Onward Ho

I imagine you’re wondering what this pic has to do with my post. Perhaps it’s even what lured you in.

The truth is: I just really like this photo. I find it hilarious. The way I see it: bigfoot’s facial expression just totally clinches this shot. I like to imagine he’s thinking: Well, whatareya gonna do, white girls be crazy. And then I’d be all like: Look here BF, bear dude started it.

I didn’t have any real plan in crafting this post. I figured I’d just start with the pic, start typing, and see what happened. What’s coming up for me now is this: for me, it’s important to play and have fun with no agenda in mind other than to play and have fun. To stay on the course of self-transformation, personal growth, societal engagement, and an aspiring agent of change for the betterment of all people and our planet the presence and practice of play & fun are a necessity to keep on keeping onward ho.

I often connect with how grateful I am that I have the opportunity to work closely with young children, as they’ve taught me, and continue to teach me, much of what I know in regards to play & fun. Kids are super masters at the art of play & fun so I get regular instruction in this regard by highly skilled teachers.

For me, my well-being is most supported and highly tuned when I am in balance with the following elements (in no particular order):

  1. Spiritual Practice
  2. Service
  3. Work
  4. Learning
  5. Rest
  6. Play/Fun/Creativity
  7. Connection/Relationship Building

So, this is me putting a plug in for having fun – simply for the joy of what it brings. As adults, we can often take ourselves and our lives too seriously. We can forget to smile and to laugh and to engage with humor and playfulness. There are hundreds of ways this can take shape too. Playfulness and having fun don’t just come in one package. What works for me in regards to practicing playfulness might not work for you. I’d like to encourage you to find your own pockets of joy and delight and to invest in them on the regular.

And maybe it involves taking a self-timer photo of yourself screaming back at a giant wooden growling bear statue – and, ya know, maybe not. :)

Resting Is Fuel For Engaging

from Everyday Peace Cards, 108 Mindfulness Meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t you just love when things line up sometimes? For the past few days, I’ve been percolating on crafting a blog post on the power/importance/wisdom/practice/art of resting and this morning, I drew this card at random from my deck of Everyday Peace Cards to read and reflect on this week.

In case you’re not well-versed in the topics I routinely gravitate towards, I write fairly often about the art of resting. Two of my other regular writing threads center around cultivating joy and practicing gratitude – and all three are investments of time I place high on my list of priorities, as someone who is deeply called in the direction of spiritual living.

So this is me, putting out yet another plug for resting as a vital component of well-being.

My experience -both personally and from what I’ve seen in my friends & family – aligns with what TNH is saying in the card shown above: most of us do not know how to rest.

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Antsy & Unmotivated

Feeling antsy and unmotivated is just a terrible mix, who’s with me on this?  My bio-rhythms are off – that’s how it feels anyway. Oddly, I feel exhausted and energized at the same time. Certain activities sound appealing and then when I go to do them I lose steam.

I got together with a friend yesterday and it was almost as though I’d forgotten how to interact. The effects of covid are real is what I’m saying.

This is me simply giving voice to what is alive for me today.

I’m crunchy; snarky; rough around the edges. I’m wearing thin by the daily grayness and ongoing, ever-present potential likelihood of rain. I miss my tribe. I miss the days before covid came to town. I miss who I was a few months ago.

Oh, right. Grief. Grieving. Loss. These things are also real.

Nothing is need of fixing or figuring out.

Some things (most things) take time.

_______________

In the wake of my recent
steppings down from roles
I’ve held joyously for years,
who am I now?

In the wake of covid cancellations
of activities and usages of time
I purposefully fill my days with,
who am I?

An unpublished, unprized, unscholarly poet
A woman writer with something to say
A woman invested in learning and building skill
and doing better – a little more each day –
to be a kind and useful human.

Funny how that sounds like both
a whole heck of a lot
and also not enough.

 

 

Shout Out to Hard Labor Workers

My husband Mike. Photo & editing credit: Luke George

I reckon it’s impossible to pay proper attention and collectively highlight each and every single one of the worthy professions and investments of time that exist in the world. Still, this is me wanting to elevate what I’ve often seen and regarded as one of the greatest sects of unsung heroes: hard labor workers.

