Four Elements of Lay Life

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what the foundational elements of my life are, as a lay practitioner in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition. A while back, I watched a Dharma talk online from a monastic Sister where she spoke of the founding principles of monastic life at the monasteries in our tradition and I think, if I remember right, what I’ve landed on is similar to what she shared.

I’ve identified four elements – and to be clear, theses are ones I’ve simply recognized are true and in play for myself personally, this is not any sort of official list adopted by anyone other than myself.

Nicole’s Four Foundational Elements of Lay Practice Life

  1. Practice (includes Dharma study)
  2. Work
  3. Rest
  4. Play (includes music/art/creative expression)

For me, it’s helpful to understand clearly what my foundational elements are as a lay practitioner so that I know what my priorities are and in what direction I want to be spending my time and limited energy. Life is about balance. And for me it’s about balancing these four elements, often on a daily basis.

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Fun Zen Circle Project

In preparation for our upcoming spring family retreat with our Montana sangha family, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh – for which I am serving as co-director – I worked on this fun project this morning. Ensos! An enso is a zen circle and is said to symbolize a number of different things: openness, awareness, strength, the universe. Enso’s can be created open or closed and are typically fashioned in one brush stroke.

Since our upcoming retreat will be a family retreat and we’ll have kids present, we thought it would be fun this year to create a small optional activity that we could simply leave out on a table in the main gathering area that all ages could engage in, if they so chose.

As I was brainstorming a simple community activity, I came across a post in my Twitter feed from the Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico that offered inspiration:

The tweet that accompanied this picture said something along the lines of having folks there at Upaya fill out an enso with their aspiration for their own practice during the retreat. So I took this idea and tweaked it a bit.

I made a total of 70 enso’s on small multi-colored squares of paper, using a calligraphy brush and some tempera paints I had on hand. Then I made a sample one posted with instructions that I’ll leave on the table, along with markers and some oil pastels:

This wound up being great fun to do this morning :)

I contemplated whether to put out paints and brushes for people to make their own enso’s but decided with the number of people we have attending and so many kids that it would best to keep the activity less involved/potentially messy. My plan is to collect all of the well wishes created and string them together in a collage for display. So stay tuned to see the final product!

 

Solo Road Saunter

I’ve written before about the merits of not disobeying the call of the road when it summons thee. So this past weekend when it called, I went.

I’ve found that to satiate my “urge for going,” as Joni Mitchell once crafted into a song, I needn’t venture far. I live in Montana for pete’s sake, a truly uncompromisingly beautiful, wild state. And we’ve got a lotta land here, too. A person could spend lifetimes exploring here and never be able to see it all.

And not only do I not need to go far, I don’t need to spend a large swath of time either. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes venturing far and spending extended periods of time off and away from home is a lovely thing to do, but I’ve been finding that even weekend-long trips simply 2-4 hours from my doorstep are not only sufficient but immensely satisfying.

I wrote this on my writer’s Facebook page the night before setting out this past weekend:

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, I want to sleep under the stars in unfamiliar terrain. I want to wake up in a fresh locale and navigate my early morning rituals in a locale where no one knows me. I want to sit in a coffee shop in a small town and write unobstructed by the comfortable air of home.

And perhaps some of this allure has a little something to do with the fact that I know full well – as clear as the sound of a bell – that I grow little, if at all, unless I edge outside of my comfort zone.

So, this past weekend, I went here:

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Just Do It/Just Don’t

In my last post, I mentioned having recently gone on a short excursion to Portland with a friend of mine, to visit a mutual friend of ours. For three days and three nights, the three of us did pretty much everything together. It was really lovely.

During our first full day together, we stumbled upon a saying that wound up becoming our trip’s guiding mantra: Just do it…just don’t. It was spurred by a car sporting a Nike Just Do It bumper sticker. We were getting ready to enter a tunnel on our way to visit the coast, when a car hopped in front of us rather abruptly (ya know, the way cars often do) (oh, and we’ve all been that car too – just sayin), with their Just Do It sticker beaming proudly in close view. The dialog in our car then went something like this:

Geese, what is that guy doing?!

He’s “just doing it”, I guess.

(Pause)

Well, I think it should’ve been more like: “just don’t.”

We then proceeded to carry this interplay of Just Do It/Just Don’t into an array of occasions throughout the rest of our trip together. Some times it was jokingly and sometimes it had real meaning, while still in the spirit of lightness and fun. Turns out, there are a plethora of opportunities in which to bust these guiding life statements out.

There’s great wisdom in knowing when – and how – to invoke the dharma of Just Do It/Just Don’t. When we learn how to call on them in a suitable fashion that is appropriate to our own individual situation, with Right Attitude and Right Intention, we can actualize the fruits of the practice of Right Action.

There are times to Just Do It and there are times to Just Don’t. And there are no one-size-fits-all answers as to when to apply which one to which string of moments. This is why we must ongoingly cultivate a strong relationship with our own person. If we’re not able to tune into our own mental, emotional, and spiritual landscapes, we will have no clue as to when to use each part of the mantra, as only we our self can know which instance calls for which part.

