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Category Archives: Community

The River Is High

The Clark Fork River is high, here in Missoula Montana. Swelling and spilling over its bank high. Flood stage high. Whole trees and mobile homes being carried downstream high.

Yesterday, I grabbed a shovel and some work gloves and headed to the staging area on 3rd Street to help fill sandbags. It was the same shovel I used to help during the in-town avalanche cleanup efforts here in town a few years ago. I know because it was still marked with duct tape – a way to distinguish it from the rest.

Dozens upon dozens of folks came out to take part in the volunteer efforts. Some volunteers even drove into town from over an hour away. I spent 5 1/2 hours at the sandbag station, with a 30-minute hiatus to fetch dinner for Mike & Jaden. I ate in the car on my way back to resume the second part of my shift, then left for the day just before 8:00pm.

While filling, moving, and stacking sandbags, I spoke with a woman who’d just returned from army training the previous day; I tag-teamed a few bags with a middle-school boy, who was apologetic every time he spilled some of the sand he was trying to get into the bag I was holding open for him, despite my friendly efforts to tell him it was par for the course in filling sandbags; I overheard an older woman tell a fellow shoveler that she was recently diagnosed with an extremely rare disease that will likely render her blind within the next 3-years; I joked around with a couple of guys as we all worked side-by-side atop the big mound of sand, as though we were victorious hikers who’d staked claim to a mountain peak; I enjoyed the synergy generated between myself and a young 20-something year-old trainer from the Bitterroot, as I passed down my filled bags to him, from my eventually lone and dwindling perch situated at the top of the heap; and my heart warmed at the short break we all took around 7:00pm to sing Happy Birthday to a 10-year-old girl, who insisted that she didn’t want to do anything to celebrate her birthday other than help fill sandbags.

Gosh I just love this town.

Today, my body is terribly sore. My hands are stiff and aching. And my ring-finger on my left hand is numb. It’s not ideal timing to be in such a painful physical state, as I’m in charge of our big community yard sale fundraiser at our local meditation center on Saturday, and I have a full day of sorting and prepping the sea of donations we’ve collected over the last 2 months tomorrow. AND, I’m quite sure that there’s no where else I would’ve rather been yesterday afternoon and evening.

My aches and pains will subside – and they’re a small price to pay in comparison to those who’s houses are being threatened or held in limbo by the rising river.

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Posted by on May 10, 2018 in Community

 

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Waiting is the Hardest Part

Last night, I participated in an interfaith concert event called Tangible Hope, which was put together by the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC). Every year we have an interfaith summit event, but this was the first year is was turned into a concert at the Wilma Theater.

It was a wonderfully diverse concert, starting with bagpipes and ending with a Christian rock band, with a hand bell ensemble, community choir, and local singer/songwriter sandwiched in between. Included in the mix were also a couple of speakers and two storytellers, which is where I came in.

After weeks of preparation and a workshop session with our local storytelling pro Marc Moss, who runs Tell Us Something here in Missoula, here’s what I came up with along the topic theme of Tangible Hope:

In the fall of 2002, when I was 23 years old, I started a weekly meditation group called Be Here Now, based in the Buddhist tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. And for the first 8-years, I was the sole facilitator of the group. Flash-forward to present day, we are now over 15 years old and have grown from a small meditation group into an active, vibrant, and relatively large sangha. And in Buddhism, the word sangha means: spiritual community. In our tradition, sangha is one of the most important and highly emphasized components that we are called to develop and strengthen in our daily lives. Sangha is an action verb; and it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels us in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood. And for me, when I practice to fully embody the spirit of sangha, I’m also able to encounter it wherever I go.

As an example: I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport. I had just spent 4-weeks on a retreat at Deer Park monastery, which is based in our tradition located in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different: LAX. And as I was standing in that security line a wonderful insight arose, which was that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha friends and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment filled with grumpy strangers; I felt as though I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another – from my monastery sangha to my air traveling sangha. This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me because I carry it with me and I actively create it.

Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that sangha is more than a community, it’s a deep spiritual practice. So, it involves relationship building, spending time together, learning how to communicate and negotiate with various personalities and ways of doing things – it involves interacting with everyone around us in a way that promotes love and connection. And oftentimes the work of sangha building, of community and relationship building, is not easy. I’m reminded of our very first Be Here Now council meeting, which took place in November of 2010. There were 7 of us in attendance and it was the first time we were delving into the group becoming more of a collective endeavor, vs. just me holding down the fort. People shared a wealth of feedback and input mostly centered around all the changes they wanted to see have made; things we weren’t doing that we should be doing, things we were doing that we shouldn’t be doing, format adjustments, and so on. And what I recall most about this first meeting is getting home afterwards and breaking down crying. I was so overwhelmed, wondering how we would be able to incorporate everyone’s ideas and changes they wanted to see made and I was filled with worry that the simplicity and loveliness of our group was going to be lost. So, while it took some time to adjust and find our way together as a council and we had some growing pains, it was also the most beneficial thing we could’ve done to help ensure the health and vibrancy and stability of our group. So while it’s often challenging to do this work of sangha building, it’s also incredibly important that we do it.

