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Category Archives: Special Events

Sorrow

Last Saturday, as part of a show I helped to put together called Word of Mouth, I shared a newish spoken word piece I wrote this past spring, entitled: Sorrow. There’s a chance I’ve already posted it here on my blog somewhere – but I did a quick search and didn’t see it, so I’m a-thinking perhaps not.

This particular piece sums up rather well the past year for me, in terms of some deeper inner work I’ve been doing. It was only the second time I’d shared it publicly – the first time being out of town at a spoken word gig I had up north in Kalispell in June. It felt fitting to share it with my home crew last Saturday. I’d like to share it here with all of you, as well. Here goes.

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Words Matter

It’s been quite the week.

A week I could (and did) summarize by the title of this post: Words matter.

At the start of the week on Monday, we had an especially lovely evening at our local sangha, Be Here Now. It was one of those nights where the sharing was really genuine and heartfelt, we had a large group (over 30 people), and we had someone join us who’d just moved to town and was so grateful for having found our group and to feel so welcomed and right at home with us.

On Tuesday, I attended a forum on hate crimes on the UM campus (see previous post).

On Thursday, I attended a public talk on campus given by Christian Picciolini, founder of the Free Radicals Project and author of White American Youth: My Descent Into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement – and How I Got Out.

Unlike the Hate Crimes Forum I attended on Tuesday night, the seats were well-packed. While there were a mixture of ages in the audience, UM students occupied the largest demographic and I took great pleasure in being surrounded by 7 others in my close proximity who donned notebooks on their laps in lieu of cell phones.

And last night, I helped organize an event called Word of Mouth at our local Roxy theater here in Missoula. An evening which celebrated the art of creative self-expression through wordsmithing. We had 3 spoken word poets (myself included), 3 storytellers, and 3 standup comics take the stage, each with 10-minutes, for a 2-hour show that was simply fantastic. The show started at 7:00 and by 6:30 all 119 seats were sold out. Dozens of folks were turned away at the door – which speaks to me of the great need for continuing to offer these types of events.

Collage pic of all the WOM performers in the show last night

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UM Hate Crimes Forum

Last night, I attended a forum on the University of Montana campus, as part of an annual event called DiverseU. It was a forum on hate crimes and there were three sets of panelists, totaling 12 speakers all together. Unfortunately, I don’t think they advertised it very well, as there was relatively poor attendance. There were maybe 75-100 of us to start off, scattered out around 400 chairs or so. After the first panel was done, over half of the people left. By the time the third panel started – running well behind schedule and beginning their session at 9:00pm, when the event was set to end – only about a dozen of us were left to give them our sleepy-eyed but undivided attention.

Who knows. Maybe they did advertise it well and people just weren’t drawn to the topic, knowing full well that it would be a hard evening to endure. For me personally, there are some things I am willing and glad to do even when I have something else scheduled that requires cancelling; even when I’m tired; even when I’d prefer to haul up at home; even when I know my heart will ache deeply in unison with the people when I go. This forum was one such occasion.

As a spiritual leader in a Buddhist community, I want the people who come through our doors to feel welcome, safe, cared for, supported, loved, and accepted. And anything I can do to better educate myself and expand my understanding and compassion, the better.

Here are some notes I scribed down last night:

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Courage To Heal

For the last few years, I’ve been honored to participate in Unity of Missoula’s Day of Prayer interfaith service. The service is tonight and I will be speaking on behalf of our Buddhist sanghas, as part of our spiritual leadership team.

A short snippet about Unity:

Unity Worldwide Ministries is a worldwide network of ministries, ministers, licensed teachers and individuals providing practical teachings to help people live healthy, prosperous and meaningful lives. Unity is a positive path for spiritual living. We teach the effective daily application of the principles of Truth taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ.

Here’s what I plan on saying, based on Unity’s theme this year, which is: Courage to Heal and their affirmation of: I am a healing presence.

Prior to watching the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor just last night, I had planned on talking about the unification of mind and body in the present moment, and how dispersing our energy into thoughts about the past or worries about the future greatly reduces our ability to be a healing presence in the world. But at 9:00pm last night, after I watched this remarkable documentary, I decided to go in a different direction.

I’d like to start with a 1-minute exercise that Fred Rogers liked to do with people – I’d like us all to reflect on someone who has helped us along the way. So let us take 1-minute right now to do this in silence.

(One minute of silence, followed by a sound of the bell)

We all have people who have helped us along the way. People who, as Fred was shown saying at the end of the film during a commencement speech, have: “smiled us into smiling, talked us into talking, sang us into singing, or loved us into loving.”

