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Category Archives: Mindfulness Instruction

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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Morning Verse

Just before I awoke this morning, at 4:49am – 13-minutes before my alarm was set to sound – I remember these words clearly entering my dreamscape: It’s a good thing happiness isn’t waiting for you in the future; it’s waiting for you right now!

When my eyes popped up, a smile alighted my face and I recited this morning verse:

Waking up, I greet the new day with a smile.
May I engage with openness, kindness, and gratitude on my path of practice today.

 

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Masks

Last night, I attended our First Friday art walk downtown, where a plethora of coffee shops, stores, and offices host showings of local artists work, which takes place on the first Friday of every month. One installment especially stood out to me at the Dana Gallery, where a series of masks were on display that had been made by young people of all ages residing at the Watson’s Children’s Shelter here in town. Accompanying each mask was a one-line description and the age and gender of the person who’d crafted it. Here are the ones I jotted down on location:

“My masks show that people only see part of who I really am. If people saw all of me they wouldn’t want to be friends with me.”         13-year-old girl

“My mask is a unicorn, crying rainbows.” 9-year-old girl

“My mask is wearing a mask. It says you can’t trust people even if they say you can.” 14-year-old boy

“My mask is crying rainbows because I’m supposed to be happy, but I’m sad.” 4-year-old boy

“My mask only covers my eyes. I don’t think people should cover up who they are.” 12-year-old girl

“My mask is a superhero. I wish I had superhero powers so I could protect people.” 10-year-old boy

“I don’t want to talk about my mask.” 3-year-old girl

“My mask has blood on it. And the black is meth and drugs.” 9-year-old boy

I thought the premise of these masks paired well with a meme I came across yesterday on twitter (pictured above).

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3:36am Revelation

 

I’ve found that revelations are something that need to happen over and over and over – and over and over again. They aren’t a one time deal. We like to think revelations are a one time deal – that all it takes is one moment of clarity or realization or spark of insight and huzzah!, we’ll forever enfold that particular tid bit into our consciousness and put it into active play in our lives forever more. But that is decidedly not how it works.

I woke up around 3am today, earlier than usual, though my usual has been on the shift ever since coming back from retreat at Deer Park Monastery in January. At 3:36am, I penned this in my journal:

I have the delightful challenge of being someone who loves to organize events and also someone who loves doing things around town in a variety of fashions. The challenging part comes from there only being so much time in the span of a day. And the challenge also comes from having to rein myself in from time to time – like, say, nowish for instance. I have a plethora of events, meetings, and scheduled items on my calendar from now through June – and each one is something I want to be doing with my time. But aye, there’s the rub! That’s how it happens: exhaustion, running over-heated from moment to moment. I’m also aware of how the ability to be fully present greatly aids in the endeavor of not running out of steam. I can expend A LOT of energy – needlessly – by keeping my to-do list operating in the backdrop of my mental landscape. So the more I am fully present with whatever it is I’m doing, the more energy I have to devote into being able to do the things I enjoy and having it be sustainable, verses depleting. Gosh I love writing, it allows me cut right to the chase of things!

My 3:36am revelation can be solidified in a quote I just came across yesterday on twitter:

Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom.

— Henepola Gunaratana

Developing the power of presence – uniting the mind and the body together; not getting lost in thoughts about the past or the future or worries in the present – allows us to preserve our energy and invest it in other more productive ways. Mindfulness, when practiced diligently, has the capacity to give us more time. It can teach us how to reallocate our energy so that we are continually re-fueling and nourishing ourselves amid the seas and swells of life’s happenings, instead of getting burnt out, stressed out, and overwhelmed.

I’m someone who talks to herself a lot throughout the day. I even give myself advice – and it’s usually really good advice too, by the way. Lately I’ve been reminding myself: Okay Nicole, now look. You have taken on a lot of stuff again. You should really slow your roll and stop agreeing to do stuff and saying yes to organizing and attending events. You have a lot coming up. And then I counter myself by saying: I know, I know. But…it’s all great stuff! There’s so much great stuff to do and stuff I want to do and…. And so it goes.

What I’m rediscovering though – re-revelating, if you will – is that while it’s true that I have a lot of plans and events and meetings and things I’m organizing and attending coming up, it’s actually not too much. While I’ve been feeling the pull of my schedule and judging it to be too much, it’s actually more a matter of my mental gears running in the background that’s making it seem like too much, when it reality it isn’t. It’s an “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” sort of scenario – only in the reverse.