Construction workers; skilled trade workers; heavy equipment operators; road building crews; trail crews; trash collectors; the men & women in the trenches of making physical progress and growth happen in our towns, cities, parks and across our global landscape near and far. Rarely – if ever – have I seen these workers given due credit and collective appreciation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that in the wake of Covid-19 we are currently using our local & global voices to love up on our front line and essential workers, our truckers, our food industry workers and so forth – but it has left me wondering: what about our hard labor workers? What about our roofing crews (like my husband)? What about our electricians (like my dad)? What about our plumbers and sewage workers and road workers and front-loader operators? What about carpenters and framers and concrete workers? What about loggers and miners and trail workers? What about our mechanics? What about all of the workers who make a living getting dirty and using their physical bodies in the utmost taxing of ways – who are near-required to live on a diet of fast food and energy drinks just to make it through the day and get as much done as humanely(/un-humanely) possible?

This is me wanting to say thank you.

This is me wanting to say that I see how, as skilled and hard labor workers, you sacrifice your body for the sake of making sure we all have homes to live in and stores to shop in and roads to drive on and trails to walk on and a way of life that continues with all of the luxuries and great comforts that we are so accustomed to and often take for granted.

We complain when there’s road construction and it disrupts our route of travel. We complain when a new house is built in our neighborhood and creates a din of noise. We complain when a new building goes up in our area, signifying that our town is growing, thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if things never changed and just stayed how they were 20-years ago? But gosh, what the heck would we do without all of these workers?

Hard labor workers are amazing – it’s as simple and important as that.

So please, next time you pass by a job site or a road construction crew, instead of looking down on them or disregarding them or flashing them a sour-face because of some minor inconvenience you’re experiencing, get in touch with how hard their work is and extend your gratitude to them. Get in touch with how without them, the dwelling place you’re living in would not be possible; grocery stores would not be possible; all of the stuff you like to buy would not be possible; driving places would not be possible; running water and electricity and trash disposal and indoor plumbing and the internet and and and… would not be possible.

Big love to our hard & skilled labor workers. We owe you a great debt of ongoing gratitude.

 

 

Venting?

This is me tugging on a thread to see what I come up with. The thread being: Is there a place for venting in the life of a mindfulness practitioner?

On our last two Zoom sangha calls, the topic of venting was brought up in two different unrelated occasions, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore it here on my blog. And for the record: this is a great topic to delve into and I very much appreciate the people who shared their thoughts and experience during our dharma sharing time on this. If the question I pose above had been asked in a group setting on a retreat to a Dharma teacher during a Q&A session, I would imagine myself thinking: now there’s a good question that can help benefit a lot of folks (which I do not say lightly, as most questions I encounter being asked during group Q&A’s are not of high quality).

First thing’s first. To delve into whether there is a place for venting in the life of a mindfulness practitioner, I must first give a reference point for what my own understanding of venting is, because I’m aware there will be vernacular differences here. Nicole’s definition of venting: to tell someone in charged tones/languaging the upset we’re experiencing – often in relation to another person(s) – with the hope of unburdening our self but the reality of fueling our struggle.

In my view, venting is most often (but not always) synonymous with rehearsing. I’ve not personally experienced venting equating to a true and actual release but more that it allows one to further strengthen their story and, therefor, their upset.

Often when venting takes place, we’re looking for a certain response from who we’re sharing with. Most often: we want others to get upset with us, to help validate how right/justified we are in being angry. This can be shown by the fact that often when we vent, we don’t just vent one time and then we feel better but we keep venting to whoever will listen.

This is tough one. Something I am personally and currently working on is: how to embrace/befriend anger when it arises as part of my experience (not something separate or something to pretend doesn’t/shouldn’t exist) without adding fuel to its fury. It’s an ongoing practice for sure.

