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Category Archives: Growth Work

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 :)

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On Mental & Emotional Health

I am becoming more and more invested in furthering the dialog that this meme speaks to, as I feel it is a vital component of our well-being and one that is highly undervalued and overlooked in our collective society, to a sometimes tragic and devastating detriment to our fellow human beings.

I recently watched two different interviews with psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson – one as part of the online World Mindfulness Parenting Summit and one as part of the online Mindful Kids Peace Summit. In both occasions, he spoke about our three basic needs: safety, satisfaction, and connection. He explained that safety is associated with our reptilian brain-stem; satisfaction with our mammalian sub-cortex portion of the brain; and connection with our primate/human neo-cortex portion of the brain. In terms of safety, we look towards avoiding harm. In terms of satisfaction, we look towards approaching rewards. And in terms of connection, we look towards attaching to others.

He goes on to say that when our basic needs are not met, we then enter what he calls the red zone, which involves fight, flight, or freeze mode. However, when we build up our core of resilient well-being, we will be able to weather an increasing array of external stimuli without destabilizing ourselves. He said: You can use your mind to change your brain. He also said: No one can stop you (from doing this work) AND no one can do it for you.

There’s a reason that Buddhism focuses on training and strengthening the mind. It is the seat of working and active power when it comes to how we view, engage, interact, process, and digest the world around us and the people and experiences we encounter. As the Buddha taught:

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I Think We’ve Got It Backwards

Okay. So, what I’m about to post here has taken me almost a year to flesh out and wrap my brain around. Here goes.

In our Buddhist practice tradition, we have this teaching: This is because that is. Short-handing it, it means: Everything happens for a reason, based on a myriad of causes and conditions. On a similar note, I see as though we have two large components of life backwards, and one leads to the other.

The first thing we commonly have backwards:

A) We often see and regard ourselves as being separate/independent/unique in times when we would do well to strengthen our ability to look with the eyes of interbeing and get in touch with our similarities, shared humanity, and true sense of connection.

and

B) We often see and regard ourselves as being the same in times when we would do well to cultivate a deeper understanding of our individuality.

___________

And because of this first thing we commonly have backwards, it leads to this second thing we commonly have backwards:

C) We try to lone-wolf it in times when we would do well to lean on our loved ones for care, support, and nourishment.

and

D) We rely on others in times when we would do well to cultivate and/or strengthen our sovereignty.

__________

So, D is because of B and C is because of A. This is because that is.

I realize this might be confusing, like I said: it’s taken me a year to flesh this out. Here are some practical examples that will hopefully help a bit (with corresponding letters that match with the points above):

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Right &…Regular? (part 2 of 2)

Image credit: I copied this from a talk I watched on Youtube by Sister Dieu Nghiem; she included this chart on a whiteboard. 

In continuance of the thread I started in part 1 of this post topic, I wanted to share a little bit more about right and regular.

Sister Dieu Nghiem mapped out this chart (image above) in a talk she gave back in October at Plum Village. Simply put, this chart represents the equation of what it means to have and develop right diligence. Right diligence involves: not watering the unwholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, stopping to water the unwholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation (or active state of mind), watering the wholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, and continuing to water the wholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation.

So, what then is regular diligence? Let’s say that someone has been meditating for a long time – we’ll say 5 years. And for those 5 years, they’ve been sitting every single day in the morning for 20-minutes. This equates to this person having sat a total of 36,500 minutes in meditation. However, despite the fact that they’ve been diligent in sitting every day for 20-minutes, they don’t really feel as though they’ve benefited very much at all from their practice (and neither do their loved ones, by the way). They are still just as restless, agitated, stressed out, overwhelmed at work, and short-tempered with their partner as they were when they were driven to starting a daily habit of meditation in the first place, 5 years ago. Yes, this person has been diligent in sitting but we couldn’t – and shouldn’t – consider this to be right diligence because it hasn’t increased this person’s ability to transform and heal.

As a recap from part 1: I recently watched a talk by Sister Dieu Nghiem on Youtube and she described wholesome habit energies as leading us in the direction of transformation and healing and unwholesome habit energies as that which leads us in the direction of suffering. And I think this explanation applies here, with the word wholesome equating to the word right. So we could say that right stands in accordance with a thought/word/action that propels us in the direction of transformation and healing.

In the Discourse on Youth and Happiness, it states:

Beings produce wrong perceptions concerning objects of desire. That is why they are caught in desire. Because they do not know what desire really is.

