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Category Archives: Growth Work

Rituals

Immensely inspired by a video interview I watched this morning, as part of a free Wellness Summit happening online right now, entitled: How to Set Yourself Free From Pain & Misery, with Dr. Sean Stephenson, I was called to craft this post focused on my own personal daily rituals.

In Dr. Stephenson’s interview, he said: I have 16 rituals and if I don’t do at least 4 of them every day, my insecurities will eat me alive.

He said a lot more that’s worth mentioning – I took over 5 pages of notes during the 60-minute video! – but there is much greater value for you, my friends, in watching it yourself (click on link above). It is one of the very best mindfulness-based talks I have ever seen.

So rather than using this post to relay all of my notes, I will instead focus on sharing my daily rituals, which isn’t new for me to do here on my blog but has perhaps been a little while since last I did.

 

Nicole’s DAILY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Waking up early enough to enjoy a period of time connecting with myself, amid the graces of quietude and slowness

Writing (if even only a little bit)

Sitting meditation

Gratitude practice (which I created myself and involves certain verses I say each morning, along with prostrations to the earth)

Saying a connection/gratitude verse before I eat each meal

Watering my seed of joy, with intentional skillful effort

Guarding well my sensory input (TV/films, music, books, magazines, conversations, social media, news…)

Resting (which for me typically comes in the form of taking a nap every day; even on the days I work, as soon as I get home around 4:00, the first thing I do is lay down to take a short nap before preparing dinner)

Maintain consistency with when I eat each meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Wake up at the same time every day (5:00am) and go to bed around the same time each night (between 9-10pm)

 

Nicole’s WEEKLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Attend sangha every Monday night

Participate in my self-crafted Mindful Morning Saturday practice

Watch a Dharma talk and/or mindfulness-based teaching video online

Spend time dancing and exercising

Devoting one morning (usually Sundays) to Lazy Morning practice

 

Nicole’s YEARLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Attend our two locally held and organized mindfulness retreats with my extended Montana sangha family

Prioritize solo sojourns

Spend extended, concentrated time on personal retreat (or amid other practice-related spells of personal quietude)

Attend local days of mindfulness and special practice events hosted by our sister sanghas as much as possible

 

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Fear of Ego

Sometimes, my fear of ego causes me to shirk back from what I have to offer, much to a detriment. For it’s helpful to no one when I dim my light.

To be clear: developing ego is NOT the same as shining our light. I must come to truly remember this, over and over again. Because I forget. Like, a lot.

There’s a great and powerful balance that can be cultivated. I can be confident and strong without being arrogant and overbearing. These are real elements that can coexist swimmingly together.

Still, my fear of ego often settles in next to me, whispering things like: If you do X, you know it’s going to make person X feel inferior and threatened and If you show up like this ______, you know someone is going to have something to say about it, and it won’t be pleasant.

The thing is: I’m tired of having to reel myself in in an attempt to mitigate another’s discomfort with their own self. I’m tired of dimming my light, pretending as though I’m nothing special. We’re all something special, for pete’s sake; each and every one of us. To deny this – to cover it up – is doing no one any good.

 

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Manjushri

We invoke your name, Manjushri. We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and openheartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.

– from the Plum Village Chanting & Recitation book

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3/12

There is similar language in this verse as there was in the last verse on Avalokiteshvara, but instead of saying “listen” it says “look.” This makes sense, as Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion and Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of Great Understanding. Compassion and understanding are closely related.

Perhaps to listen is with the heart and to look is with the mind. Both parts are necessary to create the whole picture of self, and to come into full relationship with the world.

It’s easy to regard these Bodhisattva verse teachings as pertaining to our actions relating to other people but it’s also important to apply these to our self. When I am able to look at myself with unprejudiced eyes and without judging or reacting, it is only then that I can truly offer those same curtesy’s to others.

How I treat myself inwardly translates directly to how I treat others externally. There is no separation.

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3/14

…the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. When I am in touch with nature of impermanence and selflessness (which is another way of saying: interbeing), which underpins all of life in every situation, then I am able to see and understand more clearly the roots of my own suffering. Most – if not all – suffering stems from seeing things/people/self as permanent/fixed in place and/or seeing things/people/self as being separate/disconnected entities.

How much time and energy do we expend in wishing that a particular moment was other than as it is?! Probably a lot.

Part of this verse involves a profound understanding of how everything is part of life – nothing and no one is separate. That goes for: bad days, inclement weather, feeling hurt by someone, stubbing our toe, anger, heartbreak, stress, a flat tire, that gal we don’t like who works at our grocery store, that politician we wish weren’t in office, and so on. Using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, involves cultivating the art of full acceptance of what is going on, verses getting caught in wishing things/people to be different to the extent that it causes us to fight against the reality of what’s unfolding around us.

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3/15

To understand deeply means to have insight penetrate through our surface knowings and our intellectual processing. Just as we must get out of our own way in order to listen deeply, we must do the same in order to look deeply.

We must get out of the way of our ego and limiting notions and social constructs of thought, in order to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people.

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Lessons in Non-duality

For those of you who haven’t read my most recent posts, you may be surprised to know that the picture above (taken yesterday) is of a person (me) who has been home sick for the past 7 days. I haven’t eaten a full meal and have only left the house to fetch the mail since last Friday. I have no appetite and am mostly bed bound, as sitting upright is taxing and uncomfortable after only a short period of time. I even did a short stint in the ER on Saturday, due to having a fever, weakness to the point of not being able to walk on my own, and belly pain.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I think this is a pretty good real-life example of what the heck the teachings of non-duality are all about.