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When This is All Over

I was at the gas station the other day standing at the pump, waiting for my tank to fill. A staff person was at an adjacent pump cleaning the handles and with an upbeat and friendly tone said Good morning! when he saw me. Then another vehicle pulled up to a pump closer to where he was working and he took to exchanging pleasantries and small talk with the driver. I overheard the driver ask him the stock standard how are you question, to which the worker replied: I’ll be happy when this is all over. I thought to myself: That’s it, isn’t it? That’s the crux of this coronavirus tune so many are singing – and it’s not at all different than our usual tune, the one where we think: after this happens, after I get this thing, after I land this job or this person or this whatever it is, THEN I’ll be happy.

We all do the dance of later I’ll be happy or later I’ll practice meditation, after things have settled down or later on I’ll get some rest when I have more time. I’ve been re-reading the classic Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi and also certain sections from two of my favorite books by Thay recently, which I’ve been referring back to quite a bit lately and receiving nourishment and strength from:

Peace can exist only in the present moment. It is ridiculous to say, “Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace.” What is “this”? A diploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt? If you think that way, peace will never come. There is always another “this” that will follow the present one. If you are not living in peace at this moment, you will never be able to. If you truly want to be at peace, you must be at peace right now. Otherwise, there is only “the hope of peace someday.”

– from The Sun My Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

To cook, or to fix some food, is not preparation, according to Dogen; it is practice. To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or for yourself; it is to express your sincerity. So when you cook you should express yourself in your activity in the kitchen. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook! That is also an expression of our sincerity, a part of our practice.

It is necessary to sit in zazen, in this way, but sitting is not our only way. Whatever you do, it should an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.

– from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

 

Someone asked me, “Aren’t you worried about the state of the world?” I allowed myself to breathe and then I said, “What is most important is not to allow your anxiety about what happens in the world to fill your heart. If you heart is filled with anxiety, you will get sick, and you will not be able to help.” There are wars – big and small – in many places, and that can cause us to lose our peace. Anxiety is the illness of our age. We worry about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, and the state of the world. If we allow worry to fill our hearts, sooner or later we will get sick.

Yes there is tremendous suffering all over the world, but knowing this need not paralyze us. If we practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, and working in mindfulness, we try our best to help, and we can have peace in our heart. Worrying does not accomplish anything…if we don’t know how to breathe, smile, and live every moment of our life deeply, we will never be able to help anyone.

– from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

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My Four Main Practice Threads

A little thing I made this morning :)

Most of what I have to share about in regards to the practice of mindfulness, rooted in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, centers around these four main threads, which I personally weave into my daily life on a regular and ongoing basis:

  1. Cultivating joy
  2. Practicing gratitude
  3. Prioritizing rest
  4. Monitoring closely the power & importance of words

Of course, there are other threads I weave in too, like: comfort zone expansion work and investing in creative forms of self-expression, but both of these, and many others, could simply be enfolded into one of the categories above. This list of four threads is the foundation of my own personal practice; it’s where I dig my Dharma well.

In Thay’s book Interbeing, in the four principles listed for the Order of Interbeing, it states:

It is said that there are 84,000 Dharma doors through which one can enter Buddhism. For Buddhism to continue as a living source of wisdom and peace, even more doors should be opened.

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Paramita #1: Generosity

Excerpt from The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh:

The Six Paramitas are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. Paramita can be translated as “perfection” or “perfect realization.” The Chinese character used for paramita means “crossing over to the other shore,” which is the shore of peace, non-fear, and liberation.

(1) dana paramita – giving, offering, generosity.

(2) shila paramita – precepts or mindfulness trainings.

(3) kshanti paramita – inclusiveness, the capacity to receive, bear, and transform the pain inflicted on you by your enemies and also by those who love you.

(4) virya paramita – diligence, energy, perseverance.

(5) dhyana paramita – meditation.

(6) prajña paramita – wisdom, insight, understanding.

Practicing the Six Paramitas helps us to reach the other shore — the shore of freedom, harmony, and good relationships. 