And I’m so very grateful to be part of a tradition that ushers us in this direction and that we have the great fortune to be partners with the MIC in this regard, so that we can extend our capacity for sangha building outwards to include our interfaith sangha, which then ripples out to include our citywide Missoula sangha, our statewide Montana sangha, our nationwide American sangha, and our global worldwide sangha. Because the good news is: we’re all in this together, truly, there is no separation. And for this reality – and the opportunity that we have to be part of this interfaith collaborative – I am filled with joy and appreciation, because it’s this work that will allow us to continue beautifully into the future.

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Interfaith Work & Sangha Building

I’m currently reaching maximum saturation levels in terms of my usage of time spent on writing projects, events planning, managing meetings and gatherings, and attending a variety of other functions. I’m in the boat right now of practicing to say no when it comes to the question as to whether or not to take something else on – AND it’s going well, too, I might add.

Factoring into all the many lovely things I’ve chosen to do with my time is to: tell a story on stage at the Wilma Theater here in town on May 5th, as part of an interfaith concert and celebration event called Tangible Hope, submit an article to be considered for publication in the Mindfulness Bell for their sangha building issue (slated to come out in the fall), and write a short piece for the Community of Faith section in our local newspaper (for their May 12th edition).

Is interfaith work and sangha building different? Ultimately, no, I think not. When I look and engage through the lens of sangha building, I see clearly that sangha exists wherever I go. It’s all around me. Whether in the setting of my home sangha of Be Here Now or my larger Plum Village family, or my growing relationships and partnerships with local pastors and interfaith members as part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC), which I serve to represent our communities of Be Here Now and Open Way with, sangha is an action verb; it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels me in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood.

From the story I plan on telling as part of the Tangible Hope concert event:

I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport – I had just spent a month on a retreat at a monastery in our tradition in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different. As I was standing in the security line, I had the wonderful insight that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment with grumpy strangers; I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another: from my monastery sangha into my air traveling sangha! This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me – I carry it with me and I actively create it.

If we are truly invested in building sangha – aka spiritual community – then we must practice to envelop it fully into our lives and not relegate it to just our own beloved circles consisting of those whom we share most closely and are most comfortable with. The true spirit of sangha building must be all inclusive; this is the only way we can serve as agents of change in the world and continue beautifully into the future.

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Nourishment & Healing

This is a post in pics. Last night, before attending a high school drama production my stepson was part of, I went for a solo saunter in the woods. By the end of the evening, I was nourished, fed, and inspired by a multitude of influences: the woods that surrounded me, the river that flowed beside the trail,

the sky in sprawl above in a budding spring blue,

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March for Our Lives

Today, I practiced silent walking meditation amid hundreds of Missoulians brandishing signs in support of what wound up being a global march, in the wake of increasing gun violence in our schools.

Instead of a sign, I held my pocket-sized Buddha. Instead of joining in the chants of “No more silence, end gun violence,” I practiced deep, mindful breathing. The art of change-work can (and must) take place on a multitude of different levels.

We need those who can rally a march, who join in the chants, who can speak from the heart over a microphone, who are called to running for political offices, who donate money and time and their web talents – and we also need people who can remain calm and stable in the fray. We’re all needed. We all have something to offer. We’re all in this together.

 

Article from Lion’s Roar mag: Buddhists supporting March for Our Lives share their photos and messages:

https://www.lionsroar.com/buddhists-supporting-march-for-our-lives-share-their-photos-and-messages/?utm_content=buffer4e0f9&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

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Wild Abandon

Just this morning, I hopped onto the BBC world news online, where I clicked on an article about the current fire and state of emergency in San Diego, CA. Accompanying the article was a short video taken by a motorist who had captured footage of a man on the roadside next to a raging bank of flames, who was trying desperately to save a wild rabbit who was clearly in distress. After running into the flames, the rabbit came back out and the man was able to scoop it up and rescue it.

Tears streamed from my eyes.

The sheer fortitude and concern this man showed for that one tiny rabbit is a powerful example of our capacity to love.

We are made and built from each other’s company – whether in people, animal, or nature’s form. We rise and fall together.

May we stop running and keep loving. May we open our hearts wide like the sky at dawn.

The more we love people, the better we live. The better we live, the more we love.

So, let us love on – even when it’s hard. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we don’t know how.