It’s easy to look at this pic of me and think I look totally healthy and without cause for hardship. It’s easy to look at this pic and be totally surprised to find out that I’m barely able to get out of bed. We all get caught in dualistic thinking on the daily. Meaning, we don’t think two things can operate at the same time. Things either have to be this way OR that way. That’s what dualistic thinking is all about.

Non-dualistic thinking, on the other hand, involves being able to hold two seemingly opposing realities at the same time, allowing them to co-exist together as two parts of the same reality.

In this case, being able to accept and rest in a state of non-duality equates to seeing that both of these things are true: I am sick and not feeling physically well AND I’m able to smile brightly and keep a positive outlook and attitude. I am both sick and happy at the same time!

The more able we are to sit with ease in relation to life’s many paradoxes, the more content we will be as a result. The more we fight against them or attempt to figure them out intellectually, the more we will suffer.

It’s like two of my very favorite teachings say:

 

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Q & A Writing Prompt

As a Dharma-teacher-in-training, one of my weaknesses is knowing that I would not be much good at fielding Q & A sessions on the fly. I am not a quick thinker. I am a percolator. I need time to process – that’s why I’m a writer!

But as Q & A’s have a way of making their way into our retreat formats, I reckon I should muster up some skill in this regard. And by the way, it doesn’t help at all that for the most part, I tend to personally dislike Q & A sessions in general, simply as a member of the audience. So I see that my weakness on this front is operating at a further disadvantage because in truth, I have little interest in getting any better at it.

I’ve born witness to many a Q & A session while on retreats and it’s been rare that I’ve seen a truly well-crafted question being asked. And by well-crafted, I mean a question that isn’t looking for a quick-fix/straight-forward/tell-me-what-to-do-here sort of answer. No teacher can answer properly the sort of questions most people tend to ask. And by properly I mean in a way that the question asker feels a sense of satisfaction when all is said and done. It seems to me that the best hope one has as a teacher fielding the questions, is the chance to possibly benefit someone else in the audience with what they have to say. My sense is that Zen-based answers leave little to be desired for the people directly asking the questions.

Once in a while, a good question is presented. One that will benefit the whole of the community and isn’t vying for an answer to a question that only you yourself can unfold as you continue on the path of practice. Most questions simply speak to the newness of the practitioner doing the asking. I don’t mean to give new folks a hard time – and I’ve heard equally answerless-questions offered up by people who’ve been in the practice for a while, too – but I do wonder about the necessity of Q & A sessions during our retreats and how much benefit they offer our community.

It makes sense that new practitioners would have questions. But I think especially when we’re starting out, it might be better to simply invest our time and energy into doing the practice, verses talking about it.

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Posted by on March 14, 2019 in Growth Work

 

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Poetry About Dogs

Calligraphy by my friend Jennifer Baylis; verse by me. The full verse is: There is no such thing as an insignificant moment.

I was hoping it was some kind of coy euphemism, when I rolled up to part three in Mary Oliver’s Devotions, entitled: Dog Songs. Turns out, it was just as I’d feared. This section of the book includes 10 poems about dogs.

Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. Anyone who knows me well, knows that even if I were bleeding to death on the street, I’d pause my demise to give affection to a passing four-legged friend. I guess what I’m saying, though, is that there’s a difference between loving dogs and reading poems about them. I mean, I love cats, but I draw the line at collecting kitschy cat figurines or hanging up a calendar featuring kittens in baskets. I love Ani Difranco too, but I wouldn’t put her picture on my fridge. You get the idea.

But I find value in asking myself why.

Why do dog poems cause me to bristle? And while I’m at it, what do I have against cat figurines or cat calendars? If I were to walk into a friend’s house and find a picture of Ani D on their fridge, what then?

Judgements creep in and perfume my consciousness with righteousness sometimes, and it’s a scent I do not find pleasant.

Yet, to be without judgements I reckon is impossible.

So, the best I can aspire to is to keep a close and curious watch on myself, and to breathe into the folds of what arises, in the wake of what I see.

 

 

 

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Chronicles of a Sick Person

Facebook Posts:

3/8:
With a 100.5 degree fever and feeling as though I’ve been run over by a truck, I’m athinking my planned solo saunter to JJ Hot Springs to celebrate Mike and I’s anniversary tomorrow is out. What can I say? Sickness happens. It’s part of life.

And now, please excuse me while I return to bed to languish. Alas, I fear that death is near. Go on without me!

3/9:
Okay. Well. It would’ve been a lovely day to go to the hot springs today as I’d planned, to celebrate Mike & I’s anniversary – the sun is shining and the sky is blue here in Missoula. But I am still super sick – though my fever has come down a bit, which is nice. While I’m bummed my plans were thwarted, let’s be real, is it ever a “good” time to get sick?

3/9:
Sick person cave checklist:

– Multiple blankets and pillows for managing my hot & cold flashes and shifting comfort levels associated with everything hurting: check!
– Heating pad and heating blanket: check!
– Can of ginger ale within arm’s reach: check!
– Thermometer: check!
– Handkerchief: check!
– Laptop with Netflix: check!
– Bottles of water (even though thus far they’ve gone untouched, because for some reason water sounds horrible to drink right now): check!
– Curtains drawn to keep out the light (because I have pronounced light sensitivity): check!
– Bag of Halls: check!
– A still pretty good attitude: check!
– A cat that is part super great (see pic below) and part super not, depending on the moment at hand: check!

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