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Category Archives: Mindfulness Instruction

On Sovereignty

The definition on dictionary.com for the word sovereignty is as follows:

  • the quality or state of being sovereign, or of having supreme power or authority.
  • the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royal rank or position; royalty.
  • supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.

However, in regards to sovereignty as it pertains to a quality we can develop and strengthen in our daily life, which can help to bolster our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, this textbook definition is not so helpful.

For my purposes, I would define it as: the state of relaxing with solidity and ease, into all the parts of who we are.

My husband Mike and I are slated to give a joint talk at our meditation group, Be Here Now, tomorrow night. The title and topic of our talk is: cultivating sovereignty. Aware that this word is not common in our collective vernacular (here in the U.S anyway), we will start off by sharing each of our own working definitions that we’ve come up with. His is as follows: freedom and liberation from being governed by unskillful habit energies.

Sovereignty involves being able to carry our true home with us everywhere we go. While we will of course still experience difficult situations and the full gamut of human emotions, when the quality of sovereignty is strong within us, we will be able to maintain our calm and clear center, without getting uprooted by the winds that blow around us.

Sovereignty is akin to a tree. A tree trunk is upright, solid, and grounded (solidity). Its branches, however, go with the flow and bend in the wind and its leaves change, shed, and regrow with the turning of seasons (ease).

After offering my working definition, I plan on giving a couple of personal examples (see below) of how this quality has shown up for me in the last few months, to hopefully help give some context and illustrate how sovereignty can be a beneficial quality to invest our time and energy into. I mean, it’s all fine and well to teach about cultivating certain qualities and states of being, but I think it’s important to also speak to the why as well. Whether I want to speak about cultivating mindfulness, joy, a sitting meditation practice, sovereignty, or any other number of things, it’s good to offer at least a brief reference as to the potential benefits that watering these seeds can have on our everyday lives.

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Don’t Bite the Hook

On my recent road trip, in addition to all of the music I enjoyed listening to while driving, I brought along a set of CD’s I borrowed from our mindfulness center’s library: a 3-disc series of talks by Pema Chodron called Don’t Bite the Hook.

Here’s a description I found online:

Life has a way of provoking us with traffic jams and computer malfunctions, with emotionally distant partners and crying children—and before we know it, we’re upset. We feel terrible, and then we end up saying and doing things that only make matters worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Pema Chödrön. It is possible to relate constructively to the inevitable shocks, losses, and frustrations of life so that we can find true happiness. The key, Pema explains, is not biting the “hook” of our habitual responses. In this recorded weekend retreat, Pema draws on Buddhist teachings from The Way of the Bodhisattva to reveal how we can:

• stay centered in the midst of difficulty
• improve stressful relationships
• step out of the downward spiral of self-hatred
• awaken compassion for ourselves and others

I can’t say enough good things about this series. It was so chock full of insight and wisdom that I found I could only listen in 15-20 minute segments which fortunately, with how this series is set up, is very easy to do.

Here are some things I penned down whilst driving and listening (note: if it has quotation marks around it, then it’s something she said verbatim – if it doesn’t, it’s something I paraphrased, infusing my own understanding/practice into what I heard):

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Five Remembrances

This morning, during my sitting meditation session, I devoted my practice to connecting with the Five Remembrances. The original Five Remembrances come from a Buddhist sutra, for which the English translation is entitled: Subjects for Contemplation. The above translation, of which I’m most familiar with, is from my root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.

According to Wikipedia, which I think is well said: According to this discourse, contemplation of these facts leads to the abandonment of destructive attachments and actions and to the cultivation of factors necessary for awakening.

If feelings of sorrow, overwhelm, upset, or aversion arise upon reading the Five Remembrances, it indicates that only a surface level view is being encountered. If we think these are a downer, we have not yet penetrated them deeply enough to benefit from the levels of insight from which they manifest.

As a collective assembly of people, we are societally groomed to avoid these inherent realities as being part of our human experience. In doing so, we are limiting our ability to be – and stay – in conscious contact and communication with the preciousness of life. We take things, people, places, experiences, and life itself, for granted.

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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

___________

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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