It’s easy to extend love to those whom we choose to share our lives with – but it’s not so easy with those whom we do not see a commonality with. Our time is short. We have such little time to love with wild abandon. Stop guarding your heart.

Let us express gratitude to all those who circulate around us, whether dear to us or nameless. Let us radiate love to all who are situated in the wake of our heart’s beating. Our time is short. May we love with wild, unfettered abandon, regardless of the company we keep.

 

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Life & Death

Every year, for the past I don’t know how many years (8? 10? 12?), I help with the set-up for the Tree of Life Ceremony, which is put on in early December by the hospice organization I volunteer for on a weekly basis, meeting with patients. This annual event is a time to remember our loved ones who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. There’s a tree lighting ceremony that takes place in Rose Memorial Park, followed by a non-faith based service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, situated a few blocks away, and is concluded with a reception in their fellowship hall. The reception is stocked with typically over 100 dozen cookies that the staff & volunteers bake, warm beverages, and is a chance to peruse the banners (see pic above) we put together, which display the many names that community members have submitted in memory of those who’ve passed away. This year, we had over 900 names.

Yesterday, while helping with the set-up process for this event, I worked alongside a hospice staff member who shared with me the story of how she just moved to town not long ago at the request of her daughter, who was wanting her help in trying to get back to school, while raising young children and still recovering from a car accident that left her with brain trauma just under a year ago. Her daughter was stopped at a light here in town and hit by a texting driver, going 50- mph.

Switching…

While arranging the names on the banners, I unexpectedly came across my grandmother’s name: Claire Carlson. My grandmother, still alive, is on hospice care in Arkansas. I spoke with her just the other day and was the last grandchild to do so. She’s expected to pass away in the next few days.

When I think of her, I think of watercolor paintings of flowers and landscapes on crisp white paper, framed by my grandfather, when he was alive. I think of the tomatoes she was forever growing in pots and how I used to steal candies from her nightstand – though, I suspect she knew full well and didn’t mind.

When I think of her, I think of summers spent at boardwalk art shows, a mixture of sun and sea coating my skin and tangling my long hair. When I think of her, I think of my grandfather, even though he’s been gone for over 15 years.

And I reckon she passed down her artistic flare to me, though my mediums are the written word and music. Still, it takes an artist to decode this one, richly given life in such a way where melodies can be heard and beauty can be seen in even the smallest drops of everyday. With an artist’s eye, I look out onto the world, misshapen with strife though it may be. I gaze in its direction as though it were a sunset or rise, a marvel of ingenuity on display.

When I think of her, I think of how fortunate I am, truly, to be here, now.

Switching…

Sitting in a pew last night at the church, listening as the hospice chaplain and one of the bereavement coordinators shared skilled words of nourishment and support, I thought of the many friends I’ve had who’ve passed away, especially over the last couple of years. I thought of those who will pass away soon, such as both of my grandmothers. And I also thought of everyone I take for granted, thinking they will live another 30 or 40 years – all those I figure I will have an endless amount of time to absorb into my heart.

One thing I most appreciate about being a hospice volunteer is that in meeting with patients who are dying, it opens my eyes and my heart to those who are living around me, firm in the understanding that we can all go at any time. Befriending death allows me to befriend life.

Switching…

Written in August, 2016:

I’d been visiting Al every Tuesday at 10:00am for over a year, before he passed away, 3 days ago. He was 91 years old, though he often liked to tell me he was 100. I never disagreed, as it seemed to bring him a wave of pride and pleasure to share with me the fact that he had reached triple digits. Besides, I figured, whether 91, 94, 97, or 100, they’re all milestones in my book, each one indicating having lived a long life.

Back in April, during one of our weekly visits, I decided it would be a good idea to jot down some of the things he said. I sat next to him with some paper and a pen and told him my intention. He found it humorous, and mildly baffling, that I wanted to record his Words of Wisdom, as I called it. He didn’t feel what he had to say was of any special value or worth remembering. But he obliged me just the same.

Here’s what I scribbled down that one day:

Your mental attitude is hooked to well being.
You don’t realize how you can mold your life.You are the one commander of your own mind and body.Don’t let it get away from you.
I still think of myself as a young man. Hell, you have to.
A smile will get you more friends than a grimace. You’ve got to smile at society.
Nothing in my life has been dead serious. Nothing can’t be changed.
Gray hair ain’t heavier to carry around – and they take less water.
When you get up in the morning, get a smile on your face.
He called this one Al’s Secret to Longevity: If you have a choice between making a friend or an enemy, always make a friend. I always figured it was better to make a friend.
Walk away from cranky people, they’ll affect you.
Carrying a grudge gets to be pretty solid after awhile.
Boy, it’s nice to be alive today.

In memory of Al, 1925-2016

 

 

 

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