We all have a wealth of stuff going on – that’s life. And it’s often not that we need to DO less, it’s that we need to practice THINKING less, PROCESSING less, WORRYING less, STRESSING less. Mindfulness can give us the tools we need to keep doing all the things we enjoy doing, all the things we choose to prioritize in our daily/weekly/monthly/yearly schedule by saving the mental energy we so uselessly expend on matters that are either outside of our influence or simply a complete and total waste of time. I can drain my energy battery hella quick simply by over-thinking about what I have coming up and all the things I need to do tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

So, my newly forming dialog with myself is looking something like this: Okay Nicole. You have a lot of great stuff coming up, isn’t that delightful?! But right now you’re ______ (fill in the blank: eating, driving, writing, sipping tea…), so how about you just be all in right where you are with what you’re doing. And then I’m all like: Good call, Nicole. Good call.

Be Here Now as a working life motto is not just about the physicality of your presence. Be Here Now means to be wherever you are mentally and emotionally, too. It means to be all in with your whole being. Whether I’m working on managing logistics for our upcoming spring family retreat at the end of the month, arranging a public talk for our visiting Dharma teacher, working on PR materials for my friend Jeff and I to land gigs together around town, working on an article or bit of writing for one thing or another, running a meeting, or attending a conference, the energy of mindfulness is one that can travel into any and all situations. And thank goodness for that!

Mindfulness helps me to keep my feet well-grounded. It helps me to generate the qualities of ease and joy and deep connection from moment to ever-changing moment. Mindfulness enables me to live a good life. And it reminds me, over and over and over again, to keep coming back to the very here and now – the only place life is truly available.

 

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For the New Year

The last couple of years, I’ve taken to following the example of a few mindfulness teachers that I follow online, who come up with some guidance to offer for the upcoming year. I figured since we were entering 2018, I’d come up with 8 practice points to usher us into the new year (see pic above).

I’ve written in the past about how I’m not a big fan of making new year’s resolutions, but what I do like to do is come up with 1, 2, or 3 new ways of engaging with my mindfulness practice. My favorite one over this past year was to stay in the bathroom while brushing my teeth, instead of wandering around the house multi-tasking, with the toothbrush comically protruding from my mouth while I proceeded to do a wealth of other things that had no business being done while brushing one’s teeth. So I enacted a “stay put” clause, whenever I set to brushing. It took me a little while to develop the new habit, but I’m happy to report that it’s going splendidly :)

I’ve been mulling around possibilities for 2018 and what new mindfulness exercises I might add to my tool belt, but so far I haven’t landed on exactly what I’ll include in my daily/weekly routine. I’d like to have one I can enfold into driving, as that is often where I need the most practice in patience and understanding. I have a number of things I do already when behind the wheel, but I really appreciate developing fresh approaches and new mindfulness techniques, as it keeps my practice from growing stale and/or too routine. I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, may the above list of 8 practice points be of service to you on the path of cultivating more joy, ease, and a true sense of connection.

To read the Five Mindfulness Trainings, click here.

 

 

 

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Awkward & Uncomfortable

The more we practice to observe, accept, and embrace discomfort, the more grounded, connected, understanding, and resilient we can become as a result. Grounded in the present moment; connected to our breath and body; understanding of our own inner and outer landscapes; and resilient amid the swells of change.

As soon as we’re born, we start acting out when we’re confronted with discomfort – and for the first few months it serves a crucial function. We cry and carry on in order to communicate that we’re hungry or tired or cold or that our diaper needs changing. But it seems this sets the stage for a lifetime of detrimental behaviors accrued for the sole purpose of avoiding or managing discomfort. We would do well as parents, family members, and caretakers of young children to work on not over-manicuring the environment and experiences of our little ones. As soon as a baby starts to develop other ways of communicating – which doesn’t take long, just a few months – we can start teaching skills of mindful speech and deep listening, tools for self-care, and coping mechanisms for weathering physical and emotional discomfort. The more meticulously we try to groom the lives of our young children, attempting to keep at bay any modicum of discomfort, the more we rob them of the opportunity to practice training in the art of building strong and healthy relationships with themselves in the present moment.

We are not taught how to interact with discomfort. We are only taught how to avoid it or cover it up. I believe that most, maybe even all, detrimental/unskillful behaviors have a root embedded in a strong desire to get out of feelings of discomfort as soon as possible, and by any means necessary. We may look to numb those feelings with drugs or alcohol; or cover them up by over-working or over-eating or over-shopping or cramming our schedule with things to keep us occupied and exhausted. We may look to sex and love as an escape; we may use Netflix or TV or gaming or pornography, the list goes on and on.

