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Category Archives: Dharma Talks

More On Why I Practice

Were it not for my engaged practice of mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, I’d be flailing around like so many others I see, chasing after the next heightened experience; the next joint or drink; the next exciting romance or sexcapade; the next party or music festival or wild time – whatever it took to remind me that I was alive and everything didn’t suck.

An unchecked reality will do this. An untended to self-landscape will yield these results. A life unguided by ongoing skill-building and connection will amount to dis-ease and a never-quenched longing for something…more – or at the very least: something else.

Gratefully, I am afforded skills, tools, resources, encouragement, support, and teachers that show me how to take responsibility for my well-being; how to work with my mind; and how to actively cultivate present moment resting, grounding, and appreciating. With the practice, I am given the opportunity to learn how to stop seeking after transcendental moments, forever stuck in the false view that happiness equates to some kind of fantastical euphoria only possible in the some other realm of consciousness, or when I’ve found a way to magically start living without having to do such things as wash the dishes, take the trash out, pay the bills, and clean up the bodily functions of my aging cat (which when I’m lucky means the litter box).

The practice shows me how to be a human being and how to live life well. It teaches me how to not loathe Mondays; how not to live the whole of my week just looking forward to the weekends; how not to hinge my happiness on my next vacation or my next big accomplishment; how not to live in constant need of validation, praise, and acceptance from others. The practice gives me permission, over and over again, to step into and be just who I am, no strings attached.

If we don’t take it upon ourselves to learn how to be a human being amid both the complexities and ordinariness of daily life, we are bound to keep looking/searching/grasping/pleading for the next quick fix to elevate our gaze from the depravity we’ve created, only to discover that the quick fix merely serves to grow more pain.

To be clear, it’s not that there’s anything at all wrong with looking forward to such things as unearthing my motorcycle come springtime, for example. It’s a matter of learning how to be accepting and present with what’s going on in the here and now, with whatever it is that’s happening, at the same time.

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This morning, I watched part of a talk given by Sister Dieu Nghiem in late October at Plum Village as part of the 3-month winter retreat, where there was a focus on the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.

Some notes I took from the Sister’s talk:

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings have to do with how we live our daily lives; how we live in the world; how we respond to issues and the world with our thinking, our attitude, and our view. These trainings help us to see very clearly the impact of our thinking, speaking, and actions on our environment, on the world, and on the way we live together.

The more I study these Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings the more my heart rejoices, because I see a way out. I see a way that can lead to healing and transformation – not just for myself but the whole of humanity, and that lifts my spirit and gives me a lot of joy.

The mindfulness trainings give us an ethical way of life. Every training uses an ethical action based on non-duality; that happiness is not an individual matter. (She explains that an ethical action is one that benefits everyone.)

Thay says that the practice is not just to lead us to live mindfully but also to live joyfully.

I really enjoyed the portion of the talk I listened to. The Sister explains beautifully what this path of practice is all about.

Here is the talk, if you’re interested:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4z-jnnpLVQ&index=27&list=WL&t=1766s

 

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Don’t Bite the Hook

On my recent road trip, in addition to all of the music I enjoyed listening to while driving, I brought along a set of CD’s I borrowed from our mindfulness center’s library: a 3-disc series of talks by Pema Chodron called Don’t Bite the Hook.

Here’s a description I found online:

Life has a way of provoking us with traffic jams and computer malfunctions, with emotionally distant partners and crying children—and before we know it, we’re upset. We feel terrible, and then we end up saying and doing things that only make matters worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Pema Chödrön. It is possible to relate constructively to the inevitable shocks, losses, and frustrations of life so that we can find true happiness. The key, Pema explains, is not biting the “hook” of our habitual responses. In this recorded weekend retreat, Pema draws on Buddhist teachings from The Way of the Bodhisattva to reveal how we can:

• stay centered in the midst of difficulty
• improve stressful relationships
• step out of the downward spiral of self-hatred
• awaken compassion for ourselves and others

I can’t say enough good things about this series. It was so chock full of insight and wisdom that I found I could only listen in 15-20 minute segments which fortunately, with how this series is set up, is very easy to do.

