Montana Open Way Sanghas Leadership Retreat

This past weekend, we had our first ever Montana Open Way Sanghas leadership and OI retreat (OI = order of interbeing, in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition). We also tried out a new retreat facility in Great Falls, Montana: the large and lovely Urseline Center, built in 1912.

 

Catholic in practice, the Urseline Center welcomes a variety of groups and programs into its space. We were very well taken care of. And what a treat to be surrounded by such history and craftsmanship. It was a treat to stay there and incredibly well-taken care of.

Here are a couple of things I penned in my journal early Saturday morning:

The quality of silence inside this elder building, is a sound I dearly savor and admire. Still, at 4:50am, a songbird’s morning trill penetrates the thick walls of brick and stone and reached with grace my countenance. Every bit of this place has been touched by someone’s faith or expression of God. And we, who dwell here for just a short sliver of time, are the ultimate and shining example.

_______

If you listen carefully,
with full attention and full presence
and full breath,
the harmonious choir of religious views
can be heard, resounding
in the hearts of the people.

This morning,
I walked slow, steady, and singing
around the pews of a 1912 Chapel.
In the third row,
I folded down the padded kneeling bench,
kneeled and joined my palms.
I connected with the church of my youth
and prayed.

I prayed to an energy
I neither understand or personally resonate
yet still find great and lovely movement in,
through those seeking guidance
on how to live well, with great kindness.

It was here, on my knees,
that I heard the ancient sound:
the harmonizing choir of all religious views,
lending their voices together
in symphony.

 

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The Five Powers

Yesterday, I enjoyed a lovely Day of Mindfulness (DOM) with our sister Sangha Open Sky up north on the Flathead Lake, where snow, sun, and delightful people were in abundant supply. As part of our DOM, one of our local Dharma teachers, Greg Grallo, gave a talk on the Five Powers. As usual, I took a bunch of notes throughout his talk – and also as usual, I would like to share some of them here (along with some pics I took!) :)

In the back of the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation book, it includes this description in the glossary section:

Five Faculties: Faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom

Five Powers: Same as the Five Faculties, except that as powers they cannot be shaken by their opposites (e.g., energy cannot be swayed by laziness).

Notes I penned down during Greg’s Dharma talk:

Five Powers: faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, insight

Faith: not a blind faith but one based on personal experience; to have faith in our own capacity to awaken; to trust in our practice and our sangha.

It’s good to ask ourselves from time to time: why do I practice? why do I go to sangha? why do I drive on snowy roads to attend days of mindfulness like this?

When our faith is strong, our effort is effortless. Effort that isn’t based on trying to do the practice “right” doesn’t wear us out, in fact it gives us energy. This kind of effort is based on generating good seeds and keeping good seeds alive and active, and also involves working to not water negative seeds.

There’s a difference between avoidance of suffering (based on fear) and changing the peg (my wording, not his) in order to water the seeds of joy in an effort to help care for and tend well to our suffering with more skill. Denial can be fear-based OR it can involve turning away from it with conscious participation, with the intention to return to it once we have more strength and balance.

Thay teaches that mindfulness is a pathway not a tool. Mindfulness as a path leads to the end of suffering. Mindfulness when used as a tool might be applied to acute stress but it isn’t addressing the underlying difficulties that exist; when used as a tool, our suffering will continue to resurface.

When our concentration is not strong, mindfulness can arise and then quickly dissipate. When our concentration is strong, it allows the other four powers to be strong.

The first four powers lead up to understanding/insight. And when we have insight, it gives us faith that our practice is working, so it loops back around.

When your faith is low, that is a wonderful time to go to sangha. Sangha practice encourages us to come back to the wheel of the Five Powers.

I penned this in my journal yesterday:

Like a sunflower’s face tracks the sun, my full attention falls in line with the sound of the bell.

I’m so very grateful for being part of this practice tradition and for having such regular and lovely opportunities to join together with my sangha family.

During our discussion group time yesterday, I shared my answer to the question Greg posed in his talk: Why do we drive on snowy roads to come here to sit and breathe? The short answer is that while I practice every day to water the positive seeds within myself – such as joy, ease, mindfulness, connection, friendliness, gratitude – that watering is more akin to a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there, as might be issued from a watering can, whereas attending days of mindfulness and retreats and showing up every week to sangha is like turning on the garden hose on those same seeds. Prioritizing my practice – which in this case equated to driving 2-hours north on winter roads to attend a Day of Mindfulness with my sangha family – is truly the best use of my time.

Just as a vegetable garden cannot be watered just one time and be expected to bear fruit, so too is the case for my internal seeds which bear the fruit of well-being. In order for beneficial seeds to continue growing and strengthening in our life, they need regular and ongoing tending to, which requires a good and thorough dousing from time to time :)

 

If you’re interested in listening to Greg’s talk:

 

Mindful Morning Saturday

Offering incense in the dark of early morning

I’m not sure how long ago I started this practice I call Mindful Morning Saturday, maybe a year or so. I’ve posted about it before but I was inspired to post about it again, simply because it’s adds so much benefit, energy, and joyfulness to my weekend.

As an ordained OI member (Order of Interbeing), I am asked to partake in a certain amount of Days of Mindfulness every year – 60, to be precise. And this particular OI requirement often poses some head scratching for folks, both before and after they ordain. True to form, we are not given any specifics as to how to manifest this and are left instead to use our own intelligence and insight in developing our own relationship with how to put this into active practice.

I ordained in 2007. For the first few years after that, I simply continued to attend our locally held retreats twice a year, as well as any locally held special events and days of mindfulness organized by my sangha. Then, in 2014, I started going on retreat to Deer Park Monastery for 3-4 weeks at a time every January. So for the past five years I’ve been closer than ever before, in terms of meeting the required 60 days of mindfulness.