For our purposes here, I would translate this as there being an important difference between regular desire and right desire. In consulting with my old pal dictionary.com, desire is defined as such: to wish or long for; crave; want. In our current and modern time, I would define regular desire as incorporating the energetic components of craving, grasping, and attachment and right desire as incorporating such things as being realistically driven by determined will and being governed and propelled into action by a sovereign foundation rooted in solidity and ease. I regard right desire as enfolding the premise of what this meme offers, which I recently shared in a post a few days ago and is serving as my newly held encouraging anthem:

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Moral Landscape

A few weeks ago, my husband Mike and I were talking about morality and ethical codes of conduct. He described himself as being morally ambiguous and described me as being puritanical – but when I scrunched up my face in disapproval, he adjusted his word choice from puritanical to wholesome, which I was much more on board with.

He spoke about how his lines of morality differ than mine, which he felt was largely due to the fact that he’s a recovering addict and can traverse slippery slopes rather adeptly. He has the ability to rationalize to himself a wealth of tricky thoughts, which then lead to unwholesome, harmful actions. And while we all potentially have this capacity, I am not personally a frequent flyer – or even much of a visitor at all – of the slippery slope. I have and uphold very clear lines of distinction between what I feel is moral and what isn’t. My moral landscape is steadfast and relatively unwavering. This isn’t to say I don’t make mistakes of course, but more to say that my ethical compass is always close at hand and keeps me pointed in the direction of thinking, speaking, and acting in such a way that generates authenticity, skillfulness, and mutual benefit for myself and others.

Since we had this conversation, I’ve been mulling over the topic of ethics and values and moral codes of conduct. Both on an individual level and on a wider collective level. Mostly, I’ve been investigating this topic by asking myself questions, such as: What does it mean to have a high moral standard? What collective values does our western society promote (DOES it actively promote values?)? Is there/can there be a universal set of ethics which will ensure a healthy, happy, well-contented life? Is there such a thing as right and wrong when it comes to ethics and values?

Most people would readily agree that killing a human being just for the “fun” of it is wrong. But what about animals? There are folks out there who are just fine with killing animals for sport. Most people would probably say that lying isn’t cool, however most people do it. There are a sea of rationalizations that people use for telling white lies, bending the truth, hiding and deceiving others, or even telling outright untruths. Most of us would probably agree that adultery isn’t kosher, but many folks skirt lines of improper attention seeking and sexual behavior. The list goes on and on.

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Discerning vs. Snobbish

A week or so ago, an interaction I had with a friend got me to thinking about the important difference between being discerning and being a snob. And there is a difference.

Here’s how the basic interaction went down:

Me (responding to a different friend who was making communal pots of tea, who asked what kind of tea I like to drink): Well, I drink mostly green tea, but no need to make any just for me, I brought my own.

Friend (standing nearby in ear shot): You brought you own huh?

Me: Yeah, I found this great loose leaf green tea online that I order from Ten Tea and I really like it. So I decided to bring it along with me today.

Friend (playfully stated): Oh, so you’re a tea snob?

Me: Well, no. I would say that I am discerning.

Friend (again, playfully stated): Oh, is that how you rationalize it?

Me: Well, no. I don’t think being discerning and being a snob are the same thing.

Words matter. And the words ‘discerning’ and ‘snob’ are not synonymous or interchangeable. It’s not the action that matters nearly as much as the motivation and energy behind it. It’s not the what, it’s the why.

On dictionary.com, it defines the word ‘discerning’ as: showing good or outstanding judgment and understanding. And it defines the word ‘snob’ as: a person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires social superiors and is condescending or overbearing to others.

Nope. Definitely not the same thing.

Let’s unpack this a little bit more.

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Whether I Like It Or Not

I am currently doing the work of reconciling with the uncomfortable truth that many people are intimidated by how I show up. And many people misperceive what I do and say, based on their own insecurities and baggage.

I am doing the work of bearing the fruits of understanding that I am different in many ways from most of the people I am acquainted with.

My devotion to a spiritual path differentiates me from most people. My commitment to cultivating skillfulness is relatively unsurpassed by those most commonly in my midst. My values, ethics, and codes of conduct are more honed and far less wavering. And it all creates a divide, whether I like it or not.

I am challenged with how to express this to the people in my circle, as I imagine most would hear this and think that I am full of myself, but that is not what’s going on here.

Simply stated, I am now coming to terms with the reality I feared unfolding a few years ago, when I stepped on the path of making a conscious effort to stop dimming my light – I am outshining others and finding that I am in a league of my own.

_______

Food for personal thought:

Maybe it’s not that I need to find others who can keep up with me, maybe it’s that I need to be more accepting of the fact that I am leading the way.

What do I see as the difference between self-confidence and ego?

What do I see as the difference between being self-possessed vs being cocky?

 

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