To help is to heal. To help is to love. And each of us has the capacity to foster a healing presence in the world. It’s imperative to the well being of humanity that we not shrink away from or underestimate our ancestral bestowment, which is the power to help, heal, and love: ourselves, our friends and family, our co-workers, our neighbors, all beings who cross our path, and the earth.

Every morning, I start my day with 30 minutes of silent sitting meditation, followed by a gratitude practice that I’ve come up with on my own, using certain elements of our Buddhist tradition, which includes 3 prostrations to the earth, down on the ground, and one final standing bow. With the first prostration I say the same thing each morning: I bow down to the earth in gratitude for this one precious life. With the 2nd and 3rd prostrations, I offer rotating gratitudes of whatever is alive for me that day. And with the final standing bow, I conclude with: In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today, may I be useful, may I be kind.

This way of starting my day helps to angle me in the direction of my highest intention, which is to be a healing, supportive, loving presence throughout the day to all those I will cross paths with. And in order for this calling to be sustained into the future, I need to cultivate and strengthen the seeds of gratitude, ease, and joy every day.

My hope for all of us is that we find ways in which to continue to water these same seeds for ourselves, so the we can shine our light forward, helping to illuminate the beauty, goodness, and splendors that exist within and around us. And when we do this, it will naturally usher others to join us in the work of transformation and healing.

 

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Squirrel Meditation

Our campsite on the Flathead Lake

This past weekend (Aug 2-5) we had our sangha summer campout with our meditation community Be Here Now – it was our 6th annual! We’ve been using the same campground each summer: Big Arm State Park on the Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. For the past 3 years, we’ve been managing to reserve their one and only group site, which wonderfully allows us to be all together in one spot AND right on the water! So great!!

Each campout is a nice social/community building/relaxing hang-time on the lake opportunity for our sangha. It allows us to be joyfuly together, whilst revelling in the lake, each others company, and the practice of having nowhere to go and nothing to do. We spend our time: reading, floating/paddling/swimming, conversing, laughing, playing games, drinking tea/coffee, sharing community meals, napping, and hanging out around the fire at night. Given that we had a smaller group than usual, and Saturday afternoon was a bit blustery, we even took a field trip this year during our campout: cherry picking!

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On Being A Tourist, Comparing Ourselves to Others, and Some Other Stuff

On Thursday, I strolled about on a Main Street in a town I’d previously only visited by driving on through and was wonderfully reminded of how much I enjoy being a tourist, even if it’s in a place situated just 2 hours north of home, which it is – and I am.

It’s worth mentioning, as a point of clarity, that I most enjoy being a lone tourist. As in: not saddled by anyone else’s agenda or having to negotiate with another human’s dynamic experience. This also includes not being terribly interested in getting led around on a local’s points of interest tour. Though, sometimes I do prefer that. It depends on where I am, both physically and spiritually.

As I meandered through downtown Kalispell, I came across a plethora of posters with my name displayed as: Headlining Poet Nicole Dunn. It was a rather exhilarating/peculiar/other-worldly experience – especially given that I’ve had very little to do with putting this particular event together and not done all the organizing/advertising/designing/postering myself, as is customary. And, hence, this is the reason I’ve come here: to teach a poetry workshop and regale an audience who’ve never heard of me with a one-hour set of spoken word.

In my Main Street/downtown walkabout, I ducked into some local shops and took my time poking around. Upon exiting a particularly delightful store with an assortment of uncommon wares, I had a total of 3 new items in the bag I’d brought along to cart my zafu (meditation cushion) in, to a meditation group I would be attending a little while later, which was located in the downtown area, a 10-minute walk from where I was staying. The three items were as follows: a pair of colorful socks with narwhals and scuba diving rhinos, to give as a gift to a friend with an upcoming birthday; a pair of colorful socks with sloths hanging from palm trees with gold gangster medallions a dangle from their necks (for personal use); and a novelty note pad with post it’s stating NAILED IT, at the top, followed by a list of options you can choose between for how you deemed whoever you’re giving the note to “nailed it.” And at the bottom of every note, it says: GOOD FOR YOU, PAL. Once I got in the spirit of thinking about all the possibilities that existed for using the NAILED IT notes, I couldn’t not get it.

