky, ephemeral land where nothing bad ever happens, that one either enters after they die or when they become enlightened (which is another word I don’t care for). I imagine nirvana to be some kind of other-worldly place, where unicorns trot around and there’s never a cloud in the sky.

In actuality, nirvana means: the extinction of notions.

I’ve been working on this topic of nirvana for a teaching based talk that I am giving tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, which will be a joint talk with my husband Mike. He and I have been offering these joint talks now, once a year, since 2014. They afford us the opportunity to collaborate on Buddhist based teachings, which is something we’re invested in together as a couple. I find it especially enjoyable to work together with him given that he and I have different strong suits in how we think about, approach, and incorporate the practice into our lives. From a Buddhist psychology perspective, Mike is more skilled at approaching things from the ultimate dimension, whereas I am more skilled at approaching from the historical dimension. As both are equally important, our ability to join forces then has the potential to speak on a variety of levels to a wider variety of people. In short, the ultimate dimension is often referred to as being like the ocean (or the undercurrent which guides and propels life), with the historical dimension being like the waves (which is us, on an individual level) – while we are each a wave, we are also the ocean, comprised of the same water (or life force/energy) which connects us all.

(UPDATED POST: Here’s a link to the audio file from this talk that Mike & I gave on Monday evening, October 17th. http://www.openway.org/content/joint-talk-nirvana-mike-nicole)

When I think of what nirvana actually means, the extinction of notions, it helps me to connect more with this word when I come across it, instead of shirking away from it as some fictitious concept. However, we want to be careful not to get caught in the form of this teaching. Meaning, it would not be a wise goal to set for ourselves to become completely free of all notions, stories, judgments, and thoughts at some undisclosed time in the far off future. This isn’t realistic. Instead, we must use our own intelligence and discernment process to find ways of enfolding the teaching of nirvana into our everyday life, moment by moment.

How do we do this? How do we incorporate nirvana as a practice? What came up for me around this was to explain nirvana as follows:

Nirvana is an action based on the culmination of mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

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14 Years and Counting!

14-years

(Stage direction: cue the slow opening of the curtains to a stage shrouded in darkness)

After a dramatic pause, a deep strong voice (not unlike James Earl Jones) says, from beyond the darkness:

14 years ago. (insert another dramatic pause) A community was born.

(Cue loud pounding drum noise)

The voice comes in again:

They called it: BE…HERE….NOW

(Cue the sounds of more loud pounding drums)

(Stage direction: bright lights are turned on, sudden and fast, revealing a stage crammed full of people on every possible inch of the stage – and the clincher: they’re stacked into a gigantic human pyramid)

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Posted by on September 29, 2016 in Be Here Now Sangha

 

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Sangha Campout

BHN2016

This past weekend our sangha held its 4th annual summer campout on the Flathead Lake. This year we had 15 people and 5 dogs :) We had a great time swimming, paddling around in water crafts, cooking community meals, playing games, and spending time together around the campfire at night. The community that plays together, stays together!

Here are some pics:

BHNCampout

As curling waves spill atop pebbles and earth
slick with summer glow
Seagulls glide in wind currents above the water,
clouds with soft, cooling gray underbellies
edge slowly across the sky,
and long, spindly Ponderosa pine needles
quake in dance on boughs reddened by the setting sun

Quivering ajoy
in this tender moment
I am quite sure of my ravenous appetite
for the beauty of this life

 

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