If we’re not well-connected with our own person, we also run the risk of going the Just Do It route when really we would’ve been much better off having gone the Just Don’t route, or vice versa. There are plenty of times when we would do well to push ourselves a little bit outside of our comfort zone, too. In general, I think more of us have the tendency to say Just Don’t than Just Do It.

So, feel free to use our trip motto, if you like. And if you do, please let me know how it goes :)

Oysters, Alcohol, and Sugar (oh my)

Image: pic I took at Short Sand Beach on the Oregon coast, Feb. 2019 (feel free to use it, I don’t mind :)

Last weekend, a friend of mine and I hopped a plane to Portland, Oregon to visit a mutual friend. In the span of a short 90-minute flight, we were magically transported to a place whose winter looks much different than ours does, here in Montana.

I penned this in my journal in the early hours of our first morning there:

Intoxicated by the allure spurred on by showing up in an unfamiliar place amid terrain I’ve not spent time accommodating into my bones, I sip from the fountain of beginner’s mind with a heart full-throttle and open-choked, ready to greet whatever comes my way, with a smile.

I penned this in my journal on our last morning in Portland:

Just because you lean bar side and I lean zendo side, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. In fact, it may even mean we should be friends for just that very reason.

I don’t need all my peeps to give up meat and swear off alcohol and weed; we don’t even need to fully uphold the same values. Though if we are to kick it close enough for us to soak it up hot spring style sans suits in the woods, I’m not interested in spending time with those who don’t hold in high regard the same foundational bones as I do, such as: impeccable speech, deep listening, and a commitment to the finer things in life, like showing up in the world on purpose.

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Winter Saunter

Thankfully, I’m not easily intimidated by winter weather driving – I mean really, I have a Subaru for goodness sake, this is, in part, what they’re made for. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when it would be ill-advised to venture out, but I did not deem today to be one of those days.

Instead, I labeled today’s blustery conditions and smoke-machine-esque ice-marbled roads as a prime time to uphold my self-proclaimed status as a gal who enjoys pushing against the commonly held feminine norms, such as exists around: traveling solo, driving in inclement weather on sketchy roads, and eating out in public with only the company of a good book and writing supplies.

After an hour spent at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, I landed at the Dixon Mercantile, a place so delightfully quaint that I instantly felt right at home.

There’s something extremely satisfying and life-affirming in skirting collective modes of operation, such as heading north on a solo saunter on Sunday February 3rd in near white-out conditions, and living to tell the tale.

P.S If you live in the area or are ever in the area of western Montana, the Dixon Mercantile (in Dixon, MT) is only 40 miles from Missoula and they are almost solely only open on Sundays from 9-2 for brunch. The owner Laura is super great, the food was really good, and they make homemade fresh bread and pastries. Need I say more?

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Yesterday, I spent 5 uninterrupted hours writing, pretty well glued in the same spot the whole time with only the occasional tea making and bio break to incite bodily movement away from my keyboard. It was glorious.

Today, I road on up north, as any asphalt adventurer knows, it’s unwise to disobey the call of the open road when it summons thee. I followed tire tracks instead of painted lines and in an area thick with mountains, I managed to see none all the way to Arlee and then Dixon.

To be fair, I did consider not heading out on my drive-about prior to leaving the house, once I was confronted with the state of weather happening outside. But it was only about 2% of me that sat in question; the other 98% urged me eagerly onward ho.

Besides, I DID go to all the trouble of running a brush through my hair like two times before putting a winter hat on AND putting on cold-hardy clothes over the top of my pajamas. I was also well equipped with the essentials of winter travel: a fresh Contigo full of tea, my camera, writing supplies, a Subaru, and a good attitude.

And, I figured, one never grows familiar and accustomed to a thing, if said thing is never done.

Sometimes, what’s called for is to foster connection with members of my beloved tribe of humans, as I did last weekend. And sometimes, what’s called for is to bolster the relationship I have with myself, as I’ve been doing this weekend.

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Not A Pretty Girl

Inspired by an Ani Difranco song that I’ve refashioned and have been playing & singing lately on the guitar, here are some of the ways my “I am not a pretty girl, that is not what I do” expresses itself:

I wear the same basic outfit every day: brown pants/green shirt; my idea of hair care involves washing it 2-3 times a week (no cutting, styling, dying, or whatever else-ing most women tend to do); I wouldn’t know how to apply makeup even if I had it; the few pieces of jewelry I own were given to me by well-intentioned people who don’t know me well enough to know I will never wear it; when I’m in a bar to hear music, I’m the girl armed with a pocket notebook and pen jotting down observational notes; I own 3 pairs of shoes: crocs, snow boots, and motorcycle boots; I’m not interested in mirroring my moves on the dance floor so as to best maintain the reflection of a sex-object; and I am not beholden to self-validation and worth (as I was when I was young) through the ability to attract a guy (or 2 or 3 or 12) – I reserve that dignity to be procured from my own well of self.