The more uncomfortable we are, the more distracted we become. And this cycle perpetuates itself. So the more we give into distraction tendencies, the more uncomfortable we find ourselves. To break this cycle we need tools and practices to lean on and utilize throughout the day. So, where do we start? Here’s what I suggest, based on my own experience of what I’ve found helpful for myself: Notice when discomfort arises, ask yourself whether it’s time to step into that particular discomfort or not, and then proceed to make a plan of action based on whatever you decide.

In order to expand our capacity for skillfully tending to feelings of discomfort, we have to first be able to recognize them when they come up. As you’re going about your day, practice to pay special attention to when you start feeling “off” or fidgety, as often this can indicate such feelings of discomfort or awkwardness. Notice how often you whip out your smartphone when you don’t really need to or when you use it to avoid doing something else more important. Identify the common and frequent triggers that cause you to feel awkward or uncomfortable or self-conscious (which involves feeling as though OTHERS are looking at/judging/critiquing you). Some common causes of discomfort are: when we’re in larger social situations, when we’re by our self somewhere out in public, when we’re not in control, when we don’t feel skilled at something, or when we experience lag time or moments of quiet/silence/inactivity.

Once we know when it is we are experiencing feelings of discomfort we can then ask ourselves this important question: Is this a moment to practice stepping into it? Allow this question to settle into your body, as this will enable you to get in touch with the clearest, least obstructed answer, verses your habitual tendency to say: Nope, this isn’t the time, I’m getting the heck out of here! It’s important to know that we all generally know what to do when it comes to matters of uncertainty in our lives. The trouble is we’re either too disconnected from being able to listen well to our inherent wisdom and/or we simply don’t want to do what our inner voice is telling us to do. It’s also important to understand that every situation is different. Whereas one day we might feel ready to step into, let’s say, a social gathering where we know very few people, the next day, when the same situation presents itself, we might not. That’s normal and super okay. What’s helpful to us here is that we’re actively engaging with what’s going on and we’re making a conscious and informed decision about what to do.

So, if we decide that yes, this is a time to practice stepping into discomfort then we would do well to start with small steps in this regard. For example: If we feel uncomfortable going by ourselves to certain things then we might try flying solo to a movie that we’re wanting to see – but we might also bring along our smartphone or a book to help keep us company. One thing at a time! Or if we’re more uncomfortable when hanging out with others and more prefer to go unaccompanied to things, then we can try reaching out to a friend or two and invite them to come along with us. Or maybe we find ourselves standing in a line at the grocery store and feelings of discomfort arise and in that moment we make the decision not to reach for our phone to check our texts/emails/facebook in order to occupy our time – our practice in that moment can be to simply not take out our phones. Any time we go against the grain of our less than helpful habit energies is a victory, in terms of strengthening the energy of mindfulness. So try not to underestimate the movement and progress you make when it comes to taking small steps to accept and embrace, and not run away from, feelings of discomfort.

And if we decide that no, this is not a time I choose to step into discomfort then we would do well to practice fully allowing that decision to take affect and not second guess ourselves or give ourselves a hard time about it. There will be times to step into discomfort and times not to, for a variety of reasons. So make peace with that. And maybe, if you’re up for it, you can make an agreement with yourself to work up to something in the near future, when it comes to a particular aversion you have that brings up a lot of discomfort.

Start with small, relatively easy things and then work your way up to larger things. If we attempt to take on super big matters of discomfort before training with smaller situations, we are likely to find that we do more harm than good to ourselves in this undertaking. So set yourself up for success and start small.

Utilizing moments of discomfort can be a tool to help us cultivate our mindfulness practice and build resilience. The smaller our comfort zone is, the more we suffer when things and people don’t adhere to how we think they should be (which, let’s face it, is most of the time). And, in turn, the wider we can extend our comfort zone, the happier and more at ease we’ll be in a variety of situations. So get your practice on!

You might discover, like I did, that it’s a game changer.

 

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Gadzukes, I’ve Started a Podcast!

Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve been thinking about, talking with others more knowledgeable, and looking up how-to articles online for the past year and a half or so, in regards to starting up a podcast, and now it seems I’ve plunged into the waters of podcasting and am attempting to figure out how to swim.

My podcast description is as follows:

Writings & ramblings & spoken word, oh my! – of hopefully inspiring and/or humor-filled content – on the subject of being InMindfulMotion.

If you’re into listening to podcasts, I would be most grateful for your support:

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/in-mindful-motion-podcast?refid=stpr

 

 

 

 

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