For years, I’d wanted to figure out a way to insert a Day of Mindfulness into my home life routine once a week but I hadn’t known a good way to do it. I think like many of us OI members who are perplexed by this requirement of ordination, I was caught in thinking that a Day of Mindfulness had to be a WHOLE entire day, which seemed impossible if I was interested in doing it every week.

Then, just last year I think it was, I started thinking about the Days of Mindfulness I would participate in while I was staying at Deer Park. Most Sundays at Deer Park are an open Day of Mindfulness, where folks are welcome and encouraged to come to the monastery for a day of practice. The Days of Mindfulness there generally start at 9:00am and end after lunch, around 1:00pm. They aren’t a WHOLE entire day. They typically last about 4-hours. Once I realized this, I started thinking about my own 60 Days of Mindfulness differently.

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Snippets of thought

Last week, I attended a weekend of mindfulness up on the Flathead Lake, hosted by our sister sangha Open Sky, entitled: Be Still and Heal. To help lead it, they brought in Dharma teacher Barbara Newell (formerly Sister Pine in our Plum Village tradition).

I thought I’d craft this post in order to share some pics and a few things I jotted down in my journal over the course of the weekend.

Dec 8th, Early morning journal entry:

Words can do only so much to incite action. Therefore, we should be advised as to when to put them down, in order to lift our gaze and set to the work of embodying their application in our life.

Words are nothing on a page. Words are empty of value when left to swirl around like a goldfish in the murky waters of our minds. And yet, words matter like the pulling of tides. They matter like thunder approaching warning us to weather coming. They can pierce our thickened armor as though it weren’t made of steel, penetrating our hearts like an assassin’s blade. And if I were told I would die tomorrow, I would cling to them for salvation, solace, and camaraderie.

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Mindful Morning Saturdays

In the interest of buoying my new practice of Mindful Morning Saturdays (MMS), through the art of sharing my experience in written form, this is yet another installment to help me along.

This morning I especially enjoyed reading the Discourse on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings, as part of my MMS sutra readings. The sutra starts: Wholeheartedly, day and night, disciples of the Awakened One should recite and meditate on the Eight Realizations discovered by the Great Beings. It then lists them in the order shown above and goes into short detail about each one. The concluding sentence of the sutra states: If disciples of the Buddha recite and meditate on these Eight Realizations, they will put an end to countless misunderstandings and difficulties and progress toward enlightenment, leaving behind the world of birth and death, dwelling forever in peace.

The Sixth Realization especially stood out to me. It seemed different than the other Realizations and it got my internal gears moving. Here’s the whole paragraph from the sutra:

The Sixth Realization is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and actions. When practicing generosity, bodhisattvas* consider everyone – friends and enemies alike – to be equal. They do not condemn anyone’s past wrongdoings or hate even those presently causing harm.

* Bodhisattva: Literally “enlightened being,” one committed to enlightening oneself and others so that all may be liberated from suffering.

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Mindful Morning Saturday

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The above pic was the first thing I read early this morning, to kick off my new practice of Mindful Morning Saturdays. I ordered a few new books for our library at the Open Way Mindfulness Center and a few of them arrived yesterday. One of which is Thay’s new book: At Home in the World, Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life. The above pic was taken from inside the book jacket.

As a recap from my post last Saturday, I’ve just started a new practice of dedicating Saturday mornings, from 5:00-8:00am, to the intentional cultivation of mindfulness, on a deeper level than I tend towards on other days. No matter how mindful and present I think I am in my everyday life, there is always more work and practice I can do to deepen my connection to the here and now. Mindful Morning Saturdays are an opportunity to devote my full attention to coming back home to myself and tending to the garden of life that is available in the present moment. Today was Saturday #2 in my new endeavor, and I am feeling wonderfully energized and refreshed with Dharmic inspiration.

I respond and work well with having a schedule to follow, as it helps to keep me focused, so today my morning looked like this:

5:00am Wake up
Reading: Thay’s new book and then some things from our chanting book
6:00am Sitting Meditation, followed by Three Earth Touchings
6:30am
Stick exercises
7:00am
Silent, non-multitasking breakfast
7:30am
Watched an interview online with Sister Peace & the Huff Po

The interview I watched was very good (on peaceful activism and social justice) and I would highly recommend it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LakovFKhtXw

Here are some of the responses I jotted down from Sister Peace:

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Mindful Morning Saturdays

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The Buddha and the crow sit together

near a council fire, tall and splendid.

Their faces aglow, postures sturdy.

In the charter of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing (OI), ordained members are required to:

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Only in the past 4 years, since I’ve been going on extended retreat stays at Deer Park Monastery each January, have I been coming even remotely close to meeting the last requirement of “observing 60 days of mindfulness each year.” Between attending local retreats and days of mindfulness and going to Deer Park I estimate having around 30 or 40 days of what I figure qualifies as a “day of mindfulness.” Up until recently I haven’t given too much thought about this aspect of the OI charter, choosing instead to focus on the spirit of the practice and not get caught in the form of having a certain amount of specific days in which I can refer to as a “day of mindfulness.” But, like everything else, my practice changes. Over the past few months I’ve been brainstorming about ways in which to start implementing a weekly Day of Mindfulness. Of course, applying mindfulness in everyday life is what Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition is all about, but a set aside Day of Mindfulness is an opportunity to “up our game,” as I heard it explained recently by an OI aspirant. It involves more intention, more focused practice energy. Looking deeply, I see now that I used to let myself off the hook in regards to this one, saying to myself: “Mindfulness is the aim of my life, I’m practicing everyday. So every day is a mindfulness day.” And this sentiment is both true and not true, at the same time.

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