I arrived Thursday afternoon to the house of a friend of mine who is away on a trip, along with her husband. So not only do I have the house to myself, but I was left to feel a bit nervous when I rolled into town, having never been to their place before. What if I had jotted down her address wrong and wound up situating myself in someone else’s house who also happened to leave their door key under the mat, which is not an uncommon practice? Would there be other telltale signs (pictures on display with no one I recognized; decor and nick-knacks that told a very different story of the friend I thought I knew…) that I had made a ghastly mistake before the residents – who were assuredly not well-acquainted with me – made their way back home to find me there with my feet up, sipping tea? Thankfully, crises was immediately averted when, in looking for the best place to park, I drove around back through the alleyway and saw their last names scribed on a wooden plank atop the garage door. Found it for sure! Whew!

Switching…sort of.

We all have ways in which we compare ourselves to others and come up short. My ways take shape through people who are either artful/masterful at baking or cooking or at tending a garden. As in: so-and-so can bake amazing bread or craft complex meals with an arsenal of liquids in bottles that I would have no idea what to do with – like raspberry balsamic vinegar, avocado oil, and cooking sherry. Maybe I should be a better cook or learn how to bake bread from scratch. Or: so-and-so has a bustling garden filled with wonderfully greening leaves in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sigh. That’s what people do, isn’t it? Garden. I really should be more into gardening.

The wildly entertaining and hilarious part is that we took out our garden plot a year ago – allowing the backyard grass to reclaim its swath of ground – and it was the best decision ever! It’s soooo nice not to have the neglected garden plot we installed years ago sneering at me to become a gardener. The pressure is off and it’s glorious! I’m the sort who loves the idea of gardening more than the actual act of gardening. It’s rather like how you might be super into a romantic interest but then once you get to know them more you’re all like: I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m the sort who would revel in watching a garden grow and equally delight in its bounty of edible content, as long as someone else tended to all of its needs along the way.

So, the thing is, I don’t want to be a gardener of things and I have no desire to be a masterful baker or chef, either. And yet, I STILL compare myself to people who are! How peculiar! We are a strange and complicated people folk.

I mean, there’s only so much time in the day, is what I’m saying. And I choose to fill my time with other things. Gardening and fashioning together gourmet meals and baking artisan bread simply aren’t high on my list of priorities. I think we have a very ingrained, very detrimental, collective mindset that we should be able to do, like, everything. We set the bar so incredibly high that we’d need superhero powers to even get close to reaching it.

It’s been extremely liberating for me to do the work of cultivating a deep and penetrating understanding of how everything I do with my time is a choice. And with this work, I’ve been able to accept and embrace my limitations of time and energy and interest in things. It’s allowed me to set realistic goals and drop the bar down to a level that doesn’t taunt me and hold me slave to ridiculous notions of how a life can NEVER by ANYONE under NO CIRCUMSTANCES be led.

So, I’m learning how to befriend the non-gardener in myself; the non-gourmet chef; the non-master-baker. To stop the powerfully common tendency to compare myself to others and come up short. It’s such an incredible drain and waste of my precious time.

 

 

 

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Gifts with Meaning

The whole biological, extended & friend family gang at Jaden’s high school graduation, June 2nd 2018

FB post written on May 28th:

My stepson Jaden has 3 days of mandated schooling left, before he’s set to graduate from a system he’s spent the last 12-years ingesting as a tonic to both grow and be stunted by. We’re in the home stretch of the end of an era. For him and for me.

No more school functions to routinely attend. No more volunteering at the snack and beverage station in the back of the cafetorium at drama productions. No more daily preparations of breakfast or serving as his day-planner, reminding him of this and that before setting off in the morning. No more close monitoring of such things as is common for a youth in your charge when tending to their well-being is your full-time pleasure of an occupation.

What an exciting and devastating time this is, all at once.

 

FB post written on May 30th:

It seemed somehow appropriate that yesterday my soon-to-graduate-from-high-school stepson should have his car in need of an overnight stay at a tire place around the corner, deeming it necessary that I give him one last ride to school this morning. It was well-timed closure for me on the parental front.

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I was stumped in the what-to-get-my-stepson-for-his-graduation-present department and landed on a collection of 11 gifts, each fashioned with a card I’d written a symbolic meaning for. My original intention was to leave it at that. But then I thought it would make for an appropriate gesture if his dad were to write the dad-response on the back of each card. So that’s what we did.

At our family graduation dinner on Wednesday night, Jaden opened each gift and then I read what I’d written, followed by Mike reading what he’d written. It’s worth mentioning that it’s commonly known in our nuclear family that I’m the nice one and Mike is the dark-hearted one (but dark-hearted in the most jovial sense of the word!).

To perhaps inspire others with creative gift-giving ideas, I thought I’d share with you a few of the gifts we got for him, along with the words we both wrote for each one. Here goes! (As is also commonplace in our family, let me apologize ahead of time for Mike’s sarcastic comedic whit.)

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