This past week marked the start of a 6-week, largely online based, self-propelled, group-supported reflection practice I put together in order to delve more deeply into the Six Paramitas. The group is free and open to our local sangha members and there are 6 of us participating. Each week starting on Mondays, we read and reflect daily on a verse I send to the group on the paramita we’re focused on and on Sundays we report back to the group, via a few typed sentences posted on a shared Google doc, about what was alive for us in relation to working with the paramita over the past week. I also send an audio recording for folks to listen to centered on the paramita at hand.

Here is the verse our group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the First Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

To give means first of all to offer joy, happiness, and love. The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. What else can we give? Our stability; Our freedom; Our freshness; Peace; Space; Understanding.

The practice of giving can bring you to the shore of well-being very quickly. What you give is what you receive. Whether you give your presence, your stability, your freshness, your solidity, your freedom, or your understanding, your gift can work a miracle. Dana paramita is the practice of love.

So for the past week, I’ve been focusing on Giving/Generosity. Here are some of my personal reflections & other things I penned down over the last few days:

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Don’t Try to be a Good Practitioner

No photo description available.

 

I posted this on my personal Facebook page this morning (along with the pic above):

Since January, I’ve been choosing a new card every Monday from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Everyday Peace Cards: 108 Mindfulness Meditations” to read and reflect on for the span of one-week. Yesterday, I chose this card out at random: Peace is contagious. Seems a good fit for the times we find ourselves in.

Just as a virus is contagious and transmittable to others, so too are such things as fear, panic, worry, and despair. And, thankfully, such things as peace, joy, ease, understanding, and solidity are also contagious and transmittable.

Please know that I am here for anyone in need of extra support. Dear friends, I am here for you. We are here for each other.

_____________

In case you can’t read the card above in the pic, it says:

If you have been able to embrace your in-breath and your out-breath with tenderness, you know that they in turn embrace your body and your mind. If you have practiced meditation, you have already discovered this. Peace is contagious. Happiness is contagious.

___________

A little while after posting,  I thought to myself: Hmm. Oh dear. What if certain people read that post and receive a different message than I’m intending? A message people translate into: “Oh great. Now in order to be a “good mindfulness practitioner” it means I can’t be stressed out or worried about what’s going on in the wake of covid19. But the things is: I AM stressed out and worried, so I’m totally doing it wrong! I’m not a good mindfulness practitioner!”

The above scenario is a worse case situation to my heart’s calling, as someone sincerely invested in helping to support other mindfulness practitioners in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition and simply people in general. Whenever I write something practice related and post it on one of my many online platforms –  which is to say: pretty much every day – I am actively aware of how people might misunderstand or misinterpret what I’m saying. It’s a risk I choose to take, but I do not take it lightly.

So, this is me wanting to send out the bat signal to say:

Sweet community, whether we know each other or not,

whether you are a mindfulness practitioner or not,

please do not try to be a “good practitioner.”

Please do not think that to worry or to be fearful

translates to your being a “bad Buddhist” or a bad anything.

 

The teaching on Peace is Contagious

does not preclude us from experiencing feelings

of worry, upset, fear, or distress.

This is not an either/or situation.

Every time we take good care of our fear when it arises;

every time we take good care of our worry when it arises;

this too is a way we practice to cultivate peace.

Here is a short poem I wrote this morning and posted on my writer’s Facebook page:

Imagine I were lone paddling
in a kayak towards you,
growing larger and larger
as I drew closer and closer.

Imagine, as you began to see my face
with more detail,
you could feel my great affection
for you;
see it in my naked, shining eyes.

Imagine I docked my humble craft
on the pebbled shores
where you stood;
joined you on the solid ground;
greeted you with a warm smile,
and wrapped my arms around you
and never let go.

Be Good To People

At the end of January, I met someone who had a water bottle that donned the words: Be good to people and I fell in love with the messaging straight away. I even took a picture of it, so I’d remember it later on. Wanting to find the water bottle online for potential purchase, I looked it up on Amazon to no avail and simply gave up.

Flash forward to a month later (aka: late February). There I was in the Denver airport with a 3-hour layover, walking around and looking at the plethora of food options I had the luxury of choosing from, when what do I stumble upon but an entire BGTP kiosk!

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