Here are some things I penned down whilst driving and listening (note: if it has quotation marks around it, then it’s something she said verbatim – if it doesn’t, it’s something I paraphrased, infusing my own understanding/practice into what I heard):

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Seven Treasures of the Heart

Over this past weekend, I finished watching a talk by Brother Phap Hai, which he gave at Deer Park Monastery on June 21st, 2018. I watch a fair amount of Dharma talks online and I found this one in particular to be very powerful. If you’d like to check it out, click here. Side note: if you’re like me and it’s helpful to watch talks in segments, there are good stopping/pausing points in this talk at 17.40 and 31.05 (the total run time is 54.55).

From Brother Phap Hai’s talk:

“The fundamental insight of Buddhism is that if we look deeply into our lives, into our situation, with appropriate attention, then the path reveals itself naturally.”

 

Seven Treasures of the Heart

as offered by the Buddha in the Dhana Sutta

1. Confidence

2. Mindfulness trainings

3. Self-reflection

4. Concern

5. Listening

6.Generosity

7. Discernment

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Creating Balance

I gave a talk at the Open Sky Sangha in Kalispell, Montana last night, Thursday June 14th. (Open Sky is one of the sister groups of my home sangha Be Here Now.) Below is what I wrote out ahead of time, to help me prepare for the talk. If you’d prefer to listen to the audio recording, vs. reading it, you can venture here:

http://www.openway.org/content/creating-balance-practice-talk-nicole-dunn

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Title: Creating Balance

Subtitle: Cultivating self-care while also staying active and engaged in the world

Last month, for the week leading up to and including Memorial Day weekend, I went on a solo sojourn and stayed in the Mission Lookout Tower, which is just outside of Swan Lake. So, for 5 nights and 6 days, I situated myself 40-feet up off the ground in a 15X15 glass nest perch in the pines, with a 2-3 foot wide wrap-around deck, which afforded me sweeping views of the Swan Range to the east and the Mission mountains to the west.

I reserved this recent solo stay at Mission Lookout back in November, because I knew that come mid-late May, I’d be in need of some time of restoration and refueling of my energy tanks – and boy was I right! Prior to heading to the tower, my energy was sorely waning and I was feeling over-extended and organizationally meetinged-out. I recorded my debut spoken word album and had a release party and performance in March; I was one of the directors of our statewide spring retreat in April; and was in charge of our big annual community yard sale fundraiser at our mindfulness center in Missoula two weeks after the retreat – on top of working part time as a nanny, being a weekly hospice volunteer, taking care of my family household, having a regular writing regiment, and so on. And this isn’t anything special or unique – we all have a myriad of things that we tend to on an ongoing basis.

No matter how glad we may be to invest our energy into all the different things that we do, there comes a time that in order to continue doing those things, we will need to find, create, and make important the art of resting and self-care, lest we become completely and utterly exhausted and kaput. So, developing a relationship with cultivating our own sense of balance between being active in the world and learning how to rest and replenish is not just something nice to do, it’s vitally important to our ability to continue beautifully into the future – to keep actively practicing in our spiritual mindfulness tradition and in all of the endeavors we participate in: work, school, family life, social life, home upkeep, traveling, volunteering, recreation, hobbies/interests, etc. We extend ourselves out and about in so many ways and we can liken ourselves to a car: our gas tank can only take us so far before we need to refuel. If we have more energy going out than that which is coming in, we will find ourselves eventually broken down and stranded on the side of the road. And this is a position that is all too commonplace in our culture. We are a nation of doers. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

The hitch in the giddy-up is that we are not well-acquainted with how to ongoingly restore ourselves. We don’t prioritize – alongside of: work, family, friends, and so on – the practices of stopping, resting, nourishing, and healing.

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This is it!?!

On Saturday morning, I watched the first 15-minutes of a talk by Sr. Thệ Nghiêm at Deer Park Monastery, given on September 15, 2017 (see Youtube link below). She spoke about something I’ve both experienced personally and spoken about in a talk I gave 3-4 years ago. At Deer Park Monastery, in southern California, behind the alter of orchids in the big meditation hall, sits a circular wooden sign that says: This is it. When I first encountered this calligraphy of Thay’s, I misunderstood its teaching and took it as a glib proclamation, as in: This is it, I guess. Whatever. Sigh.

As you likely imagine, this is not what it means. Back in the day, I knew I wasn’t viewing it as intended, I simply hadn’t developed my own insight about it’s intent just yet. Understanding unfolds over time, with practice in cultivating diligence and deep looking. Words/teachings can only take us so far. They can show us a new path to venture down, but we have to be the ones to move our feet and actualize the fruits of what it has to offer.

This is it is an invitation to look more deeply into every facet and fissure of our lives, really. To see life as ever-flowing, ever-changing, and ever-amazing. To understand the depths of This is it, means to see clearly that this moment – whatever moment we find ourselves amid – IS it, truly. This present moment is the foundation for the next present moment, and it’s up to us to sculpt it in the best way possible. To turn our lives into a living art form.

One of the main root teachings I receive nourishment of, by staying apprised of both local and world news, is in regards to the nature of life and death. In short: there are a lot of ways to live and there are a lot of ways to die. The more I learn and deepen my understanding of this truth – this nature of reality – the more it opens me to the preciousness of life, and the myriad of possibilities that exist.

This is it! is more than a teaching. It’s a way of living.

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Open Way Fall Retreat 2015 (Part 2)

fall2015

As I mentioned in my last post: Open Way Fall Retreat 2015 (Part 1), last weekend was our local Montana Open Way Sanghas fall retreat.  The pictures featured here were taken during our weekend together.  Dharma teacher Terry Cortez-Vega joined us from Austin, TX to lead our meditation retreat.  I took some notes during her dharma talks and wanted to share a few of them:

Everything we experience, everything we think is in flux, is impermanent.  It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer it’s that we think things are permanent when they’re not.  When we have the flu or are stuck in traffic we trust in the nature of impermanence that things will change.  Impermanence is not a philosophy, it’s a practice.

Non-self doesn’t mean we don’t exist, it means we are impermanent.

The buddha taught that there are 3 kinds of suffering: 1. 2nd arrow suffering, where we multiply the stress of an event that takes place.  2. Willie Nelson suffering (Terry called it), where we want to hold onto what we like and get rid of what we don’t like.  3. Looking for solid ground suffering, wanting guarantees and certainty in life.  Thay teaches that we need to let go of the little sufferings so that we can conserve energy for the big stuff.

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Deer Park, Day 6

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(NOTES: Here is some lingo info that may be helpful in reading these posts.  Deer Park Monastery is in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is often referred to as Thay.  The monks who reside at Deer Park are called Brothers and the nuns are called Sisters.  The sisters reside in Clarity Hamlet and the brothers reside in Solidity Hamlet, about a 5-10 minute walk apart.  The word hamlet comes from the french and means small village.  While they are not really villages they are self-containing communities.  The visitors who come to stay at the monastery, like myself and Mike, are often called lay friends.)

Day 6

Thursday January 15th, 2015

6:00pm

Every Sunday and Thursday are open days of mindfulness here at Deer Park so today was another day of mindfulness.  Not nearly as many people attend as on a Sunday since it is a weekday but still there were around maybe 25 people or so that came.  After morning sitting practice and stick exercise the brothers and lay friends from Solidity Hamlet joined us in our hamlet for breakfast.  At 9:00am the day of mindfulness started and we met in the big hall to watch a video of Thay giving a dharma talk from the 21-day retreat in Plum Village last June.  Before I include some notes I took from that talk let me include some notes I took at the Venerable’s class last night:

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